Latest Entries »

Ode to a Champion

It’s hard to encapsulate the moment. As I dragged my wife out to Dick’s Sporting Goods last night to stand in line for almost an hour, I saw plenty of recently purchased Mavericks playoff gear worn by people waiting to get into the store and claim the champion’s spoils of victory. I am not here to criticize those who showed up late to the 2010-2011 Mavericks party, and, in the interest of full disclosure, I have had my reservations about buying back in after 2006. That season (fairly or unfairly) left me questioning the integrity of the NBA more than the ability or heart of the Mavericks, but the 2007 season cut just as deeply, culminating in an awkward, horrifying ceremony in which Dirk was presented the league MVP trophy, then sat and answered for his team becoming the first 1 seed to lose to an 8 seed in a 7 game playoff format. Humiliation. Disappointment. Underachievement. Heartbreak. The Mavericks became an abusive sports spouse; you kept giving them your heart, only to have them hurt you all over again. Come on, baby. We’ve changed. Things will be different this time. Give us one more chance. So we did. 2006. Game 3 in Miami. The lost 13 point 4th quarter lead, followed by three straight defeats and the horror of having to endure a visiting team celebrate a title in our house. Setting a franchise record for wins, only to be bounced in the 1st round by Golden State. Then New Orleans in 2008. Denver in 2009. San Antonio in 2010, despite entering the playoffs as the 2nd seed in the West. Then, in round 1 of this post season, coughing up a 23 point lead in the fourth quarter against Portland. Still, many of us kept coming back, only to have our hearts shattered over and over again. It has not been an easy ride, and it is hard to criticize anyone who decided to sell due to a lack of return on their emotional investment. Besides, the great thing about sports teams is that they are always there, ready to be embraced once again by the city they represent. Jumping on the bandwagon when your team is good means that you have a wonderful excuse to party. It provides the opportunity for all of us to take pride in our city, and it means getting all of the perks of winning without having to “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”.

Like I said, I have not come to bury those who only started paying attention after the Lakers sweep. It’s our city, and positive attention for our teams and our town is always a good thing; the more the merrier. But if, on Sunday night, you found yourself moved–truly, emotionally moved, when you saw Dirk hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy; if you were in shock, and found yourself unable to speak as the seconds ticked away and the celebration began; if, despite anticipating this moment all day, you found yourself taken aback in a way you hadn’t expected; if your faith in justice and a higher power was restored after game 6; if instead of hysteria, you found something more like a quiet inner peace in the depths of your soul, it’s because you were there 5 years ago, on June 20th, and because you died with this team in 2006.

To all of those “living dead” Mavericks fans, wandering aimlessly for the last 5 years in the vast wasteland of the NBA landscape: welcome to resurrection Sunday.

They overcame adversity in Portland. They swept and embarrassed the 2 time defending champions, and in the process put arguably the greatest coach in NBA history out to pasture. They faced a younger, faster team on the rise in an arena that rivaled some of the loudest buildings in the league. Meanwhile, out east, the Empire continued their construction of the Death Star. The collision was imminent. We all knew how it would end–how it must end. It had to be Miami. It had to be Dywane Wade. Add in a self-appointed “King” in LeBron James, and the self-hating Dallasite Chris Bosh–who freely admits cheering for the Spurs as a child despite growing up in the Metroplex because the Mavericks weren’t very good–and the stage was set. Not for elation. Not for celebration. For redemption. The sports gods rewarded Dallas with the chance to play the Heat, and Dirk and company rose to the occasion. Nowitzki became the leader, and more importantly, the closer we’ve always needed him to be. And in the single most important game in franchise history, (and considering the opponent, maybe one of the bigger games in NBA history) when Dirk simply couldn’t find his rhythm, in swoops Jason Terry–the only other surviving member of the wreck of 2006. Redemption. There is no question that JET felt like he owed Dallas the game of his life after 5 years of disappointment, and he expertly delivered in cold-blooded fashion. Not many players have the stones to use their bicep as a de facto vision board. For better or worse, there’s only one Jason Terry. Foolish? Arrogant? Over-confident? Delusional? Maybe those are the words you would’ve used before Sunday night. Now, the word you’re looking for is “champion”.

