Dallas Mavericks: Gregg Popovich

One-on-one with Dirk: Scouting the Spurs

June, 16, 2014
Jun 16
10:00
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The San Antonio Spurs lost just four postseason games against the Portland Trail Blazers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat en route to their fifth NBA championship. With that fact in mind, many wonder how the Dallas Mavericks were able to force San Antonio into a Game 7 in the first round of the playoffs. Some would say the Mavs gave the Spurs their best challenge throughout the playoffs.

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"I’m not sure if that was it or they hit their stride in Game 7 because they’ve been playing so well since then," Nowitzki said. "I actually think our coverages kind of caught them off guard and they weren’t ready for it."

After the Spurs secured the NBA crown with Sunday's Game 5 win over the Heat, Nowitzki congratulated them on their achievement:



The playoffs allowed Dallas to commit its undivided attention to slowing down San Antonio, which certainly helped its cause. It allowed the Mavs to catch the Spurs off guard, but there were other factors in play. The Spurs were able to clinch home-court advantage throughout the playoffs in the final week of the season. With that in the Spurs' back pocket, coach Gregg Popovich could rest key players, essentially taking his foot off the gas. Even if that took place in a span of three to five games at the end of the regular season, it was enough time for them to lose their edge, causing them to look lethargic against Dallas.

"I just wanted to say what a great series it was and how difficult it was. I am certainly glad it is over," Popovich said after the series against Dallas. "It kept many of us up night after night trying to figure those guys out. [Coach] Rick [Carlisle] did a great job with his game plan. His coaches confounded us. The players were great. It is a really good veteran team that was playing its best basketball here at the end of the year.

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SAN ANTONIO -- The eighth-seeded Dallas Mavericks pushing the San Antonio Spurs to seven games served as a reminder that Rick Carlisle is among the league’s elite head coaches.

Just ask the man Carlisle calls the Coach of the Century.

“I am certainly glad it is over,” Gregg Popovich said after the Spurs’ Game 7 win Sunday. “It kept many of us up at night after night trying to figure those guys out. Rick did a great job with his game plan. His coaches confounded us. The players were great. It is a really good veteran team that was playing its best basketball here at the end of the year.

“I congratulate them. They were really tough and really good. The organization could be really proud of that group in a lot of ways.”

Carlisle’s creative defensive schemes caught the Spurs completely off guard early in the series. That allowed the Mavs to leave San Antonio with the series even after the first two games.

Popovich, the NBA Coach of the Year for the third time this season, eventually figured out all the smoke and mirrors. The Spurs’ offense hummed as usual in the latter stages of the series, but Carlisle’s coaching brilliance was one of the major factors in the Mavs making a competitive series out of what appeared to be a major mismatch.

“Rick Carlisle is one of the most clever guys around, and trying to follow all of his stuff is really difficult,” Popovich said. “That was the toughest part for us in addition to them playing so well.”
Dirk NowitzkiRon Jenkins/Zuma Press/Icon SMIIn 20 elimination games, Dirk Nowitzki has averaged 28.9 points and 11.4 rebounds.

DALLAS -- Bet on a big game by Dirk Nowitzki with the Dallas Mavericks facing elimination Friday night.

That prediction feels much safer a couple of days after witnessing the first burst of Dirk dominance during this first-round series against the San Antonio Spurs, but it’s not about any anticipated carryover from Nowitzki’s 14-point fourth quarter in Game 5.

It’s based on Nowitzki’s track record of coming up big when the Mavs’ backs are against the wall.

Nowitzki has averaged 28.9 points and 11.4 rebounds in 20 career win-or-go-home games. To put that into perspective, per the Elias Sports Bureau, only five players in NBA history have higher scoring averages when facing elimination (minimum of 10 games).

The prestigious list: LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Allen Iverson and Jerry West.

It would be a stretch to say Nowitzki enjoys these elimination situations. It’s no fun to know that you’re possibly one game away from your season going up in smoke. However, with rare exception, he has responded extraordinarily well to that immense pressure.

