The greatest trick the Dallas Mavericks pulled this season was convincing us not that they could win the NBA title, but that reaching the NBA playoffs is just like winning a title.
Well done, Mark Cuban.
When Cuban Tweeted before Game 7, "#WhyNotUs" - the team was screwed. They never expected to win. No team that promotes, "Why Not Us" ever does a thing.
Just three years ago, the Mavericks were the best team in the NBA. Today, they are celebrating pushing the San Antonio Spurs to Game 7 of the first round. The Mavs lost Game 7, 119-96, to end a fun first round series, and a season where they were relevant from beginning to end. If this formula sounds like a certain football team in town you would not be wrong.
But for a few days during this playoff series, those who can recall the Mavs' run to the title in '11, we were dumb enough to believe that maybe - if a few breaks went right - they could not only win this series and pull off the big 8 over 1 upset, but keep advancing. They were receiving unexpected contributions from old guys (Vince Carter's game-winning 3, Shawn Marion's big Game 2, etc.), and decent production from the center spot - all of it was just like '11.
That a path to the West Finals, and beyond, was possible. Now, after watching the gore-fest that was Game 7 in San Antonio, we know such thinking was stewpud.
As Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki said after the game, the problem is the expectations are so much higher for this franchise, and its fans.
But when we are handed a plate of Dirk surrounded by DeJuan Blair, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, Samuel Dalembert and Jose Calderon, the expectations have to be dumbed down considerably. Maybe a coach other than Rick Carlisle can't turn this team into a playoff contender, but that is what they are - barely.
Winning 49 games, and just making the playoffs, is now the gold standard because the alternative is preposterous.
Dirk turns 36 in June, and it's clear that the Dirk of '11 - who was the best player on the planet - is gone. In his place is a very good player, but a guy who simply can't do what he once did.
The Mavs have to re-tool, and part of the process of "re-tooling" is changing our expectations. Now we know for sure: Making the playoffs is just like winning a title.
Facebook Mac Engel