Posted Apr 2 2010 11:14AM
The dynasty that never was. If that's the legacy of these Mavericks, so be it.
"What we've done stands for itself," Mark Cuban said Thursday night while sweating to the Stairmaster. "Other teams have more championships, but there are a lot of teams that don't have 50-win seasons, either. It's something we're all proud of, but we realize it's not the ultimate goal."
What's been done in Dallas over the last decade deserves to be celebrated. Only three franchises in NBA history had strung at least 10 consecutive seasons of 50 victories togerther, before the Mavericks joined that select group Wednesday at Memphis.
Those other three squads stand among the all-time greats, with all-time great players leading the way. The Lakers went 12 straight years (1979-91) with 50 wins, winning five titles with Magic Jonson. Bill Russell and the Celtics won a staggering nine championships from 1958-68, while Tim Duncan and the Spurs were sized up for three rings during a current run that started in 1999.
The Mavericks, of course, have yet to taste the champagne. They've been to the Finals once, losing in historic fashion. The one on-court constant during what otherwise has been an unparalleled decade of success still burns at the shortcomings.
"I'd rather have a ring than have one 50-win season," Dirk Nowitzki said. "I'd rather trade that all, but unfortunately I can't."
That the Mavericks have been in position to contend for so long is a testament to many. Nowitzki, Cuban, general manager Donnie Nelson and the three coaches of the era certainly deserve credit for reversing the fortunes of the worst pro team of the 1990s.
"It's a tribute to ownership," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "The commitment that Mark Cuban has made to have good players, create a good environment and get a full building. It's work and it costs money. Not every owner is willing to do that. It's very meaningful from that standpoint."
Nowitzki has seen some close calls on the way to 50. Don Nelson's 2003-04 squad featuring Antawn Jamison and Antoine Walker needed a late push to reach 52. Avery Johnson's last team won 51 two years ago and Carlisle's first team hit 50 on the nose last season.
"Fifty wins is still special in this league," Nowitzki said. "I don't care who you are, 50 wins is definitely an achievement. Being a part of all these winning years is fun."
Stacking so many 50-win seasons on top of one another is hard work. Portland and Utah had playoff runs of at least 20 straight years end during the last decade, but neither franchise had a 50-game streak of more than five. (Utah's streak was broken by the last lockout.)
|Consecutive 50-win seasons|
|* Spurs need 5-3 or better finish to extend streak.|
** Mavericks currently 50-26.
Michael Jordan's Bulls (five straight 50-win seasons) and Larry Bird's Celtics (nine straight) never did it. LeBron James? The Cavaliers are currently up to two in a row. Still, while Dallas' run of near-excellence can't be brushed aside, the misses and collapses continue stand out.
The Mavs are going to be remembered for what they didn't do, as breath-taking highs are trumped by crushing setbacks. Up 2-0 in the 2006 Finals, Dallas lost four straight, collapsing like no team ever has on the biggest stage. Dallas went 67-15 the following season, easily the league's best record, before suffering an unprecedented first-round meltdown to eighth-seeded Golden State.
Somehow, those disappointments haven't derailed the 50-win train. Maybe this is Dallas' year to finally join those other three franchises as champions. The Mavericks, tied for the second-best record in the Western Conference, believe they have as good a shot as anyone.
"I don't think there is any team that's afraid of anyone else this year," Cuban said. "Everybody recognizes that the team playing the best, the team that gets the breaks is going to win it. Hopefully that's us."
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