Can Dallas Mavericks Topple San Antonio Spurs in Southwest Division?

The Dallas Mavericks have been firmly entrenched in their Southwest Division rivals’ shadow over the last couple of years.

Ever since a glorious championship run in 2011, the Mavericks have been looking for ways to catch up to the ever-dominant San Antonio Spurs. After injecting some athleticism in the offseason, Dallas heads into this year’s campaign with a reinforced roster, and the Mavs may very well give the Spurs a run for their money.

The Mavericks barely managed to secure the eighth seed in the Western Conference in 2013-14. Their reward was a first-round series against the eventual champions, a matchup which initially appeared to favor the Spurs. After all, San Antonio had swept their regular-season series against Dallas, cruising to a fourth straight division title.

However, all but one of their regular-season meetings were close games, and the Mavericks didn’t have Shawn Marion in their only big loss. Regardless, the regular-season statistics were thrown out of the window as soon as the postseason tipped off.

The Spurs needed just five games to nullify the Miami Heat and dethrone LeBron James in the NBA Finals, but they struggled mightily to close out the persistent Mavericks roughly five weeks earlier. In fact, San Antonio obliterated every single postseason opponent last year, other than Dirk Nowitzki and Co.

San Antonio had a +3.4 net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating) in their seven-game series against Dallas. The Oklahoma City Thunder offered some resistance and managed to snatch two games from the Spurs, but they still ended up with an abysmal -10.7 net rating.

Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich ran a well-oiled destruction machine last season, and Dallas was the only real hindrance in that path of obliteration.

 

Regular-Season Consistency

Both the Spurs and the Mavericks have been sitting on goldmines for over a decade. Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki exemplify what every single team in the NBA hopes for when drafting or trading for a young prospect: a durable superstar who remains with the team their whole career.

As it turned out, both players were just that and have yielded their respective teams a competitive edge over the years. The two stars are also similar in that they took major pay cuts in order to help their teams win, and it’s hard to find selfless individuals like them.

Sure, both Dallas and San Antonio have had their down years, but they’ve successfully reprieved the act of stripping down and rebuilding from scratch for well over a decade.

The Spurs, especially, may as well just be a synonym for consistency. Despite a lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign, the Spurs managed to keep their streak of 50 or more wins in a regular season alive. They continue that trend to this day, having hit the 50-win plateau for 15 straight seasons now, an NBA record.

The Mavericks have stayed relevant even in their competitive rebuilding stages, but last celebrated a Southwest division title at the expense of their rivals in 2009-10.

 

Can Dallas Catch Up?

The Mavericks were close to bringing down San Antonio in the playoffs last year, and this is a team that certainly got better in the offseason. However, we’re talking about the reigning champions here, who have cruised through the Western Conference under Popovich’s tutelage for so many years.

One thing that is certain is that the Mavericks, if healthy, won’t struggle to secure a postseason slot. Dallas could even be considered a dark-horse contender, but the team’s regular-season ceiling is quite a mystery.

Popovich is a wizard when it comes to limiting the minutes of his veterans while still winning games. He has successfully kept Duncan under 30 minutes per game in three of the last four seasons, and San Antonio went 6-2 in the absence of their 6’11″ big man last year. The Spurs also managed to go 12-3 in the 15 games their floor general Tony Parker missed.

Rick Carlisle will be taking notes, as he is also expected to restrict the floor time of both Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler. It’s entirely possible considering the depth of his roster, and he is good at tinkering with various lineups and plugging holes. However, it’s highly unlikely that he can afford to give his big men games off and still expect to win consistently.

One thing that will help the Mavericks in their regular-season meetings with San Antonio this year is their modified roster. The Spurs struggled against up-and-down offensive powerhouses in 2013-14, going 0-8 against the Houston Rockets and the Thunder. Dallas added some great athletes in the offseason who excel in transition, and that will be a plus.

Predicting specifics in the regular season is almost impossible. The 82-game ride contains a profuse amount of variables that are simply impossible to account for. That premise doesn’t quite apply to the Spurs, as they are going into the year with an almost identical roster, and they should be setting the bar for other teams in the West.

Whether the Mavericks can spring beyond that bar will depend on a lot of those variables. Can they, still one of the oldest teams in the league, stay healthy? Will Carlisle find the right lineup combinations? Can the reserves provide sufficient two-way threats?

Dallas presented a lot of matchup problems for the Spurs in the playoffs. They did a great job running San Antonio off the three-point line, while also disrupting their motion offense with a healthy dose of zone defense.

