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Last year, this year and next year: The state of the Dallas Mavericks

“That was our dress rehearsal” – Jason Kidd

Come on now, 6 picks and no one’s taken the defending champs?

“Never underestimate the heart of a champion” – Rudy Tomjanovich

— Me, a month ago

It has now been just over a week since the 2011 NBA Champions were swept unceremoniously out of the first round.

All year, I had been in denial, thinking that when the playoffs came around the veteran Mavericks would ‘flip the switch’ and start playing championship-calibre ball again. How laughable that seems in retrospect, as the Thunder absolutely overwhelmed this squad of old-timers with their athleticism, skill, and most tellingly, their hunger.

I could sit here and talk about chemistry, mental toughness, fight, and all of those intangible qualities that the Mavs lacked this year. They sucked on the road (13-20), they sucked in close games (4-26 when trailing after three quarters and 10-13 in games decided by five points or less), they got off to sluggish starts, and once they fell into a hole they lacked the fight to come back and win (6-22 after trailing in first quarter, including playoffs).

Last year the team was unflappable; they’d gone through so much collective disappointment that nothing phased them. In round one they shrugged off the disastrous Game 4 in Portland where they surrendered a 24 point lead (the biggest collapse in playoff history, at the time). In round two they walked into the defending champs’ house in Game 1 and came back from a 16 point halftime deficit. In round 3 they pulled off a 15 point comeback in just 5 minutes against the same Thunder. And as if one fourth quarter comeback on the road wasn’t enough, they did it again on the biggest stage, coming back from 15 down with 7 minutes left in Game 2 of the NBA finals. Dirk reflected the personality of this team in that series, as injuries, illness, none of it mattered. Every series, they were counted out but their mental toughness kept them in it.

Where did that mental strength come from, and where was it this year? The Mavericks’ 2011 summer transactions tell a large part of the story. Tyson Chandler was the guy everyone credited with being the as being their emotional and spiritual leader last year. This year he was replaced by a guy who came in out of shape and unmotivated last year because they brought in competition at his position.

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