The San Antonio Spurs took care of business against their interstate rival last season, but they’ll take on an improved group of gifted, young players in this year’s series.
When news broke that the New York Knicks were floating Latvian forward Kristaps Porzingis around on the trade market midway through last season, the San Antonio Spurs were one of the first teams to be linked with the recovering big man. His shooting and rim protection would be invaluable to the team as currently constructed, but questions of immoral character and injury concern spread throughout the national media and San Antonio instead opted to stay the course.
Now, they’ll face the seven-footer four times through the 2019-20 regular season alongside 2019 Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic. Considered a dark horse contender to sneak into the playoffs, the Dallas Mavericks have surrounded their star players with secondary ball handlers, sharpshooters and a variety of bigs that vary in size and skill.
The first meeting between these two teams is on November 18 in Dallas, just 14 games into the Spurs’ season. This marks the first matchup of a four-game road trip for San Antonio that’ll last until November 25, when they return home to face the Lakers.
Dallas’ second and final home game of the series will be held the day after Christmas – December 26. San Antonio hosts the Mavericks two months later on February 26 before rounding out the series on March 10 in the Alamo City.
While the Mavericks are certainly improved from last year and will pose more of a threat to the Spurs’ quest to top the Southwest Division, the quick wit of Gregg Popovich and general improvement of the Spurs’ deep core should lead them to yet another victory in the season series.
Next: Predicting the Mavericks’ season
Predicting the Mavericks’ season
For as much as the front office fleshed out their roster during the offseason, it’s hard to imagine Dallas improving vastly upon its 33-win total from the year prior. Injury concerns will certainly sway the outcome of games throughout the year, but the Mavericks still aren’t decidedly better than any of the other teams competing in the West.
The growth that’s anticipated from the Mavericks will be interesting in contrast with the rising Phoenix Suns and new-look New Orleans Pelicans boasting the No. 1 pick in Zion Williamson and the haul returned from the Anthony Davis deal. Even if the Mavs show up with improvement on both ends of the floor, their ceiling is still around 42 wins, which surely won’t be enough to make the postseason.
Small improvements year-by-year are vastly important for teams looking to build around their young players, so there’s no reason to be ashamed if they can’t reach that postseason threshold in the first year with this group.
Porzingis is a major addition to the roster, but he’s never played winning basketball before. Head coach Rick Carlisle will have the luxury of breaking out many of the plays he previous instituted for Dirk Nowitzki before his retirement. Even with this blueprint, Carlisle must adjust his system and cater to Porzingis instead of expecting him to step directly into Dirk’s shoes.
Implementing a European big with aptitude for post scoring and floor spacing should be light-work for the veteran coach.
Across the board, tempo has accelerated in the modern NBA and Dallas is moving in the opposite direction with their main core. With that in mind, protecting the rim with Porzingis and former-Spur Boban Marjanovic is intimidating to opponents because of their massive length and combined wingspans.
The franchise is three years removed from its last playoff berth and haven’t been out of the first round since they won the 2011 NBA Championship. There are things to like about this Mavs team, but all indications would suspect that they’re not ready to take the leap into postseason contention barring season-altering injuries to superior teams.
Next: Matching up against Dallas
Matching up against Dallas
Few backcourts can flaunt defensive prowess like this year’s Spurs can – two of the game’s most dynamic perimeter defenders, Dejounte Murray and Derrick White, will don the guard spots. By constantly switching on defense, imposing their lengthy frames on opposing guards and picking steals off of ball handlers, White and Murray should be able to handle the Mavericks’ guard rotation.
However, the most interesting matchups come at the small forward and power forward positions, where the marquee players of this series will face off. Naturally a shooting guard, DeMar DeRozan will likely play significant minutes at the small forward slot this season and will go head-to-head with Doncic.
In the three games in which they faced off, DeRozan put up an average of 27 points on 54.7 percent shooting while totaling 25 assists and eight steals. His physical play style seemed to force Doncic out of his comfort zone, tempting the ROTY into defensive miscues and botched possessions. The rookie had 19 assists to 17 turnovers in his meetings with DeRozan.
For as gifted as Doncic is, he lacks experience and pedigree in the NBA. DeRozan is a four-time All-Star and has made two All-NBA teams in his playing career – he’s experienced some of the greatest heights of competition in the sport. Unless Doncic makes a considerable jump in his sophomore campaign, DeRozan firmly holds the edge over the 20-year-old.
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As for the battle in the post, Spurs cornerstone LaMarcus Aldridge is going to have his hands full matching up against the length and size of Porzingis. Aldridge firmly holds the advantage in strength and post scoring while showing off intelligent defense both on and off the ball. Still, Porzingis is going to use that height differential to his advantage and force Aldridge to work even harder on defense.
The almighty collapse that many analysts predict for the Spurs with each passing summer seemingly never go away and the Mavericks are an enticing group to project forward, but when reality settles and the regular season actually beings, San Antonio should be able to escape the season series with two wins at the very least.
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Splitting the season series would be a disappointment for this year’s Spurs – they’ll look to double down on last season’s sweep and smother wins out of the division rival.