After watching Game 1 of the Western Conference Semis a few things became clear.
For starters, these are not Avery Johnson’s Mavericks. Those Mavs were their own worst enemy. They were unaccountable, usually blaming their shortcomings on poor officiating or some other uncontrollable variable. They were soft. They played without passion and they had no resolve.
These Mavs, the Rick Carlisle edition, couldn’t be anymore opposite of those Mavs.
These Mavericks hold each other accountable and play as a cohesive unit. These Mavs don’t cower in the face of adversity. These Mavs play with pride.
Make no mistake, these Mavs are title contenders.
Something else became very clear in Game 1 as well.
The Los Angeles Lakers are no longer in control of their own destiny. Unlike the first round clash with New Orleans, this series will not be dictated by the level of interest the Lakers have game in and game out.
Last night the Lakers played with the intensity of champions and still fell short. That’s about all you need to know.
That loss had nothing to do with Phil’s men being disinterested. Had nothing to do with Pau being too laid back or Bynum checking out. The Lakers were outplayed in Game 1.
Sure, they let their foot off the gas and allowed Dallas to get renewed life but don’t think for a second the Mavs would have just rolled over and accepted defeat. Even if they were down 20 with one minute left you can bet Carlisle would have had his men on the floor playing as if they still had a chance to win.
Having digested a small sample of what could be a series destined to go the distance; I’m left with only one conclusion.
The winner of this series will win the NBA title.
Simple sports logic dictates that to be the man you’ve got to beat the man. Therefore should Dallas down Los Angeles you’d have to give them serious title consideration. You don’t eliminate a team that has hung two banners in two years and gone to the Finals three years running without gaining a little favor from the odds makers in Vegas.
On the flip side there isn’t another team in the NBA playoffs that matches the Lake Show quite like the Mavericks.
Should the Lakers send Mark Cuban on that long private jet ride known as “watching the Finals from home” then they too will be the favorites.
Sure, Miami and Boston have an argument to be made but neither of those teams poses the same problems to the Lakers as the Mavs do.
Dallas has the interior presence, the bench and a franchise player who just might be on the cusp of finally turning the corner.
When the Mavs suffered that epic meltdown in the Finals the biggest difference was the play of Dirk Nowitzki contrasted against Dwyane Wade. D-Wade put his squad on his back and willed them to destiny whereas Dirk found the spotlight too hot for his taste and retreated.
I know it’s only one game but Dirk looked very comfortable stepping on the stage playing opposite KB24 last night.
No disrespect to any of the teams still playing but none of them is as big a roadblock on the trail to three-peat as Dallas.
This is a true test of championship might.
Miami might have beaten the Lake Show twice this year but the regular season means little come June.
Boston sold its soul to save a little cap space going forward. The Big Caboose is a non-factor and you’re fooling yourself if you think Nenad Krstic and Jermaine O’Neal have any chance of slowing the Laker bigs.
Oklahoma City is a trendy pick but you still can’t trust a young team in late game situations when the stakes are at their highest.
Memphis, Chicago and Atlanta are all feel good stories but if you want to know how they’d fare against the Lakers I’d suggest reviewing how the Orlando Magic performed in the Finals just two years ago.
Yes, this is the series that will determine the NBA championship. Therefore the Lakers need to treat this as if it were the Finals. They’ve got a real fight on their hands and as the world saw last night, these are not Avery’s Mavs. Time to stop treating them like that team. This one is a legit contender.
Tags: Andrew Bynum Avery Johnson Dallas Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki Dwyane Wade Jermaine O'neal Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers Mark Cuban Nenad Krstic Pau Gasol Phil Jackson Rick Carlisle Shaquille O'neal