The biggest surprise of the 2011 NBA playoffs may be the play of the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference, but the biggest shock without question was the Dallas Mavericks sweeping the defending champion Lakers in Phil Jackson’s apparent last hurrah as head coach in Los Angeles. There was probably next to no one who would have believed the Lakers would have bowed out the way they did in the second round of the playoffs against a team in the Mavericks that has been dubbed as “losers,” by the fans and media alike. Dallas brought a balanced attack against Los Angeles with key role players like Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic, Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler all stepping up. Former MVP Dirk Nowitzki was outstanding as well, but he didn’t have to carry the load entirely in the four game thrashing of LA.
General Manager Donnie Nelson has every reason to be impressed and humbled by the team he put together this year. This Mavericks squad may be getting older, but as group they were able to withstand the season-ending injury of Caron Butler, deflect all the pressure of faltering in the big spot and kick it back into high gear at just the right moment against the two-time defending champs. Donnie Nelson joined ESPN Radio Dallas with Ben & Skin to discuss the challenge of preparing for an opponent that won’t be determined for a few days in the Western Conference Finals, what has impressed him the most about the Mavericks during this playoff run, the difference between the Dirk Nowitzki of now and five years ago and how he feels the players are internalizing what they accomplished, a historic sweep of the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
How do you focus on preparing for your next opponent when it hasn’t been determined yet?
“We got scouts covering both teams all year and both scouting reports are ready to go right now. It’s just an extra added advantage for Rick [Carlisle] and the staff and our guys to get rest and to lock in on some of these games and get some of the nuisances, the most current nuisances, which is a nice luxury to have.”
What are you most of proud of in terms of how your team has played in the playoffs?
“I guess it would be the fact that everyone really had a part in what we’ve done thus far, which is unfinished business. I think the refreshing thing for me was yesterday to look at Dirk Nowitzki having seventeen points and us beating a high caliber opponent like the Lakers and it’s kind of been like that. Since the Portland series it’s been different guys stepping up at the right time. I really think that when Caron [Butler] it was hard thing for us. We had a number of guys who have stepped up and really filled out that void. I remember the days when we wouldn’t have a shot to beat a team like the Lakers if Dirk Nowitzki scored seventeen. In fact I’d like know the last time we beat a quality playoff opponent when he did? I think it’s a total team effort. I think the guys have really come together and the chemistry has always been terrific especially this year. They’re focused, poised and ready for the next step.”
What has been the difference between the Dirk Nowitzki of now compared to five years ago when he was MVP?
“He’s got one thing missing from the mantle and that drives him. I mean every year he puts incredible work in the off-season. He’s…of all of the guys I’ve ever been around I don’t know if there’s been a guy that devotes the amount of time that he spends in the off-season in the gym. He’s in there constantly, so the guys that put in the work usually come to the awards. As you mention Skin we’ve been around him awhile, so we may have been spoiled by how good he is, but I think it’s a welcome thing for him to not to just have to score thirty points every time he goes out there, to beat a quality opponent and that’s why other guys step up and really give us a huge lift. It’s been a welcome addition as far as Dirk goes.”
What is your take on the way the Lakers closed things out and had two players get ejected?
“It’s hard. It’s just frustrating. I think there was a sense in the locker room that this was Phil [Jackon’s] last go around and I’m sure the guys didn’t want to go out in that fashion especially when you’re in the position of getting swept and you are down by that much it’s just they’re frustration fouls.”
How do you think the guys in the locker-room are processing sweeping the Lakers? It’s pretty historic?
“It’s an individual thing. I can tell you our collective mindset is that we are on all-or-nothing mission here. No one is drinking any of the media hype Kool Aid or waving flags or anything like that. We’ve been down this road before and we know the toughest part is ahead of us. There’s been a quite confidence in that locker room and I think this is kind of a temporary breather before a serious action takes place.”