Sunday Mavs Donuts: Strategies And Scars
DONUT 1: Those who have held it long only to do so again. Those who have not want nothing more than to feel its smooth weight in their hands just once. It's what drives men already bathed in riches and fame to make the sacrifices it demands.
What is it?
It's the prize that most players spend their careers chasing, but so few actually reach it. It's the taste of ultimate accomplishment. It's the glory of being a champion.
It's that precious ring.
It's what drives men like Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion and Peja Stojakovic to plead with their bodies to carry them for at least one more year, to give them one more chance.
Let's shuffle through our Rolodex of Mavs veterans who will begin the next step in their pursuit of the jewelry with the Western Conference Finals and Game 1 at the AAC on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ...
DONUT 2: Kidd is 38. He has left heavy footprints in the NBA record books, ranking second in career assists, third in 3-point field goals, third in steals and eighth in minutes. The Hall of Fame waits with hungry eyes and a welcoming embrace for this all-time great.
Kidd is a gifted leader, known as one of the great basketball minds of his time among his peers – and here at DB.com, where he's helped us popularize the notion of "BBIQ'' -- yet in his 17-year career he still finds one goal left incomplete. Despite coming tantalizingly close as a member of the New Jersey Nets in back-to-back trips to the Finals, being swept in 2002 by the Lakers and sent home in six by the Spurs in 2003, he's only witnessed as others claimed their moment on the pedestal.
DONUT 3: Nowitzki is gradually becoming recognized for what he is: one of the finest offensive weapons of his generation. Throughout his career he's been a nightmarish mismatch for teams, able to drag big men more comfortable working in the paint far from the rim with his deadly range, and abuse smaller defenders by backing them down or using his 7-foot frame to shoot over them.
The 2006-07 MVP, Nowitzki reached the Finals in 2006, felt the rush of a two-game advantage over Miami appear on the brink of pushing to three, only to see the game and the series slip from his grasp, leaving him to wallow in its absence for almost every moment since.
"Really, it's not about me," Nowitzki says. "I want to win a championship before I retire. That's my goal. I don't want to please experts. I don't play for anything else. That's really all that's left in my career."
Don't get us wrong; it's enjoyable for us to watch him "please experts,'' too … and we use that term loosely. But we get his point; the focus is on the focus.
DONUT 4: Accompanying Dirk as the lone members from the 2006 Finals meltdown still on the roster, Terry has been the definition of a great locker-room presence, placing the importance of winning above his own recognition.
When he saw his role shift from that of a starter on a team that reached the Finals to a leading member of the bench, he didn't seek pity in the press or bemoan his situation. Instead he enveloped himself in what was asked of him and now is perennially in the running for Sixth Man of the Year, which he earned in 2009.
DONUT 5: Marion has been on a pair of 60-win teams in Phoenix, and this will be his third trip to the Western Conference Finals, though he's never progressed further. Once thought to be burdened by an ego as prolific as his athleticism, Marion joined the Mavericks in 2009 and quickly proved to be a model citizen, more than willing to put the goals of the team before his own glorification.
DONUT 6: Stojakovic sits fourth on the list of most 3-pointers in history, one spot behind Kidd. He's made a living tearing the hearts out of opposing fans three points at a time. He's been a valuable contributor on a number of good teams, but never came closer to claiming a championship than he did with the 2001-02 Sacramento Kings.
The Kings lost to the championship-bound Lakers in seven games in the Western Conference Finals. The memory that perhaps still haunts Stojakovic is Game 6, in which the Lakers attempted 27 free throws in the fourth quarter alone, compared to nine for Sacramento. It was so egregious that Ralph Nader sought a formal investigation of the referees involved.
Of all the veterans in ring-chase mode, Peja, we think, might be a pivot point in Dallas' gameplan. The others are largely locked into their roles; we know, for example, what Dirk will be asked to do. Say OKC beats Memphis today to advance; we can assume that ‘Trix will draw the tough assignment of KD.
But Peja? Does he fit as well?
DONUT 7: Our man Coach Fain says "yes.''
In fact, Coach Fain says that in either matchup -- Memphis or OKC -- Peja will be able to play big minutes and will be able to do so without being a defensive liability.
Against OKC he can defend the Thunder power forwards like Ibaka and Collison, neither of whom have explosive offensive games. The Peja/Marion forward combination also creates a mismatch for OKC to deal with, as one of the bigs either chases Peja around outside or has to run with Marion.
Against Memphis there aren't any scoring wings Peja has to worry about at all.
So yes, Peja is in the rotation mix for the Western Conference Finals rotation ... Which the coaching staff is gameplanning for as you read this.
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DONUT 9: "We have to use our wisdom and our experiences," Kidd says, and he is pointing out a major difference between Dallas and its next foe.
DONUT 10: If it's Memphis, a focus will be trying to keep a lid on Z-Bo, who never leaves the ground ... but still requires a lid. Are his Grizzlies ready to mature quickly enough to play at this level?
If it's OKC, the centerpiece is Durant, and again Mavs fans will hope that those kids are as ill-prepared for this as KD seemed to be in Game 6.
"I was just thinking too much," said Durant of his 11-point, 3-for-14 shooting performance in the 95-83 loss. "Everything was going through my head."
This is where the veteran Mavs want to be: In Z-Bo's head or in Durant's head. If there is a benefit to being a basketball team led by a bunch of guys in their 30's, this is it.
DONUT 11: There is strategy and there are scars. Like Stojakovic, Nowitzki, Terry and Marion remain wounded due to being at the wrong end of some of the most controversial playoff officiating in the past 10 years.
For Dirk and Terry it was the 2006 Finals, when the series changed directions on a string of questionable calls, or no-calls. Most may remember Game 5, in which Dwyane Wade matched the free-throw total of the entire Mavericks team at 25, while the Heat took 49 as a team to take a third straight win, by one point in overtime, giving them a 3-2 lead in the series.
For Marion it was the 2007 Western Conference Semifinals vs. the Spurs, when Robert Horry checked Steve Nash into the scorers table, leading to one-game suspensions for Amar'e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for leaving the bench. It was a controversial decision that directly influenced which team would advance, as the Suns lost by three in the next game with two star players unavailable, granting the Spurs a 3-2 lead in the series.
DONUT 12: Each of these players has endured his share of heartache — from being close enough to touch their enduring goal, only to watch it end up in the arms of another, to coming up just short of getting that chance.
With 27 All-Star selections between them, among a host of individual accolades, they've left their mark on the league. Record books may keep their memories alive, only the immortality of a championship has eluded them.
Another chance has arrived. Will it blink away in the night, fueling another ghost of what may have been? Or will this be the light that washes over them, rewarding the trials of this path that has lead them to now all stand together. Apart, they have come up short. United, can they succeed?