Eyes on the prize
Streaks mean little to championship-obsessed Mavs
Posted: Tuesday March 13, 2007 2:05AM; Updated: Tuesday March 13, 2007 1:15PM
Jerry Stackhouse still shakes his head when he thinks about it. His voice and head lower simultaneously as he recalls how last season ended, and really, how this season began. "We didn't finish," said Stackhouse. "We had [Miami] down two games and were up late in the third game and we didn't finish. We aren't going to let that happen again."
It's March and the sting of the Mavericks' loss to the Heat in the NBA Finals nine months ago still reverberates in the Mavericks' locker room. It's a topic that comes up almost every day. Not from inquiring reporters looking to rehash it, but from players who don't mind bringing it up. While most players would want to move on from the most devastating loss of their careers, the Mavericks almost seem to revel in it, incorporating the setback into any conversation about their success this season.
"We had a good team last year and we went all the way to the Finals and didn't get it done and that motivates us," said Dirk Nowitzki, responding to a simple question about the team's recent 17-game winning streak, which came to a grinding halt in a 117-100 loss at Golden State on Monday night. "So I don't want to get carried away. Hopefully we'll be the best team in June and not now."
While the genesis of this season's Mavericks might have started in June, the real turning point for this team occurred before a mid-day practice in Phoenix on Nov. 9. It seems like ages ago now, but when Mavericks players picked up the morning newspapers at the Ritz Carlton that day they were in last place with a 0-4 record. It was the first time in franchise history the team dropped its first four games and they were coming off a 103-85 drubbing by the Clippers in Los Angeles.
"We had a quick little meeting where we chatted for a hot second," said Jason Terry, who called the meeting and spoke about the ease of going from poverty to prosperity. "It was a players-only meeting and it lasted about two or three minutes. But ever since then we've all been on the same page and focused on the same goal."
After the meeting the Mavericks reeled of 12 straight wins, starting with frantic 119-112 win over the Suns that saw six lead changes and three ties in the final quarter. "The monkey's off our backs," Terry said after the game. Since the win the Mavericks have become the first NBA team to have three winning streaks of 12 or more games in a season -- their most recent streak of 17 games was the tied for the longest the league has seen in seven years -- and their 52-5 record over a 57-game stretch was the best by any team in any pro sport.
"We don't really look at it," said Mavericks coach Avery Johnson. "We just play each game and fortunately we were able to string together a couple of wins but we know some of those wins could have gone either way that's why we really don't think too much of ourselves. We're a confident team but we're not overly confident."
It was almost fitting then that a team that cared so little about their streaks hardly raised an eyebrow when their most recent one came to an end Monday. It's not that the Mavericks wanted to lose, but their goal was never to break the Lakers' immortal 33-game winning streak mark or better the Bulls' 72-win season record.
"They don't hand out rings for streaks and best records," said Devean George, who has three rings from his days with the Lakers. "You can have all these streaks and be in the record books but if you lose in the playoffs it doesn't matter."
The Mavericks, however, have developed a certain aura about them this season due to the streaks. It's not quite at the level of the Bulls of the 90's or even the Shaq-Kobe Lakers of a few years ago, but there is a certain amount of respect they've gotten from their opponents they've never seen before. 'We're starting sense with some of the bad teams that we have them beat before we play them," said Stackhouse. "When you look at a team with such a gaudy record, sometimes you look at the next game. We're still going in with the focus of doing what we got to do to win but I've been on the other side of it with great Chicago teams where they won 70 games that one year. We would come in and play hard but we were waiting for them to hit us."
After getting hit with their first loss since Jan. 25, the Mavericks will now look to get up and start another streak before the playoffs begin next month.
"We all know you're going to lose some games during an 82-game season," said Nowitzki. "You can't win them all. That streak really doesn't mean anything. Obviously we're going to lose some here and there but we're trying to get ready for the playoffs. We got a month left before the real dance starts."