The Champs Are (Still) Here!





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – “This is how we do it!”

If you walk into the Dallas Mavericks’ locker room anytime soon and hear that old Montell Jordan song playing in the background, it’s with good reason.

Because once again the Mavericks, despite all the critics and naysayers (yours truly included) that assumed they were sacrificing this season by allowing a championship team to break apart, are right in the thick of the race as the Western Conference standings start to take shape.

Things looked shaky early on. Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler — all guys that played a role in the Mavericks’ championship season a year ago — all hit the door when free agency cranked up. It takes bold leadership to buck conventional wisdom to go in a different direction so soon after snagging basketball’s Holy Grail.

But the Mavericks under owner Mark Cuban have always been run by anything but conventional wisdom. With Rick Carlisle steering them through their early season struggles, they lost both of their preseason games, their first three regular season games and five of their first eight which cranked up the chatter about a championship hangover.

Dirk Nowitzki wasn’t himself, wasn’t in championship shape and the Mavericks championship luster was lost in the shadow of bigger stories in Los Angeles (Clippers and Lakers) and Denver, to start the season.

I fired off an email to my main man and Mavs.com’s writer Earl K. Sneed asking him if he had any idea what the plan was this season. He responded instantly, making it clear to me that were was indeed a plan and that he was more than willing to place his faith in Cuban and Carlisle in the days and weeks ahead, especially after what we witnessed covering the Mavericks’ title run last season.

He was right. They’ve gotten back to normal here lately, though, winning four straight games and 18 of their last 24. And now that Nowitzki is back to  normal, the champs can entertain thoughts of mounting a serious defense of their title in a season that was supposed to be about rebuilding.

They fought off the Clippers last night, with Nowitzki reprising the clutch routine he played brilliantly during that run to and through The Finals last season, prompting Jean-Jacques Taylor of ESPNDallas.com to remind us all that Nowitzki belongs in the short sentence with Lakers star Kobe Bryant as the best “closers” in the game:

For three quarters, he struggled with his shot. And at the free throw line. When the fourth quarter began, the Mavs trailed 76-74 and Dirk had scored just 11 points, while making 3 of 8 field goal attempts.

He scored 11 points in the fourth quarter and made his most important baskets when the Mavs needed them most.

Trailing 83-79 with 6:03 left, Dirk drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing with a hand in his face. A minute later, the Clippers fouled him on a three-point attempt, and he made two free throws as the Mavs took a 84-83 lead.

The Mavs never trailed again.

The Clippers pulled within 90-89 with a minute left, and Dirk answered with a 19-foot jumper from the right wing with 41 seconds left.

“I played with Larry Bird for three years and there were nights he’d go 2-for-13 and hit the last three shots to win the game,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Dirk’s the same kind of guy.

“One thing he’s done better and better as his career has gone on is that he just keeps playing. He doesn’t get frustrated. He lets the game come to him, and he attacks. Dirk’s one of the best ever. He’s not going to miss shots forever.”

In the past three games, the Mavs have faced three of the Western Conference’s best power forwards.

Kevin LoveLaMarcus AldridgeBlake Griffin.

Each of them will be playing in the All-Star game later this month. All those games proved is that Nowitzki remains the conference’s best power forward.

Easily.

The Mavs won each of the games, with Dirk averaging 25.0 points per game.

Obviously, those young guys have closed the gap, but Dirk is more versatile offensively, and he’s done it in the postseason.

Love made a bold statement last Thursday when the All-Star reserves were announced on TNT, stating unequivocally that he feels like he’s the best power forward in the game right now. And with outlandish numbers to back up his claim, he makes a compelling argument. Aldridge could make an equally compelling case, as could Griffin, who is the clear winner as the most spectacular of the group.

But just like that Larry O’Brien trophy he’s clutching, Nowitzki is the true champ until a challenge knocks him out of the top spot. And as for the Mavericks, that crew many of us wrote off in the early stages of this season, well … the champs are still here!


