This article is part of an ongoing series titled “The Plight of Dallas Sports Teams Since 2000,” where I take a look at each of the four major Dallas sports teams and reflect on their playoff struggles, ultimately investigating the causes of their woes.
Already I know what you’re thinking. The Mavs are the one exception to this series because they were the only team to win a major championship since 2000 with their Finals win against the Miami Heat in 2011. However, if you take a step back and look at the big picture, the Mavs could’ve easily had at least another if not two more championships in the past sixteen years. Here’s a quick breakdown of the Mavs’ playoff history since 2000.
1 championship (vs. Heat 2011)
2 conference championships/Finals appearances (2006 vs. Heat, 2011 vs. Heat)
2 division titles (2007, 2010)
15 playoff appearances (every year except 2013)
Now I’m sure you’re probably startled by that last number. Yes, the Mavs have only missed the playoffs once in sixteen years, however, because of how the NBA conferences and playoffs are scheduled, over half of the teams in each conference make the playoffs. In other words, eight out of fifteen teams in each conference make the playoffs, so mathematically it is much easier to enter the postseason, compared to the NFL, where only six teams from each conference make the playoffs. However, the story of the Dallas Mavericks lies in the years where they came so close or they were projected to win and ultimately lost early on.
Starting with the 2000-2001 season, the Mavs ended a decade-long playoff absence in the 90’s by finishing 5th in the Western Conference and 3rd in their division. With relatively new player Dirk Nowitzki beginning to show signs of stardom, the Mavs eagerly entered the playoffs to face the Utah Jazz. Beginning the series 0-2, the Mavs fought back to win four in a row to defeat the Jazz for their first playoff series win in thirteen years. However, the Mavs fell to the San Antonio Spurs in a tough Conference Semifinals 4-1, but the team at least got some playoff experience.
The following year, in the 2002 playoffs, the Mavs improved from last season, finishing 4th in their conference and 2nd in their division. This time, they were to face Kevin Garnett and the mighty Minnesota Timberwolves, but the Mavs kept their cool and swept the Wolves 4-0. Looking to improve on last year, Dallas took on the Sacramento Kings, but once again could not advance past the semifinals, losing the series 1-4.
In 2003, the Mavs continued to impress, posting a 4th place spot in their conference and 2nd in their division. They boys in blue had a feeling that this year would be different. In the First Round, the Mavs faced the Portland Trailblazers. Despite jumping out to a 3-0 series lead, the Mavs couldn’t finish the Blazers off, losing three straight before Dallas won a pivotal game 7 to advance. The semifinals saw Dallas face off against their old foe the Sacramento Kings, the team that had knocked them out of the race last year. Both teams traded wins over the course of the series, but Dallas found the willpower to overcome their opponent once again in game 7. This meant Dallas would advance to the Conference Finals for the first time since 1988. Riding this wave of momentum, Dallas took on division rival the San Antonio Spurs, featuring the “Big Three” tandem of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. The Spurs’ star-power was simply too much to handle for Dallas, and they lost the series 2-4.
The next year, 2004 saw the Mavs again place 5th in their conference and 3rd in their division, making the playoffs once again. For the third time, they faced the Kings in the first round, however, the Mavs couldn’t pull out a series win as the Kings beat them 4-1.
In 2005, the Mavs began their ascent towards the top of the NBA, improving their ranking from last season, placing 4th in their conference and 2nd in their division. In the first round, they faced off against the Rockets and, despite going to seven games, pulled out a series win for the first time in two years. In the Conference Semis, they faced Steve Nash and the mighty Phoenix Suns. After trading wins and losses in the first four games, the Suns sadly got the best of the Mavs in the final two games, winning the series 4-2.
Looking back, the 2005 season set the tone for what was to happen in 2006, the year that would revolutionize the Dallas Mavericks. Everything finally seemed to fall into place and the team was playing really well with each other. Players like Josh Howard, Jason Terry, and of course Dirk helped the team to a 4th place finish in the Western Conference and a 2nd place finish in their division. In the Opening Round, the Mavs faced Pau Gasol and the Memphis Grizzlies, but the determined Dallas team blew past Memphis, sweeping the Grizzlies 4-0. Next, they faced their division rival in the Spurs, and the Mavs took an impressive 3-1 lead in the series heading into Game 5, however, the Spurs would not go down quietly, winning two games in a row to force a Game 7. This time, the Mavs outplayed the Spurs to advance to the Conference Finals to face the Suns, who had knocked Dallas out of the playoffs the previous year. Out for revenge, the Mavs played a tough six games, and overcame the Suns with a 4-2 series win, sending Dallas to their first NBA Finals ever. Their victory over the Suns also marked their first Western Conference Championship ever.
