By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
If this pisses off Dirk Nowitzki and Mark Cuban and the suddenly trendy bandwagon of MFFLers, so be it. After watching the nauseating Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference Semifinals, it has to be said:
I'm sick and tired of watching the Dallas Mavwimps.
I know it won't ruffle Rick Carlisle's feathers, because the coach offered the exact observation during training camp last October.
"I'm looking for some assholes, to tell you the truth," Carlisle said one day at SMU. "How do you get guys to be nasty? Well, hating the opponent is a start. We've got to be a tough-minded team, and we've got to have some nastiness to really compete at the highest level in the Western Conference."
Sorry, but nastiness, hatred and assholes have long worn the other color.
In 2008 it was New Orleans' David West, daring to lay an unfriendly hand upon Nowitzki's face without a smidge of retaliation.
In 2009, here we go again.
In last Sunday's opener against the Denver Nuggets, Nowitzki made his first six shots. But barely six minutes into the festivities I was certain the Mavericks had zero chance. In that game and likely in the series. Even with the scene shifting to American Airlines Center this weekend, after watching Dallas again get bitch-slapped by an edgier opponent, I see no need to alter my pre-series prediction:
Nuggets in five.
If they're ever going to win a physical series against an aggressive opponent, the Mavs have to stop shrinking from confrontation, stop complaining about the officiating and well, grow a pair.
Unfortunately, there's no evidence that it's about to happen. Especially if Game 1 is any indication.
On a drive along the baseline, Nowitzki was violently fouled by Denver forward and Dallas native Kenyon Martin. Whistle blown, foul called. But then Martin put an exclamation mark on his message, sending Nowitzki sprawling onto the floor with an intentional, indignant forearm shiver to the back that drew a technical foul and, the day after, a $25,000 fine from the NBA.
The Thuggets—a temperamental collection of nice talents and mean streaks—were clearly assessing the Mavwimps' machismo. But when Denver shoved, Dallas...turned the other cheek. And for the remainder of the 14-point loss, it turned over the ball.
Three Mavericks immediately went to help Nowitzki. Jason Terry meekly meandered in the general direction of Martin, but was short-circuited by Denver center Nene. Situation diffused, with nary a whimper.
You could almost hear the Thuggets' smirks: "We got these chumps."
Martin received a technical foul, but also delivered a technical knockout. Nowitzki was never the same.
Hounded and harassed by Martin and the one-man mosh pit known as Chris Andersen, Dirk—who somehow managed to score 28 points—embarrassingly produced two of the worst, most ridiculously inept and laughably bad moves in the history of organized basketball.
Trying to shake Andersen with a series of his trademark spin-fake-pivots-rinse-and-repeats, Nowitzki instead became disoriented and off-balance. He wound up cork-screwing himself, in the end jumping and falling away from the basket and desperately launching what would've been one of the worst passes in NBA history—had it not been a shot. I kid you not, the ball never got higher than seven feet and was a good six feet right of the basket. It was horrible—for a 4-year-old.
Later Nowitzki suffered a similar pratfall, losing his balance against Martin and having his hapless attempt blocked back in his face by the Thugget. At the other end of court, Martin was seen chirping in Dirk's ear.
Nowitzki's reaction: Laughter. Laughter?
And what, asked in the post-game press conference at Pepsi Center, did the Mavericks' heart, soul and all-time best player think about Martin's physical, first-quarter foul?
"Nothing," Dirk shrugged. "Just a hard foul."
No, NO, NOO!
More than just an opponents' hard foul, it's a team's soft mindset.
I'm not saying the Mavericks should sprinkle some Swine Flu Aporkalypse in a Nuggets' locker room inhabited by what appears to be a collection of rejects from The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh. I'm not suggesting they incite a riot. A bench-clearing brawl only gets players ejected and perhaps suspended. But can't the Mavs exhibit some aggression with discretion? When the Nuggets take an eye in the form of an outrageous foul that draws a technical and a fine, it warrants a flagrant eye. At least some sort of similar retort. Or else.
Otherwise, the Mavericks are re-confirmed as the frail kid who keeps having his lunch stolen because he'll never stand up to the bullies. The Thuggets are saturated with tattoos and testosterone, but I'm guessing they'd throttle down if Brandon Bass flexed his menacing muscles. And what of supposed enforcer Erick Dampier? If he threatens to flatten thimble-tiny San Antonio Spurs' point guard Tony Parker in the first round, where is he now?
Dirk shouldn't have to do his own dirty work any more than Mike Modano. But, alas, the Mavs have no Derian Hatcher. And it shouldn't be Cuban instigating Dallas' skirmishes. But somebody better get a fresh tattoo or a sour disposition before the Mavs Stinko de Mayo their way into another long off-season nursing more bruised ovaries.
If you think it's merely a coincidence that the Mavericks made it to the NBA Finals during a 2006 playoff run that included Terry punching San Antonio's Michael Finley in the nuts and Jerry Stackhouse tackling Miami's Shaquille O'Neal, then you probably also believe Michael Jordan has six rings merely because of his talent. Back then, the Mavericks were the vicious hunters. Now?
This team can whip the geriatric Spurs in a game of sidewalk chess, but to compete with the athletic, frenetic Nuggets on the no-holds-barred playground, it needs an infusion of Eduardo Najera or Nick Van Exel. Or, even better, a reminder from Carlisle.
"We've got to be more aggressive," the coach said after Game 1.
Good, if he would've stopped there. But instead he revealed the Mavericks' Whine Flu, a seemingly annual habit of complaining about their opponents' physical play and the lack of officials' whistles.
"It's hard for me to believe Dirk only shoots four free throws with the way he's being played," Carlisle bitched. "This is not meant to be a bitch session about the officiating. But when you're a minus-23 in free throws and a plus-10 in fouls, it's something you have to look at."
Rocky Mountain Why...in Colorado.
Was Nowitzki roughed up more than Ricky Hatton? Yes. Do the Thuggets smear the line and shove the envelope? Of course. Is it fair that Denver shot 36 free throws to Dallas' 13 in the opener? No way. But at this point—at this time of the year—the complaining and whining ring more hollow than a Lisa Salters report.
To have a chance in this series the Mavericks need to harness the pace and cruise-control their pulse. They must limit their turnovers and maximize their intensity. They have to combat Denver's energy with demure efficiency.
They have to hate the Thuggets as much as you do. And show it.
Nice guys may not finish last, but they don't get out of the second round.
If they're ever going to win a physical series against an aggressive opponent, the Mav have to stop shrinking from confrontation, stop complaining about the officiating and well, grow a pair.