Posts Tagged ‘Dallas Mavericks’

As I expected, the Dallas Mavericks finished off the Miami Heat in game six last night, proving pretty clearly that a legitimate team built around one superstar beats out three superstars with little in the way of a team behind them.  We can argue all day long about the validity of Miami’s attempt to built a star-studded group and ride sheer talent to multiple titles, but for today, right now, it doesn’t look like such a hot idea.  Of course, barring a new CBA that forces the team to dump one of the big three, there is still ample time for Miami to achieve all of their dreams.  It just didn’t happen this year.

Much has been said and written about how Miami was the overwhelming favorites in this NBA Finals, how Wade, James and Company were just too much for anyone, let alone Dallas to withstand in a seven game series.  Personally, I thought this was premature hype to begin with.  Dallas was and is the better team.  After the fourth quarter of game one, the Mavs controlled the series despite what all the press reports were saying.  Dallas was “lucky” to get the come-from-behind wins in games two and four, we were told, they couldn’t possibly hold up much longer.

Well, just a brief look at the first four games shows pretty clearly a series that wasn’t lopsided at all, but played fairly evenly.  Of the 16 quarters played in the first four games, 4 ended in ties and the other 12 were split evenly, with Dallas winning 6 and Miami taking six.  Worse still for Miami, Dallas totally controlled the second half of the 4th qaurters of games 2,3 and 4.  In fact, Miami is fortunate that they managed to hold on in game three.  Dallas came roaring back from 14 down to tie the game, then Jason Terry missed a three to give them the lead and Dirk missed a jumper to tie at the end.  How many times has that happened in this year’s playoffs?  Just the once.

When a team comes from down late to win a game once, it can be seen as a fluke, or a lucky break.  When it happens twice, it’s not quite a fluke anymore.  When it happens three games in a row, you’ve got a trend.  And when it happens all playoffs long against the best the league has to offer, it’s not luck, it’s their style of play.  Dallas is a deep, versatile team.  They wear other teams down over the course of the game.  And unlike Miami, they actually know how to close.  I’m not certain why anyone is surprised that Miami would blow late leads repeatedly in the Finals, they’ve been doing that against good teams all season long.

No, Miami shouldn’t be condemned for “being upset” in this series, they never should have been the favorite to begin with.  Dallas managed to work a split in the first four games (very nearly a 3-1 lead) despite the fact that they had gone cold as a team.  Dirk strapped everyone in a Mavs uniform on his back and did what LeBron only imagines he can do, carry them to victory.  Dallas was not playing anywhere near as well as they had earlier in the playoffs.  Once their shooting stroke returned in game 5, Miami had no chance, evidenced by the fact that the Mavs scored about 108 per game in the last two against the supposedly elite Heat defense.

Dallas couldn’t go into Miami and win, we were told after the Mavs went up 3-2.  This despite the fact that Dallas was 6-1 in its last 7 road games (now 7-1 after last night’s win.)  The closed out Portland in Portland, the won both games in L.A., they won both games in OKC, and they won 2 out of 3 in Miami.  No, Miami didn’t choke or blow this series, they were the victim of over-hype from the get-go.  In retrospect, Dallas did to Miami exactly what they have been doing to teams all season long.  But the Mavs  have a long standing reputation for coming up short, so they weren’t respected for it.  Miami was the big fish in a small pond from the day of the infamous “Decision”.  They were the team that most everyone in the media had decided were the champions by default.

Even the criticism heaped on Miami during the season wasn’t so much a consequence of their actual performance, it was because they looked like what they actually are, a thin team with no bench to speak of and major flaws on the offensive end, particularly in end-game situations.  They’re sin was in not living up to the invincible force nearly everyone thought they were certain to be.

LeBron James wanted to be a global icon, he wanted his legacy to be Michael Jordan only bigger.  The celebration in South Beach the day after winning the free agency sweepstakes sticks out in everyone’s minds today, and it should.  Whoever’s idea that was really needs to be fired.  When LeBron started sticking fingers up to indicate how many titles they would; win, five, six, seven; it harkened back to Jordan doing the same thing.  The difference being that MJ did it during the locker room celebration after actually winning a title.  And the six fingers Jordan held up that day, he eventually backed up with titles.  It’s one thing to be confident when you’ve got the resume to back it up, quite another when you haven’t won anything yet.

The Miami Heat did themselves no favors this season.  Be it Coach Spo ratting out his players for crying in the locker room after a mid-season loss to Chicago, to Dwayne Wade playing the victim card with his “All’s right with the world, the Heat lost” whine.  The hubris continued with a celebration after beating Boston in the second round that made the one the Mvas just engaged in after actually winning the title look tame in comparison.  Beating up on a wounded and worn down team and celebrating like it was the best thing that ever happened in all of civilization isn’t exactly a classy thing to do.  But then neither is mocking a guy who just beat you with a 102 degree fever for being sick.  Where was the focus?