As it was written, so shall it be

Give Me That Old Time Religion

But there was a moment in game 6 where it seemed as though the NBA’s desire for a seventh game might steal the Mavericks’ trophy again (after all, the series produced record ratings. Imagine the numbers for a game 7). Or maybe it was the fact that the officials repeatedly fell for Miami’s act, as Chalmers and Wade took turns lowering their heads, running into the lane and falling down. Again and again, Heat players dragged themselves to the line, shooting 33 free throws compared to just 18 for the Mavericks. The collective gasp throughout North Texas was almost audible, as the entire city of Dallas began experiencing symptoms of sports-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Not again. Not like this. Please just give us a chance to earn it this time. Dirk in early foul trouble. Chandler in foul trouble. For a moment, the demons of 2006 stirred the nerves of Maverick fans everywhere. But then, when all seemed lost and hope started to flicker, the sports gods intervened. By night’s end, Miami, a team that had made 75% of its free throws during the regular and post-season, shot a paltry 60% from the line. 20 of 33. There was only one explanation, and even the Heat players knew it to be true. Remember that at the end of game 4, Wade stood at the line with the chance to tie the game at 82 with 29.4 seconds left. The ball left his hand, grazed iron, swirled once, twice around the rim, and inexplicably popped out. When asked about that free throw attempt in the post game press conference, Wade lamented, “I can’t shoot the free throw any better than I did. It went in and came out. The basketball gods didn’t want it to go in.” (In literature, this is known as foreshadowing). When the NBA, the officials, and the flopping Heat looked like they were up to their old tricks, the sports gods intervened. As a result, the game 6 parade to the free throw line will be the only one held in Miami this summer.

Hyperbole, you say? Perhaps. Has this series, this championship run, this stunning victory of good over evil, humility over pride, and team over individuals proven the existence of the sports gods, or karma, or some form of higher power? I don’t know if I believe in all that. I do know this: I believe in Dirk. I believe in Jason Terry. I believe in Jason Kidd, and Shawn Marion, and Rick Carlisle. This is more than just a good team. They are coffee drinkers. They are revolutionaries; brave men who rose up and united as one to overthrow a pretender to the throne. They are demon killers. Heroes. They united an entire city of more than 2.5 million people  into one cohesive and close knit community, inspiring kinship amongst a diverse population in a way that no religion has ever been able to do.

Rise of the Ubermensch

Watching the final seconds tick off the clock, I wanted only to see Dirk’s reaction. How would this man, once so crushed by playoff disappointment that he spent an entire summer wandering the Australian Outback, respond to this moment, on this court, in this city, against this team, and the one single player that has haunted his career? To everyone’s surprise, all we really saw of Nowitzki was the back of his jersey as he clumsily scaled the scorer’s table and bolted for the locker room before the final buzzer sounded. Why did Dirk leave when there were still seconds on the clock? Why not fling the ball in the air, stand center court and pound your chest in defiant celebration? This is the singular moment where your world of critics, most notably the one wearing #3 on the opposing team, is forever silenced. This is one of the greatest “I told you so” opportunities any human being will ever have, on an international stage and with the world watching. Why head to the locker room for a time of quiet self-reflection? Because this was never about revenge. It was never about proving the critics wrong; to hell with them. This was about redemption. After 5 straight years of playoff disappointments, he needed to know if he could become a champion. Mission accomplished. Be grateful, Dallas, that our champion has no use for sneaker commercials. Our champion is not interested in becoming a global icon. He does not pout, or lash out, or engage in petty taunts. While others talk, he works with his personal shooting coach in an empty gym. In 2006, Dwyane Wade proved that he is the man. In 2011, Dirk became the Ubermensch. Let Nietzsche’s prophecy be fulfilled: “I teach you the Superman. Man is something that shall be overcome.”

