Let's Stop Acting Like The Mavs Are On The Spurs' Level.
I've never trusted San Antonio.
I never will.
I can never forgive them for the 2003 Western Conference Finals. That was a bitter pill to swallow as the Mavericks, led by Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Michael Finley, Nick Van Exel and defensive stopper Raja Bell, succumbed to their rivals from South Texas.
What made it worse was that the Mavs were forced to play the final three games of that series without Nowitzki. He was carted to the locker room after Game 3 with a knee injury in the fourth quarter. The Mavs would lose Game 3 and only win one more game in the series as Walt Williams proved to be a subpar replacement for Nowitzki. And Steve Kerr, the onetime Chicago Bull, would seal the Mavs' fate in Game 6, connecting on three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and helping San Antonio score 23 straight points. The Spurs moved on to beat the Jason Kidd-led New Jersey Nets in six games in the NBA Finals that year.
That series was rife with “what ifs,” none bigger than the looming absence of Nowitzki. It created an animosity towards the Spurs in Dallas, too — a sentiment that still exists to this day.
After all, they were the team that beat the Mavs because of a fluke injury to Dallas' star player. Why should they deserve glory?
Yes, it still hurts.
For the remainder of the last decade, these teams would do battle during the regular season and Finley became a loathed traitor as the rivalry between the two franchises was always palpable. It was one of the NBA's best; regular season games had playoff atmospheres (or some other cliche narrative the national media places on such things).
But, albeit incredibly heart breaking at times, it was fun.
And it wasn't all dark for the Mavericks. We Mavs fans will always have 2006, the year when Dallas defeated the Spurs in the second round of the playoffs, and 2009, when the Mavs bumped them out of the playoffs once again.
San Antonio still leads the all-time playoff record in head-to-head meetings with Dallas 16-13, though.
So what can we make of the rivalry today as the two teams ready themselves to face off on Friday night? For starters, it's certain that the matchup has lost some of its luster. Beyond that, one might even argue that the rivalry is dead at this point.
Some facts to back this up: The Spurs have won four of the last six regular season matchups between the two teams and advanced to the Western Conference Finals last season; the Spurs' average margin of victory over the Mavs in those contests, meanwhile, was 25.5 points; and Dallas' sole two wins over this stretch came by a single point in overtime and by seven points in regulation.
There's no arguing that this once-anticipated rivalry has become a lopsided affair since the Mavs scaled the summit and hoisted the Larry O'Brien Trophy victoriously in the air.
Both franchises have veered in different directions since June of 2011. San Antonio has been a consistent contender and is poised to win yet another division title this season. They're one of the most dangerous and savvy teams in the NBA due to the steadfast work of R. C. Buford, the team's general manager, and head coach Gregg Popovich, who, though salty, boasts an incredible basketball mind.
Dallas, on the other hand, is a team in the midst of an identity crisis.
What the Mavericks are has been a topic of much discussion this season. Much of this chatter has centered around backwards-looking hypotheticals of what could have been. This is far from the behavior of a rational fanbase with a winning team.
“Rational” and “fanbase” are two words that rarely coincide in the world of sports, though.
Still, Dallas is also not a winning team. At the time of this writing, they sit six games under .500 with a record of 18-24, which places them as the 11th seed in the West. That's hardly impressive considering that the Spurs are 33-11 and trail only the Oklahoma City Thunder for the best record in the entire league.
The Mavericks also do not have many options going forward. Owner Mark Cuban may have stated that the “Bank of Cuban” is now open, but a trade isn't a likely reality for this team. As Marc Stein of ESPN recently pointed out, Dallas really doesn't have much to offer outside of allowing teams to dump salary their way in a trade. It's rather unlikely that Cuban will be willing to take on much, if any, extra payroll, either. His plan all along has been to keep his team financially flexible heading into free agency this summer — setting the team up for yet another attempt to lure a marquee player to pair with Nowitzki. But the chances of acquiring their main target this summer, Dwight Howard, are as distant as Voyager 1. If any move is made, it will be small and likely give the Mavs more financial flexibility. In other words: Don't expect a flashy deal for the likes of Pau Gasol or Josh Smith. This certainly will not happen.
And yet, while the Mavs are grasping at straws, the Spurs continue to tinker and add pieces to their roster without a major overhaul. Their time is coming — their core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili isn't exactly young — but they surely have at least a few years left together. Plus, the cast of young players surrounding them seems poised to continue the winning atmosphere in San Antonio.
Point is, the Spurs are better than the Mavs. There is no denying it any longer.
If the 4-to-1 championship ratio hasn't yet convinced Dallas fans of this, then hopefully the past season and a half has.
Their rivalry might not be completely dead, though. Not yet. Maybe it's just dormant — like the Lakers-Celtics rivalry was for, oh, 15 years or so. With any luck, the Mavs will muster a good team in the near future and rekindle their rivalry with the Spurs.
We'll just have to wait a little while before that happens. Until it does, my feelings toward San Antonio can be best summed up by Anchorman's Wes Mantooth.
Respect should be given where it's earned, at least.
Photo via the NBA's official Mavericks page.