43 Comments

  1. Travis says:

    I still think the Mavs won’t repeat. Sure they are on a little run right now, but let’s just see how they do against the Sixers, the Knicks, and the Celtics (even though they already beat them earlier). If they lose 2 of those games, then I definitely for sure don’t believe in them. And as it’s been mention, the West is wide open so can’t lock down on the Mavs to even reach the Finals again. And plus, Delonte West just suffered that finger injury and will for sure be out for awhile so have to see if that will have effect on the team.

  2. jack0fspeed says:

    People were right to question the Mavs. They allowed a bunch of key contributors to leave the team. And after winning the title, there was no telling whether Dirk would be driven in the same way he’d been over the last decade.

    But Shawn Marion and Vince Carter have played MUCH better than expected. Both have reliable post up games that the Mavs have been able to go to throughout games and even in the closing minutes. Vince Carter has been particularly impressive as he’s been a terrific team player and that’s somewhat surprising given his career as a a perennial all-star. Also Delonte West and Brandon Wright have been nice surprises.

    Dirk is playing better but still isn’t closing out games the way he has over his career. That’s going to be key in any Mavs playoff run.

    But the bottom line is that the West is pretty wide open … the Thunder are playing the best basketball right now, but no one looks unbeatable. Even in a short season there’s a long way to go. I expect a number of teams will be playing much better basketball down the stretch. The Mavs will definitely be in the hunt.

  3. denz41 says:

    just save all the trash talking for the playoffs… MAVS back to back….

  4. lance says:

    all you Mavs fan are forgetting one thing… you have Vince Carter on your team… Sorry but he will disappoint you all.

  5. stephen says:

    irregardless of how the season games go as long as the roster remains healthy at the start of the playoffs.. dallas is still the favorite team to win the title out west.. i would love to see another rematch of dallas and the heat in the finals

  6. Julian Janetzko says:

    Mavs need to get rid of Kidd and Odom. Kidd hasn’t been any help this season and Lamar…well he’s just not happy being on that team. Get rid of them if they don’t show any improvements in this season!

    • rich says:

      I am pretty sure you’re not a Mav fan… Any Mavs fan who follow their games religiously would know that Kidd is one of the reason why Mavs have been successful. There’s a calming effect with the Mavs play when Kidd is on the court. He is still Mavs best point guard.
      As for Odom, you may have a valid point there. But I won’t be surprised either if he just breaks out like his old self one day. Then Mavs can definitely have a chance to repeat !

  7. rich says:

    When Chandler went to the Knicks at the start of the season I was telling myself there’s a chance Mavs and Knicks will be playing in the Finals. Mavs started slow but I never really got worried because I know my team very well and have great confidence with Cuban and Carlisle. But when Knicks started losing even with Melo, Amare and Ty in the line-up, I couldn’t believe they were actually even in danger of not making the playoffs. And then here comes Lin ! Might be too early to say and I hope not to jinx them – my prediction can actually come true !

  8. Z-BoLicious says:

    Dirk owns LeBrick….and Dwade and Bosh Spice and the entire OKC squad, etc….

  9. Baha says:

    Dirck is the greatest Mav ever…better than LBJ…D-Wade…and Bosh….whooped that teams backyard in finals can top that…

  10. GEDZ says:

    I think mavz will make a repeat or a rematch with heat.. Dirk is so great and and can carry the mavz once again to the promise land.. hope they will trade something before the playoffs.. like odom who seems doesn’t like himself to be in the team, its nice to bid for dwight or for me its nice to see Cris Kaman, who is rumored to be traded a versatile center.. if they get Kaman definitely no one can stop the mavericks… Letz go Mavzz!

  11. Roy says:

    Dirk is a beast and the Mavs will always be contenders with him on their team. Great Article Sekou!!!

  12. Hezbula says:

    It seems to me that everybody writes off the Mavs for one reason or another but here’s a couple of reasons why people shouldn’t; Vince Carter, Delonte West, Lamar Odom…

    • kobe says:

      carter and west havent done anything in the playoffs during career..and odom seems lost this year…

      • Daniel says:

        If you’re going to argue that, you could just as easily say the same for Stevenson and Barea last year. I’d say they did pretty well. But what you’re arguing isn’t really true to begin with… Vince and Delonte have both been to the playoffs many times before, and they have performed very well. Heck, Vince averaged almost 30 pts a game back in ’06 when he got knocked out in the 2nd round with Toronto. Sure, he’s past his prime and won’t ever put those numbers up again… But he knows how to get it done in the off-season.