“Maybe you’re on the edge a little more,” Nowitzki said. “You don’t even want to think that the long season could actually come to an end tomorrow. You don’t even want to let it cross your mind. You want to stay focused and you kind of want to stay in the moment.”

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3 Points: Revised Mavs-Spurs predictions

April, 30, 2014
Apr 30
12:00
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Dirk Nowitzki, Samuel Dalembert, Tiago SplitterJerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsDid the top-seeded Spurs sleep on the Mavericks entering their first-round series?
ESPNDallas.com columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor and MavsOutsider.com editor-in-chief Bryan Gutierrez will join me each week to run a three-man weave on a few questions on the minds of Mavs fans.

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.

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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.

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Dirk NowitzkiJerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsAmong key players in the Mavs-Spurs series, Dirk Nowitzki is the one who's yet to leave his mark.

DALLAS -- Several players in the Mavericks-Spurs series have Hall of Fame résumés and, one by one, they’ve flashed the greatness that should grant them basketball immortality in Springfield, Massachusetts.

With one exception.

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We’re still waiting for that great game, or even that great moment, from Dirk Nowitzki after the teams split their four contests.

Tim Duncan, widely considered the premier power forward in NBA history, dominated during the series opener. He scored 27 points, a third of which came during the fourth quarter, in the Spurs’ Game 1 win -- during which San Antonio fought back from a 10-point deficit.

Spurs point guard Tony Parker, a three-time champion and six-time All-Star, also delivered on Easter Sunday. He had 21 points and six assists in San Antonio’s first victory.

San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili, another three-time champ and arguably the best sixth man ever to fill that role, was the Spurs’ only real bright spot in Game 2 (27 points) and starred in their Game 4 win, scoring 23 points and dishing out five assists.

Ginobili would have been the Game 3 hero if Mavs sixth man Vince Carter, the No. 25 scorer in NBA history and an eight-time All-Star, had not one-upped him. Coming just 1.7 ticks after Ginobili’s go-ahead runner, Carter's buzzer-beating 3 from the deep-left corner is the series’ most memorable moment so far.

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Dirk NowitzkiJerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsDirk Nowitzki is averaging only 16 points per game, shooting 38.5 percent from the floor in the series.
DALLAS -- He’s the sweetest-shooting 7-footer in NBA history, but the most memorable plays in Dirk Nowitzki’s career have come off the dribble.

Who could forget the future Hall of Famer’s two game-winning drives during the 2011 NBA Finals? He spun past Miami’s Chris Bosh and finished with a lefty finger roll to win Game 2. In Game 4, while batting a triple-digit temperature, the face of the Dallas Mavericks’ franchise mustered the energy to blow by Udonis Haslem with the game on the line to beat the Heat again.

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Or how about when Nowitzki left San Antonio Spurs defensive stopper Bruce Bowen in his dust en route to an OT-forcing, and-1 layup in the Mavs’ classic Game 7 win in the 2006 West semifinals?

Now, the Spurs are daring the dozen-time All-Star to drive. And his 35-year-old legs won’t let Dirk do it.

That, in a nutshell, is why Nowitzki’s numbers have been so pedestrian in this first-round series that’s knotted up after four games.

“I think they're forcing me to play off the dribble,” Nowitzki said after the Mavs’ Game 4 loss, when he scored a series-high 19 points on 7-of-19 shooting, marking the first time in his career he’s been held under 20 in four consecutive playoff games. “It's not any secret at this point I'm not the greatest driver anymore. They're just taking my airspace away. That's what the good teams have done over the last few years.”

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DALLAS -- Players across the NBA are repulsed by racist comments attributed to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, and the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs are no exception.

“Disappointing, very disappointing,” Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki said. “I’m not sure if a guy like that is allowed to own a team in 2014.”

