B/R readers loved it when I broke down the teams in the Eastern Conference capable of beating the Miami Heat, the new prohibitive favorites. Now, it's on to the heavy lifting: the teams that can beat the LA Lakers, the 2-time defending NBA Champions! Before we start the examination with the Mavericks, let's establish this one concept: IT WILL NOT BE EASY! It will be harder to beat the Lakers than the Heat for a myriad of reasons, but IT CAN BE DONE! The Mavericks are first on the list. Here are the reasons, drums please...
The Mavs saw a lot last year. Highs such as the big midseason hot streak after acquiring Brendan Haywood and Caron Butler. And lows like losing in the first round of the playoffs to San Antonio. They have been drinking from the bitter cup of experience as a group for 2-3 years (since the Kidd trade). They are not going to be fazed by anything that occurs in a seven game playoff series.
Jason Kidd, though not as fast as he used to be, is still one who pulls the strings on the basketball court. He is perhaps the best halfcourt quarterback in the NBA (only Deron Williams of Utah is a comparable PG). He is still the master of running the fast break. His outside shot has gotten BETTER as he has gotten older. His defense is not as good as it used to be, but he rarely gets embarrassed on that end. This man has become the embodiment of a coach on the floor.
Caron Butler is a baller. By now, he has adjusted to playing the SG position. Shawn Marion is as versatile a player as the NBA has had in the last decade. When one factors in their ability, as well as specialists like DeShawn Stevenson, Jason Terry, etc. The Mavs have the depth on the wings to throw a lot of looks at Kobe, Ron-Ron and co.
For years, the Mavs simply tried to just outscore you. When Avery Johnson was the coach, he started shifting the focus to the other end of the court. With Rick Carlisle occupying the big chair, he has made it known that defense is what will carry the Mavs to their first ever NBA title. Defensively, the Mavericks are not the Bad Boy Pistons, able to totally shut teams down completely, but they do compete very hard on that end of the floor, so that if any of their potential 20 ppg players (Dirk, J. Terry, Caron, Marion) goes off, the defense slams shut the door. These aren't Nellie's Mavs.
Either Tyson Chandler or Brendan Haywood with Dirk Nowitski gives the Mavs the equal in terms of size to the Lakers starting C-PF combo (and close to equal production). When Carlisle can rotate one in for the other, little slippage should occur. It will take a few months, most likely to get Chandler acclimated to the mix, but both he and Haywood are double-double machines, with blocked shots aplenty! There will be no 6-9 power fowards masquerading as centers in the American Airlines Center this season.
The beauty of having an owner like Mark Cuban (pictured with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones) is that he understands that the bottom line is not the financial bottom line only, but it is WINNING! That does lead him to criticize the refs (sometimes incessantly), but also upgrading facilities and making neccessary trades and/or FA signings. Let's say a certain SF in the Mile High declines his extension and wants to go elsewhere, do you really think Cuban won't pony up whatever players and contracts needed to make that deal happen?
It has been 12 years since Das Wunderkind made his way to the States from Germany. He has been the hot shot rookie, All-Star, MVP, goat and everything in between. He left money on the table to allow Dallas to add players such as Chandler. He feels that it is his time, and he is ready to lead this team to the championship-level heights only the Cowboys have regularly reached in the Big D. We will see Dirk take over the big games this year. Yes, with that awkward jumper, 25 ppg and 10 rpg playoff averages, he will ascend to that rarefied championship air.
Jason Terry. Rodrigue Beaubois. JJ Barea. They are all cut from the mold that the Lakers STILL have trouble defending, small and quick. These guys will not and do not have to carry the load for the Mavs, but a few key plays here or there, whether they are three-point shots, steals, broken plays for layups or whatever, are often times the plays that change and ultimately help, decide a series.
Playing big? The Mavs can do that. You wanna play small ball? The Mavs can definitely do that, too. You wanna get out and run? Against J. Kidd and crew? Take your chances. Halfcourt, grind it out contest? With Carlisle on the bench, the Mavs can handle that as well. A timely trade for CP3 or Carmelo? The Mavs have the players, and management to make that become reality also. This team has every kind of part needed to get to the Finals again thanks to a very deep roster.
No doubt, the Lakers have been living at the pinnacle of the NBA world, having gone to the Finals the last three seasons, and winning the chanpionship the last two. When one thinks about it, that is a lot of postseason basketball, on top of the last three full seasons, what with their various nicks, aches and injuries. At some point, fatigue and attrition starts to wear down even the most resilient of teams. I know, Phil Jackson is one who tries to balance his players minutes; however, the extra season-worth of games the Lakers have played in the past three postseasons may catch up to them this season.
There is no doubting the fact that the Lakers are going to be VERY difficult to beat, especially with their offseason additions. However, the Dallas Mavericks have the tools to make it happen. I have outlined a myriad of reasons why I feel that it CAN happen. I like Dallas' chances, though I know many will not. Respond and let me know how much you agree or (more likely) disagree.