SPORTS / DEPORTES: Dallas MAVS are the 2011 NBA Champions!

A Texas size CONGRATULATIONS to the Dallas Mavericks for defeating the Miami Heat & for being the 2011 NBA Champions!🙂

2011 NBA CHAMPIONS: Dallas Mavericks

The Dallas Mavericks celebrate with the trophy after winning game six of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida, June 12, 2011. The Mavericks won 105-95 to take the title

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Enjoy the day & I hope you’re having a good summer!

SPORTS / DEPORTES: Dallas Mavs take a 3-2 lead over Miami Heat in the NBA Finals – who will win Game 6?

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DALLAS – In the aftermath of their loss to the Miami Heat in the 2006 NBA Finals, the Dallas Mavericks couldn’t stop making excuses. The Heat hadn’t so much won the title, Dallas decided, as it had been given to them, courtesy of poor officiating or the Mavs fumbling away the critical third game.

Eventually the whining so annoyed Dwyane Wade(notes), the MVP of that series, that he went right back at Dallas, right back at Dirk Nowitzki’s(notes) version of events, and blasted it all.

“Dirk says they gave us the championship last year, but he’s the reason they lost,” Wade told Miami reporters in 2007. It’s “because he wasn’t the leader that he’s supposed to be in the closing moments.

“At the end of the day, you’re remembered for what you did at the end.”

Nowitzki has said nothing during this series about those words, about that charge against him half a decade ago.

Whatever his failure then has been corrected. Dallas has taken control of these Finals, taken mighty Miami and its all-star crew to the brink, taken the veneer of inevitability and invincibility right off LeBron James(notes) and Co. because Nowitzki has turned into a leader for the ages.

Dallas beat Miami 112-103 here Thursday and the Mavericks are now up 3-2 heading into Sunday’s Game 6 back in Florida. And it wasn’t just Nowitzki’s game-high 29 points that made it so.

It was how he’s helped build up a supporting crew of castoffs and role players, how he’s demanded excellence from starters and subs alike, how he’s found the perfect balance of knowing when to take command of a game and when to defer to a better option.

The Heat are a collection of talent still searching for their roles, still seeking consistency and accountability and urgency. It’s LeBron trying to sunshine another loss with “we played good enough to win.” Dallas has turned into this machine that keeps coming and coming and coming, undeterred by talent, unwilling to compromise.

“Persistence is our game,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said.

When six straight points gave the Heat a 96-95 lead with just 5:16 remaining, when America Airlines Center had gone from deafening to doubting, when it all seemed to be slipping away, there was the 7-foot German in the huddle during a timeout, pleading for exactly that persistence.

“Just stick with it,” he shouted. “Just stick with it.”

This was the series on the line. The Mavs had hit a million shots and were losing anyway. They were in the process of holding LeBron to another quiet fourth quarter (just two points) and were about to blow it still. So after Nowitzki was done talking – and after Wade had increased Miami’s lead with a 3-pointer – Nowitzki demanded the ball, got to the lane, got fouled and, of course, knocked down his free throws.

“Kind of settle everyone down,” he said. “I thought it was big of us not to shoot a bad jumper and they go down in transition again.”

He then stepped back and let his guys rise up. It was Jason Terry(notes), who Nowitzki had called out earlier in this series, draining two back-breaking 3-pointers. It was Shawn Marion(notes), previously benched in crunch time, producing a key steal. It was blue-collar Tyson Chandler(notes) delivering a huge block. It was Jason Kidd(notes) burying a 24-footer.

After his free throws, Nowitzki would never need to score again. Dallas would deliver a 17-4 knockout run, and the most clutch performer in these playoffs – hero of big shot after big shot – didn’t need to do all the scoring.

Nowitzki has the Mavericks exactly where he wants them – believing so fully in themselves that they’ve found a way to close out games that all of Miami’s heavy hitters can’t.

And yes, it’s his team. It’s unequivocally his Mavericks. There isn’t a debate here; no star-by-committee system. He’s taken a hold of this group the way he grabs the news conference microphone. Owner Mark Cuban has stopped talking to the media, seemingly lifting a mountain of pressure off his troops. Carlisle is comfortable deflecting praise onto the players and spends half his time crediting Dirk effusively.

After the game, Terry talked about one of his late, contested threes, and acknowledged he was so confident he probably would’ve taken it even if the shot clock wasn’t running down.

“Dirk don’t want to hear that,” Terry said.

Not Carlisle, the coach. Dirk, the leader.

This has been an impossibly tight series, every game coming down to the final minute, if not the final shot. Across the way the Heat are still fumbling with how to finish, wondering who should take the shot, who should step up on defense. They stand around and look at each other. Some won’t shoot. Some shoot too much. Some won’t defend. Some chase themselves out of position.

