Mavs, Stars disappointments
Tyler Clifton | News-Telegram Sports Writer

April 29, 2004 -- With standards set so high, it's not going out on a limb saying it has been a disappointing year in the professional ranks for the Metroplex, and the two teams that figured to last the longest have gone as flat as a three-day old soda.

The Mavericks have the unenviable task of having to win three straight against Sacramento (two on the road) in order to advance to the second round of the playoffs, but the important thing is to take a game-by-game attitude.

Dallas has no one to blame but itself for its 3-1 deficit. The Mavs couldn't hit the broad side of a barn at this point, and the best free throw shooting team in the NBA decided to take a break Monday night when it mattered the most. Instead of being tied 2-2, the Mavs have dug a hole that even the gopher from Caddyshack would have trouble climbing out of.

Michael Finley and Steve Nash are obviously two of the big three, but there's no excuse for Dirk Nowitzki not touching the ball on the final shot. The Kings defense should be given some credit, but Finley's last shot (if you want to call it that) in Game Two and Nash's prayer in Game Four were just what Sacramento wanted.

Many will question the offseason moves that brought the likes of Antoine Walker and Antawn Jamison into the Big D, but it can only leave one shaking his head when Don Nelson lets Danny Fortson rot on the bench. Meanwhile, Chris Webber gets dunk after dunk inside.

The bottom line is that there is no D in allas. There wasn't before, and there isn't now. Nowitzki needs to get out of his slump and take charge if this team wants to live to see another day. His counterpart Peja Stojakovic came back to life in Game Four, and Nowitzki can too.

The Stars faded away at the most inopportune time, and they have many people to thank for it. It's hard not to start with Tom Hicks, but the first man to blame is goaltender Marty Turco.

It was Turco, the team's Most Valuable Player, who took it upon himself to hit Edmonton's Ryan Smyth in the head with his stick, drawing a four-game suspension late in the season. He took the optimistic approach by saying he would be getting some much-needed rest. That may have been true, but the Stars lost all four games due to a lack of backup goaltending.

Yes, Turco came back for the regular season finale and dominated Chicago, but this is the last-place Blackhawks we're talking about here. His suspension cost Dallas home ice and had a negative effect on the team heading into its eventual five-game defeat to Colorado.

Not that it would've mattered much, as the Avalanche sliced and diced their way through the soft defense (anyone miss Derian Hatcher?). Turco was outplayed by Colorado's David Aebischer from the start.

Hicks can lash out at the players all he wants. Mike Modano, Brenden Morrow, Jason Arnott, Jere Lehtinen, Sergei Zubov and others all had subpar years, but it's Hicks who has the final say so on who comes into this club and who goes out. Hatcher was hurt most of the season, but letting him skate north was a big mistake, and it all falls on Hicks' shoulders. Besides, it's so easy putting the blame on El Cheapo himself.

The surprises? It might be early in the season, but looking at the standings and seeing Texas in first place (technically a tie with Anaheim) has to bring a smile to the Ranger faithful. Even if Buck Showalter's boys lose their next two to Kansas City and Boston, they'll still have a winning month of April. Taking 11 of 19 games against the AL West (including five of seven against the aforementioned Angels) wasn't a bad start, and how this team reacts in May facing the likes of the Red Sox and New York Yankees will be interesting to see.

Speaking of the Yankees, newly found poster child Alex Rodriguez hasn't had the best of Aprils, hitting .253 with three homers and six RBIs, but he's being overshadowed by teammate Derek Jeter's 0-for-32 streak, which is living proof that some players are overrated, particularly in the media frenzy of New York.

It will be interesting to see what kind of reception the Big Apple gives to their newest resident in quarterback Eli Manning, who the Giants acquired in a draft-day trade with San Diego. Place your bets on who will be whining first by October (Rodriguez, Jeter, Manning or George Steinbrenner).

There are two sides to every story, and watching Bill Parcells pass up the opportunity to pick up a Stephen Jackson or a Kevin Jones probably made Cowboys fans sick to their stomach. Dallas wound up getting a decent back in Julius Jones and got a couple of solid linemen from both NCAA national championship teams as well in USC tackle Jacob Rogers and LSU guard Stephen Peterman. Parcells said he's seen too many running backs get picked early and turn into flops, and although some might not agree with his philosophy, it would be smart to trust a man who has been to three Super Bowls and won two.

Running back was by far the team's biggest need, so it remains to be seen whether Parcells' decision comes back to haunt him. The other question mark was at cornerback, and the Cowboys hope at least one of their three defensive backs can make an impact this fall.

The Dallas defense was the big reason the team squeaked out 10 wins and secured a playoff berth in 2003, but give quarterback Quincy Carter a little credit. He had no running help on third-and-short situations, but those who make excuses for Carter will have none this fall. Keyshawn Johnson is the third-down receiver this team has needed, and Carter should be given a chance and named the starter hands down. This will be his make-or-break season with Drew Henson waiting in the wings.

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