A local radio host in Dallas asked me on the air last week. Editors and colleagues have been asking me, too. Even Dirk Nowitzki turned things around and asked me for my take when I told him this is the hot question going around.
Mavs keep eyes on biggest W's
Isn't all this winning in the regular season putting even more pressure on the Mavericks?
To which I say huh?
How could there be more pressure on the Mavericks than they had when the season started?
The Mavs were on the heartbreak end of the worst collapse/greatest comeback in NBA Finals history, depending on your perspective/rooting interests. This season, then, they were always going to be graded on a champs-or-failures basis.
As Nowitzki has been saying almost daily throughout a 17-game win streak that was finally halted Monday night in a 117-100 hammering administered by, of all teams, Don Nelson's Golden State Warriors: "If we go 82-0, it doesn't really mean anything if we don't win it all."
So let's consider the alternatives, knowing that the postseason, in this case, is everything.
You could zoom through the regular season as Dallas has, dominating so thoroughly that you pretty much dodge all scrutiny until March, when the whiff of a run at 70 wins finally swipes some focus from the teams soaked in drama to attract some national inspection.
Or it could play out as an interminable slog just to get to the playoffs, with several more clunkers like Monday's to prompt skeptical pundits to dredge up frequent reminders of your Finals failings and wonder aloud if you really did blow your best shot to be champs offshoots of a theory circulated frequently in the immediate aftermath of Dallas failing to turn a virtual 3-0 series lead over Miami into a title.
Given the choice, if you could step into the Mavericks' sneaks, I'm guessing you'd opt for the 52-10 ride.
"The first four games was the longest part of the season," Mavs swingman Jerry Stackhouse told me recently, referring to Dallas' 0-4 start. "Since then, the season has kind of breezed by."
With the playoff obstacles and challenges that await in the West alone, who wouldn't take breezy now?
Back in October, when the Mavs convened for training camp, I was convinced that they were facing the longest 82-game grind of any team in the league, since they couldn't feed their hunger for vengeance or answer any of our (or their own) deepest curiosities about this group's ability to rebound psychologically until they got back to the playoffs.
I remember hitting Stackhouse with that theory and I remember him largely agreeing with me. "Seven months before the fun part even starts," Stack said at the time.
But I was wrong. Except for a couple humbling losses to their old pal Nellie -- one in November during the 0-4 start and Monday night's shocking rout after going 44 days without a loss -- this regular season couldn't be more of a wind-swept frolic. Which they've welcomed, as you'd imagine, after the depths they sank to in June.
The Mavs are on course to finish with a win total that: (A) appears headed for the high 60s; (B) will almost certainly present an opportunity to get back to the Finals without being forced to play Phoenix and San Antonio in the West playoffs; and (C) has led to a championship for every team in history before them on a similar pace.
Yet they're not wearing themselves out in the process because, unlike Detroit last season in its 64-18 season gone awry, Dallas is the deepest team in the league. By a comfortable margin. So deep that Nowitzki, in contrast to bosom buddy Steve Nash in Phoenix or the Pistons' 2005-06 starters, can play at an MVP level but seemingly save some gas for later, as opposed to driving himself to pre-playoff exhaustion.
The Mavs have been such a drama-free steamroller to this point -- 11-0 in the second game of back-to-backs, remember, before this embarrassment in Oakland -- that they've enjoyed several months almost devoid of media intrusion. It's the teams with issues that generally attract extra attention, whether it's an Atlantic Division that houses just one team with a winning record or a Denver club still trying to get Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson clicking or those defending champs who had to live without Shaquille O'Neal for 40 games and have no idea whether Dwyane Wade can realistically be sturdy enough to carry them in May and June.
I'm sure it'll be suggested in coming days and weeks, especially if the Mavs have the temerity to pump out one more double-digit win streak, that their season will be regarded as a catastrophe for the ages -- even bigger than last season's -- should they fail to lift the trophy after all this dominance.
But I'm just as sure that the Mavs' extraordinary regular-season hasn't created an added burden that Mavs players feel.
For starters, no matter how breezy these first 62 games were, Avery Johnson won't let them delude themselves into thinking that the Suns and Spurs are any easier to take down in the playoffs than they've ever been.
After last June's torturous swoon?
How much more desperate to win it all -- and shut us all up -- can they be?
"Everybody's going to say what they're going to say," Stackhouse says. "We hear all the stuff. We hear the prognosticators saying that we're a regular-season team.
"So we want to blow everyone away. We want to be impressive in the regular season and be impressive in the post-season."
