My emotional investment in the Dallas Mavericks has officially been made. On February 26th, the Dallas Mavericks were playing the Atlanta Hawks, and with a game filled with highs and lows, my pent-up feelings about the new-look Mavs exploded. They were gettin' fast-break buckets, Dirk was doin' work, Jason Kidd was finding people, the Mavs were scrambling defensively all over the court, and while watching it happen, it finally hit me that things were different for this team.
Don't get me wrong; when the trade was made, it was obviously great. The Mavs finally acquired a center with a low-post presence in Brendan Haywood. They also got a goon in DeShawn Stevenson, and one of my favorite players in the universe in Caron Butler. Add that to what the Mavs already had, and the excitement, exuberance, and overreaction were sure to come. However, being a resident of the city, and realizing our shortcomings in the past, the feelings I had remained contained, but as the Mavs were on a 19-1 run in the first half, I had seen enough. In terms of what the Mavericks can roll out on the floor on a nightly basis, this is the best team they've had since I've started watching them, and it reminds me of a move another contender made, six years ago, that propelled them to the championship.
During the 2003-04 trade deadline, the Detroit Pistons were able to pry Rasheed Wallace away, and add them to an already stacked team. The Pistons were contending for the past couple of years in the East, but were never able to get past New Jersey, and even had their hands full with the Pacers. Once Rasheed got there, the move put them over the top, and they eventually made the NBA Finals that same season, where they pounded the Lakers into submission in five games, which could have easily been a sweep, had not Kobe made an amazing three to tie Game Two. That one move helped the Pistons win a championship, because 'Sheed provided something the Pistons were missing. This may look wild, but the similarities are there, six years later, with the moves the Mavs just made.
Let’s be for real here. Not too many people thought the Mavs would make the Finals in 2006, simply because of the potential road which lied ahead. They beat a San Antonio team that was still championship-caliber, got past a Phoenix Suns team that’s nowhere near the atrocity you see before you today, and won the first two games of the NBA Finals, before they came back down to Earth, and lost four straight to lose the series. It’s not a knock against the Mavs; the Heat were just better, and had players who were battle-tested. This year though, the Mavs have everything they need, and if they play with the fierce urgency of now, the prospects of them going all the way are very bright.
They are clearly one of the three best teams in the Western Conference, and will benefit from a lower profile. Folks have pretty much penciled in a rematch of a Nuggets-Lakers Western Conference Final, but the Mavs have all the tools to channel a similar run like they had four years ago. The difference is this team is built to finish the job, and if somebody beats them this year, it won't be because of a lack of heart. Someone's just gonna have to beat them, period.
Dirk is still the man, but with Caron able to help take the offensive load off, along with Jason Terry, he doesn’t have to be the man every single night. They have a legitimate bench, players who know their role, a point guard who’s motivated to get his first championship, a coach who’s had success in the league and looking for his first ring as a coach, as well as an owner who’s done his part to put it all together. The Dallas Mavericks are as motivated as ever, and while I’m not automatically crowning them now (the title is still LA’s to lose), they are right there, and if they happen to catch the Lake Show or the Nuggets slippin’, it won’t be a shock to me. The future is now.