Let’s get this out of the way: The Dallas Mavericks more than likely will not beat the San Antonio Spurs in a best-of-7 first-round series.
The Mavs and Spurs will get it on for the sixth time in postseason play after losing 106-105 to the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday. Memphis will play the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round.
This isn’t what Dallas wanted.
Dallas has lost its last nine meetings against the in-state rival Spurs, each coming in different ways. Whether it’s the inside presence of Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, or the sharpshooters at San Antonio’s disposal, a rocket scientist doesn’t need to explain how tough it will be for Dallas to get one, or even two, wins in this series.
But it’s the playoffs. It’s a clean slate. Anything can happen. The Mavs know that more than anyone, having been a No. 1 seed that was eliminated by a No. 8. The Spurs also know what it’s like to be a No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 8.
No one is giving the Mavs a puncher’s chance. But if the Mavs can hang around late in games, there’s no reason to believe they can’t steal a few wins.
How can they do it? Let’s take a look.
GET BACK ON DEFENSE
The story is well known by now: This Dallas team is not good on defense. Dallas is dead last among the 16 playoff teams in defensive field goal percentage (ranked 22nd during the regular season). And it definitely hasn’t been any better when the Spurs get the Mavs on their heels.
San Antonio has relied more on their young guns in the last couple of years. Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, most notably, are the ones who have given Dallas the most fits. They both can stretch the floor and make life easier for the likes of Tony Parker and Tim Duncan.
The Spurs shot better than 45 percent in three games against Dallas. The lone game below that mark was the 109-100 win over Dallas on April 10, but San Antonio made 16-of-34 3-pointers. Dallas will need to play better transition defense when San Antonio gets in the open court.
Which brings us to the next point.
CONTAIN DANNY GREEN AND KAWHI LEONARD
Green and Leonard are the two Spurs that can dictate this series from the get-go, especially Green.
The man who holds the NBA Finals record for most made 3-pointers in a series never goes to the basket. Dallas needs to know he’ll always be moving without the ball around the perimeter. Green has made 14-of-22 3-point attempts in the four wins over Dallas this season.
Leonard is the future star in San Antonio and his athleticism will be a tough test for Shawn Marion. Leonard hasn’t scored as much against Dallas (averaging 12.7 points per game), but he does the little things defensively that makes Dallas think twice about what it’s doing offensively.
If the Mavs can take those two stars out of the game, as insane as it sounds, and force Tony Parker and Tim Duncan to beat them, that makes the chances more realistic. Dallas would rather make this a game of 2-on-2 than have other X-Factors dictate the pace.
Head coach Rick Carlisle said he expects Dirk to play at the 38-40-minute mark for these playoffs, and the Mavs know what they will get from him. Ellis, however, hasn’t had much playoff experience. He’s had one of the better seasons of his career, and will be needed to perform at a high level for Dallas to have a chance.
Nowitzki has averaged 18.5 points per game on 15.5 attempts against San Antonio in the regular season. There’s a good chance that shot number will go up to about 20-23.
The plan of attack is simple for Ellis: Make your shots and put pressure on San Antonio’s defense.
Realistically, I don’t see the Mavs winning this series. But they’re in the field of 16. They have a chance.
It’s just a more difficult chance right out of the gate.
You can find Danny Webster on Twitter @DannyWebster21.