Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mavs wrap regular season

Great win tonight by the Mavericks.  Great, great win.  They faced a tough opponent and were down by double-digits on multiple occasions.  Each time the Mavs rushed back to capture the lead and eventually the W over their will-be playoff opponent, the New Orleans Hornets.

The energy at the AAC tonight reached levels last seen during the 2006 playoffs when Dallas made its NBA Finals run.  I've been going to several Mavs games this season, and the fans did a great job of supporting the team tonight.  Too often do the Johnny-come-lately Dallas Mavs take the heat for not making the AAC a tough place to play, but tonight the sixth man came through.

Actually, it was the eighth man into the game for Dallas that fueled the fire...

  • Jason Terry came off the bench after Eddie Jones and Brandon Bass entered the game.  JET wasted little time getting going.  Mavs fans say, "JET is on the runway."  After tonight, JET is soaring.  He dropped 30 points (one shy of his season high) on the Hornets, connecting on 50% of his 3-pointers, and energizing the fans with timely buckets.  Terry has been up and down during the 2007-08 season, but if he's at one of these peaks (instead of one of his valley's), the Mavericks are a dangerous team.  Dirk has to be respected as a great shooter.  If Terry is also on, an opposing defense gets stretched mighty thin.

But if a hot-shooting Terry will stretch the floor, Dirk needs to get back to his top-tier form...

  • With three minutes and change left in tonight's game, Dirk had nine (not nineteen, not twenty-nine - just nine) points.  He finished 4-for-16 with 12 points.  That's 25% shooting.  Either Dirk is still is a great deal of pain from the ankle injury he suffered a few weeks back against San Antonio on Easter, or he had an off night.  Mavs fans should pray it's the latter.  If Dirk is still recovering - which I believe to some extent he is - then time is up on how long he has to get back to 100%.  The playoffs begin now.  NOW!  Readysetgo!  So while he's still a little sore, Nowitzki has to fight through it now.  No more waiting.  The positive aspect of tonight's game: the Mavs won - and won BIG - without a big performance from the Big German.  If Dirk hadn't been injured and was at 100% going into this series, I'd pick the Mavs in 6. No question.  With Dirk hurt, it's going to be a much playoff first-round match-up for Dallas.

Speaking of recovering from injuries, it was good to see Jerry Stackhouse get back into things...

  • Stack had been out for a few weeks, and while he only played 16 minutes scoring 4 points, his return still gives Dallas a boost heading into the first round of the playoffs.  While he didn't pour in the points, when Terry goes for 30, Stack doesn't need to.  Getting some early court-time gave Stack a chance to get his legs back under him and see some game action.  Now he's not going into the first round of the playoffs cold.  Good to see him back.  He's by far the best singer of the Star Spangled Banner on the entire Mavericks roster.

Jason Kidd gave the fans a reason to sing his name when he grabbed rebound number 10 on the night... 

  • Kidd recorded his 100th career triple-double tonight with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.  It's his first trip-dub since returning to the Mavericks in February.  The surprising stat from Kidd tonight has to be the 27 points.  Yes, Dirk was off so J-Kidd needed to step up, but if Kidd is scoring more than 20 points, the Mavericks are going to win.  It's that simple.  He is not the go-to shooter for the Mavs.  He's not their second option (Josh Howard) or their third option (JET/Stack).  But Kidd was there there behind the arc knocking down triples and driving to the basket for lay-ups.  When Kidd gets his, he rallies the Mavs because he signifies the "win-now" attitude this team grew into.  The trade for #2 meant Dallas wanted to charge hard for a shot at getting back to the finals, and they wanted to do it now.  Kidd scoring, dishing, boarding, stealing... when he's on, it validates the trade and give Dallas life.

It also didn't hurt tonight that MVP-candidate Chris Paul picked up his fifth foul right before Dallas went on their monstrous second-half run to take the lead for good...

  • Chris Paul, or CP3, or C3PO is a great player.  He made some amazing shots tonight and put the Hornets in a position to win.  At least, until he got in foul trouble.  Mavs fans shouldn't count on him being on the bench during some crucial minutes because he's picked up some careless fouls when the playoffs come around.  It was a nice bonus tonight for Dallas, but Paul will be on the court down the stretch over the next two weeks.  It's clear why he's an MVP candidate.  

Speaking of MVP candidates, things could have been much worse for the Mavs had they dropped tonight's game...

  • The Los Angels Lakers, and their other-worldly assassin of a shooter Kobe Bryant, locked up the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs.  Avoiding LA as long as possible is the best chance for Western Conference teams to advance.  I don't know if LA will get out of the West and into the finals (perhaps an old-school LAL-BOS final?  Anyone?), but Dallas is fortunate they open in New Orleans instead of at Staples Center.  Plain and simple: Kobe kills Dallas.  He has for years.  He has post-Shaq.  If Dirk isn't 100%, Dallas's odd versus LAL aren't nearly what they need to be to pull the upset.  Kobe will be the 2008 MVP, and his team will be playing well into May.  Best advice for Dallas: stay out of their way as long as possible.

In the meantime, Dallas and Mavs fans can relax and get ready for the playoffs.  The team needs to prepare for a young and gritty New Orleans Hornets team that what they lack in post-season experience, they make up for with spunk (sort of like the 2001 Mavericks).  The MFFL must mentally prepare themselves for the fact that Dallas is not the "top dog" of the West this year.  Actually, they're second-to-last among playoff teams.  As the seventh seed, in order to pull the upset, the crowd will need to make American Airlines Center a difficult place to play for the Hornets.  New Orleans has never won at the Double-A C (which opened in 2001).  If that trend continues, the Mavs task can be simplified into two words: steal one.  Steal one.  If Dallas steals one game at New Orleans, they can win this series and advance.

Considering some local sports pundits were looking for a lottery pick mere weeks ago, advancing to the second round (regardless of what happens after that) would be a huge boost to the Mavs team for next season.  They are built to win soon, not long-term.  Getting the seventh seed is already a "win" for this team compared to how they played early on in the Kidd 2.0 era.  Now it's time to prove to the rest of the league - and in all honesty to themselves - that the Mavericks belong in the conversation as a championship-caliber team.

Let the (playoff) games begin!

1 comment:

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