In The Cheap Seats: Must Win? It definitely looks that way

By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY | News-Telegram Sports Editor

April 23, 2007 - One game into the NBA playoffs, and the Dallas Mavericks are already in a must-win situation.

That's what happens when you are embarrassed on your home court by the No. 8 seeded team.

Unbelievable. Almost unwatchable.

The game started badly ... even before the game started.

Avery Johnson, a strong candidate for Coach of the Year, got out-coached by mentor and now Golden State chess master Don Nelson before the tip-off. Johnson, apparently unnerved by Golden State's small starting line-up, decided to go small himself.

In not starting 7-foot center Erick Dampier, who played just two minutes, Johnson made the No. 1 sin of coaching - don't change what you do when you do it well.

When you have the better team - and the Mavericks had the ninth-best regular season record in league history - you don't change what you do. You make the other team change.

Johnson responded to Nelson's small line-up instead of making Nelson adjust to Dallas' big men. In doing so, Johnson started a five-some that had not started the same game all year. The Mavs' usual starting five of Dampier, Dirk Nowitzki, Devean George, Jason Terry and Josh Howard were not on the court at the same time the entire game.

So, the Mavericks started poorly and never got in sync the entire game.

Bad coaching.

Bad playing followed.

It would have helped if Nowitzki had not pulled a Shawn Bradley imitation. After a first-quarter dunk, the 7-footer rarely ventured down low, even when guarded by Warriors who were a half-foot shorter.

He was more content to hang around the perimeter, hoisting up fade-away jump shots and going 4-for-16. And, when the game was on the line, the big German was nowhere to be seen. In the fourth quarter, he took three shots (missed them all) and two were from beyond the 3-point arc.

Leadership was nowhere to be found, not by Nowitzki, not by Terry, not by Howard. Certainly not by Jerry Stackhouse, who went 0-for-6 with five turnovers.

Wow, I thought Tim Legler had retired from the league. But, there he was in a Stackhouse jersey. At least No. 42 played more than Legler than Stackhouse.

The Mavericks are supposedly a team that won't be satisfied by anything less than an NBA championship. On Sunday, they looked scared.

They were scared to challenge Golden State at the rim, scared to push the pace, scared to win.

In his post-game press conference, Johnson said things were OK at halftime because the score was tied. Tied? You're playing a team that won 25 games less than you did in the regular season, and yet you're satisfied by being tied?

This wasn't the same Maverick team we've watched all year long, but they'd better get their swagger back before Wednesday. If they don't, they'll be making history, but it won't be the good kind.

Instead, they will be the only No. 1 seed to ever lose a seven-game, first-round series. A loss on Wednesday will send the series back to Golden State for two games with Dallas down 0-2.

The way the Mavericks played (and coached) on Sunday, that's not so far-fetched.

Older Archives

Looking for News-Telegram Sports and News Archives for January 2004 - November 2008