I want to first say about this that when I expressed interest in writing this column, Kirk-friend, co-writer, luck dragon-volunteered to do research for it, unasked, and on his own personal time. So just assume the good parts of what follows are his research in action.
Like most Mavs fans, my Favorite Mavs Team Ever is the 2011 Mavericks.
But it isn't the team that won the title.
Not that that wasn't my Favorite Mavs Moment Ever, not that it isn't the single, indispensable moment of being a Mavs fan, not that it failed in any way to be fruit so surpassingly sweet that two years later I can taste no food, drink does not satisfy, etc.
But that team made me nervous, like all Mavs teams make me nervous. Like all Mavs teams prior to the last two years, it was very good and fairly flawed. It was as good a bet to win any game as anyone else, and as good a bet to lose one.
And it had that undeniably, not-all-that-charming Mavs quirk, that there was barely a game where the score before halfway through the fourth mattered. Up 15, down 15, it would be within two, about then. Always. World without end, amen.
I've never trusted a Mavs team.
Besides my Favorite Mavs Team Ever.
You know, you hear it all the time. There are fewer "letting Tyson Chandler Go" apologists then there were, now that the Mavs are, at best, going to be contenders by the end of Tyson's deal, having failed to secure any of the targets his acquisition would have blocked, but that doesn't stop people from saying that that Mavs run was a fluke, a quirk, a team getting hot at the right time that had no business, etc., etc.
Wrong. Objectively wrong. Dumb.
You know, I've said it a zillion times. The Mavs finished that season with 57 wins, tied with the Lakers, one behind Miami, four behind San Antonio, five behind Chicago. And they had a stretch of 10 games in which Dirk either didn't play or managed less than 15 minutes in which they went 2-8. All but two of those games were without Caron as well.
If they win half those games, which, given their winning percentage for the rest of season is lowballing it, they're one behind SA for first in the West, two behind Chicago for first in the league. And that's not taking into consideration the fact that they lost 3 of their next four after Dirk returned, while he worked his way back into shape.
If they "just got hot at the right time," that time was "2010-2011", which seems fine to me.
But here's the thing. Even though that team, without Caron, would go on to win 20 of its next 23 games, losing each of the three by one point, so three total points from a 23-game winning streak...it wasn't nearly as good as it had been before Caron went down for the season.
Because that team was a wrecking ball. That team was destroying people. That team was The Only Mavs Team I Never Worried About.
That team had a fourth quarter lineup that would come out and destroy you if it needed to. That team was beyond description. And it's too easy to forget.
How good was that team? It went 24-5 to start the season, which sounds impressive enough on its own, and then you learn that it was only 3-2 in its first five games, only 7-4 in its first 11. So between games 13 and 29, they went 17-1, the only loss coming on Dec. 13, against the Bucks, in which neither Tyson Chandler nor Brendan Haywood could stop Andrew Bogut from going 10-12 for 21 points with 14 boards to top it off.
But that's just Ws and Ls. You can look that up yourself, any time you want. Here's what you may not remember:
Chris Paul's Hornets started off that year dusting everybody. Started 8-0, taking down the Heat and the Spurs along the way. Then they played Dallas and lost. The Spurs started even hotter. They did lose to that Hornets team, but they didn't lost to anybody else for 14 games, going 13-1. Then they played Dallas, and lost.
The Heat were struggling to put it together, that year. They went 9-7 before coming to Dallas, but a loss there seemed to really ignite them, and they rattled off 12 wins in a row. Then they played Dallas again, this time in Miami. And lost.
I remember coming home to Dallas that year for Thanksgiving and it just so happened that it was that week the Mavericks really took off. I knew they were pretty good, but Mavericks teams had always been pretty good. They were 8-4 on November 20th, having just beaten the Hawks, but they had a murderous four games in five nights set up.
The first was against a poor Detroit team. But then it was OKC, day off, San Antonio, Miami.
They not only won every game, they won each game by more than the last. Found their stride against Detroit, finally breaking free for a four point win. Surged past OKC by 8. San Antonio by 9. Then the Heat by 11.
And what did they do against the best teams in the league, but when it was winning time, when it was the fourth quarter, they absolutely shut it down. With Caron, Marion, Chandler and DeShawn to throw at other teams, the defense choked the life out of, potentially, three of the greatest teams of all time (assuming the Durant-Westbrook Thunder eventually get some rings). Meanwhile, with those same guys plus Dirk and Terry to throw against their defenses , they absolutely blistered the court.
They outscored the Thunder 36-22 in the fourth, the Spurs 32-21 and the Heat...well. After winning the third quarter 31-17, leaving with an 82-66 edge, they sat Dirk and Terry with 8:30 left in the fourth and still won by 11.
In the fourth quarter of the 11 games they won in November, they had an OffRtg of 109.2 and a DefRtg of 93.6. They averaged 98.1 points to the other team's 93.9 and shot 47% as a team, 35% from three.
In the 11 games they won in December, it was 109 and 100.7. They shot 48%, 37% from three.
No one will ever know what would have happened if that team had stayed healthy. It's unlikely that Caron Butler, who never had before, would have kept up his December pace of 17 points on 48% shooting, 44% shooting from three. I always felt that he was really meshing with the offense, that he'd learned how to play off Dirk, but who knows. Certainly the three-point shooting was unsustainable.
After Dirk got back, they had a February even more impressive than previous months in terms of wins, losing only to Denver on a last-second Arron Afflalo shot, but they'd lost a step, especially defensively, averaging a DefRtg of 102.4 in the 11 games they won.
They struggled in March where, despite Dirk's 24.6 and 8, on 52% shooting, they came out of their 20 wins in 23 games streak to go 8-6 in the remainder of the month, and then lose the first three games of April.
On April 8th, they beat the Clippers 107-96, kicking off a four game stretch, to conclude the season, in which they scored 441 points and gave up 366. On April 13th, the last day of the regular season, they annihilated the Hornets 121-89, and the rest is history. That's where the "Getting Hot at the Right Time" myth comes from, their resurrection from a brief slump, at just the right moment.
But they began the season, they made it to late December, much hotter than they'd ever been before, much hotter than they would be even when they were holding the Larry O'Brien. From November 20th to the Day Dirk Went Down on December 27th, they won by an average of 8 points a game, taking down Atlanta, San Antonio, Miami twice and OKC twice, as well as Portland, their first round opponent.
They were an unstoppable, beautiful juggernaut. And even though what happened, in the end, was more beautiful even than that, I'll always remember them as the best Mavs team I ever saw.