Swag!

I want you to take yourself back two or three years from today, and get in that mindset of Dallas Maverick basketball. When Rick Carlisle first took over this Dallas team, they were still feeling the burn of a crushing defeat to the Miami Heat in the 2006 NBA Finals where Dwyane Wade, with the help of the officials, took a championship trophy away from Dallas by winning 4 straight games after Dallas had won the first two at home. The team, as well as their best player Dirk Nowitzki, was considered soft and if you were to push them around they would fold. This held true with bad defeats repeatedly in the first round of the playoffs after very successful regular seasons. They had a very bad reputation, mostly built under Don Nelson, to not play defense. Avery Johnson tried to change the philosophy but could only get so far. Now, I would like to bring you back to the present. The Dallas Mavericks today are a resilient team that does not give up. A team whose best player is able to play through a 102 degree fever and still have 21 points and a crucial go ahead basket to beat the best team money could assemble, the seemingly unstoppable trio of LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and, of course, Dwyane Wade. The Mavericks have won these games with, shockingly enough, great team defense. Even on a night where Nowitzki admittedly didn't play one of his better games, they were able to beat, what seems to be on a paper, one of the most prolific offensive tandems ever assembled. Two or three years ago the Mavericks seemed to shy away from the spotlight, and fade as pressure built on them. Times are completely different now, most notably because players such as Jason Terry and DeShawn Stevenson aren't afraid to speak their minds. Terry is a very confident player, but hasn't had much going for him so far this series. After not scoring in the 4th quarter of game 3, Terry was posed a question of how it was like getting the Derrick Rose treatment of having LeBron James cover him in crunch time, and not being able to do anything. Terry responded but saying that while James has played great defense on him in games one and three, he was able to get past him in game two, and would like to see if James could stay up with him throughout a 7 game series. Think about that statement for a while. Jason Terry, a player that wasn't really even considered in the sixth man of the year award discussion this year is wondering if arguably the best player in the NBA since Michael Jordan can stay up with HIM. Some might look at this as Terry opening his mouth, and possibly waking up the beast in a slumping LeBron James. When really, it is just part of who the Dallas Mavericks are this year. They have a certain swagger about them. A confidence that really hasn't been seen around this city for quite some time. Everyone on this veteran-laced Dallas Mavericks team is well aware of what is at stake this year. It doesn't hurt to have some confidence, or some swag going into what are possibly the last three games of the year. Stevenson's comments were brought into question when he was quoted as saying James "checked out" of game 4, when really those were Jim Rome's words and Stevenson simply answered the question by re-stating what Rome had said. Personally, I think this team is primed for a huge game tonight. Maybe that it just because I live in the Dallas area and the Mavericks have always been my team, but when I hear comments such as Dirk saying, "This is our game 7", it makes me believe that this team is for real. I don't know why the quotes are what I needed to fully believe this after the determination the Mavericks have shown throughout these Finals to never give up. So far this post-season they have six 4th quarter comebacks. They have only played 19 games so far this post-season. Out of Dallas' 14 post-season victories this post-season, six of them have been of the 4th quarter comeback variety. This is probably why a popular radio show on ESPN from 9-noon have nicknamed the Mavericks the #GloriousMiracleComebackBoys. A name that replaced the nickname of the #OneandDoneBoys. It doesn't really matter what you call these Mavericks, they are a different team, and a lot of the credit has to be given to coach Rick Carlisle. This is funny, because if the Mavericks didn’t get out of the first round against Portland there was speculation that Carlisle would be out as the Mavericks' head coach. I don't know how much of that holds true seeing as it was only speculation, but nevertheless Carlisle went from almost having no job, to being one of the most respected men in his profession. A lot of this team's swagger, or confidence, has come from Rick Carlisle. It has trickled down to the players and has been absorbed throughout the organization that this team expects to win no matter who they are playing. No longer is a Dallas team surprised to win a game or simply just, happy to be in the finals, they expect to win every game and every player is just as invested as the next to go out and get a ring. As the reality of a championship gets closer and closer one would think these Dallas Mavericks would eventually have to fold under all the pressure, after all, game 5 is a must win for the Mavericks if they expect to keep their title hopes alive. When asked about the pressure that is surrounding his team Rick Carlisle responded with, "We love pressure. The more the pressure is on, the better our team has functioned all year long. Bring it on." That quote right there speaks volumes to who this Dallas Mavericks team has become. They are no longer afraid of the spotlight, they are no longer soft, and they are no longer simply just an offensive team. Defenses throughout the post-season have thrown a multitude of different looks at all-star power forward Dirk Nowitzki, but he is still averaging 25 points and 10 rebounds throughout the playoffs. With a fever of 102 degrees Nowitzki, looking exhausted and drained of energy, was still able to lead his team in yet another 4th quarter comeback with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Yet, Nowitzki still takes a back seat in the national media to LeBron James who only managed 8 points and 9 rebounds, oh, and he was perfectly fine health wise. Nowitzki's performance should be compared to Michael Jordan's famous high fever game where managed 30+ points. Granted, Nowitzki's performance wasn't nearly as good as Jordan's statistically, the performances should still be compared much more than LeBron James' 8 points to any Michael Jordan game. Jordan's lowest point total in a playoff game was never below 20. It doesn't matter to Nowitzki though, who today said his fever was all gone and felt great going into today's shoot-a-round. James, on the other hand, stayed 30 minutes after practice on Wednesday to try and work out problems on his shot. It should be noted that Nowitzki stays after practice for hours on end working with his shooting coach, Hoelger, on his trademark one-legged fade-aways, amongst other shots that Nowitzki will need to be able to knock down in a pivotal game 5.