The 2006 NBA Finals saw the Mavs take on Dwayne Wade, Shaquille O’Neal, and the fiery Miami Heat. Dallas impressed everyone by jumping out to a 2-0 series lead, but after that everything went downhill. Dwayne Wade took over and led the Heat to four straight wins to win the Finals, with Wade being named Finals MVP for his incredible performance. Controversy and mistakes mired the series for Dallas, including the infamous accidental timeout call made by Josh Howard in the final minutes of Game 5. Coach Avery Johnson intended to call timeout after the second free throw to advance the ball, but because of a miscommunication, Howard called it after the FIRST free throw. The one word used to describe the series for Mavs fans would be “frustration,” no doubt about it.
In 2007, the Mavs shook off the Finals loss and actually played better than ever, rocketing to the top of both their division and the entire Western Conference, a first for the team. Dirk Nowitzki was named league MVP, and the team set a franchise record for most wins with 67. In the opening round, the Mavs faced the 8-seed Golden State Warriors. In what originally was going an easy series victory for Dallas, Baron Davis and the Warriors shocked the NBA by upsetting the #1 Mavs in a 4-2 series win. If the previous year was frustrating for Mavs fans, then 2007 was unbearable. It had seemed that once again another Dallas sports team had disappointed fans everywhere.
In the next couple of years, the Mavs made the playoffs, but for the most part did not make it past the first round. In 2008, the Mavs lost the New Orleans Hornets in the opening round 1-4. In 2009, Dallas beat the Spurs 4-1 but lost to the Denver Nuggets in the next round 1-4.
2010 proved to be a great year for the Mavs after spending a couple of years in playoff despair. The boys in blue finished 2nd in the Western Conference and 1st in their division, which pitted them against the Spurs in the opening round. Once again, Dallas Mavericks fans were disappointed when the 7-seed Spurs upset their team 4-2 in the opening round, sending Dallas home early.
After years of disappointment, no one expected the Mavs to have the run they had in the 2011 season. Despite finishing 3rd in the Western Conference, many people believed they were going to lose in the opening round as they had to the Warriors in 2007 and to the Spurs in 2010. However 2011 proved to be the exception to sixteen years of playoff struggles and despair when Dirk, along with Jason Terry, Tyson Chandler, and Shawn Marion led the Mavs past the Portland Trail Blazers, the Los Angeles Lakers (with a sweep, I might add) and the Oklahoma City Thunder (with the Big Three of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden) to another NBA Finals.
Once again they faced the mighty Miami Heat, with Dwayne Wade still at the helm, but this time he had a little help from league powerhouse LeBron James. At times, Mavs fans held their breath, as both teams traded wins and losses before Dallas took over and won the final two games to beat the Heat 4-2 and win their first NBA Finals in franchise history. The one exception of all four Dallas sports teams and their playoff struggles are the Mavs with their one championship since 2000. Hey, at least we’ve got one.
Since then, the Mavs have rather faltered in the playoffs, as they haven’t advanced past the opening round since 2011. In 2012, they were swept by the vengeful Thunder. In 2013, they didn’t even make the playoffs, which hadn’t happened in 13 years. In 2014, they lost a tough seven-game series against the Spurs. In 2015 and 2016, Dallas was beaten badly by the Houston Rockets and the Thunder, respectively, both times only winning one game.
And now we’ve made it to 2017. Currently, the Mavs sit in third-to-last place in the Western Conference, far from the 8th playoff spot. There’s still time to turn the season around, but it’s running out quickly, as the Mavs need to decide whether to make a run or aim for a good draft pick.
As far as causes of the Mavs’ playoff struggles, a lot of it came from their inability to close games and overcome their opponent’s momentum, as was the case when the Heat won four straight in 2006, some of which were very close games. However, I think their struggles are due in part to the NBA playoff format.
Personally, I believe the NBA has one too many playoff rounds and therefore too many playoff spots. I really like the NFL/NHL playoff format because it makes the season more competitive if there are fewer spots. Also, four rounds of playoff basketball is a lot for teams to go through and just seems to take too much time. Maybe the reason for Dallas’ playoff struggles is just good ol’ bad luck, or possibly punishment by the rest of the NBA because our owner is Mark Cuban.