SI.com’s NBA writers debate the biggest playoff question of the day. Today, we examine …
Series currently tied 2-2. Game 5 tips off tonight at 7 p.m. on TNT.
Lee Jenkins: Mavericks. The Spurs are the No. 1 seed facing a No. 8 they have owned for the past two years. They just warded off a furious Dallas comeback and they get two of the next three at home. They should win this series. They probably will win this series. And, yet, the Mavericks have improbably pushed them in every game despite Dirk Nowitzki's failing to crack 20 points and shooting better than 40 percent only once. Monta Ellis has been brilliant and Vince Carter has been clutch, but the Mavs need a ride from vintage Dirk, and their reliable German import will arrive just in time.
Ben Golliver: Spurs. Every time I look at this series, even as it's swung back and forth, I always return to the pivotal advantages San Antonio holds against Dallas, and virtually every other team in the league: elite balance on both sides of the ball, depth and a system in which anyone can be the X-factor on any given night. This matchup has seen some mildly disappointing performances from some of its bigger names, and the Spurs have Manu Ginobili and some clutch shooting from Boris Diaw in Game 4 to thank for their current 2-2 standing. The suspension of Mavs big man DeJuan Blair looms large over Game 5; being down an extra productive rotation player against the Spurs is never ideal. With home-court advantage now restored for San Antonio, I expect the Spurs to gut this series out, even if its been more difficult than anticipated and even if it goes the full seven games.
Rob Mahoney: Spurs. There's not much reason for confidence in any prediction for a series this close, though when in doubt I default to the better, more balanced team. This matchup has given the Spurs all they can handle; their defense has been periodically compromised and their offense generally thrown off-center, all to the point that the Mavs were within a few baskets of a series sweep. I fully expect the series to remain within that competitive fold.
I do, however, think the Spurs can realistically play better than they've shown, even within the context of a trying matchup. It's a credit to Dallas' defense that there likely isn't room in this series for a height-of-its-powers game from San Antonio. Still, the Spurs have actively contributed to both their in-game struggles and general predicament. The uncharacteristic rashes of turnovers, the inexplicable misses at the rim, the weird kinks in defensive rotation -- the line between forced and unforced error is blurry here, but San Antonio is hurting itself all the same through some preventable means. If even a few mistakes a game can be cleaned up by a veteran squad with an excellent coach, that might be enough to overwhelm Dallas' slim margin for error.
Matt Dollinger: Mavericks. Despite the series being squared at 2-2, the Mavericks have come pretty close to sweeping the top-seeded Spurs. If not for Dallas' fourth-quarter cold spell in Game 1 and Boris Diaw's clutch three-pointer in Game 4, this series could be over. San Antonio swept Dallas during the regular season, but Rick Carlisle has pulled out all the stops in the postseason, scheming and implementing new lineups and defenses to confound Gregg Popovich and company. On top of that, the Mavs have been the better team in this series despite Dirk Nowitzki's struggles. Eventually, the shots are going to start falling for the Mavs' star, and the series that Dallas could have already wrapped up will be completed to its advantage.
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