NBA

MONROE: Why no respect for the Mavericks?

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Mike Monroe

 
   
 

DENVER

Seventy games into their NBA season the Dallas continue to cruise along with the best record in the NBA.

After easily dispatching the Denver on Monday night, the are 53-17, which means that by season's end they are nearly certain to surpass last season's all-time franchise win mark of 57. The magical 60-win mark certainly is within reach.

Why, then, doesn't anyone seem to believe they can win this season's NBA title?

"Because we haven't proven anything," said after his 24 points off the bench on Monday night made up for 's lapse into mere mortality as a shooter. "We haven't beaten the top teams. Against Sacramento we're 1-3; San Antonio 1-2; 1-2; 1-1. So for everyone to say we're ready to step up and win in the playoffs, we're going to have to do it first.

"It could be right that we don't" deserve any credit yet because we haven't done anything yet. It's up to us to prove everyone wrong."

"I heard (the TV commentators) talking yesterday during the -Spurs game," Dallas' veteran point guard, , said before tipoff Monday night. "They said there's only two teams that can dethrone the : the and Sacramento."

Let the record show: Johnson, who has the sunniest disposition I've ever encountered on a pro athlete, had a deep furrow in his brow and a scowl on his face as he recounted the complete dismissal of his team's legitimacy as a potential champion.

Trouble is, not even the ever-upbeat Johnson could offer much of a rebuttal.

The haven't been past the second round of the playoffs since 1987, when they lost to the in the Western Conference finals.

"Over the last four or five years the haven't had the overall success all three of those other franchises have had," said Johnson, the only Maverick in possession of a championship ring. "We're the new kids on the blocks.

"Because we're the new kids, no matter what we do during the season we're not going to get as much respect. The way you earn that respect is to keep advancing in the playoffs.

"Obviously, winning the championship would keep everybody quiet."

I don't think the are going to win this year's title, either, but I'm not going to dismiss their chances out of hand. There is reason to believe they can, indeed, get out of the brutal West, and if they do, the title is theirs.

Here's how I think Dallas can win the Lawrence O'Brien Trophy:

  1. First and foremost, hold on to first place in the Western Conference, and with it the No. 1 seed in the playoff pairings.

    This, of course, would get them a first-round matchup against the or , neither of which is well equipped to handle Dallas' league-leading offense.

    More importantly, it would put them in a bracket with the No. 4 and No. 5 teams in the West, certain to be the and , in either order.

  2. Count on the to pass Utah and finish sixth in the West, meaning they would meet the , who will have the No. 3 seed, in the first round.

Should this matchup take place, one of the two teams that pose the biggest matchup problem for the will be eliminated by the first week in May.

  • Hope it's the that survive what figures to be a grueling conference semifinal matchup on the other side of the bracket.

    Though Sacramento won the season series with the , 3-1, three of those games were either-or propositions, two of them decided in the ' favor by last-second tip-ins by Sacramento's .

    A Mavs-Kings Western Conference Finals would be an up-and-down, high-scoring affair without a truly dominant inside player on either side.

    The ' Achilles' heel is their lack of an inside defensive presence. Against the this deficiency would be minimized.

    "Getting that No. 1 seed and winning division was one of our goals going into the season and we're right there," said center . "I think it will be big to get that No. 1 seed, because the look like they're going to be in that No. 6 spot."

    "It's gong to be huge and we understand that," Van Exel said. "It's a big goal for us now, because if you slip to that third spot you know you're going to see L.A. in the first round and if you get past them you're going to see Sacramento in the second round.

    "So it's very important for us to hold on, but I think we're up to the challenge."

    For the it's just this simple:

    1. Hold on to first in the West and have a reasonable shot at the title.

    2. Drop into third and have no shot at all.

    And you thought the season didn't begin until the playoffs arrived. Senior writer covers the NBA for FOXSports.com and can be reached at his e-mail address: mmonroe@foxsports.com.

  • Tagged: Mavericks, Nuggets, Rockets, Lakers, Trail Blazers, Kings, Spurs, Dirk Nowitzki, Raef LaFrentz, Minnesota, Denver, Utah

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