Mavs continue to defy odds, expectations
Back in October, after a preseason game with the Magic, a group of Dallas Mavericks players congregated at the home of DeShawn Stevenson, teammate and noted tattoo enthusiast.
His guests included Shawn Marion, Brendan Haywood, Caron Butler (out since January) and rookie Dominique Jones (out since February). Anyway, they got to talking and — what do you know? — DeShawn invited his guy, the tattoo artist, to do a little work on the fellas.
Now it was unlikely that anybody — certainly no one who hadn’t tested positive for hallucinogens — could compete with the apparently arbitrary recesses of Stevenson’s inky imagination. He has famously tattooed the image of Abraham Lincoln (taken from a $5 bill and now pierced) to his throat, a backward Pittsburgh Pirates logo inscribed on his cheek (the Barry Bonds-era Pirates were his favorite team) and a Frankenstein-style crack on his forehead (this to show he’s “unbreakable,” of course).
If you think these designs lack for rational purpose or expectation, you’d have laughed just as hard to know what Jason Terry put on his right biceps: an image of the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Yes, the very same one awarded NBA champions each June.
For sheer absurdity, this would seem to rival at least the backward “P.” As everyone with mere passing knowledge of basketball knows, the Mavericks, for whom Terry has played seven of his 12 NBA seasons, are chronic underachievers in the postseason.
This was not an undeserved reputation.
Terry himself described the ethos of past Mavs teams thusly: “Shot ain’t going in? We ain’t guarding nobody.”
The tattoo was Terry’s attempt to serve notice that things would be different this year. But even his teammates regarded it with some suspicion.
“You could see the look in their eyes, like, ‘This boy’s crazy’,” Terry said.
Crazy or not, successful seasons are born of sweat, not ink. And the burden of proof still rested with the aging and perennially underachieving Mavericks.
Prognostication is an obnoxious and highly inexact craft, especially as practiced by most sportswriters. I know. I still had Los Angeles clobbering Dallas and defense-less Dirk after the Lakers lost Game 1 at Staples Center.
Then again, my lack of faith didn’t come from nowhere. Oddsmakers are everything most columnists are not, beginning with rational. And no one is more clear-headed than Las Vegas Sports Consultants, an outfit that sets lines for most casinos. Going into the season, they had the Lakers 7-2 to 3-peat.
Oklahoma City was 15-1 to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy. The Mavs, famously swept after jumping to a 2-0 lead in the 2006 Finals, were a 20-1 long shot.
So I asked Terry at Sunday’s practice if he knew those odds before he let Stevenson’s guy start indelibly scribbling on his arm.
“Oh, no,” he said. “I don’t know anything about that.”
Sorry, forgot. This is David Stern’s NBA. You can get inked up. You can hang out in Vegas. But don’t tell anyone you ever even heard of something called a point spread.
Still, here it is at the cusp of June, with the Mavericks enjoying a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference finals, and it seems safe to say they’ve already defied both odds and expectations.
Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban have done an excellent job of acquiring talent and paying for it, respectively. They got Tyson Chandler before the season and Peja Stojakovic during. Jose Barea has become the best backup point guard in the league. And Rick Carlisle seems to finally have transformed the team from one that talked about playing defense to one that actually does (however, it’s worth noting that the Mavs allowed an average of 109 points in the first two games of this series).
But the core of this crew is rooted in experience and regret. Jason Kidd is 38, in his 17th NBA season. He has been to the finals twice but won only two games.
“He understands it’s his last opportunity to be here,” said Chandler, who at 28 is already a 10-year veteran.
Most of the Mavs have been around a while: Marion, 12 seasons; Haywood, 10; and Stojakovic, 13, though he never made it to the finals with some almost-great Sacramento teams.
“Who knows how many times Peja lost to the Lakers,” said Dirk Nowitzki, one of two holdovers from the 2006 team that folded in the Finals.
The other would be Jason Terry. “I believe,” he said. “I believe we win this year.”
That’s why he let DeShawn’s guy leave so much room next to the trophy etched into his arm.
He needs a little space for everyone’s name.