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How do We Enjoy Basketball?

Here we are, friends. At, I think it’s fair to say, the lowest regular season point in the Dirk era. How do I know that? Because the Mavericks would have to go 9-0 the rest of the season to get a winning percentage equivalent to their usual 50+ win seasons. And other teams are better—even when the Mavs only won 52 games in 2003-2004, they were still 5th in the West, and only one other team was within four wins of them. Boy wouldn’t be that nice.

And so here we are. The Jet is sputtering. The big German keeps shooting 7 of 7 in the first half, 1-12 in the second, or 1-12 in the first and just not in the second, or only shooting three pointers well, or only hitting layups, depending on the game. Shawn Marion, who’s been rebounding the heck out of the ball of late, still seems to get half his rebounds from easy layups he misses.Roddy Beaubois is probably, definitively, not an impact player. Jason Kidd great-great grandkids think he might have lost a step or two. And of our three centers, only one scores, only one rebounds, and only one has the skills to be nearly mediocre at both.

This is not fun times, my peeps. But here’s the thing, which I’ve said time and time again. We are not enjoying basketball right, over here. It has more or less become unfashionable to do so. If a player needs to tell himself that the only thing that matters is winning a championship, and that the second that championship is won, the only thing that matters is the next championship, great. If Nike needs to sell that idea so that you and I buy the shoes that Kobe is wearing, rather than the ones Iguodala wears, great for them to.

It’s a really miserable way for the rest of us to watch sports.

Alright. So, at base, the Mavericks are a .500 team who had one good month, something I covered in my last column. Count on them to do that to us. It’s been great being a Mavs fan all these years because nearly every time you or I turned on a TV for over a decade, the Mavs won the game we were watching. However, it’s likely that no other team has had such a historic run of urinating on itself on national televsion or whenever the spotlight was particularly on them.

Why do you think, as late as last season, guys like Steve Kerr could say Pau was better than Dirk and have lots of people agree with him? It wasn’t his fault. The Mavs never played the Lakers in the playoffs before last year. People aren’t generally watching the Mavs either. They wanted to watch in 2006, and Referee Bennett Salvatore ruined my life. They were still willing to watch in 2007, but Avery Johnson ruined my life. I haven’t kept count, but my unofficial estimate is the Mavericks are something like 4-9 kazillion in games played on ESPN. That’s the Mavs. They’re great, but they don’t have prime time personality. ESPN is just another game to them. It’s a strength, too.

So, of course only the Mavericks could follow up a championship season by giving so many other people the opportunity to have ESPN commentators to say they beat the champs. In a way we kind of expected it. And it’s particularly bad because it really didn’t have to be this way. Since the best two centers in the NBA have spent the last month doing to their reputations what the Mavericks do to ESPN games (once again, self-urination), the best PACKAGE of center you could probably get right now is Tyson Chandler. The man certainly does not impact the game offensively like Bynum and Dwight, but he is shooting…what’s that? .675?...and scoring 11 which is twice what Haywood is, and he is grabbing 10 rebounds, and he shoots free throws well, and he defends the paint well, and he’s terrific in the clutch and he’s 29 years old, and last offseason he said "Mavericks, please sign me, I would like very much for you to sign me," and they said no. And it’s pretty hard, now, to imagine what the Mavericks are going to do with their cap space that would have been better than doing that.

That is so true, man. Like the most true. Still.

You can’t just watch for championships. It’s a miserable way to be alive. And believe me, I am writing this at least 80% because I am talking myself down. You can’t because they’re rare even for the best. LeBron still hasn’t won one, Wade shouldn’t have. Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard and Kevin Durant haven’t. Andre Iguodala’s never been close.

The top five scorers in the NBA right now have 5 NBA championship rings.

Because Kobe with his 5 NBA championship rings is on the list.

And yes, I recognize that if your team is not currently in a position to win a championship, what you do is, you trade away all your good players and play as poorly as you can, and still probably beat the Mavericks. And it still probably doesn’t matter. Because the only thing to do is to draft LeBron James, and then, presumably, also wait a decade. Or however long it takes.

It is, and I mean this with so much love, deranged to need all that to happen to enjoy basketball. And we as sports fans are, of course, a little deranged. I am, I would say, more guilty of this than many of you. Like many of you, I have an extremely busy schedule, and because of that, don’t often get a chance to watch non-Mavericks basketball games. Because of that, I am now at a point in my life where I am not enjoying basketball, as a whole, basically at all, because the Mavs have not been fun to watch for some months.

