- Karan Madhok / @hoopistani
Even though they were coming off a fairytale run that brought them their first NBA championship, the Dallas Mavericks were unable to bask in their glory as the new season started. First they lost JJ Barea and Tyson Chandler, two crucial cogs to the championship puzzle. And then, their best player and Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki seemed to be suffering through the worst individual season since his rookie year. The team as a whole, although remaining competitive in the West, seemed to be disappointing those who expected a more dominant start from the reigning champs.
But as the season progressed, the Mavs began to improve, and so did Nowitzki. Named to his 11th All Star Game as a reserve, Nowitzki finally began to show flashes of his All Star form. Championship contributors Jason Terry and Shawn Marion continued their consistent form and newcomers Vince Carter and Delonte West began to fit in seamlessly with the system. Over the past week, the champions began to play championship ball again, winning their last three games over impressive Western Conference competitors.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers had no answer for their former employee LeBron James and his superfriends, while the Lakers and the Celtics added another chapter to their storied rivalry.
Wednesday: Cavaliers @ Heat
It was a battle between Cleveland Past and Cleveland Future: two number one picks, picked eight years apart, going against each other. It was LeBron James, who was picked first by the Cavs in 2003, led them to several successful seasons before bolting away to Miami, versus Kyrie Irving, picked first in 2011, who has quickly become the top rookie of the new season. Irving, Jamison, Varejao, and the Cavs have been enjoying a great improvement compared to their first season in the post-LeBron era, but Miami’s stacked squad, one of the top teams in the East, was too much for them to handle. Although the Cavs made it a close game in the end, Dwyane Wade (26) and LeBron (24) made sure the game ended their way with a 107-91 victory.
Thursday: Mavericks @ Nuggets
The Nuggets have been quite a story, a team that has improved to among the elite despite losing their best player last season (Carmelo Anthony) via a trade and three other players (Wilson Chandler, Kenyon Martin, JR Smith) to China over the offseason. But even this deep and athletic team weren’t good enough to stop the savvy defending champs. Nowitzki scored 25 points to end the Mavs previous three-game losing streak and steal a 105-95 win in one of the toughest away arenas in the league.
Friday: Lakers @ Celtics
Decades of history, rivalry, great match-ups, and most recently, two memorable Finals encounters in 2008 and 2010 between these two sides: it seems the Lakers and the Celtics need each other as much as they hate each other. In a classic, tough encounter on the Boston floor, this game went into overtime after Pau Gasol’s lay-up, and Gasol once again came up clutch in the extra period as he blocked Ray Allen’s potential game winner to hand his side a memorable 88-87 win. Lakers got great contributions from Kobe Bryant (27), Gasol (25 and 14 rebounds) and Andrew Bynum (16 and 17).
Saturday: Thunder @ Jazz
The OKC Thunder, who currently hold the best record in the league, seemed to be suffering from a slight dip in form, losing their last game to the Kings and barely surviving for close wins in two wins before that. It seemed that they were more than over their hump this night: superstar Kevin Durant took a backseat to his start point guard, Russell Westbrook, who wreaked havoc on the Utah defenders for 28 points. The Thunder notched another impressive away win, 101-87, in their strong campaign this year.
Sunday: Trail Blazers @ Mavericks
Buoyed by his recent deserved call for his first ever All-Star Game, LaMarcus Aldridge came out to show and prove that he is definitely a star worth the label. The Blazers have mostly enjoyed a good season so far, and they took the Mavs as far as they could. Aldridge had a big night – 33 points and 12 rebounds - and his squad took the Mavs all the way to two overtime periods. The Finals MVP, Nowitzki, had been cold from his shooting stroke all night, and had even missed two potential game-winners in the regulation and first overtime period. But he finally hit the big shot in second OT, taking the game away from the visitors and handing his improving squad another victory, 97-94. Mavericks improved their record to 17-11.
… And the rest of the weekend
The real story of the week was the ‘Linsanity’ in New York, as forgotten backup point guard Jeremy Lin exploded for the New York Knicks, having five great games and leading the struggling Knicks to five straight wins, most of them without their stars Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. Meanwhile, the ageless San Antonio Spurs continued to do what they do best, as they won seven straight games, quietly and efficiently beating all their opponents.
On your TV sets this week:
Wed – Jazz @ Thunder, Thu – Nuggets @ Mavericks, Fri – Celtics @ Bulls, Sat – Heat @ Cavaliers, Sun – Spurs @ Clippers.