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|SI's Marty Burns' Breakdown|
|Dallas || ||Utah |
| Shawn Bradley has never lived up to his No. 2 overall selection in the '93 draft, but the 7-foot-6 fly-swatter can still be a factor in the middle. His presence could make it tough for the Jazz, who are accustomed to getting easy scores inside.
|| CENTER |
|Olden Polynice made more news off the court this season, getting arrested twice for impersonating a police officer, than he did on it. His main job will be to keep a body on Bradley on the boards and resist the urge to whip out his Dick Tracy badge. |
| Juwan Howard has been rejuvenated since arriving in a midseason trade with the Wizards, averaging 17.8 points and 7.1 boards. He'll get plenty of help in defending Malone, but he also must focus on keeping the Jazz off the boards. Small forward Dirk Nowitzki has blossomed into a bona fide star who can score and rebound, but he's still learning to play NBA defense. Also, this will be his first taste of NBA postseason action.
|| FORWARDS |
| At age 37, Karl Malone has slowed down but he's still good enough to average 23.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. He's also a rugged defender and big-time shot-maker capable of carrying his team on his wide shoulders. He's been helped this season by 6-foot-9 small forward Donyell Marshall, a key free-agent addition, who has brought much-needed athleticism and rebounding to the front court. Marshall's main job will be to keep a hand in Nowitzki's face.
| Michael Finley (21.5 ppg., 5.2 rpg., 4.4 apg.) is one of the NBA's best two-way guards and the Mavs' leader. He'll need to set a tone for his team by being aggressive early. He'll also have to hit the boards, a weakness for Dallas. Point guard Steve Nash might be this season's Most Improved Player. His steady play drives the Mavs' attack, and his ball pressure on defense will be crucial against Stockton. With Nash ailing from assorted injuries and Finley leading the NBA with 42.0 minutes per game, however, fatigue could be a factor.
|| GUARDS |
| What more can be said about John Stockton, the NBA's all-time assists and steals leader? At age 39, he finished second in the league in assists (8.8 per game) and 3-point shooting (46.9 percent) while playing just 29.2 minutes per game. Moreover, he's still a surgeon on the court, cutting out opponents' hearts with his precise passes and clutch shots. Bryon Russell is a savvy, playoff-tested vet who can defend Finley and make big shots. Even if he doesn't start the game, he'll be on the floor at crunch time. Utah's experience here will be the difference.
| Howard Eisley, the former Jazz point guard, is the Mavs' top reserve. He'll be counted on to provide a spark off the bench and to steady the offense, especially if Nash's injuries limit his effectiveness. Greg Buckner, a hard-nosed defender, probably won't play because of a sore knee, so 35-year-old veteran Vernon Maxwell will get the call. Calvin Booth, a 6-foot-11 shot-blocker, provides interior help.
|| BENCH |
| In John Starks, Danny Manning, Greg Ostertag and Jacque Vaughn, the Jazz boast a plethora of playoff experience. Starks and Manning can still score when called upon, while Ostertag and Vaughn are complementary pieces who run the system and seldom make mistakes. |
| Not long ago, everybody thought Don Nelson was crazy. This year he silenced the critics by leading the Mavs to a 53-29 record and their first playoff berth in 11 years. He's unconventional, but he's still among the best coaches around.
|| COACH |
| Now in his 13th season with the Jazz, Jerry Sloan is the longest-tenured NBA coach. He did another remarkable job this year, guiding Utah to another 50-win season. No coach gets more out of his talent than Sloan. |
| With controversial owner Mark Cuban leading the way, there is a new spirit around the Mavericks. High-scoring and fun to watch, they seem capable of beating any team anywhere at any time. Still, the playoffs are a whole new ballgame.
|| INTANGIBLES |
| The Jazz slumped badly down the stretch, prompting many to believe their old legs had caught up with them. Still, Stockton and Malone play best when cornered. In addition, they would be almost impossible to beat in a Game 5 at Delta Center.
| Nash was one of the more underrated players in the league this year. The Mavs need him to contain Stockton and keep pushing the tempo so it doesn't turn into a half-court game. If Nash runs out of gas, so will the Mavericks.
|| 'X' FACTOR |
| Marshall has been a major addition to the Jazz this season, but after spending the past five seasons in Golden State, he's new to the whole playoff phenomenon. How will he respond to the pressure? The Jazz will need him to stay focused. |
|Burns' Prediction: Jazz in 5|