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GSoM Playoff Q&A with Tim Kawakami 04/20/07 (Part 1 of 2)

GSoM friend Tim Kawakami was gracious enough to take some time out to do a Q&A with us despite his hectic schedule. He always brings a fresh perspective to the Bay Area and Warriors sports scene. Make sure to make Tim's blog Talking Points with Tim Kawakami a daily stop. Also, make sure to check out his work in the San Jose Mercury. Tim's always got the latest scoop on the Bay Area sports scene and some great insights. Warriors Nation is lucky to have Tim covering the Warriors.

Golden State of Mind: Can you believe the Warriors made the playoffs? What's the single biggest reason they finally ended the curse this season?

Tim Kawakami: I saw it. I wrote about it. I wrote constantly throughout this season. And I'm still in a semi state of shock. Not because the Warriors aren't good enough--they are clearly a good team, possibly one of the seven or eight best teams in the NBA right now. It's because so much of our perception of and judgements about this franchise has been based on their failures and our analyzing how they've screwed up.

This time they didn't screw up. In fact, they far exceeded any normal expectation for a team that made a massive mid-season trade (albeit an incredible one), that had major injury problems, that depended on two near-teenagers and that was nine games under .500 in late February.

That's stunning. I'm still finding myself thinking, "I've got to get on a plane soon to cover a Warrior playoff game. WHAT THE HELL? Is this a sign of the apocalypse or that you really can wish upon a star?"

I think there are three major reasons this happened--Don Nelson hit all the right buttons, Baron Davis turned in a dominant 63 games (which is about all the Warriors could've asked for) and Chris Mullin's brilliant Indiana mega-trade.

But if I had to pick one, it'd be the Indiana trade because it perfectly highlighted and complemented the other two things. That trade made the season because it made Nelson look like a genius and Baron like a born winner.

Nelson obviously had a hand in the deal, and in one swoop he dumped the franchise's two albatrosses--Murphy and Dunleavy--and added two tough, athletic players who flourished once they got rolling alongside Davis. I'm told that Davis privately could barely tolerate watching Dunleavy, in particular, deliver such soft performances. Stephen Jackson is the furthest thing in the world from that. That's why that trade was the key to everything.

Golden State of Mind: The Mavs made it out of the uber-Western Conference Playoff bracket last season and won 67 games this year. On the other hand, the Warriors had a painfully disappointing season last year and finally ended a 12 year playoff curse by grabbing the 8th seed by going 2 games over .500 this season. Yet, for some strange reason the Warriors have had the Mavs' number for the past 2 years.  Why do you think the Warriors have had so much success against them?

Tim Kawakami: The Dallas thing was a mystery to me last year (Troy Murphy getting up in Nowitzki's face and Nowitzki backing off?) and it just kept getting weirder this year (67 wins but 0-3 vs. the Warriors?).

Obviously, there's a match-up thing--Dallas has a hard time defending Baron, Jason Richardson and a few of the other Warrior perimeter players, the Warriors love playing that fast and Dallas is trying to slow down but has speed-it-up tendencies, the Warriors make Dampier irrelevent and Josh Howard and Nowitzki only seem to kill every other team, not the GSWs.

But I also think there's a strong case to be made that the Mavericks just never seemed to get the Warriors in a moment of high motivation. I can't remember Nowitzki ever looking like he HAD to have a victory when he played the Warriors. It always seemed like the Mavericks drew the Warriors right after they had a huge road victory or were about to go to Phoenix or were skating through a road trip.

I remember late last year, when the Mavs were motoring towards 60 wins, and Avery Johnson just started yanking his top players--Nowitzki, Jason Terry--when things started off bad in Oakland. It was basically Stackhouse vs. the Warriors, and yes, the Montgomery Warriors won. I think Avery was making a point, and he chose to make it against the Warriors because he just wasn't worried about the Warriors.

He is now.

Golden State of Mind: Which matchups are in the Warriors' favor in this series? Which matchups are to the Mavs' advantage?

Tim Kawakami: Oops, already addressed some of that in the previous answer, but I think Jason Richardson vs. Josh Howard/Jerry Stackhouse is going to be huge. Richardson likes playing against Dallas and likes shooting at that arena. I know the Mavericks really worry about Jason, even after this so-so season of his.

Richardson has a shot to be the X-factor in this series, maybe a guy who can put up 16 in a fourth-quarter flurry and sneak out a Warrior road victory. But he also has to 'D' up against the Mavs--he's had some cake match-ups lately because of the Warriors small line-up but he won't get one now.

If Howard hurts the Warriors, I don't think they recover from it. He's the one guy they might have zero answer for. Unless it's Richardson. They might not end up guarding each other all the time (throw Stack in there, too), but I think we might be able to measure a lot about this series just by looking at these guys' stat lines.

Obviously, Nowitzki vs. Jackson and the Warrior double-teamers is big, but I think Dirk will get his points in this series.

Golden State of Mind: What's your prediction for this Warriors-Mavs series? Do you see any chance for a monumental upset?

Tim Kawakami: I'm thinking the Warriors split in Dallas with an epic Game 2 performance out of Baron and Richardson and maybe Harrington, split at home for a 2-2 series heading into Game 5. Then I see Dallas' superior depth and talent squeezing out the next two in a row. Dallas in 6.

But there's a shot at a Warrior upset, of course there is. We know that two 8s have knocked off 1s in this format--not in a seven-game series. This is a strange one, just because of the personalities involved and the Mavs' void in the middle. If Nellie finds a way to get the Mavs' jumpshots to start clanging and if the Warriors' shots are swishing, there is nowhere else for Dallas to go--witness Games 3-6 of the NBA finals last year.

I don't see it. It could be something like the Lakers, when they won 67 in 2000, drawing Sacramento in a 1/8 match-up that went five furious games. But the Lakers still won it. Dallas in 6.

Golden State of Mind: How real is this Nellie-Cuban drama? Is it something media manufactured or are these two men really not feeling each other right now? Also, how deep does this conflict persist between Nellie and the Mavs? How do the Mavs players feel about Nellie? How does Avery Johnson feel about his teacher?

Tim Kawakami: The Cuban/Nellie thing is just natural tension between two very talented, very smart and very egocentric guys who used to work together and now don't and do not love seeing the other guy get credit for the great things happening in Dallas.

Nellie didn't want to leave the Mavericks two years ago--he got shoved out. He didn't sagely step aside for Avery--he wanted to win the damn championship with this great assemblage of talent. So the tension is real. It's not furious, stomping tension, but it's definitely real.

Cuban just decided that Nelson wasn't a great Next Level Coach. Nellie was a guy who brought you to a certain spot, then his trick line-ups and goofiness and vague defensive schemes just ran out in the Western Conference finals. I sort of agreed with him. Very few franchises ever have to make a call like that, but with Nowitzki and Steve Nash (when he was still there) and all that talent, Cuban had to make that call. And Avery's defensive mentality got him one round further last year.

But Nelson is a marvelous, amazing coach. His old Mavericks players, I'm sure, are still fond of him and what he did for them. He drafted Devin Harris. He drafted Nowitzki. The way I saw it when it happened, he basically created Nowitzki. So how could they not like the guy?


Warriors Nation you gotta love that Tim always brings it in our Q&A's. Stay tuned for Part II.

UPDATE: Here's some more thoughts on the Warriors from our friend Tim Kawakami:

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