By Art Garcia, NBA.com
Posted Apr 29 2009 4:46PM
DALLAS -- For those teams not based in Cleveland, the close-out game is usually the toughest of the series. The Mavericks are certainly expecting as much with a 3-1 lead going into Game 5 Tuesday night in San Antonio.
"On the road, it's going to be hard," Jason Kidd said Monday after practice and before the team flight to Spurs country.
But the Mavs are also no strangers to having their backs against the wall. Though the pressure wasn't at the same level it is now for the Spurs, Dallas spent the last few weeks of the regular season teetering on the brink of Playoff elimination. If not for the closing flurry of wins, Mark Cuban could have been preparing for the lottery right now.
"We had a lot of games this season where our Playoff lives were on the line," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "We know what it's like. We know how it feels."
Reaching the Western Conference semifinals would be a new feeling in Dallas, considering the last couple of years. The Mavericks haven't gotten out of the first round since the run to The Finals in 2006.
The Spurs have a title (2007) and trip to the West finals (2008) since. Unlike the Mavs, being one loss from vacation this early in the postseason is new territory for San Antonio.
"We haven't been in that position very often," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "I'm sure when we were, it was a while ago."
San Antonio was last eliminated in the opening round in 2000, when an injured Tim Duncan missed the series against Phoenix. There's only been three years since in which the Spurs haven't reached at least the West finals, the last being in '06 when Dallas knocked them out.
"We haven't lost too many in the first round," Duncan said, "and to be down this big is obviously different, but it is what it is. We put ourselves in this hole. It's either stand up and try to win these games or we go home. We face reality."
It would be foolish for the Mavs not to count on San Antonio's best effort in Game 5. The Spurs did run to double-digit leads in each of the first two games at home, so Dallas is bracing for another surge of Spurs energy right from the tip.
"We've got to be able to match," Carlisle said, "and exceed it, hopefully."
Jason Terry's formula for finishing off the Spurs in their building is simple: "Put yourself in position to win and impose your will."
The Spurs' defensive strategy of limiting the Dirk Nowitzki and Terry has been a double-edged sword. While the Mavs' two leading scorers have been held in check, San Antonio hasn't been able to take advantage.
Instead, the Spurs have watched the likes of Josh Howard, J.J. Barea, Erick Dampier, Kidd and others enjoy a productive series. It has come as somewhat of a shock to Popovich.
"Their role players are really playing well," he said. "They're shooting the ball like they didn't shoot it going into the Playoffs."
On the flip side of the coin, the Spurs aren't getting much out of anyone other than Tony Parker and Duncan. Popovich said that has to change if his team wants to send the series back to Dallas. Duncan is confident that Roger Mason Jr., Matt Bonner, Michael Finley and the others Popovich may call on are ready to step up and hit the looks their Maverick counterparts are thriving on.
"You continue to give them those shots, they'll go down," Duncan said. "We've lived by that rule all year long."
And they're not ready to die just yet.
If you have a question or comment for Art Garcia, send him an email.
|Worst Of The Week: Russell Westbrook|
What did Westbrook do to earn Worst of the Week dishonors?
|All-Star Ballot Returns|
The first ballot returns of All-Star voting are in, who should have got more recognition? Who should have got less?
|NBA Fantasy Minute: Lines of the Night|
The Starters take a look at some players who had a huge Christmas fantasy day in the NBA.
|NBA Top 10 Plays: The Starters|
The Starters hit you with the Top 10 Plays from the past week. There were some difficult decisions to make this week, as always.
|Christmas Day: What The Starters Learned|
What did The Starters learn from the five games on Christmas Day?