By Don Casey (as told to John Hareas)
Don Nelson is headed back to the playoffs with the same high scoring, up-tempo offense; however he is coaching a different team. Nelson will lead the Golden State Warriors into battle against, his former team, the Dallas Mavericks. We called on former NBA coach Don Casey to break down the series and make a prediction.
This series is of interest for all kinds of reasons, not to mention the fact that Golden State beat Dallas three times this season. There is going to be a lot of off the court atmosphere associated with this game just by the presence of Don Nelson and Mark Cuban and the way it ended for Nellie in Dallas. I think Cuban really wants to have the series won and won quickly. There is going to be a whole different atmosphere there, maybe even a little hostility. This is not a normal No.1 versus No. 8 series. Basketball-wise Dallas can’t get sucked in or caught up with the run-and-gun of Golden State. If Dallas does that, even though they like to push it up at the right opportunity, they could run themselves right out of the games. Does the Warriors’ 9-1 record to close out the season and five-game winning steak give them momentum going in? I think so.
WHAT TO EXPECT: MAVERICKS
During the first two games against the Heat in last year’s Finals the Mavs played some of Del Harris’ switching, match-up zone, which helped them limited Shaq to only four points in Game 2. They were confusing Miami to the point that Miami got into a complete half court offensive mentality. I think they can do that against Golden State, going back to some type of changing defense, zoning on certain situations, to get the Warriors into a probing aspect rather than a spreading the floor aspect. The Mavs also have to be a push-pull team, meaning that if they push it, they have to pull it out and set up and run their good halfcourt sets.
WHAT TO EXPECT: WARRIORS
They’re going to try and get this thing going up and down and spread the floor. Golden State just has to keep doing what they’ve been doing. They played zone a whole lot in the first half of the year and then when the trade occurred, Nellie went back to a pressure man, trying to force opposing teams into mistakes. Because of what happened to Dallas last year when they lost four straight to Miami while Miami went to a match-up zone, Nellie might consider doing that at times to confuse them and also maybe to run better. They have those alternatives if they feel that they are struggling.
COACHING PHILOSOPHY: DON NELSON
Nellie is back into his opportunity defense by scrambling, pressuring and using his athleticism and saying, I am going to score enough points, let’s see if you can. He is in hog heaven right now because he is back in the old style. The trade that brought in Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington has really helped him do that while adding almost 34 points per game. When these guys got to Golden State and joined with Nellie, it was like they were out roaming around in the open field as opposed to the micromanaging offensive style of Rick Carlisle. As a result, they’ve responded to that tremendously. The atmosphere that Nellie has created has also trickled down to Jason Richardson, who has had his problems in the past with other coaches, and the other guys on the team. Nellie is a little like the former Lakers head coach Paul Westhead in that he will get mad at you if you don’t take a shot. They have six guys in double figures and two more just under 10 points per game. There isn’t any looking over their shoulder. They know what a bad shot is because Nellie has expressed the confidence in them to go get it.
COACHING PHILOSOPHY: AVERY JOHNSON
How he controls and contains the blitzing of Golden State and how he exploits them on the defensive end will determine this series. If he just runs up and down and goes fastbreak, that is not going to exploit them. That doesn’t bother Golden State. They’ll take it out of the basket and run it right back at you like Phoenix. You have to come upcourt and put them in something like the pick and roll where they have to make technical decisions. If Dallas runs up and down like crazy, they’re going to lose Dirk. I am not talking about opportunity breaks, which they’re good at, because Terry and Stackhouse can push the ball, but it has to be recognized that you can surgically go after Golden State as well.
Golden State can still win two at home even if they don’t come out of Dallas with a victory. But Dallas has been there before. If Nellie creates some hype and you’ve got Cuban getting excited and transferring that to his players, then things could get sticky for the Mavericks. This is the classic danger series for Dallas, but I think they’ll take it in six.
-- Don Casey appears courtesy of the National Basketball Coaches Association