Friday, May 11, 2007

What is the Heart of a Champion?

OK, so what does it take to have playoff success?

Here’s a fun fact for Mavericks fans. In the 1998 playoffs, Tim Duncan (a rookie) and the Spurs lost in the second round to Utah. Since then, in the seven playoff seasons Duncan has played in (he sat out the ’00 playoffs injured), he has lost in the playoffs to exactly two teams:
  • 1. Shaq’s Lakers
  • 2. Dirk’s Mavericks
Detractors will point out that Duncan was injured for most of last season, but the reports were that his foot felt better when the playoffs came around, and in any event, against Dallas he averaged 32.3 points (on 55.6% FG) and 11.7 rebounds in 42.5 minutes a game. Anyone who watched that series remembers that Duncan was a beast.

What I’m getting at is the question, which my brother Jeremy along with half of America has raised, of whether Dirk has the “heart” to get Dallas a title. It’s quite possible, I guess, that he doesn’t. But a glance at recent NBA champions suggests that heart doesn’t usually get the job done anyway. Here are teams that have gone to the finals in the fifteen years since Bird and Magic last played a full season together:
  • ’06: Heat-Maverics
  • ’05: Spurs-Pistons
  • ’04: Pistons-Lakers
  • ’03: Spurs-Nets
  • ’02: Lakers-Nets
  • ’01: Lakers-Sixers
  • ’00: Lakers-Pacers
  • ’99: Spurs-Knicks
  • ’98: Bulls-Jazz
  • ’97: Bulls-Jazz
  • ’96: Bulls-Sonics
  • ’95: Rockets-Magic
  • ’94: Rockets-Knicks
  • ’93: Bulls-Suns
  • ’92: Bulls-Blazers
First of all, in the past 15 seasons, 15 different teams have reached the finals. That’s half the league, which means it’s not a huge stretch to get there. Mavericks fans had a great run last year, but it hardly makes us special.

But how many teams have won the championship in that span? Six: Heat, Spurs, Pistons, Lakers, Bulls, Rockets. Here are the players that got those teams their titles:
  • Shaq and Wade
  • Duncan
  • Billups and Wallace
  • Shaq and Kobe
  • Jordan and Pippen
  • Hakeem
Other than with the Pistons, it’s pretty obvious why those other teams won championships. Shaq, Duncan, and Jordan, in particular, are probably the three best players to play in the last 15 years––and if anyone were to challenge that claim, Kobe would surely be the next candidate. Hakeem was great, but he was just lucky to hit his prime at the same time that Jordan inexplicably retired for two seasons; otherwise he may well have been another Karl Malone.

Coming back to the question of heart, I think you could safely say that Jordan won his titles with heart––and by being the best basketball playing in the history of humankind. I think you could say that Wade won with heart as well, but you can’t discount the fact that Shaq was on that team; without Shaq, it’s not at all clear that Wade would have had the chance to pull off his heroics.

The other winners? I have a tough time believing that Shaq and Tim Duncan won championships because of their heart. It’s possible they did, of course, but they also happen to be the two biggest, strongest, and quickest post players of their era. And considering that one or the other of them has won 7 of the last 8 championships, you’re going to have a hard time convincing me that every other star in the league has failed to win a title in that span simply because he didn’t have enough heart.

In the last 8 years, Duncan has only lost to Shaq and Dirk; Shaq has only lost to Duncan and the Pistons. The two big guys have basically dominated the league.

Next, here are the players in the last 15 years that led their teams to the finals but didn’t win the title:
  • Dirk
  • Kidd
  • Iverson
  • Mark Jackson / Reggie Miller
  • Ewing
  • Malone/Stockton
  • Payton/Kemp
  • Barkley
  • Drexler
Among those who have gotten to the finals but haven’t won, only Stockton/Malone, Patrick Ewing, and Jason Kidd have done it twice. (Ewing sat out the ’99 finals with an injury, so I suppose his legacy is debatable.)

So the question is, If Dirk doesn’t have enough “heart” to win a championship, who exactly do you want in his place? Who has what it takes?

Call Kobe the MVP if you like, but he hasn’t taken his team deep into the playoffs since Shaq left. We could say the Mavericks shouldn’t have let Nash go, but we all know he hasn’t been to the finals yet. And Kidd went twice, but he did it both times in an Eastern Conference where no team won more than 52 games for two straight years. Iverson and Payton are the only other guys on that list who are still in the league, and it doesn’t look like either of them is headed for a championship soon.

