- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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1. What's your revised series prediction?
Gutierrez: I would be somewhat shocked if this series doesn't go to a Game 7. This series has been the most entertaining one of the opening round of the playoffs. It would be fitting if the added drama of a Game 7 was included. Looking at the competitiveness of the series, it's uncanny to look at how volatile the series has been in terms of who has had control. If you're Dallas, you can easily make a case that you should be up 3-1 or even completed the sweep in the series. If you're San Antonio, you could make just as strong of a case that you should be up 3-1 in the series. It's been that close. I mentioned that this series would be death by paper cuts for the Mavs. A painful Game 7 loss would likely be the equivalent of that. I see a valiant fight, but I see the Mavs falling just short of pulling off the alleged upset.
Taylor: Spurs in seven. The Mavs took the Spurs' best shot in Game 3 and 4 and each game still came down to the last 10 seconds. There's no reason to think they'll go away. They're hanging tough despite an inability to get consistent offense from Dirk Nowitzki.
MacMahon: Let the record reflect that I wasn’t certain the Mavs would make this trip to the River Walk when the series started. I thought a Spurs sweep was much more likely than this series going seven games. Well, I was wrong. Give the Mavs credit for making this series competitive and giving themselves a real chance to pull off what would be one of the most surprising upsets in NBA history. I still think the Spurs advance, but they’ll be pushed to the seven-game limit.
2. Why has Dirk Nowitzki struggled so much in this series?
Gutierrez: The Mavs have said it's a world of difference in their defensive scheming when they only have to concentrate on one opponent. That's a two-way street, working equally as strong for the Spurs with their approach towards defending Nowitzki. While no one is going to confuse him for Houston's underrated defensive anchor Omer Asik, Tiago Splitter has the right combination of height and athleticism to give Nowitzki fits. They're daring Nowitzki to operate off the dribble, leaving him with not many options as his bursts of athleticism just aren't there on a consistent basis. Heading into Game 5, Nowitzki has more field goal attempts (65) than points (64). If Dallas can't get Dirk Nowitzki going, it'll be in a world of trouble. Time is running out, and the Mavs need their star to crack San Antonio's defensive code.
Taylor: The Spurs have decided they're not going to let Dirk beat them. They've decided to take their chances with other players, which is actually a good strategy. When Dirk was 28, you could try all you wanted not to let him beat you and it wouldn't matter. That would also be the case a couple of years ago, when he led the Mavs to the title. At 35, though, he can't just impose his will on the game was he could in the past. There's no shame in that. They're not leaving him on the pick-and-roll, so he's not getting the clean looks he usually gets. And they've taken away the trail 3-pointer, too. When he moves onto the blocks, they're doubling him. This is why Gregg Popovich is one of the best coaches in the NBA.
MacMahon: Pop and Father Time are a tough one-two punch. Popovich has come up with a defensive scheme that exposes Nowitzki’s biggest weakness as a 35-year-old: He can no longer dominate off the dribble. Nowitzki might have been the best 7-foot iso player in NBA history during his prime, but he no longer has the quickness to score consistently when he puts the ball on the floor. He’s still a lethal jump shooter, but the Spurs have limited his good looks, daring him to try to win off the dribble.
3. Did the Spurs sleep on the Mavs entering the series?
Gutierrez: To me, that seems a bit rash. Dallas may have had to hold on down the stretch just to get into the playoffs as the final representative in the West, but no matter who the team was going to be, it wasn't going to be a slouch. Saying the Spurs were sleeping on the Mavericks would insinuate that Popovich didn't have his guys fully prepared for battle. That's a stance that most wouldn't be willing to take. Hearing that they didn't have a chance in the world against San Antonio, Dallas buckled down and worked to show it wasn't overmatched in this series. The results have led to another classic round of battles between the Mavs and the Spurs. That's not due to San Antonio underestimating its rival from the north. That's just due to the fact that Dallas said enough was enough.
Taylor: The Spurs didn't sleep on the Mavs, though you couldn't blame them for figuring the series would be a little easier after sweeping the regular season and winning nine straight against the Mavs. Even if they had, Dallas would've had its full attention after Game 1 and definitely after Game 2, when the Mavs blew them out. This series isn't about the Spurs taking the Mavs for granted, it's about the Mavs playing well and getting contributions from their role players on a regular basis, something the Spurs haven't done.
MacMahon: Yes, the Spurs slept on the Mavs. Why do you think Pop called out his team after Game 3 for not wanting it as much as the Mavs? It’s human nature to figure you’ll be fine in the first round against a team that you’ve beaten nine straight times by an average of almost 15 points. The Spurs anticipated that this series would be a nice little tune-up for them before the playoffs really started. They know now that they’re in a fight.
2dMarc Stein and Tim MacMahon