The Mavs and Spurs are both considering ways to indicate their displeasure with the Sterling situation and to show solidarity with other players around the league. The Clippers wore black socks and arm bands in their Game 4 loss to the Golden State Warriors, and players in the Houston Rockets-Portland Trail Blazers series followed suit with black socks in their Sunday night game.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have black socks right now,” Mavs forward Shawn Marion said. “We don’t wear them. We haven’t ever worn them since I’ve been here. We want to do something. We’re going to figure out something to do if we can’t get some socks.”

The Spurs wear black socks for every road game, but they could come up with another anti-Sterling gesture.

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Pop: Mavs playing harder than Spurs

April, 27, 2014
Apr 27
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DALLAS -- Whether he really meant it or just used it as a motivational ploy, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich played the “Mavs want it more” card Sunday morning.

With the Spurs down 2-1 in the first-round series against the eighth-seeded Dallas Mavericks, Popovich challenged his team to try harder.

“They got a lot of guys playing well, and they’re playing hard,” Popovich said. “They’re playing like it’s really important to them. And I think we need a few more people doing that.

[+] EnlargeGregg Popovich
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsSpurs coach Gregg Popovich challenged his club after Saturday's loss to the Mavericks.
“I don’t think the guys are disrespecting Dallas because we beat them in the season four times. They know it’s the playoffs. But at the same time, I’d like to see a little bit more nastiness, a little bit more physicality, a little bit more fire from people.”

Has effort been the difference in this series so far? Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t buy it.

Nowitzki said he actually thought the Mavs stole Game 3 despite being outplayed by the Spurs. He thought both teams battled, recalling several hustle plays made by the Spurs, and pointed out that a team that scores a go-ahead bucket with less than two ticks on the clock tends to almost always win.

“Ah, I think the Spurs always play hard,” Nowitzki said. “Pop is such a hard coach on them. If they don’t compete, you know what’s going to happen in the film session the next day, so I think they always compete hard.”

Sounds like the Spurs had one of those film sessions Sunday morning, when they studied a lot of the things they did wrong to allow the Mavs the opportunity to win on Vince Carter’s miraculous, pump-fake-and-fadeaway 3 from deep in the left corner at the buzzer.

“Everybody’s a little pissed off, and that’s good,” Spurs star Tim Duncan said. “We’ll come out tomorrow and we’ll be ready to go.”

The Mavs, who have plenty of defensive execution mistakes to clean up after Game 3, are stressing the importance of keeping their edge and disposition.

Nowitzki made a point to call the Spurs “still the heavy favorite” after the euphoria of Carter’s buzzer-beater died down a bit. The Mavs have seized home-court advantage in there series, but that will be gone when they board the team jet if they let their guard down for Monday’s Game 4 at the American Airlines Center.

“We definitely don’t want to get comfortable now,” Nowitzki said. “Yeah, it was a big game, but if we lose tomorrow, we’re tied going to their place with two home games for them. We want to keep the same mentality we’ve had this whole time. Play hard.”

Pop’s challenge to the Spurs: Match the underdog Mavs’ intensity.

Spurs' Parker fizzling after halftime

April, 27, 2014
Apr 27
2:32
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DALLAS -- The San Antonio Spurs had to call a timeout just 1:54 into Game 3 of their matchup against the Dallas Mavericks. As the Spurs went to the bench, coach Gregg Popovich lit into guard Tony Parker. In just three plays, the Spurs coach had seen Parker allow Jose Calderon to blow right by him with little resistance as Calderon delivered two easy assists at the basket and one running jumper.

Parker responded by going 6-of-8 from the field for 12 points in the opening quarter en route to a 19-point effort in the loss, but the damage might have already been done.

The Mavericks have insisted on switching on all pick-and-rolls, mainly leaving Parker with Shawn Marion or other bigs guarding him. It represents a mismatch, so Parker has tried to exploit it. While Parker is taking advantage on that end of the floor, Dallas is making him work when San Antonio plays defense.