But are you going to tell me that last year’s championship, the ultimate redemption story, against the right opponent, in exactly the right way, doesn’t matter any more because this team now takes most of the first half to break double-figures? I don’t think you are. I don’t think I need to be telling myself.

Basketball is a game of ups and downs. This whole season is down, and after a championship season you and I deserved better. But, hey. We did get that championship, didn’t we? And it’s not like that’s it.

The Mavericks found a way to beat Houston twice, two crucial games. They found a way to beat Memphis once. That’s pretty impressive since they’re 10-13 since Feb 22nd. They hold tiebreakers over Denver, Houston and Phoenix which, considering they got it done in OT against the Rockets in that first game and were outscored 30-19 in the first quarter of the second, and were down to start the 4th against Memphis, and have managed to lose to—oh, I don’t know—Golden State, Sacramento, New Orleans, New Jersey—has to be considered pretty impressive?

Isn’t there something the littlest bit noble about a team relying on Vince Carter, Delonte West and Brendan Haywood fighting like this? They had no business winning that Orlando game. They were down 7 to start the third and 8 a few minutes in. They lost that Portland game and that Memphis one, but they had a huge surge to take the Portland game to OT and were down literally 29-10 after the first quarter against Memphis, and they made it a game.

Maybe there’s a level on which we can appreciate the fact that the heart of the champs is still champion heart, even though the body of the champs looks a bit like the cryptkeeper.

Look. The Mavs are not very good this year. You could blame it on a lot of things but the thing is, we definitely don’t know how much of this is reversible. Dirk has had some amazing games this season, but am I confident that he and Deron Williams, together, are all this team would need to make a run next year? No, definitely not. There’s a chance that the Dirk era Mavs will never be as good as they were last year, and that time has finally caught up.

But if so, they didn’t leave without a championship. I feel confident, knowing that the lockout was approaching, knowing the contract status of everybody, that you could easily find columns I wrote last year in which I said, I’m sure, a zillion times "this could be the end of the world, so if the Mavs are going to do it, it has to be now. And if they do, I’ll never complain about anything again."

Obviously, I will. And obviously, I have. And obviously, I never quite expected This team. But they did give us that, and they did give us memories.

And they still do have that heart. They still are playing hard. And still, nobody wants to face them, because there’s still nothing you can do about Dirk Werner Nowitzki, for however much longer that lasts, and still, for every four-point play Terry causes at the end of every quarter but the fourth, a Terry specialty, there’s a game-saving three-pointer. And still the Mavs find a way to make it close every game, even when they’ve got no business doing so, even when they don’t make it all the way back any more.

So here’s your team. It’s got the worst offensive point guard, possibly in the history of the world, and he hasn’t been able to play that much this season. Its second scorer is a guy who’s so crazy, he tattoed the Larry O’Brien trophy on his arm before the season and is currently talking about auditioning for 30 teams. What I guess you’d have to call its third scorer is a defensive ace who hasn’t been able to shut down the likes of Randy Foye or Raymond Felton of late (I know, probably not his responsibility most of the game. Still.) and is actually powering Richardson, Texas with the wind generated by his whiffed layups. Their fourth scorer is a guy who relies on athleticism, which has aged approximately as well as a Halloween pumpkin and whose current go-to move is a turnaround jumper in the post that no human being has ever seen go in.

This is a team whose big offseason pickup was a guy who was an integral part on two championship teams but apparently has forgotten how a basketball works entirely, and whose big offseason losses include the 3rd or 4th best defensive center in the league, a spark-plug scorer off the bench, the best three-point shooter of all time, and what Charles Barkley calls "the crazy guy".

This is a team that has failed to score 90 points 11 times in the last three months, last won a tip during the reign of Queen Cleopatra, and gets outrebounded three times out of every four games. This is a team that has lost games on buzzer-beating three-pointers by Kevin Durant (from about 35 feet), Chauncey Billups and Derek Fisher, each older and more decrepit than the last. They lost last night on a last seconder by LaMarcus Aldridge and needed to score 13 points in 4 minutes to lose to the New Jersey Nets by only one. They've missed significant time from everybody, and everybody's game goes in and out like a light-switch, day to day.

This is a team that’s been through some stuff. But they’re still pretty likely to make the playoffs in an absolutely stacked West, in a season where they only got to play Western conference teams, as opposed to the Bulls and Heat who spend most of their nights playing offseason zombies from The Walking Dead, and if they do, they’re going to be a tough out for anybody.

Maybe there’s a way we can learn to celebrate that. If we try real hard.