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05-30-2003, 10:02 AM
Dallas has reason to be proud
By Terry Brown
NBA Insider
Friday, May 30
Updated: May 30
10:41 AM ET

On Wednesday, October 30, 2002, the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Memphis Grizzlies, 119-108, to win the first of what would become a 14-game win-streak to start the season and eventually 60 in all to lead the league.

But, at that time, everyone was talking about the Lakers, the Kings and the Spurs.

On Thursday, May 29, 2003, the Dallas Mavericks lost to the San Antonio Spurs, 90-78, to be eliminated from the Western Conference Finals and end a postseason that saw them go 10-10.

But, this time, everyone is talking about the Dallas Mavericks.

"It's going to be hard to get back here," Nick Van Exel said in the LA Times. "We've got to be real with ourselves. Right here was a great opportunity to get to the Finals. L.A.'s going to be good next year. Sacramento's going to be good. San Antonio's going to be good. Minnesota's going to be good, Phoenix is going to be good. It's going to be tough to get to this position and we really let it slip away."

Many will say the Mavericks were lucky to get by the Portland Trail Blazers because of injuries to Derek Anderson and Scottie Pippen and Dale Davis. They will say that they were lucky to get by the Sacramento Kings because of an injury to Chris Webber.

Well, then those very same people should be saying the San Antonio Spurs were lucky to get by the Dallas Mavericks because of an injury to Dirk Nowitzki.

"We have a lot to be proud of," Steve Nash said in the Dallas Morning News. "But at the same time, we didn't realize our goal, and it hurts. We were so close to it [the NBA Finals], and to not realize it is disappointing. You'd like to think you'll be back here every year. But you never know."

And many will say the Dallas Mavericks are too weak across the frontline to return next season, they rely too much on the outside shot and don't play enough defense.

But those are the same people who don't realize that, even without their premier power forward, they outscored the Spurs, 36-34, in the paint, blocked twice as many shots as their opponents and nearly fought them to a draw on the boards, 44-42, only to lose because, of all things, the Spurs made twice as many three-pointers.

"I've never been more proud of a team," Maverick head coach Don Nelson said in the San Antonio Express News. "It's not the perfect team. We have holes in our team, but those guys played hard and they found ways to win. They found a way to blend together and become one. That is what you want your teams to do."

And many will point out the Mavericks have peaked, they've spent nearly all the money they possibly can already far exceeding the league's salary cap, they've traded all the players they can, and, with such a good regular season record, can't possibly get an impact player in the draft.

But they fail to point out that these same Mavericks have gone from 19 wins in 1999 to 40 to 53 to 60 this year. And, as Kevin Sherrington points out in the Morning News, six of the current Mavs have more than doubled the number of playoff games they had in their careers as this one team in one year has played nearly a quarter of postseason games in this franchise's history.

"The jewelry is all that matters," Van Exel said in the Dallas Morning News. "I thought it was a team of destiny early on, definitely. You don't just go 14-0 [to start the season] in the NBA. That's something special. I was telling guys this was our year. But we had to believe it. And we did."

And in the coming days, everyone will be talking about the San Antonio Spurs and New Jersey Nets, almost forgetting that, with one, maybe two weeks left in the entire 2003 NBA season, we were still talking about the Dallas Mavericks.