Thursday, June 30, 2011

Fun Fact

The NBA names fifteen players to its three All-NBA teams (1st, 2nd, and 3rd) each year. This year exactly three teams had two players among those fifteen, and as it happens those players were all in the top ten.

The Mavericks played and beat all three of those teams in the playoffs:

OKC: Durant (1st team) and Westbrook (2nd team).
LAL: Kobe (1st team) and Gasol (2nd team).
Miami: LeBron (1st team) and Wade (2nd team).

Or another way to put it: of the nine All-NBA first- and second-teamers aside from Dirk, the Mavericks in this playoff run played and beat six of them.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Yes We Did

(Okay, so I have to figure this title for a blog post is going to be used 600 times in the next two days, but I’m riding with it anyway...)

I have to say, with the Mavericks winning the championship, it’s feels like a major anticlimax. My wife even commented that I didn’t giggle near the end of this game like I did in some of the other games of this series and earlier in the playoffs.

It’s true, and I think that’s because the best parts of a championship season are all the moments where you think you’re going to win it all, even though it hasn’t happened yet. Once the final moment comes, it’s really more of a relief––that the team didn’t blow such a great opportunity––than anything.

Lots of the press have commented recently, and I think they’re right, that we spend so much time discussing legacy and story and greatness and such while the games are happening, that there’s not much left to say once the season is over. We’ve spent the past two weeks obsessing over the possibility of the Mavericks reversing the 2006 Finals with poetic justice, and drooling over how Dirk can finally cement his place as an all-time great.

(I can’t resist a couple of stats to throw in: with the last two wins against the Heat, the Mavericks now have a winning record in the playoffs over the past 11 seasons, going 65-63. This playoff run also means they have now won more playoff series than they’ve lost over that span as well, going 13-10 in series. Not counting tonight’s game, Dirk has career playoff averages of 26.0 points (on 46.5% shooting) and 10.4 rebounds per game. But again, we already knew about Dirk’s numbers; the championship just means no one can say they’re empty numbers anymore.)

I’ll celebrate the championship, but what I hope I remember more is what it was like to watch all the games along the way: the relief of winning game 5 against the Blazers after blowing game 4, and JJ Barea hitting the and-one with Andrew Bynum’s flagrant foul in the sweep of the Lakers (see the website, and laughing through Dirk’s absurd 12-for-15 shooting in game 1 against the Thunder, then watching with disbelief as the Mavericks erased a 15-point Thunder lead in game 4 of that series, and then watching in even greater disbelief as the Mavericks did the same thing to the Heat with the season practically on the line in game 2 of the Finals.

Forget espn classic, which I don’t watch anyway. We got to see the games live, and it was as much fun as you can really hope to have watching TV, plus we got to crash facebook after every game and celebrate with the community, even though my Mavs fan friends are all over the globe. When Dirk hit a big shot, this series, I was never surprised; when he kept missing during the first half tonight, I never worried about whether he would get his touch back. When he hit 10 points for the fourth quarter *again* tonight, it was just gravy. The missed shot at the end of game 3 was a genuine shock, and that says something about a player.

From here on, everything changes. Next year (if the season happens), we get to just enjoy what comes without all the angst and doubt. Unless the Mavericks can pull off another year like this, other teams will always have longer dynasties and more title banners. But that’s the great thing about a championship: this year is all that matters. For this year, Dirk was the best when the game was on the line. For this year, no deficit was too big to race back from. For this year, not a single team could blow the Mavericks out of a single playoff game. For this year, Terry was fearless (and money) when the biggest games were on the line. For this year, JJ Barea was a crunch-time contributor in the deciding game of the season. For this year, our team was better, and played better.

As my wife posted on facebook tonight, Thank God it’s finally over. I think we can all use a little rest.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

On the Line

One of the great things about the playoffs is that you get to see how people play when their backs are to the wall.

One of the best places to see this is when a team is leading the series by a single game (1-0, 2-1, or 3-2), as opposed to when it's tied or when a team is leading by two or three games. The reason is, of course, that the outcome of the game leads to such a big difference: either the series will be tied, or else someone will have a two-game lead, which is tough to overcome.

