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Thursday, December 15, 2011
Updated: December 29, 6:02 PM ET
Mavs' most memorable stories of 2011

By Tim MacMahon
ESPNDallas.com

The year 2011 served to legitimize the Dallas Mavericks' ascent from NBA laughingstock to perennial contender during the Dirk Nowitzki/Mark Cuban era.

Once perceived as a soft team that wilted under playoff pressure, the Mavs' title run was a true testament to mental toughness and teamwork.

With that, here are the most memorable Mavs stories from 2011:

10. Mavs remodel the roster after the lockout. So much for the feel-good vibe of keeping the championship band together. That disintegrated the first day of post-lockout free agency negotiations, when heart-and-soul center Tyson Chandler told ESPN.com that he expected to sign with a different team. Caron Butler and J.J. Barea soon followed suit as the Mavs declined to offer any of their free agents long-term deals; the team was determined to maintain financial flexibility due to the new, more restrictive collective bargaining agreement. It soon became clear, however, that owner Mark Cuban's vow to contend again this season was more than an empty promise. In a two-day span, the Mavs convinced former All-Star swingman Vince Carter to sign for the mini-midlevel exception and turned a trade exception acquired when Chandler joined the Knicks into reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom.

9. Roddy B's wasted sophomore season. Rodrigue Beaubois's rookie season featured such flashes of brilliance that the Mavs put up a billboard promoting him as a superstar in the making. However, the lean, long-armed, lightning-quick guard's fragile left foot and psyche prevented him from making progress in his second season. A broken foot originally suffered while training with the French national team over the summer sidelined Roddy B. until mid-February, and he primarily struggled the remainder of the season. After vowing to stick with the kid several times, coach Rick Carlisle benched Beaubois for DeShawn Stevenson in the regular-season finale, heeding the advice of the team's veteran leaders. Beaubois sprained his foot that night and didn't play a second during the Mavs' title run.

Caron Butler
Caron Butler was second on the team in scoring, averaging 15.0 points per game, when he suffered a knee injury Jan. 1, 2011.

8. Caron Butler wrecks knee on New Year's Day homecoming. Butler went up for an offensive rebound and crashed to the court at Milwaukee's Bradley Center. Moments later, he was slapping the hardwood in frustration and agony; the native of nearby Racine, Wis., immediately knew he had suffered a significant injury to his right knee. With dozens of friends and family members in the crowd, the man known as "Tuff Juice" walked off without assistance, but his season was over. Butler, the second-leading scorer on a team that started 24-5, suffered a ruptured patellar tendon. He attempted to be a medical miracle and return during the playoffs, but doctors wouldn't clear him until a couple of weeks after the Mavs won the championship. Butler's teammates often cited Butler's positive attitude under such difficult circumstances as an inspiration.

7. Mavs overcome historic blown lead to beat Blazers. Game 4 at the Rose Garden in Portland was an epic playoff embarrassment, even by the Mavs' miserable standards of recent years. Portland's Brandon Roy blew up to fuel a rally from a 23-point deficit, making the Mavs one of three teams in the shot-clock era to blow a fourth-quarter lead of at least 18 points in a playoff game. Postseason demons dominated the postgame conversation after the Mavs' 18th loss in 20 playoff road games, a stretch that dated back to their fourth-quarter flop in Game 3 of the 2006 NBA Finals. After Carlisle took the brunt of the blame for failing to adjust his strategy of defending Roy one-on-one, Dallas' players vowed to prove they were mentally tough enough to bounce back, that they weren't the same ol' Mavs. They began that process by taking care of business in the next two games, eliminating Portland in six games to advance past the first round for only the second time in five seasons.

6. Jason Kidd's overtime 3-pointer caps classic Western finals comeback. The Mavs never had a lead during regulation in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals. They trailed by 15 points with five minutes remaining, when Thunder star Kevin Durant busted out an imaginary championship belt after draining what seemed to be a dagger 3-pointer. But the Mavs went home with a commanding 3-1 series lead after a stunning comeback, capped by Kidd's go-ahead 3-pointer with 40 seconds remaining. That was made possible by Nowitzki, who scored 12 of his 40 points in a 17-2 run to end regulation. "Throughout every season, there comes a time and a situation where they're going to test the courage and the mettle and the inner strength of your team," Jason Terry said. "This was one of those times. It's a defining moment of your season. It's one that we're going to look back on when it's all done and say, 'Hey, that was the game.'"