        And Lamar? He’s won multiple rings. He knows what it’s like to play under pressure. He’s still trying to work his way into the Mav’s system, but I have confidence in him. He knows what it takes to win championships.

        I wouldn’t dare sleep on Lamar, Vince, or Delonte. And don’t underestimate the coaching genius that is RICK CARLISLE.

  13. EC says:

    Don´t forget: this was just planned as a transition season for the Mavs to make a run for DH 12 and D Will……. BUT: still the team is good and deep enough to win it all again.

  14. June024 says:

    I believe one thing if ever the Mavs reach the playoffs…

    They will have alot of big names who will cover for Nowitzki and Terry come those games…

    Names like Lamar Odom…
    Names like Delonte West…
    Names like Vince Carter…

    Even if they have scored fewer than 20 pts…. They showed they can still do things they did when they were first timers…

    Alot had said against the two names mentioned above… Especially Carter… But I guess when all is said and done, he will fit just nicely in the Mavs…

  15. kobe says:

    Mavs out in 2nn round..no jj no deshawn no tyson…

  16. Kevin Love R U SERIOUS? says:

    Dear Kevin Love,
    Saying you are the best power forward in the game today is an insult to the last timberwolve that actually was the best power forward in the game at his time.
    You can not be the best at your position on a non-playoff team, let alone a .448 team
    When you are on a playoff team, then we can discuss whether or not you’re the best at your position.

    Sincerely,
    All realistic NBA fans

    • Imad Akel says:

      A lot of NBA superstars have huge egos, but true NBA superstars would not dare speak highly of themselves on a losing team, because they’d be too ashamed of being on a losing team.
      They’d be trying harder, and getting madder, straining themselves so much to make their team and franchise better.
      Kobe Bryant is the best example I can think of in this regard, who has a huge ego but cares a lot more about winning games than stats. Kobe can go for 60 points but if he loses, he’s gonna be truly upset.
      I can not say the same for Kevin Love.

      A true NBA superstar understands that being the best means winning, and to claim yourself as the best without winning only makes you the best loser.

  17. b-rad says:

    Mavs are legit for sure. Odom and carter are the wildcards for this team. If they are healthy and playing well for the playoffs then thay have as good a chance as any in the west to go to the finals. They will miss Deshawn Stevensons defense and three pointers. He dfinitaly was the x factor last year. Cant wait for the playoffs!

  18. Zach says:

    Right now, you have to give the Mavs and Spurs credit in the West. The two oldest teams are once again battling over arguably the best division in basketball (the Northwest is making a charge this year) and a top seed in the conference. As of now, you have to give the Spurs the edge because they have been playing really well from the get go, but I agree with most of you that the Mavs haven’t even touched their potential. Dirk will go back to his Finals MVP form, Odom will come around, and Kidd will regain his shooting stroke. As we saw last season, the chamionship is won with defense and depth. The Mavs defense is BETTER than last year and their depth is tops in the league. I still think the Thunder and Clippers are one season away from hitting their potential. Out of the East, not a single team concerns me. It’s going to be a hell of a season…

  19. Jeff Jeff says:

    I think the Mavs are going to be scary toward the end of the season.

  20. Mike says:

    Dirk and the Mavs are written off every season, only time will tell if they can repeat the magic. No team should ever be counted out, whether you are seeded 1 or all the way down to 8, as the GSW proved against the Mavs in 07, Any team can win and as the Mavs proved this past summer, no game is over until the clock hits 00:00. Lets just enjoy great basketball and be thankful we can watch these amazing athletes play this wonderful sport.

  21. Karam says:

    To be clearly honest with you guys the west is up for grabs. However with that being said that means there is no body in the west that the mavericks cant beat. The dark horse is clearly Lamar Odom, if he can ever get it going and become what the mavericks hoped for then there is no NBA team that can beat us. Our bench is right now the number one bench in the league averaging 45 points a game.

