Tenth in a series chronicling the Dallas Mavericks' streak of 10 seasons with 50 or more wins (previous installments).
As the regular season wound down, Dirk Nowitzki was confident his team was built for the playoffs. He was ready to roll in the postseason, looking for his first long playoff run since the 2006 NBA Finals.
Once again, owner Mark Cuban opened his wallet in making moves that he believed would help the franchise get back into the thick of Western Conference contention. Dallas finally traded Josh Howard to Washington and in return received scorer Caron Butler, an agile big man with good hands in Brendan Haywood and an extra defender in DeShawn Stevenson. With the addition of Shawn Marion in the offseason, even the pundits couldn't help but notice the size, strength and toughness of this revameped roster.
Through some wild swings throughout the 82-game regular season, it was the Mavs who outlasted Utah, Denver and Phoenix for the No. 2 seed, and after a big win over the Los Angeles Lakers during a 13-game win streak following the blockbuster trade, the Mavs themselves were buying into the hype -- and the growing expectations.
Nowitzki, who had another outstanding regular season, avergaging 25.0 points and 7.7 rebounds, said this team had more talent than any he played on in his dozen seasons in Dallas. Jason Kidd, who had played in two NBA Finals with the New Jersey Nets, said this was one of the best teams he's played on.
Yet, somehow, it all came crashing down in a familiar postseason letdown.
The Spurs, led by the Big Three plus the emergence of George Hill and revolving role players, made big shot after big shot and defensively suffocated Kidd, who struggled to get the Mavs on the run. With a stagnant halfcourt offense, Dallas failed to score more than 90 points in four of the six games, leaving more questions than answers about the club moving forward.
No one, not in this season, expected the Mavs to be licking their wounds again before the calendar turned to May.
Coach: Rick Carlisle
Record: 55-27 (1st in Southwest)
Playoffs: Lost to San Antonio (4-2)
Team payroll: $88.9 million*
Highest-paid player: Dirk Nowitzki ($19.8 million)*
Offseason transactions: Traded 21st overall draft pick C B.J. Mullens to Oklahoma City for 24th draft pick G Rodrigue Beaubois and a future second-round pick; in four team deal, traded F/G Devean George and G Antoine Wright to Toronto, and G/F Jerry Stackhouse plus a future second-round pick to Memphis for F Shawn Marion, Kris Humphries and Nathan Jawai (from Toronto), plus Greg Buckner (from Memphis, later released); signed G Quinton Ross (free agent); signed F Drew Gooden (free agent); signed F Tim Thomas (free agent); signed F Kris Humphries (free agent);
In-season transaction: Jan. 11, 2010: Traded Kris Humprhies and Shawne Williams to New Jersey for Eduardo Najera; Feb. 13, 2010: Traded Josh Howard, Quinton Ross, James Singleton and Drew Gooden to Washington for Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson.
The high: Following the big trade that finally rid the club of Josh Howard, the Mavs played like a team in which a heavy weight had been lifted. The club rolled off a season-best 13 consecutive wins, the longest streak since the 2006-07 season. Victories included Phoenix, Atlanta, Orlando and the Los Angeles Lakers, fueling the club with optimism that it had the ingredients to conted for the Western Conference crown. Dirk Nowitzki added to his illustrous career by becoming just the 34th player in NBA history to score 20,000 career points against the Lakers on Jan. 13. On Nov. 25, Jason Kidd notched his 10,335th career assist to move into second place on the NBA's all-time list. On the final night of the regular-season, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich rested his starters and the Mavs secured the West's No. 2 seed, their highest seed since claiming No. 1 in 2006-07.
The low: San Antonio 4, Dallas 2. Sure, the Spurs were not your typical No. 7 seed, but so what? The Mavs lost the home-court advantage by losing in Game 2 and then dropped two in a row at San Antonio to go down 3-1. The Mavs melted down in the third quarter of Game 4 and then in the do-or-die Game 6 they opened the first quarter with eight points. Despite taking the lead briefly in the third quarter, Dallas suffered its third first-round defeat of the last four seasons. This one particularly stung because of the big trade that had Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd calling this club one of the best either had ever played on.
F Dirk Nowitzki (25.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 48.1% FG)
G Jason Terry (16.6 ppg, 43.8% FG)
G/F Caron Butler (15.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 44.0% FG in 27 games)
G/F Josh Howard (12.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg in 31 games)
F Shawn Marion (12.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 50.8% FG)
G Jason Kidd (10.3 ppg, 9.1 apg, 5.6 rpg)
F Drew Gooden (8.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg in 46 games)
C Brendan Haywood (8.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg in 28 games)
G J.J. Barea (7.6 ppg, 3.3 apg, 19.8 mpg)
F Tim Thomas (7.5 ppg in 18 games)
G Rodrigue Beaubois (7.1 ppg, 51.8% FG in 56 games)
C Erick Dampier (6.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg)
F Kris Humprhies (5.2 ppg in 25 games)
F Eduardo Najera (3.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg in 33 games)
F James Singleton (2.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg in 25 games)
G Quinton Ross (2.0 ppg in 27 games)
G DeShawn Stevenson (2.0 ppg in 24 games)
G Matt Carroll (1.8 ppg in 25 games)