Now of course, in a game 7 you get to see both teams with their backs against the wall, which is a lot of fun. But I think in games like the one tonight, with Miami leading 2-1, you get to find out something even more interesting abuot who these teams are. What I mean is, at least from a fan’s perspective, the game at 2-1 (like the games at 1-0 and 3-2) means more to the team who’s trailing in the series than it does to the team who’s winning.

A few years back I wrote a post about how the Mavericks under Dirk had won every game 7 (or game 5 in a five-game series) that they had played. (The same is still true today, since they haven’t played any games 7’s since I wrote that post.) That looks impressive, until you reflect that the *best* teams don’t have to play very many game 7’s, because they put away their opponents quickly. So most seasons, when the Mavericks are the better team, it still often takes them the full seven games to finish a series. When they’re the lesser team, they never stretch the series to the limit.

Now let’s go back to the 2-1 series. What we find out tonight is whether Miami is good enough to beat the Mavericks even when Dallas *has* to win the game, while Miami doesn’t. It’s more interesting than a game 7 because we don’t just see who’s better –– we see who wants it more. If Dallas can win big tonight, we’ll know they play well when they’re desperate. But if Miami can win big tonight, we’ll know they can keep their effort up even if they’re not desperate.

However, there’s a catch. If the game is close, luck comes into play. Dirk could have made that shot at the end of game 3, just like he could have missed his layup at the end of game 2. Wade could have hit his desperation heave at the end of game 2, or the refs could have called a phantom foul and given him three shots on the play. These things happen. In other words, this series could easily be 2-1 Dallas or 3-0 Miami, and some of it depends on luck.

So then there’s tonight. Dallas needs the win more, and we’re playing at home. And so I think you really can say, that if Miami beats us convincingly tonight, they’ll prove that they deserve to win the series –– and the resulting 3-1 lead will mean they surely will win the series.

Of course you hope for the blow-out win. It would mean that Miami can be beaten soundly, and not just on a fluke. You willingly settle for another close win (or three more close wins), because even a championship won with a little luck is still a real championship.

But if Dallas loses another close one tonight, it will be extremely hard to swallow as a fan, because it will feel like the series could have swung the other way so easily. If that happened, we would probably lose game 6 in a blowout, and it would look like Miami was simply a lot better, but I don’t think that would necessarily be the case. In a 3-1 series, at least from a fan’s perspective, the trailing team is likely to lose heart, which helps the leading team smell blood and play with more energy to finish them off.

So you worry about the close loss. Then it’s just more “what if” piled on the list with Dirk’s WCF knee injury in 2003, the 2006 Finals, and the Golden State upset. As Mavericks fans, we’ve had enough “what if.”

But what if we win tonight?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

All Over Again

Here’s what I wrote tonight during the fourth quarter after the Heat took their fifteen-point fourth-quarter lead. I titled it “All Over Again” because it felt like the loss to Miami in the Finals in 2006:

I think I’m finally convinced: Miami was better than we were in 2006, and they’re better than we are now. It is, after all, a sport, which means that things like speed and strength matter, they’re not incidental.

Why did we lose tonight? Every time we turned the ball over, Miami beat us down the floor for a dunk. When the Heat missed a shot, there were at least three times that Wade was already springing to the rim before he even knew if the shot was going in. At least a couple of times, he got rebound-dunks from it. Jason Terry has basically been shut down these two games, partly because the Heat defenders are taller than he is, and partly because they’re so fast in closing out on shooters that Terry has hardly gotten any open looks. Dirk definitely doesn’t shoot as well when defenders are physical with him. In the regular season, he gets foul calls a big chunk of the time. When the fouls aren’t coming, he still adjusts, be he isn’t as dominant.

So, uh, after the borderline-miraculous comeback and win tonight, I guess what I really meant by “All Over Again” was that it was just like the fifteen-point fourth quarter comeback against Oklahoma City last round. Yeah, that's what I meant.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Rolling the Dice

Okay, so two different ways to tell the “story” of tonight’s game 1 Finals loss.


One is that we hung in there for the first half, but then the Heat shifted gears, buckled down, and put us away.