Until these Finals, the Heat were able to overwhelm opponents in the final minutes. They just swallowed up the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls. Now they’ve met an opponent with even more will, with an even greater killer instinct.

It was supposed to be the Heat that could count on a committee at the end. It was supposed to be this purposefully assembled triumvirate that would cause the defensive chaos. Would Wade take the final shot? Would LeBron? Would they drop down to Chris Bosh(notes)? Was there any way to cover them all?

Instead it was Miami coach Erik Spoelstra who looked out of ideas, looked resigned to the fact that Dallas just won’t stop coming for the crown.

“It is not easy against this team,” he said.

When everyone thought it would be Nowitzki who would try to win it, he flipped the script and here came Terry, Marion and Kidd. Here, earlier in the game, came J.J. Berea, this 5-foot-9 blur seemingly out of a pick-up game at the Y, torturing the Heat with 17 gut-punch points.

“Nowitzki requires at least the attention of 1½ and often two guys,” Spoelstra said. “…A lot of actions involve Nowitzki.”

It all comes through Dirk now, here in this tightest of Finals, here in this endless parade of pressurized moments. Torn tendon. High fever. Double teams. Nothing is stopping him. Nothing is keeping him from doing exactly what Dwyane Wade roasted him about five years ago.

“At the end of the day,” Wade said back then, “you’re remembered for what you did at the end.”

It’s 3-2 Dallas now. It’s one game from everything for these Mavericks. It’s one win from answering that long-ago criticism for Dirk Nowitzki.

DALLAS: Mavericks win West title, but mission not yet complete

A big CONGRATULATIONS goes out to the Dallas Mavs for winning the Western Conference Championship and for advancing to the NBA playoffs – hoping the best for them @ the NBA playoffs!🙂

Dallas owner Mark Cuban, left, hoists the trophy, as Dirk Nowitzki and other Mavericks cheer after the final buzzer in Game 5 of the NBA Western Conference Finals

The Western Conference Finals ended the only way that was fitting on Wednesday Night. With Dirk putting the Mavericks in the lead. Again.

If sports fairy tales came true, then that would mean that we would be assured a happy ending in the Dirk Nowitzki trip around the basketball world in a few weeks’ time. In the same category in the fairy tale section as the John Elway Super Bowl victory, everybody had assumed the window had shut on his chance. His greatness as a whole had been pushed down a spot or two when discussions were had after playoff disappointments. Surely, he was not of “championship quality”. Surely, he is to blame for his team falling short in the playoffs. In a star-driven sport, the Dallas Mavericks have a real nice player, but not one of those great ones that win trophies.

We don’t know how this sports story will end when basketball season is over. But, we know about last night’s chapter. The one where the team was down almost 47 minutes into a 48 minute game. The Mavericks were trailing 94-92 with 90 seconds to play when they reacquired the ball on a steal by Dirk. Russell Westbrook thought he saw an open Nick Collison down low, but Dirk stepped in the path of the ball and was able to get his right hand on the pass and the Mavericks had the ball back.

The first priority as they crossed half court was for Jason Kidd to find Nowitzki on the left wing against Collison on another isolation sequence that we have seen over and over in this series. This time, Dirk gets the edge on Collison and heads to the hoop where the Thunder defense collapse on the star. He sees Jason Terry in the corner for a go-ahead 3, but his pass is deflected out of bounds as the Thunder are trying to cover everything.

Inbounds play with 1:24. Jason Kidd will pass it in as all 4 Mavericks start the play at the free throw line. As Kidd looks for options, first Terry and then Tyson Chandler screen Collison as Dirk drops back behind the 3-point line. Because of the double screen, Dirk is free for a split second. Kidd puts the ball in the German’s hands and the arena gasps with excitement as the shot leaves his hands and a swish is forthcoming.

But, it doesn’t go in. It rims out. And Westbrook grabs the carom as he battles Chandler down low. But, in the scramble, Westbrook loses his balance and as he is falling to the ground (with Chandler’s foot helping to knock him over) he tosses the ball back in play and what he hopes is to his teammates. However, in another stroke of fortune, he basically rolls the ball to Jason Terry. Terry goes cross court to Marion. At the point Terry gets the ball, Dirk had already dropped back on defense and was actually on the time-line. He reversed his direction back into the front-court.

Marion sees Dirk rushing back to the play and finds him right as the Mavericks leader was back in position for another try. This time, there is no screen and Collison challenges the shot. But, this time, there is no mistake. The ball rips through the cords and the Mavericks have a 95-94 lead. The 20,000+ expresses their extreme gratitude in a massive sound explosion.

Like the 3-pointer he hit on Monday night in the historic Game 4 rally, his 3-point shot in Game 5 was the moment the tides finally turned all of the way.

