No one will be riding in on a white stallion to save the Mavericks’ season. There will be no ‘this year’s Pau Gasol.’ Instead, we’re left with the quiet resolve of a team finally forced to face facts and get something done on their own. Call me crazy, but I think I like it.
For as long as I have watched the Mavs, they’ve held the “regular season team” tag. That’s analyst-speak for “well, you never won a championship.” Fine. But most models of playoff success involve playing your best basketball at the right time, and the Mavs are doing just that.
It’s given me rose-colored glasses. Refusing to make a trade out of desperation takes a certain mental fortitude, and I really do applaud Donnie, Mark, and the Mavs staff for not blinking with the deadline staring them in the face. This team has holes, but they’ve also shown themselves to be capable of hanging with the big dogs. Can the Mavs beat the Lakers? Probably not. That doesn’t mean they can’t find their own relative level of success and at least give L.A. (or San Antonio, or whoever) a run for their money.
The problem with the Mavs isn’t necessarily an issue of talent. The bench isn’t incredibly deep, but on face a team of Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Josh Howard, and Jason Terry isn’t exactly a runt. For a team just showing signs of ‘getting it,’ that has to make you a little excited.
As it is so often in basketball, it’s not just who you are, but who your opponents are not. Aside from the Lakers and the Spurs, the rest of the West has yet to put together a convincing resume:
- The Hornets have been short of contending status all season: Tyson Chandler has been injured or ineffective, James Posey has disappointed, and the already thin bench was gutted.
- The Rockets have yet to see their team really click, and on top of that they’ve lost Rafer Alston and Tracy McGrady. Rafer has serious flaws in his game, but he’s also been a relative constant to the craziness that’s been going on in Houston. Being overly reliant on Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry may not be as safe of a plan as it seems, especially in T-Mac’s absence.
- The Spurs are playing well, but they’re still mortal. They lose games to small-time teams, and Manu Ginobili is going to miss some time.
- The Blazers are the Blazers. They’re everyone’s darling, but they struggle on the defensive end, still miss Steve Blake (EDIT: Blake returned on Wednesday against the Grizzlies. Thanks, David.), and have never been a team to cause the Mavs many problems.
- The Suns…played the Clippers twice. They were awesome, but I’ve got no idea where the true pulse of this team is. EDIT: ESPN just reported that Amar’e Stoudemire may “miss the rest of the season” with a partially detatched retina. Suns.com lists his recovery time as “eight weeks, depending on his healing process.”
- The Jazz are still missing Carlos Boozer, and working him back into the lineup could cause complications. Or maybe they won’t even make the playoffs. Either way.
- The Nuggets. I don’t even want to talk about the Nuggets anymore. They’re for real.
Supposing the Mavericks are truly on the ascent, isn’t a top-4 seed a reachable goal? The Lakers are a lock, the Spurs are probably down just a peg, and the Nuggets aren’t far behind. If the four spot is up for the taking, Dallas seems to be in a prime position to snatch it. All because of the confidence management showed in this core and in the abilities of this team.
There’s a great possibility that in a week or two I’m going to eat my words. The Mavs tend to do that to me. But look at what the Mavs have done without Jason Terry. Look at how Josh Howard has steadily improved. Look at how Jason Kidd has been contributing across the board. Look at how Antoine Wright has stepped up in Terry’s absence. Factor in a healthy Terry and possibly some marginal production from Jerry Stackhouse, and things could get interesting. Above all, though, look at how all of this improvement hasn’t come at the expense of Dirk’s game. The players look comfortable, the coach is trusting, and it just might be all coming together for the boys in blue.
I just hope I didn’t jinx it.