Currently the 7th seed, Dirk and the Dallas Mavericks need to first make the playoffs if they plan on repeating as NBA champions.
Tonight goes a long way in determining the Western Conference playoff picture...the back-end of it, anyway. Typically, I think we all couldn’t give two flips about four teams fighting for the final two seeds in the West; especially when the MVP debate is in full swing, the Spurs and Celtics are doing what they’re doing, and crucial injuries to D-Rose, Kobe, and Dwight are potentially affecting the landscape of the playoffs.
But there’s an odd storyline down in Dallas, Texas, right now. With what is setting up to be one of the most exciting playoffs in quite some time, the Dallas Mavericks may be nowhere to be found, come May.
That’s right, the alpha-male Dirk Nowitzki, whom we saw dominate last year’s Finals (and every round up to them), may fail to will his team to a second chance at a ring.
The Mavericks are currently sitting in the 7-spot, just 1 ½ games ahead of Phoenix and Houston and 2 games in front of Utah—all of which are vying for the final two playoff seeds in the West. The Mavericks are also just ½ game behind Denver, who is riding a two game win-streak and shouldn’t finish worse than 3-2 in their final five games.
For that reason, Denver is probably taking the 6-seed when it’s all said and done. They’re riding high after two humongous wins over Houston and now they welcome a hot Clippers team at home tonight on a day’s rest. I think they seize the opportunity, come out with a win, and then split their final four games.
Dallas is a bit of a different story. Dirk and the gang have played eight quarters and four overtime periods combined over their previous two games, and dropped both contests. That’s not to mention their overtime loss against Portland on April 6th.
Nowitzki is looking like he’s ready to start pouring it on opponents in these final games, true, and he can do it; but I think everyone else (yes, including JET) will be running on fumes.
Let’s reflect, from Dallas’ point of view: you have suffered two tough losses in a row, just realized you’ve been swept in the regular season by the team YOU swept in last year’s playoffs, and now you have a Rockets team trying to avoid a regular-season sweep at your hands and steal a playoff seed from you. Uh oh. The target that sits on Dallas’ back as the defending champion has obviously been a bit too much for them to handle, thus far, and it’s now grown about as large and obnoxious as the vein that’s pulsating in Mark Cuban’s forehead.
A loss would spell disaster. They probably wouldn’t drop in the standings (yet), given OKC decides to grow a pair and take care of Phoenix tonight; but mentally, the scenario would be devastating for Dallas.
Lose back-to-back close overtime games on the road and follow that up with a loss at American Airlines Center—heck, they can almost kiss their postseason chances goodbye at that point, with road games against the Bulls and Hawks remaining on the schedule.
If you really are a Mavericks fan, or just plain don’t want to see Dirk Nowitzki follow up his best postseason ever with the worst possible regular season scenario he could have ever dreamt up, you’ll at least dabble in curiosity for tonight’s game between Dallas and Houston.
The only other NBA teams to win a championship but fail to earn a postseason berth the following year were the 1970 Boston Celtics and 1999 Chicago Bulls. Do you see what the big deal is, yet? No?
Here’s the big deal: those two teams were both recovering from the losses of their absolute best players! The ’70 Celtics were dealing with the departure of Bill Russell and the ’99 Bulls suffered from the second Jordan retirement. Yeah, you couldn’t find two Boeing 787’s big enough to fill those ginormous holes.
Last time I checked, Dallas’ best player is still on the roster. But this best player isn’t playing at the level we’re all accustomed to seeing. Forget what Dirk did up until 2011, because last year is all we are really interested in.
His shooting percentage is down considerably, from .517 to .454; he’s taking more three’s and making less of them, as his 3-point percentage has dropped from .393 to .361 (He has attempted 202 three-pointers this season. That’s 34 more attempts than last year . . . in 15 less games!!!); and his rebounds per game are the lowest they’ve been since the 2000 season. Say it ain’t so, Dirk.
But it is. Yet, what it surely is not is all Dirk’s fault. Think about the roster changes since last year.
Chandler and Barea, arguably two of the most important players to the Mavericks’ championship in 2011, gone. An old Vince Carter, a discontented Lamar Odom, and Delonte West, all new additions.
Chemistry is the most important thing in sports, and Dallas is lacking every bit of it as they continue their sub-.500 performance since the all-star break.
They’re standing on their last leg, and it’s not the leg that Dirk pushes off of to drain his off-balance, fade-away jump shots.
No, it is one that is a bit less stable and currently holds the weight of a reigning NBA champion struggling to make it to the finish line.
Resiliency is definitely in Dirk’s competitive DNA, but what about the rest of the Mavericks? Terry better fire up the jets. This final stretch is going to be one demanding, turbulent flight.