Answering some questions after the West's No. 1 team, the Dallas Mavericks, topped the East's No. 2 team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, 98-90, in a showdown of Dirk and LeBron . . .
Mavs take down Cavs
How would an NBA Finals look between these two teams?
It could go six games. The key would be the third game. Cleveland's not the most experienced of teams, and if the Cavs came home down 2-0, then I think it would go four or five games in the 2-3-2 format if they didn't win the third. Experience is their issue, compared to Detroit and Miami. But they've improved every year. And they're still close to the No. 1 seed. I wouldn't write them off as a team that can't get to the NBA Finals.
I'd put LeBron right there with Kobe as guys in the 3-4 range after Dirk and Steve Nash. Nash has had an amazing run. LeBron doesn't have the supporting cast that Dirk and Nash have, and also what Kobe has when the Lakers are healthy. Even without their best player, Dallas and Phoenix are quality teams.
Seems Nowitzki (23 points, nine rebounds and six assists against the Cavs) is still taking some hits for his crunch-time finish in last week's loss to Phoenix?
In talking with Mavs coach Avery Johnson about this earlier Wednesday, we touched on all the talk about Dirk's ability to finish. The bottom line is, as Johnson put it, not about the pressure of the moment, it's really about experience. People are quick to point out the times Dirk didn't come through, but there's been a multitude of times that he has come through.
Mavs guard Devin Harris (8-for-11 FG, 17 points) came tearing through the Cavs' defense several times. How vital is he to this team?
Harris is very important to this team. One of the points Johnson made about that loss to Phoenix is that the Mavs didn't have their best defensive players available that game, Harris and Devean George. It's not making excuses, however, those two players are an integral part of the team.
Sasha Pavlovic made all his three 3-point attempts for 16 points. How important is he to Cavs' hopes?
He's going to be a key to their team when they get closer toward the postseason. He's big, physical, versatile and a good defensive player. Sometimes it take a while to get comfortable on that NBA stage. He's starting to feel like he belongs. You can see it in his demeanor on the court.
Forget their brickfest in the first half. What are some other reasons to be cheerful for the Cavs?
Dirk, as great as he is, is a veteran player and probably not going to improve overwhelmingly the rest of the way. You can't say that about LeBron. His growth may not show statistically, but it his impact will show in wins and losses.
Mavs hit every free throw, Cavs missed eight. Telling stat?
It's a thing that makes Dallas a little bit better. There's going to be some growth from Cleveland from that standpoint. I think they've improved defensively. You saw tonight they haven't quite gotten to the point. I think Cleveland can look at this as a barometer. We didn't get it done, but there are things to get better at.
The Ron Harper Era orange Cavaliers uniforms were out in force. Were those still around in your NBA days?
Yes. They look better now than they did back then. I think we've changed in the way we view things.
ESPN analyst Greg Anthony will be backing his alma mater UNLV in the Sweet 16 on Friday against Oregon. All questions above posed by ESPN.com editor Andrew Ayres.
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Tim Duncan and Tony Parker talk things over on how they need to play to regain the form they had during the Spurs' recent 13-game winning streak. The Spurs, who have clinched a playoff spot, snapped a two-game losing streak that came after they had won a season-high 13 in a row.
Blake (SLC) : In the spirit of the projected top 10 center lists, does Deron Williams have a shot at cracking a top 10 PG list someday? Why or why not?
David Thorpe: Of course he does. Top 10 in league anyway. In history -- perhaps but not likely.
Andrew (princeton, nj): Have you got a chance to see Hasheem Thabeet from UConn? What do you think of him and do you think of him and do you think he should stay another year?
David ThorpeI have seen him. Not very impressed. But as to whether he should stay in school-that's another matter. I never say until the kid has declared.
Chris Bosh had 34 points and 16 rebounds to lead the Raptors to a 92-85 victory over the Magic. The only other NBA players to reach those levels of points and rebounds in one game this season are Yao Ming (twice) and Amare Stoudemire, both centers. No forward had done it since Antawn Jamison, more than a year ago (March 14, 2006).
Mavs win fourth straight since losing to Suns.
AP Photo/Tony Dejak
Mavericks guard Devin Harris shoots over Cleveland's Larry Hughes during the Mavericks' win 98-90 on Wednesday.
Quote of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
• The Heat's late-season revival has been about much more than just the return of Shaquille O'Neal, and tonight offered a good example why. With Shaq mired in foul trouble and Alonzo Mourning unavailable, the Heat nonetheless continued their winning ways in a 91-83 victory at Atlanta.
• One sequence in particular stood out, when the Heat lost Shaq to his fourth foul just 16 seconds into the third quarter and played the rest of the stanza without him. Third-string center Michael Doleac came in and more than held down the fort -- including what he called a "once a year" driving dunk over Solomon Jones that had the Heat bench in stitches -- and Miami played the Hawks to a draw over the final 11:44 over the period. Not bad for a team playing on the road without its top three performers.
• Interestingly enough, Pat Riley said before the game there had been a "slippage" in the team's defense the past few games, even prior to the home loss to Orlando. That certainly wasn't the case tonight, although Riley said his team didn't really lock in until the start of the second quarter. "When we picked it up, we very good defensively," said Riley. "We gave up too many offensive rebounds, but we kept the ball out of the paint."
• One concern coming out of the game is O'Neal's continuing issues with foul trouble. He was limited to 21 minutes, the fourth time in six games that fouls kept him to 27 minutes or less. The Heat can survive such an obstacle against the Hawks, or the many patsies that line the rest of their regular-season schedule. But if they're going to repeat as champions they'll need their big man on the court for much longer stretches. Riley said sometimes O'Neal may need to back off and concede a lay-up, as unpalatable as that may be, adding, "He has to be smarter."
-- John Hollinger in Atlanta
True Hoop author Henry Abbott joins Chad Ford as his blog makes its debut on ESPN.com. Abbott described how bloggers can be excellent aggregators of information , and how they are gaining ground in contacts traditionally the province of traditional media.
I picked Cleveland to win the East before the season, and of late some Cavs fans have reminded me of that fact and asked me to get back on the bandwagon.
But every time I feel the urge, something happens like Tuesday night's debacle in Charlotte. It wasn't that the Cavs were blown out or didn't play hard -- it was just that they seemed totally clueless on what to do offensively as the game wound down, and this isn't the first time we've seen that movie.