The 2011 NBA Postseason has certainly been full of surprises. Among the biggest stories in the headlines is the improbable playoff run by the Dallas Mavericks.
This is a team that was supposed to be too old, too soft, doesn’t play defense and relies too much on outside shots. The Mavericks were a team that had players who always came up short in the playoffs and whose star athletes were not tough enough to bring home a championship.
Now the Mavericks are just one win away from an NBA Finals berth and have won nine of the team’s last 10 games. Included within this span is five straight road wins.
For those that have followed the team all season, this is hardly surprising, as Dallas had the best road record.
Yet, perhaps fans should be less surprised about the playoff success of this team. After all, when one takes out the 10 losses in 13 games midseason when Nowitzki was out injured and recovering, the Mavericks record stood at 54-15. That record (.782 winning percentage) would have translated into 64 wins over 82 games, which would have been the best mark in the league.
Nevertheless, the basketball gods are aligning and it appears that the team is destined to win its first NBA championship.
The following pages promote eight reasons why Dirk Nowitzki and company will win it all this season. Are these reasons the truth or am I living in a virtual reality world? Feel free to let me know with your comments!
Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal celebrating the 2006 NBA Title with Miami
Since 2000, the Dallas Mavericks franchise has won at least 50 games per season 11 straight times. Three of those seasons featured rosters than earned at least 60 wins. With 620 wins over those 11 seasons and a .687 winning percentage, the Mavericks have been one of the most successful teams in North American pro sports during that span—at least during the regular season.
The postseason has been a different story. During this same time period, Dallas has posted a .462 winning percentage in the playoffs. This run has included first-round playoff exits three of the past four years, including an unprecedented first-round loss to the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors in 2007 after earning a franchise-record and league-best 67 wins during the season.
Of course, Mavericks fans would also like to forget the 2006 NBA Finals collapse. With about six minutes left in Game 3 of the Finals, the Mavericks were on the verge of going up 3-0 on the Miami Heat. As conspiracy theorists would have it, Dwyane Wade went on a shooting rampage thanks to the referees by being sent to the free throw line nearly every possession. In fact, during the Heat’s four wins en route to winning the Finals, Wade averaged 18.3 free-throw attempts per game.
After a decade of nightmares and playoff collapses, it appears that Mavericks fans are due. For all of the basketball tragedy moments that these fans have had to endure, they deserve this win more than any other fanbase in the NBA.
Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, and Shawn Marion
This Dallas Mavericks roster is truly one step away from booking a retirement house. The core of the team consists of Dirk Nowitzki (32), Jason Kidd (38), Shawn Marion (33), Peja Sotjakovic (33) and Jason Terry (33). Even if he returns from his knee injury, Caron Butler is 31 years old.
While many people would cringe at the notion that being in your 30s is old, NBA players age quickly after turning 30, as the athletic gifts of speed and jumping ability tend to decline. By age 40, many NBA players should be given a wheelchair (although unlike Paul Pierce and his Hollywood acting job in the 2008 Finals, these players would actually need one).
Clearly this team is not getting any younger. And this has been perhaps one of the biggest reasons why the players have been remarkable in their hustling throughout the playoffs. This group knows that next year won’t be any easier to win a title, as they will be another year older. This is their best and perhaps last chance at winning a championship.
The other teams left in contention (the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls) will have plenty of years left to contend with their star players. The sense of urgency to win now is the greatest with this Dallas team and the players are ready to cement their place in the annals of NBA glory.
Rick Carlisle has proven himself as one of the better NBA coaches in the league. Despite having a roster with limited talent, Carlisle led the Detroit Pistons to consecutive seasons of 50 wins in the early 2000s and won Coach of the Year in 2002. In 2003, Carlisle was fired, only to see the Pistons win a championship in 2004.
After his time with the Pistons, Carlisle coached the Indiana Pacers with mixed results. During the 2003-2004 season, he led the Pacers to 61-21 record, which was best in the league. Despite earning this record, his team would lose in the Eastern Conference Finals to his former team—the Pistons.
In 2005, Carlisle endured a season of injuries to key players and suspensions following the famous "Malice at the Palace" incident involving Ron Artest.
After his stint with the Pacers, Carlisle ended up with the Mavericks. With his record and success with various rosters, it is clear that Carlisle is a good coach.
Despite past failures, Carlisle seems to have learned from past mistakes. This current Dallas team has displayed tough defense and a high-powered offense featuring crisp ball movement on the perimeter. He has figured out how to open the floor for Nowitzki to operate in his favorite spots.
The ability for the Mavericks to play both ends effectively can be attributed to Carlisle's coaching. It's time for his coaching to pay off. With the bad luck given to him throughout his career, he is due for things to go his way.
Mark Cuban is one of the most brilliant entrepreneurial businessmen in the world. Unfortunately, he is also the most heavily fined NBA owner in league history.
In at least 13 incidents, Cuban has been fined over $1.6 million for criticizing the league and its officials. While he has obviously tried to support his team, such statements he made could have been used by opponents to motivate themselves.
Cuban has been noted by his players as being one of the best owners in professional sports, as he has provided state-of-the-art facilities and amenities for his athletes.
It appears that Cuban has also learned from his past mistakes in speaking his mind by refraining to mouth off after disappointing losses. While being on his best behavior, Cuban is less likely to further incentivize opponents or incur additional fines, hence being less of a distraction for his team.
Surely he is due for a nice reward for his behavior?
Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol
By now, the story of the Dallas Mavericks sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round of this year’s playoffs is old news. However, it bears an enormous significance.
