NBA Playoffs 2012: Never Count Out a Champion, Dallas Mavericks Aren't Done

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NBA Playoffs 2012: Never Count Out a Champion, Dallas Mavericks Aren't Done
Harry How/Getty Images
Dirk Nowitzki is still one of the league's best closers.

Championships aren't wished for, they're earned. Just ask LeBron James. Last season, King James was the best player in the playoffs—until the fourth quarter of the finals.

In that NBA Finals series, he faced someone that was just better in that period of the game, Dirk Nowitzki. There is only one word to describe Dirk's performance in all of the 2011 NBA playoffs: clutch.

This year the odds-on favorites to represent the Western Conference in the finals are the Oklahoma City Thunder, led by the league's leading scorer and MVP candidate Kevin Durant. The first-round matchup between the Thunder and Dirk's defending champion Dallas Mavericks is a rematch of last year's Western Conference finals.

Just about everyone, except me, have written the champs off and think the Thunder will lose maybe two—but more likely one—and get rid of the Mavericks in five. There is something that everyone has over looked: a champion's heart.

The Celtics are the current example of how hard it is to defeat a team with a championship pedigree.

The Thunder are overwhelmingly talented. That is not debatable. Kevin Durant is one of the league's best players, if not the second-best behind LeBron James. But Dirk is still one of the game's best closers, probably just behind Kobe Bryant.

The Thunder also have one of the league's most athletic point guards in Russell Westbrook, but he is known for his questionable decision making and, at times, as not getting the ball to Durant when needed.

The Mavericks know how to keep games close. They are not only champions, but full of a team of veterans who, like the Celtics, all have had great careers. This year they are missing an integral piece on defense and rebounding in Tyson Chandler, who is now on the New York Knicks. But they now have something Chandler anchored them to get—championship confidence.

The Thunder squeaked out a 99-98 win in Game 1 of the first round Saturday night at Chesapeak Energy Arena on a last-second shot by Kevin Durant just after Dirk Nowitzki made two free throws to put the Mavs ahead.

Durant and Dirk both struggled while shooting during the entire game, but managed to come through when it mattered. This series may go six or seven games, and in order for Scott Brooks' Thunder to be able to get by the Mavs, Durant will have to play much better to conquer a heart of a champion.

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