It is very easy for followers of the NBA--fans, journalists, even players and coaches--to get caught up in the moment and find themselves with a seriously skewed perception on things. This Mavs season is the perfect example. A mere week ago many Mavs fans were calling this a failed season and for Avery Johnson to be fired. This week, while the sentiment is still around, things are a lot calmer. Has that much changed? Is the tendency to kneejerk almost unavoidable? Well, one way to find a perspective is to look at what the expectations were at the beginning of the season and see if the Mavs have achieved them. Let's take a look at a handful of Mavs benchmarks and how we would have considered them looking ahead way back before game one.
1. The Mavs are four games behind San Antonio and 2 1/2 games behind Phoenix heading into the last few games of the season.
Assessment: No one would have really been surprised at all if informed of this result before the season started. It is slightly disappointing but certainly not a surprise. We knew Phoenix was strong, especially in the regular season, and that San Antonio were the returning champions, so this isn't really a surprise. Additionally, the overwhelming feeling heading into the season was that the regular season didn't count and that pushing for seeding would not be nearly as important as preparing for the playoffs.
2. The Mavs are five games behind New Orleans heading into the last few games of the season.
Assessment: This would have been a big surprise, and probably would have generated significant disappointment in Mavs fans. Certainly we would expect to be beaten out by a few games by Phoenix or San Antonio, but New Orleans?
3. The Mavs would win between 50 and 60 games.
Assessment: No surprise or disappointment. The 67 win season made such achievements hollow for Mavs fans. The overwhelming feeling in the preseason was that if the Mavs won 50+ games but were better prepared for the playoffs, things would be better than the 67 win out-in-round-one Mavs.
4. The Mavs would be three games from being out of the playoffs.
Assessment: Major surprise and concern about the Mavs if told this. Frankly, everyone underestimated the growth of teams like New Orleans and Los Angeles in the western conference. Still, even with teams being better, most Mavs fans would have been shocked to consider a Mavs team closer to out of the playoffs than the first seed.
5. The Mavs defense would be about the same, but the Mavs offense would be worse.
Assessment: Not a surprise. Coming into the season, the Mavs were focusing on adding size to the back court (Terry to the bench, etc.), while making Nowitzki's (and the team's) offense more versatile and difficult to shut down. A realistic take on this is that the Mavs would have lived with a small slide on their No. 2 offense if that offense turned out to be more consistent and hard to shut down, while the defense was better. The defense is arguably better right now, and the offense is definitely more versatile.
6. The Mavs would trade Devin Harris, Diop, and parts for Jason Kidd and parts.
Assessment: A surprise, but arguable whether it would have been perceived as positive or negative. My guess is that most people would have considered it a positive.
7. Dirk's game would improve in the second half of the season.
Assessment: Perhaps not a surprise after the press coverage of Dirk taking it easy in the off season, but certainly a positive development after the 67 win season where Dirk's game got worse as the year went along.
8. Dirk seriously sprains his ankle, but is back less than two weeks later.
Assessment: Not a suprise, but a real testament to the faith the fans have in Dirk's toughness. Note that Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins had a high ankle strain and was out for three months.
9. The Mavs would dominate at home and struggle on the road.
Assessment: Hard to say, but probably not a surprise if you look at past history. Excluding the spectacular 67 win season, the Mavs have had seasons where they have been much much stronger at home than on the road, a situation that is typical in the NBA, where home court advantage is tangible.
10. The Mavs would have a horrible record in tight games.
Assessment: A surprise due to the Mavs recent history of doing well in these games, but not a surprise if you listened to ESPN's John Hollinger, who pointed out how useless this stat is in his preseason team report that the Spurs were horrible in close games last year on their way to the championship.
If you took where the Mavs are RIGHT NOW and how the western conference has changed and then described it to a Mavs fan before the season started, my guess is that a vast majority of them would be looking at the team with a great deal of optimism. The only significant place where the Mavs are doing worse than a fan would reasonably expect is in their win-loss record and playoff seeding, but I contend that even that wouldn't have mattered to most Mavs fans before the season after being crushed by a first round playoff loss with the No. 1 seed.
In fact, the overall expectation heading into the year for most Mavs fans was probably something like this: "I don't care how the Mavs do in the regular season, as long as they make the playoffs and have a team that is better built for post-season success." While it is certainly arguable, it is also quite possible that the wishes of Mavs fans from before the season have come true.