Posted Apr 26 2010 7:46AM
SAN ANTONIO -- Are we to believe that the Spurs are a seventh seed?
The Mavericks certainly don't think so, but they're not the only ones running into a first-round buzz saw. Other than setting up the bracket, seedings are of little importance in the Western Conference playoffs. Ask the Lakers about the Thunder, the Suns about the Blazers or the Nuggets about the Jazz.
Still, should Oklahoma City advance, it'll likely go down as the greatest first-round upset ever. (Golden State currently holds that crown over Dallas in 2007.) Portland over Phoenix would also be quite the shocker. But can anyone really call this an upset should San Antonio finish off what appears to be inevitable sometime this week?
"We knew that they're a good team," Dallas point guard Jason Kidd said. "There's no surprises."
The healthy and happy Spurs are up 3-1 after holding off Dallas again Sunday night by a 92-89 count. During the Tim Duncan era, San Antonio has held such a series advantage five times. They've won all five. The Mavericks of any age, including the current 10-year playoff run with Dirk Nowitzki at the controls, have never come back from such a hole.
Try selling a script where it can happen to anyone other than Mark Cuban after a weekend lost in Fiesta-crazed San Antonio. The Spurs won a game Friday without a 3-pointer and another two nights later with a four-point contribution from Duncan.
While winning under those circumstances may never happen again, the Spurs don't need to tip Lady Luck. They're healthy for the first time in two years. They expected to be in a position to contend for a title this season. Despite what the seedings read, they didn't come into this postseason thinking underdog.
"We really didn't approach it that way," Spurs center Antonio McDyess said. "Whoever we got in the first round, we felt like we were going to go out there and give it our all and try to take the series. It's still not over."
Not yet, but San Antonio is on the verge of advancing by peaking at the right time. Maybe the Spurs saw it coming.
"We have a lot of confidence in this team," San Antonio point guard Tony Parker said. "We didn't have our best regular season because we had a lot of new guys and we had to find chemistry. Now we're playing our best basketball."
Couple that with a Dallas squad coming apart at the seams and San Antonio's three-game winning streak seems fitting. The Mavs lost their composure and their way in the third quarter Sunday. They couldn't stop George Hill at one end and couldn't get a decent look at the other, squandering what was once a 15-point lead.
Hill kept the Spurs close in the first half when Dallas threatened to blow them up. The second-year starter provided the dynamite in the third, leading a 19-2 run to close out the third. Kidd, 37, was helpless when it came to slowing down a 23-year-old kid who played a bit part in this same first-round matchup a year ago.
Hill's growth is just one of the reasons these Spurs aren't those Spurs. San Antonio didn't look the part of a No. 3 seed last year without Manu Ginobili, so when Dallas advanced in five games, few called that an upset. These Mavericks were supposed to be the deeper team, but San Antonio is clearly the more cohesive unit.
Gregg Popovich has dictated the matchups, forcing Rick Carlisle to react. Dallas' coach has yet to catch up. The only constant for the Mavericks through three games had been Nowitzki, so the Spurs took No. 41 out of the flow with a series of double-teams.
Nowitzki, averaging 31.7 points coming into Game 4, took only 10 shots. Caron Butler, a second-half no-show Friday, took 18. Shawn Marion, another bit player in Game 3, had 13. Jason Terry jacked up 11. Dallas scored only 11 in the Waterloo third and shot 42-percent for the game.
"We couldn't generate enough offense," Nowitzki said. "We are doing a decent job on defense, but we just can't generate scoring and offense."
Does that fall on Carlisle, a coach who was supposed to open up the offense after Avery Jackson handcuffed Kidd? Or is it on Kidd, a future Hall-of-Famer who's considered one of the best playmakers ever? Or are the Mavs just not as together as a their No. 2 seeded suggests?
While the blame game will occupy Dallas leading up to Tuesday night's Game 5, the Spurs have found their stride. They moved within a victory of the West semifinals despite a pedestrian 31 points combined from Duncan, Ginobili and Parker. Hill had the best outing of his young career considering the stage, and others such as Antonio McDyess, Richard Jefferson and DeJuan Blair made their presence felt.
The Spurs aren't your typical seventh seeds. Not that they ever thought they were.
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