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Scott Howard-Cooper

The Mavs are striding with confidence as they play perhaps the best basketball of any team left in the playoffs.
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Debacle in Portland turned Mavs into a playoffs monster

Posted May 14 2011 11:11AM

DALLAS -- Exactly what changed, besides everything, is up for debate.

"We took a day off and celebrated Easter is what happened," coach Rick Carlisle said.

OK, so the calendar. That changed.

But there had to be something else. There had to be some supernatural force at work, some catapult that sent the Mavericks on a contender's path, some internal alarm clock that went off immediately after Brandon Roy did. Something.

It can't be a coincidence that Dallas went from surrendering a 2-0 series lead to the Trail Blazers, gagging on a 23-point lead with 13 minutes remaining in Game 4 in Portland, to tearing through the next six games. Of course something changed.

"It changed this team," center Tyson Chandler said.

The defeat did. Not because Game 4 was April 23, a Saturday, and the Mavericks flew back from Oregon in time for Easter at home the next day. Because the Mavericks flew back from Oregon.

"It was the long plane ride home of feeling defeat," Chandler said. "From Portland to Dallas is a long way. We had to play another game that we didn't need to. It was unnecessary."

It has to be more of a coincidence that this trip to the Western Conference finals came in the immediate aftermath of summoning memories of the old Mavs, the ones who lost the 2006 Finals to Miami in a historical collapse, who looked intimidated in losing to the 42-40 Warriors in '07 in one of the NBA's great playoff upsets, who hadn't made it out of the opening round in three of the last four seasons. Their turning-point Saturday in Portland that at first seemed to bring back the past was actually the impetus of the new future.

"Everybody knew where things were at," Carlisle said. "We just needed to circle the wagons and continue to play. We had done so many good things in Game 4. It wasn't a situation where you're trying to re-invent who you are or anything like that. It's just keeping the belief and knowing that, hey, we've got to win a home game and it was a chance to go back and it was unfinished business. But that's way in the past now. We've moved on. The important thing is, we've got to concentrate on what helps us play well."

Moved on?

That makes it sound as though the Mavericks have been solid. They've been more than solid.

The Mavs answered back at the Trail Blazers at the first opportunity, playing aggressive -- for all four quarters this time -- to score a 93-82 victory in Game 5 as Chandler set a franchise record with 13 offensive rebounds and had 20 boards and 14 points in all while Jason Kidd contributed 14 assists.

Dallas then responded to the first chance at clinching by winning Game 6 on the road 103-96 as Dirk Nowitzki had 33 points and 11 rebounds.

That led right into two more away from home, against the Lakers no less, with the two-time defending champions seeming to have reclaimed their swagger in eliminating the persistent Hornets. Los Angeles needed only a little more than the first half of the first game to build a 16-point lead and take control of the series. Or so it seemed. The Mavericks got off that mat too with a forceful last two quarters to win 96-94.

Game 2 was a 93-81 victory, Game 3 a 98-92 decision as Dallas again showed more composure down the stretch than the former champions.

Finally, the dismantling, the ultimate display of perimeter firepower, the 122-86 rout that sent the Mavericks to the West final and the Lakers into a rare humbled offseason.

Six victories in a row, most with fourth-quarter execution, all without the defense giving up more than 96 points, and three on the road. All since the intersection April 23 against the Trail Blazers.

"We were playing pretty good," Kidd said. "We were playing good in Game 3 and 4 in Portland. The Game 4, we let it get away from us. That's just something that a team goes through. You can go either way. We could easily have folded tent and had a little hangover. But we didn't. We pushed forward.

"It was maybe an embarrassing moment for us, which helped us understand that we can't just let one guy beat us when we have that type of lead. We've got to be able to do something different. I think that just put us on call. I think we just started to focus a little bit more."

And win a lot more. That's what changed most of all.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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