Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Melting Mavs

The Stanley Cup Finals finished Monday with Carolina winning a hard-fought seven-game series over a very worthy Edmonton squad. Hockey fans had waited two years for a new Stanley Cup champion to be crowned, and the small-market finalists did not disappoint.
Hockey's championship series did its sport proud. Then there's the NBA Finals.
More specifically, then there's the Dallas Mavericks, who are turning their first-ever championship series appearance into an embarrassing flameout that might rank as one of the worst playoff meltdowns in pro sports history with one more loss.
Since jumping out to a 2-0 series lead, the Mavs have become entangled in a bramble thicket of misconduct, both within and outside the rules of the game.
There was Dirk Notwitzki, who missed a free throw to lose a game, then booted the ball into the stands following Game 5, resulting in a $5,000 fine.
There was Jerry Stackhouse, suspended for Game 5 for putting a hit on Shaquille O'Neal.
There was coach Avery Johnson throwing temper tantrums.
There was Josh Howard, calling the Mavs' last timeout with 1.9 seconds left in Game 5. The timeout came between a pair of Dwyane Wade free throws, preventing the Mavs from advancing the ball to halfcourt.
And, of course, there was Mark Cuban, about to start World War III with the officials and getting slapped with a $250,000 fine.
This is so unlike the clean-cut Mavs, who were the good guys of North Texas sports.
Metroplex residents are used to moronic behavior in their sports teams, but usually it was Michael Irvin smoking crack or the Rangers signing their souls away for Alex Rodriguez. The Mavs were the entertaining, long-haired team that it was tough to root against, especially as the Lakers and Spurs kept racking up titles.
Now, with the chance to win a title of their own, the Mavs are blowing it in a way that makes them worse than any self-absorbed Shaq-Kobe Laker team that won a title.
At least those Lakers shut up and played when the ball went up. They had their squabbles on the practice court, but when the lights came on, it was all business.
Right now, the Mavs are showing such a blatant intolerance for adversity, it makes you wonder how they were able to take out the Spurs and Suns to get to this point. A Mavs team behaving like this would have been devoured by the Spurs.
Chalk it up to stage fright? A lack of preparation? Simply a nightmarish three-game set on the road?
The Mavs head home for Game 6 tonight facing elimination, but the key word there is "home." In a series between two teams with an equal number of strengths and flaws, the swing back to Central Time and homecourt might be enough to get the Mavs over the hump.
But the familiar surroundings around them won't do any good if they don't clear the garbage out inside their own heads. If they hit the floor tonight still seething over what transpired in the last three games, start engraving Wade's name on the MVP trophy at tipoff.
If the Mavs can't rebound and win this series, it would be such a waste. This shouldn't happen to a team that has been a model of perseverance, spending years fighting up the Western Conference playoff ladder to finally get their day in the Sun.
Once the Mavs topped the Spurs, they probably felt like they could beat anybody. Unfortunately, that might include themselves.

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