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Spurs, Mavs should be Texas-sized dogfight
Texas Two-Step
By Bernie Bickerstaff analyst Bernie Bickerstaff previews the first-round series between the Spurs and the Timberwolves.

Three Things for the Spurs:
  • Utilize their rebounding edge and attack the offensive boards
  • Contain Michael Finley and make him exert himself on defense to take away some of his offensive prowess
  • Solve Dallas' multiple defenses and disruptions with patience and good ball movement

    Three Things for Dallas:
  • Shoot well from the perimeter -- will get this done by creating shots off the dribble
  • Take care of the defensive boards -- can't allow Tim Duncan and David Robinson easy second-chance points
  • Contain the Spurs' perimeter shooters -- Danny Ferry, Sean Elliott, Terry Porter -- who are all good three-point shooters

    Marquee Matchup: Michael Finley vs. Derek Anderson
    Finley has had a terrific postseason so far, averaging 23.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg and 3.0 apg. He will not be an easy assignment, but Derek Anderson needs to be ready. Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash came on for the Mavericks against Utah, but it was everybody's concern for Finley who single-handedly brought the Mavericks back and helped his team advance. Finley is one of those players that can get into a groove by making shots and running the break, and when that's happening, defenses must get up and force him into traffic. Anderson will need to crowd Finley and force him into Duncan and Robinson.

    Anderson, though, is so skilled at running the break and getting to the foul line, that the Spurs will go to him on offense and make Finley work defensively. The thinking is that if Finley works hard on the defensive end, he won't have as much gas in the tank on offense.

    Dallas' Offensive Approach:
    Dallas has to utilize Nash, Nowitzki and Finley on screen-and-rolls, and try engaging Duncan and Robinson on the defensive end. By taking them away from the basket on these screen-and-rolls, Duncan and Robinson can't just lay back and block shots.

    This strategy may be hard if Shawn Bradley is in the game, because when he is, Robinson gets an opportunity to float and help out on the floor. Dallas needs to go to Bradley on the offensive end of the floor just to occupy the Admiral so Robinson doesn't have that freedom to roam. The Mavericks have to use Nowitzki to create shots off the dribble so things open up inside. Nowitzki stands out on the perimeter and shoots the ball well, but the Spurs can get up and crowd him. If he can create off the dribble, it will be a big plus for the Mavericks.

    San Antonio's Offensive Approach:
    San Antonio has a distinct advantage because Dallas has a tough time matching up with Duncan and Robinson. Who guards whom? I just don't think there is anyone on the Dallas roster that matches up well with Duncan. Juwan Howard is too small and Duncan can shoot over him. Robinson's quickness is too much for Bradley and if Bradley goes to help out elsewhere, the Mavericks will be in trouble. San Antonio should make a concerted effort to go to the offensive boards.

    When you talk about Ferry, Elliott and Porter, they shoot the ball awfully well from the 3-point line, which turns out to be a great balance for San Antonio. They have great balance in terms of their inside-outside combination.

    Poised for a big series:
    For San Antonio, Ferry is a veteran player who will be called upon to defend Nowitzki. Ferry will do a good job with Nowitzki because Ferry is physical and he understands angles. You've also got a situation with Nowitzki having problems guarding perimeter players, and Ferry is an adept outside shooter, so he could have a big series.

    Dallas' Nash has played well during the playoffs, averaging 18.4 ppg, 6.8 apg and 3.6 rpg, and one-on-one, would have an advantage against any of San Antonio's point guards. He matches up well against Porter, Avery Johnson and Antonio Daniels, but where Nash will be called upon to play 40-plus minutes per game, the trio of Spurs point guards all average between 16 and 25 minutes during this year's playoffs. Will Nash be able to stay fresh enough against these three cerebral and physical players? That will be key. He makes this Mavericks team go, so if Nash doesn't wear down, that will help Dallas immensely.

    Intriguing subplots:
    It's the battle of Texas, where small-town San Antonio and their two unassuming superstars take on big-city Dallas and a team ripe with energy and promise.

    San Antonio has had nearly a week off, but the layoff shouldn't hurt them at all. The rest has created an opportunity for them to continue to heal and to physically get themselves together. The Spurs are anxious to play and should be in top form, but until they step out onto the court, you never know.

    On the other hand, the Mavericks need to be very careful. They were flying high after their Game 5 victory in Utah, and now they have to hit the road again and play a team that has been waiting for them. After such an emotional win, will this young team suffer a letdown? The Mavericks need to look at how formidable the opponent is, and must not relax or they could lose two quick ones in San Antonio.

    The Spurs are ready. Their layoff hasn't hurt them. I think it even creates more of an opportunity for them to continue to heal, to physically get themselves together. They're anxious to play.

    I think it's a well-balanced series. I think the matchups are good. I just think the Spurs are playing well and they have depth. That's a big factor. They can just bring guys, Rose, Elliott, Samaki Walker, Johnson, and Daniels. And all these guys have had an opportunity to play, because of all of their injuries. The Spurs are just a little stronger and should advance.

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