The Mavericks should be even more lethal offensively with Chandler Parsons on their roster, who would provide another mismatch when bumped to the power forward position. In their preseason game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas played almost exclusively zone defense, and they will have a whole regular season to polish those schemes in preparation for the playoffs.

It would be silly to bet against the Spurs, who should breeze past the 50-win mark with relative ease yet again. While the division title will most likely remain in San Antonio, Dallas could present a serious threat to the reigning champions in a seven-game series.

 

All statistics used are courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com, unless otherwise noted.

You can follow me on Twitter: @VytisLasaitis

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Cleveland Cavaliers: 3 Observations from loss to Dallas Mavericks

The Cleveland Cavaliers are now 4-1 in preseason after their first loss Friday night against the Dallas Mavericks. Many factors went into the Cavaliers loss, but here are three observations from the game.
Kyrie Irving Returns
After missing the last three preseason games due to a sprained ankle, Irving was ready to go. He picked up right where he left off, coming out strong and aggressive. Irving finished with a game high of 23 points while handing out five assists and three blocks.  The young All-Star had the crowd on their feet as he showed off his skills along with a highlight reel alley-oop to LeBron James which ended being a foul, but still a glimpse of the excitement this team possesses.
Kyrie Irving
Irving is a special player and his ability to play at the speed he plays with and for the amount of minutes is going to get, should be good for this Cavaliers team. If he stays healthy and keeps adding to his game, this season promises to be his best yet.
Shawn Marion & Kevin Love Rested
This game mar

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Dallas Mavericks vs. Indiana Pacers 10/18/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The Indiana Pacers looked to use their stalwart defensive rotation to shut down a revamped Dallas Mavericks squad Saturday night in preseason action.

Check out the full highlights.

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Dallas Mavericks vs. Cleveland Cavaliers 10/17/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The Dallas Mavericks and Cleveland Cavaliers squared off in a highly-anticipated preseason clash on Friday. The new-look Cavs look explosive prior to the season, but faced a tough test from the Mavericks and their sharpshooting offens

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Dallas Mavericks vs. Cleveland Cavaliers: Live Score, Highlights and Reaction

LeBron James, Kevin Love and the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers (4-0) continue their preseason tuneup Friday against Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks (1-2).

Both teams have the early part of their rotations more or less set. So, the rest of the preseason will be about fine-tuning and figuring out who can provide depth during the season.

 

Tipoff7:30 p.m. ET

Coverage: NBATV

 

Keys to the Game

For both the Mavericks and the Cavaliers, the key to this game is continuing the development of chemistry and continuity among new teammates.

Cleveland is integrating several new faces, including Love and James. Dallas is working on getting Chandler Parsons, Tyson Chandler and plenty of bench players familiar with the system.

 

For live updates and analysis, stay tuned to Bleacher Report throughout the game.

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Diagnosing Dallas Mavericks’ Weak Link for 2014-15

The Dallas Mavericks will march into the 2014-15 regular season with a significantly higher ceiling than a year ago. This is no longer a fringe playoff team, but a legitimate contender for a top-four seed in the incredibly competitive Western Conference. If there is anything that could potentially derail this improved roster, it has to be its age.

Even after adding some young talent this summer, the Mavericks are the seventh-oldest team in the NBA, with an average age of 28. As a rule of thumb, the more mileage an athlete registers on his limbs, the more susceptible he becomes to reoccurring injuries.

Some are more durable than others, but the 82-game regular season marathon generally has very little mercy on veteran teams, which welcome additional recovery time with open arms. 

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich knows this better than anyone. He excels at keeping a veteran squad healthy by resting his stars on a relatively regular basis. This is a habit Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle will have to adapt to a similar extent as well.

Injuries are part of any sport, and every team has to deal with them. No player, regardless of age, is immune to a freak incident on or off the court. However, some teams are simply better equipped than others to pick up the slack when a key contributor goes down.

The Oklahoma City Thunder recently lost Kevin Durant for up to two months. Having to cope without the league MVP is a tough pill to swallow, and it will make the Thunder’s road to the top seed in the conference an uphill battle. Even so, securing home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs shouldn’t be an issue for Oklahoma City, as they are set up to hold down the fort until their superstar returns. 

The margin of error is significantly smaller in Dallas’ case. A couple of months without either Tyson Chandler or Dirk Nowitzki could swiftly revert the team right back to borderline playoff status.

