History in the Making?
Posted Mar 28 2007 11:52AM
The Mavericks can't match 72 wins, but Dallas could make history
SECAUCUS, NJ, March 27, 2007 -- Allow us to say this as simply as we can: we shouldn't be writing this article. At least not after the way the Dallas Mavericks started their 2006-07 season.
No, we didn't think we'd be here just after spring had sprung speculating about the Mavericks' possibly winning 70 games this season. There could be no possible way that Dallas could win 70 after starting the season 0-4.
That's right. The defending Western Conference champs spotted themselves a four-game hole out of the blocks. And this from a team who excruciatingly lost four straight games in the 2006 Finals after winning the first two. This made for a crazy eight losses in a row. People were talking about a Finals hangover and how the Mavs didn't make any major moves to help themselves. The word fluke hung like a dark cloud above conversations about them.
Yet even after the Clippers drummed the Mavs by 18 to send Dallas to 0-4, owner Mark Cuban publicly showed a stiff upper lip. "We're just not cohesive yet as a team and we're not hitting our open shots,'' Cuban said. "We just haven't gotten off to a good start, but there's 78 more games and that's all that matters.
"You never like to lose, but I'm not worried about this team.''
But 70 wins? Not a chance. No way. People worried if the Mavs could win their division. Who knew we'd be sitting here, deep in March, examining a team that has gone a blistering 59-7 (.894 winning percentage) since their initial 192 minutes of season opening (season-opening) hell?
I thought not.
Still, there's no way we can compare this year's Mavs with the greatest team of all time, the 1995-96 Bulls, can we? Those Bulls, who went 72-10, are the greatest team of all time, right? Even Jordan said, "Anyone else win 72 games?" after someone asked him if the Bulls could be called the best ever. After all, these Mavs have 11 losses. They can't even match the Bulls' 72 wins. The point is moot.
Wait, 59-7. Where have I seen that before? Oh, right, the 1995-96 Bulls started the season 59-7 after they stomped the Kings by 22, 89-67. That's a comparable stretch. Based on opponent's winning percentage, you could even argue the Mavs' 59-7 (.489) has been more impressive than Chicago's (.477).
Heretic! I know. Fun isn't it? Hmm ... where else can we blaspheme?
Michael Jordan won an MVP in '95-96, Dirk's a leading candidate this season. Phil Jackson won Coach of the Year. How could you not give it to Avery Johnson for an unprecedented second consecutive season if his team gets 70 wins? As for Sixth Man, Jerry Stackhouse has performed as ably as Toni Kukoc did when he was given the Sixth Man Award.
That's just on the court. What about the psychological postseason parallels between the two teams?
Before Jordan made the 1995-96 season his personal mission to put the rest of the league in its proper place, he failed miserably in the Playoffs the year before. Yes, Jordan, who returned halfway through the 1994-95 season, saw his Bulls bow out in the Eastern Conference semifinals 4-2 to the upstart Orlando Magic. What was the most indelible image of that series? Nick Anderson picking Jordan's pocket at the end of Game 1. Jordan, whose only weakness we had seen prior to that was his ability or inability to hit a curveball, seemed altogether human.
He spent the next three seasons, and specifically 1995-96, proving he was more than a mere mortal.
Could a similar postseason failure be pushing the Mavericks this season? After all, they led the Finals 2-0 and Game 3 by 13 points with 6:34 left in the game. They had a 3-0 lead in their sights and they let the Finals slip away. Excruciating. When they started 0-4, did the Mavericks have nightmares and flashbacks about what could have been, about the chance they lost just months before?
More than likely. It seems that's when the Mavericks woke up and decided, no more. I think 59 wins in 66 games attests to that.
And what does history say about a team that wins at least 65 games in a season? A title is virtually guaranteed. Only the 1972-73 Celtics, with an amazing 68 wins, didn't grab the brass ring:
* Including games played on March 27, 2007, the Dallas Mavericks are on pace to win 68 games this season.
Despite our comparisons above, can we truly mention them in the same breath as those seemingly unbeatable Bulls? Right now, no. The Mavs have been impressive, but they still have doubters, especially about their chances for postseason success against a stacked Western Conference that includes the Suns, Spurs, Rockets and Jazz. In 1995-96, no one really doubted the Bulls. They had a gravity, a sense of inevitability about them. They had Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and one of the best supporting casts in NBA history.
But if the Mavs can go 11-1 in their last 12, if they can get through the West and if they can take their first Finals, we can open up this discussion once again.
And won't that be fun?