What a short, strange trip this season has been for the Dallas Mavericks.
It started with the post-lockout stripping of a championship roster, and it now appears on the verge of ending with a first-round elimination. The mediocre Mavericks team from this crazy, lockout-compressed season will be mostly remembered for the divorces with two players (Tyson Chandler and Lamar Odom) who weren't anywhere near Oklahoma City as Dallas dug an 0-2 hole against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Unless the Mavs manage to pull off a miracle.
That's what it would take for the old, slow Mavs to rally to beat the young, fast Thunder in this rematch of last season's Western Conference finals. The record of teams that fall behind 0-2 in best-of-seven series in NBA history is 14-226.
"We've got to win one to get in the series," said Jason Terry, the hero of the 2005 first-round series when the Mavs overcame an 0-2 deficit to defeat the Houston Rockets. "We're not even in the series yet."
Miracles do happen. The Mavs' previous postseason trip to OKC provided proof of that. Dallas became the first team in 15 years to rally from a 15-point deficit in the final five minutes for a playoff victory, essentially crushing OKC's hopes with that Game 4 win. The Mavs also pulled off wins after trailing by at least 15 in the second half of games in Los Angeles and Miami en route to chugging $90,000 champagne and dancing with the Larry O'Brien Trophy in Club Liv.
There are all kinds of reasons that the Mavs were such dominant closers a year ago: the clutch shotmaking of Dirk Nowitzki and Terry, the smarts and savvy of Jason Kidd and Rick Carlisle, the in-your-face attitude and defensive presence of Shawn Marion and Chandler. Oh, and more than a little luck.
A year later, this team can't seem to catch a break.
"It's kind of the way our season's been going," said Nowitzki, who watched his fadeaway in the final minute roll around the rim and out a couple of nights after seeing Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant get the shooter's roll on the game-winner. "They get their bounce the last game. We don't get it, so that's frustrating. But gotta keep coming."
Maybe the basketball gods got mad that owner Mark Cuban opted for future financial flexibility instead of keeping the championship core together, allowing Chandler and others to leave in free agency after offering only one-year deals.
Cuban has been accused of mailing in this season, but that makes no sense considering the luxury-tax dollars he spent to add Odom in a salary-dump deal with the Lakers. What seemed like a coup blew up in Cuban's face, forcing him to finally admit that Odom's lazy, chronically late antics were sucking the life out of the locker room.
At least the Mavs got a playoff slogan out of Odom's disgrace of a tenure in Dallas: "Are you in?" That's what Cuban shouted at Odom in the locker room at halftime of an April 7 loss to Memphis, when Cuban decided to just pay Odom to go away.
OK, enough about the regular season's scapegoat. The Lam Lam saga has nothing to do with the Mavs' playoff problems.
There is no doubt that the Mavs can answer the all-in question in the affirmative. They proved they have a champion's heart, if not the body, by battling back when the Thunder opened a 16-point lead and the deafening roar from the crowd that calls itself Loud City threatened to blow the roof off the building.
The one promise the Mavs can make is that fighting spirit is a sign of things to come in this series.
"You've just got to keep competing," said Nowitzki, who was part of a comeback from an 0-2 hole to beat the Utah Jazz in a best-of-five series during his first taste of the playoffs back in 2001. "If you do that, you put yourself in position to get those bounces. I don't know what else to tell you. We're not going to lay down. We're going to compete."
The Mavs still have enough championship swagger, enough stubbornness to believe that this series can turn around if they continue to compete. They still think they can beat a Thunder team that has tremendous talent and has dominated Dallas during crunch time all season.
Hey, stranger things have happened this season. Just not in the Mavs' favor.