It's Just Not The Same

Last summer was the zenith of every Dallas Maverick fan. All of us got to parade around, because for that time, we were the best team in the world to play basketball. Once the confetti was finally cleaned up, lockers cleaned out, and city streets cleared, the championship hangover began. I was wondering how long it would last. Quite frankly I held out a little hope that there would not be a season this year so that for another year I could say the phrase,"NBA champion Dallas Mavericks." Just when it seemed like there would be no season though, the players and owners managed to hammer out a deal to put the 2011-2012 NBA season into affect. It was at this time I should have realized it was time to get over the championship and get into this year's team, but I couldn't quite do it. As a Mavericks fan, and a sports fan of DFW that grew up after the Cowboys reign on top of the world, I haven't seen much success out of the teams that are close to me. Granted, the Dallas Stars did win the Stanley Cup, but I only remember my mother waking me up on the couch just in time to see the game winning goal that gave us Lord Stanley's Cup. I don't remember the journey the Stars took that post-season or went on throughout the year, I only remember that for that year, the Dallas
Stars were the best hockey team in the land. I've played basketball since I could walk, and I've followed the Mavericks ever since a little after then. I grew up (am growing up) with the Dallas Mavericks, and watching their season unfold last year into blossom into an NBA title was the most awesome thing as a sports fan I've ever witnessed. I guess that's why it has been so hard to get over last year's team. Every Mavericks team from here on out I will compare to the 2010-2011 world champion Dallas Mavericks

Once the streets were clear of the parade the players began to empty out their lockers and rest and relax for as long as they could until they got the call that the NBA would be a go the following year. Once the call was made the players began to come back and fill up their lockers again. The only problem is, not the whole team was filling up their lockers again. Peja Stojakovich retired after gaining his ring, DeShawn Stevenson was not re-signed, Corey Brewer was traded, J.J. Barea now plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves, and Tyson Chandler took his talents to Madison Square Garden. Chandler and Barea were key components on a world championship caliber team, but Mark Cuban decided he would go in a different direction. New additions to the Mavericks included Delonte West, Vince Carter, Brandon Wright, Yi Jianlian, to name a few. (No, i did not list Lamar Odom, because, frankly, he never showed up) I was heart broken Mark Cuban would break up a world championship team for these guys.

Mark Cuban basically let all the guys that needed new contracts walk so that in the upcoming off-season he would have a shot at landing both Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic and Derron Williams of the New Jersey (Brooklyn) Nets.It was tough to see these guys go. Two in particular. Bareea and Chandler. How could you not like J.J. Barea? Dude was 5'8" was driving the lane with a fearless attitude against guys over 7' tall. Chandler, on the other hand, was a warrior and was the center that we had been missing in Dallas for as long as I can remember. The Mavericks wouldn't be able to replace these guys. After looking at the roster the Mavs had for the upcoming season, I expected us to finish 6th or 7th in the West and probably get knocked out the first round to a much younger team.

Never has a Mavs team frustrated me so much than this year. They made such careless mistakes throughout the year, and they seemed, well, out of it. But, lets fast forward to where we are today. The Mavericks finished 7th overall and are playing the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs. The one team I didn't want to see. In order for the Mavericks to beat the Thunder I thought they would have to play perfect basketball, and even that would still leave the result in question. On paper it looked like a blowout. The young guns against a bunch of old guys. Surprisingly though, the Mavs have remained very competitive with the Thunder this series. Well, its not all that surprising actually, they played them very hard and had close games with them throughout the season. A few things stick out in the past two games though.

No production from the center position
Brendan Haywood is a back up center. That's just how it goes. He was great last year, because Tyson
Chandler started over him. no one expected Haywood to do anything with just being a back up, and he pretty much met expectations. He was a big body to bring in to keep Chandler out of trouble. Now though? Haywood is non-athletic center. Every time he touches the ball I cringe a bit in fear of what might happen next. The possibilities that role through my mind are dropping the ball, throwing it out-of-bounds, or going up soft to the rim. Now, I don't want Dwight Howard numbers from Haywood, but i want to know that he exists when he is in the game. Protect the paint, grab rebounds, finish strong. Tyson Chandler did those things. Ian Mahinmi is definite upgrade at center athletically, but I just don't know if he is ready for the big moment yet. At the moment though? i would trust him more than Haywood. The wild card in this situation though, is Brendan Wright. He might just be the most athletic guy on the team, and has been nicknamed the human exclamation point for two reasons, one being that he can produce brilliant highlights with flashy dunks, the other is that he looks like an exclamation point. I love Brendan Wright, but he isn't big enough to bang with some of the other big men in the league. Currently, the Mavericks have no real answer at the center position, and without it, it will be hard to move on in the playoffs.

