NBA Playoffs 2011: Dallas Mavericks Must Now Repair a Rep, Complete a Mission

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IMay 26, 2011

DALLAS, TX - MAY 25:  Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks reacts late in the fourth quarter before the Mavericks defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder 100-96 in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center on May 25, 2011 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Eric Gay-Pool/Getty Images)
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Maybe they should call it "Extreme Makeover: Dallas Mavericks Edition."

Acrimony seethed and boiled beneath the vanity of another Western Conference triumph. Opportunity knocked like a repo man with a vendetta and a sledgehammer. Dallas answered when it mattered most with a 100-96 Game 5 victory.

Dirk Nowitzki and his mates won the chance Wednesday night to beat down a bogeyman. The first three postseason rounds just sharpened the axe. Now, the Mavericks want to slash and subjugate a galumphing, scarring repute.

The neophyte Oklahoma City Thunder's moment will come. Good luck beating Kevin Durant when he refines his passwork on the move and develops a post game.

Good luck stopping Russell Westbrook when he ameliorates his assist-to-turnover ratio and becomes a consistent jumpshooter.

Good luck halting Scott Brooks' dashing, rolling Thunder when Kendrick Perkins assimilates with his up-tempo teammates and James Harden hones his explosive game.

The Mavs shunned and dispatched the future to finish now what they could not in the past.

"Our time is now," Dallas Coach Rick Carlisle said, and there are many reasons.

The league's oldest roster may soon lose its starting point guard to a lockout. None of the team's significant minutes cogs can expect to get better. Carlisle's rotation includes a trio of 33-year-olds, a 38-year-old and a 34-year-old super-shooting substitute.

Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry are the lone holdovers from the 2006 conference champion that coughed up a 2-0 Finals lead against the Miami Heat. Plenty of other contributors, though, have swallowed the bitter taste of defeat.

Tyson Chandler's former squads buckled as much as his body parts. He left the New Orleans Arena court dazed in 2008 when the San Antonio Spurs eliminated his Hornets in Game 7. That crushing defeat came after New Orleans squandered 2-0 and 3-2 series leads.

A trade to Oklahoma City was rescinded because he failed his physical. If not for a perplexing and frustrating case of turf toe, Chandler, not Perkins, might have anchored the Thunder lineup in this series.

Peja Stojakovic has been called every "c" word except clutch. This writer once suggested the Serbian walk around with his hands grasping his neck. The sharpshooter handsomely paid to nail big shots had instead expanded his characterization as a defenseless, crunch-time loser.

Do the Sacramento Kings still lose to the L.A. Lakers in the 2002 conference finals if Stojakovic hits a few more jumpers? Does Robert Horry even get the chance to drop that infamous dagger in Game 4 if Stojakovic bags one or two more open looks?

He exited that silent, deflated arena in 2008 with Chandler. The Hornets forked up so he could rain three-pointers alongside Chris Paul. He finished 3-of-11 in that game.

A title would change how history sees much of this cast.

Brendan Haywood, the previous January, played for a Washington Wizards squad pulverized by a puerile act. Gilbert Arenas brought firearms into the Verizon Center locker room and cemented a slipping, underachieving season as one of the worst in recent memory.

D.C. investigators interviewed numerous Wizards about the incident. Now, reporters will ask Haywood how it feels to be a conference champion.

The Mavericks did all of this--oust the Portland Trail Blazers, hammer the Lakers in a sweep and outgun the Thunder...sans Caron Butler, who also watched that embarrassment unfold from a front-row seat.

A liberating February 2010 trade sent Butler and Haywood to Dallas.

Jason Kidd deserves his own column when it comes to coming close. The Kobe-Shaq Lakers swept his New Jersey Nets in 2002. The Duncan-Robinson Spurs kicked the Nets to the curb in six games the next year.

His career has taken him from Dallas to Phoenix to New Jersey and back to Dallas.

Shawn Marion, the defensive hero in this series, suffered two gut-wrenching exits at the hands of the Spurs in 2005 and 2007 and endured another such setback in 2010. The Mavs' previous conference title came at the expense of his Amar'e Stoudemire-less Suns.

Avery Johnson coached the 2006 Finals runner-up, not Carlisle, but the latter knows all about misfortune and meltdowns.

