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Waiting on the Mavs to fail

All season, the Mavs have heard predictions of demise. But they're still here.

Chris Covatta

Basketball happens at its own pace, but not fast enough for most of us. From the day we arrived in the pre-season rankings, and blinking stepped into the sun, the desire to know how it's going to turn out habitually metamorphoses into the desire to have known -- to have always known.

As protection against pain, it's not bad. There's still the disgusted "told ya" and "I guess it would have been nice to be surprised" but this is why many people are pessimists in the first place. It makes life easier.

And this is all fine, but what I generally ask of people is to be willing to test their hypotheses against events. That is, if you're going to start out with "the Mavs have no chance with X" and then it turns out they do, you consider changing your mind. I know a lot of you feel me.

Tomorrow may be the last day of the Mavs' season. In many ways, this has been foretold by the Delphic Oracle since the beginning. What can you do with a team with an aging Dirk, Vince Carter and Shawn Marion? And especially what can you do about all that when every guard the Mavs have played against has the extreme pleasure of figuring out what to do while being guarded by Ellis or Calderon funneling into, at best, Sam "often pretty decent and often really bad" Dalembert. What could possibly happen with that that's good?

But that...did not come true. The Mavs won 49 games. How many do they win if Wright and Harris are healthy all along? If it's three more, they're the sixth seed in the West, arguably the seventh best team in the league. If it's six more games, they're the fourth seed. Either way, eighth in the West is probably ninth in the league. N'est pas? Let's acknowledge it. The Mavs were really good -- not disappointing -- this year.

I don't blame anyone for thinking the Mavs were completely done in this first round series. It's likely that they, in fact, are. The Spurs were ridiculous this year. They won six more games than anyone, they scored 105.4 a game and allowed 97.6, they are a machine, the "adult" team. This beautiful Mavs team, a radial tire held together by duct tape, trying to make it the last block to home, is not that. They could surprise anyone who was surprise-able. But not the Spurs.

And then...they did.

If Vince Carter had not hit an unbelievable shot in game three, this series would now be over. Okay. If the Mavs hadn't lost a 10 point lead in the fourth quarter in game 1, the Mavs would now be up 3-2. Okay. If the Spurs hadn't had more points than the Mavericks had in three of five games so far, the series would be...

What you are seeing right now is what happens when basically the two best coaches in the league get to just stare at each other across a coffee table for days at a time. The Mavs are doing what they're doing despite less than 40% from both Monta and Dirk because of Rick. But Monta and Dirk are shooting less than 40% because of Gregg. The Spurs, whose crazy offense is more or less geared towards corner threes are getting 37% shooting from Marco Bellinelli, 31% from Patty Mills, 35% from Danny Green all despite the fact that all but one of those guys, Patty, IS in fact shooting lights out from three. The threes aren't there. Rick Carlisle has taken them away.

And yes, there are tradeoffs. It means that Manu is doing whatever he wants, that Tim is shooting 52%, that Tony is at 46%, Tiago at 63%, but the Mavs are almost surviving that, because the calculated risks that Rick is taking are keeping them in games. Last night, it meant a pick-and-roll defense so lazy, at one point Monta was actually sharing nachos with a fan in the front row while Tiago Splitter dunked.

All of the evidence suggests that the Mavericks continue to have a chance in this series. It's a hard thing to believe, but it is simply true. The only game where both teams didn't have to be super nervous with two minutes to go was the Mavs' 21-pt blowout in game 2. The Spurs have won by five, four, and six.

And yes, anything can happen tomorrow. Rick could decide that the pick-and-roll D was so gross, he's gotta pull men from the barricades and that might mean the three-point shooters going off. It may be that Dirk goes back to being Dirk from most of this series and not Dirk form the fourth quarter yesterday, and Monta goes back to being Monta from all but two games and Devin goes back to being Devin from all but two games and Vince doesn't score 30 to make it up for it. It may be a blowout.

But even that would not mean -- any more than the Mavs blowing out the Spurs in game 2 -- that the Mavs, as of right now, were NOT a serious threat to the San Antonio Spurs, the best team in the league this year. And if they do lose, they'll go into the offseason with maybe as little as 40 or 42 million in committed money (Monta + Jose + Brandan + Sam + Wayne + Shane + Ricky + Gal = $30 million, say Dirk re-signs for $9-10 million, Vince and Devin for near the minimum, Jae for something small, maybe you're talking $45-46 million). That would leave them $12 or $13 million to spend, in a year when not a lot of teams have money, and if they play it right next year's team could be pretty darn good.

But most importantly, if they do lose, they won't lose because it was always in the stars. They've earned that much. They will have had a terrific series, fought hard all the way, and didn't give an inch.

And if they don't, we'll see you on Sunday.