On the next possession, the Mavericks buckled down hard on defense and forced an airball from Eric Maynor from the paint and Nick Collison collected the rebound as he was falling out of bounds. With no other option, he also attempted to send the ball in the general direction of his teammates and hope for the best. And like Westbrook’s attempted blind pass, the results for the Thunder were not what they had hoped. Like so many moments in this series, when the Mavericks needed a 50/50 play to go their way, it did. Terry and James Harden both leaped for the ball and somehow it tipped over to Shawn Marion – a player that always seems ready to go get the loose ball when they are needed the most.

Marion had nothing but open court ahead of him and was about to make a 1-point lead bigger. As he is heading down the court with 52 seconds to play, you can see Durant trying to chase him down. For a split second, Jason Terry pulls another veteran move and blocks Durant’s path for a step. This gives Marion all the space he needs and not only does he get the dunk, but he also is fouled as Durant still tried a desperation block that was called for contact. The place again explodes. The end is near.

It took one more offensive rebound to salt the game away, but in the end it was a familiar theme in this series against the Oklahoma City crew that appears so promising in the years to come. It was the grit and know-how to make the plays in the games final moments that won it for Dallas. They appeared superior in very few ways, honestly, for most of these 5 games. But, in the last 5 minutes of the 5 4th Quarters, the Mavericks outscored the Thunder by 24 points. And that, quite simply was the only difference there was.

Dallas knew how to make shots. How to get stops. How to make free throws. How to get a loose ball. Not all of them, just the ones that really mattered and determined the winners of these games.

It was veteran know-how versus youthful confusion. All of that extra energy did not help them deal with the composed execution of the guys who have been on this road before. There is a ton of resolve on the Mavericks roster. The other 3 teams in the Conference Finals could all discuss their bright futures and the ideas that they could be in a position to be back at this point of the playoffs many, many more times before it is said and done.

But, Dallas knows that they have an urgency that the others don’t have. They know that their window is open right now. In a few weeks, it may slam shut for them forever. Many of these players know that they have been in thousands of practices and flights and hotels and games and the only thing they are missing is the right to be NBA Champions.

And how was that best demonstrated last night? You could certainly argue the game’s final moments. But, I prefer to dwell on the Western Conference trophy presentation. Sure, there were a few moments of jubilation allowed as Dirk showed the trophy to the fans.

But, as Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle were being interviewed, the cameras caught Dirk first getting a blank stare on his face, and then saw him turn around, and leave the arena. Nobody understood where he was going when it happened. But, then it clicked. And it gave chills to anyone who has every pulled for that guy to get that title that drives him.

He was done with this moment. He was happy, but he wasn’t interested in giving anyone the impression that his mission was accomplished. He was ready to move on. And he wasn’t even going to wait for his coach to end his interview with ESPN.

Instead, he left. And his teammates didn’t need anyone to instruct them what to do. They do what they have done this entire playoff. They followed their leader. In moments, the entire team had exited the stage. Even though they have days before they engage in the final battle of the war, they were heading back to the room to symbolically move on, too. It was a moment in time that will not be forgotten. It was the moment that best demonstrates how much Dirk has changed over the years. The unassuming fellow who just loves the sport has grown into the leader who is driven by victory and for the moment to personally vanquish his enemies. He has grown into that William Wallace figure that his detractors said he could never be.

Dirk said it last night. He has been this far before.

“We talked about it after the game. This is a great moment and we can enjoy it for a day. But, we got one of those trophies already and it didn’t mean anything at the end. I think once you get to the Finals, there is no 2nd place finish. I was already thinking about the Finals. I’m going to stay in the moment, obviously. Like I said, this is nice for a day, but we said our goal in October was to win it all so we haven’t done that yet.”

The story has unfolded. 3 rounds of basketball have been completed. The Mavericks have won 12 of 15 games. They have won the series in a fashion that has allowed for rest between each round. They have taken all challengers. And they await their final opponent.

They are so close. They are so determined.
Their time is now.
Will the fairy tale have a happy ending? We will know very soon.
(By Bob Sturm / Special Contributor

NBA WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS: OKC Thunder wins Game 2 – will the Dallas Mavs’ win Game 3?

Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) shoots against Oklahoma City Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka (9) during the first quarter of play in Game 2 of the NBA Western Conference Finals at American Airlines Center in Dallas on May 19, 2011

Not many NBA teams are able to span 27 days between playoff losses. But, the span will go no longer for the Dallas Mavericks as they were punched hard in the gut on Thursday Night at the AAC, dropping a 106-100 Thriller in Game 2 to Oklahoma City.

It is easy to focus exclusively on the Mavericks after these playoff games and whether the result is good, bad, or ugly, I enjoy spending time on the Dallas side of the equation. But, after last night, I think the lead has to be the coaching gambles that were won by Scotty Brooks in what most-likely go down as the biggest win in Thunder History.

