Yesterday was a good day for Mavs fans. Not for those who actually watched the fourth quarter and had to be hospitalized for toxic shock syndrome, but technically speaking the Mavs won and the Jazz, Nuggets, and Rockets all lost.That gives them a game and a half on Houston and Denver (really 2.5 given the tiebreak) and 3 (4) against Utah with six games to go. If they win 2 of their next 3, against the Lakers, Jazz and Rockets, the odds that they make the playoffs after all go pretty well up. They'd really have to Portland-in-the-fourth-quarter it, after that.
That's the good news. The bad news is, I guess, sort of obvious.
As for the Mavs: Can they win the championship? Sure, why not. Dallas sports fans are in a particularly good position to know that the underwhelming San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series the last two years (AAAAAAAaaaaaa). Where there's a Dirk, there's a way.
But let's look at the lay of the land.
Here's one hand:
The more the Mavs scuffle with bad teams, the harder it is to shake the sensation that they're kind of a bad team. The wins against Sacramento and Golden State were convincing enough, a few good runs aside, and most of last night was pretty okay, but their last real statement win was March 17th against the Ginobili-less Spurs, and that was also the last time they had a winning streak of more than 3 games. And that was four. And that was the only win streak of more than ONE games since February 17th.
The offense, which has actually been sparkling the last two and a half games, still overall looks particularly bad, 20th in the league. The defense, still 8th overall, rarely looks like it at the end of quarters and sometimes looks so bad you have to assume the NBA is including statistics from Mavs practice games, and keeping the stats only for whoever's playing against Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Brendan Haywood. (Oh look! Here's Vince Carter trying another Dirk-like fadeaway! Hooray!)
Does this mean the Mavs are bad? I don't know. They look old, for sure. They never get a loose ball. They STILL can't stop throwing it away. And what used to be an automatic play, say a Dirk open 2 or a Terry open 3, is now sort of likely to clang. And last year, where so much of their success lay with passing it around the perimeter among a bunch of deadly three-point shooters (Terry, Kidd, Stevenson, Stojakovic), that's been whittled down to a worse Terry and Kidd, a relatively ineffective Vince Carter, and that's about it.
The other hand is this:
Yes, the Mavericks are less talented, offensively and defensively than they were last year. But, like the old warhorses that they are, the Mavs are FIGHTING. That's the good news. They knew they had to get three wins, they went out there and they did. Did you see Dirk when Golden State was trying to come back two games ago? Did you see that Magic game? The WILL is there. This is not a divided team, even with everybody's contract status up in the air. This is not a fractious team. This is a devoted team. Do you see Delonte dunking on a broken finger? They're not, right now, the most talented bunch. But they still have the eye of the tiger.
No, their bodies aren't responding like they did last year. Dirk hasn't gotten it stuck on automatic particularly often of late, and Terry hasn't gotten it stuck on "making some shots" particularly often. On the other hand, Shawn Marion is playing some of his basketball as a Maverick, especially as a rebounder ,and Kidd is the same as ever. Roddy Beaubois still hasn't taken that leap forward, but some games he's pretty damn good, and, unlooked for, Brandan Wright has (13+ in four of his last five). And the Mavs are in every game. Yes, they're just as capable of losing to the LaMarcus-less Blazers as they are of beating the LaMarcus Blazers. But they're just AS capable, is the point.
And the thing is, who in the West isn't flawed? What happens to the Clips in a close game when Griffin or DeAndre Jordan have to shoot free throws? What happens when Kobe tries to reassert himself in the playoffs over solid citizen and stand up gentleman Andrew Bynum? What happens with any Thunder players not named Durant, Westbrook or Harden? This thing is not sewed up.
And so my wish list for the Mavs going forward is as follows:
1) Above everything. Please, Mavericks. Please. Do not become one of the three teams in league history to win a championship then miss the playoffs. If you give me that, I'll hope for more, but Dayenu. Seriously. I know why you did what you did. It was a huge mistake. There's not much you can do with your cap space that would be better than Tyson Chandler, shooting something like 95% this year, and once again a candidate for DPOY. But, at all costs, give me this.
2) Win at least one playoff series! Hey, we all know what the score was this year. It's transition time. We have a championship. I for one am prepared to temper my pain with that remembrance, mixing memory and desire. I'm obviously going to hate it. But if they win a series at least, for pride, I certainly will sleep better.
3) Somehow, Mavericks, if you could manage to have not played your best ball yet---if Dirk and Terry can figure out what's going on with them as Kidd has, if Wright can keep getting a little better defensively, if Roddy's game can continue to inch along, if Delonte can work his way all the way back---well the truth is there are no non-flawed contenders in the West. So, if you really wanted to find a way to cohere as a team and a contender, right now, after your non-trade of Lamar Odom for the comforting reassurance that Lamar Odom is no longer here--none of us would mind, Mavericks.
That would be okay.