May 15, 2011 Leave a Comment
After their epic meltdown in the 2006 NBA Finals match up with Miami, and their first round collapse in 2007 against Golden State, it appeared that the Dallas Mavericks window as a title contender had closed tighter than Telly’s typical pray. Despite the addition of legendary point guard, Jason Kidd, the Mavs had been unable to get out of the first round since their franchise’s lone NBA Finals appearance in 2006. With both Dirk and Kidd entering the latter stage of their careers, it seemed unlikely that Dallas could make a run at a title despite their impressive roster on paper.
Fortunately, this Dallas team bears no resemblance to the squad that seemed intimidated by Stephen Jackson and Baron Davis four years ago. With Dirk, Jason Terry and JJ Barea representing the only remaining members of the 2007 squad, Dallas has retooled to shed its reputation as a soft team. With tough defenders in Shawn Marion and Tyson Chandler, the Mavs have regained an edge that has put the franchise back on track, just as owner Mark Cuban had hoped.
After a six game grind against the Portland Trailblazers, the Mavs made quick work of the Los Angeles Lakers, sweeping the two-time defending champions in the Western Conference Semi-Finals. With the added size brought on by the additions of Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood, the Mavs were able to stand up to the front line of L.A. and take the Lakers head on. Coach Rick Carlisle has had the team mentally prepared for every challenge they have faced this season.
Point guard, JJ Barea, who joined the team in 2006, has accomplished the difficult feat of improving in five consecutive years. Once considered a player too small to make a difference in the NBA, Barea has significantly improved under the tuteladge of Jason Kidd, slowly becoming one of the more valuable bench players in the league. His unique style of play, which involves herky jerky drives against players sometimes over a foot taller than he is, has proven to be a significant “spark plug”, as Hubie Brown may have mentioned 4,000 times throughout the second round series against the Lakers.
Mid-season, the prospects of a postseason run seemed unlikely for the Mavs, as Caron Butler suffered a devastating knee injury in January, that has knocked him out since, and likely will keep him out for the duration of the playoffs. Luckily, Peja Stojokavic was traded to Toronto and subsequently bought out by the Raptors, falling into the lap of Dallas for the veteran minimum. While Peja may be long past his days as an All-NBA performer, he still is fourth on the all-time list of three point field goals made, and at 6″10 stands as one of the greatest shooters to ever step on a court. Peja has proven his worth in the playoffs, posting several games where he made over five three pointers, including a cold-blooded 6/6 performance from downtown in the deciding Game Four against the Lakers. Peja took exceptional delight in knocking off the Lakers, after he failed miserably in his last attempt to take them down back when he was with the Kings, where he famously blew Game Seven of the 2002 Western Conference Finals by bricking a crucial three pointer.
While these additions have made Dallas tougher, the Mavs will go as far as Terry, Kidd and Nowitzki take them. After experiencing first-hand how devastating playoff failure can be, Jason Terry has shown some serious cajones in these playoffs, knocking down jumper after jumper. He has been in attack mode ever since the postseason began, and seems hell bent on capturing the title that slipped away in 2006. Making an incredible statement in Game Four, knocking down a record tying nine three pointers on merely ten attempts, Terry has shown that he will not settle for regular season success as the Mavs have in the past.
Entering the seventeenth season of his illustrious career, the only thing missing from future first ballot Hall Of Famer Jason Kidd’s resume seems to be a championship. Since the mid-90′s, Kidd has been the model after which all true point guards wish to mold themselves. As an unselfish distributor who seems to have 360-degree vision, Kidd rewrote the manual on how to be a team-first point guard. Throughout Kidd’s career, he has made the most of his teammates on every team he has been a part of. While some of Kidd’s skills have diminished with age, he has managed to hold on to enough of his ability to make a run at being the oldest starting point guard on an NBA Championship team. While Kidd may not be the defensive stalwart he was in his prime, and he does struggle with incredibly fast point guards, he has a high enough basketball IQ to be matched up with deadly scorers such as Kobe Bryant in crunch time. If Dallas hopes to capture its first title, Kidd surely will be a large factor in the team’s success.
Let us not forget ze German, Dirk Nowitzki, unquestionably the greatest European player in basketball history. Dirk may never be able to live down missing those free throws in the closing minutes of Game Three of the 2006 Finals, but he sure is making a run at legitimizing his career. Easily the greatest shooting seven footer the world has ever seen, Dirk still is unstoppable from the elbow, where he can attack with drives, post-ups and, of course, his deadly jumper, which he can pull off on practically any defender due to his impressive combination of size and shooting ability.
Entering the season, many would have laughed at the notion that the Mavs had a chance to win a title. Even die hard Mavericks fans had to be pessimistic after witnessing such disappointing defeats in recent years. Dirk and Kidd, however, seem to have no plans to settle for regular season success and fade into the sunset. Both players hold a rare opportunity to rewrite their legacies, to ascend from the ranks of regular season titans, to certified NBA Champions. As a wise man once said…..ANYTHING’S POSSIBLE!!!!!!