Avery Johnson is still scared of Don Nelson. Yeah, this is gonna be a long series.

Schmoes 1, Pros 0

Toldja. The Dallas Mavericks will eventually win this war, but ol’ pal Don Nelson has already won an important battle. See, when Nellie used to coach the really crappy Mavs in the ‘90s and they’d come up against a superior team, he’d throw out a quirky lineup just to see if the opposing would bite. If he could somehow trick the better foe into tweaking its lineup to adjust to his maniacal maneuverings, well, Nellie would chuckle after the game, “Yeah, I got him to chase me.”

Don’t look now, but the Mavs are chasing. Blame last night’s embarrassing 97-85 Game One loss on Dirk Nowitzki’s passiveness or Baron Davis’ dominance, if you will. But shame on Mavs coach Avery Johnson for cowering to his mentor. As Nellie rolled into town last Friday night, he held court at Bob’s Chop & Steak House and told anyone who would listen that his “team of schmoes” had about as much chance of playing with the Mavs as Alec Baldwin’s daughter has of getting an invite to Take Your Kid To Work Day.

“You guys will have your brooms out,” Nellie joked. “And you should. You’re the big boys, and we’re the schmoes that will have to get lucky just to take a game.”

He went on about how he still liked owner Mark Cuban (“The issue is that he doesn’t like me very much,” Nellie says), how he’s regrettably (wink, wink) taking his attempt to claim $6 million in back salary from Cuban to arbitration and how he just hoped his lil’ underdog didn’t get embarrassed against the bigger, badder Mavs. Then a funny, frustrating thing happened before the ref even tossed up the ball.

Jason Terry talked about how Dallas’ big men needed to exploit Golden State’s tiny lineup. Avery talked about “imposing our will.” But then,apparently scared of Golden State, the 67-win team with the 36-5 home record and the MVP candidate and the season-long impenetrable focus decided to chase. Avery didn’t start a center, a staggering admission that his team wasn’t good enough to force Golden State to play its style, but rather vice-versa. (Imagine in tonight’s Game 7 the Stars suddenly discarding their strength and attempting to beat the Canucks in a 6-5 shootout.)

And whatdya know? Nellie ran kamikaze double-teams at Dirk, he threw up a 1-2-2 zone, and he walked out of a stunned American Airlines Center with a 1-0 lead. So put your egos and your brooms away, because beating the Warriors isn’t going to be easy. Especially if the Mavericks try to beat them at their own game. --Richie Whitt

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