2009 NBA Playoff Preview: Spurs vs. Mavs

The good news: When the Mavs and Spurs begin their first-round playoff series this weekend it will be a renewal of a rivalry featuring talented, tested teams.

The bad news: When the Mavs and Spurs finish their first-round playoff series, the loser will go home and the winner won't be far behind.

Should be a competitive, entertaining clash. But, ultimately, I don't see either Dallas or San Antonio as a major threat to get out of the second round, much less the Western Conference. (And since '95 only one team seeded lower than 1 or 2 has won the title.)

But with the Stars AWOL and the Rangers again starting to play like the Rangers, doesn't mean we shouldn't gorge ourselves on NBA Playoff basketball while we can.

In the Eastern Conferene, I've got Celtics over Bulls in 4; Cavs over Pistons in 5; Magic over Sixers in 5; Heat over Hawks in 6.

In the West, it's Lakers over Jazz in 5; Rockets over Blazers in 6; Nuggets over Hornets in 7 and ...

In a matchup of two of the NBA's most inconsistent, frustrating teams this season, my heart says Mavs, my head says Spurs and my prediction says ... it needs further examination.

In the form of a a position-by-position breakdown ...

Point Guard - Jason Kidd, who has proven he can defend bigger players like Ron Artest and even LeBron James, must somehow stay in front of Tony Parker. Kidd has been clueless against smaller, quicker guards like Chris Paul and Parker, who averaged 31 against Dallas this season. Kidd can post-up Parker and he's hit some big 3-pointers this season, but if Parker consistently gets into the lane it's curtains for Dallas. Advantage - SPURS.

Shooting Guard - Antoine Wright can play defense, but we all know Jason Terry takes some of the Mavs' biggest shots. Roger Mason had a stretch of miraculous buzzer-beaters at mid-season, but has since returned to Earth as a role player. At crunch time, Bruce Bowen will be assigned to crawl inside Dirk Nowitzki's jock. Advantage - MAVS.

Small Forward - The loss of Manu Ginobli at two guard has weakened San Antonio's depth and shoved Michael Finley into the starting lineup. Not good. If Josh Howard isn't quicker, faster, stronger and better, I'll be shocked and the Mavs will be dead. Advantage - MAVS.

Power Forward - Flying under the radar, Dirk has put up similar stats to his MVP season of 2007. When push comes to shove, the Mavs will live or die on his fadeaway jumper. I know Tim Duncan is listed as a four, but who are we kidding? San Antonio's bread-and-butter is him on the left low block. The Mavs will double-team his dribble and hope that Matt Bonner, Kurt Thomas, Fabricio Oberto and Drew Gooden can't make open perimeter jumpers. Advantage - MAVS.

Center - The Mavs have no hope of stopping Duncan in the paint, but at least they can entertain with different looks provided by the bumping of Erick Dampier and the length of Ryan Hollins. Advantage - SPURS. 

Coaching - Rick Carlisle can design spiffy inbounds plays and has former Spurs' assistant Mario Elie on his bench now, but Gregg Popovich has four rings. Advantage - SPURS.

Intangibles - Both teams are April hardened: Kidd is in his 13th consecutive playoffs and Duncan is 10-0 in first rounds. The familiarity will be uncanny, with these two meeting in the playoffs for the fourth time this decade. With both teams certain to max out this series won't be won on effort, but rather execution. Advantage - SPURS.

Overall - The Mavs are more athletic, proven by them averaging 102 points in the four regular-season meetings (2-2), eight above San Antonio's defensive average. But can the Mavs win a game on the road? They lost this year at Golden State, Oklahoma City and Memphis (twice). They've lost their last nine playoff road games and 12 of their last 15 overall. Not sure if this team's leadership is strong enough to overcome a fragile psyche born out of years of post-season pratfalls. The Mavs are the fifth team to win 50 or more games nine straight seasons. The other four each won multiple championships. Ouch. Prediction: SPURS IN 7.

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