 

The Importance of Staying Healthy

Chandler, 32, and Nowitzki, 36, have a couple of things in common. They are both over 30 years old, and will be under flexible minute restrictions this season. Chandler has a long injury history, and even though Nowitzki has been exceptionally durable in his illustrious career, he also had an injury-riddled 2012-13 campaign himself.

They are also the two most integral and irreplaceable components of the concoction that is Dallas’ roster.

The Mavericks had the best offense in the league last season after the All-Star break, boasting an offensive rating of 111.1 points per 100 possessions. The offense will be even more scary with Chandler Parsons on board, but if you subtract Nowitzki out of the equation things could go south real fast.

The best of the three most-used lineups without Nowitzki registered a 103.8 offensive rating, which would have ranked around the middle of the pack league-wide. The 7-footer is essentially the difference between Dallas having an elite or an average offense, and Parsons’ presence can’t make up for that gap.

Chandler won the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2012 for holding together the New York Knicks‘ defense. He then polished his resume with an All-Defensive First Team nomination the following year. The general consensus is that the 7’1″ center declined last season, but that’s only half-true.

Not even Roy Hibbert could have saved the train wreck that was the Knicks’ defense in 2013-14. Chandler might have lost a little step, but he is still able to make a distinctive difference.

In 2010-11, the Mavericks’ defense improved by 3.5 points per 100 possessions with Chandler on the floor. The same guy propelled the Knicks’ mediocre defense to a top-five ranking upon his arrival in 2011-12.

The Mavericks ranked seventh in the league defensively during their championship run. They were an awful 22nd last year, and Chandler’s presence in a zone-heavy system could have the Mavericks sniffing around the top 10 this season, assuming the perimeter defenders also show up.

Injury to any other starter would obviously hurt Dallas, but they are deep enough to survive. An extended layoff for Chandler or Nowitzki, however, could lead to disaster.

The Memphis Grizzlies lost Marc Gasol for a longer period last season, and they needed to finish strong to even make the playoffs. They went 40-19 with their defensive anchor in the lineup and 10-13 in his absence. In the end, they relied on a post-All-Star break surge to even make the playoffs.

Just like the Grizzlies (and most teams outside of the Thunder, Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers in the West), the Mavericks are extremely reliant on their key players staying healthy. When those players are of a respectable age, you’re walking a very slippery edge.

The competition in the West is fierce. The difference between home-court advantage and the eighth seed in the conference was just five games last year. It could be even closer this season. Carlisle‘s job is to win basketball games, and it will be interesting to see how many potential victories he is willing to sacrifice in order to rest his older players. 

The Mavericks have all the tools to fight for a top-four seed. Then again, they could very well find themselves struggling to stay afloat if father time trips up their veterans.

 

All statistics used are courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.

You can follow me on Twitter: @VytisLasaitis

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Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Dallas Mavericks 10/10/14: Video Highlights and Recap

Two of the Western Conference’s blue blood franchises faced off when the Oklahoma City Thunder met the Dallas Mavericks in a preseason clash on Friday night. The Thunder and Mavericks ranked as two of the better Western Conference sides last season and both were eager to prove they hadn’t lost a step.

Check out the video highlights above.

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Dallas Mavericks Unveil Fan-Designed 2015-16 Uniforms

Earlier this year, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban held a contest for fans to submit uniform design ideas for the 2015-16 season.

On Tuesday, Cuban and the Mavericks unveiled what the new alternate uniforms will look like.

It looks like this was a win-win idea for Dallas. The uniforms look sharp, and the team was able to get the fans involved in the process. This fan now has some solid bragging rights to his name.the

How do these uniforms compare to the Mavericks’ current threads?

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Point guards are the Dallas Mavericks biggest question mark

Who steps up at point guard for the Dallas Mavericks? The Dallas Mavericks made aggressive moves this offseason. The Mavericks acquired Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton in a trade with the New York Knicks for point guard Jose Calderon, center Samuel Dalembert, reserves Shane Larkin and Wayne Ellington, along with 34th and 52 picks in the 2014 NBA draft; Cleanthony Early from Wichita Sate and Thanasis Antetokounmpo from the Delaware 87ers of the NBA D-League. This was a significant trade for both teams, although I believe the Knicks got the better end of that deal. Besides this eight-player trade the Dallas Mavericks pulled off, the Mavericks also went out and signed Chandler Parsons to a three year $46 million contract. Even with these two impactful moves, the Mavericks still acquired Jameer Nelson in free agency, and resigned Devin Harris. Which leads one to ask the question; who will start at point guard for the Dallas Mavericks? The Dallas Mavericks have three quality point guards in Raymond Felton, Devin

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What Dallas Mavericks Need from Dirk Nowitzki Next Season

In many ways, the Dallas Mavericks are a completely different team. They have new point guards, a revamped roster, a potential new playing style and, to top it off, elevated expectations for the 2014-15 season.

