Monday, February 13, 2006

Lucky Number 13?

I have been dying to write about the Mavs for the past two weeks, but I thought I would jinx them by praising the winning streak. So I waited for them to lose a game to write about them. And now I can combine the streak post with the mid-year report. And away we go...

The Winning Streak
To win thirteen games in a row in the NBA is a feat despite the teams you beat. It's one thing to win 5 games in a row against teams like Atlanta and Toronto while you're at home without playing back-to-backs, but the Mavericks' streak included 2 division leaders, 6 playoff teams, and 5 road games. The Mavericks' could have played all 13 games at home, and I would have been impressed because it isn't easy to win 13 games in a row against professional opponents.
So let's look at how the streak started.
What has been lost in the whole streak is that it really should have been 17 games in a row. I was lucky enough to watch the Knicks game played on January 11. I was at my house with my buddy, Ryan, and all we could notice was how unbelievably lucky the Knicks were getting. Every time the ball was loose, it would land in a Knick player's hands. Every time Diop or Damp would block a shot, Eddy Curry's fat fingers would happen to grasp the ball. They were even on fire from the free throw line, a very un-Knick thing to do (they are 24th in the league in free throw shooting). After a huge second half comeback, the Mavericks eventually lost the game in overtime where more of the same occurred.
Anyway, my original point is that the streak didn't start there, the style of play was born after the beatdown Minnesota gave us on the night of the Rose Bowl. And the winning spark was provided by Devin Harris' game winner in Denver a couple nights later. No one really saw this winning streak coming; not with seven of the next ten on the road. Despite the Knicks game, the Mavericks were still on a roll. I'm sure they were upset about losing that game, but they had to feel good about how well they played, but sometimes teams just get lucky. As Chris Berman says "that's why they play the game."
I followed this winning streak closely from its conception. I went to the game where it started, the 110-77 blowout against the Nets. I watched the Bucks game at my house. I listened to games against the Rockets, Blazers, Bulls, Grizzlies, and Lakers. And of course, I watched the nationally televised games against the Sonics and Heat. I religiously watched Around the Horn and read the Dallas papers to see what was being said about the Mavericks. And what did I find? Hardly anything. A mention here and there, but people were saying the same things: their defense was good but not good enough.
Not one time in the streak did the Mavs' offense win the game for the team. The best example is the Grizzlies game. In Memphis, the Mavericks were trying to avenge a loss from earlier in the season, and they had nothing going offensively, but the defense kept them in the game and held the Grizzlies to seven poins in the last seven minutes. Dirk had very little to do with the outcome of the game, but the team won it. And then a week later, what do the Mavs do to the hottest scorer in the NBA? Only hold him to 5-22 shooting and frustrating him to a point where he tried to get ejected, but the refs wouldn't let him.
As for how the streak ended, I broke all of my Mavericks' watching rules. If I drink during a game that I watch, the Mavericks lost, and I split a baby keg of Heineken that night. I changed jerseys during the game, which is a big No-No. I'm not taking the blame, but the karma was there for a loss. But the bright spot in the loss is that the Nuggets totally knocked the shit out of the Mavs, and it was only a 9 point loss that the Mavs were in for a good chunk of the game.
One last thing about the streak. It is no coincidence that with Stack's return, the Mavs have started playing lights out.
Mid-year Report
You don't have to be a genius to realize that the Mavs are for real. And there will be arguments all season as to where they stand, the overwhelming majority will put them at 2 or 3 with a small sliver sticking them at 1. I'm going to breakdown the Mavericks' toughest opponents that they will likely face in ascending order.

4. Phoenix
The Mavs' 2-0 record against these guys should speak volumes, but it won't be enough to detract people from pointing out that Amare Stoudemire should be back for the playoffs. This may sound crazy, but the Suns will not nearly as good with Amare back in the lineup. The Suns have two guys, Boris Diaw and Raja Bell, playing out of their minds. Part of the reason why they are playing this well is that the Suns have their backs against the wall, and those two know that they don't want to be the goats of the team. When Amare comes back, those two are going to have a safety in Amare. Plus, Amare is going to take away touches from them. They won't be as well rounded.
Combine the Amare factor with the lack of depth, Eddie House is their sixth man and his weed supplier is their 9th, and you get the 3 man show that is the Phoenix Suns. I still think if the Mavericks play the Suns in the conference finals, it will go the distance, but the Mavs are certainly the better team, and Phoenix is the worst out of the top 5.

3. Miami
112-76. Should I really say anything else about how fucked up their team is? Well, I'm going to because I have a man-crush on Dwyane Wade. Just hear me out.
Last year, the Heat had great chemistry with guys like Damon Jones, Rasual Butler, and even Christian Laettner. Instead of keeping the same guys who were insanely close to knocking off Detroit, Pat Riley brings in three guys who need the ball in their hand to be effective. The biggest culprit is who else but the biggest team cancer not named Ron Artest, Antoine Walker. Gary Payton and Jason Williams round out the terrible trio that is ruining Shaq's twilight. But what happens with all these new players? Dwyane Wade starts playing like a man possessed. 17 straight points against the Pistons! I haven't seen something like that since Reggie Miller scored 25 against the Knicks in the 4th quarter 12 years ago. If Walker, Payton, and Williams can lose a game for the Heat, Wade can just as easily win it for them. And come playoff time, lookout for Shaq. He looks angry with that new facial hair.
2. Detroit
I am honestly considering putting these guys at 3 under Miami, but I can't do that with that start they had. So I'll put them at 2, but in a couple months, I may stick them at 3 after I see how Miami starts coming along, how Detroit responds to the barrage of losses, and whether Detroit starts feeling the injury bug. Here's why Detroit is not nearly as good as San Antonio.
Depth.
It's that simple. The Pistons have unquestionably the best starting five in the league. But their bench? Antonio McDyess and Delfino play some minutes for them, but there isn't anyone beyond that. Carlos Arroyo? Darko Milicic? There's no one there to compliment that starting five.
This is a stat I looked up myself. When the Pistons lose, they shoot less than 30% from three point range, but when they win, they shoot more than 40%. The Dwyane Wade may have altered that just a bit, but the point is that no team can rely that much on the three point basket and expect to win anything. Look for a Pistons' slide as the three point shooting comes back down to earth.
And don't get me started on the coaching. Flip Saunders looks like he just woke up and realized that he's coaching the Pistons. It's like he's happy to be there. I think he's a good coach, but do I ever see him winning a title? Well, he did once. In the CBA. Way to go, Flip.
1. San Antonio
Well coached, good fundamentals, veteran leadership, and superstars galore. What more can you ask from a team? They are the team that I, as a Mavericks' fan, fear the most. I think the Mavs have a shot at taking them in the playoffs, but the key will be homecourt advantage. I just hope that the Mavericks can pull it out.
When comparing the two teams, there are a lot of similarities, and I honestly believe the Mavericks are a close second to the Spurs, and with a little luck, the Mavs can get there. And who doesn't get lucky sometimes?
Altered Prediction
The only thing I would change from my playoffs prediction is that I believe the Mavericks will win the division and best record in the NBA with 64 wins. But I have a bad feeling that they end up playing Houston still in the first round, then San Antonion, then Phoenix, and yes, I'm still sticking with a Dallas-Miami NBA Finals. American Airlines will be so happy.