Basketball And Old Cheese In The Upper Deck

Basketball is like life in many ways: You never know what is waiting around the bend. You take a team like Miami. A couple of months ago, everyone seemed willing to just hand them the trophy. No point playing, they are obviously superior to everyone else in basketball. The problem with that logic is that the Heat players actually appeared to believe it. The Mavericks, meanwhile …

Well, the Mavs seemed to have a pretty disappointing offseason in that The Super Trade many fans expected -- the trade of a bag of magic beans for the circa 1992 Michael Jordan and the ghost of Wilt Chamberlain -- never materialized. It appeared the bridge was packed with jumpers before the season started.

The last undefeated team in the league as of November 15 was not the Lakers, or the Celtics, or the Heat. (Which brings us another point: Doesn't it seem a bit disturbing that a team is named after canine menses?) No, the last undefeated team was the New Orleans Hornets. Note the past tense, "was,'' after the Mavericks beat them on Monday … and hope to do the same Wednesday in the Bayou.

While it was not the sound drubbing that I prefer, in the end a win is a win. And we saw the unfolding of many of the reasons for Dallas' 7-2 start:

*The addition of Tyson Chandler has given the Mavericks an added dimension that they have not had in quite some time, an inside scoring threat to complement their outside shooters. Not to mention a pretty good center combination in Chandler and Haywood.

*The expected breakout season of Roddy "Boo Boo" Beaubois has not happened because of a foot injury, but Jason Terry has stepped up with what may be some of his best play in more than a few years.

*Dirk has maintained his consistent quality of play.

*Objectively, one has to comment on the oft-maligned J.J. Barea, who has been a thorn in the side of many a fan. Just mention him and lots of fans roll their eyes and refer to him as an escaped member of the Lollipop Guild. It hardly seems fair, as he has been performing at least adequately for a backup in this league.

Sure his rainbow jumpers cause us to pause and think about Oz, and how the house fell on the Wicked Witch of the East, which somehow makes me think of LeBron James.

It is fair to say in the first few games of the year, Barea was awful. Since then, he has been OK, not great but adequate, which is what they need from him; they need him to be adequate and not mistake prone.

*Another surprise for the season has come from very good defensive play. In the past the Mavericks' defensive strategy appeared to be based on staring intently at the basket as the other team made layups, but this year, there appear to be several players buying in with a new defensive intensity.

Whether it is Shawn Marion, Brian Cardinal, or even Dirk Nowitzki, a new defensive focus does appear to be present. In fairness we have seen defense played in spurts in previous years. The question is, will it continue?

After nine games into the season, it would be wrong to say the Mavericks have looked stellar. "Promising'' might be a better description. The challenge will be stability, and only time will tell, but at this point in the season, it is fair to say they are in the mix. Check out the Southwest Division: If the Hornets are special at 8-1, then what are the Mavs at 7-2 with a win over the Hornets?

Also up there is San Antonio. And if we are being fair, it is also fair to say that the Spurs smell like old cheese.

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