After an up-and-down regular season where they alternated stretches of dominant and mediocre play, the Mavericks championship last year shows that the NBA playoffs aren't pre-ordained.
History has a funny way of retrospectively creating the inevitable.
Most NBA teams don't come back from a 15-point deficit, in five minutes, against the best defensive team in the world to avoid an 0-2 hole in the Finals. Most don't do the exact same against the best offensive team in the world to avoid a Game 7. To me, the 2011-2012 season will always be the story of two 15's in 5; the thing that couldn't happen and finally did.
The finest Dallas team I've ever seen was the one that started last year. They won every statement game, they won on national TV, they crushed the bad teams and handily beat the good teams. And then, in a week, it all disappeared.
The number of times my brother and I said to each other something along the lines of "this is a good team but without Caron it's just not championship caliber" is probably 80 million. I mean, we said it a lot. No one wanted to hang out with us.
Dirk came back from his injury on January 15 last year, played 15 minutes in a loss, then 31 in a loss, then beat the Lakers, then 38 in a loss. "This is a good team," I said to my brother, "but..."
Well, you know.
Then, suddenly, the Mavericks ripped off a streak of 23 games where the 3 they lost were by one point each. Did I change my mind? Not really. Because while the early stages of that streak were impressive 5-10 point wins, by the mid-point of it Dallas was just kind of eking them out-or, in those 3 one-point games, not. The NBA, just like a given NBA game, is about runs, and the Mavericks' gas tank was low. They lost 5 of their next 7, and 4 in a row between the end of March and April 3.
Then it was go time.
We'll never really know, because you never really know. You know why the Mavericks won the first two games in the playoffs last year? Because Dirk was terrific, sure, but the major reason?
Jason Kidd took some shooting tips from Dirk, was super aggressive, and for two games-and only two games-it worked. He was 9-14 for 24 points in Game 1, 7-11 for 18 points in Game 2. Forget scoring, he hadn't attempted more than 10 shots in a game since January 1.
You want to bet on the Mavericks, who then lost two including losing an unloseable lead in Game 4, pulling the Portland series out if "Jason Kidd finds secret shot juice for two games only" hadn't happened and they had lost one of the first two?
Here's the thing. When two teams meet in the playoffs, they are both playing exactly as they are playing at that point. If the real Jason Terry is the one who's been hitting shots of late, then the Mavericks are a different team and they don't have to worry about who they were in February. They also don't have to worry about who the Oklahoma City Thunder are in February.
Of all playoffs, basketball is probably the fairest. Unlike football, you get enough games for it not to be a fluke. Unlike baseball, where a good but not great pitcher still ain't good at least 25% of the time, and a great batter still doesn't get a hit 65% of the time, everybody basically gets a chance to do what they do. That doesn't mean the victor is pre-determined.
Jason-Kidd-Shooting-Juice can happen. Brandon Roy coming back from the dead can happen. Terry and Peja combining for 15 of 16 shooting from three can happen, and LeBron and Wade catching fire from three against the Bulls can happen.
So if anybody tells you that you don't have to pay attention to anybody but the Thunder, the Heat, and the Bulls this year, that there are good teams that just "can't" win the championship this year, you ask them if they're from the future.
And if they're not, you ask them whether they're going to bother watching basketball the rest of the year.
And if they say yes, you tell ‘em, sounds like a good idea.
For more of Andy's coverage of the Mavericks, head over to Mavs Moneyball.