The Mavericks haven't lost an NBA Western Conference Finals series in five years. Of course we all know what happened last time Dallas advanced this far -- in the 2006 NBA Finals. The come-from-ahead loss to the Heat sent the franchise into a psychological spiral from which it is just now recovering.
What you may have forgotten are Dallas' three other dramatic forays into what amounts to the Cowboys playing in an NFC Championship Game. For what it's worth, the Mavs are 9-10 all-time in West Finals games and 1-2 in series.
Before focusing on tonight's Game 1 against the Thunder, how about a quick look back:
1988 -- Lakers 4, Mavs 3
In the wake of founding father and head coach Dick Motta's abrupt resignation a summer earlier, John MacLeod led the uprising Mavericks to 53 wins and the third seed in the West playoffs. Led by Mark Aguirre, Rolando Blackman, Derek Harper, Sam Perkins, Sixth Man of the Year Roy Tarpley and All-Star center James Donaldson, the Mavs ran teams off the court by scoring almost 110 points per game. (Aguirre, who averaged 25 points per game, was the team's highest-paid player at $715,000. This season Dirk Nowitzki makes $17 million.)
After dispatching the Rockets, 3-1, in the first round and the Denver Nuggets in six games in the semis, the Mavericks were heavy underdogs against Magic Johnson's "Showtime" Lakers in the conference finals. How different were those Mavs from these Mavs? Against the Lakers last series, Dallas made 49 3-pointers in four games. In '88's 7-game series they attempted only 48 threes.
The defending champion Lakers rolled early with 15- and 22-point wins in Games 1 and 2 at The Forum. But the Mavericks won Games 3 and 4 at a rowdy Reunion Arena, both by double digits, behind inspired play by Tarpley. After another blowout loss in L.A. in Game 5, the Mavs squeaked out a 105-103 win in Game 6, forcing Game 7 at The Forum on June 4, 1988. The Mavs trailed by only two in the third quarter when Aguirre left with a jammed pinky finger. By the time he returned, the Lakers had rolled to another blowout win, 117-102.
The Lakers went on to beat the Pistons in the NBA Finals, also in a Game 7 at home.
2003 -- Spurs 4, Mavs 2
Under run-n-gun, mad-matchup scientist Don Nelson, the Mavericks produced probably the most entertaining team in franchise history. With Dirk, Steve Nash, Michael Finley and Nick Van Exel all averaging 12-plus points, the push-the-pace Mavs led the NBA in scoring and won 60 games.
Off to a 3-0 lead on Portland in the first round, they almost blew the series before Dirk and Van Exel helped bail them out with 31 and 26 points in a 12-point, Game 7 win at AAC. In the second round, the Mavs also won a Game 7 at home, ending an entertaining series with the Kings that featured Dallas scoring 132 and 141 points in wins, producing a memorable 83-point first half in a Game 2 victory and only 83 points in a Game 4 loss. In this Game 7, it was Dirk again leading Dallas to a 13-point win with 30 points and 19 rebounds, negating 17 points by a young Sacramento sharpshooter named Peja Stojakovic.
In the West Finals, the Mavs stunned the Spurs in Game 1 by making an NBA-record 49 of 50 free throws in a three-point win. With a stifling defense that kept Dallas from running -- and aided by a series-ending knee injury to Nowitzki in Game 3 -- San Antonio won the next three games. The Spurs held the Mavs to 83 and 95 points in Game 3 and 4 wins in a stunned, somber AAC. Left for dead trailing 3-1 and headed back to San Antonio without their best player, the Mavs shocked San Antonio by outscoring the Spurs, 29-10, in the fourth quarter of Game 5 to force a Game 6 in Dallas. While Nowitzki warmed up in pregame hoping for a miraculous return and Nelson fighting with owner Mark Cuban over the risky use of the franchise's cornerstone, Dirk ultimately sat and watched his teammates build a 13-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. But before Mavs fans could envision Dirk back on the court for a Game 7 in San Antonio, Spurs 37-year-old reserve Steve Kerr came off the bench and drilled four consecutive 3-pointers to jump-start a bewildering 34-9 fourth quarter and a Spurs closeout win.
Again, frustratingly, the Mavs lost to the eventual NBA champs as the Spurs beat the Nets in The Finals.
2006 -- Mavs 4, Suns 2
With a disinterested and disgruntled Nelson walking away near mid-season and turning the team over to assistant and former point guard Avery Johnson, the Mavs added a defensive tenacity to their prodigious offense. The Mavs won 60 games and earned the fourth seed via the unfamiliar formula of finishing ninth in scoring and seventh in points allowed. Dirk was again the team's leader, followed by Jason Terry, Josh Howard, Jerry Stackhouse, Devin Harris and Marquis Daniels. The Mavs easily swept the Grizzlies in the first round, then almost blew a 3-1 series lead but survived an epic 7-game war with the defending champion Spurs when Dirk capped a 37-point, 15-rebound performance by forcing overtime in San Antonio with a landmark "and-1" drive and layup over Manu Ginobli with 21 seconds remaining in regulation, leading to a 119-111 overtime triumph.
In the conference finals the Mavs immediately showed the hangover of their emotional conquest of the rival Spurs, losing to the Suns and former point guard Nash, 121-118. Dallas fought back to tie the series at 2-2 and in the pivotal Game 5 at AAC Dirk turned in his best playoff performance ever, laughing off a mocking kiss by Phoenix's Tim Thomas to post 50 points (including five 3-pointers and 17-of-18 free throws) and 12 rebounds in a 16-point win. In Game 6 in Phoenix the Mavs trailed by 18 in the first half, but smothered the Suns in the second half by a score of 63-42 for a 102-93 win and their first trip to the NBA Finals. Said Cuban, "For the first time in life, I'm speechless."
Unfortunately, the silence -- and the winning -- wouldn't last.