Thursday , Apr , 21 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

NBA Playoff Preview – Dallas vs. Houston

***** NBA Playoff Preview – Dallas vs. Houston *****
From The Sports Network

By Warren Blatt, NBA Editor

Dallas Mavericks: 4th Seed, West (58-24)

Houston Rockets: 5th Seed, West (51-31)

(Sports Network) – Southwest Division rivals will square off in the first
round of the NBA Playoffs, as the fourth-seeded Dallas Mavericks will lock up
with No. 5 Houston.

This is the second time that Dallas and Houston have met in the postseason. In
1988, the Mavericks eliminated the Rockets, 3-1, in the first round.

During the regular season, the teams split four games as each club picked up
win at home and on the road. In last year’s playoffs, Dallas fell in five
games to Sacramento in the first round, while the Rockets were also eliminated
in five in the opening round by the Lakers.

The Mavericks had a fantastic regular season as they were 58-24, which is the
second-best record in franchise history. They won a franchise-best 60 games in
the 2002-03 campaign.

Dallas enters the postseason as the hottest team in the NBA. The Mavericks won
their final nine games of the regular season and scored more than 100 points
in seven of those contests.

Avery Johnson, who became the eighth head coach of the Dallas franchise after
Don Nelson resigned on March 19th, has had a huge impact on the Mavericks’
success, while All-Star Dirk Nowitzki is once again the go-to guy. Johnson has
the respect and confidence of his team and knows what it takes to win the
league from his experience as a player.

Nowitzki had an MVP-type season, as he averaged 26.1 points and 9.7 rebounds,
which were both team-highs. He is an all-around great player who is not afraid
to carry the team on his back.

Even though the team lost star point guard Steve Nash to Phoenix through free
agency last offseason, the Mavericks were once again able to put together a
deep roster. Center Erick Dampier, who was acquired from Golden State in a
sign-and-trade deal prior to the season, is the man in the middle that Dallas
has always been missing. The 29-year-old Dampier contributed 9.2 points and
8.5 rebounds in 59 games this season.

Jason Terry and Michael Finley are a solid backcourt for the Mavs. They both
can drain the outside jumper and move well in transition. Jerry Stackhouse and
Keith Van Horn highlight a deep bench for Dallas.

The Mavericks are ready to try and earn their first berth in the NBA Finals.
Dallas did make it to the conference finals in 1988 and 2003.

Houston is the second hottest team in the league coming into the playoffs, as
it finished the campaign with seven straight wins. The Rockets allowed 100
points just once in their final seven outings.

Tracy McGrady will appear in the playoffs for the first time as a Rocket. He
had an excellent first campaign with Houston, as he led the team in scoring
(25.7 ppg) and assists (5.7 apg). He scored in double-digits in 77 of the 78
games he played in this season.

Yao Ming teams with McGrady to give the Rockets a deadly inside-outside
combination. Yao averaged 18.4 points and a team-high 8.4 boards in 80 games
this season, which was his third in the league.

McGrady and Yao are the key ingredients to the Rockets’ success. With two All-
Stars on its roster, Houston management needed to fill out its roster with
veterans and role players who understand the scheme.

The Rockets have been playing winning basketball as they won 18 of their final
24 regular-season games. However, Houston has not won a playoff series since
1997.

FRONTCOURT: Three All-Stars are included in this frontcourt matchup. The
Rockets have Yao and McGrady, while the Mavericks counter with Nowitzki.

Nowitzki teams with Dampier and Josh Howard to give Dallas a solid frontcourt.
The 7-0 All-Star forward can play inside or outside. His game is complete and
because of his versatility and size he creates major matchup problems. Howard
is athletic and is a perfect complement to his frontcourt partners. He
can get out in the open court for some east hoops and is also a decent
defender.

The Mavericks are finally entering the postseason with a center that will get
them the presence down low that they have lacked in past playoff runs. Dampier
is a strong rebounder and will be able to hold his own in the paint and on the
blocks against the other strong centers in the West. A series like this one is
the reason why Dallas acquired a player like Dampier last offseason.

Yao and McGrady will work with veteran Clarence Weatherspoon, who will be
asked to concentrate on his rebounding and defense, as Houston’s starting
frontcourt. Yao, who has averaged 15 points and 7.4 rebounds in his
five-career playoff games, will need to come up big on both ends of the court
if the Rockets hope to beat Dallas.

McGrady will also need to bring his best game each game for Houston to win
this series. He needs to put up big numbers in the scoring column and must be
able to get the ball to Yao inside when he is being double and triple teamed.

EDGE: EVEN

BACKCOURT: Terry and Finley give Dallas an advantage over Houston’s Bob Sura
and David Wesley in this matchup.

Terry and Finley are more athletic and should be able to use their quickness
and skill to breakdown Sura and Wesley. Terry can play either guard spot,
while the high-flying Finley can work at shooting guard or small forward.

Sura and Wesley are both veterans and are not afraid to take the big shot in
crunch time. They are not flashy, but they can both handle the ball, hit the
outside jumper and play solid defense.

EDGE: MAVERICKS

BENCH: The Mavericks are as deep as any team in the league. They have depth
up front and in the backcourt. Stackhouse, who can play shooting guard or
small forward, is a candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, and forward Keith Van
Horn are the first two players to come off the pine for Dallas. They are not
strong defensively, but both can light it up from the outside and are capable
of scoring in bunches.

Guards Marquis Daniels, Devin Harris and Darrell Armstrong are also solid
reserves. Daniels can play shooting guard or small forward, while the rookie
Harris will see his minutes at the point and the 36-year-old Armstrong has
plenty of experience. Veterans Shawn Bradley and Alan Henderson will eat up
some minutes up front when needed.

Veterans Jon Barry, Mike James, Dikembe Mutombo and Scott Padgett will take up
the minutes when the Houston starters need a rest. James, who won a title with
the Pistons last season, and Barry can both hit the outside jumper and are
able to handle the duties at the point as well. Mutombo will be used to give
Yao some minutes to rest, while the 6-9 Padgett can add some offense if he can
hit his outside jumper.

EDGE: MAVERICKS

COACH: Johnson has convinced the Mavericks that they have to play defense in
order beat the best teams in the league. He has Dallas playing with more
energy, enthusiasm and intensity. Johnson won a title during his playing days
as a member of the 1999 San Antonio Spurs NBA Championship team.

Jeff Van Gundy finished his second season as the head coach of the Rockets.
Prior to landing in Houston, Van Gundy led the New York Knicks to six straight
postseason appearances to go along with a berth in the 1998-99 NBA Finals.

Johnson and Van Gundy both stress defense and they know what it takes to win
in the postseason.

EDGE: EVEN

PREDICTION: The Mavericks and Rockets played great basketball at the end of
the season. Confidence is at an all-time high for both clubs, but there can
only be one winner.

MAVERICKS IN SEVEN

DAL HOU