As I wipe the tears from my face and drain the last of my pint bottle of whiskey into my morning coffee, it's time to reflect on the 2008-'09 season.
Unlike last year, the Mavs went out with a bang, sending Tim Duncan and his dirty crew to an early exit. Sure, the final series might say "Nuggets win 4-1," but two horrendous fourth quarters and a horrible call are the difference between a five-gamer and a six or seven-gamer.
Did the Mavs overachieve? With an aging point guard past his prime and a few cast-offs from other teams and the Euro leagues, they shot up to the sixth seed on the last day of the season, due to some fortunate losses by other teams.
Did they underachieve? With two hall-of-famers, a former MVP and the current Sixth Man of the Year, they shouldn't have gone out in five games against a Nuggets team that had previously been the doormat of the eventual Western conference champs?
The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle, and that's been the story of the Mavericks this season.
They showed flashes of brilliance, followed by flashes of incompetence, big road wins against good teams, followed by home losses to awful teams, good quarters followed by abysmal ones.
Come Together Over Me
The Mavericks just never seemed to get it all together, like a car with a bad timing belt, they couldn't fire on all cylinders very often.
If the defense was clicking, usually the offense wasn't. The Mavs were able to win a few 85-80 type games, but usually if the shot wasn't falling the defense wasn't exactly stifling.
If the offense was dropping shot like they were hot, too often the other team would come back and reciprocate. The Mavs were much better off in games around the 105-110 range, but those can get away from you real quick with stupid mistakes, especially on the road.
Some of it is due to injury. Josh Howard missed significant time, and played banged up towards the end of the season. While he has been criticized in the past for saying and doing stupid things, he hobbled around on two bad wheels throughout the playoffs and made his mark on quite a few games.
Jason Terry also missed time, although he was on the court for some of it. He was virtually invisible for the playoffs, and this was especially noticeable against the Nuggets, where he bricked three-pointer after three-pointer.
Normally, no team in their right mind would give Terry those shots, but the Nuggets called his bluff time and time again, and he never made them pay.
During the season Jason Terry was an absolute assassin, dropping many a dagger from beyond the arc and/or off the elbow.
Dirk did what he always does, better than he always does, with hardly a shred of recognition. Sure, he was named All-NBA first team, but he beat Tim Duncan by five measly points.
Ask anybody who watches the NBA who was the better player this year, and the answer has to be Dirk. Fourth leading scorer in the league (second for a good chunk of it), less turnovers than ever, and as usual, he stepped up his game in the playoffs.
He got better as the odds got worse, responding to turmoil on his personal life by dropping 33 and 16, 44 and 12, and a near triple double in the Mavs' final game: 32, 10, and seven assists.
Your Love (read: season) Is Like A Roller Coaster Baby
As far as the Mavs got this year, it was a long shot in mid-November, when the Mavs were staring down the barrel of 2-7, rumors of a mutiny with their new coach, and not much to look forward to except the end of their streak of 50-win seasons.
Then came the awakening. An OT win in Madison Square Garden, before the New York Knicks became the New York Cap Space. Dirk and Howard officially began the season that night, with 39 and 15, and 31 and 14, respectively.
The Mavs went on a tear from there, winning 11 out of the next 13 games. Then the questions came again. Devin Harris demolished them in New Jersey, San Antonio beat them in OT and a Christmas Day win at Portland was negated by an ugly finish in Utah.
A rally from 29 points down against Minnesota showed that the Mavs weren't ready to go away, but for every good win, it seemed like the Bucks, Kings, Thunder or Warriors were right there to take away the mojo.
The Mavs showed flashes of their 2006-'07 selves, when they were the most complete team in the NBA. They had a hot starter in Howard, a finisher in Terry, and Dirk to drop his 25 in the middle.
The defense came and went, but it seemed like there were certain nights when the offense could let them win in a shootout.
Centrifugal Force (or Lack thereof)
With All-Stars at the point, shooting guard, small forward and power forward, the one area that was lacking this year was the center.
Erick Dampier had another typical year, flashes of dominance followed by disappearing acts, but his fundamental flaws were quite evident.
His lack of athleticism, his poor hands, and his questionable dedication reared their ugly heads this season. When up against a traditional, bang 'em and hang 'em centers (I just made that term up, it sounds cool though), such as Andrew Bynum, Fabricio Oberto, Chris Kaman, or Kendrick Perkins, they seemed to offset one another.
But find a center than has a little bit of range to his jump shot, and a little zip in his step, and Dampier was left in the lurch. Yao Ming, Chris Bosh, Mehmet Okur, Tyson Chandler, and Nene all took advantage, the latter was especially evident during games one, two, and five of the Denver Series.
