The Mavericks are 2.5 games out of the playoffs and are easily the hottest team in the Western Conference playoff chase. Ten day contract players are making MJ shrugs and the #teamtank t-shirt order is being canceled. Yet as the Mavericks surge in the Royal Rumble of the non-elite NBA Western teams, don’t forget: the grand prize is a one-on-one date with the Golden State Warriors and their 71-win pace.
Most of the 8th seed chasers are ignoring this pending obliteration as they focus on making it to the big stage, but I think having the Warriors waiting in the alley gives the Mavericks some extra push to make the playoffs. Here are four reasons why:
4. The big man tango
The Mavericks and Warriors essentially had an episode of Swapping Centers this summer. Has there ever been such a blatant swapping of big men from team to team? Here’s a fun stat: the players who made up 87 percent of the 2015-2016 Mavericks starts at center are making 94 percent of the 2016-2017 Warriors starts at center.
On the Mavericks’ side, Andrew Bogut has disappeared in a flame of predictable injuries right as Dirk made the basketball version of late career cornerback-to-safety move but Bogut’s still on the team (for now) and if the Mavericks make it to the playoffs, he’ll be up for a swat or two on his old friends.
And I’m sure Zaza will be good for a stiff screen or a sharp elbow.
3. Seth and Steph
You love a good sibling rivalry.
Is the world ready for Seth-Steph?
Yes, witness this Seth Curry crossover article. Both brothers have found their groove in 2017. Steph is doing MVP Steph things while Seth has averaged 19 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1.8 steals and 2.8 triples in his last five games. With Seth playing significant minutes and tightening his screws on a full-time starting role, the Currys will likely be covering each other if they should play against each other, not like those pseudo Peyton-Eli face-offs, making this a real brother vs brother contest. I can see the “when we were young, in the backyard” montages already.
2. The Ex Strikes Back
The last impression Warriors fans have of Harrison Barnes in a Warriors jersey is a 35/31/60 Finals shooting performance, where he shot a clankarious 5 of 32 from the field over the epic three game collapse. Quite unfairly, in some circles, a role player who averaged 11.7 points per game was being blamed for the 3-1 letup.
The Warriors rebounded from their heartbreak by signing Kevin Durant and his four scoring titles and, amidst the KD hype, Warriors nation barely made it to a “oh ur leaving?” text with the subtext being that they dodged a bullet with having to max out Barnes.
Barnes, initially seen as capitalizing Dallas’ bad free agent luck, quickly emerged as a legitimate max player and is now the worthy heir to Dirk’s power forward position. While no one will question the Warriors’ decision, Barnes’ blossoming is still a surprise to many and it would be extra sweet to display that growth in a playoff matchup against none other than his replacement, Kevin Durant.
1. 10 year anniversary of a horrible event
I’ll start by saying this: 2007 was as painful as 2006 for me as a Dirk fan. Part of it was the compound playoff pain interest factor but with the MVP award, Dirk was finally getting the league-wide respect he deserved for his year-in year-out consistency and efficiency. Except the We Believers gave the “not clutch, no defense” haters a shot of oxygen and they would try to asterisk Dirk’s hardware. Yet, it was only due to a silly mix of playing Erick Dampier significant minutes and Baron Davis half-court bank shots that narratives of Stephen Jackson being able to check Dirk 1-on-1 even existed.
And the first first-seed team to ever lose to an eight-seed team in a seven-game series was born.
Dirk accepted the award with class and honesty but the pain of two epic playoff disappointments made its way through the gracious stubbly exterior he showed at the press conference. I recall Cuban tearing up as he talked about Dirk. I remember the “I’ll appreciate this someday but right now everything still hurts.” speech. I didn’t forget this face:
The Mavericks are going to go for it with Yogi Ferrell in their rotation and a soon-to-be 39 years old Dirk at the five. The Warriors are going to be waiting there with their #1 record and potential pair of co-MVPs.
It will be hard to get there. It will be unlikely the odds bend for them. But underdog stories exist for a reason and we should actively root for this one.
Don’t stop believing.