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by Mike Fisher    Thu, Jan 10, 2008, 09:28 am
Pistons-at-Mavs. NBA Finals preview, maybe, right? So what was this “underdog’’ heehaw Avery Johnson was feeding us going into Wednesday’s high-profile matchup?


“We didn’t come here to be an underdog,” the Mavs coach had said. “But because of the way we’ve been positioned this year, we’re more in that role.”

Positioned? Positioned?

Let’s be clear on this, shall we, while we review the Mavs’ wondrous  102-86 home victory over the powerful Pistons: For better or worse, the ONLY person who “positioned’’ last year’s No. 1 NBA seed as this year’s “underdog’’ is Avery himself.

And his “position’’ was wrong.

From on Oct. 1, 2007, the start of camp: "No one is going to pick us," the Mavs coach claimed. "We can go 82-0 this year and we're still going to be the underdog. …’’

And again on Oct. 8, this quote from Art Garcia on The Mavs players “know we’re the underdogs. The Spurs are the team to beat and you have other teams that a lot of people are talking about.”

And just for the heck of it, again this month, on Jan. 2, this link from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “I think teams don’t play really well being the favorite. I think guys who have that underdog mentality and they feel like they don’t have any sort of pressure on them, they seem to play better.’’

Avery, on two different front. … who are we kidding here?

Who are we kidding about the originator of this silly “we’re the underdog’’ concept? And who are we kidding about teams like Dallas and Detroit being anything but elite contenders?

Well, it could be argued that “we’re kidding’’ Avery’s own players – and that it’s a good thing. Check out this astounding quote from Josh Howard following the Pistons game:  “We're flying under the radar again. I think that's good for us."

Son, you just played the national game on ESPN, just beat the East’s most accomplished team, just moved to 24-11, putting you one win short of Phoenix’ West-topping total. You were the NBA’s No. 1 seed last year with 67 wins and the year before played in the NBA Finals. You’re on your way to an eight straight 50-plus-win season.

And y’all think you’re doing all this covertly? In a vacuum? Like you’re some sort of secret?

Of course, Avery’s approach is psychologically-based. Certain other observers who sincerely share this “under-the-radar’’ view are simply psycho. Consider the perfectly absurd evaluation of the Mavericks from the always perfectly absurd Bill Walton, who tells the DMNews’ Eddie Sefko:

 "I think (the Mavs) are a top-five team -- five or six -- in the entire league. The question is whether they can beat San Antonio. And that's comes back to Jerry Stackhouse and Erick Dampier going against Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan. … And that's where Dallas falls short.''

I know I shouldn’t get suckered in by ESPN analyst Walton’s opinions; it’s clear that he doesn’t think things through before putting his ample foot in his substantial mouth. But here we go:

Hey, Bill: In the last five Mavs-Spurs meetings, Dallas is 4-1. In the last 12 meetings, Dallas is 8-4, including four wins in an ’06 playoff series. In the last 14 meetings, Dallas is 9-5.

“The question is whether they can beat San Antonio’’?! There is actually no “question’’ about it at all.

Hey, Bill: Duncan is San Antonio’s best player. Dampier is one of Dallas’ nine best players. Good God, Duncan BETTER be superior to Dampier. Meanwhile, Manu is San Antonio’s No. 2 or 3 guy. Stack is Dallas’ seventh man. Good God, Manu BETTER be superior to Stack.

Walton is so far off on this that he clearly has no understanding of how Josh Howard takes turns covering Manu AND Duncan, of how ‘Gana Diop has actually been a valuable weapon in guarding Duncan, of how Brandon Bass could be an X-factor in the matchip with Duncan, and of how Eddie Jones is more likely to find himself guarding Manu than Stack is.

Hey, Bill: Top SIX? Boston is the No. 1 team in the NBA. Please name, using any measure possible – record, projection, history, whatever -- the other four teams obviously better than Dallas.

Hey, Bill: You are absurd.

Now, Avery, you are NOT absurd. You are, in fact, the leader of a team that is now, with a five-game win streak, 24-11. As we wrote the other day, the soft-serve schedule offered up Detroit as the only qualify opponent during an eight-game grouping that could allow you to be 30-11 at the midway mark of the season.

The 30-11 would project to 60-22. Sixty wins – does not make you “the sixth-best team in the NBA’’ and it does not make you an “underdog.’’ It might keep Hollinger from underrating you and it might keep the media from writing of your quest for 70. But it does nothing to keep Mavs-watchers and truth-tellers with any insight at all from knowing the facts.

In the East, these 26-9 Pistons are in Boston’s shadow. In the West, these Mavericks are part of a crowd with San Antonio (about to embark on its annual Rodeo Road Trip) and Phoenix (with its inability to beat the elite).

But “shadows’’ and “crowds’’ don’t make for underdogs. And saying “underdog’’ – no matter who you blame it on – doesn’t make it so.

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written by Steve , January 10, 2008

Maybe the Mavs should start associating themselves with winners.

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