Monta Ellis needs to play like No. 1


Dirk Nowitzki has earned our trust, a lifetime of it, if you will. He's been named the league's Most Valuable Player before, and he owns an NBA Finals MVP trophy.

We've seen Dirk deliver at winning time in the postseason so many times that we can write off his uncharacteristic performance in Game 1 of the Dallas Mavericks first-round series against the San Antonio Spurs as a fluke.

Really, how often is he going to make just four of 14 shots and score only 11 points? Dirk is one of the best shooters and scorers in NBA history, so we know Dirk will do what he does best several times in this series before it ends.

On the other hand, Monta Ellis has no postseason sweat equity with us.

You have no idea whether Ellis' 4-of-14 shooting performance in Game 1 -- he also scored 11 points -- is an aberration. So you wait. And you watch. And you hope.

And, maybe, you pray that he'll play better in Game 2 on Wednesday night against the Spurs than he did in Game 1. If he doesn't, the Mavs don't have much hope of ending their 10-game losing streak against San Antonio.

Ellis' regular season was outstanding, no doubt. He averaged 19 points and shot 45.1 percent from the field.

While Ellis failed to supplant Dirk as the Mavs' best player this season, he was outstanding in his role as the Mavs' second-best player. But he struggled in Game 1.

The problem, of course, is Ellis doesn't have enough postseason history for you to give him the same benefit of the doubt Dirk receives.

Dirk has played in 129 playoff games. Shawn Marion has played in 97 and Vince Carter 61. Ellis has played in just 16 playoff games, and he's only started 11.

This is only the third time he's been to the playoffs in his first eight seasons. He was a role player in the Golden State Warriors' upset of the Mavs in 2007, the first time a No. 8 seed had ever beaten a No.1 in a best-of-seven playoff series.

Last year, Ellis played for the Milwaukee Bucks, who were swept in four games by the Miami Heat. He scored more than 20 points in Games 1 and 4, but shot a combined 4-of-16 in Games 2 and 3.

There's a difference, as you would expect, between playoff basketball and the regular season.

The intensity increases. There's more time off between games, so the opponent's scouting is superb and the best players are denied their favorite moves. A star like Dirk, however, adjusts his game, which is why a dude who has averaged 22.5 points and 8.1 rebounds in his career boosts those numbers to 25.8 points and 10.2 points in the playoffs.

That's why Nowitzki is a superstar. Ellis is simply trying to prove he can match his regular-season performance in the postseason.

Right now, who knows?

Ellis' point total against the Spurs wasn't his biggest issue. It was San Antonio's ability to keep him out of the lane.

Every time the Mavs set a screen for Ellis on the pick-and-roll, the Spurs went under the screen. San Antonio's strategy was clear: give him the midrange jumper and deny him the lane.

If Ellis can't hit that jumper, there's no need for the Spurs to change their strategy.

Understand, Ellis led the NBA with 827 drives to the basket. (Atlanta's Jeff Teague was second with 771.)

Ellis averaged 10.1 drives per game and scored 7.3 points per game on those drives. Against San Antonio, he drove to the basket just four times and scored just four points.

"I gotta do a better job of getting them great shots -- not just good shots -- and we have to stay the course," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "We have to move the ball a little better, and we have to knock down open shots."

If Ellis can do that, the lane will open and he will make himself a factor. If not, this will be the shortest of series.