Pistons management relieved him of his sideline duties in 2003, just after he'd beaten Larry Brown's Philadelphia 76ers in the semifinals and lost to Kidd's Nets in the conference finals.

Brown led Detroit to a title the next season and discharged Carlisle's Indiana Pacers along the way.

The Pistons and Pacers engaged in a disgraceful, nationally-televised brawl that spoilated his decimated-by-injury roll call. Carlisle rallied that team to a sixth seed and a second-round appearance, but Brown's Pistons again wrecked his hopes.

This is his chance to bury the trauma and humiliation of the Malice at the Palace for good.

The Spurs sent most of these Mavs home in last year's first round.

This shot at redemption, then, was built on faith as much as with Mark Cuban's wallet.

Nowitzki agreed to return last summer after GM Donnie Nelson and Cuban assured him Dallas could still compete, but he had every right to dismiss that as crazy talk and head elsewhere.

How many nights has he spent in gyms since 2006 hoping his hard work would yield a second chance?

No one would have berated Nelson for dumping an aging Terry and Kidd in favor of a semi-rebuilding project. Kidd was supposed to hand the offense's reigns to Rodrigue Beaubois, but that transfer never happened.

Instead, Nelson and Cuban acted as renegades and kept the core intact.

Pundits saw a gaping hole in a shoddy defense. The Mavs' brass figured Chandler could plug it.

Pundits derided the squad's average age and its latest supposed choke. The Dallas decision makers saw wisdom and desperation.

"There are 20,000 people in this building who believed in us when no one else did," Cuban told fans during Wednesday's trophy presentation.

Dallas still needs to hoist the bigger one that bears Lawrence O'Brien's name to complete a mission years in the making.

This writer would also like to add his name to Cuban's short list. (Clears throat). The owner might want to revisit a piece penned in November that pegged the Mavericks as a championship-worthy bunch.

Forget the congratulations. Dallas will in 24 hours. The next opponent does not matter. The Chicago Bulls and Heat would each boast home-court advantage.

The franchise's task remains clear as a lagoon and difficult. Lose to Chicago or Miami, and maybe nothing changes in the long run. Kidd and Nowitzki's Hall of Fame spots are safe, even if they never secure a banner in June.

But if they win? Agony becomes alleviation, and a pair of all-time greats can say "goodbye" to one group that includes Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing and say "hello" to another.

No more playing third fiddle to the Rockets and Spurs when it comes to banners. Some fans of those teams will curse the Mavericks' success now, but the players and coaches in Houston and San Antonio who have been torched and even tortured by Dallas over the years will not seek out Nowitzki voodoo dolls.

The Mavs represent the once ugly and forgotten stepchild ready to put on the gown and slippers for the big ball.

The difference between first and second place, for this club, is staggering.

Carlisle and his staff will cease celebrating Wednesday's win to prepare for the Heat's Three Me-Egos or Derrick Rose's precocious Bulls.

Nowitzki and Terry watched Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O'Neal and Pat Riley hijack the 2006 championship.

You best believe they want it back.

The heartache-turned-resolve was evident each time the Mavs responded to a Thunder run with one of their own. Carlisle could not find a guard to stop Westbrook or Harden. His bigs could not keep Nick Collison off the glass or get him off Nowitzki.

Yet, Dallas used its resourcefulness to erase a 15-point lead with five minutes remaining in Game 4 and a similar push to claw back from eight down in Wednesday's final period.

Brooks faced identical matchup quandaries. His team had no answer for Nowitzki or Jose Juan Barea. The attention afforded to those two created back-breaking opportunities for Marion.

Westbrook stormed off the court and Durant spoke at the podium with dejection and disbelief, but don't pity the Thunder. Oklahoma City's young stars are too talented and too driven not to reach this stage again soon.

"I'm not happy for [Nowitzki]," Durant said. "I wanted us to get to the Finals."

A 22-year-old scoring champ who can say that after such a remarkable run is destined to amass multiple NBA crowns.

The Mavericks want, no need, one now.

Dallas' reality television saga continues with a command. This group gets a last shot, and those hardened veterans know what happens if the bullet misses the target.

Salvation may yet elude the Mavericks, but they're coming fast anyway. They want to know how those other victorious locker rooms felt.

Opportunity knocks, and Dallas knows it better answer before Father Time barges in and slams it shut.


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