Before the second round, the Lakers were the favorites to repeat (or should I say, “three-peat”) as NBA champions. The team had one of the best playoff performers in Kobe Bryant, the best coach of all time in Phil Jackson, shutdown perimeter defenders like Ron Artest and Matt Barnes, a twin towers lineup of All-Star talents in Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol and Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom.
With the San Antonio Spurs exiting early from the playoffs, the Lakers would have home court advantage throughout the remainder of the Western Conference bracket. Sure, LA had an up-and-down season, but people looked at the 17-1 mark following the All-Star game as an indication that the team could still turn on the switch and be as dominant as ever.
Then a funny thing happened. Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom pulled a disappearing act. Kobe Bryant was stifled by the suffocating defense by the Mavericks. The Mavericks were draining threes from around the court, while the Lakers could not hit water if they fell out of a boat.
And of course, there was a guy named Dirk Nowitzki, who shot a fourth quarter true shooting percentage in the 80 percent range.
It didn’t matter that LA was up in the fourth quarter in two of the four games played against Dallas. The Mavericks team simply found a way to keep its composure and run the offense and defense.
So why does this all matter?
In short, the win against the Lakers gave Dallas all the confidence it needed to become champions. The team beat the best without home court advantage, and as the team kept rolling, the Mavericks were starting to believe.
Envisioning success and believing is half of the battle, and Dallas’ players have that part down.
Dirk Nowtizki and Kendrick Perkins in Game 4 of the 2011 Western Conference Finals
If beating the Lakers didn’t give the Mavericks enough confidence, the improbable comeback victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals did.
While playing on the road, Dallas found itself down by 15 points with five minutes left in regulation. Then Dirk went berserk and hit amazing shots all around the court. Truth is, had some of the slaps on him been called as fouls, he would have won the game in regulation for Dallas with a few extra free throws.
Nevertheless, Dallas tied up the game at the end and continued to dominate through the overtime period.
Instead of panicking down the stretch, the Mavericks believed that the game was still within reach. After all, there were still five minutes left!
The clutch ability of Dirk Nowitzki and the leadership of Jason Kidd are proving to be a formidable combination.
It didn’t matter that Dallas was out-rebounded by 22 (only five teams have won playoff games while being out-rebounded by this margin), as Dallas willed its way to victory.
This comeback victory may be the most important win in the franchise’s history. Right now, the players’ confidence is extremely high and they know that if they keep playing the same way, they will be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy in just a few weeks.
Jason Kidd hits the big three-pointer in OT during Game 4 against the Thunder
As most NBA fans know, Jason Kidd is one of the oldest players in the league. While no longer a perennial MVP candidate, he still is better than most players in the NBA.
While his speed and athleticism have waned in recent years, he remains as one of the most knowledgeable players the game has ever seen.
Much of the reason that Dallas’ offense features crisp perimeter passing is because of Kidd running the show. While he isn’t the same scoring threat as in his early days, Kidd can still have his moments, such as pouring in 17 points in Game 4 against the Thunder.
In addition, Kidd is still proving to be as clutch as ever, as evidenced by his huge three-pointer in Game 4’s overtime period and converting some late game free throw attempts.
Yet, perhaps the most important skill Kidd has displayed is his defense. Over the last five games Kidd has averaged four steals per game. Each of these steals could potentially be a four or five-point swing in a game. Unlike other top thieves in the NBA, Kidd gets most of his steals by playing one-on-one defense, rather than taking risky gambles in passing lanes.
More important, Kidd has been a nuisance to players like Kobe Bryant, Brandon Roy, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
Clearly, and perhaps against the laws of nature, he still has a complete game to make a significant impact in the game. With Kidd currently playing his best ball all season long, he is on the inevitable path to earn that long-coveted championship ring that has eluded his career.
Dirk Nowitzki's high shot release is almost impossible to stop
It would be impossible to talk about the destiny of the Mavericks without focusing on Dirk Nowitzki.
I have long been critical of Nowitzki’s game. In the past, he settled for too many outside jumpers. In addition, he had a one-dimensional game with just average playmaking and defensive abilities. For a seven-footer, I argued that Dirk could have developed a better post game and have more of an impact closer to the basket.
While he still is not the greatest rebounder for his size, Nowitzki’s defense and playmaking have improved over the years. And even if he is still mainly a one-dimensional player, his scoring ability is so dominant in this year’s playoffs that he has risen several places on most people’s greatest all-time lists.
To score 48 points off of just 15 shots in Game 1 against the Thunder was unbelievable. He averaged over three points per shot when scoring 1.5 points per shot is considered dominant. In fact, according to ESPN and the Elias Sports Bureau, Nowitzki’s shooting performance was the most efficient of all-time in the postseason.
To average seven or eight points per game in the fourth quarter is considered extraordinary, but Nowitzki is putting up double figures in points nearly every game in the closing minutes.
The problem for his defenders is that Dirk makes shots that would be horrific attempts by other players, thus proving he is nearly impossible to stop.
Frankly, he may be displaying the best offensive performance of any postseason run in NBA history.
It is evident that Nowitzki is on a mission to avenge his missed opportunity at winning in 2006. He knows this is probably his best and perhaps last shot at winning a championship.
How symbolic the play of events is taking shape! With the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks looking for a rematch in the Finals, the tables will be reversed.
The Heat will have home court advantage and have been dubbed by Vegas bets as the odds-on favorite to win the title.
But this year will be different. Nowitzki and his teammates are more mature and represent a stronger cast of players. They will not let bad officiating calls take the opportunity away and even if calls go against the Mavericks, Nowitzki will not let his team lose.
He relishes the opportunity and the sweet smell of victory is just a few made baskets away.