Saturday, September 29, 2007
NBA Preview: Teams I Should Care About - But Don't
Two teams transfixed us all when they met in the playoffs five months ago: Golden State and Dallas. In terms of pure entertainment, no series came close to matching the Warriors-Mavericks. In recent memory I can recount no matchup that brought so many high fives or frenetic group yells for two teams that essentially meant nothing to anybody in Boston. Golden State was that enticing to watch, and Dallas was equally well cast as "the team nobody actually likes."
Which brings me to this season. I am hardly thinking about either team. The Grizzlies excite me much more, for godsake. How and why did this happen? Any number of reasons, but the main one being that G.S.-Dal. last year was the perfect confluence of time, talent, and place. Dallas was going to power through almost any Western Conference team; G.S. was their kryptonite, and getting to see the Coliseum explode as Baron Davis led the most out of control good team in recent memory was a flashing glimpse of ecstasy. That series revealed the lofty side of Davis, Matt Barnes and particularly Stephen Jackson. It produced the NBA line of the year - "What makes us good is what makes us bad" - and it reminded us that as hard as David Stern comes down, the rawness of his players can still sometimes be magnificently displayed.
But needless to say the Warriors were handled by the Jazz the next round. And the point was made clear: lightning is spectacular when it hits, but don't expect it to hit again. On any given night the Warriors can beat anybody - but they can also lose to anybody. In many ways this makes them the perfect team to watch during the regular season - you will always get entertainment, though not necessarily good basketball. But what more can G.S. show us that they did not already perfectly proclaim to the world last year? Stephen Jackson cannot be that wild and that fantastic all of the time; it's impossible and we wouldn't want him to be, anyway. Neither can Davis, Barnes or anyone else. The paradox of the Warriors is that they have already given us their all, and what they achieve this year will be nothing unless they somehow outdo themselves and make it to the Finals.
Dallas, meanwhile, is just a boring team. Boring and effective. I have no doubt they will be near 60 or more wins again this year. During the regular season nobody keeps the machine oiled better than Avery Johnson. As it was last year, the Mavs will solely be judged by their playoff performance. This seems fully fair when your payroll is $85 million. But I don't know if it is fair on Johnson. It really helps to have a second star on your team, and try as he may Josh Howard is not that yet. Neither is Devin Harris, Jason Terry or Jerry Stackhouse. Therein lies the problem. While having an abundantly deep team with very solid players can lead you to tremendous regular season success, the playoffs are a different story. The postseason is when your stars step up, and Nowitzki does not have a Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili to assist him.
The irony is that the Mavs were a couple controversial calls away from winning the Finals anyway in 2006, even with Nowitzki as their only star. So maybe the Dallas formula can work. They play a refined, diligent, aggressive brand of basketball that is like bad vanilla ice cream going down. I hope they don't win it, because I always think an NBA champion should look better than the Mavs usually appear. Yet their success is rather extensive, and by having been through two straight heartbreaking playoff defeats, they are now as battle tested as any team. Don't be surprised if they sneak back into the Finals, as listless a thought as that may be.
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