The Superman

It is why we watch. It is why we submit ourselves to seemingly infinite heartbreak, as we are painfully reminded year after year that the odds of our team being the one left standing are microscopic. It rarely happens. Some had never seen it. But the moment is here now. Some call it trite. I call it powerful, and submit as evidence the wave of complete strangers of all race, sex and creed embracing one another, waving to each other in the streets, connecting over something tangible, experiential, physical, and, dare I say, spiritual (and that’s just in Cleveland). I see a parable (let LeBron be his juxtaposition); the story of a man who worked his ass off to earn what he wanted, who faced potentially devastating adversity and did not quit, who had the opportunity to take the easy way out, yet remained loyal to his team, to the city that adopted him as one of their own, and to the man who showed absolute, unwavering faith in him. I see fathers and sons learning a common language through which they can communicate, building a bridge between generations that will become part of their family legacy. In this house, we root for the Mavericks. And we will always remember where we were on this night. We often complain that athletes are overpaid. Tonight I find myself wondering if Dirk is paid enough. For the intense joy ignited in our hearts on Sunday night that continues to burn brightly; for the life lessons you taught us about character, grit, loyalty, and determination; for giving us a reason to be proud of our city, our home; and for giving us a moment that we will cherish for the rest of our lives, we can only say thank you to the 2010-2011 NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks.

The nightmare is over. The demons are exorcised. The “My Little Pony” logo is dead.

Goodbye, critics. Take Dat Witchu.

Gold is the new pink.

Go ahead. Sing along, Dallas. You’ve earned it.

NBA Champions.

Nothing more needs to be said.

Yes they did.

Wade implied that SOMEONE ELSE is faking?

Remember when Emmitt Smith dislocated his shoulder and kept playing football? Apparently Wade needs his shoulder to walk.

The fake is bad. The wink is worse.

A rare moment to agree with Jeff Van Gundy.

This team will get their championships and become the face of the NBA for the next 5 years. Tonight, let it go to the man who has no interest in becoming a celebrity or establishing himself as a global icon. The man who is too busy working with his personal shooting coach to bother with commercials. Tonight, maybe for the last time for years to come in the NBA, let hard work, dedication, humility, and teamwork be rewarded. Let previous wrongs be avenged. Let the dark side be defeated.

The path was predetermined. It’s all come down to this.

If the Mavericks can play .500 ball on the road for the rest of the season, they will win their first NBA championship. If that glorious night does in fact occur, the world will watch Dirk Nowitzki celebrate as both an NBA champion and the Finals MVP. The debate will begin about his place on the all time list, and with nothing left to criticize about his game (he’s a soft Euro, he’s only a jump shooter, he can’t rebound, he’s a poor passer, he can’t play defense, he’s not a leader, he’s never been a league MVP, he’s not a champion), he will take his place in history as one of the greatest ever. It’s about time. But even throughout this series, as Dirk continues to pour in the points and dominate the 4th quarter, the national story continues to be LeBron James. What’s wrong with LeBron? Is he lacking confidence? Does he know how to be a facilitator? Is the stage too big for him?

It certainly makes a better story. How will sports writers and broadcasters fill 30 minute shows and 500 word columns if they can’t debate what’s wrong with LeBron? The self-appointed King has certainly struggled in this series, and since he is such a dominant player, it must be something he is doing wrong and needs to figure out. Right?

I imagine that right now, you're feeling a bit like Alice. Hmm? Tumbling down the rabbit hole?

