The first time they were accused of this was in the 2006 NBA Finals.
The second time was a year later, when the Mavericks met the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs.
The 67-win Mavericks had just finished with the best record in the West, but were quickly ambushed by a high-energy Warriors team in the first round of the playoffs. Nowitzki, that season’s MVP, had a dismal series and was pushed around by a more physical Stephen Jackson.
Following those two playoff failures, many questioned the Mavericks’ toughness. Mark Cuban aggressively sought to fix that and acquired Brendan Haywood and Caron Butler in February 2010 and traded for Tyson Chandler a few months later.
These three players were thought to bring intensity and vigor, but that was definitely missing this past Thursday night. Chandler and Haywood were bullied by Andrew Bynum, and an injured Caron Butler—who hasn’t played since New Year’s Day—watched the game from the bench.
While outsiders have always questioned the Mavericks’ toughness, some within the organization have recently raised concerns. Following a disappointing loss to the Hornets on March 9, Rick Carlisle called out his own team and used the “s” word—“soft”.
When Jason Terry heard his coach’s remark, he had words of his own:
“Who said that? I'm not soft, not me. I don't know where that comes from, but we ain't soft... I know he wasn't talking to me personally or any of my teammates because I don't think none of these guys are soft.”
With his team getting pushed around by the more physical Lakers, Terry decided to push back—literally. As Steve Blake drove to the hoop in the fourth quarter, Jason Terry shoved him to the ground. Was he trying to prove his coach wrong?
Possibly, but in an attempt to prove his toughness, Terry actually proved his cowardice. Who goes after Steve Blake, the weakest link on the Lakers? Why not go after Kobe Bryant? Or even Matt Barnes? He didn’t dare go after those two, because either of them would have put him in his place.
In the loss to the Lakers, the Mavericks displayed their true colors, or should I say texture—soft. In a potential preview of the Western Conference Semifinals, the Mavs were completely embarrassed.
Being soft does not bode well for the Mavericks’ title hopes. History has proven that soft teams do not win championships.
A great example of this is the Phoenix Suns.
From 2005-08, the Suns were phenomenal during the regular season. But when the playoffs came, they were bullied by a tougher team—the San Antonio Spurs—which knocked them off three of those four seasons.
The Lakers are another example.
After getting stomped on by the Celtics in the 2008 Finals, many accused the Lakers of being “soft." Gasol hit the gym, Bynum came back from injury and Ron Artest signed as a free agent. In a Finals rematch, the Lakers beat the Celtics in seven games to capture the 2010 championship.
Don’t get me wrong, the Mavericks are a talented team. If you remove the nine-game stretch where Nowitzki was injured and the team went 2-7, the Mavericks could have the best NBA record.
But on Thursday night, the Mavericks were exposed. A team that was once viewed as a legit contender, showed what it really is—a pretender. At the risk of sounding like Denny Green, the Mavs are who we thought they were.
While on the Hornets, Tyson Chandler was asked what he thought about the Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs. His response?
“Oh, we always thought they were soft.”
Hate to break the news, Chandler—they still are.