LeBron has gotten his wish after all.  Today, on the eve of the most crushing defeat of his professional career, he is indeed a global icon.  His name has become synonymous with failure.  Whether that is fair to him or not is irrelevant. LeBron wanted all of this attention, courted it like no other player, and now he has it, for better or worse.

After the game, LeBron was asked about all of the people rooting against him.  He responded with a vintage arrogant whine.  “At the end of the day, all the people that were rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today.”

It’s good to see LeBron hasn’t learned a thing.  The problem is, King James, you’ll wake up tomorrow with the same life, too.  All of the failure, the hubris, the shrinking under pressure, the increasing cacophony of voices chipping away at your legacy one paragraph at a time, it’ll all still be there.  And until you learn a thing or two about actually becoming a champion, that will never go away.

 

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Apparently, its already been decreed that the Miami Heat are the NBA Champions.  The Finals are little more than a sideshow before the inevitable coronation.  Nearly everyone is picking Miami, most having them in four or five games.  The prognosticators really going out on a limb have the Mavs, possibly, getting to game six.

The only thing I can say to this is, what league have you all been watching?  Dallas has clearly been the best team in the NBA all season long.  If not for a 2-9 stretch played without Dirk Nowitzki, they almost certainly would have surpassed the Spurs and possibly the Bulls for the top regular season mark in the league. 

The playoffs have been no exception, particularly on the road.  Since blowing that epic lead in game four at Portland, all the Mavs have done is go 10-1, 5-0 on the road, closing out the Blazers and the vaunted Lakers away from home, and taking both games in OKC.  They rolled through three top 10 teams to reach the finals.

Miami, on the other hand, beat an undertalented Sixers unit, Boston with a decimated lineup, and a Bulls team that had been exposed by both Indiana and Atlanta. 

The Celtics without a healthy Rondo aren’t beating anyone.  And who knows how that series plays out if Dwayne Wade’s cheapshot on Rondo doesn’t happen?  Remember, Boston was rolling before the injury in game three, argueably should have won game four even with a one armed and ineffective Rondo, and had a late lead in game five.

The Bulls, much like the Spurs, were a team with great consistency in the regular season but flaws big enough to drive a Mack truck through.  They’re number two offensive options are the career-long underachiever Luol Deng and former out of tune Jazz man Carlos Loser, er…Boozer.  As most people in Chicago now understand, there were very few Utah fans weeping over Boozer’s departure.

This Bulls team amounted to a slightly more talented version of the Deron Williams-Boozer Jazz teams of the past few seasons.  It was a stretch, at best, to even call those guys contenders.  That Chicago lost was no surprise.  In fact, had they played stiffer competition, it very likely would have happened a round or two sooner.

So while Miami was busy strutting and preening against pretend hollow contenders like Boston and Chicago, Dallas was taking care of business against, far and away, the most difficult competition faced by any other playoff team.

Portland is no slouch, especially when Brandon Roy started to make shots.  And then there’s L.A.  What does a team have to do to get some respect?  All they did was totally decimate the two-time defending champions both physically and mentally.  This isn’t the Sixers or the Pacers they swept here, it was the Lakers for goodness sake!  Kobe, Gasol, Odom, Bynum, Artest, Fisher, Phil!  The Lakers!  Three straight NBA Finals, two stright titles.  Has it occurred to any of these pundits that maybe that happened because Dallas is pretty good?

Then they handled what, in my mind, is the true heir apparent to the Lakers out west, Oklahoma City.  Not only did they frustrate the Thunder, they did it in such a way as to create some serious angst about the franchise’s future with all star guard Russell Westbrook.  Now that’s a victory when you not only end up ahead on the scoreboard but have guys doubting some of their best players.  By the way, that same thing happened to Pau Gasol and Brandon Roy, too.  Any guesses which of the Heat’s big three draws the doubters?  It will happen to one of them.

Lebron is unquestionably a great player, but for his career, he shoots well below 40% against Dallas.  Dwayne Wade and the Heat franchise haven’t beaten the Mavs in several years! 

Oh yeah, there’s also that Dirk guy who, in case no one has noticed, is putting on one of the most spectacular playoff runs in quite a while. 

Anyway, my point is that all objective analysis points pretty clearly at Dallas not only winning the NBA Finals, but winning pretty easily.  The hype machine of the media however, insists the Heat will roll.  During the next couple weeks, Dallas is going to shock the world.  The funny thing is, it shouldn’t be a surprise at all.  The Mavs have only proven themselves time after time all season long. 

But much like the Lakers, when Dallas does beat Miami, all people will want to talk about is what went wrong for the Heat.

