By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Sure enough, the Mavericks will need—and will get—both players accepting those roles throughout the playoffs.
Dallas wins this summer because it's a deeper, stronger, better team than the one that imploded in '06. It can play any style, any tempo. It imposes its will, starting with defense. It less frequently falls into the trap of settling for jumpers. George and Buckner are nasty defenders able to at least slow down guys like Wade or Kobe Bryant. And, though it seems almost impossible for a team that got within 4.5 quarters of the title a year ago, its seven returning players are each performing at a higher level.
The regular-season success provides the luxury of having to beat either the Suns or Spurs—but not both—to win the West and home-court advantage in a possible, desirable rematch with Miami.
Then there's the resolve.
"Everybody remembers our meltdown in The Finals," Nowitzki says. "The only way we can make that change is to get there again."
And the respect.
"I think they'll win it all," McHale says. "NBA championship, Super Bowl, World Cup and the Nobel Peace Prize. It's their year."
The worst start in the Mavericks' 27-year history is about to dissolve into their best finish.
Fear not, plan the parade.