A Texas showdown
After years of Rockets and Spurs success, the Mavericks rule the Lone Star State
Last season, the Dallas Mavericks became the third and final member of the "Texas Triangle" to win an NBA championship by surprisingly handling the favored Miami Heat in six games. Certainly, the lockout gives them some more time to bask in the glow of their historic accomplishment. But eventually they'll get back to business, and they'll do so as the favorite of many to return to the Finals.
But what about the other two teams in the state? Can they catch the Mavericks anytime soon? Are the Houston Rockets ready to step back into relevance? Has the San Antonio Spurs' age finally caught up with them? Let's examine the battle for supremacy in the Lone Star State by analyzing their plans moving forward and the key needs they each have to address.
The Mavericks' brilliant chemistry, spirit and defense were hallmarks of their thrilling title run. And let's not forget the fellow they've got at power forward who took his game to levels few expected he could reach. In the process, Dirk Nowitzki thoroughly exorcized the demons from his Finals flop five years before.
Clearly, the Mavericks are sitting pretty as the toast of the league and a favorite to return to the Finals, if there is a season. Should they re-sign Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler and Jose Juan Barea, they'll return their title team more or less intact. But just two franchises in the past 40 years have repeated after winning their first title ever.
The road to repeating can be tiring because teams invariably trade the thrill ride that was the playoffs for the grind that is the regular season. The need to "save themselves" for the postseason sometimes gets in the way, as one of the chief priorities of any defending champ is to stay healthy -- make it to the playoffs in one piece. The Mavs' motivation and hunger won't quite be the same, and there is simply no way to know -- until the games start -- if complacency will dog them. And losing defensive ace Dwane Casey might be a bigger blow than people realize. All things considered, there has never been a bigger gap between the Mavs and the rest of the state.
The Mavs want for very little, but beefing up their rebounding couldn't hurt. Dallas was a rare NBA champion without a rebounder in double figures, though Chandler averaged 9.4 during the regular season. Re-signing Chandler should be a top priority. They were just 14th in the league on the boards due in part to Nowitzki's spending so much time on the perimeter. Since they will make few personnel moves outside of re-signing their own free agents, that rebounding help will likely have to come from within.
To read more of how Chris Palmer thinks the Rockets and Spurs can knock off the Mavericks, become an ESPN Insider.