    I wont be surprised if the Mavericks repeat because ill say this again, there is no power forward better than Dirk Nowitzki. He may have started out slow, and he may not yet be in his all star/playoff form. It will happen, and when it does the NBA world needs to get ready because when Dirk arrives there wont be anyone who can stop him.

    I also would like to conclude with saying this, watch out for vince carter in the playoffs I have a feeling he will be tearing it up!

  22. Blockros says:

    @Manu Yeah but they did against the Heat

  23. Kazaam3 says:

    Well, ppl never learn. Thats a fact.

    Mavs-Fans werent really worried, we knew what was going on. We knew why Dirk had his problems, we knew that this team needs time and now we see them growing as a Team. Even now, when Dirk isnt at full strength, Terry struggeling a little, Kidd is in no rhythm at all, Odom slightly beginning to figure out the Mavs-Game, they beat good Teams. Especially down the stretch.

    Just wait till they come together and in full shape in a month or so and get ready once Playoffs start. I dont think there is Team in the West who can beat the Mavs. Maybe SA, Denver and Memphis have a chance cuz of the Matchup, but thats about it.

    And in the Finals the Heat will be again too stupid to play against the Zone.

  24. umm ok says:

    last yr mavs got no respect at all nd they were not favs on west

  25. Patrickmarc says:

    I am not sure Dallas will be easy to beat. May be they will loose at first round, may be they go through,
    We don’t know about this team in two months, as we couldn’t expect Lin doing the job at new-york.

  26. Ben says:

    Guess Dirk should be named an all star reserve after all ;)

  27. Belizeboy says:

    Yep they are still there and all it took was a few calls in their favor in the end.

  28. swish41fan says:

    so no more arguments about Dirk making the All-star game?

    Really, how could u question one lone spot occupied by the defending Champions’ best player?

    anyhow, Go Mavs!

  29. Nowo41 says:

    Last year they didn’t need 7 games to beat the Thunder:) Nobody beats our bench this year,too.

  30. DeeWig41 says:

    Everybody is trying to count out the Mavs right of the back and I LOVE IT! All these “experts” gonna be singing the same song they did last year! Keep on floating under the radar Mavs. MFFL

  31. Jones17 says:

    Not for long they won’t be. No chance of beating the Thunder over 7.

    • Dirk4MVP says:

      Thats what they said last year !

    • Adp says:

      That’s just ridiculous, the post season is far different from the regular season if that’s what you’re going by. Look at the matchups and try to tell me Dallas won’t win in 6.

    • indirkwetrust says:

      No chance!? I seem to remember OKC playing phenomenal basketball last season…right up until they met the Mavs in the playoffs. Would anyone have guessed a sweep of the Lakers, or the complete, systematic deconstruction of the Heat? The truth is, anything can happen. Any of those 16 teams in the playoffs has a shot at the trophy. Anyone who counts out the Mavs this season doesn’t know basketball.

    • AAG_SR says:

      No chance? You simply CANNOT write off the MAVS! They know how to win and are very underated! The MAVS have about the BEST defense in the western conference and as we all know. Defense wins championships! And scoring wont be a problem for the MAVS they are truly deep!

    • sbfern805 says:

      First of all, Dallas under Dirk has always made playoffs ( with exception of his rookie and sophomore year) and will continue to make it because he is that great. I am a Lakers fan, but you should all give this guy big props!! I have already stated before that i would pick Dirk over ANY power forward ( otehr than Durant) to play for me!! Love and Griffin dont have nothiing on this guy. Second, the are the Regining Champs and as long as they continue, you cannot take that away from them and they are still the BEST team in the NBA like it or not despite any regular season record. So all you Thunder and Heat Fans…win first and then talk smack!! Peace. Lakers are resting this year for another Dynasty!!!!!

    • rich says:

      Not worried.. Thunder won’t even make it to the conference finals…

    • haildirk says:

      as long as the ball is round dirk will not let us down.econd championship still on hand.