What are great teams supposed to do when something that has come so easily for them in the past begins to be a major problem? Well, that is the question the two teams that face off Sunday will have to find the answer to. When the San Antonio Spurs step onto the court to face their in-state rival the Dallas Mavericks, (ABC, 1 p.m. ET), it will feature the past two Western Conference representatives in the NBA Finals.
Last season, the Mavericks won 67 games and the Spurs won the champions. You don't achieve either one of those feats without knowing how to beat the better teams in the league. However, if the season were to end now, the Spurs and the Mavs would find themselves in uncommon territory, on the road to start the playoffs. This is largely because both teams' inability to beat the other elite teams in the league, especially of late.
Right before the trade deadline, the Mavs brought in Jason Kidd to keep up with the top teams in the West. They do have a winning record (9-7) since that trade. However, a closer look at the numbers shows every win they have has come against sub-.500 teams and every loss has come to teams with records above .500. At the time of the trade, I was in favor of the move. I still believe the Mavs are a better team with Kidd than with Devin Harris. Unfortunately one thing has become very clear; Kidd is no longer a threat to score. He has lost that quick burst to blow past defenders. He looks like he has lost the confidence to make an open jumper.
Terry has been a clutch shooter in the past. The Mavs have lost a lot of close games this season, so Terry needs to be the guy to come through. With all the attention on Nowitzki and Howard, and Kidd's struggles shooting, it leaves the game in Terry's hands. If he can start hitting big shots and the Mavs can pick up a couple of big wins the rest of the way, things can begin to turn around for Dallas.
The problem in San Antonio is slightly different. The Spurs are an unchampion-like 18-19 against teams with winning records, to make matters worse, five of those wins have been against teams that just barely crack the .500 mark (Toronto, Washington and Portland).
Now, some of those losses did come of the beginning of the season. Early in a season, the Spurs have typically played relaxed and relied on the bench more to win games, which leads to some close losses. That excuse can't be used any longer though. The Spurs have lost five of their past six games against winning teams.
The Spurs just need to refocus and rededicate themselves to the style that has led them to past championships. The man who needs to lead them back to that elite level is Tim Duncan. Duncan has not had the dominate season we're used to getting from him. Too many times the Spurs' have played big games during which you don't even notice Duncan out on the floor. Duncan needs to start putting up those 25-point, 16-rebound games and treat the next three weeks as if they were the playoffs.
I'm not afraid to say that I have more confidence that the Spurs can turn it around come playoff time. In fact, I can't see a scenario in which the Mavs make it out of the first round this season. But if the Spurs continue to play the way they have been lately, they too will be heading home early.
ESPN analyst Tim Legler is a regular contributor to the Daily Dime.Past Dimes: March 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22-23 | 23
The Western Conference has become the pinnacle of the basketball world. No longer is UNC-Duke the best two-plus hours in basketball. Now it's San Antonio-Phoenix, or Dallas-Golden State, or Houston-Dallas or the Lakers versus anybody. Ever since the All-Star break, the battles out west have taken on a life unseen since MJ stepped away from the game for the second time. After the race to the playoffs is over, a team around 20-plus games over .500 will be left standing on the outside, wondering how the heck it missed the postseason.
Case in point: San Antonio, the team almost everyone outside of L.A. considers the best team in the league and the front-runner to win the chip (again). In the past week San Antonio has lost to Denver and Phoenix, beat Denver, then lost to New Orleans by 25. While everyone was wrapped up in the Houston Rockets' historic win streak, no one noticed that the defending champion Spurs -- at full strength -- have been losing games late in the season to teams they will see early come late April and beyond.
John Hollinger: San Antonio's role players definitely look a little long in the tooth. I'm interested to see what happens when Barry comes back -- go back and look, their struggles (by their standards) started when Barry went out of the lineup.
Ray (San Antonio): Is there any rational explanation as to why the Spurs offense just goes MIA for up to an entire quarter in games? I was at that Boston game and I saw it coming the whole time because they just go ice cold.
John Hollinger: I was there too (just did the drive from SA this morning), and it caught me unawares because the Big Three scored so easily in the early going. As I wrote last night, the Spurs have had a problem with hitting the wall offensively in the second half, which is strange because Pop rests his guys so much that you'd think they'd be fresher at the end.
Jim, Providence, R.I.: Don't you think Ginobili looks ridiculous with all his flopping on the court?
John Hollinger: I think he's ridiculously good, actually. Sure, he embellishes a bit ... it's not like he's the only one.
On Sunday, the Detroit Pistons visit the Washington Wizards (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET).
The Wizards have won two of their past three games against the Pistons.
However, it has been all Pistons lately when they've come to D.C.; they have won nine of their last 11 in the Capital.
Something's going to give; both teams have been playing good ball recently with the Pistons winning four of five and the Wizards winners of five of their past six.
-- ESPN Research
Or the roster that now pairs Jason Kidd with Dirk Nowitzki? Galloway and Company invites Marc Stein -- who likes the new look better, in spite of the Mavs' 0-7 misery against playoff-bound teams since bringing Kidd back -- to join the debate on ESPN Radio's Dallas affiliate (103.3 FM).
The Spurs and Mavericks have played three times this season, with the home team winning each game.
If the Spurs win Sunday, they will win the season series 3-1 -- after the Mavericks won the season series 3-1 last season.
A clear reason for the Spurs' success this season against Dallas has been the play of their star, Tim Duncan.
Tim Duncan, 2007-08 Season
|vs. Mavericks||vs. Rest of NBA|
-- Peter Newmann, ESPN Research
Avery Johnson and Jason Kidd must get on the same page if Dallas is to succeed.
Since Jason Kidd arrived in Dallas, the Mavericks are 0-7 against teams with winning records. Here is a look at the breakdown.
(Since Kidd Trade)
|vs. teams under .500||vs. teams over .500|
|Opp. FG pct.||41.4||44.6|
-- Lisa Brooks, ESPN Research