Yeah, I know. The end is near. The Mavs packed their white flags and vacation itineraries on the flight to New Orleans yesterday. They are six-point underdogs against the Hornets tonight and, according to NBA history, have about a nine percent chance of rallying from down 3-1 to win the series. Dallas’ 12th man might as well be the Grim Reaper, 'cause it’s over.
There’ll be plenty of time to lambaste Avery Johnson for canceling practice, to re-rip the trade for Jason Kidd (one that owner Mark Cuban stubbornly contends he’d made “100 out of 100 times”), to cringe at the thought of Dirk Nowitzki claiming his team had both a lack of “emotion” and “composure” and to head-scratch at the thought of improving without a No. 1 draft choice the next two years.
But for now, let’s pour the glass half-full. Where there’s a wish, there’s a way. The top 10 ways the Mavs can actually win tonight and force a Game 6 back here Thursday:
1. Josh Howard quenches his munchies and returns to being the team’s second-best player. He is the aggressive, slashing, quick-starting Josh. Not the wobbly dribbling, jumper-settling, 25-percent shooting Josh.
2. Jason Kidd again channels Roy Williams and horse-collars Chris Paul in the first quarter, prompting a skirmish that results in both players’ ejections. Advantage: Mavericks.
3. Avery Johnson plays exclusively a zone defense. I know it sounds nuts, but it would limit Paul’s driving and allow Dallas to consistently bother David West’s slow-as-refrigerated-honey set shot. That said, if the Mavs shoot 35 percent, they have no shot.
4. Jerry Stackhouse scores at least 10 points. Or at the very least finds a way to not be a total liability. Remember not that long ago when the Mavs boasted a deep bench?
5. Expounding on the momentum from yesterday’s players-only practice, the team holds a players-only game. Brandon Bass starts for Erick Dampier, J.J. Barea does nothing but fold towels behind the bench, and Avery dons a T-shirt bearing a heart-shaped “Players’ Team.”
6. From start to finish, Kidd pushes the pace. Turnovers be damned, Dallas’ best stretches in this series have come when it has forced New Orleans to scramble in transition defense. Once in the half-court set, Paul ignores Kidd and floats into passing lanes to disrupt Dallas’ flow. If Kidd gets a triple-double, the Mavs have a chance.
7. Devin Harris uses his quickness to stay in front of Paul the entire … Aw, damn it, nix that.
8. Having already brought out his ’99 Spurs’ championship ring for motivation, Avery goes a step further and signs David Robinson to a 10-day contract.
9. Cuban gives an inspirational pre-game speech. I’m serious. The man has done everything in his power to make this team a winner. He swallowed millions in the Kidd trade. He’s publicly backed Avery. He’s remained out of the spotlight. Since the team is obviously tuning out Avery, perhaps they’ll listen to a personal, passionate plea from the dude who signs their checks.
10. The Mavs, for the first time since the late-season victory over Golden State, play like an emotional, energetic, possessed team. Other than a stagnant, unimaginative offense too reliant upon isolations, the thing that sticks out about Dallas from other NBA playoff teams is the lack of emotion. No chest-bumping. No towel-waving on the bench. No oh-no-you-din’t-just-touch-my-teammate's-cheek interventions. You watch the Atlanta Hawks and you see a group of guys having the times of their life. You watch the Mavs and you see a bunch of individuals going to a job they barely tolerate. Dallas bowed out of last year’s playoffs with a “couldn’t give a shit” 25-point loss in Golden State. It’d be nice to see them care, even keep it close tonight. It might be the best we can hope for. --Richie Whitt