"We want to make all of their guys work," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said after the team's practice on Sunday. "We know Parker is a great player. He had a great first half. He rested more in the second half. That may have been why he didn’t have as many points. I don’t know. He’s going to be a big priority for us."

It has been a collective effort by Dallas' backcourt as they've gone up against Parker. In Games 1 and 2, backup guard Devin Harris scored a total of 37 points and shot 60 percent from the field. In Game 3, Monta Ellis dominated as he scored 29 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter. After a rough start to the series, Calderon has made 12 of his last 20 shots and scored 28 points over his last two games.

With the Dallas backcourt providing so many issues, is Parker running out of gas?

Parker has scored a total of 42 points with nine assists in the first half of the three games. He has scored just 10 points with six assists in the second half of the three games. The shooting percentages tell another story, as well. In 17.0 minutes per game of first-half action in this series, Parker has shot 58.1 percent from the field. In 14.0 minutes of second-half action, Parker's shooting percentage has dropped to just 38.5 percent from the field.

"He looked pretty tired at the end of Game 3," Harris said. "Obviously, he exerted himself pretty much in the first half. We’re going to try to continue to make him grind for his points as well as guard us on the other end.

"So far, we’ve done a good job of that."

The fatigue factor might have been on display most in the fourth quarter of Game 3. Parker stole the ball from Harris with 10:27 left in the period, creating a breakaway attempt. Dirk Nowitzki was running along Parker's right-hand side. Instead of going for a layup, Parker slowed down, ran along the baseline and ultimately settled for a contested 13-foot jumper.

Shortly after that, Popovich subbed Parker out of the game and he didn't return until the 4:06 mark of the period. Parker said he understood the thought process of sitting during the final period.

"Manu [Ginobili] was rolling, he was playing great and [Popovich] felt leaving me on the bench to have more energy for the last four minutes," Parker said after Game 3. "I trust Pop's judgment. Me, personally, I feel fine."

He says he feels fine, but Parker's potential fatigue and the Mavs' ability to capitalize on it will be something to monitor as the series resumes.
DALLAS -- Mavericks owner Mark Cuban doesn’t consider it productive for him to provide commentary on the racist remarks allegedly made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

“Sometimes people think you have to comment on everything in this day and age,” Cuban said. “When somebody says something, it’s better to just let what’s been said be the headline, because that sends a far greater message.”

The comments, made public when TMZ released a recording of an argument with Sterling and his girlfriend, are being investigated by the NBA. Cuban deferred to the league office when asked about potential discipline for Sterling.

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich called the comments “disgusting.” The usually outspoken Cuban felt it was unnecessary for him to weigh in on the issue.

“They stand on their own, just because they’re pretty self-evident on the surface,” Cuban said. “There’s no reason to add any commentary or headlines to it. ...

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Carlisle has upper hand on Pop so far

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
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SAN ANTONIO -- Gregg Popovich, who tends to receive praise with all the grace of a one-man fast break featuring 270-pound DeJuan Blair, refused to believe Rick Carlisle was sincere with his Wednesday morning declaration that the San Antonio Spurs' sideline wizard deserves to be considered "Coach of the Century."

"Rick's a wise ass," Popovich grumbled about two hours before a blink-and-you-missed-it pregame ceremony to present him the Red Auerbach Trophy, commemorating his third NBA Coach of the Year award.

[+] EnlargeRick Carlisle
AP Photo/Eric GayRick Carlisle, above, is sincere in his praise of Gregg Popovich, but the Mavs' coach surely relishes the chance to go up against a coaching legend.
There's nothing sarcastic about Carlisle's Pop praise, but the Dallas Mavericks' coach is an awfully smart man himself. That has been apparent for ages, but it's especially obvious now that this Nos. 8 vs. 1 Western Conference matchup seems as if it's going to be a real series.

With all due respect to Phil Jackson, Carlisle is adamant that Popovich is indeed the Coach of the Century. That's a worthy subject for bar-stool and sports-talk discussions, but there's no doubt who deserves to be considered Coach of the Series so far.

