Dream season ends in nightmare for Mavericks, Nowitzki Print
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Friday, 04 May 2007 10:29
NBA Headline News

 DALLAS (AP) -The wins, the streaks, maybe even the MVP award - they're all meaningless now to the Dallas Mavericks.
The only things anyone will remember about their 2006-07 season is colossal failure and how little Dirk Nowitzki did to prevent it.
Dallas didn't merely fail to win a championship. The Mavs didn't even get out of the first round, making it two straight embarrassing playoff exits, both featuring Nowitzki more as a bystander than a difference maker.
``It's not like last year in the finals, which was very painful,'' owner Mark Cuban said after Golden State eliminated Dallas late Thursday night. ``It's the first round and we couldn't get it done. We'll move on.''
OK. But in what direction?
Cuban maintains ``we're not going to blow everything up,'' so don't look for anything drastic such as trading Nowitzki or firing coach Avery Johnson.
Still, something has to be done to find the guy or guys who can prevent meltdowns - such as letting a 42-win team oust a 67-win club, and blowing a 2-0 lead in the finals.
``We just didn't have the energy, we just didn't have the concentration,'' Johnson said, describing the Golden State series in a way that also sums up Dallas' loss to Miami in last year's finals. ``What bothers me more than anything, we just didn't have the confidence. And we just got rattled, and that's not good.''
The Mavericks won the most games in franchise history and might have had more victories if Johnson hadn't backed off after clinching the league's best record. They still lost only 11 times after an 0-4 start.
They did it with a roster designed to win in a variety of ways. That's how they strung together streaks of 12 and 13 wins in a row, then a franchise-best 17-game run. No other NBA team ever has had three streaks of at least 12 straight wins in a season.
Nowitzki was the best player on the best team, earning the first All-Star game start by a Dallas player and likely earning him the MVP award in a few weeks. If so, it'll be the first for someone knocked out in the opening round of the playoffs since Houston's Moses Malone 25 years ago.
Against Golden State's smaller lineup, Nowitzki was uncomfortable from the start and never found a groove. He dazzled the last 3:20 of Game 5, but Game 6 already was a lost cause by the time he made his second shot.
``You play your heart out for six, seven months, you win 67 games, and it really means nothing at this point,'' Nowitzki said. ``This is tough to swallow.''
The Warriors series may have helped the Mavericks plot their offseason plans by confirming one suspicion (Nowitzki's lack of leadership) and exposing several weaknesses: the lack of a forceful personality, the need for low-post scoring and the absence of a true playmaker, someone who can create his own shot or set up everyone else. Dallas fans agonizingly know the point-guard prototypes - Baron Davis and Steve Nash.
Once the Mavs figure out who they want to inject new life into their club, they'll have to figure out how to get him.
Free agency won't be the answer. Dallas already is over the salary cap, even with the big contracts of Jerry Stackhouse and Austin Croshere expiring. The Mavericks are likely to try keeping Stackhouse; it would be quite an indictment of the franchise if he opts to go elsewhere.
So for Dallas to shake things up, it'll have to be through a trade.
Dealing Nowitzki would be a bigger shocker than losing to Golden State. Giving up Josh Howard, their only other All-Star, would be a surprise, too, although it takes something to get something. Devin Harris and DeSagana Diop also could be trade bait, but their youth and relatively cheap contracts are also reasons to keep them.
``I like the way we've put this team together,'' Cuban said before Game 5. ``This is not a team where you need a lot of changes.''
Before fans and NBA historians write off this team as underachievers, remember that the Warriors were the only team the Mavs never beat this regular season. In fact, had Dallas won any of the three meetings, Golden State wouldn't have made the playoffs. So there's a good chance the Mavericks would be waiting for the Utah-Houston winner right now had anyone else landed the No. 8 seed.
For many reasons, Dallas simply was a bad fit against Golden State, setting the stage for one of the biggest upsets in NBA playoff history.
Statistically, it already is because of the 25-game disparity in regular-season records. But the Warriors have been playing so well since pairing a healthy Davis with Stephen Jackson that a long playoff run is possible. That might let the Mavs off history's hook, at least enough for the dubious distinction of ``biggest upset'' to remain with the 1994 Seattle SuperSonics, the first No. 1 seed to go down in the opening round.
Cuban was quick to point out a postscript on those Sonics shortly after his team joined them in the record books.
``Two years later,'' he said, ``Seattle was in the finals.''
 

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