Perhaps there is a simpler, more obvious answer. The Philosopher Bertrand Russell explained Occam’s Razor this way: “Whenever possible, substitute constructions out of known entities for inferences to unknown entities.” In other words, let’s deal with what we know, what we can observe, rather than rely on rumors, vapors, and the unknown. Here are some of the “inferences to unknown entities” currently being expressed in the national media:
-LeBron is not ready to handle the big stage
-LeBron does not know how to play well beside Dwyane Wade
-Rashard Lewis slept with LeBron’s girlfriend
Certainly, all of these have been proven false, right? LeBron lives his entire life on the big stage, and it has never bothered him before. It certainly didn’t bother him in the Chicago series, when Wade disappeared and LeBron carried his team to the Finals. LeBron and Wade have been playing together all season, and are now in the Finals with home court advantage. LeBron averaged 26.7 points in the regular season, shooting 51% from the floor. (And the last “unknown entity” is little more than an unfounded rumor implied by a forgotten “journalist”.) He is not afraid of the big stage. He does not struggle when he and Wade are on the court together.

In this case, let’s take a page from Bertrand Russell’s playbook, and accept that the simplest answer is likely the correct one. LeBron did not forget how to play basketball. He is getting shut down by Shawn Marion and the Mavericks zone defense. Maybe LeBron is playing passive, but do we really think he just forgets to try and be aggressive when the game comes down to the 4th quarter? Are we to believe that James suddenly forgets how to dominate? As impossible as it is for many to believe, the simplest answer, constructed out of known entities, is this: James is not imposing his will because the Dallas defense, and specifically Shawn Marion, will not allow him to do so. He did it against Chicago. He did it against Boston. He did it against Philadelphia. He did it all season. But he cannot do it now, because Marion is too good defensively. It’s all right there in the game tape for anyone who wants to watch it. But for some reason, few people are willing to accept the fact that the NBA’s so called “King” can be shut down by a role player who by all accounts is past his prime.

The stories you will see on ESPN will continue to revolve around the question “What’s wrong with LeBron?”. You will likely not see a full segment on the great defense of Shawn Marion (he gets little more than a throw away line at the end of the LeBron segments). Just remember, the simplest answer is usually the correct one. LeBron has not suddenly forgotten how to play basketball, and he’s said more than once that he will play more aggressively in the next game. He isn’t, because he can’t. Marion won’t let him.

"Nobody has ever done this before." "That's why it's going to work."

James will continue to talk about how he needs to be more aggressive, how he needs to get into the lane, how he needs to start hitting his shots. It’s been 5 games; there are no secrets left. 5 games represents a trend. James says he will play better. Don’t count on it. This one is out of his control. As Morpheus said: “The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes.” If the Heat lose this series because James repeatedly caved in the 4th quarter, it will haunt him–when he looks out his window. When he turns on his television. And especially when he goes to work. There is simply nothing LeBron can do. He is trapped in The Matrix.

Welcome to the desert of the real.

Ten things that stood out last night:

10. Dirk Nowitzki. First the torn tendon. Now the 101 degree fever. By all accounts, Dirk should be struggling mightily this series. He simply won’t let that happen. Though his shooting line was not very Dirk-like, there was no doubt who would get the ball at the end of last night’s game. The Mavericks knew. The Fans knew. Did the Heat know? They seem hell-bent on not doubling Dirk at the end of the game and forcing the ball out of his hands, despite the fact that Terry, Peja, Kidd, and Barea are all having a poor series. But give Dirk credit; he knew that Haslem would cheat left, and he surprised him by going right and sneaking a lay up over the rim. “I teach you the Superman.” Enter Dirk Nowitzki.

9. Maybe you believe in God. Maybe you believe in Karma. Maybe you believe the universe has a way of balancing itself out, and that eventually evil will be punished. For those who do, I present to you “LeFlop”:

This play occurred at the end of the first quarter (I would love to know what Carlisle said that got him such a quick technical). Yes, all NBA players exaggerate contact. It is an infuriating, maddening part of the game. But the Heat have taken it to a new level. There is a difference between exaggerating contact and faking contact. Exaggerating contact is done to help officials see the contact that was made and pressure them to make a call. Faking contact is cheating the game and taking advantage of the difficult job NBA officials have.

