The main reason why the Dallas Mavericks were able to shock the world and capture the NBA championship last year, besides a plethora of amazing comebacks, was thanks in large part to their ability to close out games.
Obviously, this year's Mavs are nowhere near the group of America's sweethearts that were assembled last year, but you had a feeling during the middle of the season that this team, even with a giant collection of new guys, would be able to make some noise come playoff time.
But on Friday night, for the fourth time this year, Dallas showed once again that, even though this is considered a squash of a season, they won't be anywhere near contention to repeat as NBA champions.
LaMarcus Aldridge hit a turnaround fade-away jumper over Brendan Haywood at the buzzer in overtime to give the Portland Trailblazers a 99-97 victory against the Mavs, finally getting their revenge on the team that ousted them in the first round of the playoffs last season.
It had to be sweet for Aldridge, a Dallas native, to come back home and nail the game-winning shot in front of an always-sold-out crowd at the American Airlines Center.
For the Mavs, it was another feeling of last-second heartbreak that has created a huge dent into the championship limousine that Dallas owns this year.
And the worst part of it is, the buzzer-beater wasn't even the most painful moment of the night.
What about the 12-point lead that Dallas had going into halftime, only to turn into an eight-point Portland lead going into the fourth quarter? Here's the simple math: It was a 20-point advantage for the Blazers in the third, outscoring the Mavs 30-10.
Defending champions aren't supposed to do that. It doesn't matter who's on your team compared to last year.
And what in the world was Dirk Nowitzki thinking in overtime, throwing an outlet pass to Shawn Marion with under 20 seconds left that landed in the third row? Far be it from me to criticize one of the greatest players I've ever seen play the game, but that was one of the rare brain farts from Dirk that we will more than likely never see again.
Oh, and they had a timeout or two they could've used to advance the ball and get the final shot.
Instead, Portland gets it back, gets the ball to Aldridge...and you know the rest.
The Mavs can't continue to shoot themselves in the foot in these last-minute situations if they even want to be relevant in the playoffs.
Early on in the season, the Mavs were close to getting their first win of the year against the Oklahoma City Thunder after Vince Carter drilled the go-ahead three-pointer with a second to go. Moments later, Kevin Durant took the inbounds pass and connected on the game-winner at the buzzer, with Marion nowhere close to defend because he was probably asleep on the play.
How far will the Dallas Mavericks go in the playoffs?
Against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Mavs let a defensive struggle with the Lake Show end up in the hands of—who else—Derek Fisher, as he nailed the go-ahead, wide-open three-pointer with under a minute left to give the Lakers the win. You could see Fisher was going to end up with that shot from a mile away.
The very next night, Chauncey Billups hit a miraculous shot to give the Los Angeles Clippers the victory over the Mavs.
And now, with Aldridge's game-winner, all three Western Conference teams that the Mavs beat in the playoffs last year got their revenge in the final seconds. If this keeps up, Dallas won't have any team wanting revenge on them.
Instead, they'll be the ones looking for revenge on whoever bounces them out of the playoffs.
The good majority of Mavs fans know that this season is basically a squash so that they can be competitive for next year when Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson try to acquire Deron Williams. But any fan who was expecting this team to compete for another title this year, I'm sorry to say that it won't be happening.
These childish, middle school-like mistakes for this team will come back to bite them in the worst way, and it will bite them hard. A veteran team like Dallas shouldn't be making these mistakes. You don't see the San Antonio Spurs making many mistakes, and for that, they're one of the top teams in the NBA right now and are poised to make a deep run in the postseason.
Between not closing out games and Jason Terry not shutting his mouth when he needs to, this has definitely turned out to be one of the more entertaining seasons I've witnessed from the Mavs in quite a long time, and it's not even a full season. Not even the shortened season of 1999 had this much drama in Dallas.
With 10 games to go, if the Mavs want to prove to the rest of the league that they want to win and go for the repeat, they better step it up and show that killer instinct that they can implement when they feel like it.
If they don't feel up to the challenge, then go ahead, call it in and start making the calls for D-Will to Dallas.