Time is now for Mavericks
MIAMI — As each of the aging members of the Mavericks stepped onto the floor of AmericanAirlines Arena yesterday, it was a reminder that the Mavs are just as ravenous for an NBA title as the Heat are.
While Miami’s LeBron James is desperately seeking a crown in his eighth NBA season, Dallas’s Jason Kidd has played 17 without a ring, Dirk Nowitzki has logged nearly 1,000 games without reaching the pinnacle, and Shawn Marion spent postseason after postseason falling short of the Finals with the Suns.
The Mavericks unquestionably and understandably have been overshadowed in the story line of this season’s Finals, which begin tonight.
The Heat made it clear the day James committed to South Beach that they were chasing an NBA crown. It seems the sentiment in Miami is that the Heat are long suffering but in reality it’s a few individuals, such as James and Mike Bibby.
But the Mavericks, especially owner Mark Cuban, realize that whether their decade-long quest for excellence is a success will depend on the result of this Finals. A Dallas victory would cement the legacies of its veterans, who have excelled per sonally but been unfulfilled teamwise so far.
“This is [why] you put in the long hours in the summer and practice, everything in your career, to get to this stage,’’ said Marion, who will make his 87th postseason appearance tonight. “It’s going to be alive, and we are coming in here to shake up the world. We know our window for opportunity is closing. I just turned 33. J-Kidd is our oldest player and he’s almost 50 [actually 38]. We know that we’re not a young team. But we know how to play this game, and you gotta respect that.’’
While the title quest of Nowitzki has been well chronicled, Kidd made consecutive appearances in the Finals with the Nets in 2002 and 2003 and won just two games. He and John Stockton may be the greatest point guards never to lead their respective teams to titles.
“After those two I thought we were going to go on a roll in Jersey and make it three or four in a row,’’ Kidd said. “But teams change and the game changes in a sense. So once I got traded to Dallas [in 2008], I just knew that at some point, I thought it would be a lot sooner, that I would get back to the Finals. Sometimes things just don’t work out that way. You have great teams in this league like the Lakers and the Celtics and San Antonio, who were all winning championships. It didn’t work out.’’
Cuban took a calculated risk in reacquiring Kidd and signing the aging guard to a three-year contract extension, and did the same in trading for an apparently declining Marion in 2009. But those veterans, similar to the ones on the Celtics in 2008, were willing to accept different roles for the sake of team success.
Kidd is more of a distributor than scorer. Marion was a four-time All-Star but now he is more of a defensive stopper. The team still centers around Nowitzki, who has enjoyed a renaissance after the Mavericks lost four straight games to lose the 2006 Finals in six games to the Heat and then were stunned by the eighth-seeded Warriors in the first round the next season. An embarrassed Nowitzki barely had anything to say when he accepted his 2007 Most Valuable Player award after the elimination by Golden State.
The Mavericks poured money into their facilities and into perks for their players, and their high-profile owner appeared willing to do anything for that elusive title chemistry. His latest effort was to surround Nowitzki with experienced talent, players willing to sacrifice because they are starving for a championship.
“Well, I think the experience has been a major key for us, just because we’ve been through a lot,’’ Nowitzki said. “We’ve seen a lot in the playoffs. You know, I always say in the regular season you don’t want to get too high with the highs and too low with the lows. But in the playoffs, that’s even more the case. You can get a big win, but you kind of want to forget about it the next day and go back because you don’t want to lose the next game, the same with a loss.
“In the Portland series in Game 4, we blew a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter and came back in Game 5 and won a big game. Everybody said we were dead after [Game 4]. But we’re a bunch of veterans. We’ve seen it all in this league.’’
The only Maverick other than Nowitzki who endured the 2006 Finals collapse against the Heat is Jason Terry, the sharp-shooting vocal leader who tattooed the Lawrence O’Brien trophy on his right biceps during the preseason as motivation for his graybeard teammates. There was satisfaction in his voice as the series was about to begin.
“I think it’s important we continue to keep that mind frame and come out really focused in Game 1,’’ said Terry. “It’s a very important game for us. I think it comes from your veteran leadership. Guys realizing that the opportunity is now, guys realizing that this opportunity doesn’t come very often.
“The team we put together this season has been a special group. We felt that from Day 1.’’
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.