The NBA playoffs are always special, but as of Wednesday night there was a certain dread to them. It appeared as if the Mavericks were headed for their fourth first round meeting with the San Antonio Spurs in seven seasons. Nothing against the Spurs per se, they’re incredibly fun to watch, expertly coached, everything you like about NBA basketball, but it was about to be FOUR TIMES IN SEVEN YEARS. It was just too much. It didn’t matter who the Mavericks were playing, just a “Could we please see someone else?”
Therefore, a hearty shoutout to the New Orleans Pelicans for ending the Spurs 11 game winning streak on the final night, and combined with the Houston Rockets win over Utah, setting up only the third Mavericks-Rockets playoff series in the 35 years of the Mavericks franchise. You will find no one who will argue that this won’t be a wildly entertaining series; full of emotion, with plot twists we haven’t even dreamed yet.
First, the history. The Mavericks are 2-0 in the playoffs vs. Houston. In 1988, when the first round series was a best of five, The Mavericks won in four, highlighted by Mark Aguirre’s 27 point third quarter in the series clincher. The Mavericks went on to the Western Conference Finals losing to the Lakers in seven games. In 2005, The Mavericks made history becoming just the third team ever to rally from 2-0 down after losing games one and two on their home floor, to ultimately win in seven games. Game seven being the biggest Mavericks playoff blowout ever, a 40 point destruction, Jason Terry leading the way with 32 points. The Mavericks ultimately fell in the next round to Phoenix in six games.
Fast forward to the present. Terry spent eight terrific years with the Mavericks, and was inarguably a go-to-guy in crunch time, often times at the expense of the Rockets. Now, he’s wearing red and will try to defeat the Mavericks, taking on a bigger role than expected as the starting point guard with the season ending injury to Patrick Beverley.
That’s just one of the numerous story lines as this series starts. There is no other NBA playoff series that has it. From Chandler Parsons playing against his old team (it’s looking promising for a Parsons return for game 1, but we’re still a day away), to Tyson Chandler battling Dwight Howard. Both are at the top of their respective games as the playoffs start. The Mavericks wouldn’t have Chandler back for another shot at a championship if Howard hadn’t chosen the Rockets as his landing spot last year in free agency. You’ve got James Harden, who in any other year would be a prohibitive NBA MVP, with his penchant for drawing fouls through obvious and not so obvious means. If you, as Mavericks fan didn’t hate him before, there’s no doubt you will after watching seven games.
You’ve got Rajon Rondo, playing his best basketball since the December trade, trying to show that the playoff mojo always evident in Boston is still there, even if he hasn’t played in a playoff series since 2012 (he’ll spend a lot of time guarding Harden). How much will players brought in after the season started to strengthen the respective benches (Amar’e Stoudemire for Dallas, Josh Smith and ex-Maverick Corey Brewer for the Rockets) have an impact on the series?
And that says nothing of the rivalry between Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Rockets GM Daryl Morey, who are never afraid to let the other one know that they’re the smartest guys in the room. Both have done a fantastic job in retooling their teams on the fly.
Both of these teams are playoff hungry. The Mavericks haven’t won a series since winning the NBA Championship in 2011. The Rockets opening round win in 2009 is their only playoff series win since 1997. The Mavericks have averaged over 115 points a game in April, so their offensive issues which bedeviled them for the better part of the first six weeks post All Star break have gone away. But will it be enough to offset the Rockets inevitable three point barrage? It’s new. It’s dramatic. And for the next two weeks, it’s ours. Can’t wait.