Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Born Losers?

I can’t help seeing irony in a comparison between last season and this one, when we look at how the Mavericks ended their regular season and how they’ve begun the playoffs.

Last year, Dallas was widely criticized for blowing off one of its last regular-season games against Golden State, which helped allow the Warriors to make the playoffs, where they faced and demolished Dallas. It seemed to be bad karma for the Mavericks not to play hard as they finished their season, and it seemed that they were basically paying for that mistake as they lost to a hot Warriors team that bullied them throughout the series.

This year, Dallas came into its last regular season game against New Orleans, in basically the reverse situation. Whereas a win against the Warriors last year would have meant the Mavericks would not have had to face them in the playoffs, a win against the Hornets this year assured that the Mavericks would face them in the first round. This time around, it seemed that the Mavericks got it right: they played hard against the Hornets and beat them, which would seem to build up some good karma going into the playoffs. Right?

The plan seems to have backfired, though. Avery -- whom seems to have lost his ability to win big games as a coach -- trotted out a full-court press that frustrated Chris Paul in that last regular season game, and it did help Dallas build some confidence. Unfortunately, it also allowed the Hornets to adjust before the first playoff game. Whereas you’d really hope to bring out the surprising strategy as an edge to help you win game 1 of the playoff series, Avery unveiled it ahead of time. The result is a strategy that actually worked -- but at the wrong time.

There is one thing in common: in both cases Dallas told the other team that they weren’t afraid to face them in the playoffs. Which is another way to say that Dallas showed disrespect toward the team they would ultimately face in the first round. I’m not sure that necessarily has anything to do with their failure last year and (so far) this year, but it obviously hasn’t helped.

And surely there has to be a certain amount of luck that has gone into the playoff losses these last three years: Dwyane Wade’s parade to the free throw line, Baron Davis hitting half-court shots and falling-out-of-bounds 3-pointers, and Chris Paul hitting identical off-balance buzzer beaters at the ends of consecutive first quarters. These kinds of plays are extremely discouraging for a team -- after all, how can you expect to win when you’re playing against Superman?

Yet once the pattern sets in, it starts to seem less and less like luck. Whereas Dirk was the one playing Superman a couple of years ago, with his 50-point WCF performance against Phoenix (see this pose, where I compare it to a similar LBJ game in last year’s playoffs), this year he’s merely been good (27 point on 11 FG attempts is actually very good, at least on paper), while Paul has been the superhero. But more than that, the Mavericks are getting mediocre play from Stackhouse, Howard, and Terry, plus they’re playing lousy team defense. In the end, it looks like the Mavericks just aren’t very good.

This is ultimate fan hell: when your team does the wrong thing, it blows up in their face. When they do the right thing, it backfires. Bad luck, bad karma, bad effort, or bad coaching: more than anything, it’s just a bad experience for a fan.

4 comments:

jeremy said...

Larry Brown to the Mavs?

scoots said...

I hope not -- that guy’s poison, in my book. What kind of a VP of basketball operations resigns while his team is in the middle of a playoff series?

JKnott said...

Talk about fan hell: how would you feel to be the Suns, who gave a good fight and possibly could have won last year against the Spurs if not for the suspensions, and then got Shaq, reorganized their team around him, and seem to be ending up with the same result? It will be kind of boring to the fans of the whole league if after all the trades and excitement, we get the Spurs as the champion again.

jeremy said...

scoots,

in my book, it's not how you play the game; it's whether you win or lose.