Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Why Tonight's Game Could Mean Everything For The Season

Where were you for Game 4 of the 2003 Western Conference Finals? The Mavs, though down a Dirk Nowitzki, should have tied the series up at home, but they didn't. The 2003 Mavs had the greatest offense in the league and used it to take the first game of the series by 3 points. The next two games were decided by the same point margin with Game 2 higher scoring than Game 3. Their opponent? The San Antonio Spurs, fresh off an upset of sorts against the defending champion in the second round. They were the super team of the playoffs after knocking off the favorite Lakers, and they had a chance to go up 3-1 going home for Game 5.

Fast-forward to today. The Phoenix Suns win the first game of the series in Dallas by 3 points using offense. The Mavs slowed the next two down with offense and win by 7 points. And they have an opportunity to go home up 3-1.

Now, I'm a big believer in history repeating itself. And if the Mavs win tonight, I will not pronounce them as the 2003 San Antonio Spurs, but I will keep that option open. If you look at that team, and you look at this Mavs team, you can see a lot of similarities.

The Spurs started a power forward that was at the peak of his game, and it's hard to imagine that Dirk isn't at the top of his. The Spurs put the ball in the hands of second year speedy point guard in Tony Parker; Devin Harris, anybody? The Spurs were considered the deepest team in the league much like the Mavs of this year.

The biggest difference between the 2006 Western Conference Finals and the 2003 series is that the Spurs did not need a line-up change to keep up with the Mavs. They imposed their will on the Mavs leaving two bigs out there in David Robinson and Tim Duncan. Some could argue that Diop is playing the David Robinson role (though nowhere near the player he was), but the bottom line is that the Mavs need to take it to the Suns tonight to justify the comparison.

Great teams pounce on the weaknesses of their opponents. And the Suns are looking pretty weak right now. They can say they are physically tired all they want, but I don't think that's playing as much of a factor as their mental fatigue. The score may not dictate it, but the Mavs are obliterating the Suns. That opening sequence in the third quarter of Game 3 showed how great the Mavs could be. They forced turnovers and capitalized on Suns' mistakes, completely taking the air out of the stadium. The Suns were powerless to stop the Mavs much like the 2003 Mavs had no answer for the Spurs.

A great offense is dependent on finding holes in a defense. A great defense is independent and can shut down a great offense. As Mavs fans, we know that better than anyone. We have been on the losing end of great offense vs. great defense. Game 4 will tell us if the Mavs truly do have a Great Defense.

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