Ryan Hollins has some potential, but he needs to bulk up a bit. A legit seven-footer, he weighs 215 pounds, which is the same as people a foot shorter than him weigh. He's got the athleticism, he's got the intensity, but he just doesn't have the body to bang down low with the likes of a Shaq or even a Bynum.
Some good coaching, and another year under his belt should be good for him, but it's yet to be seen if he's anything more than a backup.
And with a team that tends to fall in love with a jump shot like the Mavs, a strong low-post presence can make up for the times when the shot goes cold.
Know Your Role (Players)
During the season, certain players emerged into the spotlight and other faded away.
J.J. Barea was a flash of lightning, giving the Mavs a taste of the Devin Harris/ Tony Parker speed, and giving them an unexpected boost.
Brandon Bass started handing out tickets to the gun show, with thunderous dunks, elbow jumpers, and the knack for just the right play to swing the momentum in the Mavs' favor.
DeSagana Diop, who was once part of a two-headed center tandem that brought the Mavs to the finals, left his game in New Jersey, and was turned into a three-point specialist and a young center.
The three-point specialist didn't live up to his billing, but Ryan Hollins turned into yet another sparkplug off the bench, giving the Mavs an attitude and a knack for the thunderous play.
James Singleton, fresh off the boat from the Euro leagues, has his time in the sun, pulling down incredible amount of rebounds while he was on the floor.
You've Gots To Pay (off) To Play (off)
Coming into the playoffs, a series against the Spurs could have been the quick way to an easy exit, or a chance to start the playoffs with a win over foes of old.
The Mavs came out firing in game one, something they failed to do in the past two postseasons. And it goes to show how important that game is, especially on the road, for a team looking for an upset.
Even a rout in game two couldn't stop the Mavs from handing down a beatdown, despite Parker's almost inhuman scoring throughout the series.
Dirk took a few games to get in the groove, and Terry really never found it, but luckily the bench was able to fill in, and help them get those early wins in game one, three and four.
When Dirk finally awoke, the Spurs were done for.
Now here's the conundrum: The poor bench play of Dallas in the Denver series could be assumed to be a regression to the mean. After all, if they play above average for a few games, chances are they're going to play below average for a few.
Which brings us to the Nuggets series. Dirk found an answer for every defender they threw at him, but the bench couldn't give him much help.
As mentioned before, Jason Terry never really hit the shots he had been getting all season. Though a streaky shooter, a 10-game sample of games should have been a sufficient cycle for him to heat up.
Nene looked like Shaq circa 2001, by abusing Dampier, and 'Melo took the art of the clutch shot and the step-away mid-range jumper to another level.
In the end, it's pretty clear the Nuggets were a better team. Whether it was George Karl or Chauncey Billups, someone taught these guys some defense. All of a sudden Denver has the home crowd of the Warriors of 2007, and the players that feed off of them, e.g. Chris 'Birdman' Andersen and J.R. Smith.
Anthony Carter and his abnormally shaped head also decided on showing up, after a long vacation that coincided with my fantasy ownership of him.
In the end, the series came to athleticism in the frontcourt, where Dampier was thoroughly outplayed (but not outclassed) by Nene and Andersen on both ends of the floor.
Antoine Wright also became Raja Bell to 'Melo's Kobe, though if that meant he was a better defender and three-point shooter I'd gladly take it.
What Are You Thinking, Where Do We Go from Here?
And now the future comes to the forefront. While you're still playing, next season doesn't matter, but now suddenly reality creeps in.
The reality that Jason Kidd is now on the market, the reality that Brandon Bass might want more minutes and a bigger payday, the reality that Mark Cuban is willing to be a buyer in a seller's market, and the reality that we're only 12 months away from the Free Agent Summer of 2010.
Unless Ryan Hollins gets some great coaching over the summer, the center position is a big question mark. Someone like Tyson Chandler might be available, but with his injury history, he might not be worth it. Though someone who can actually finish an alley-oop might be a welcome change.
But I'm not here to talk about the future just yet. Right now I'm content with looking back on a season that was at least interesting, and appreciating what could have been a last hurrah for this incarnation of the Dallas Mavericks.
Is a trip to the second round enough to make Cuban back off his threat to blow up the team? Are the role players worth investing another year (Dirk's 31st)?
I'm not quite ready to noodle over those questions yet. Right now, it's time for a trip to the liquor store, another box of Kleenex and a month of basketball without a 7'0" German with the finest cheekbones this side of the Rhein, followed by five months of a basketball-less vacuum.
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