That’s definitely possible, but I think we could be a little misled by the big Lebron dunks that he put in once the game was mostly over and we were already playing desperate. I’m not saying I’m not worried about those plays, but I think it’s possible they would go down a bit differently if it were a two-point game instead of an eight-point game with a couple of minutes left.


Another way to view the game is that our bench has really been the difference throughout the playoffs, and that bench did not show up tonight. As in, 17 points on 4 of 22 (18%) shooting from Barea, Terry, and Peja.

Someone could point out that the Miami bench didn't play great either, shooting 8 of 22 (36.4%) for 27 points.

The difference is that our bench is a big part of how we got to the Finals. Despite Nowitzki’s brilliance through most of the playoffs so far, Barea, Terry, and occasionally Peja need to show up with big games for us to succeed against good teams. We have gambled by placing heavy stock in the ability of those guys –– especially Barea and Peja –– to make big plays and help us get wins. Now we risk paying the price for placing a lot of weight in players who may have been playing beyond their potential for awhile now.

We didn’t always close great against Portland and Oklahoma City, but we played well enough across the span of the whole game to win those series convincingly, and that overall play included nice contributions from the bench.

So for me, two big questions now are, is Barea really a rotation player for a contender, or just a guy who got hot for a couple of weeks? And, can Peja still hit big shots in big games, or have we already gotten out of him more than we bargained for?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

T.E.A.M. ... but I love Jason Kidd

My wife can attest that the two most common things I say during Mavericks games are “Kidd wants the ball” (whenever I seem him run down a loose ball) and “I love watching Jason Kidd play basketball.” I’m the proud owner of a commemorative opening night towel from Kidd’s first NBA game in November 1994, when he missed a triple-double by one rebound, I believe. My brother and I got cheap tickets in the upper deck end zone, and I’ve been in love with Kidd’s game ever since.

It still boggles my mind that the Mavericks let coach Jim Cleamons push to trade Kidd in 1997, and I was a big advocate of getting him back a couple of years ago, even if it did cost us Devin Harris.

Dirk is having a spectacular playoff run this year, but you could the Mavericks’ quality as a team summed up in their last offensive possession, when Jason Kidd came up with a tough offensive rebound after Dirk barely missed a 14-footer, then got the ball back to Dirk to force a Thunder foul and two free throws.

Kidd can’t really be called a star anymore, but he knows how to make winning plays. As much as I love watching Dirk shoot, Kidd’s play may be even more delightful. And in this particular series, he came up big over and over again.

In addition to the big offensive rebound to seal the game tonight, in game 4 Kidd also had the big three-pointer in overtime, plus a steal against Durant with four minutes left and the Mavericks trailing by four. Kidd just grabbed the ball and took it from him, and three seconds later Shawn Marion was scoring at the other end; in overtime, Durant did the same thing to Durant again, stealing the ball from him with a minute left and the game tied. This was actually the *third* time Kidd stripped Durant like that in a key possession in the series––the other one happen with 1:47 left in game 2. Add to that another big offensive rebound with 1:04 left in that game.

I don't know if the Mavericks will beat the Heat in the Finals, but this guy plays like a winner, and he deserves a title. He’s not an all-star anymore, but he plays the right way.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

We’ll take it

Looking at the big picture, the outcome of tonight’s game 3 of Mavericks-Thunder doesn’t make very much sense. Dirk and Durant both shot horrible, Jason Terry didn’t have a good game for Dallas, and Russell Westbrook was dominant for the Thunder. Dirk had more turnovers (seven) than his combined rebounds-assists-steals-blocks. And the Mavericks still won on the road.

I suppose it comes down to this: if you shoot 37 percent from the field, including 1-17 three-pointers (which is what the Thunder did), you’re usually not going to win a playoff game.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

What it would take

This blog has been obsessed with Dirk Nowitzki over the years, and I think it's justified. Apart from 1988, the Mavericks have had virtually no success as a franchise apart from the years he’s been on the team. And it’s often been noted that this regular season, Dallas was 55-18 with him in the lineup, and 2-7 without him.


I want to look at last year’s playoffs and talk about the Mavericks’ identity as a team, and what Dirk means for them. His numbers for the Spurs series last year were strong (26.5 points and 8 rebounds on 54.7% shooting), but I want to focus on one game––in fact, one quarter––where I think the Mavericks lost the series, and in a sense I think they lost it because of Dirk.

