*Unless Mark Cuban smears Swine Flu on Tony Parker, I'm afraid the desperate and prideful San Antonio Spurs beat the Dallas Mavericks tonight, forcing a Game 6 Friday night at American Airlines Center. Why? Because home teams down 3-1 always win Game 5. Because Greg Popovich has won 75 percent of his games when facing elimination, best all-time. And because there's that nagging "internal devil" thing with the Mavs.
*Deferential Dirk: On one hand, give Dirk Nowitzki credit. For being patient. For not forcing low-percentage shots over two defenders. For trusting his teammates. Dirk entered this series on a roll, having scored 20 or more points in 25 consecutive games and being named Western Conference Player of the Month in March after averaging 30 per contest. But in this series, Popovich is sending a second defender at Dirk as soon as the pass to him is in the air. Not after he catches or after he dribbles. Before he even has the ball in his hands. The result? Dirk hasn't scored more than 20 in any of the four games. Impossible to fault Dirk's strategy with his team up 3-1, but would Kobe Bryant or LeBron James settle for being reduced to passive passers when faced with San Antonio's defense?
*Re-watched Game 4 last night and a couple things re-popped out. The Mavericks took the right defensive tactic by going under perimeter screens set for Parker, but he made 11 jumpers of 15 feet or more. But not only did Parker score just 12 in the second half, he went scoreless and took only two shots in the game's final 7:39. Advantage: Rick Carlisle. It's like walking Barry Bonds. Or, actually, it's like allowing Bonds three solo homers but striking everyone else out.
*Before calling Laura Miller to dust off those old parade routes, remember that in 2006 the Mavs led the Spurs, 3-1. They lost Game 5 in San Antonio and lost Jason Terry to a suspension after his infamous punch to Michael Finley's jewels. Dallas lost Game 6 at home and needed overtime to win Game 7 in San Antonio. So eight teams coming back from 3-1 deficits was almost nine.
*Speaking of Terry, the biggest surprise of the series has been his inability to torch Michael Finley. I say tonight he scores 20+.
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SHOW ME HOW
*For a guy who hit some big 3-pointers for the Spurs this season, Roger Mason looks lost. And 3-point specialist Matt Bonner is 4 of 19. There's your series, right there.
*It's clear that while San Antonio's Bruce Bowen can still irritate taller defenders like Dirk, these days he's very succeptible to getting beat off the dribble by smaller, quicker types like, say, J.J. Barea.
*If you dare peek into the future, looks like the second-round opponent will be the Denver Nuggets. Watched the Nuggets absolutely swamp the Hornets by 58 in New Orleans last night. Couple things: Prepare to hate J.R. Smith. And, considering how he's shredded the Mavs, can you fathom New Orleans' Chris Paul with a stat line that reads four points, six turnovers and a plus/minus of -38?
*I wish I didn't feel this way about him but I do: Avery Johnson is rooting for the Spurs.