Posted Apr 29 2011 10:07AM
PORTLAND -- Growing up in the gigantic shadow cast by the Los Angeles Lakers in Southern California, what's next for the Dallas Mavericks is basically a dream come true for Tyson Chandler.
"I love it, I love it," the fiery Mavericks 7-footer said after the Mavericks finished off the Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden Thursday night to claim their first round playoff series 4-2. "I've been waiting on this all my life."
Few people would call a date in the Western Conference semifinals against the two-time defending NBA champion Lakers a dream come true. But these Mavericks are different. They are neither in awe of nor in fear of the Lakers, or any other team for that matter. Picked by many to succumb to the lower-seeded Blazers, the Mavericks played with a ruthless energy and unbridled confidence that helped them thwart every run the Blazers made to stave off elimination.
"We're such a confident team," Jason Terry said. "We have so many veteran guys, starting at the top with Jason [Kidd] on down to Dirk [Nowitzki], that we believe. Especially in close ballgames, we've been winning them all season long. So we're confident."
The Mavericks won with three staples their coach, Rick Carlisle, said would be crucial to their playoff success.
Timing, Guts and Will were the words he uttered after their Game 1 win.
Those words had to echo in the ears of his players Thursday night as they battled back from an early 12-point deficit to take a 52-43 halftime lead, an advantage that they never relinquished. They had to withstand a maniacal comeback effort led by Blazers' swingman Gerald Wallace, who played through back pain after halftime, finishing with 32 points and 12 rebounds in a losing effort. Nowitzki countered with 14 of his game-high 33 points in the fourth quarter. He also had 11 rebounds and four assists.
"We talked about it before, we talked about it during the game," Nowitzki said of the sense of urgency the Mavericks played with, "how we just had to keep fighting."
It was the sixth game in this series decided in the fourth quarter, and the first in 10 games the Mavericks and Blazers have played all season won by the road team.
The team capable of turning it up at the right time, gutting out those clutch minutes and being strong enough to will their way to a win earned it the hard way. And Game 6 was no different. The Blazers outscored the Mavericks 34-28 in the fourth quarter, but Nowitzki, with some timely offensive help from Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd, Terry and Jose Barea, helped the Mavericks push through.
It was the sort of performance that led Marion on an energetic postgame tirade about all that he and his NBA brethren have to deal with from critics, far and near, nit-picking their every move on and off the court.
He also made sure to remind anyone willing to listen that just because the Mavericks were written off by some -- losing in the first round of the playoffs in three of the past four years has a way of inspiring those sorts of things -- doesn't mean they give a ... "the word-he-used-wasn't-suitable-for-print" ... what any of their critics say. Since the start of the 2006 NBA Finals, which began the Mavericks' recent run of postseason futility, they'd gone just 2-18 on the road in the postseason.
"The playoffs are all about matchups," Marion said. "You could have the best record in the league and you can come up against a team that really causes bad matchups for you and what can you do? Do you put it on coaches? Do you put it on the players? If it's a bad matchup it's a bad matchup. It is what it is."
So how do these Mavericks match up against the Lakers, a team they haven't faced in the postseason since 1988?
"I think we match up very well with them," Marion said. "(Andrew) Bynum might be just a little taller than everybody else, otherwise ... but it's about our bench, pretty much, that's where we have to come in and our bench has to outwork theirs and we have to go out there and play. But this is going to be a good challenge. They are the defending champs and really, what more can you ask for?"
The Mavericks certainly are not asking anyone to join their bandwagon. When they blew that 23-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 4 against the Blazers, plenty of folks jumped off.
They didn't sulk. They didn't lose focus. They just kept grinding and won Game 5 to set up Thursday night's close-out game.
"I choose not to look back," Carlisle said when asked if he felt like that Game 4 loss was a character building exercise this team needed. "A big part of life is acceptance of your situation, whatever it is. You have to make the best of whatever is thrown your way. I'll tell you this ... walking into this place and playing a playoff game is no fun. This is the loudest place I've ever been, and I've been a lot of places in 27 years.
"For our guys to hang in and be able to win in this environment is really huge for us. To go through what we went through in Game 4, these things happen for a reason. But we feel our work has just begun."
Now comes a series dealing with Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson and the Lakers' mystique.
"Not a lot of people picked us to win this (Portland) series and not a lot of people are going to pick us to win the next series," Nowitzki said. "We're just going to go out there and keep competing, play smart and play off each other the way we have all season and we'll see what happens."
We shall see.
Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and the author of NBA.com's Hang Time blog. 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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