After the Dallas Mavericks lost to Portland Saturday, in a game in which Dallas was ahead by 18 points in the fourth quarter, a lot of people brought back the "Playoff Chokers" label for the Mavs.
But as usual, the record does not lend any evidence to such a label. By contrast, the Mavs have exceeded or met expectations in eight of their previous 10 consecutive playoff appearances.
First of all, it's very hard to make the playoffs five years in a row, let alone 11 seasons as the Mavs have done. There is only one team with a longer current playoff string—the Spurs, which started as a Dallas team in 1967, with 14. Only two other teams have strings longer than five, the Nuggets and Lakers.
And the longest from the East, where the overall competition has lagged compared with the West in the past decade and where you'd think playoff strings would be easier, is the Magic at five.
In the past 10 playoff appearances, the Mavericks have beaten a higher-seeded team four of those years. That includes the breakthrough 2006 playoffs when the Mavs made the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history, as the fourth-seed team in the West. They beat the top-seed Spurs and second-seed Suns to reach the Finals.
Sure, they were five minutes away from a 3-0 lead against the Heat in those Finals. But that's when the refs took over and awarded foul shots to any Heat player who the Mavs even touched. That's when sixth-man Stackhouse was incredulously suspended for a key game—which the Mavs lost by one point—a supposed hard foul on Shaq. To his credit, even Shaq admitted it was not a hard foul.
It was as if commissioner David Stern ordered that Mavs owner Mark Cuban, who was famous for feuds with the refs and Stern, would under no circumstance preside over a team that wins an NBA title on his watch.
The "choker" label continued the following year when the Mavs lost to a lower-seeded team in the playoffs for the first time in seven straight appearances.
That team turned out to be Golden State, coached by Don Nelson, who was also feuding with Cuban. Nelson had coached the Mavs from 1997 until 2005 and knew the Mavs' system and players better than anybody. He also had the mental edge and psyched out Dirk Nowitzki and other players.
The only other time the Mavs lost to a lower-seeded team was 2010, when they played their nemesis, the Spurs. The Spurs had finished the regular season only five games behind Dallas, so those teams were about even that year. And the Spurs had a score of their own to settle; in the previous season, the sixth-seed Mavs beat the third-seed Spurs.
Why don't people throw the choker label at the Denver Nuggets? The Nuggets have lost in the first round of the playoffs six of their last seven appearances—twice to lower-seeded opponents—and are on the verge of doing so again this year. They are one of only six teams never to even make the NBA Finals, joining the Clippers, Hornets, Twolves, Grizzlies and Raptors. The Nuggets have won only seven of 21 playoff series in their history, compared with the Mavericks winning 13-of-29.
It's easy for those who don't know the Mavs' history to label them "chokers" based on a couple playoff series in the past decade. But I'd still rather be a Mavs fan than a fan of the Nuggets or the Twolves, who haven't even made the playoffs since 2004.