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NBA Playoffs 2011: Mavericks Prepare For Conference Finals

These are exciting, unexpected times for your Dallas Mavericks. After ending the season looking like they were headed nowhere, the Mavs have overcome two difficult playoff opponents in the Blazers and the Lakers - both teams that were thought to offer matchups that Dallas would struggle to solve. 

Now they're in the conference finals. It's their fourth appearance in the third round, twice unsuccessful and the third time a charm. They first made this round in 1988, a third playoff matchup with the dynastic Lakers in five years. Their first ever trip to the playoffs in 1984 ended in the second round with a 4-1 loss. Another semifinal appearance against LA saw them in one more game but still go out in six. That 1988 conference final went seven games - the Mavericks' first seven game series - and ended with a fourth Lakers manhandling of Dallas in LA. After that series Dallas was 0-10 in LA in the playoffs, a trend they dispatched during this last series.

Their return to the conference finals came in 2003 under Don Nelson in their first 60-win season, as they had beaten Portland and Sacramento in seven. They had jumped out to a 3-0 lead on the Blazers but nearly became the first to blow that cushion. They then crossed the Kings hurdle that had tripped them in the same round the season before. The Spurs were too much for them in the conference finals, and they lost in six. 

Nelson's hand picked successor, Avery Johnson, brought them back in 2006 after another 60-win season and after they cleared the highest hurdle in franchise history in beating the defending champion Spurs in seven games in an epic semifinal matchup. They handled the Suns in six before blowing a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals and losing that in six. 

They hope that this time is different, but without Caron Butler and without Rodrigue Beaubois at full strength, they lack two key elements that would be useful against the younger and more athletic Thunder and Grizzlies. Likewise, they figure to miss those options in any matchup with the remaining Eastern Conference teams if they manage to make the Finals. They were thought to have serious matchup problems in each of the first two rounds, though, and Rick Carlisle was able to patch those holes and create mismatches that Portland and LA could not cover. 

The West finals are not likely to begin before Sunday and could be even later next week if Thunder-Grizzlies go seven games. Dallas will have home court in either case, so Games 1 and 2 will be in Dallas. The Mavericks announced Monday that tickets for those two games will go on sale at 10:00 a.m. CDT via the box office, phone and internet. They will go on sale via Ticketmaster at noon.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.