Too Many Careless Mistakes
Sadly, the guy i think is at the root of all this should be the smartest guy on the team, Jason Kidd. Kidd is known for being a crafty veteran, which is good, because he's definitely not the quickest. The problem with him I've seen recently though, is that he does a lot of things out of character. he will throw a pass right to another defender, take a shot too quick, or pass to Haywood at the top of the key. The most annoying part of his game currently though, is that he is just scared as hell to shoot a lay-up. By my count, Kidd "attempted" three lay-ups tonight. Number one: Kidd finds himself under the goal underneath the rim with the corners covered, and throws the ball off the other side of the backboard. Number two: Kidd drives to the basket, throws the ball up, is fouled, and the ball miraculously goes through the net. Number three: Kidd leaves his feet under the basket under the basket, has no one to pass too, throws something up toward the rim which misses terribly, but is fouled in the act. The offense will open up significantly if someone will drive the ball to basket. J.J. Barea opened up last year's offense immensely with his driving ability. Other careless mistakes I've noticed are just situational errors by a veteran team who should know better. Errors like taking shots early in the shot clock that will be there later, not holding for the last shot,and not fouling in certain situations. These mistakes were not being made last year, well, they were, but not nearly this much.

Dirk Has No Help
I'll throw Jason terry in this too. Russel Westbrook is all over Jason Terry all game, and Dirk is hounded by three different people throughout the game that consistently mug him throughout the play. No one else is really stepping up to be the next option to break the game wide open. Down the stretch of the regular season Vince Carter was able to play this role fabulously. He hit clutch threes and had great drives to the basket. Last year this could have been Barea, Stevenson, Chandler, Marion, even Brewer. Marion hasn't gotten his game going, and Carter is trying to do too much and can't connect on his opportunities. Without that next guy it will be very difficult for the Mavs to beat the Thunder. Look at them, for example. Sure, there is Durant and Westbrook, but then there is also Harden, and Ibaka always makes his presence known on the defensive end. Marion is doing it on the defensive end making Durant hit tough shots, something he will do, but he is having a hard time producing on offense.

I can't help it, I miss last year's team. You always compare the new with the old. This is true for a lot of things in life, comparing what you had and what all that entailed, to what you have to work with currently. This Mavericks team is much different. One thing they have that is the same as last year's team though is their resiliency. Every time I want to turn off the game and play Xbox, because the game seems out of hand, they seem to crawl back into the game. To bring up another difference though, this Mavericks team can't finish. A team has hit a game-winner with ultimately no time remaining against the Mavericks six times. That's the most in the league by the way. They still have one of the best closers in the league in Dirk Nowitzki, but even he didn't hit all of his possible game-winners last year. If there's one new Dallas Maverick that I like the most it is
Delonte West. He goes out and plays his hardest and plays through anything. He gives you quality minutes as a very good defender, and a solid offensive player. Maybe he can be a guy the Mavs look at down the stretch and go with Kidd, Terry, West, Marion, and Nowitzki. As of right now though, the Mavericks just don't have enough to beat the Thunder.

I've come to grips that this Dallas Mavericks team isn't the same as last year. Last year's Dallas Mavericks were something really special. They were a team that I followed all throughout the season, and I had a feeling they could pull out every series. In the sports world its call "it" and last year, the Dallas Mavericks had "it" What ever that is, the Mavericks don't have it this year. I can't quite put my finger on it. Weather it is the lack of production from the center position, or the lack of third scoring threat, the Mavericks are missing a key component in this year's team. They won't be like last year's team. Although they have impressed me in this playoff run in being able to battle back into these games. i don't know if its still the hangover from last year or what, but if the ball bounces a few different ways the Dallas Mavericks are up 2-0 on the Oklahoma City Thunder. Maybe those balls bounce the Mavericks way back at the American Airlines Center. If so, they travel back up I-35 with the series tied at two games a piece. This team isn't my first love like last year's, but I still hold out a sliver a hope that they fix what is wrong and on their way back find "it" and defend their first ever title by once again becoming "The World Champion Dallas Mavericks"



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