Premature Evacuation

Caution: Knee jerks hopping off Mavs' bandwagon

Late Sunday night in Portland, Jarrett Jack dribbled up the floor against your Dallas Mavericks. The second-year guard barked out a play for the Trail Blazers, initiating a pick-and-roll on the perimeter. Back in Dallas, Mavs fans that hadn't yet tuned out their team's 0-4 start were treated to a startling description more suitable for Howard Stern than David Stern.

Said TV play-by-play voice Mark Followill, "Jack off a screen..."

It's been that kind of season for the Mavericks. But, duh, it's going to get better.

Followill is one of the NBA's best young announcers, and the Mavericks remain one of the NBA's best young teams. One Freudian slip and a four-game losing streak shouldn't have us lunging for the panic button.

But this is Dallas. Not a sports town, but a winners' town. We claim the University of Texas' football title as our own only to lead the cries for firing Mack Brown. We ridicule Emmitt Smith for playing with the Cardinals but organize watch parties for Dancing With the Stars. And, evidenced by an e-mail from Roger in Oak Lawn last week, we lead the free world in impulsive, emotional, ridiculous, knee-jerk reactions.

"This season is over before it started," read the e-mail. "Since we're headed for the lottery, could you please post who you think will be the top 5 picks in the next draft?"

You may think this column sucks, but you really won't know for sure until at least the other half of this page. The Mavs deserve the right to at least pen a couple more paragraphs before we burn the whole damn book.

Right, Dirk?

"There's going to be ups and downs in a long season," Nowitzki said after helping Dallas to a victory over Portland that dragged it to 2-4. "As the year goes on, we'll get better."

He's preaching patience, but we've simultaneously developed and deteriorated into a sports society oblivious to the art of waiting. We're obsessed with fast food, high-speed Internet and real-time scoring, and what we want—what we really, really want—is to hyper-drive the TiVo to June and commence the NBA Finals right friggin' now.

S-l-o-w...d-o-w-n.

As Mavericks coach Avery Johnson reminded us back in training camp, "There are no shortcuts. You can't skip steps."

Think of this year's Mavs as your new girlfriend. On the verge of an ultimate climax with your fiancée last summer, it suddenly, sadly fell apart. This girl, though possessing many of the same physical traits as your ex, is ultimately different. You must court her. Endure the awkward first date. Ease into romance. Treasure the process instead of demanding the final destination. Don't believe me? Fine, start off getting all handsy and whip out the KY and the video camera and the escort accoutrement from our back pages and see where it gets you.

Oh and 4. Jumping ship. Asking Saddam Hussein to leave you some rope. Vacillating with the Mavs like you do the Cowboys.

It's an achievement for Dallas' basketball team that 0-4 produces panic. Four years ago a 14-0 start before Thanksgiving barely arched an eyebrow. But with perspective, the current worries will prove a waste of time.

After the loss to the Washington Redskins last week, coach Bill Parcells was a moron and the season was over, and—insert a win over the Arizona Cardinals—now he's a master motivator and quarterback Tony Romo is creeping up on Peyton Manning, and when the Cowboys beat the undefeated Indianapolis Colts we'll be 6-3, and if the...

Granted, 0-4 was the worst start in the Mavs' 27-year history. But the four games also represented exactly 4.8 percent of their season. At relatively the same point in their season, the Cowboys would be trailing 21-10 entering the fourth quarter of their season opener.

Yes, it's that early.

So premature that the Miami Heat can survive a 42-point loss, the Phoenix Suns can withstand a 1-5 start and, despite a 4-0 debut, the New Orleans Hornets aren't making parade plans. After four games a year ago, in fact, Doug Christie was a prominent Mav, Romo was No. 3 on the Cowboys' depth chart and Britney Spears was unavailable. Patience.

This is not to say, however, the Mavs are without flaws. After a seemingly superb summer in which they signed experienced veterans and owner Mark Cuban shelled out $180 million in long-term contracts to Nowitzki, Johnson, Jason Terry and Josh Howard, things have been out of whack since, oh, the first minute.

In his first official appearance as the captain of the '06-'07 team, Dirk addressed the media from an American Airlines Center podium and promptly broke a microphone stand. "Oops," Dirk said, shrugging sheepishly. Before long it wasn't funny. Howard sprained an ankle. Devean George ate some bad seafood. Eric Dampier nursed a hip. Chemistry was slowed. The raising of the Western Conference Championship banner was spoiled by balky mechanics and Don Nelson's triumphant return.

Before we knew it the Mavs started weaker than Avery's mustache.

Playing as the hunted rather than hunter they were embarrassed in Houston in the second game, prompting perhaps the earliest players-only meeting in sports history. They lost at home to the Warriors and blew a 14-point lead in losing to the Clippers. They launched bad shots, blew assignments, slogged through cumbersome spacing and surrendered at least 100 points in the first four games. They spent the off-season promoting "Mavs Fever: Catch It!" and now, whatever it was, they were desperately trying to shake it.

Consider it shook.

The Mavs won in Phoenix and Portland and, by the time you read this, will have beaten the Chicago Bulls Tuesday night for their first home win in 126 days, since Game 2 of the NBA Finals last June 11. Four-month home winless streaks aren't to be dismissed. Nor is a troubling, tiresome trend of—when push comes to shove—settling for long jumpers.

But, fortunately, you don't coach the Mavericks. Johnson won't freak out, and neither will his team. Soon as you left them for dead, Dirk started driving, George started rebounding, Terry started scoring, Howard started healing and 0-4 improved to 3-4. Enjoy your Thanksgiving and your Valentine's and your Income Tax Day and, for your sake, pray the Mavs still have room on the bandwagon when you realize it's time again to start fretting about the Finals.

Because eventually we'll panic not about these four losses in early November, but about those four wins in late June.

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