8. What is happening to LeBron James? He is devolving before our eyes. I will admit that I feared him more than Wade coming into this series because of his size, aggressiveness, and ability to get to the rim, but now I occasionally forget he is on the floor. My theory: because Wade has been so dominant, LeBron feels like he needs to defer, perhaps to a fault. James simply does not know how to be a sidekick, but is feeling the pressure to become one because of how well Wade is playing. In Cleveland, LeBron took heat whenever he didn’t take all the important shots. No one criticized LeBron for taking all the shots down the stretch, because there was no one else. Is all the “sidekick” talk finally starting to get to him? Is he afraid to shoot in crunch time, knowing that if he misses, people will ask why he didn’t defer to Wade? I think James is having an identity crisis right now, and the better Wade plays, the more it will continue.

Watch out for the vapor trail

7. Jason Terry questioned LeBron’s ability to guard him through a seven game series, and we all laughed (rightfully so). But I’ll be damned if the JET didn’t repeatedly fly by James (don’t excuse the pun; it was terrible) in the 4th quarter of last night’s game, gliding into the lane and getting any shot he wanted. For better or worse, Terry is one of those guys that needs extra motivation to play his best. If he has to talk, fine. If he needs to challenge himself and put his own back against the wall, fine. If he needs to get the Larry freaking O’Brien trophy tattooed on his arm to keep his edge, fine. Dirk can score 40 and the team will still lose without Terry. Like it or not, this team runs on JET fuel. (Ugh. Somebody stop me already.)

6. Last night was not about the Heat defense. Last night was about poor shooting by the Mavericks. If they get those same looks again, they will start to bury them. We are all still waiting for a shooting performance reminiscent of game 4 against the Lakers, and I expect this team has at least one more game like that in them. If the Mavericks have finally found a way to get their shots, look out.

5. Tyson Chandler was phenomenal last night. If nothing else, he managed to pick up the slack left by a hobbled Brendan Haywood without getting into foul trouble. We all know that Chandler is an emotional player. Last night (as he did in game 3), Chandler proved he is a smart player. This team would be lost without him.

4. Before last night, I could’ve imagined a scenario where the series goes 7, all games are within 3-5 points, the Mavericks win, and Dwyane Wade gets the series MVP. It has only happened once in NBA history (Jerry West in 1969), but Wade has been that good. Or at least he had been. Then he missed a potential game tying free throw. Then he fumbled the ball into the back court on the final play of the game.

Even for Falkor, 2 points is 2 points.

3. Does it feel like Miami is dominating this series because they have more dunks? Are we watching the alley-oops, fast break dunks, and primal screams and thinking that because of those plays, Miami must be the better team? Have we become so addicted to the SportsCenter top 10 that we just assume the Mavericks are hanging on for dear life in this series? Bottom line, this series could be 3-1 either way. At the end of the night, the Heat scored 83 points. It doesn’t matter if Wade rides Falkor from The Neverending Story to the rim and dunks; 2 points is 2 points. (OK, it might matter…but it doesn’t count for more points).

2. Give Carlisle credit. Starting Barea felt like desperation, until we found out that Dirk was sick and Marion was exhausted. Saving Stevenson to pick up some of Marion’s minutes allowed The Matrix to get some rest, and Stevenson responded with a huge second quarter off the bench. Even Brian Cardinal showed some grit and put some hard fouls on the Heat superstars.

1. In the 4th quarters of the NBA finals, Dirk has outscored LeBron 44-9. No coffee for you, LeBron. Coffee is for closers.

“I teach to you the Superman. Man is something that shall be overcome.”

-Nietzsche

 

 

The Dallas Mavericks have reasserted themselves as the favorite to win the series.

The Larry O'Brien Trophy Tattoo, done in October of 2010

That’s not what most commentators would have you believe. Despite Dirk’s defiant demonstration of determination and dominance, most would have you believe that all the Mavericks accomplished on Thursday was to “make the series interesting”. Perhaps they planted seeds of doubt in Miami minds, or made LeBron “more aware” of how difficult getting his first championship will be. But few will come out and admit the truth: because the Mavericks stole home court by winning in Miami, they are now the favorites. They are the only team in the playoffs to accomplish this feat, ending a 10 game-home winning streak by the Heat. All the Mavs need to do now is protect home court, and they can celebrate their first NBA championship and make Jason Terry look like a genius (admittedly no easy task).

