The Dallas Mavericks have been the best team in the NBA Playoffs up to this point. The Miami Heat have received infinitely more publicity for their run, but it's been the Mavs who have disposed of the Champions of yesterday (Lakers) as well as the Champions of tomorrow (Thunder). I can't understand how eeking out victories against a Rondo-less Celtics team and an overmatched Bulls team is wowing everybody so much. And yet, most people's sentiments are that the Miami Heat are on cruise control right now and an NBA Title is a foregone conclusion. I don't want to get ahead of myself too much, so I'll save most of this rant until after the Mavs bury the Thunder.
But just how are these Dallas Mavericks doing it? I tiptoed around their team dynamic about two weeks ago, having this to say in the middle of the Lakers series....
Beyond that, they have just been slowly acquiring other people's garbage and molding it into something of a masterpiece. And I believe this collection of misfits have grown very tired of the world speaking out against them with the unified belief that this team is soft and can't get it done. That can be a gigantic motivator.
"A Collection of Misfits"
Well, mis-fits that is. As in, these players didn't seem to fit in with whatever team they played on before (some of them with the Mavs). They have now come together , unified and singularly focused, with one goal, and one goal only, in mind - to do what none of them have been able to do before - win a ring. It's unbelievable, really, when you examine all of their backgrounds to see how many of them have been dragged down, counted out, cast off, or been so close to a Championship they could smell it. I believe this has been a major bonding factor as far as team chemistry goes, as well as a root for how tough the team is in persevering through adversity.
Lets take a look at what each player has encountered throughout his career and why he fits in so very well with this current Dallas Mavericks squadron...
Dirk Nowitzki - It's truly amazing how much scrutiny one of the NBA's all time greats has faced throughout his career. Even now, immersed in the greatest run of his career, most of the discussion of him remains on the negative side (speaking out against Rick Carlisle's Top 10 of all time claim, and scoffing at Larry Bird comparisons - ironic given how quickly the league is to anoint the next Jordan). Needless to say, he took the majority of blame from the Finals meltdown against the Heat (time for revenge?) and Golden State upset (didn't hear much aimed at Duncan or Ginobili this year). I challenge you to come up with another all time great, in any sport, that has faced more disrespect throughout his career. And I don't think anybody wants to win a Championship more than him right now. He's on a mission.
Jason Kidd - Qualifies under the so close he could smell it category. He took a mediocre New Jersey Nets team through the weak Eastern Conference twice to reach the NBA Finals, but was ultimately bested (rather easily) by the Lakers and Spurs in back to back years. Has since been dismissed due to fossilization, but has reinvented his game by improving his jump shot. He's a big reason the Mavs are doing what they are doing.
Tyson Chandler - Fought through the adversity of being labeled a bust after being drafted #2 overall by the Chicago Bulls. The high school draftee from straight outta Compton never flourished with the Bulls in 5 years, and was shipped off to the Hornets where he enjoyed his most success. Has since been traded by the Hornets and Bobcats, winding up in Dallas, where he has been the biggest single difference maker from the Mavs teams of the past to this current team.
Shawn Marion - A former all star at the tail end of his career (the running theme of this Mavs team) who thrived playing with the run-n-gun Suns, a team who's downfall coincided with the decision to get rid of The Keanu Reeves. After 2 forgettable seasons in Miami and Toronto (didn't know they happened), he too has reinvented his game as less of a scorer and more of a defender for the Mavs, evidenced by swatting Kevin Durant's sausage to end regulation in Game 4.
DeShawn Stevenson - Bounced around from team to team because he's halfway crazy. This is evidenced by his Wikipedia page, which I encourage all of you to read. Here are some of the highlights - In 1993, when Stevenson was 12, his father Darryl murdered his own mother, Clara, by strangling her. He originally committed to the University of Kansas until he was red-flagged for improving his SAT score from 450 as a sophomore to 1,150 as a senior. In 2001, Stevenson finished second in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Later that year, Stevenson pleaded no contest to having sex with a 14 year old girl. He is the first player in NBA history to wear the number 92 on his jersey. Oddly, how I remember him (no Wiki mention) is losing to Gilbert Arenas in a 3 point shooting contest that Hibachi shot one-handed. Not much doubt where this man gets his toughness from.
Jason Terry - The other remaining Mav throughout the years, along with Dirka. This means that he, too, has faced much of the same criticism as Dirkness, but to a much lesser degree. However, every Mav remains scarred from what happened in the 2006 and 2007 Playoffs. The Mavs' emotional leader is just as motivated by the team's past and determined to prove the NBA worlds wrong as El Dirkarino.
JJ Barea - The captain of the counted out aspect of the Mavs. It's no secret why he's always been counted out, but it is a secret how tall he actually stands. The roster lists him as 6'0, but those are just lies, ALL LIES! Barea is the rare breed of player who can dominate a game with his repertoire of offensive moves, but can also cost your team the game because of his defensive shortcomings (pun intended). At least he still has his patented defensive move, keeping his face down by the opponent's elbow, waiting for them to strike at any moment, with an assured offensive foul soon to follow.
Peja Stojakovic - Stojanky Nutz was a key member of the Sacramento Kings team that fell short time and time again to the Los Lonely Lakers in the early 00's. Not only that, but he's the culprit of the worst clutch shot I have ever seen in the NBA, when he uncorked a wide open 3 from the corner against the Lakers that hit the side of the backboard! Perfect fit for the previously-perceived-as-soft Mavs.
Brendan Haywood - Always been a decent player, never experienced much playoff success, doesn't really fit the mold. Love watching him shoot free throws though.
Rick Carlisle - Last, but not least, lets not forget the coach of these Mavs. Jim Carrey with cancer won the Coach of the Year award with the Detroit Pistons in 2002 and was fired the next year (replaced by Larry Brown who won a Title and subsequently destroyed the team). Then he took the Indiana Pacers to the best record in the East before ultimately being defeated by Brown's Pistons in the playoffs. The next year, the Pacers were on their way once again until Ron Artest ran into the crowd or something, I can't really remember. It sounded bad though.
So if you're watching the Mavs, wondering how they have seemingly became tough overnight, this list might enlighten you. Every one of these players has a reason to be carrying an extra chip on their shoulder for this team in these playoffs. And sometimes, the will of a team can overmatch the talent of a team, which, in short, I believe is the reason the Mavs have proved everybody wrong throughout these NBA Playoffs.