Sunday, May 22, 2011
Updated: May 23, 9:29 AM ET
Mavs reverse course to road success
By Tim MacMahon
OKLAHOMA CITY -- When the Dallas Mavericks boarded the longest four-hour flight in NBA history, their ears still ringing from the deafening roar in the Rose Garden, it felt like they might never win another playoff road game.
That at least was an outsider's view after witnessing the Mavs blow a 23-point lead to let the Portland Trail Blazers steal Game 4 in that first-round series. Dallas was dealing with too much emotional turbulence to think big picture as the Mavs got on the team plane.
"Embarrassment. Feeling sick," Jason Kidd said. "We all took it personal."
Well, the Mavs can leave those paper sacks in the seat pocket. That stomach-rumbling ride was a month ago. We're still waiting for the Mavs to lose another game away from the American Airlines Center.
Perhaps it took an experience that painful to exorcise the Mavs' playoff demons. How else to explain their remarkable road turnaround during these playoffs?
The Brandon Roy-led rally resulted in the Mavs' 18th loss in 20 road playoff games. Not coincidentally, the Mavs won only one series during that span. That miserable stretch started with the Miami meltdown, when the Heat erased a 13-point deficit late in Game 3 of the NBA Finals to finally throw a punch in that series, which ended with parade plans being postponed indefinitely in downtown Dallas.
If the Mavs continue the sudden trend of being such rude guests, somebody will need to knock the dust off those parade plans.
The Mavs' playoff road roll is up to four games and counting entering Monday night's Game 4 against the Thunder at Oklahoma City Arena. They finished the first round at the Rose Garden, started the conference semifinals with two straight wins at Staples Center and reclaimed control of the Western Conference finals by silencing "Loud City," as the blue-clad crazies are called in OKC.
To put that run in perspective, six other West teams have won four or more consecutive playoff road games in the past 15 years. Five of those squads celebrated championships.
It's really hard to explain why the Mavs had such a wretched and extended road stretch spanning several postseasons. This is a franchise that has had the best road record in three of the past five regular seasons, matching Miami for that honor this year.
There isn't a distinctly different comfort level for the Mavs in the friendly confines of home. Just refer to the records for evidence: The Mavs' 28-13 road record this season, which included a couple of wins in OKC, was only one game worse than their home mark.
"It's not the where as much as the how," coach Rick Carlisle said. "We've got to play with a certain edge."
All due respect to the MFFLs, whose decibel level has increased drastically during this playoff run, but it's arguably easier for the Mavs to create that edge in enemy territory. It's not as if they have to use their imagination to come up with ammunition for animosity.
"We like playing in hostile environments. It gets us revved up," said Shawn Marion, who scored a playoff-high 18 points and played outstanding defense on Kevin Durant to key the Game 3 win. "It's exciting. When you make the opposing team's crowd shut up, it's fun. It was rocking in here, but it's fun making them be quiet."
Dirk Nowitzki put it a little more diplomatically: "We like playing on the road when everybody is against you and you come together as a team. It helps having a bunch of veterans who have been through a lot in this league and play off each other and just want to win."
If the Thunder can't protect their home court against their across-the-Red River neighbors for the first time all season, the engine on the Mavs' plane will rev up in preparation for takeoff to Miami or Chicago next week.
The Mavs wouldn't have home-court advantage against either NBA Finals foe. At this point, that's perhaps a good thing for a team with a refreshed love for traveling.
Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.