How can I be so confident? Am I nothing more than a blatant Mavericks homer? Why am I asking myself questions? Consider the following:

THIS AIN’T THE EAST

The Eastern Conference had a total of 9 teams with losing records in the 2010-2011 season. The Western Conference had 6. Memphis, the 8 seed in the West, would have been the 5th seed in the East. Indiana, the East’s final playoff team, would’ve finished behind Houston, Phoenix, and Utah in the West and ended up the 12th best team in the conference. As a conference, the East had a collective record of 579-651, or a .471 win percentage, which represents the worst overall record for a conference since the beginning of the six division era (2004-2005).
If that isn’t enough, consider the fact that the 2010-2011 Southwest division (where the Mavericks play) boasted a .617 winning percentage, good for the 3rd best winning percentage by a division in NBA history. All five teams finished at least 4 games over .500; if Houston (the last place team in the division) were in the East, they would have slotted as the 6th playoff seed.
Of course, none of this really seems to matter now, and my point is not to show that the Mavericks will suddenly blow the doors off Miami from here on out. But given the level of competition the Mavericks have faced all season, it is logical to assume that they deserve to be considered at least equal to Miami, and now that they have home court advantage, by definition become the favorite to win the series.

THE 2011 MAVERICKS HAVE YET TO SHOW UP
The Heat continue to get the credit for slowing down the Mavericks’ offense this series. The Mavericks shot 37% in game 1, but 46% in game 2. Everyone was quick to credit the Heat for putting LeBron on Terry, which admittedly surprised the Mavericks. While no one questions James’ defensive prowess, consider Terry’s last 3 shooting performances against Oklahoma City:
Game 3: 3-12 (25%)
Game 4: 7-19 (37%)
Game 5: 3-9 (33%)
To me, Terry’s struggles in this series are much more about JET being a streaky shooter than LeBron’s defense. There is no guarantee that Terry will find his shot by Sunday, but it may mean that the Mavericks are not simply at the mercy of the Heat’s suffocating defense (though I’m not sure the same could be said of Peja, who looks old and slow against the youth and speed of Miami). Dirk is missing open shots, fadeaways, and lay ups. I’m willing to bet that doesn’t continue. Kidd had as many turnovers as assists Thursday night, and still the Mavericks won on the road. In the last seven minutes of game 2, we finally saw the Mavericks team that silenced the Rose Garden, swept the two time defending champs, and bounced the Thunder in 5 games. They made shots. They played stellar defense, as Kidd repeatedly denied Wade the ball where he wanted it and Marion cut James off from the lane. Now they have their confidence back. They have their playoff momentum back. They have home court.

IN THE NBA, EXPERIENCE BEATS YOUTH
In the NBA, you have to suffer before you can win. LeBron never took responsibility for his playoff failures in Cleveland, choosing instead to insinuate that his team, his GM, and/or his coach kept getting in his way. He has never felt the full force of failure, because he has never accepted responsibility for his failures. Now, it’s on him. And he’s arrogant enough to think that he and Wade can do it alone. He expects to win titles for the next 7 years. Sure, he wants to win. But the Mavericks know that they need to win. Now. Dirk, Peja, Marion, and Kidd have all had their hearts broken in title runs. They are all closer to the end than the beginning. That experience helped them keep their composure through an array of earth-shattering dunks and primal screams. A young team assumes that if you dunk enough, loud enough, the other team gets discouraged and gives up. That’s what James does, after all (see the 2010 BOS vs. CLE series), so it makes sense that he thought the Mavericks would fold as he did. But experience beats youth in the NBA, especially when that experienced team is rested and has a significant coaching advantage. Experienced teams know that a dunk is still just 2 points, and that young teams fold under pressure. The pressure is now squarely on Miami. For 7 1/2 quarters, the Mavericks seemed to lack confidence. They have it back now.