The other day, I looked at the NBA’s Eastern Conference and it’s relative lack of depth.  Today, it’s the West and it’s over-abundance of good teams.  In fact, there is only one team out of 15 that I couldn’t conceive of any possible chance at making a playoff run.  Every other team has either the pieces in place or the potential to get it done.  Not that they all will, and there are a couple dominoes left to fall in terms of possible big-names on the trade market, but here is an early look at how I see the West shaping up.

15.  Denver Nuggets-  Has anyone noticed how old and mediocre this team really is?  Without George Karl late last season, they went completely belly-up.  If Karl either can’t go or has to step away again this year, these guys are toast.  Melo wants out to join with one of the other high-profile superstars grouping in different places around the league.  Billups is another one who could be traded to a contender.  Everyone else on the roster is either a role-player or a major injury risk.  This team could go south and get that way in a hurry.  I look for a slow start, a firesale and retirement for Coach Karl.

14.  Golden State Warriors-  Even with Don Nelson no longer ruling the roost, these guys are going nowhere fast.  Monta Ellis may soon find himself elsewhere, David Lee’s production is certain to fall off a bit, and the Warriors are pretty clearly going to be the worst team in the Conference’s worst division this year.  Stephen Curry has all the makings of a star, but there’s just not enough material here to compete in the West.

13.  Minnesota Timberwolves-  This is the only team that has absolutely no possibility of seeing playoff basketball under any scenario.  They’ve gone from a team that had little talent to one full of career underachievers, like Darko Milicic, Michael Beasley and Martell Webster.  If guys like Kevin Love and Johnny Flynn continue to grow and one of the before-mentioned threesome decides to actually play up the their potential, and if Ricky Rubio comes to the NBA next year, and if he is some sort of other-worldly immediate superstar, then they might be able to talk about being a .500 team in 2011-12.  But this year, it’s another likely single-digit lottery pick.

12.  New Orleans Hornets-  This is a team that, if they keep Chris Paul and the young guys improve, could sneak into the lower area of the playoffs.  They did a great job playing without Paul last season.  But they have a rookie coach, a rookie GM, and the scuttlebutt is that Paul is fed up and wants out.  The trade of Darren Collison brought in Trevor Ariza, but it also hurt the Hornets depth in case the injury prone Paul has to miss time.  It does seem to have quieted the trade talk around their star point guard, but that will change if they’re not winning. Either traded, injured or disgruntled, without a top-flight Paul on the floor, these guys have no chance at the playoffs.

11.  Memphis Grizzlies-  I’m just not completely sold on Memphis.  Sure, they had a great first half last year and held it together enough to finish at .500, but really, can we expect Zack Randolph to get through another complete season looking and playing like an actual all-star?  Rudy Gay is a solid player who was somewhat overpaid, but that is understandable.  O.J. Mayo is 22 and still figuring it out, although he could be a big star in the next couple years.  And I love Marc Gasol.  An actual physical European center.  They also have a couple pieces that have solid future potential, but lightning doesn’t strike twice that often.  Without another fast start, Memphis regresses a bit from last year.  But just a bit.

10.  Sacramento Kings-  Go big, young man.  If DeMarcus Cousins is for real–and in my eyes, all signs point toward yes, he is–then the Kings have a young inside/outside duo potentially better than anyone else in the league sooner than later.  They drafted size, traded for size and seem to have a plan.  Bang down low, do all of the dirty work and rely on a slashing guard who can do it all.  Sounds good to me.  They won’t get into the playoffs this year, just barely, but next year, watch out!  OKC-Sacramento Western Conference Finals matchups could become a regular occurrence.

9.  Portland Trailblazers-  The last team out of the playoffs.  Realistically, how many years is everyone going to keep saying, “this is the season Portland puts it all together.”  Is Brandon Roy healthy and going to stay that way?  Is Greg Oden a complete bust and will he ever stay on the floor for enough games for anyone to find out?  Will Rudy Fernandez be traded or ever see the floor?  Will Nicolas Batum or Jerryd Bayless step up and fulfill predictions of greatness that guys like Travis Outlaw and Martell Webster before them were unable to?  Why, again, did they sign Andre Miller, a complete mis-match as a point guard for this team?  But the biggest questions of all are, now that GM whiz Kevin Pritchard is gone, who will be the first team to fleece the Blazers on the trade market, and is head coach Nate McMillan next out the door? 

8.  Houston Rockets-  If Yao Ming is back and healthy, the Rockets could climb way up the West standings.  When, exactly, has that ever happened?  Already, we’re told he’s going to limited to 24 minutes a night.  Will that help the Rockets or hinder their game?  They have some nice, versatile pieces in Luis Scola, who could be an all star this year, Aaron Brooks, Kevin Martin, Shane Battier and Courtney Lee, but without a close to 100% Yao, they are a bottom tier playoff team lacking enough inside punch to be a serious threat in the West.