The league is full of veteran stars who have done far less in the playoffs than Dirk: Garnett, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Paul Pierce, Yao Ming, Jermaine O’Neal, Ray Allen. Shawn Marion has been to the WCF twice, but not as the best player on his team.

There are also young players who haven’t had much of a shot at the finals yet: Dwight Howard, Amare (this is only his third trip to the playoffs), Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony. Any one of those guys could theoretically dominate the league in future seasons, but most of them probably won’t.

Even LeBron still hasn’t beaten anyone good in the playoffs. Ten years from now, he might have a handful of rings, but then he might not have any.

Quick note (11:40pm Friday night): I just now read and the dmn blog, both of whom had posts in the last couple of days that are really similar to this one. I just thought I should say I hadn't read either of them when I wrote this. Ok, I said it.

So who’s going to take us there? Go for Jason Kidd and hope he can get the offense back on track before he retires? Get Paul Pierce and hope that all those losing seasons in Boston weren’t his fault?

At the end of the day, here’s what I think you do: you look around the room and say, “OK, somehow we’ve ended up with a league that only has two individuals who you can put on a team and bet on a title, and one of them is fading quickly. Duncan is the other one. Who, then, has (1) beaten Duncan in a playoff series and (2) is under the age of 35?”

One guy raises his hand.

OK, we’ll go with him.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

I love Mike Fisher

Not every day. But this article (“Shame on You”) should be required reading for Mavericks fans.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

We Know Drama

One thing you can say about the Dirk-era Mavs: they have yet to give us a dull playoff season. And frankly, this year lived up to past standards––as awful as the losses were, the Mavericks’ two wins against the Warriors both had a surreal kind of feel that I suspect most teams’ fans don’t get to enjoy on an annual basis.

Either way, here’s my year-by-year run-down of why, win or lose, I love watching Dallas Mavericks playoff basketball.


Dallas––with Dirk, Nash, and Finley––made the playoffs for the first time since ’89-’90. In the first round (a 5-game series), Dallas lost the first two in Utah, but then they turned around and won the next three in a row. In game 5, Dallas overcame a 14-point fourth-quarter lead and took their first lead of the second half on a Calvin Booth layup with 9.8 seconds in the game. I saw this one in a friend’s dorm room in Edwards Hall in Abilene (Binkley, your room, right?), and it was glorious.

In the second round, the thoroughly outmatched Mavericks fell to the Spurs, 4-1. Best moment: in game 4 (with Dallas on the verge of getting swept), Dirk got his front tooth knocked out by a Terry Porter elbow with 4:52 left in the game. He ran directly to the locker room, shoved some gauze in his mouth, and was back on the court after 33 seconds of clock time. Dirk finished with 30 and 9, and Mavericks took the game, 112-108, their only win of the series. The Spurs finished off Dallas in game 5, but not until Dirk had gone for 42 points (14/24 FG, 14/18 FT), 18 rebounds, and 6 steals; Finley shot 1/17 in the blowout loss.

The Mavericks finished the playoff season with a record of 4–1 when facing elimination, 0–5 otherwise.


Dallas swept Minnesota in the first round, only to fall to the top-seeded Kings 4–1 in the second.

Although the Kings series was lop-sided, it was also a showdown between the top two scoring teams in the NBA, and it was a blast to watch. The Mavericks let the Kings get layup after layup, but they almost made up for it with their own offensive barrage. The Kings averaged 112.8 points for the series, the Mavericks 106.8. I watched this series in PTS Hodge Hall, during finals week, with a die-hard Kings fan.

After the series, Mark Cuban announced a new commitment to team defense. Let’s say they had marginal success.


The 3rd-seed Mavericks jumped out to a 3–0 series lead against Portland, only to have the Blazers come back with 3 wins in a row to force game 7. In game 6, the Mavericks’ starting frontcourt of Nowitzki, Bradley, and LaFrentz combined for––I’m not kidding here––13 points and 2 rebounds (both by LaFrentz). In protest, I refused to watch game 7, although I did cave in and watch the last couple of minutes.

In the second round, after losing game 1 ugly to the Kings, the Mavericks bounced back with two of the most astonishing offensive performances I have seen. In game 2, after falling behind 20-10 just 3.5 minutes into the first quarter, Dallas went berserk, outscoring Sacramento 34-20 to end the first quarter leading 44-40. By the end of the half, Dallas had scored an absurd 83 points, and they went on to win in a rout. Nick Van Exel shot 14/19 for 36 points and 6 assists, and Chris Webber injured his knee for the Kings, missing the rest of the series.