Look at it from that perspective with me for a moment.

So, this young coach, who is handling an extremely young and inexperienced team, is entering the 4th Quarter with a 1-point lead. He only has that lead because James Harden just converted a 4-point play at the very end of the 3rd Quarter when he hit a trey and was fouled. He goes with his customary bench lineup to begin the 4th and to get his starters some rest and some time to harbor some foul trouble to Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka before they will have to go back in the paint and battle Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler for the final few minutes. Brooks cannot insert them back in the lineup too early, because he can’t lose them too early. If he does, it is down to very little to try to leave town with the split that the Thunder so desired.

Brooks starts the 4th with Harden, DaeQuan Cook , Eric Maynor, Nick Collison, and of course, Kevin Durant. If they could hold off Dallas for 4 minutes or so, it will be time to get Russell Westbrook back in (18 points, 4 assists) and try to bring this thing home.

What followed were just under 9 minutes of clinical offense that put 25 points on the board. With 3:15 to play, the game was largely in hand at 102-92. The Thunder had the ball 15 times during that 8:45 to start the 4th. They scored on 11 of the 15 possessions. It was absolutely devastating to Dallas who was able to get Dirk just about anything he wanted during that stretch, but it still wasn’t enough to keep up with the exhibition that James Harden, Kevin Durant, and friends were putting on at the other end.

Sometimes, you blame your defense. If you review that 4th Quarter stretch, you will certainly be frustrated at a moment or two, but for the most part, I submit the Thunder were taking shots that you don’t mind conceding. Harden and Durant were both hitting very tough, well defended shots from a great distance. But, sometimes, especially in the NBA where shotmakers are everywhere, there is just nothing you can do.

And on those rare occasions where Harden or Durant did not carry the mail, here is Eric Maynor, the pride of Virginia Commonwealth, driving in for a tough running bucket. He had 2 baskets during this stretch, too. Daequan Cook chipped in 5 points, including a 3 out of a timeout to make it 98-92. And Nick Collison even added a dunk and some rather important moments on defense – 1 which he just wrestled the ball away from Nowitzki and started the ball the other way.

Cook, Maynor, and Collison? Meanwhile, the Oklahoma City starters – aside from the league’s leading scorer – had a great view of the proceedings, but certainly spent glances wondering when Brooks was going to send them back in the game. It wasn’t as if Westbrook wasn’t playing well. He had a very nice first 3 Quarters. Obviously, he is the item of some discussion based on periods of erratic play, but he is also a pillar of this franchise and these are the moments for him to shine. Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka stand by to force the issues in the paint where Dirk is knifing in for basket after basket.

But Brooks held fast with his lineup. With 7 minutes to go, the thoughts crossed his mind. The offense was fine but the defense was not stopping Dirk and JJ Barea. Inside 6 minutes, it is still a 1-possession game. This is a spot where most coaches certainly take their winnings from their bench standing up to the pressure on the road and play it by the book; getting his starters back in the game to finish the contest.

Brooks opted to roll the dice again. And his next decision (to not change his lineup) is the type of decision that if it doesn’t work is widely ridiculed by the media and fans based on the outcome. How can you let Eric Maynor and Nick Collison stay in the game when you have better options on the bench? And that is where it worked. From 5:30 to go to 3:15 to go, the Thunder bench crew beat the hard Charging Mavericks 7-0. Taking a 3 point lead and pushing it to 10 with a 3 from Cook, a Maynor runner, and one of the most in-your-face jumpers of the playoffs as Harden buries one from the top of the circle with confidence and a beard that made Dallas observers channel nightmares of Baron Davis.

He never went back to his bench. The combined playing time in the 4th Quarter from the OKC 4 starters not named Durant? Less than a minute. 37 seconds for Ibaka and 13 seconds for Thabo Sefolosha. Westbrook and Perkins had 0:00.

What a gutty decision that had a very high risk/reward ratio. The Mavericks not only lost the battle of the benches, but the Thunder bench beat the Mavericks in crunch time. Quite impressive.

From a Dallas perspective, you certainly can find items to critique. You wish the defense could have provided more stops and that Dirk could have showed Collison a few more lessons on the other end. But, sometimes you give away a game and sometimes it is taken from you. In Game 2, I submit that in that 4th Quarter, the game was taken away by the visiting Thunder. Who made tough shots, tough decisions as a coaching staff, and overall deserved to tie this series at 1-1.

If they are going to make those shots under those circumstances from those distances, then I believe you tip your hat, thank the basketball gods that it has been 27 days since you last tasted defeat, and move on to the next one.

As former Cowboys coach Joe Avezzanno used to tell me, “you know, the other team pays its players, too.” (By BOB STURM / Special Contributor