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OAKLAND -- With a handful of games left in his team's surge to the playoffs, Warriors coach Don Nelson brushed aside any questions about which team he'd like to face in the postseason.

"We just want to get there," Nelson said. "You can give us the Pismo Beach Panthers. We'll take them in a seven-game series."

But after listening to his coach deliberately use the media to "decoy" his players earlier this week, Warriors forward Al Harrington knows better than to believe that his coach wanted anything other than to face the Dallas Mavericks, Nelson's former employer of eight years, in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

"He's playing low-key with it, but I'm sure inside, he wants this series more than anybody," Harrington said of Nelson, who coached the Mavericks from 1997 to 2005.

Certainly, Nelson's fingerprints can be found on most every piece of this series, which begins Sunday in Dallas. Avery Johnson, Nelson's hand-picked successor, took over near the end of the 2004-05 season and led Dallas to the NBA Finals last season. Del Harris, Nelson's longtime former lead assistant, is on the Mavericks bench. And in the skybox reserved for Dallas' management is Donn Nelson, son of Don and the Mavericks' president of basketball operations.

"It's going to be a good old-fashioned family feud," Donn Nelson told the Associated Press. "I'm sure when Nellie comes down, we'll get the kids together and hang out and have a good meal. Then the next day we'll try to rip each other's throats out."

Actually, Donn Nelson has no one to blame but himself for this predicament. Father and son still talk multiple times each week, and the younger Nelson helped buck up the elder when his team slipped nine games under .500 in February.

"He's my biggest fan," Don Nelson said. "When I didn't think we had much of a chance, he's the guy that called and said, 'I think you guys can do it,' and kept encouraging me to carry on."

That kind of support may come back to bite Donn Nelson. Even though Johnson runs different half-court sets from those of Don Nelson, the Warriors coach still has all the tendencies of Dallas stars such as Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard, Jason Terry and Jerry Stackhouse in his mental Rolodex.

"I can pretty well predict what they want to do, and if we can take some of that stuff away from them, that's the only advantage, really," Don Nelson said.

Nelson took over a Mavericks franchise that averaged 23 wins in the seven full seasons before his hiring. He crafted four straight seasons of 50 or more wins -- transforming Nowitzki from a 7-foot project into an All-Star along the way -- and was on pace for a fifth such campaign before stepping down abruptly with 18 games left in 2005.

Now he's on his way to a similar transformation of the Warriors.

"The franchise basically was in ashes, and left for dead in a lot of ways, but (Warriors executive vice president Chris Mullin) thought (he could win) if he could get the right guy here, and Nellie is the right guy for the job," Johnson said. "He did it in Dallas, he came there and he and (owner) Mark (Cuban) deserve a lot of credit early on for getting this franchise out of the ashes. It's not an easy thing."

However much credit Nelson deserves, it's not likely Cuban will give it up willingly. Nelson said he and Cuban "really don't have" a relationship at the moment in he wake of Cuban's decision to dispute $6.6 million in deferred compensation Nelson says he's owed by the Mavericks.

"I truly enjoyed working for him for a long period of time. We just fell out of love the last year or two," said Nelson, who plans after the playoffs to file for arbitration in an attempt to recoup the $6.6 million in question. "It was a hard negotiation (for) the last contract I signed, and it really went downhill after that."

While much has been made over the pair's fractured relationship, Nelson claimed Friday that the breakup was really set into motion by the departure of guard Steve Nash via free agency in the summer of 2004.

"It broke my heart when we lost Nash," Nelson said. "I thought we could have won titles with Nash and Nowitzki, playing the way I was playing. When we lost him, it was very difficult for me after that. And the team took on kind of a different character. So it was time for me to move on. That broke my heart, and you lose some passion. ... I think (leaving) was a good thing."

Nelson was asked if he was serious about that title talk, since the Mavericks of Nash's day played in much the same speed and manner of Nash's current team, the Phoenix Suns, or Nelson's own Warriors.

"Oh yeah. They'd have had two by now," Nelson said. "They're going to win one anyway, I think. Soon. They're just so good."

This season, however, since a Mavericks title would mean an end to the Warriors' season, he'd just as soon see the Pismo Beach Panthers win it.

Contact Geoff Lepper at glepper@cctimes.com.