7.  Los Angeles Clippers-  That’s right, the Clippers who did nothing in free agency, are going to make the playoffs.  If it hadn’t been for all of the roster upheaval due to free agency and the trade market, L.A.’s other team could well get some of the attention it’s going to deserve for being one of the league’s most improved teams.  Plus, they still have all that cap space, and some interesting trade chips with guys like Paul and Melo going to be available sooner than later.  Eric Gordon is ready to burst on the national scene, Chris Kaman is the best center in the league that nobody ever mentions, and how good is Blake Griffin?  If he comes out as a 20-10 star, these guys will be very good.  Baron Davis has been somewhat on auto-pilot, but with all of the young talent all over the court, he may just wake up.  Or he could find himself in the middle of some kind of multi-team trade that ends up bringing a Chris Paul or a Tony Parker to town.  Whether or not they add a superstar, these guys, much like OKC last year, could get hot and not know any better, riding it into the last playoff position.  How about a Lakers-Clippers 1st round matchup?

6.  Utah Jazz-  The Jazz look to be a mirror image of themselves, replacing Boozer with a version of himself in Al Jefferson, and Kyle Korver with a version of himself in Gordon Hayward.  AK47 and Mehmet Okur are another year older into their career downslopes.  Deron Williams is a bonafide superstar, and he, along with the fact that even a moderately talented Jerry Sloan team will win lots of regular season games on fundamentals alone, should get them into the playoff tournament.  But to me, they look even less suited for post season success than last year. 

5.  San Antonio Spurs-  Much has been written about the demise of the Spurs this season, with many people predicting their eventual fall right out of the playoffs.  Well, hold on just a minute.  They still have Duncan, Parker and Ginobili.  They resigned Richard Jefferson.  They have up-and-coming talent like DuJuan Blair and George Hill playing big, important minutes.  And now, they’ve finally added the elusive 6′ 11″ European star-to-be Tiago Splitter.  This is a bigger, better, deeper, more talented team that the one that knocked off The Mavs last year, and could conceivably be a major roadblock to any team with championship aspirations.  If not for the injury risk to their big three, they’d be even higher.  Plus, if Hill continues on the upswing, free-agent-to-be Parker becomes a great trade chip for filling needs later this season.

4.  Phoenix Suns-  The Suns are another team being written off by just about everyone after the loss of Amare Stoudemire.  Again, not quite so fast.  After adding Hedu Turkoglu and Josh Childress to an already deep roster, this team has the ability to score tons of points and create matchup nightmares against just about anyone.  Add to that the fact that Goran Dragic has grown to the point that team icon Steve Nash won’t need to play 40 minutes a night, and the Suns most definitely haven’t set out West.  By the end of this season, it’s far more likely that Stoudemire will miss Phoenix much more that they will miss him.

3.  Oklahoma City Thunder-  Usually, when a young team comes out of nowhere to suddenly make noise, I’m a little leery of whether they can back it up the next season.  OKC is an exception.  Kevin Durant is a legit MVP-caliber superstar, and this team is loaded with young, improving talent all over the court.  And, unlike most young teams, they play hard defense with high energy.  They are a serious threat to unseating the Lakers.  Maybe they won’t get it done this season, but their day is most definitely coming.

2.  Los Angeles Lakers-  Okay, so I pick them second, that doesn’t mean they won’t come out of the West or win it all when all is said and done.  What it means is that I think they’ll be a little complacent at times during the dog-days of the regular season.  Plus, like it or not, Bryant, Artest, Bynum, Fisher, Gasol et al, aren’t getting any younger and it only makes sense to hold them back some when your real goal is to hoist the trophy at the end.  They’re still the best team in the league.  And the addition of Steve Blake could be the best free agent pickup this season, Lebron included.  The only question is can they stay healthy and motivated enough to get it done? 

1.  Dallas Mavericks-  Dallas had the best record in the league last season after the trade for Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood.  They’ve added size, strength and athleticism, particularly in the post, and they still have superstar Dirk Nowitzki along with Butler, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, etc, etc.  Now, they can possibly score with the faster teams and match up with the stronger teams.  I can easily see them getting the best record in the regular season.  I can also see them getting beaten in the playoffs.  But unlike the past couple years, whoever does beat them is going to earn it.

So if the playoffs were the top 16 teams in the entire league, it’s possible that the West could feature 10 or 11 of those spots.  As it stands, the West could be  a conference 1-10 separated by less than five games.  And whoever emerges at the end will head into the NBA Finals tested and ready, unlike the winner of the East, who likely will get to coast through a round or two.