Then there's the Nowitzki approach: Pretend to be interested in the hot topic when you're really not and invite the media gnat to answer his own question.
"We don't care about all that stuff you guys talk about," he said. "We just play."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
Could the Warriors give Josh Howard's Mavs an unexpected first-round headache? They've won the teams' last four meetings.
Another Mavericks streak came to an end Monday: They had won the last 30 games in which they scored at least 100 points. Their only loss of that kind this season was also to the Warriors, 107-104 on Nov. 6. Only two other teams in NBA history won as many consecutive games in one season when scoring at least 100 points: the 1995-96 Bulls had a 38-game streak and the 1971-72 Lakers had a 33-game streak (which was also their NBA-record 33-game winning streak).
To put it another way: The Mavs are 0-2 when scoring at least 100 points against the Warriors this season and 30-0 when scoring at least 100 points against any other team.
Chad Ford and Chris Sheridan bounce around the latest in the NBA: the Knicks, Isiah Thomas, the Pacers, the Lakers, the Final Four and more.
Bringing down a 17-game win streak
AP Photo/Roy Dabner
Super-speedy Suns guard Leandro Barbosa zipped through the Rockets for 32 points in the Suns' 103-82 win.
Quote of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
Editor's note: A year ago, they were college basketball's biggest stars. Now NBA rookies Adam Morrison and J.J. Redick are coming off the bench for losing teams. We asked David Thorpe of Scouts Inc. to answer a few questions after Morrison's Charlotte Bobcats defeated Redick's Orlando Magic on Monday, 119-108.
What's your quick take on Morrison's strengths and weaknesses?
Morrison takes too many tough shots. It is the rare rookie who can make the kind of shots he's shooting at a decent percentage; LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade all could, but he's simply not in their class.
I love his confidence, but I'd like to see him use his size more and get to the basket or look for midrange shots rather than the long-range 2-pointers and the 3-pointers that he takes most often.
He has an excellent scorer's touch around the basket and is very crafty -- as he drives more he'll develop a better feel for scoring inside against the size he's seeing each night.
As for Redick?
Redick has allowed his spot minutes to convert him into a straight jump shooter. At Duke he was more than a shooter -- he was also a scorer.
I believe he can be one in the NBA as well, given the minutes and consistent opportunities.
His trigger is quick so he can get shots off in tight spots, but he settles for those tough jumpers too often.
Forgive me. In my last blog entry, I listed my top 10 hoop nicknames of all time and left out some doozies. My only saving grace is that I admitted in the blog that I may have forgotten a few since I compiled the list at the spur of the moment and off the top of my head.
Anyway, here's a quick revision. Remember, the quality of the player had nothing to do with the order (though the dude had to have at least some game):
1. Chocolate Thunder (Darryl Dawkins) -- If he was as great a player as he was an entertainer, he'd be in the Hall of Fame. I think if Dawkins had gone to college and learned the game, he would have become an NBA star. He was something of a star anyway, with his penchant for breaking backboards, naming dunks, squaring up with Maurice Lucas and pubbing Lovetron.
2. Doctor J (Julius Erving) -- My former No. 1. Certainly the best nickname for a star player. This nickname was unique (just like his game), classy (just like his personality) and fitting (who else operated like Doc?). I can't say enough about the nickname "Doctor J."
3. The Iceman (George Gervin) -- It's quite embarrassing that I forgot two of my top three nicknames. But hey, I was in baseball mode. Not only did Gervin have one of the greatest nicknames of all time, he also had one of the greatest posters ever. Remember him in a silver "Ice'' sweatsuit, sitting on blocks of ice with two silver basketballs in his hands? Can't forget the fresh Nike Blazers he was sporting either.
Andy (NYC): I know that everyone is racing for No. 2 in the MVP race, but who is leading in this race? I feel like the public is gonna put Steve Nash as No. 2, but I think Tim Duncan (having a vastly underrated season) and T-Mac are both in the running above Nash.
John Hollinger: I would absolutely put Duncan ahead of Nash, and I think anyone who ponders defensive value for more than half a second would almost have to. Not T-Mac though -- Nash is still a solid No. 3 on my nonexistent ballot.
Jay (San Diego): T-Mac not your top 3 MVP candidate? Are you out of your mind! Look at what he did without their big man and their winning record. Then where do you place him? He better be in your top 5.
John Hollinger: Sorry, but games in November and December count just as much as the ones in March, and Tracy's annual weak efforts to start the year pretty much took him out of the discussion from the get-go.