The Dallas Mavericks are in the Western Conference finals. Say it one more time. The Dallas Mavericks are in the Western Conference finals. Sunday’s absolute massacre of the top-seeded Phoenix Suns propelled Dallas to their first appearance in the final four since 2010-2011 and the fifth in franchise history. This season for the Mavericks has been nothing short of remarkable, and the team now sits just eight wins from a world championship.
At the end of last season, things were pretty darn low for the Mavs. They had just lost a series for the second year in a row to the Clippers, despite winning both games one and two on the road and taking a 17-point lead mere moments into game three. Dallas not only somehow blew that series, they proceeded to lose their general manager and longtime head coach. The Kristaps Porzingis situation was looking worse by the day, and without a first-round pick and limited cap flexibility, things looked pretty bleak.
Dallas hired Jason Kidd and Nico Harrison, and look where they are now. Reggie Bullock, Sterling Brown, Frank Ntilikina, and one salary-dump trade later, Dallas is one of four teams left standing. It wasn’t always like this throughout this season, however. Dallas got blitzed by the Hawks on opening night, and stumbled through a third and change of the season to a 16-18 record.
Keys to the Turnaround
For whatever reason, things just began clicking from there. Dallas’s defense under Jason Kidd and Sean Sweeney has been suffocating. Not once since the championship season did the Mavericks defend like this under Rick Carlisle and Jamahl Mosley. This entire staff comprising Kidd, Sweeney, Igor Kokoskov, and Jared Dudley has been absolutely fantastic. Jason Kidd’s philosophy of not calling timeouts every time the opposition makes a run has taught this group how to not get rattled, especially on the road.
“The previous coach would take timeouts (with opposing teams) on a 2-0 run or 4-0, I trust my guys to work through it… I trust those guys on the floor to do the right thing.” Jason Kidd on the management of calling timeouts.
Jalen Brunson, since January, has also cemented himself as one of the most coveted free agents in this year’s class.
“We beat a really good team, we beat a team that was supposed to go to the finals. Now we got to focus on the Warriors and what they bring to the table. Half way there.” Jalen Brunson stated after closing the series against Phoenix Suns.
Spencer Dinwiddie has been hot and cold, but has satisfied the need for a third shot creator that Porzingis simply wasn’t. Even with Tim Hardaway Jr. missing this entire run, Davis Bertans has replaced some of his shooting.
But perhaps the single most enjoyable part of this season has been the unprecedented level of trust and heart this team has. If you don’t believe it, simply watch the team bench for four quarters. Hardaway Jr. and Theo Pinson deserve sixth-man-of-the-year honors simply because of their spirit from the bench. That’s who these guys are. The Mavericks have opened a new volume of every sports cliche there ever was, but they truly apply to this team. Gritty, tough, resilient.
And, of course, there’s the Slovenian Sultan. The Balkan Brigadier. The Madrid Matador. Yes, of course, I’m talking about Bostjan Nachbar.
In reality, however, we’re talking about Luka Doncic, the best point guard in the NBA and the best player remaining in these playoffs. Doncic scored 35 points in game seven. That dropped his career scoring average in elimination games. Dirk Nowitzki is always going to be number one in Dallas lore, but even the biggest Nowitzki originalists know this is a different animal in Dallas. The Suns are an elite defensive team in every respect. They had nothing even resembling an answer for Doncic for seven straight games.
All told, this is going to go down as one of the most memorable Maverick teams ever. Reggie Bullock, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Maxi Kleber have been fantastic all postseason, and given what this team is doing on such a massive stage, Nico Harrison’s job is getting an awful lot easier.
Golden State will be favored on Wednesday night and throughout this series. They should be. They have the greatest shooter in history, championship experience, and home court advantage. But doubting this Mavericks team, as I myself am more guilty of than anybody, has proven to be playing with ogenj (fire in Slovenian).