Mavs’ fans are faced with a daunting dilemma: Hand their trophy to a division rival across the Red River or their two-time Finals foes
It happened one year ago tonight.
Jason Terry made everything. Penetration by J.J. Barea. Blocks by Tyson Chandler. A big jumper by Ian Mahinmi. A missed LeBron James shot here and Dwyane Wade dribbling the ball off his foot there.
And, after a 1-of-12 start, two clinching, driving layups by Dirk Nowitzki. Thanks to a 105-95 victory over the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the 2011 NBA Finals, after 31 years the Dallas Mavericks were finally crowned as NBA champions. Enhanced by validation and revenge, a sweeter sports moment has never been tasted in the Metroplex.
A short 12 months later the memories are fresh, but the hold on the trophy is flimsy. And as the Mavs’ championship reign takes its final, wheezing gasps, their fans are left with this:
You wanna be shot? Or stabbed?
Handed a blindfold and a cigarette, the Mavericks can be executed by 3-time scoring champ Kevin Durant or 3-time Most Valuable Player James. While the Mavs scheme up ways to land free-agent guard Deron Williams and hurriedly return to relevance, Dallas-Fort Worth basketball fans are faced with a 2012 Finals of rooting for either Russell Westbrook’s scowl or Wade’s flops. They can hand their trophy to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Southwest Division foe that swept them out of the playoffs last month or the Heat, the bitter rivals they’ve twice battled in The Finals. It’s Sooner Country vs. South Beach. It’s omnipresent, overbearing moms on every sideline. It’s smug superstars wearing geek chic, punctuated by the most ridiculous fashion accessory of our lifetime: Lens-less glasses.
Let’s be honest: Vomit.
It’s not about who we want to see win. It’s all about who we most want to see lose.
Sour grapes notwithstanding, we’re in for an epic series between elite superstars and unprecedented athleticism. Will James finally cap his legendary career or will Durant merely break the seal on his? Can Oklahoma City’s Thabo Sefolosha contain Wade? Which Miami big man will attempt to stop Serge Ibaka? How long will it take Kendrick Perkins and Udonis Haslem to get their first double-technical for fighting?
And which mediocre head coach will actually lift a championship trophy, Erik Spoelstra or Scott Brooks?
The Thunder will win this series, because they are the only team in the NBA that can run as fast and jump as high as the Heat. OKC is 8-0 at Chesapeake Energy Arena, including the 99-98 Game 1 escape against the Mavs back on April 28 when Durant’s buzzer-beat quirkily caromed off the front rim and backboard before swishing through. The Thunder have it all: A pace-pusher in Westbrook. An All-Star closer in Durant. A prolific bench scorer in James Harden. Rugged interior defenders in Ibaka and Perkins. A zone-buster in Daequan Cook. And savvy veteran leadership in Derek Fisher.
To get to The Finals OKC has vanquished the Mavericks, Lakers and Spurs, a team that hadn’t lost in 50 days before dropping four straight. You eliminate Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan in succession, and you belong. To return to the The Finals, the Heat beat the Knicks, Pacers and Celtics, none of which could win a game or two off either the Spurs or Thunder.
The beauty of basketball is that – unlike other sports – its stars play both offense and defense, simultaneously. Baseball bills it as Yu Darvish vs. C.J. Wilson, but they’re never on the field together. Same with the NFL’s Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. But in the NBA Finals, Durant will guard LeBron and vice-versa.
Despite a combined 8 million Twitter followers, neither has Tweeted since May 1 in a show of mental focus and minimal distraction. This could be really, really good.
While Durant is in his first Finals, James is trying to prove he can succeed at the ultimate level at which he has twice failed miserably. In ’07 with the Cavaliers LeBron averaged 22 points on 36-percent shooting as Cleveland was swept by San Antonio. And last summer James shrank from the spotlight, scoring only 17 per game, including an 8-point debacle in a crucial Game 4 loss in Dallas. This, remember, from the arrogant star who took his talents to South Beach to win “not one, not two, not three … not seven” championships.
In his 9th season, he’s still waiting on No. 1. He’s 2-8 in The NBA Finals.
On the post-game podium a 365 nights ago in Miami Mavs’ coach Rick Carlisle addressed the Heat by saying “Their time will come, but now is our time.”
We’re not surprised it’s come down to the War of Weather: Thunder vs. Heat. When this lockout-shortened season began on Christmas Day, the Mavs were manhandled by the Heat at American Airlines Center. Four days later Dallas lost to the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Durant’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer. At the time the Mavs fell to 0-3. They never really recovered.
We can be bitter, but we also have to admit that the Thunder and Heat are better. So do you root for the team that beat you, or the team you beat?
Either way, the beginning of the Mavs’ end commences tonight.
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