5. Mavs respond to Miami's dance with Game 2 comeback: The Miami Heat were guilty of premature celebration. Not a good idea against a Mavs team that seemed to specialize in miraculous playoff comebacks. Dwyane Wade let his goose-necked right wrist hang for several seconds after hitting a 3-pointer to give the Heat a 15-point lead with 7:44 remaining in the game. He then did a little choreographed dance with LeBron James right in front of the Mavs' bench during the ensuing timeout. The Mavs responded with a 22-5 run to steal the game and even the series. Terry and Nowitzki, the only two holdovers from the Mavs' 2006 Finals team that flopped in Miami, scored 17 of those points. Nowitzki had the final nine points, including the game-winning drive, a lefty layup he shot despite having a torn tendon in the middle finger on that hand. "Guys like that don't feel pain right now," Carlisle said.

4. Jason Terry talks big, but backs it up in the Finals. Terry, who was so confident the team would win the championship that he had the Larry O'Brien Trophy tattooed on his right biceps before last season, laughed off LeBron James' defensive dominance down the stretch of the Heat's two wins in the first three games of the Finals. Never mind that King James, an All-NBA defender, shut out Terry in the fourth quarter of the Mavs' losses. "Let's see if he can defend me like that for seven games," Terry said. He especially backed up those bold words in Game 5, scoring eight points in the final 3:23 of the victory, including a game-tying 3-pointer and a 26-foot dagger in James' face. Terry also had two assists in that close-out flurry, one of which came after a sweet right-to-left crossover dribble, which made James look like his feet were stuck in concrete.

Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki fought through an illness to post 21 points, including the game-winning layup, in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.

3. An ill Dirk drives for Game 4 winner, then is mocked by Miami. With the Mavs trailing 2-1 in the Finals, Nowitzki showed up for shootaround with a triple-digit temperature and nasty cough, and he struggled for much of Game 4. But he stepped up when it mattered most, scoring 10 of his 21 points and grabbing five of his 11 rebounds to key a fourth-quarter comeback, which he capped by driving for the game-winning layup with 14.4 seconds left. TV cameras caught Heat stars Wade and James mock coughing before Game 5, which didn't exactly amuse Nowitzki. "I just thought it was a little childish, a little ignorant," Nowitzki said after seeing the video. "I've been in this league for 13 years. I've never faked an injury or an illness."

2. Mavs sweep Lakers coach Phil Jackson into retirement with Game 4 rout: The Mavs' rude farewell for Jackson eliminated any doubt that they were legitimate championship contenders. They completed the sweep of the two-time defending-champion Lakers with a 122-86 laugher, recording the largest margin of victory in a four-game sweep finale in NBA history. The Mavs turned the game into an impromptu shooting clinic. Terry tied a playoff record with nine 3-pointers en route to 32 points, and the Mavs matched the NBA team record by making 20 of 32 3-point attempts. "We believe," owner Mark Cuban said, briefly breaking his self-imposed public silence that began at the beginning of the series.

1. Dirk, Mavs get redemption, rings: Five years after their Finals flop, the Mavs returned to the scene of the crime for sweet vindication; a team full of ring-less veterans knocked off one of the most hyped teams in NBA history. OK, so only two players remained from the 2006 roster. But the storyline still couldn't have been any sweeter, especially for Nowitzki, who was so emotional that he dashed to the locker room as the final seconds ticked off in Game 6 to sob by himself. The Finals MVP recovered to party with friends, teammates, Cuban and various team employees at Miami Beach's trendy Liv night club, chugging champagne out of an enormous bottle until the wee hours of the morning. Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com. Follow Tim MacMahon on Twitter: @espn_macmahon.