His biggest weakness, in my opinion, is his struggles to make something happen when opponents play rough and he gets angry. I don’t mean angry like his 50-point WCF barrage after Tim Thomas blew him a kiss in 2006, but rather angry like when Bruce Bowen or Udonis Haslem is holding him and shoving him 17 feet from the basket.

If the refs are calling fouls in Dirk’s favor, he can barrel into the lane and get to the free throw line anyway; but when he doesn’t get calls, his angry playing often just ends up in missed shots and turnovers. Or sometimes, he seems to check out of the game completely.


Consider what happened in game 3 against San Antonio last year. During the third quarter, Antonio McDyess started holding and shoving Dirk every possession, and Dirk lost it. You could see he was angry, shoving back and flailing his arms, trying to get the refs’ attention. He got bullied.

Dallas started the third quarter with a 14-point lead. Dirk’s stats for that quarter? He shot 0/1 FG, 2/2 FT (after being flagrantly fouled), he got 1 rebound, 3 turnovers (including an offensive foul on George Hill), and 1 technical foul. But aside from the numbers, you could see that the Spurs got into his head. When he did get the ball, it was obvious he had no interest in shooting or making a move. He’d catch it and just pass it to someone else on the perimeter.

Dallas’ 14-point lead turned into a 7-point deficit by the end of the quarter. Dallas ended up losing the game by 3.

Dirk wasn’t the only one with a problem that quarter. The whole team only scored 11 points. But on all those possessions where the rest of the team was missing 12 shots and committing 4 turnovers, what they needed was for their best player to take his share of shots and keep his mind in the game. Aside from the fact that Dirk probably would have hit a higher percentage than the rest of the team was hitting that quarter, they needed him taking shots to keep the offense flowing, and to help the team keep a mindset to win with.


If Nowitzki had kept his head in the game, it’s easy to imagine a 3-point swing and a win that game for the Mavericks. Then the series goes 7 games, and the Mavericks probably win game 7 at home. Nothing guaranteed, but that first-round series was winnable.

Now, there are two different ways to look at the series. One is that the Mavericks should have won easily, and that saying one quarter swung the series is kind of missing the point. The other way to look at it is, if Dirk were tougher mentally, the Mavericks could have won anyway.

Any of course, you could say the same thing about the 2006 Finals. The officiating in favor of Dwyane Wade was of course a factor there, as was Wade’s brilliance in hitting big shots. But the other main thing going on was that Dirk got bullied by Udonis Haslem and others in that series; and while his numbers were still pretty good, and he had some big moments, the Mavericks needed him to be consistently brilliant. It didn’t quite happen. To put it another way, they could have won even despite the officiating, if Dirk had held it together more consistently.


And here we see the problem with these Mavericks. Dirk has to play out of his mind for them to win a playoff series, and even then it’s regularly not enough. One bad quarter from Dirk might swing a whole series, if the other team can stick on its game. Put yourself in that position, and imagine if you’d hold up knowing you had to be on your best game for every moment of a seven-game series. I’m sure there are players who can do it, but I’m pretty sure Dirk can’t.

As always, of course, I have to stress that it’s very rare for a single star to have to stay on his best game like that. Shaq and Kobe could take turns being the hero, as could Duncan/Ginobili, Pierce/Allen/Rondo, and most recently Kobe/Gasol. (Remember that last year Kobe shot 6/24 in game 7 of the Finals while Gasol saved the series for the Lakers.)

But for our Mavericks, we’re left with this problem: no one has shown that they’re ready to step up consistently and make big plays if Dirk doesn’t do it. Butler was pretty good in last years’ playoffs, averaging 23 points and 7 rebounds on 44% shooting, but he’s injured now. Terry and Kidd have been erratic in the playoffs recently. And Dirk has a decent amount of mental toughness, but it’s clear he doesn’t have enough to keep things together consistently by himself.


Dirk will have a lot of good moments against Portland this series, but at some point they’ll start bullying him, and the refs won’t call things in his favor. If Dirk can turn that frustration into strong moves to the basket, Dallas will beat Portland in the series. If Terry and Kidd can step up their games and score consistently, Dallas will win even if Dirk *can’t* get past the physical defense. But if neither one of those things happens, my money is on the Blazers for the first-round upset.

