There is something poetic in the fact that the Mavericks call Texas home. Yes I realise that their very name is a reference to the Wild West heritage of the state, but the parallels run way deeper than that.
They may not be outlaws, but they are a posse of misfits and (apparent) has-beens, assembled around an aging sharpshooter who is not too far removed from riding off into the sunset.
Last summer, when DeAndre Jordan yellowed out on his handshake deal with owner Mark Cuban, the Mavs were hotly tipped to disappear down the Western Conference standings quicker than someone being hit with a chair in a saloon brawl. But somehow we found them moseying on into the post-season for the 15th time in 16 years.
It’s not just Jordan that Dallas have failed to corral. After their Championship in 2011, the Mavs tried to entice Deron Williams (when he was considered elite), Dwight Howard and Chris Paul without success.
The closest the Mavs have got to star free-agent has been Wes Matthews who, though no slouch, is still recovering the torn Achilles that ended his time in Portland.
However, whilst Dallas have failed to land a star, and this has clearly hindered their ability to get back to a Finals, they still remain a consistent presence in the top half of the NBA’s tougher conference. Largely down to one man.
The Dunking Deutschman
Amazingly, despite being in his 18th season and at the grand old age of 37, this team still belongs to Dirk Nowitizki.
Understandably, given his advanced years, Dirk’s stats are not what they used to be. His averages of 18.3 points per game, 6.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists are all below his career averages, and his court speed is, well, slow.
But the big German is still a dangerous weapon and a dead-eye scorer. Though ultimately falling short, he flirted with the fabled 50-40-90 club again this year (having previously gained entry in 2006-07) finishing with 44.8% from the field, 36.8% from three and 89.3% from the line.
His lethal efficiency sees him hold the sixth spot on the NBA’s All-Time Scorers list, behind Wilt, MJ, Kobe, Karl Malone and, at the top, Kareem. Some elite company indeed.
Dirk has previously said he wants to play for 20 years. If he does, and plays the full 82 over both seasons, he only needs to just average 12 points to overtake Wilt. If he averaged a little over 17, he would finish higher than MJ. That’s food for thought as to how good this guy has been throughout his career.
But Dirk is no longer able to do this by himself. Let’s face it, no one man is. The Mavs are a team, who share the load in order to get a win. That’s why out of the blue, we saw a 21 point, 11 rebound and 3 assist game from oft-forgotten backup guard Raymond Felton.
I had the pleasure of listening to Nowitzki talk on a global media call last week. The big man had this to say about explaining the obstacles, motivations and keys to Dallas’ success this year:
“I think we had some injury problems, but we fought through them. Every time somebody goes down, another teammate has to step in and fill that role and compete and play well…
"We have one of the best coaches in the league. He motivates us every night. He puts us in position to succeed with the game plan. If we execute it, we usually are in pretty good position to win the game. And, just guys have played well.
"I think Deron Williams coming over from Brooklyn; not knowing, had two ankle surgeries the last two years. And he had a great year for us. I think Wesley Matthews came back from a tough, tough Achilles injury and has played really, really well in parts and lately he's been great.
"Zaza Pachulia has been a find for us after the whole DeAndre Jordan debacle last summer. We didn't know who was going to start for us at center and we traded for Zaza. And he's played a really solid year for us on both ends of the floor.
"So, I think we just had a bunch of guys play well at right times. J.J. Barea has been on fire for us for weeks now.
So, it's just been certain guys stepping up at the right time for us to make the run here in the playoffs. This is always the most exciting time of the year.”
Good, but not good enough
The Mavs find themselves with the misfortune of facing off against OKC in the first round of the playoffs. Let’s face it, this squad would struggle against any of the top four seeds.
Rick Carlisle does an incredible job but, already down 3-1, three straight wins seems unlikely at best.
So how do you get an aging team to the Playoffs? Truth be told, with ease it appears. Dallas are one of only three teams with an average team age of over 30 (30.3 to be precise). The other two are Memphis and San Antonio. In fact of the top ten oldest teams in the NBA, nine are in the playoffs.
Maybe then, it’s veteran savvy that is keeping the Mavericks afloat. A wealth of NBA experience and an understanding of the game on an intellectual level.
There are certainly smarts on this team, their 12.8 turnovers per game is good enough for second best in the league. But the Mavericks are not the zipping the ball around like the Spurs. Their assist ratio of 12.4 per 100 possessions is the second lowest in the league, suggesting a heavy reliance on isolation ball.
There is no chance that these Mavs beat the Thunder, well there was a 7.1% going into Saturday night’s game four loss. The championship window in Dallas is closing swiftly and in order for the franchise to hang with the upper echelons of the Western Conference, they need to get quicker and more athletic (so younger then). But that’s hard to do when nobody wants to move there.
So why doesn’t anyone want to go to Dallas? Which brings us back to Dirk. He hasn’t chased players out of town, like a certain recently retired Laker, but the huge shadow Nowitzki has cast upon the franchise must be off putting for prospective players.
Here is a guy who was almost written off as a rookie. Who revolutionised the role of the big man. Who reinvigorated a flailing franchise and delivered them their only title. Who selflessly left money on the table, to allow the front office to build a better roster. How do you follow that?
Maybe that’s it. Maybe Dirk’s sacrifice, loyalty and all time greatness has created a legacy that no player has the hopes of matching, let alone surpassing. Unorthodox. Unconventional. Trendsetter. Maverick.