BEWARE THE WRATH OF THE SPORTS GODS
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Dirk Nowitzki stood tall, knowing that he had once again willed his team to an improbable victory thanks to tireless work in the gym with his personal shooting coach, and despite a torn tendon in the middle finger of his left hand (the same hand he used to lay in the game winning shot after embarrassing Bosh). And where was Dwayne Wade? Lying on the court, pretending that he got hit in the face and gesturing at the official as though he deserved free throws. He and James had preened, posed, danced, bitched, and beat their chests throughout the game. But as the clock hit zero, all Wade could do was complain.

There are no guarantees in sports. The good guys don’t always win. But what we’ve seen so far is a Maverick team playing nowhere near their full potential, yet managing to steal home court advantage. I think that when they come home, Dirk will truly find his comfort zone. Terry will find the basket friendlier. Calls will go their way, just as they did for the Heat in Miami. The Dallas Mavericks are not at the mercy of The Miami Heat. They are the favorites to win the NBA championship.

MAVS NEED TO WIN OR ELSE THEY WON’T

He's my favorite sportswriter

 

The Mavericks need to win game 2.

Believe it.

If the Mavericks are going to win game 2, they need to start making shots and try to keep the other team from making a lot of their shots. That is going to be hard to do, because the Heat have LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. Those are good players.

Also, there is a rumor that Dirk is engaged, and will soon get married after the end of the finals. He has been thinking about this a lot during the finals. So much so, that it may be affecting his play.

Some fans are now going to argue that Dirk’s engagement is a distraction.

Stop it.

Dirk is as good as ever. Fans need to remember that what goes on in an athlete’s personal life is just that. Personal. Dirk doesn’t owe you anything. It is none of your business, which is why I reported it just now. To prove a point. Now that you know about it, you shouldn’t care about it. But I wrote it.

Deal with it.

The bottom line is that the Mavericks need to win tonight’s game if they have any shot of holding a lead at the end of game 2 when the clock runs out. To do that, Terry will have to shoot the ball in a way so that it goes into the basket instead of it not going inside the basket. So will Peja. In fact, Peja’s shots ususally count for either 2 or 3 points, which means that every time he makes a shot, the Mavericks get either 2 or 3 points. Unless it is a free throw. Then it counts for 1 point.

Count it.

If the Mavericks do not win this series, they will not win the championship. And without a championship, Dirk will not get a ring. Ask Mark Modano how it feels to play for a long time and not get a ring. He was a Dallas Stars legend who went to Detroit to chase a Stanley Trophy, and still came up short. For better or for worse, people still think of Mark Modano as a Dallas athlete who was great at goal scoring but never got that championship for his team.

Will that be Dirk? Only time will tell.

You know it.

You.

Know.

It.

Go Buckeyes.

Take dat Wichu.

Game 1 of the NBA finals has to rank as one of the most frustrating Maverick games in team history. Too many commentators will simply look at the box score and praise the Heat defense for a stifling performance that shut down the Maverick bench. I didn’t see it. What I saw were Mavericks missing wide open shots that usually drop. I saw a team that inexplicably could not finish in the paint. Lay-ups rolled off the side of the rim. Floaters sailed wide. It’s as though the whole team lost their pin-point, laser beam focus that carried them past Portland, LA, and Oklahoma City and fell into an unfocused, shotgun approach; plenty of energy, but spraying everywhere. They looked like a team trying too hard to win, instead of a team that knew it could. It was Neo before his death instead of after his resurrection. And, to top it all off, Dirk tears a tendon in the middle finger of his left hand with about 4 minutes left in the game. So what can we take from a game so maddening, other than the fact that we can now officially classify the phrase “Miami Heat fan” in the same family as “Jumbo Shrimp” and “Original Copy”?

