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Phoenix Suns vs Dallas Mavericks

WESTERN CONFERENCE:

(2) PHOENIX SUNS

Phoenix had to beat two teams from Los Angeles to finally get to Dallas and the Western Conference finals. Each series went the full seven games. The final game against the Cinderella Clippers was a blowout, with the Suns securing their spot in the conference finals.

Like their opponents the Dallas Mavericks, the Suns possess a hallmark power forward—Shawn Marion. With an average of 21.9 PPG and 11 RPG, the 6’ 7”, Marion is a full court force. Point guard Steve Nash is the ultimate set-up man in the playoffs. Along with 20.2 PPG, Nash has been good for 10.2 assists and 3.4 turnovers. Together, Nash and Marion are a potent tandem. They can go inside-outside-inside and across court, until finding the open man.

Additionally, Nash, Marion and the rest of the starters comprise the strongest group of point-scorers in the playoffs. Swingman Boris Diaw with 16.4 PPG, shooting guard Raja Bell with 15.8 PPG, and forward Tim Thomas with 15.1 PPG are all 49% or better from the floor and all but Diaw, are 84% or better foul shooters. (At 76%, Diaw is no slouch from the penalty stripe.)

The Suns are a run and gun club and don’t offer much defense. As a team they dropped in an average of 109.8 PPG, while opponents hit for 106.9 PPG. That 3-point differential is too close for comfort. As teams get deeper into the playoffs, this can be deadly. The fact is that at some point most teams go cold from the court and solid defensive play can save the day. Complicating the situation is Phoenix’s lack of big men.

However, on the plus side, Phoenix is an excellent free throw team, with an 85% accuracy rate—2 points higher than the Mavs. The Suns are also a few percentage points more accurate from the field than their opponents, and they move the ball much better.

The Suns have been through two, extremely difficult seven-game series and are probably facing the same against the Mavericks. They need to keep the ball moving on offense and, as they have in the past, use every player they possibly can to put points on the board. Point guard Leandro Barbosa is the most effective sixth man in the playoffs, offering durable, quality minutes, 14.5 PPG and a free throw accuracy mark of 91%.

Phoenix will try to wear the Mavericks down with their up tempo game, while attempting to neutralize the Mavs’ stellar inside moves. Once again, in a close game it can come down to free throws. Although, the Suns hold a slight edge in this area, it’s negated by the fact that Dallas gets to the free throw line about 10 more times a game than the Suns. For the Suns, it will be more important not to foul Nowitzki and company than it will be to draw the foul.

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(4) DALLAS MAVERICKS

The San Antonio Spurs will not be repeating as NBA champs. The Mavericks made sure of that. It took seven games and an overtime session in the final contest, but Dallas and not San Antonio will be in the Western Conference finals where the Mavs will meet the Phoenix Suns. That series, like the last one, should also be a good one.

The Mavericks are led by power forward Dirk Nowitzki, who has dominated both ends of the court. Playing an average of 43.2 minutes per game, Nowitzki is the team leader in points (28.6 PPG), rebounds (11.3 RPG) and turnovers (2.4 TOPG). He’s hit 90% of his foul shots, 52% of his field goals and 33% of his three-pointers. Nowitzki has played through injury and led by example. He’s at the top of his game and the best power forward in the playoffs.

Sure-handed point guard Jason Terry has had a solid post-season and some spectacular games. Averaging 18.8 points and 4.1 assists per game, he’s ably controlled the tempo on court. Like Nowitzki, he’s extremely accurate at the charity line (91%).

The Mavs feature a cadre of effective swingmen, including Josh Howard, Jerry Stackhouse, and Marquis Daniels, who range between guard and forward. These guys can hit from downtown—together they sank 44% of their 3-pointers—and use their bulk and power inside to get the advantage and score. The 6’ 7” Howard, with 6.5 RPG, has rivaled centers Erick Dampier and DeSagana Diop on the boards.

At center Dampier has been solid, while Diop’s game has been off. On the offensive boards, Dampier has grabbed an average of 3.3 RPG and has averaged 6.5 RPG overall, while blocking close to 2 shots each contest.

The Mavericks’ starting lineup features players in their prime. They were tested by a tough San Antonio team and responded with determined, athletic play. Nowitzki and Terry are the game makers and breakers—both need to continue their consistent, standout play. If there’s a weakness on this team, it’s at center, but to offset that Dallas has a wealth of talented, skilled swingmen who can play both inside and outside. Dallas must utilize their centers to grab some extra rebounds and to take some of the pressure off of Nowitzki. With an 83% team average from the foul line, this is one of the best teams in the league at the charity line. In a close game that ability to sink the free throw can be the difference.

Maddux Sports Series Picks

Dallas wins series 4-2

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