As anyone who reads my posts knows, one of my least favorite fake story lines in sports is how fast things are supposed to be over. The Celtics and Spurs, helmed by the Ancients of Days, were supposed to be over years ago. The Mavericks blow 'em up approach was inspired by the idea that Dirk was supposed to be over any day now. It's supposed to be the Thunder's "time", the Heat's "time", as if once they get a championship there's no reason to expect other good teams will ever be able to win it.
Now that the Heat have one, you hear people talking about what a lock they are for another one, as if they didn't need every quarter of a 7 game series to beat an aging and wounded Celtics team in which Ray Allen shot 38% from the field, and the Celts lost a game in which Rondo put up 44-10-8-3.
However, one thing that did seem over, last year, was the NBA's oldest ongoing, and in my mind best, rivalry. The twin 50-game winning season streaks these two Texas teams put up were a model of rare, perhaps unequaled, consistency and excellence. It was such a fixture that last year, in the strike-shortened season, many serious articles were written about whether the winning percentage that would equal 50 in and 82 game season should count--not that it ended up mattering to the Spurs who, in fact, won 50 games.
Fielding by far their worst team since the Dirk years got off the ground--thanks again, Lamar--the Mavericks never really came close, and a rivalry that had given the NBA some of its best moments of the last decade appeared, finally, dead.
Turns out it was just sleeping.I don't want to underrate the Spurs. They won 10 games in the playoffs before they lost their first one last year, and won 24 of their last 27 regular season games before that. When I say that the Lakers and Thunder seem to be the class of the West next year, that's just what the most recent results say, and what the offseason's moves did. There's no reason the Spurs COULDN'T have beaten the Thunder, they just didn't. If they had, given their edge in championship know-how, they might have at least been a tougher out against the Heat.
So when I say the rivalry is back on, unfortunately that remains to be seen. The Mavericks are in the unusual position of having to prove themselves, and also, having to integrate an entirely new team while the Spurs are ready to pick up where they left off. However--
After their shaky start, the Mavericks have certainly fielded a team to be reckoned with, a team, that in my opinion, is no worse than 4th in the West. And the Spurs' vulnerabilities also showed a little bit last year, despite their incredible dominance the second half of the season. They're an unusual team with no great scorer like Dirk, but 5 or 6 or 7 or 8 guys who CAN really fill it up on a given night. The difference between a great scorer and guys who can fill it up is consistency, and that's a pretty good explanation for how the Spurs last year didn't lose for so long, then lost four in a row.
So if the Lakers and Thunder are the class of the conference, then the next three spots should be, in some order, the Clippers, the Spurs and the Mavericks. And two of those teams know an especially large amount about each other.
Here are your starting lineups:
G Darren Collison G Tony Parker
G O.J. Mayo G Ginobili
SF Shawn Marion SF Leonard?
PF Dirk Nowitzki PF Bonner?
C Brand/ Kaman C Duncan
Here are your key reserves:
Mavericks: Brand/Kaman, Beaubois, Brandan Wright, Dominique Jones, Crowder/Cunningham/James? West?
Spurs: DeJuan Blair, Gary Neal, Tiago Splitter
I may be a huge homer---I am a huge homer, but it's only LIKELY, not definite that it's clouding my judgment here--but that looks pretty even to me. Dirk has a huge edge over everybody as a scorer (Only TP, at 18.3, scored more than 15 points a game last year). The Spurs have a huge advantage at PG and SG, but a weaker bench. The Mavs will likely play better defense next year, and may rebound better.
Let me know what you think.
It's nice to be back.
**Managing Editor's Note**
According to MatthewTynan from PtR, there's no way Bonner starts. You can remove the question mark from Leonard- "he will be in the starting lineup for the next decade." And Ginobili/Green is debatable, but Matt leans towards Green since it worked so well until he "started shitting the bed in the WCF." Also, Stephen Jackson will be a very key reserve.
Predicted Spurs lineup:
PG - Parker
SG - Green
SF - Leonard
PF - Diaw
C - Duncan
6th man - Ginobili
C - Blair
C - Splitter
F - Bonner
G - Neal
G - Jackson
Author note: Sorry guys, part of the point of this post was to point out that WITH Mayo, the Mavs are a good challenger. But then I just forgot he existed, briefly. Oops.