Friday, April 1, 2011


I haven’t posted here in almost two years, but the drubbing by the Lakers last night is enough to get a guy thinking.

I should say up front I haven't read anything beyond the espn daily dime for the day, so hopefully I'm not just repeating what everyone else is saying.

My wife and I went to our favorite pizza place to watch the game last night, and fortunately the place closed at 12:30ET so we had to leave before the game got too ugly.  We were dreading it going in, and now it's hard to even care.  The Mavs' play has seriously lagged lately, and some of the Dallas media folks (Mike Fisher and Mark Followill) were analyzing on a podcast the other day who the Mavericks should be more worried about in the first round.  I don't think the Lakers are worried whether they can take Portland or New Orleans.

But what's worse is what I saw last night, and not just the score: Lakers laughing after big plays, Kobe going into overdrive and breaking up a Mavericks fast-break.  And then there's Matt Barnes. He was on the Warriors when they embarrassed Dallas a couple of years back, and last night after Terry almost got in a fight with Steve Blake (?!), Barnes was walking around Terry taunting him.  And what was he saying?  According to Terry, “same thing he's been saying since he played for Golden State, which is a bunch of nothing.” There’s no way I believe Terry on that point.

They're already in our heads, and the playoffs haven't even started.  They're already paving ground to beat us mentally in the second round, if we even make it there.  We could have only lost by 5 last night, and I'd be just as convinced.  Barring a miracle, this team is done.

But were we ever not done?

I’m thinking of the ends of movies where the plot twist hits, and they show you scenes from earlier in the story that you suddenly realize you misunderstood. This is where my mind is going with the Mavericks right now. I'm sure people have outlined all this before, but it’s never hit me quite the way it’s hitting me today.

Flash back to 2003, when the Mavericks beat the Sacramento Kings in game 7 of the second round to go to the Western Conference Finals. (By the way, that was an insanely entertaining playoff series.) Dirk injured his knee in game 3 of those WCF, and the Mavericks lost in 6 after giving the Spurs a run for their money; the Spurs went on to win the title that year. You had to wonder, what if Dirk had been healthy?

But look at it another way: What if Chris Webber hadn't blown out his knee in game 2 of the Sacramento series. Would Dallas have won?

Then look at 2006. Dallas beats the Spurs in 7 games in the second round, then Phoenix in 6 in the WCF. We lose to Miami by 6 in the Finals, partly due to two of the most atrociously-officiated games I’ve ever seen, and partly because we fell apart mentally.

But look at it another way: What if Duncan was completely healthy for San Antonio? (He put up big numbers in those playoffs, but it was a well-known fact he suffered much of that season from plantar fasciitis.) Don’t we think a little extra mobility for Duncan might have swayed game seven in overtime on the road? And what if Amare Stoudemire hadn’t been out for the year for Phoenix? Would we have beaten *either* of those teams?

So what’s left?

Of course, *maybe* we would have won all those playoff series even without the injuries (minor or major) to key players on the other teams.

But consider this: if Webber stays healthy and we lose to the Kings, and if Duncan is healthy and we lose to the Spurs, here's the Mavericks’ playoff history in ten straight 50-win seasons with Dirk:

2001: lost 2nd round
2002: lost 2nd round
2003: lost 2nd round
2004: lost 1st round
2005: lost 2nd round
2006: lost 2nd round
2007: lost 1st round
2008: lost 1st round
2009: lost 2nd round
2010: lost 1st round

The tally: in ten years we have *never* gotten past the second round without the other team's best big man being injured. Our actual record in playoff games over that span: 49–57.

The point of the NBA is entertainment, and the Mavericks have not let me down from that perspective, whether in the regular season or the playoffs. Also, Dirk’s numbers have been stellar in the playoff (as I’ve argued over and over), and that includes the last couple of years. What’s more, we’ve legitimately won plenty of playoff series along the way, so it’s not like a McGrady–type curse or anything.

No, it’s much more mundane. Once we have to compete against the best, we’re just not that good, and it’s looking more and more like we never have been.