Donuts: 12 Steps To Mavs' Climb To Finals

The NBA Finals are coming. How did the Mavs get from there to here? Sunday Morning Donuts are the Top 13 Moments Along The Mavs' Path to the Finals:



DONUT 1 Re-Signing Dirk Nowitzki (7/4/10, or technically, 7/19/10): While the world awaited "The Decision" and every player in the league, signed or not, was rumored to be heading to the Knicks, Dirk Nowitzki quietly wandered beneath the headlines as free agency began July 1, 2010. Though the wait was short, and the outcome was generally assumed, there was no lack of anxiety in the Dallas area as Dirk momentarily went unsigned. A deal was agreed upon July 4, but did not become official until July 19, only adding to the apprehension among fans.

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But ultimately, we knew just as Dallas Digs Dirk, Dirk digs us back.

DONUT 2 Keeping Brendan Haywood (7/8/10) and Trading for Tyson Chandler: With their biggest piece signed, Dallas moved on to fortify their center position in a deal that you would now have to look back on as having fortuitous timing, given that number three on our list took place less than a week. Considering the current circumstances, this looms as a move with an even larger impact on the Mavs' title hopes than believed at the time, as their primary competitor in pursuit of Haywood was the Miami Heat.

So Dallas had its starting center. But then …

With Miami making the tri-splash in free agency and Joe Johnson remaining in Atlanta, Dallas moved on to what many viewed as a letdown when they dealt Erick Dampier's instant-expiring contract (along with Eduardo Najera and Matt Carroll) to the Bobcats for Tyson Chandler and Alexis Ajinca. Any disappointment some may have found in the use of The DUST Chip soon dissipated in the face of Chandler's early play, as he led the charge of a rejuvenated defense and quickly became one of Dallas' emotional leaders.

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Dallas traded The DUST Chip (Damp's unique expiring contract) for an All-NBA Defensive Team game-changer. Remember that.

DONUT 3 Bookending Miami's 13-game Winning Streak (11/27/10, 12/20/10): In their first meeting, a Dallas victory inspired the Heat to have an almost 45-minute player's only meeting. LeBron James brushed shoulders with Erik Spoelstra and Miami fell to a 9-8 record on the season. Spoelstra did not lose his job, instead he watched as his team responded by winning 13 consecutive games before welcoming the Mavericks to South Beach, and promptly losing again. Along with victories over Boston, San Antonio and other early season contenders, these wins helped provide the roots to what would become a deep confidence within the Mavs.

DONUT 4 Caron Butler is Lost for the Season (1/1/11): The new year could not have opened more awfully for Dallas, which watched as Caron Butler clutched at his knee before laboring to walk off the court in Milwaukee, after, per Rick Carlisle, shoving his kneecap back into place, only three games after witnessing a knee injury that would sideline Dirk Nowitzki for nine games. This would soon lead to a six-game losing streak, and easily the lowest point of the Dallas season. In hindsight, these hardships may have helped galvanize a strong bond now evident.

"He was going to be Dirk's Robin, his Tonto,'' Mavs GM Donnie Nelson told DB.com this weekend. "Instead, what happened is we had to find seven guys to help. We found seven Robins.''

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DONUT 5 Signing Peja Stojakovic (1/24/11) and The Trade Deadline Silently Passes (2/24011): With Butler lost and only one other true small forward on the roster at the time (Shawn Marion), the addition of Peja Stojakovic not only solidified the rotation, even if patience would be required to allow his return to health, but added a much-needed element to the Mavs offense: spacing. The mere threat Stojakovic presents is enough to keep defenses honest, allowing his teammates more room to operate at the offensive end. His stats may be erratic, but there's little doubt as to the positives he's provided. (For a full coaches-level understanding, go check out The Peja Presence.)

Would Peja be enough?

With Caron Butler out and the presence of his large expiring contract, the sentiment was rampant that Dallas would make a move at the deadline. Yet, as Feb. 24 slipped by, the Mavs stood still and chose not to meet the prices they deemed to be set too high around the league. Stephen Jackson, Tayshaun Prince and a handful of other names were not inbound, none were on their way out, and the deep chemistry of the team was not tested.

So the acquisition of Peja would have to be enough.