Obviously, the biggest concern is Dirk’s finger. The fact that the torn tendon is in his left hand means that it will likely have a minimal effect on his shooting, but it does raise concerns about his ability to handle the basketball. How will a splint in the middle finger affect his ability to catch a laser pass from Kidd (and why all the laser analogies)? Will his baseline spin move still be effective? Obviously, whoever is guarding Dirk will be even more aggressive swiping at the ball, probably hoping to catch that finger and put Dirk in pain. Dirk’s ability to protect the ball when he holds it low and in front of him is critical to his overall game, and if the splint weakens his grip on the ball, it could be trouble. Dallas fans have known for years that labeling Dirk as “soft”  is an ignorant oversimplification that national media commentators throw out to sound smart and controversial (one can also argue that it is often racially motivated). Maverick fans know that even if that finger falls off, Dirk will call time out, make sure it gets put on ice, finish the game, then have it reattached in time for game 3. Miami will swipe at that finger, but that will likely just piss Dirk off. As the rest of the NBA is learning, you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

Overall, I left game 1 feeling good about this series. Losing 1 game on the road is to be expected. If the Mavericks had coughed up a home game, things would be different. But the goal was always to get a split, and they have a good chance to accomplish that Thursday night. Beyond that, the Mavericks made some uncharacteristic mistakes that I expect they will correct before game 2. The defensive rotation to the 3 point line will be better. Peja and Terry had plenty of good looks, and you have to think those will start to fall. Most importantly, the Mavericks defense managed to keep Wade and James on the perimeter most of the night. While playing a zone hurts the rebounding numbers, it did succeed in keeping the Miami offense on the perimeter most of the game (at least until late in the 4th quarter when the game was all but over).

In the battle of good and evil, evil always strikes first. Remember, Luke Skywalker lost his hand to Vader before he became a Jedi. The Heat players have broken every sports karma rule in the book: predicting 7+ titles, calling themselves the greatest three players ever assembled on one team, exaggerating injuries, flopping then winking at one another as they brazenly cheat the game and the fans, and so on. Meanwhile, Dirk works quietly in the gym with his shooting coach all hours of the night. If his teammates will follow his lead, the Mavericks will get this done. Time to settle down, take a deep breath, and regroup. And to Dirk, Chandler, Kidd, and so on, we send the following message:

 

He is well armed with sports knowledge

First, there was Paul the Octopus, who correctly predicted 8 out of 8 World Cup Matches. Then there was Heidi the cross-eyed opossum, who correctly predicted that Natalie Portman would win the Best Actress Oscar for Black Swan. It is in this spirit that I present to you Elizabeth Devine, my own sports prognosticator specialist, best known for such insightful sports observations as “It’s just hitting a ball with a stick,” Your hockey team got the championship? Well, I’m happy that you’re happy,” and of course, “I cheer for him because he looks like Jesus.” (In reference to Johnny Damon during the Red Sox recent World Series run). Now, I’ve asked Elizabeth to take her extensive sports knowledge and apply it to a 2011 March Madness Tournament bracket, where she and I will compete to see whose sports knowledge reigns supreme in the Devine household.

 

Overcoming im-possum-able odds

In this corner, Tim Devine. Sports enthusiast, avid ESPN watcher, and tournament historian. I listened to bracket breakdowns, looked at suggestions from the experts, found some objective statistics that assist in predicting winners (thanks in large part to Norm Hitzges), and agonized over each selection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

She bear-ly knows what she's doing

In the other corner, Elizabeth Devine. Licensed Professional Counselor, Film enthusiast, and avid dog lover. Her picks were based on a controversial scientific formula that combined “how the name of the school sounded” with “where the school is located and whether or not it seems like a place where a lot of athletic people would live”.

Is there such a thing as an “expert” when it comes to March Madness? Click on the brackets below to keep tabs on our experiment.

 

Tim’s Bracket

Elizabeth’s Bracket

 

Let the Madness begin.