It's Carlisle, and it isn't close.

The ingenious defensive plan concocted by Carlisle and his coaching staff is the primary reason Dallas rolled to a stunning 113-92 rout in Game 2 at the AT&T Center, earning the Mavs their first postseason victory since they clinched the 2011 championship with a radically different roster and, more important, evening this series.

The Mavs seemed to have no hope of slowing down the Spurs, a phenomenally efficient offensive team that had won nine straight games entering the series against Dallas. San Antonio lit it up for an average of 112.3 points while sweeping the recently completed regular-season series between the Interstate 35 rivals, raining in 42 3-pointers in the four games.

In this series, the Mavs made preventing open perimeter looks by Spurs role players such as Danny Green and Patty Mills their top defensive priority. It has worked wonders, as San Antonio shooters not named Manu Ginobili are just 5-of-25 from long range.

By switching on the majority of pick-and-rolls, the Mavs have gummed up the Spurs' typically splendid ball movement, holding San Antonio to an average of 91 points in the series and forcing an astounding 24 turnovers in Game 2, with Dallas converting those opportunities into 33 points.

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Does Ellis on Leonard have a side effect?

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
2:59
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DALLAS -- As smart as three-time Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich is, it’s stunning that the San Antonio Spurs didn’t exploit their biggest mismatch against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 1.

Dallas got away with using undersized shooting guard Monta Ellis to defend muscular small forward Kawhi Leonard for long stretches.

That apparently won’t happen again.

“Because of the way they play defense, Kawhi has got one of the best matchups,” Spurs point guard Tony Parker told reporters. “If they’re going to keep Monta on him and have Shawn Marion on me, we should take advantage.”

The 6-foot-7, 230-pound Leonard, who is four inches taller and 45 pounds heavier than Ellis, had only 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting in Game 1.

Leonard averaged 12.8 points on 52.2 percent shooting this season. He’s a phenomenal finisher and the second-most efficient post-up scorer in the league according to Synergy Sports data, averaging 1.16 points per possession. Yet Leonard only attempted five shots in the paint Sunday despite the mismatch with Ellis.

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Mailbag: Preferred 2nd-round opponent?!?!

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
12:02
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DALLAS – I’ll readily admit that a certain sort of cynicism flows through my veins.

For example, it’s hard for me to look at the San Antonio Spurs' recent dominance of their old Interstate 35 rivals and envision anything other than the West’s top seed advancing to the second round. With the Spurs winning 10 straight over the Mavs, it’s tough to forecast Dallas winning four of the next six games.

It’s not my job to pump sunshine when black-and-silver clouds fill the sky. But I am here to serve the fans, and I must commend some of you MFFLs on your blind faith and enthusiasm.

Case in point: The first question of this week’s playoff-edition mailbag.

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Tim, who would the Mavs rather see in the second round? Blazers or Rockets? – Jake (Philadelphia)

Jake, I must admit that I hadn’t given this subject a second of thought before reading your question. The easy answer is the Mavs would be absolutely ecstatic to have the chance to play either one of them.

The Mavs actually fared pretty well against both Portland and Houston this season. They went 2-1 against the Trail Blazers, winning in Portland on Monta Ellis' buzzer-beater and in Dallas despite blowing a 30-point lead. They split four games against the Rockets, including a classic Mavs comeback win at home.

I’d say flip a coin. Both potential opponents present major defensive challenges for the Mavs, featuring two stars (LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard for the Blazers and James Harden and Dwight Howard for the Rockets) with talented supporting casts.

But if you pin me down and make me pick one, I’d take Houston. They don’t have an answer for defending Dirk, who averaged 31.5 points in the four games against the Rockets this season.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsDirk Nowitzki's numbers in the clutch may not be quite as impressive as in the past, but he's still getting the job done and setting up others.
What are the stats of Dirk Nowitzki in crunch time and OT? He seems to be wearing down late in games. -- @JonathanBlick on Twitter

There’s no doubt that the fight against Father Time is especially tough late in tight games, especially if the 35-year-old star’s minutes were extended that night.