DONUT 6 Shawn Marion Moves into the Starting Lineup for Good (4/3/11): Shawn Marion has been the ideal teammate since his arrival in Dallas, leaving notions of a demanding ego far behind. Yet, his continual movement in and out of the starting lineup was clearly becoming an internal source of frustration. He wasn't making waves, but the desire to have his role defined was clear. After a one-game experiment against the Warriors with DeShawn Stevenson getting the start at small forward, Marion returned to the starting lineup for good.

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Carlisle had opened training camp by telling us that his players should worry about "role acceptance and not role definition.'' Marion was among the veterans who didn't want to be "rag-dolled by lineup changes. They found a solution.

DONUT 7 Jason Kidd finds some Rest (4/4/10 thru 4/9/10): With the regular season winding down and the minutes piling up, Carlisle found time to grant his 38-year-old point guard a brief respite. The benefits were clear immediately as Kidd opened the playoffs averaging 21 points over the first two games, both wins, helping ensure the letdown many predicted would not come against the Blazers. Throw this break in with the eight and five full days off after the Lakers and Thunder series respectively, and you find one aspect of why Kidd has been able to remain fresh.

DONUT 8 Crushing New Orleans (4/13/11): Having lost nine straight games to teams that would make the playoffs from the Western Conference, Dallas removed the struggling Roddy Beaubois from the starting lineup, replacing him with the rugged DeShawn Stevenson. This may have not been directly responsible for the outcome, but it likely helped feed a change in disposition from the Mavericks, who dominated the trash-talking Hornets. The 32-point win represented their most lopsided victory of the season, priming their confidence for a playoff run.

DONUT 9 Silence is Golden (4/16/11 to present): In the years after the Mavs last reached the Finals, Dirk Nowitzki has mentioned that he thought the actions and words of the team's owner may have hurt their chances for success then. Regardless of what led to Mark Cuban's self-imposed silence, his refusal to provide sound bytes to the press, or bulletin board material for opponents, has resulted in an unusual calm surrounding his team. He may often seek to divert negative attention from his team to himself, but remaining a non-story has likely been refreshing to some.

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"We Ain't Done Yet!'' might be all we hear from Tony Cubes for a while.

DONUT 10 Dirk Nowitzki's Playoff Performances (4/16/11 to present): It's possible to rank his performances individually, from the 48 points in Game 1 of the Conference Finals, to 40 points in Game 4, to any number of huge shots in the closing moments, but that would require a list of it's own. From the opening tip of the playoffs, he's been the best player on the court with devastating efficiency and consistency. As the national media finally takes notice, The UberMan is giving them something to remember.

DONUT 11 Brandon Roy's Explosion (4/23/11): The lead was up to 23 late in the third quarter, and 18 entering the fourth. Dallas was on the verge of destroying the Blazers in Game 4, when Brandon Roy decided to put on a show. He would single handedly outscore the Mavs in the final period, 18-15, and call the fury of past failures down upon the Mavs with a raging ferocity. In an instant, old demons came surging back, forcing Dallas to face them, and in doing so brought them closer together.

To a man, Mavs players continue to cite that Game 4 as a bonding time. There was a team meeting. There were reminders. There are reminders still.

DONUT 12 JJ and J-Kidd Make Names and Statements Against Bynum, Kobe and the Lakers (5/2/11 to 5/8/11): The heavily favored Lakers had no answer for the smallest man on the court. JJ Barea attacked the rim with fearless abandon, carving up a once touted defense and bringing his name to the lips of many. Unfortunately, to some, that name was "Barrera." What was once feared as a potential playoff weakness, the backup point guard position, became strength as Barea asserted himself, never more than he did in Game 4 against the Lakers, when he scored 22 points and handed out eight assists, bringing out the worst in Andrew Bynum.

Meanwhile, the presence of Kobe brought out the best in Jason Kidd.

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You won't hear too much from Bryant, but for those watching the series and being presented with striking images of the ageless one adeptly closing in and pressuring Kobe will not be forgotten. The Lakers weren't supposed to have any trouble getting past the Mavs, and Bryant wasn't supposed to face a defender capable of slowing him down, especially in the game's biggest moments. Instead, the closer was closed upon. Jason Kidd made certain almost every shot was uncomfortable, every clutch possession a labor, and he would only continue to do so against Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant one series later.

Now, Kidd and the Mavs face another challenge, LeBron and Wade and the Heat. There will be another path … and we can only hope this one is as fruitful as the one chronicled here.



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