Ready or not, here come the Mavericks
My first thought late Wednesday night was to wonder what it would have been like to have been with the Minnesota Timberwolves after their game. They must have been feeling so good about themselves.
They were figuring they'd taken care of business by beating the Memphis Grizzlies and clinching homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Finally, perhaps, they'd have a shot at winning a playoff series.
And then, of course, the Trail Blazers went into the tank against the lowly L.A. Clippers. Instead of getting Portland, which Minnesota had beaten three times this season, the Wolves would be playing the L.A. Lakers.
Good luck, Kevin Garnett. Have a nice long offseason.
Can you imagine, just for a moment, how much the Timberwolves must have been hating the Blazers?
But, of course, a lot of people hate the Blazers these days. You almost have to wonder if they hate themselves. I mean, what does it say for them that they couldn't get it together long enough Wednesday to defeat the showboating Clippers?
Ugh. It almost made you wonder if they were dumping the game, preferring to play the Dallas Mavericks than the Timberwolves. I do not believe that was the case, because even Portland's loony players aren't that stupid.
In spite of the two Portland wins over the Mavs this season, I don't think there's any way the Blazers are better off playing Dallas than they would have been playing Minnesota. I would have picked Portland to defeat the too-soft Timberwolves Ñ who would have been worn down by the Blazers in a seven-game first-round series.
Oh, I know the Mavericks played inconsistently for much of the last month of the season. But don't forget they were playing without Michael Finley most of that time. Finley is a valuable player, and shooting guard is the one spot where Dallas doesn't seem to have a lot of depth.
But all over the rest of the court, the Mavericks are as deep as they come. They're loaded on offense and can flat-out score with any team in the NBA. The questions with Dallas, of course, are defense and rebounding. That's no different from last season.
Rebounding is a huge Maverick problem against the Blazers, who are more physical than Dallas and have more post-up players. That said, I cannot imagine a Don Nelson-coached team losing to a Maurice Cheeks-coached team in a playoff series.
There will come a time in a series like this one for adjustments to be made and for coaching to have a real impact. Cheeks has routinely been outcoached all season, and I would expect it to happen again. The regular season is over, and the Portland coach still has not settled on a consistent player rotation Ñ with guys being used one night and not the next, or for major minutes and then almost no minutes Ñ from game to game.
I can't tell you how he'll use Dale Davis or Arvydas Sabonis or Zach Randolph or Damon Stoudamire or Scottie Pippen in this series. Nobody can. Even he can't. That might be a brief advantage for Portland, but in the long run you won't get consistent performances from players unless they're used in a consistent manner.
So, yes, Dallas has a roster as deep as Portland's and enough talent to have won 10 more games this season than the Blazers. Add to that the obvious coaching advantage of Nelson over Cheeks, and it's hard for me to imagine Portland winning the series.
It shouldn't be a Dallas sweep, though. In fact, it shapes up as a very competitive series. Considering Portland's obvious advantages inside and on defense, it really ought to go seven games. But if it does, that's when the homecourt advantage Ñ which Portland frittered away in the second half of the season Ñ takes over.
Make it the Mavericks in seven games, with the usual two or three Blazer player meltdowns along the way.