Potential First Round Opponent: Dallas Mavericks

Feb 5, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Deron Williams (8) and San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) fight for the loose ball during the first half at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 5, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Deron Williams (8) and San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) fight for the loose ball during the first half at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

This would’ve been a more compelling matchup maybe 4 or 5 years ago.

Like the Houston Rockets, the Dallas Mavericks can use proximity to their advantage. However, they also share the Rockets’ lackluster performance on their home court, and the numbers reflect an average team.

They rank around the middle of the league in most team statistics, although they defend the 3 pointer pretty well. That perimeter defense might not be a critical factor in shutting down the Spurs, though. San Antonio has always had a complicated relationship with dialing up from long distance; only the Golden State Warriors shoot it at a higher percentage, but 24 teams shoot more 3s per game than the judicious Spurs.

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In some respects the Mavericks are the anti-Rockets, committing the 3rd least turnovers per game. While the chemistry between Rockets alpha dogs James Harden and Dwight Howard is questionable, the Mavericks have rarely endured prolonged locker room turmoil, and this cohesiveness on the court may be most evident in how they rarely waste possessions with turnovers.

Dirk Nowitzki is a beloved figure in Dallas, and Rick Carlisle has been a successful head coach at all his NBA stops. This is a franchise rooted in stability. Rajon Rondo appeared to create ripples within the team during his stint last season, but he’s taken his enigmatic personality to Sacramento, and it has seemed to be a mutually beneficial decision. 

Wesley Matthews plays solid defense and can knock down 3 pointers with the best of them. Coming back from that catastrophic achilles tear he suffered just last season to continue playing at the level he’s at is remarkable.

Chandler Parsons is expected to be out for at least the first round of the playoffs with a knee injury. It will undoubtedly be a huge blow for the Mavericks, as he’s arguably taken the mantle away from Nowitzki as the team’s best perimeter shooter. They have nobody on their bench who can bring his same skill-set as a versatile 6-9 forward with 3 point range.

Fans have finally made peace with Deron Williams, accepting him as a solid point guard who’ll never reach the superstar potential he flashed in Utah. His massive contract he signed with the Nets may forever leave him labeled as an underachiever, but 14 ppg and 6 apg is nothing to sneeze at. Players are often wary of the pressure that comes with playing in front of their hometown crowd, but the Texas native seems like he’s benefited from this fresh start. His overall field goal percentage is up by over 2 points from last year, and up 5 points specifically on shots inside the arc.

Feb 5, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) and Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) in action during the game at the American Airlines Center. The Spurs defeat the Mavericks 116-90. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Zaza Pachulia has quietly become one of the best rebounders in the NBA. At age 31, he’s averaging more rebounds per game than he ever has, and in less minutes per game than his previous career high rebounding season. He ranks 6th in the league in offensive rebounding percentage and 8th in total rebounding percentage. He creates a lot of second chance opportunities on offense for the Mavericks.

Like most problems they face, however, the Spurs have a clear remedy for Pachulia crashing the boards; only Charlotte and Detroit have a higher defensive rebounding percentage than the Spurs, so Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge should be able to nullify Pachulia’s impact to a manageable level.

J.J. Barea provides scrappiness off the bench. He may have extended minutes in the playoffs if Williams’s abdominal strain is still lingering, and it looks like the Mavericks are using former all star David Lee more effectively than the Celtics did.

This is a solid team, but nothing about them is daunting. Nowitzki no longer provides the production of a franchise player, but still averages over 18 ppg and provides a strong leadership presence. After him, it appears to be a team of ideally third and fourth options masquerading as Nowitzki’s running mate.

The closest viable number two option might be Parsons, and even if he was cleared for the first round, he realistically couldn’t be the second best player on a true contender. This leaves Matthews as the most likely candidate needing to significantly step up his production for the Mavericks to have a chance in this series. 

A roster highlighted by Williams, Matthews, Parsons, Nowitzki, and Pachulia wouldn’t surprise anyone by reaching the playoffs, but actually winning a series would be a stretch. Against the Spurs, a sweep looks likely. They’re a more even-keeled squad than the Rockets, but Houston has streakiness and Harden’s ability to live at the foul line going for them. The Mavericks are a decent team, but it’s hard to envision a scenario where they can overwhelm the Spurs enough to steal even just one game.

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