Dirk Nowitzki is a monster. Watching Dirk in the playoffs is something of a spiritual experience; it relies on the same themes and archetypes we’ve seen countless times before, but further inspection reveals something truly transcendent. Nowitzki may not be on LeBron James’ level (or even Dwight Howard’s, Dwyane Wade’s, etc.), but in terms of players who elevate their games for the postseason, few can match him. His one-time reputation for folding under pressure is downright perplexing, as Dirk’s ability to perform in the playoffs is what makes him one of the truly special players in the game today.
The Mavs are an up-and-down team, but lately have been more up than down. Winning in the playoffs is about playing great basketball at the right time, and while Dallas still isn’t there yet, they seem to be rounding into form. Five straight victories have given this team a bit of confidence, and while there are still plenty of questions left to be answered about their ability to execute defensively, there’s reason for optimism after the Mavs’ last five games. Plenty of Champions and Finalists have used the first round of the playoffs as a tune-up (think 2008 Celtics), and San Antonio should provide a terrific opportunity for Dallas to sharpen their claws.
The best defense is, well, a good defense. The Mavs don’t need to be cute or tricky; Dallas is loaded with talent and depth, and the only issues facing the team are how to best utilize that talent, execute properly, and stay hungry. This teams just needs to strive to be as balanced as possible, and with Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki running the offense to perfection, the Mavs will need to improve their consistency on D if they want to win the first round, much less any subsequent rounds. The keys to that defense are Shawn Marion and Brendan Haywood. Marion has had a season worthy of All-Defense consideration, as he’s done terrific work in holding Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James below their scoring averages (and even more importantly, below their usual levels of efficiency) in their games against the Mavs. He’ll need to perform at that same level against some of the elite wings he’s likely to encounter in the West. Haywood is an excellent defender in the post, and his ability to limit opposing bigs’ touches and points will also be fairly essential. Even more important for Haywood, though, is his ability to protect the rim from penetrating guards. The Mavs’ perimeter defense can be quite porous at times, and having Haywood as an effective safety net would go a long way.
Check out The Two Man Game for more of Rob’s coverage of the Dallas Mavericks.