2002-03: Dirk goes down in West finals

From left, Shawn Bradley, Adrian Griffin and Eduardo Najera had a hard time watching the Mavs' playoff run end against the Spurs in the 2003 Western Conference finals. AP Photo/Donna McWilliam

Third in a series chronicling the Mavericks' streak of 10 seasons with 50 or more wins (previous installments).

Coach: Don Nelson

Record: 60-22 (T1st, Midwest Division)

Playoffs: Defeated Portland (4-3); defeated Sacramento (4-3), lost to San Antonio (4-2)

Team payroll: $72.9*

Highest-paid player: Michael Finley ($11.95 million)*

Offseason transactions: G Walt Williams (free agent); G Raja Bell (free agent); F Popeye Jones (free agent); G Adam Harrington (free agent, then released in January)

Major transaction: G Antoine Rigaudeau (free agent, signed Jan. 17, 2003)

The high: The Mavs posted a second consecutive franchise record for wins. They started the season 14-0, falling one win shy of tying the NBA record. Dallas led the NBA in scoring for a second straight season (103.0) and committed an NBA record-low 11.6 turnovers a game. Dirk Nowitzki averaged a career-best 25.1 points a game, finishing sixth in the league, and joined Mark Aguirre as the only Mavericks player to score 2,000 or more points in a single season. Nowitzki finished with 2,011. He and Steve Nash (17.7 points, 7.3 assists) made the West All-Star team again. After taking a 3-0 lead over Portland in the first year of the first-round being expanded to best-of-7, the Mavs had to pull out a Game 7 to advance. Dallas then slayed Sacramento in seven games, a series that included a thrilling 141-137 double overtime win in Sacramento and a 112-99 Game 7 win in Dallas in which Nowitzki scored 30 points and had 19 rebounds. It put the Mavs in the West finals for just the second time in franchise history and first since 1988.

The low: On Dec. 6, 2002, the Mavs suffered one of the franchise's worst losses to their most hated nemesis. Playing in Los Angeles, the Mavs blew a 30-point lead to the Lakers, who trailed 88-61 at the end of the third quarter. But, the biggest letdown came in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals when Dirk Nowitzki went down with a sprained knee. The Mavs lost the game to trail San Antonio, 2-1, and the news wasn't good: "The news is not good," Mavericks coach Don Nelson said. "His knee is very sore. I don't expect he'll play [in Game 4], and I'm not sure if he'll play in this series." Nowitzki didn't play the rest of the series. The Spurs won Game 4 in Dallas, but Michael Finley's 31 points in Game 5 extended the sreies to Game 6 back at the American Airlines Center. The Mavs were giving the Spurs all they could handle. That is until Steve Kerr popped off the bench and took over. Kerr put on a 3-point blitz and the Spurs outscored the Mavs, 34-9, in the fourth quarter. The series began the falling out process between Nelson and Mark Cuban, who wanted Nowitzki to play in the late stages of the series. Nelson insisted Nowitzki sit, unwilling to risk the health of the knee of the franchise player. Had Nowitzki played and the Mavs won the series, they had to like their chances against the Jason Kidd-led New Jersey Nets in the NBA Finals. The Spurs certainly did.

The roster:

F Dirk Nowitzki (team-leading 25.1 ppg, 9.9 rpg and 111 steals)

G Michael Finley (19.3 ppg, 37.0% 3FG)

G Steve Nash (17.7 points, team-high 7.3 assists and 41.3% 3FG)

G Nick Van Exel (12.5 ppg, 4.3 apg, 27.8 mpg as sixth man)

F/C Raef LaFrentz (9.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 91 blocks in 69 games)

C Shawn Bradley (6.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 170 blocks in 21.4 mpg)

F Eduardo Najera (6.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg in 48 games)

F Walt Williams (5.5 ppg, 37.4% 3FG)

G/F Adrian Griffin (4.4 ppg in 18.6 mpg)

F Tariq Abdul-Wahad (Played in just 14 games)

G Avery Johnson (3.3 ppg in 48 games)

G Raja Bell (3.1 ppg in 75 games)

F Popeye Jones (2.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg in 26 games)

G Antoine Rigaudeau (1.5 ppg, 0.5 apg in 11 games)

F/C Evan Eschmeyer (1.0 ppg, 1.4 rpg in 17 games)

*Source: Basketball-Reference.com