The Dallas Mavericks return to the playoffs after a one-year hiatus, but will face the San Antonio Spurs, who swept their regular season series 4-0, in the first round.
The Story So Far
It took until the final day of the season, but the Dallas Mavericks (49-33) are now officially the eighth seed in the Western Conference. And while they would have loved to retain the seventh seed, avoiding a first-round showdown with the San Antonio Spurs (62-20), the Mavs will still be happy to return to playoff action after missing the postseason for the first time in 12 seasons last year.
After all, making the playoffs was no certainty for Dallas as late as their final two games, but a crucial win over the surprisingly good Phoenix Suns secured their position in the final eight in the West with only one game to spare.
As has been the case for the best part of two decades, Dirk Nowitzki was the star performer during the season in Dallas. After an injury-disrupted campaign last season, the sharpshooting German bounced back like true champions due. Despite his age – Dirk will turn 36 on Jun. 19 – Nowitzki returned to top-15 scoring status, finishing the season averaging 21.7 points per game (13th in the association). Meanwhile, the 16-year veteran narrowly missed out on another 50-40-90 season, concluding the regular season shooting 49.7% from the field, 39.8% from deep and 89.9% from the line. To put how close he came in perspective, Dirk only needed to make three field goals, one three and one of the free throws he missed to push his percentages above the mark.
But Nowitzki was not the only offensive performer of note for the free-scoring Mavs.
In his first season in Dallas, Monta Ellis took his all-around game to the next level. He maintained his scoring prowess, averaging 19.0 points a night (20th in the league), but also finished in the top 20 for assists per game for only the second time in his career with 5.7 dimes per contest.
Much of Ellis’ development can be attributed to playing alongside a pass-first point guard for the first time in his career. Rather than being forced to constantly create his own shot, Jose Calderon (11.4 points [44.9% 3FG] and 4.7 assists a game) was able take the ball out of Ellis’ hands and get him the ball in positions to score.
Meanwhile, at the age of 37, Vince Carter emerged as a genuine Sixth Man of the Year candidate, averaging 11.9 points in only 24.4 minutes a game.
Utility forward Shawn Marion continued to showcase his all-around game to the tune of 10.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.2 steals per game.
Brandon Wright (9.7 points a game at 67.7% FG) hit his best form late in the season as a finisher around the rim on one end and defensive anchor at the other.
Postseason Performer to Watch
Yes, Dallas has one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history – Nowitzki passed Oscar Robertson for 10th all-time in scoring in early April – who is also a proven playoff performer on their roster.
But, if Dallas stands any chance of upsetting the steamrolling Spurs in the first round, they will need the rest of their team to play as big as their German superstar.
Ellis has only played in two postseason during his nine-year NBA career, and his production significantly dropped off in both appearances.
After averaging 16.5 points (47.5% FG and 27.3% 3FG) and 4.1 assists through the 2006-07 season, Ellis could only manage 8.0 points (39.0%/11.1%) and 0.9 assists in 11 playoff games for the Warriors. Likewise, while playing for Milwaukee last season, Ellis’ averages dropped from 19.2 points (41.6%/28.7%) and 6.0 assists per game in the regular season to 14.3 points (43.6% /15.8%) and 5.5 assists per night as the Bucks were swept in the first round.
Dirk is good enough to carry an offence on his own, but against a team as strong as the Spurs, you wont win many games relying on a single scorer.
Ellis needs to continue to produce points to ease the pressure on Nowitzki and create open looks for teammates if Dallas wants to steal even one game from San Antonio.
The Mavs were swept 4-0 by their Texan rivals during the regular season.
Dallas were one of the oldest teams in the league, and were bottom third in the league for defence – 20th for points against (102.4 per game) and 22nd for defensive rating (108.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) this season.
They found success as an efficient shooting team that could beat opponents on the back of their scoring ability – eighth in the league for points per game (104.8) and third in offensive rating (111.2 points per 100 possessions).
However, the Spurs nullified both of those advantages during the regular season.
Dallas owned the fourth-best field goal percentage during the regular season at 47.4%, but that fell to 45.3% against San Antonio. Likewise, their regular season second-best three-point shooting fell from 38.4% to 36.4% – Dallas managing only 6.0 triples a game against the Spurs compared to 8.8 in each regular season match.
As a result, the Maverick’s prolific scoring fell to 100.8 PPG, while they leaked 112.3 at the other end against San Antonio.
It was a valiant effort for Dallas to make the playoffs, but there is likely to be a recurring theme of sweeping as they lock horns with their fellow Texan foes.
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