According to NBA.com’s clutch stats (score within five points in the final five minutes), Nowitzki is averaging a still extremely respectable 37.2 points per 48 minutes in those situations, plus 9.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists. However, his percentages plummet: 39.2 from the floor, 20.7 from 3-point range. Yet his plus-minus (plus-25.6 per 48 minutes) is phenomenal, a testament to Dirk’s value as a decoy and Ellis’ ability to take advantage.

By comparison, Nowitzki averaged 41.2 points, 11.2 rebounds and 5.6 assists per 48 clutch minutes in 2010-11, shooting 46.5 percent from the floor but only 12.5 percent from 3-point range. His per-48 plus-minus was 38.3.

During the 2011 playoffs, when Nowitzki went on one of the great closing runs in NBA history to key the Mavs’ title run, those numbers were absolutely ridiculous. In 49 clutch minutes that postseason, Nowitzki put up 66 points, 11 rebounds and three assists while shooting 53.6 from the floor and 60 percent from 3-point range. The Mavs outscored their opponents by 73 points in those 49 minutes. SEVENTY-THREE POINTS!!!

Nowitzki’s OT numbers this season are actually pretty darn good: 27 points on 9-of-18 shooting (3-of-7 from 3-point range), six rebounds and two assists in 28 minutes.

Do you think that our flaws exposed by playing the Spurs will affect what kind of player we target in free agency? For example, going after a more athletic/offensive center versus a SF. – Micah (Stephenville, Texas)

No, because it’s not like the Spurs will expose flaws the Mavs didn’t know about. They’ll be in the market for an all-around small forward and an upgrade at starting center regardless of what happens in this series. It’d be nice to get a center with scoring ability, but the Mavs’ priority this summer will be drastically improving the defense.

This is an elite offensive team and a below-average defensive team. The result is a 49-win season and an extreme long shot to win a playoff series in the West.

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Matchups: Who has edge in Mavs-Spurs?

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
8:00
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A look at the matchups in the Dallas Mavericks-San Antonio Spurs series:

POINT GUARD
Jose Calderon vs. Tony Parker: This is the biggest mismatch of the series. Calderon, a subpar defender, struggles to guard a lot of point guards. He really gets exploited by Parker, who averaged 23.3 points on 54.2 percent shooting in three games against the Mavs this season. That was Parker's highest scoring average against any team he faced more than once this season. Parker loves pushing the pace and running pick-and-rolls, both of which present major problems for Calderon, whose plus-minus was minus-40 in the Mavs' four losses to the Spurs, including minus-25 in 86 minutes with Parker on the floor. If Calderon isn't lighting it up from long range, coach Rick Carlisle should seriously consider giving Devin Harris a bigger share of the minutes.
EDGE: Spurs

[+] EnlargeMonta Ellis
Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty ImagesThe Mavericks probably wouldn't be in the playoffs without Monta Ellis, who gives them the edge at shooting guard.
SHOOTING GUARD
Monta Ellis vs. Danny Green: On paper, this is the Mavs' best matchup. It hasn't worked out that way on the floor, however. Green is a lethal 3-point shooter who has especially lit it up against the Mavs, going 12-of-20 from long distance against Dallas this season. The numbers indicate he has also done a good job defending Ellis, who has shot only 38.9 percent from the field when Green is in the game. The Mavs have been outscored by 60 points in the 81 minutes in which Ellis and Green have both been on the court. The Mavs probably wouldn't be in the playoffs without Ellis, a better fit than the Dallas front office believed even when they signed him to a three-year, $25 million deal. They'll need a huge series from Ellis -- who seems to thrive under pressure -- to have a chance to pull off a stunning upset over the Spurs.
EDGE: Mavs

