DALLAS -- Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle has professed his love for this team, more so than any team he's ever coached. The Mavericks just love what he's doing.
Dirk Nowitzki is going to get the lion's share of the credit if the Mavericks win the first championship in franchise history -- and rightfully so -- but the job Carlisle has done can't be marginalized.
"At this stage when you look at all the champions, their coaches have always pushed the right buttons and they've put their players in a position to win," Jason Kidd said. "Hopefully, he keeps pushing the right buttons."
Either the Mavericks or the Miami Heat will take a 3-2 series lead in the NBA Finals with a win Thursday night at American Airlines Center. The Mavs would seem to have momentum after winning Tuesday night, a game in which Carlisle juggled the starting lineup (J.J. Barea for DeShawn Stevenson) and the rotation.
Carlisle's moves don't end there. The Mavs have kept LeBron James in check with multiple defensive looks (and LeBron's help), sprinkled in the zone defense at opportune times and won two games despite not shooting the ball well throughout the series.
"He's doing a phenomenal job," Jason Terry said of Carlisle. "He's done that throughout these playoffs. He knows his team. He knows the beat of this team. And then when we need a spark, he's willing to make the adjustment and make a change. It's just very gutsy, it's very classy and again he's doing a phenomenal job."
Carlisle said before Wednesday morning's shootaround that he loves the "crazy guys" on his team. He was talking about the outspokenness of Terry and Stevenson, and their tendency to spout out bulletin board material. But most of the Mavs, Nowitzki and Kidd especially, keep it on an even keel."
"We take the character of our coach," Kidd said. "We don't show a lot of emotion. We just go out there and play. He's kind of closer to the vest, but he's shared his feelings. We're a group of guys that go out there and play hard for him."
Carlisle isn't the first coach to get the Mavs to the Finals. Even though this is Carlisle's first Finals as a head coach, Terry said the vibe of this team is different than the Avery Johnson-led squad five years ago.
"Mentally tougher team," Terry said. "The leadership on this team is obviously the reason why. Coach Carlisle has obviously prepared tremendously for this moment and I think you see it in his preparation. To a man we're much better with our talent and we're mentally tougher."
The toughness has the Mavericks two victories shy of the ultimate NBA glory.
"He pushes us to the limit," Stevenson said of Carlisle. "With our team and the players we have, we have veteran players where we understand it's a goal and the goal is bringing back a trophy and we don't have guys that are looking for individual stats."
The Mavs of 2006 wilted under the pressure of Dwyane Wade, whistles, South Beach partying and hotel changes. Terry suggested that Johnson's relative inexperience as a coach also played a part.
"Avery was like us," Terry said. "It was our first time. We overachieved. Our failures up to this point have prepared each one of us for this moment. I think that's why Rick is prepared this time around and I think all of us as players have been prepared to handle that adversity."
Terry and Nowitzki are the only players left from the previous Finals team. Terry did stop short of saying Carlisle has done a better coaching job than the Little General.
"Can't really evaluate," Terry said. "The only way you're going to say that is if we win it all."