Game 3 also went to the Mavericks, this time 141-137 in double overtime. Van Exel went for 40 points and 7 assists, Nash for 31 points and 11 assists, and Dirk for 25 points and 20 rebounds. Dallas eventually took the series in 7 games, with Dirk getting credit for stepping up big in the series clincher. I was in California at the time to see a friend get married, and I watched game 7 in an empty dining room on a college campus.

This brought up the Mavericks’ first appearance in the Western Conference Finals since 1988, facing the Spurs. In game 1, Dallas trailed by 13 at the end of the first quarter, but they ended up rallying, in part by hitting their last 49 free throws of the game. The Spurs shot 48 themselves (missing 17), so it wasn’t exactly lopsided officiating. However, several of the Spurs’ free throws came as a result of Don Nelson’s Hack-a-Bowen strategy, in which he put scrubs into the game to foul Bowen (a horrible free throw shooter) away from the ball and disrupt San Antonio’s offense. It was embarrassing, but Dallas closed the game on a 24–9 run, and Dirk finished with 38 points and 15 rebounds (Duncan had 40 and 15).

In game 3 against San Antonio, Dallas lost Nowitzki to a knee injury that would sideline him for the rest of the series. Then in game 5, Dallas (trailing the series 3–1) rallied from a 19-point deficit to force a game 6 by outscoring the Spurs in the fourth quarter, 29–10. I watched this with my best friend in the student center at his medical school; with 1:32 left, Dallas had a 13-point lead, and I was still sure they would lose. It’s nice sometimes when expectations get overturned.

In game 6 at home, Dallas opened the fourth quarter with a 69–56 lead. Unforuntately, they proceeded to go from the 10:52 mark to the 2:50 mark (more than eight minutes) without scoring. In the middle of the quarter, Stephen Jackson––yeah, that Stephen Jackson––made back-to-back 3-pointers, and then a couple of minutes later Steve Kerr hit three more of them in four possessions to give the Spurs an 8-point lead. Fortunately, I got to watch this one with good friends at my parents’ house in Texas. Season over.


Despite having reached the Western Conference Finals, and even then losing only after Dirk went down with an injury, in the off-season the Mavericks opted for a big shakeup, trading for Antoine Walker and Antawn Jamison.

The group never quite gelled, and Dallas only won 52 after winning 60 the previous season. In the first round they drew Sacramento, losing 4–1 despite (oddly) outscoring the Kings for the series. The Mavericks’ last three losses were notable in that they each came down to a final possession, and Don Nelson called the play for a different one of the “big three” each time. In game 2, Finley got stripped by Peja Stojakovic while trying to take a tying shot with 11 seconds left. Then in game 4, Nash missed a fall-away at the buzzer that could have sent the game into overtime. And finally, in game 5 Dirk got a good look, with a chance to win at the buzzer, but he missed off the front of the rim.

As discouraging as it was to lose 4-1 after going the western conference finals the year before, these were close games, and the series was good basketball. Marquis Daniels had a nice series, but more importantly the early playoff exit convinced management of the need to get rid of Antoine Walker. Jason Knott and I caught most of this series in the basement of PTS Alexander Hall.


That off-season, the Suns offered Nash the monster contract (which he, of course, took), and the Mavericks made a number of roster changes, somehow turning Antoine Walker into Jason Terry, and Antawn Jamison into Jerry Stackhouse and Devin Harris.

Dallas finished the year 58–24, but because of division realignment they opened the post-season as the 4-seed, facing the 5-seed Rockets. Infuriating as always, Dallas lost the first two games at home to Tracy McGrady’s Rockets, the second one on a long 2-pointer by McGrady just before the buzzer. However, the Mavericks turned around and won the next two in Houston, taking back home court advantage. The home team then won the last three games, with Dallas taking game 7 by an astonishing 40 points, the most lop-sided game 7 in NBA history. Dirk struggled a lot for the series, but Jason Terry stepped up, having a pair of 30-point games to help the Mavericks save the series

In the second round, Dallas drew Phoenix. The Mavericks got ripped to shreds repeatedly by first-time MVP Nash and Amare Stoudemire, as Amare had games of 40, 37, 33, and 30 points, and Nash had games of 48, 39, and 34. In game 6, Dallas led by 16 late in the third quarter, but the Suns quickly got back into the game, tying it early in the fourth. Dallas had a 3-point lead with just 11 seconds left, but Nash hit a wide open 3-pointer to force overtime, and Phoenix took the series.

