Believing in the Mavs

13 Jun

Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks finally got theirs, winning the 2010-11 NBA Title // Keith Allison

Congratulations to the 2010-11 NBA Champions, the Dallas Mavericks.

Feels weird to say, doesn’t it?

Rather than jump on the bandwagon and pretend that I “knew it all along”, like many sportswriters (and non-Mavericks fans) will claim, I’m going to be honest. I’ve never believed in them. Ever.

I picked them to lose every series – this year, last year, and as long as I can remember.

And for good reason. Despite averaging 56.3 wins per season over the previous 10, they only made it past the second round twice. After making the finals in 05-06, they blew a 2-0 series lead. The next year, they went 67-15 (tied for 6th best regular season in NBA history. SIXTH!), and got swept in the first round!

But they finally got it done.

Obviously, the addition of Tyson Chandler was huge – he led the team in rebounds and was one of the most efficient scorers in the league. Each playoff round, his scoring increased, and he pulled down nine rebounds a game. While Dwyane Wade had a few highlight blocks on him, the Heat never really had an answer for him. Miami had questions all year about their hole at centre, and it finally caught up with them.

If you’ve been watching the games, you’ve probably heard at least a billion times that Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry are the only guys left from the previous finals team. And while the supporting cast is different from ’06, it’s not much different from last year’s team that got dumped in the first round (outside of the Chandler addition).

The third time was the charm for Jason Kidd, winning his first NBA title // Bryan Cedeno

While Jason Kidd, 38, reminded us that he’s an all-time great, and JJ Barea made all guys under six-foot believe they can ball if they just try really hard, it was Nowitzki and Terry who played like champions on the big stage.

After Game 3, Dirk called out Jason Terry, saying “Jet hasn’t really been a crunch-time, clutch player for us the way we need him to”, after he went 11-for-34, and scored just 14 PPG, in the first three games. But Terry got it together, shooting 58% (25-for-43), and averaged 21.6 PPG in games 4, 5 and 6. He had a big 27 points in game 6, offsetting the unusually bad game from Nowitzki. I’d still prefer Manu Ginobili as my sixth man, and I’ve never thought of Jason Terry as a real number 2, but in these finals he came up huge and proved that he was.

After game 1 of the Western Finals vs. OKC – where Dirk scored 48 points and went 24/24 at the free-throw line, I was finally sold on him as a playoff performer, and his team. He was making his shots, the only way to stop him was to foul, and he was lights out at the line (vs. the Lakers, Thunder and Heat, he shot 96.4% (109/113)). Last time in the finals, he missed so many shots (being held to 14% shooting in one game), and was especially horrible from the 3-point line. This time, (excluding game 6) he hit long range shots when they needed him to, and even upped his rebound game.

In North American sports, there’s a notion that European players can’t lead a team on the big stage because “they’re soft”. Just like Nicklas Lidstrom ended the “European captains can’t win the Stanley Cup”, I think Dirk has killed the notion that Europeans can’t do the same in the NBA. How many times did he help turn around a huge deficit? Even in a game (Game 6) where he was an atrocious 9-for-27, he had 10 points in the fourth quarter. Never mind Kobe Bryant, in the NBA, “the closer” is Dirk Nowitzki.

Just like in the series with Boston and Chicago, the question for Miami was: can the Big 3 of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh beat a team that is better than them overall. Finally, the answer was no. The Mavs had what the Heat lacked: role players who could play two-way ball. The Heat took advantage of Boston’s age, and Chicago’s inexperience, but the same couldn’t be said in the finals, as Dallas had more experience, hadn’t lost a step, had a top 10 defense and more depth.

This year, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said Dirk was one of the top 10 players of all time. While I still completely disagree with him, he’s now viewed as being simply wrong, rather than a complete moron. But if they win another title, that’s a conversation I’d be willing to have.

It’s really too early to talk about next year, especially with a lockout looming and uncertainty about Jason Kidd’s future, but just remember: Caron Butler didn’t even play. Their core is aging, but they still have a few years to contend.

While I’m not picking them to repeat as champions, I’m going to do something I’ve never done: pick them to win their division next year. It may not be much, but hey, I just started believing in this team a few weeks ago.


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