But really, the core of the team has remained the same.

The team still ultimately begins and ends with Dirk Nowitzki, as it has for the last 15 years. Between his shooting stroke and role as the cornerstone of the Mavericks, as long as he’s on the roster he will be a massive part of the franchise.

Then again, this season will be Dirk’s 17th NBA season. He can’t be expected to be the same player he once was. He’s changing along with the team.

With more help coming in, this is the most talented roster Dallas has had in a while. And as such, they need some tweaks from their star. Tweaks Dirk would be wise to make.

 

Doing More with Less

Last season, Monta Ellis was really the only guy on the floor besides Dirk who could create with the ball in his hands. Okay, maybe one and a half if Devin Harris counts.

But now, that number has ballooned.

Chandler Parsons will be a primary option on the wing, and he will have a lot of creative responsibilities. Raymond Felton and Jameer Nelson both will look to be more aggressive than their predecessor Jose Calderon. And a full season of the ever-attacking Devin Harris adds another player to this group.

And this means that Dirk will be less of a focus point. Fewer possessions will revolve around feeding Nowitzki in his spots. Now this may not be a ton of possessions, but it will be some.

As foreign as this sounds, it might not actually be a bad thing.

Nowitzki seemed to physically wear down as the season progressed. If the Mavs can afford to trim his minutes down and save him for later in the year, all the better.

But the bottom line is that Dirk will have to produce at a similar level with fewer opportunities. Though not being involved as much might save his legs, the Mavs still need production from their big guy.

He can afford to pick his spots, and he’ll probably get more catch-and-shoot opportunities, both luxuries that the Mavericks couldn’t afford last season. Obviously these are things that Dirk could like once he gets adapted to the new adjustments. But once he gets comfortable, these small changes will really help everyone around him.

 

Leadership

Unlike the previous section, this aspect requires essentially no changes from Dirk.

Nowitzki is not just the on-court core of the team, he’s also the leader in the locker room. The guy is loved by his fellow Mavs, and he’s the ultimate teammate, a guy other stars love to follow.

Take it from Tyson Chandler. The 13-year veteran gushed about Nowitzki in an interview with a local Dallas radio station.

He’s the type of guy, if I was a GM or president or owner, that I’d want to start my team with. He’s given Dallas his everything. When I first got here, I remember coming back late at night to get a lift in or work on some free throws and every single time I got there, he was there. He’d be putting up shot after shot after shot. It just shows that he’s never going to settle and he doesn‘t want to settle. He always wants to win and he’s willing to do whatever it takes. A lot was made about what I did and what I accomplished in my year here. He’s the man. When you have the top dog leading that way, you can’t help but fall in line

This team needs a leader. Someone to bring the roster’s mix of age, talent, role and experience together. Chandler has been all over the league and has seen his fair share of ups and downs. He knows a good leader when he sees one, and apparently he sees one in Dallas.

The task of meshing this team together will fall largely on Nowitzki’s shoulders. He’s done it for a couple of years now with all the recent roster turnover. The Mavs need him to do it one more time.

 

Crunch Time 

Let’s play a little game. Look at the Mavericks roster and point out some guys who you’d feel comfortable with taking a big shot down the stretch.

Chandler Parsons doesn’t have much experience in that department. Raymond Felton hasn’t earned anyone’s trust yet. Jameer Nelson shot incredibly poorly last year and Devin Harris didn’t shoot the lights out either. Richard Jefferson might rise to the occasion, but solely as a catch-and-shoot player.

Monta Ellis is the only guy who has recently shown any late-game chops. Him and Dirk Nowitzki.

So though Dirk may see less minutes and fewer touches, until the Mavs know what they have with this new roster, he will still have to be the fourth-quarter rock he’s always been.

According to NBA.com’s clutch stats database, last season Nowitzki was 18th in clutch scoring and had a plus minus of 1.9 in those same situations. Even in his mid-30s, he’s still as reliable as ever.

The guy even has his own top-10 clutch-shots video on YouTube for crying out loud.

Dirk’s late-game heroics are essential for Dallas. When the Mavs really are searching for a bucket, they need Dirk to answer the call. They need to have that option. Whether he’s a decoy or the trigger man, the team must have Dirk be the crunch-time guy they’re accustomed to.

Or else the late-game options get real thin real fast.

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