Somewhere in the midst of this, the wheels came off, with Dirk yelling at Terry and a lot of fans in Dallas very very unhappy. I watched the game alone in the basement of a dorm (not mine) in New Jersey. That was a long night.


This one is still fresh enough in memory that a quick review should be enough. First round was a sweep of Memphis. Second round was perhaps the best 2nd-round playoff series our generation has watched, with three games decided by a total of 4 points, and two other games going into overtime. The western conference finals saw Dallas turning a 2–2 series tie into a 4–2 victory for the Mavericks after Dirk’s 50-point outburst in game 5 at home, followed by a come-from-behind road win in game 6.

After game 6, Marc Stein wrote:
Dirk Nowitzki has answered all the questions. He has hushed every doubt about his playoff toughness, his fourth-quarter clutchness and whether he's sufficiently ruthless to beat his best friend for a spot in the NBA Finals.

All of which means Nowitzki can finally and definitively respond to the question he hears more than any other.
And then in Finals, Dwyane Wade pulled off one of the most remarkable performances in NBA history and won 4 games in a row to turn on 0–2 series deficit into an NBA title in 6 games. In those four wins, Wade averaged 39.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 3.5 assists to take the MVP.

Special thanks to Justin Burton (a Lakers fan) for watching game 5 with me at his house in New Brunswick, NJ, and to James Foster (a Tennessean but an adopted Mavericks fan) for showing up at my place in his Nowitzki jersey for the rest of the series. Also to Josh Ziefle for buying a high-def TV in the middle of the playoffs.

I lost sleep for two weeks after the finals ended (mostly anger because of the officiating), but what a great run.


Holy crap. Polite words can’t describe what this one was like, but it had its moments, and there certainly aren’t any Mavericks fans who will forget it anytime soon. The Nowitzki question is officially re-opened. And Baron Davis had better put up a good showing against Utah in the second round, or I don’t know how I’ll function.

I watched most of this one alone in my living room in Boston, probably without any other Mavericks fans within blocks. My housemates were dutifully supportive, but the best night was game 5, when my friend Kevin Wells stayed up late with me to see the Mavs’ last win.

I don’t know if I’m going to be following next year’s regular season or not. But for crying out loud, bring on the playoffs. Good or bad, Dirk seems to be incapable of giving us anything but insanity, and that’s reason enough to keep watching.

Modern Mavs Playoff History

If anyone is interested, here are links to pages (from and where you can look at how the Mavericks have performed in their playoff runs for the last 7 seasons. Each page has recaps and box scores for every game of the series––a great resource if you’re a stat junkie like me.

Mavericks 3, Jazz 2
Spurs 4, Mavericks 1

Mavericks 3, Timberwolves 0
Kings 4, Mavericks 1

Mavericks 4, Blazers 3
Mavericks 4, Kings 3
Spurs 4, Mavericks 2

Kings 4, Mavericks 1

Mavericks 4, Rockets 3
Suns 4, Mavericks 2

Mavericks 4, Grizzlies 0
Mavericks 4, Spurs 3
Mavericks 4, Suns 2
Heat 4, Mavericks 2

Warriors 4, Mavericks 2

It Could be Much, Much Worse

Whatever anyone wants to say about Dirk, he can take consolation tonight in the fact that he’s not Tracy McGrady.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Et tu, Avery?

Jason Knott wrote:
So what's for next year? 73 wins, sweeps all the way to the finals, up 3-0, 20 point lead in the final quarter, and then a monumental collapse? Or is that too much like last year? What can they do to us?
Jason, I think you’re on to something. To do this to the fans really takes something special.

To start out with, only two teams in any given year even have the opportunity to blow the NBA finals, and at most one succeeds. To lose it to (basically) a single player, when his team includes Antoine Walker and your own team is loaded with talent, is even worse.

And then blowing the first round to the 8 seed is another thing only two teams per season have a shot at. For crying out loud, the Mavericks had been trying for their entire franchise history to get the number 1 seed, and this is the first time they’ve done it. They hadn’t beaten the division rival Spurs in the standings since 1997, and that was only because David Robinson broke his foot and Sean Elliott had to get a kidney transplant; the Spurs ended up 20-62, the Mavericks 24-58.