The national media is anything but a Dallas Mavericks fan. Most people outside of the state of Texas picked the Mavericks to lose to the Portland Trail Blazers in round one of the playoffs as a trendy upset pick. Especially after the Mavericks blew a huge 23 point lead everyone seemed to jump on the Portland bandwagon, but the Mavericks stayed calm, cool, and collected and rattled off 7 straight victories. 4 of those victories were a convincing sweep of the two-time defending world champion Los Angeles Lakers. Most people outside Texas picked the Lakers to sweep the Mavericks, most certainly not the other way around. Even when the Mavericks were up 3 games to nothing with a close out game 4 coming up in Dallas, people still believed this team would fall to the Lakers. They believed that if the Mavericks lost game 4 they would certainly go on to lose game 5 at the Staples Center. Umm...hello? They just came back from Staples and won...twice. Two games out of two games were Maverick victories, and now people think that they can't win there again? Well, anyway, Dallas went on to close out the Lakers in convincing fashion in a game where they set a record for 3-pointers made and caused tempers to flare from certain Lakers' players. After defeating the Lakers, the Mavericks went on to face the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Mavericks dropped game 2 at home to the Thunder, and the media thought for sure the Mavericks would be coming back home to Dallas down 3-1 since there was no way they would win in such a hostile environment like Oklahoma City. Well, it was the Dallas Mavericks coming back to Dallas with the 3-1 series lead beating the Thunder twice on their home-court, which included a miraculous comeback from 15 points down to defeat the young Oklahoma City Thunder team. The Mavericks then took game 5 and closed out the Thunder to advance to the Finals. Were they happy to make it to the finals? Of course. Were they satisfied? Of course not. Nowitzki reluctantly held up the Western Conference Trophy and then proceeded to leave the court for the locker room, which led to an ESPN sideline reporter standing around with no one to interview. Dallas knew what was ahead of them, and perhaps this was amplified by the powerful words of owner Mark Cuban to the remaining fans still in attendance at the American Airlines Center talking about winning the Western Conference and going to the Finals, "We aint done yet!" Dallas learned that they would have to face the dominant trio of the Miami heat in the Finals, the very team the Mavericks lost to in 2006. Once again, no one gave Dallas a chance, picking Miami to win in 4 or 5 games. Especially after a convincing Miami win in game 4, most people were saying the series was over. These people must not have watched these Dallas Mavericks; they must have the tape of the Mavericks from two or three years ago. Dallas went on to win game 2 by coming back from a 17 point deficit with 7:13 left to play in the 4th quarter. Acuscore, a website that predicts and gives percentages of outcomes to games based on a specific formula, gave the Mavericks a 0.5% chance of winning at this point. Not to mention Dirk Nowitzki was playing this game with a splint on his left middle-finger. Well, Dallas came all the way back and took game 2 in Miami, a place where the Heat hadn't lost all post-season, in dramatic fashion as Nowitzki laid in a finger roll off of his left hand to take the lead and accomplish a split going back to Dallas. Still, no love was given to the Dallas Mavericks saying that the Heat had everything to do with the Mavericks' victory and that it was more of a collapse than a comeback. Going into game three, Nowitzki had a jumper to put the game into overtime that wouldn't fall and the Heat took game 3. Now, 11 times before this has a series been tied at 1, and all 11 times the winner of game 3 has gone on to win the series. So series over for Dallas right? Wrong. Dirk delivered again in game 4, along with help from most notably Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler, and DeShawn Stevenson to tie the series up at 2. At this point in the series, whoever goes on to win game 5 has won the series 73% of the time. These Dallas Mavericks are a resilient bunch, and above all else do not shy away from pressure. Jason Terry hasn't been shooting great this series, but when asked about his shooting stroke commented that, "I know [the shots] are coming I'm not even concerned...eventually that dam is going to break and it’s going to be great for us." Center Tyson Chandler commented about the pressure saying that, "It’s just about who wants it more and who is willing to dig deep at this time of the year. I feel like we want it more." The Mavericks have certainly dug deep at other points in the playoffs, why not now? It seems the only way to get love from the media is to win. Especially against a team who has already started production of their championship DVD even before game 4. The Mavericks are truly like Rocky Balboa and the Heat seem to be the Ivan Drago of the series. No matter how much of a pounding the Mavericks take, they always bounce right back and believe they have a shot to win when nobody else does. Just like in Rocky IV, the tide will turn on the national media where they will be rooting for guys who weren't supposed to be here instead of the heavy favorite. No one sums up the rest of the season other than Dirk Nowitzki when he says, "We've got to grind it out. We've got a week left in the season...We've got to leave it all out there."

-Colby

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