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Champs and chumps (cont.)

Posted: Monday May 15, 2006 2:46PM; Updated: Monday May 15, 2006 4:03PM
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San Antonio Spurs-Dallas Mavericks

Champs: Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki
The All-Star bigs have been nothing short of brilliant over the first two rounds of the playoffs, and lucky for us they get to battle in the second round. It's something to keep in mind when you watch Lindsey Hunter chase around Eddie House in the Finals. Just kidding. Sort of.

After averaging 33.5 minutes in the opening round, Duncan has gutted his way through 39 a game in the opening three against Dallas. He's averaged 31.3 points on 61 percent shooting, 11.3 rebounds, three assists and 2.7 blocks in the series. I remember that guy. Nowitzki's game hasn't been as fun to watch, but he's making damn sure the Mavs stick to Avery Johnson's game plan on D, while forcing the action on offense. For the series, Nowitzki's averaging 12.7 rebounds -- while taking only two three-point attempts (missing both) in the three games. In the playoffs he's averaging 26.7 points and 10 boards and shooting 87 percent from the line.

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Chump: Nick Van Exel
We've laid off NVE before because it was apparent last November that he was ready for the Shady Acres shuffleboard tourney. He never could defend competently, and now he can barely run, jump, shoot or dribble competently. Somehow, this hasn't deterred Nick the Knave from complaining to the sublime Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News.

Here's Nick after Game 2, seven games into a playoff run that saw him shoot 4 for 23 from the field: "Everything's fine. With me, to be effective, I need to be playing. It's hard for me to justify anything I'm doing playing spot minutes. Four for 23? Man, that's one game for me. Four for 23? I'm not concerned about that. I haven't had good looks, so I'm not really concerned about that at all. I'm not being aggressive enough. I'm passing first and attacking second. I've got to get my mind frame right going into the game, and that [shooting] will take care of itself. I just go out there and play like a robot."

OK, first off, I've seen robots. Robots are cool, and Nick Van Exel is not playing like a robot. Sorry for the Lloyd Bentsen impersonation. Second, he's dished off 11 assists in 92 minutes of postseason play, hardly the work of a pass-first point man. I do agree with him about 4-of-23 shooting being just one game's work for him, and those bygone days were fun. Why does Gregg Popovich keep giving Nick minutes?

"Nick's a playoff player, and I'm going to stick with him," says Popovich. "That's all I'm going to say."

Great. James Silas was a pretty super playoff performer; why don't you dust him off for 11 minutes a night? By the way, Van Exel hit his only shot against the Mavs on Saturday, raising his totals to 5-of-24 shooting. I'm not concerned about that.

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