So for a team pushing 30 years of history (coninciding almost exactly with my life span, incidentally), both their first finals appearance and their first top-seeded playoff series ended in catastrophic fashion.

(My housemates and I were debating this last night, and we decided that catastrophic is worse than disastrous; frankly, it’s the strongest word I can think of right now without using profanity. Actually, we might just have to coin a new word, like maveractic or maybe nowitztrophic.)

You would need to enlist Shakespeare to do justice to the degree of ironic tragedy we have witnessed in the last 10 months. The only think that can top it is if Dirk does indeed win the regular-season MVP and then Nash take the finals MVP.

Actually, Jason, I think that’s the key––the Mavericks can’t do anything worse to us, but Nash can actually go back in time and make a past Mavericks decision worse. That might be what we’re looking at.


Thirty-seven 3-point attempts.

Out-rebounded 53–38.

Two Blocks as a team.

Two of the Warriors’ 5 starters utterly hobbling around the court.

Maurice Ager (3/4 FG) was the only Maverick to make more than half his shots.

And Dirk’s line: 8 points, 2/13 FG, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 0 blocks.

But the problem was deepter than any of that. On offense, Dallas spent 3/4 of their possessions passing the ball around the perimeter. Most of the time the Warriors’ defensive rotation was faster than the Mavericks’ passes. I would think it might have made sense to reverse the pass and drive, but that adjustment wasn’t made.

On defense, it was open 3-pointer after open 3-pointer for the Warriors. They made 46.7% of them.

I think Mo Ager and Austin Croshere are the only Mavericks who shouldn’t feel ashamed of their individual performance after this one, since they at least played hard and contributed about what you’d expect from them. Maybe give a little credit to Devin Harris and his 13 points and 9 assists, not to mention the pressure he put on Baron Davis and his gimpy leg.

Other than that, oh my, it was ugly. It’s hard to tell if the Mavericks were playing without pride, or if they were just out-classed by a better team. Dirk really did look like he was trying most of the time, which is an incredibly scary thought. The Warriors’ defense appeared impenetrable.

There’s just no defense, no excuse for that.

And throw lots and lots of blame on Avery and the coaching staff. The Mavericks are a very fast, very talented team. If you allow your players to just pass the ball around the key for most of the shot-clock and repeatedly toss up 3-pointers––when the season is on the line and you’re making fewer than a third of them––then there is something very, very wrong.

Yikes, I don’t want to read the news tomorrow.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Never Believe Anything You Read On This Blog Again

Or else, never believe anything the people on TV say. But I think it's the first one.

Or, for alternate title: Why to Never Trust a Box Score. I ran Dirk’s and Duncan's averages for the first five games of the first round:
  • Dirk: 22.0 pts, 42.0% FG, 11.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.6 blocks, 2.2 turnovers.
  • Duncan: 20.2 pts, 47.3% FG, 10.6 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 2.8 blocks, 2.4 turnovers.
So Duncan has better numbers in assists, blocks, and FG%, and Dirk has better numbers for points, rebounds, steals, and turnovers. Just picking blindly, which set of categories would you rather have the better numbers in? Dirk's, right?.

True, Duncan has a lot more assists, but if you just add up all the stats (a rough but worthwhile measure), Duncan comes out to 39.8, Dirk to 39.6. Throw in Dirk’s 38/46 (82.6%) free throws against Duncan’s 13/22 (59.1%), and you might even say you have a wash.

Unfortunately, that's not what we've been seeing on the court. I only saw a couple of minutes of Duncan from the first round, but I assume he didn't spend large chunks of time stagnating his team's offense by either failing to get open or else hiding in the corner. And then there's the 4–1 advantage for Duncan's team, versus the 2–3 deficit for Dirk's.

Ack, my head is spinning––I want to trust the statistics, but they’re lying to me. Right?

One point back in Dirk’s favor: he has started games quite well this series. Dallas has jumped out to several early leads, and Dirk has been in the center, if I remember correctly, of all of them––driving to the basket, being aggressive, and generally being the player you'd expect. Late in the games he has faded, which has hurt his team, but I think you also have to say that his early play has helped make the Warriors’ second-half runs result in small Golden State leads rather than blowouts.

