These Mavs Aren't Those Mavs
These Dallas Mavericks -- the ones practicing Monday in preparation for Tuesday's Game 1 of the NBA Finals in South Beach -- are not those Dallas Mavericks.
The evolution of the Heat's roster is highly publicized. Few have failed to notice the additions of LeBron James and Chris Bosh, as James made certain of with his ill-conceived, self-aggrandizing television special.
The Heat further pushed the envelope with the first ever preseason championship celebration; humility has little to do with the presentations of Hollywood, and so were the ways of the admittedly "Hollywood" self-congratulatory show put on by the newly formed "Miami Thrice."
These displays of spectacle polarized onlookers, driving most to either love or hate the characters involved. Few lingered in the middle ground.
Dallas took a road parallel to the Heat's, but with a strikingly different approach. Where Miami sped to sudden revelation in a bright red Ferrari, the Mavs reached the same destination packed into a steady, yet reliable station wagon … even if the driver was occasionally emotional and outspoken (Mark Cuban).
(Dirk signed with the Mavs in mid-July. We are still waiting for that press conference, you know.)
Just as it is with the Heat, where there are only two holdovers from that championship team on the court (Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem), only two players remain (Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry) from the Dallas squad that watched their hopes build to a heart-pounding apex through more than 11 quarters of Finals' basketball, before the certainty of a 3-0 series lead came crashing down.
Gone are Marquis Daniels, Adrian Griffin, Josh Powell and other role players. Gone were Devin Harris, DeSagana Diop and the already-retired Keith Van Horn in a deal to acquire Jason Kidd. Gone was Jerry Stackhouse as part of a four-team deal to bring Shawn Marion to Dallas. Josh Howard; gone in a move that returned Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood. And, most recently, Erick Dampier (and his expiring contract) was off to Charlotte for Tyson Chandler.
Other than the deal with Washington for Butler and Haywood, each move drew some level of criticism. "The Mavs outbid themselves with draft picks for Kidd,'' and "made the mistake of giving up a young up-and-coming point guard for one long past his prime.'' They "gave Shawn Marion too much money.'' They "failed to meet the high expectations on the return for Dampier.''
Yet, a far cry from that team who came up short in 2006, here they stand.
"This isn't the same team," Brendan Haywood said. "We've added a lot of different pieces. The only two guys off that 2006 team are basically Dirk and Jet. So, this is a totally different team and they're looking at things that happened to Mavs in the past. Maybe look at what we did present day, and that's why we're at this point. So many people have slept on us."
The roster had been overturned, but the team was still bound by many outsiders to the demons haunting the failures of the franchise's recent past. Unjustly, this roster was assigned labels they had not earned. They were given the name of their former.
Those Mavs were 2-16 in playoff games officiated by Danny Crawford from 2001 to 2010. These Mavs are now 2-0 this postseason with Crawford holding a whistle.
Perceptions promised that those Mavs were mentally frail, unable to shoulder the weight of added playoff pressure. Those Mavs would sink themselves after an improbable, and heartbreaking loss. These Mavs have proven to be remarkably resilient. When Brandon Roy proclaimed the reports of his demise to be premature and led the charge to erase a 23-point Dallas lead and steal Game 4 in Portland, the Mavericks responded by placing the Blazers squarely beneath their foot once more, closing out the series with consecutive wins.
Beginning with the collapse to the Heat in the finals, those Mavs were 2-18 on the road in the playoffs, including losing streaks of nine and then with the Game 4 letdown to Portland marking a run of eight straight. These Mavs responded by winning five in a row on the road, including taking every opportunity in Los Angeles and Oklahoma City.
That Jason Terry was prone to unraveling in the game's biggest moments, as likely to shoot his team out of a game than into one. This Terry has spread his wings and reminded us of who the Jet can be by having one of, if not the, best playoff run of his career. The 17.3 points he is averaging in the postseason is his highest since 2006. His field-goal and 3-point percentages are better than in any playoffs since 2005. His player efficiency rating is the highest of his postseason career.
Those not truly paying attention labeled yesterday's Dirk Nowitzki "soft" and incapable of carrying a team through the playoffs. He was deferential to a fault. Somehow his honesty gave his opponent the upper hand. This Dirk has turned those stubbornly clinging to their ill-conceived doubts into believers.
Recent Mavs were too old, too tangled in the haunts of their past to succeed. This team has demanded that age be labeled as a positive through experience and knowledge while slaying perceptions.
Three of four years, those Mavs fell in the first round. These have toppled the favored Blazers, the mighty Lakers and the dangerous Thunder.
And, here they stand … with demons strewn in silent insignificance around their feet.
For all the scars they've discarded, for all the haunts they have quieted, for all they've accomplished, another looms, towering above the rest; that collapse to Miami in 2006.
Atonement isn't granted to those who accept complacency. Indifference seldom breeds redemption. And change, change can either lead a team astray or deliver them to the shores of salvation.
Though drastically different paths, both of these teams have undergone severe transformations to come full circle and stand face to face once more, with only the other between them and their unwavering goal.
photos courtesy Dallas Mavericks