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L.A. Lakers: With Playoffs Looming, Lakers' Rugged Play Proves Dallas Unworthy

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L.A. Lakers: With Playoffs Looming, Lakers' Rugged Play Proves Dallas Unworthy
Harry How/Getty Images

My broken laptop and the inadequate state of my school’s computer labs be damned. This simply could not wait.

Last night featured the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks duking it out in a battle for the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed.

With the San Antonio Spurs slumping, losing five straight games for the first time in the Tim Duncan era, the No. 1 seed also appears to be within reach.

Last night was supposed to be a game in which one of the two teams would take advantage.

It turned out to be so much more.

Before we begin, let me say that I have made no secret about how I have felt about the Dallas Mavericks in previous articles. They have always had a formidable amount of talent, as their 50-plus win total in each of the previous decades can attest.

However the reason why the Dallas Mavericks do not and will never (yes, I said never) have a Larry O’Brien trophy in their collection is because of the often overused, yet appropriate S-word: soft.

The Dallas Mavericks are soft. They are toilet tissue-soft, Tempur-Pedic mattress-soft.

But “soft” doesn’t just apply to their approach to the game.

Harry How/Getty Images
To paraphrase Dan Gilbert "Not in our house!"

The Mavericks up tempo, jump shot-oriented style of play certainly won’t be mistaken as smashmouth basketball by anyone, yet the Orlando Magic employ a similar style of play.

The difference?

Over the last three seasons the Magic have employed several solid defensive role players, and until a midseason trade that was somewhat baffling, had tremendous depth in their frontcourt.

They also have a player named Dwight Howard—he’s kind of big.

In the Mavericks' case, their acquisition of Tyson Chandler over the offseason was an obvious effort to get tougher, but it never quite took them to the next level.

To me that didn’t seem like enough of an effort right from the beginning, but I could just never put my finger on why until last night.

As Andrew Bynum abused Chandler and every other Maverick between him and the basket last night, it hit me:

You can’t just have talent on one hand and one or two tough guys on the other.

It's why I found Dirk Nowitzki's comparison to Tyson Chandler's arrival in Dallas to Kevin Garnett's in Boston laughable, and why I found the fact that Dallas' defense finally cracked the top 10 in points allowed for the first time in three years irrelevant.

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Asking your tough guys to bolster your talent is putting the cart before the horse. You need your talent to be tough.

Don’t mistake what Jason Terry did last night as tough. When he shoved Steve Blake to the ground as Blake attempted the drive, all Terry did was pick on a smaller player in a vulnerable position.

Terry is a coward.

He, like so many others in the Dallas Mavericks organization, has plenty of mouth, but when push comes they only shove in the cheapest of ways possible—and after they’re already down by 15.

On a side-note, the NBA really needs to revisit its stance on situations like this.

Matt Barnes was merely standing up for his teammate, and rightfully so, but I can understand his ejection. Situations like that can quickly escalate out of hand.

After all, the infamous Pistons/Pacers brawl didn’t start out too differently.

However, did Blake really need to be ejected for standing up for himself?

If so, what message are we sending to the fans, or to the players themselves?

When shoved, back down and let the grown-ups handle it? Always walk away and allow others to gain the idea that they can get away with touching you any which way?

Who came up with those rules, Mark Cuban?

Harry How/Getty Images
After the altercation which saw 4 players ejected, the Mavericks went on a brief run to cut a 20 point Laker lead down to 11. Though the tables seemed like they were turning. Bryant would have none of it and scored 6 points in just over 1 minute of play to squelch the Mavericks run.

Well, anyway, it was pretty apparent that the Lakers didn’t agree with it either.

And I’ll tell you this much: To hell with the X’s and O’s, after Blake was pushed to the ground, the game became a battle of men.

I defy anyone reading this to find me a team in the NBA that can win that type of battle in Staples (given that the home team isn’t wearing the name “Clippers” on the front of their jerseys).

There have been instances after the Lakers’ embarrassing 2008 Finals loss where people have called them soft.

They were wrong each and every time.

The Lakers quit being soft the second Andrew Bynum returned to the active roster in the 2008 offseason.

They maintained their toughness even in Bynum’s absence with the lessons they learned in the 2008 Finals.

After Ron Artest and Matt Barnes arrived? Forget it.

My point is this: Someone in that Laker locker room said “This is our building, we are the champs and regardless of what the scoreboard says if anyone thinks they’re just going to push up on us, here of all places, they’ve got another thing coming. And I’ll be damned if it happens at the hands of these guys.”

Earlier, I said yesterday’s game was more than just an opportunity for better playoff seeding.

For Laker fans across the globe, this was a game we can tell our future kids about.

For Mavericks fans, it has to be a troubling sign that despite the similarity in regular season records with teams like the Lakers and Spurs, they are not truly among the highest class of the league’s elite.

For me, that game was simply confirmation.

Ever since the end of the first round of the 2007 playoffs, I have never taken the Dallas Mavericks seriously.

Take away the best player of any 67-win team, give me Kobe Bryant and I guarantee they make it out of the first round. I don’t care if you thrust Bryant onto the new team 15 minutes before the lineup intro.

The NBA is partially about matchups, sure, that’s why the Lakers have struggled with the Bobcats over the years.

It's why the Cavaliers have somehow beaten the Knicks twice this year.

It's partially why the 2008 Celtics struggled against the Cavaliers so much—no one could matchup with LeBron James.

But the NBA is not all about matchups.

And that’s why the Lakers managed to beat out both the Rockets and the Thunder despite both teams having dangerously exploitable matchups at the point guard position.

That's why the Celtics were able to overcome a bigger, stronger team in the Cleveland Cavaliers, despite being without home-court advantage.

If you don’t have at least one come-hell-or-high-water-we-are-winning-this-game type of player you don’t win championships. Period.

Forget go-getters, you need takers.

Ask the Phoenix Suns how successful they were in trying to win championships with little to no grit on their roster.

Once more, the Dallas Mavericks are soft.

Given the opportunity to rise in the standings and claim much-needed home-court advantage in a potential second-round series with the Lakers, the Mavericks folded.

They were broken beneath the Lakers’ superior strength, size and drive to win.

Maybe now the rest of the league can catch up to what some of us have always known: The Mavericks are an overrated bunch of regular season dynamos that crumble in the face of real opposition.

Oh and Mr. Terry? You can kiss the Sixth Man of the Year award goodbye.

I never understood why one would select an inconsistent B-level talent shooter over a 6'10" freak of nature who could drive like a 1, handle the ball like a 2, rebound like a 5 and score like a star anyway.

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