It’s still infuriating and embarrassing, and we still should demand far more, but his perhaps-better-than-Duncan numbers have not been, strictly speaking, meaningless. (Note: This keeps happening to me: I just saw over at truehoop that Hollinger made a similar comment; I wrote this before I saw it, so I'm sticking with the post.)

But there’s still a question: If Dirk has a couple of big games and Dallas somehow takes the series, how do you evaluate Dirk? Do the bad games offset the good ones? Can we be proud that he won 4 even if he lost 3 ugly? This might all be moot in a few hours (if Dallas’ season ends tonight), but I want to throw it open here.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Now That Was Shocking

I wanted to rip my hair out every time Dick Stockton talked about how “shocking” the Warriors’ comeback was. Sorry to be cynical, but the first thing I saw that shocked me was the Warriors missing 8 consecutive shots to close the game.

It’s offical: nothing that happens in game 6 could shock anyone, short of a 70-point game from Baron or Dirk. Other than that, either team could win by 30, and I would not be in the least surprised.

Once More, with Feeling

Let’s start with some nice things about Dirk.

First, the bad news: on offense, he’s at 20.0 pts and 2.3 assists per game, on 40.9% shooting. To get those up to his season average tonight, he’d have to score 43 on 18/24 FG and 8 assists. That’s a stretch.

On the other hand, his defensive numbers have been really good: 11.5 rebounds, 2.5 steals, 1.8 blocks. That’s up from 8.9, 0.7, and 0.8. Overall, if you just add up his stats (points + rebounds + assists + steals + blocks), Dirk is down about 0.3, from 38.4 in the regular season to 38.1 in the playoffs.

So what I see is a frustrated guy who’s getting flustered on offense, but is making up some of it on defense.

But my brother Jeremy raised what seems like a fair question: Has there ever before been a guy whose entire career was riding on a single game?

Never Underestimate a Team Like the Warriors

OK, so I’m sitting here pondering how the Mavericks could still take the series.

People have talked a lot about Dirk getting on track, and that’s certainly an important point––not only does he have to start scoring for Dallas to win the series, but he’s practically bound to start scoring, since he’s had four games in a row where he hasn’t. My brother Jeremy made a comment recently about the Mavericks being a horse that has to run from behind. I think you have to pin that on Dirk, since he’s the consistent thread over their last 6 playoffs.

Here’s something that occurs to me: in Dirk’s career, Dallas has never been a heavy favorite to win a championship until their last two playoff series, and they've crumbled in both of them. When they have nothing to lose, they can do some remarkable things. But faced with the pressure of living up to what they know (at least in theory) that they’re capable of, they have gone oh-for-one, and they’re on the verge of oh-for-two.

So the two key questions are: Are they far enough behind for a switch to flip? And are they too far behind for it to matter?

Acknowledging that Dallas is utterly responsible for making something happen the rest of this series, there is one other possibility for the Mavericks winning in 7: Golden State could still, quite plausibly, experience a total melt-down, and come apart at the seams. had a story last week suggesting this, and truehoop puts things in perspective as well. And I think it’s true: Golden State clearly has got a ton of talent, but they’re also (1) injury-prone and (2) full of head-cases; well, we only know that Jackson is nuts, but there’s also a look in Davis’ eyes, and something about the perpetual creepy grin on his face, to where nothing he would do could surprise me. This series, for Golden State, depends on these guys holding it together. But that’s not a given.

This sounds like a really lame cop-out, and perhaps it is, but everyone knows psychology is part of the game. If being tough were just physical, then no one would ever blame a player for not being tough enough, right?

The fact is, it’s really difficult to maintain intensity and composure at the same time. Ask Jason Terry about punching Michael Finley in the playoffs last year, and then getting suspended for a game the Mavericks lost. Ask Jackson and Davis how they got themselves thrown out of the game last weekend. Ask Dirk why he looks like he’s ready to punch someone when he gets knocked to the ground but doesn’t get a foul call––and then looks like a beaten child when he can’t come up with any way to channel his aggression.

Back to the Mavericks: tonight will be the defining moment for these guys for a long, long time if they lose. Dirk, Terry, and Howard, unless one of them explodes for 40 or something, will never live down a home defeat tonight, and neither will Avery, unless/until they win a championship some other season.

My prediction: I’m not going to guess whether Dirk will start scoring or not, but unless Dallas wins in a blow-out, I’m putting my money on him taking 30 shots, make-or-miss. No way he gets more than 3 assists. And throw in 16 rebounds for good measure.