SMALL FORWARD
Shawn Marion vs. Kawhi Leonard: Leonard looks a lot like a young Marion -- a freakish, 6-foot-7 athlete who is a versatile defender and efficient offensive weapon. That's an awfully tough matchup for the 35-year-old version of "The Matrix." Leonard gets overshadowed by the Spurs' living legends on the roster, but he's a 22-year-old rising star. His all-around skills were on full display during the Spurs' recent trip to Dallas, on which Leonard stuffed the box score for 16 points, 16 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals. By comparison, Marion had a total of 21 points, 13 rebounds and two assists in three games against San Antonio this season.
EDGE: Spurs

POWER FORWARD
Dirk Nowitzki vs. Tim Duncan: The two all-time greats don't actually match up with each other much these days, but it will be a treat to watch a pair of surefire Hall of Famers compete in a playoff series for the sixth time in their careers. The 37-year-old Duncan's numbers have dipped in recent seasons, but that's primarily because the priority for him is being as fresh as possible for the playoffs. He's still a dominant defensive presence and capable of putting up a 20-point, 15-rebound line, the way he did in the Spurs' last win over the Mavs. Nowitzki, an All-Star again this season after a one-year, injury-related hiatus, remains one of the most distinct and effective offensive threats in the league. However, Nowitzki has averaged only 15.4 points against the Spurs in the past three seasons, during which San Antonio has won 10 of 12 meetings.
EDGE: Even

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DALLAS -- San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, the coach who has faced Dirk Nowitzki the most, pretended not to be impressed by the big German bumping Oscar Robertson out of the top 10 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

“Well, you shoot it that much, you’re going to pass somebody,” Popovich deadpanned. “He shoots it every time he gets it. Geez, oh whiz!”

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki and Gregg Popovich
AP Photo/Eric GaySpurs coach Gregg Popovich offered hefty praise for Dirk Nowitzki ahead of their matchup Thursday.
The truth is that there’s a massive amount of respect between Popovich and Nowitzki. Popovich, who is notorious for giving brief answers to interview questions that don’t interest him, was extremely elaborative with his praise of Nowitzki after the Spurs’ Thursday shootaround at American Airlines Center in advance of the Spurs-Mavs game Thursday night.

“Ever since he got here day one, when nobody knew who the heck he was except Nellie [then-Mavs coach Don Nelson], he’s done a lot of great things,” Popovich said. “He started out a bit slow until he got used to the deal here and then became Dirk, a Hall of Fame player and somebody who’s arguably the best pure shooter we’ve ever seen.

“And he’s done it with class. He’s showed up every minute that he’s available, plays hard all the time, great teammate. He’s somebody special.”

It was apparent that Nowitzki was special when he went off for 42 points and 18 rebounds in a playoff game against the Spurs as a 22-year-old. The Mavs were eliminated that night, but it was apparent that a superstar had arrived.

One of Nowitzki’s greatest moments of his NBA career came on the Spurs’ home court. His and-1 layup forced overtime in Game 7 of the 2006 West semifinals, a game the Mavs won in large part due to a dominant Dirk performance of 37 points and 15 rebounds.

Production like that demands a certain level of respect, although the Spurs have gotten the best of the Mavs more often than not. But Popovich seems more impressed by Nowitzki’s process, the work ethic displayed by constantly attempting to improve his game over the course of a 16-year career that’s headed for the Hall of Fame.

“He’s obviously got some natural skills and all that kind of thing, but he worked to be the player he is now,” Popovich said. “He’s put in a lot of time.

“He’s done everything. He needed to rebound more and he did. He’s got a myriad of shots. Every year we see new things, whether it’s his fadeaways or his drives or his spins, his pump fakes. Every year he got better in some aspect of the game and worked himself into position offensively where he was impossible to guard. And he’s still pretty much the same thing. So that’s pretty incredible.”

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Monta Ellis
PTS AST STL MIN
20.9 4.5 1.7 34.1
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsT. Chandler 11.9
AssistsR. Rondo 9.3
StealsR. Rondo 2.0
BlocksT. Chandler 1.4