x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Out of nowhere, it seems, here come the Mavs

Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks have nearly exorcised their play-off demons of the past, particularly the 2006 NBA Finals loss to Miami and now a step away from the West Conference final.

Dirk Nowitzki, the skinny kid from Germany who once doubted he belonged in the NBA, has become a play-off superstar almost overnight.

The Dallas Mavericks had no business jumping out to a 3-0 series lead against the Los Angeles Lakers, not when the two-time defending champions are loaded with stars, and claim the biggest of all in Kobe Bryant. But Nowitzki has been the undisputed star of the series, the one unstoppable player who refuses to panic when the Lakers jump out to a fourth-quarter lead.

His coolness and toughness - words in the past that have not been used to describe Nowitzki - enabled the Mavericks to sustain every Lakers challenge through the first three games.

The rest of the Mavs feed off him. It is why they, and not the mighty Lakers, have closed out the tight games.

Who could have seen this coming? Not me. Not the Lakers.

The Mavericks' obituary was written, the hand-wringing underway, back in the first round when the upstart Portland Trail Blazers tied up their series at 2-2.

It looked so familiar: another great regular-season run by Dallas, followed by the annual post-season meltdown.

Then something strange happened. The Mavericks got tough. They dug in and answered the Blazers' charge. They became impervious to pressure. They won the next two against Portland, and have now stunned the Lakers with three consecutive wins.

No one saw this coming.