I grew up in Dallas. I remember in the middle 1980s when the Dallas Mavericks had an outstanding basketball team. Rolando Blackman, Sam Perkins, Mark Aquirre. These guys looked outstanding on paper. They simply could not beat the Los Angeles Lakers led by Magic Johnson. Then the Dallas Mavericks went through more disappointment and heartache through the 1990s. The Dallas Mavericks slowly developed one of the most potent offenses in the history the NBA led by Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki. These guys ran up and down the court and outscored just about anyone. Then, year after year, they collapsed in the playoffs. Then came 2006. This was the year that the Dallas Mavericks exorcised their demons and got to the NBA finals. They led those finals two games-zero against the Miami Heat. Dwayne Wade single-handedly destroyed the Dallas Mavericks, game after game. The team was reorganized. Steve Nash, a crowd favorite, got shipped off to Phoenix. For reasons that remain unclear, as well as aging, Jason Kidd was brought back to Dallas.
Since 2006, I have not taken the Mavericks seriously. Dirk Nowitzki is the reason why. He is a great outside shooter. He is average to mediocre on defense but hits the boards extremely well. In games that matter, the playoffs, with five minutes to go, the game slows down. You are forced to run a set offense. Defense tightens. Your superstar must get the ball. That superstar must have a shot that he can make 80-90% of the time or get fouled or dish the ball to someone who can either make a layup or drain a three-pointer. Unfortunately, Dirk relies on a 15-foot fadeaway jumper which he can make approximate 55% of the time. He does not get fouled because he is fading away. This brings me to Friday night, when for some reason, with less than five minutes to go, Dirk Nowitzki became aggressive. It is something I haven’t seen before. He drove the lane and made a running left-handed baby hook over two defenders. Nowitzki drives and dishes, not once but twice. He does this on two successive series. The Dallas Mavericks didn’t choke, but drained three-pointers. Dirk does not turn the ball over in the clutch. He does not allow the ball to clang off his foot and roll out of bounds. Right before our eyes, Dirk Nowitzki has turned into a superstar.
Phil Jackson is a basketball genius. He recognized, several years ago, that Kobe Bryant was beginning to wear down. He needed to find another superstar and then transition Kobe Bryant into a supporting role. The Los Angeles Lakers went out and got Pau Gasol. Last year, Gasol played like a superstar. This year, in the playoffs, not so much. So, Phil Jackson is left with a dilemma. What do you do when your superstar player is playing like a benchwarmer? All you can do is try to motivate your player. You can hope that the rest of the players on the team can carry your superstar. I’m not sure that Kobe Bryant can carry the team, night after night like he did four or five years ago. The Lakers need one or two other players to step up. These players need to step up big.
Finally, I have all of the stats that the basketball analysts were throwing around. There’s one that they didn’t even mention: rebounds. With Lamarr Odom, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol (6’10”, 7 feet tall and 7 feet tall, respectively) how did the Lakers not win the rebound battle? The Dallas Mavericks out-rebounded the Los Angeles Lakers. This is simply a lack of hustle.
Tomorrow is game four in Dallas. Will the Dallas Mavericks began an epic collapse? Will the Los Angeles Lakers be swept? I look forward to this one.