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The Importance Of Being Erick Dampier

Taking a step away from the perpetual articles on the NBA Finals, I?d like to spread some love on one of the most hated Mavericks, Erick Dampier.

After averaging a surprising 12/12/2 season in 2004 with the Warriors, Dampier was a hot commodity in the free agent market ? teams such as the Knicks and Grizzlies were fighting over him. Ultimately, Dallas organized a sign and trade for a 7 year / $64 million dollar contract and many fans thought Cuban had done it again, tried to mess with the chemistry and just overpaid a lackluster player. Not only that, but Dampier?s signing meant the end of the Steve Nash/Big 3 era in Dallas ? a team that consistently averaged more than 50 wins a season but consistently were exposed for what they were in the playoffs.

Dampier was hailed as the first great center for Dallas since the James Donaldson era. The front office had hopes he?d replace the woeful memories of Shawn Bradley and Raef LaFrentz with new defensive memories of monster blocks and ferocious dunks not seen since Finley?s prime. But alas, as Nash went on to win MVP and the Suns eliminated Dallas, Nowitzki was calling out Dampier ? who averaged 7/7 ? for his nonchalant effort and continued lack of enthusiasm.

The Mavericks then signed supposed-project DeSagana Diop in the hopes he could turn into a serviceable backup. Midway through the season, Diop replaced Dampier in the lineup (and Dallas subsequently went on a 14-0 streak) ? since then, neither have looked back. Damp has come off the bench with an abundance of success, he?s fought the opposing bench players with new-found determination that was definitely missing last season. The benching acted as a catalyst to revive his motivation. You can see it in his eyes, his gestures, his yelling, his expressions clarify that this is the Damp that was playing for a big contract.

Looking at his stats, he seems worthless. Why pay a big guy $8 million a year to play 23 minutes and score a measly 5 points and grab 8 rebounds? Luckily, there?s more to basketball than statistics. Dampier boxes outs, and rebounding has been one of Dallas? most successful categories (they were out rebounded for the first time in the playoffs against Miami). He manages his turnovers when holding the ball, he sets strong picks and he is the banger inside the blue paint in the American Airlines Center. His rebounds per 48 minutes are two and a half higher than last year, rivaling 2004 for his best numbers ever.

Everyone who?s watched a single Mavericks game this year knows the most relayed stat in the NBA, the Mavericks are 25-0 when Josh Howard scores over 20 points. Well here?s an interested stat, Dallas is 32-6 when Dampier grabs 9 or more rebounds.

Since Erick Dampier arrived here, Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks are having two of the best seasons in franchise history. Nowitzki has established him as one of the best in the league partly due to the ability of Dampier. Damp allows Dirk to roam the perimeter which helps the defensive matchups. He keeps defenses honest and forces opponents to guard the Diggler with a power forward since he is capable of scoring. He creates space on offense for teammates who drive, something the Mavericks have relied upon since Johnson became coach. Another great thing about Dampiers game is his improved offensive rebounding, he consistently allows Dallas to have the opportunity for second chance points.

His defense is relatively astounding as he can mark the premier centers in the league (to a certain extent). But most importantly, he can play Shaquille O?Neal as good as any other big man in the league. His fast paced footwork and huge frame provide the basics for stopping one of the most dominant players ever, who hates to admit it, but knows Damp can do a good a job as anyone against him. Since Dampier?s arrival in Dallas, they have gone 5-0 against Shaq and his Miami Heat (I added this now, because it will be dispelled soon). His one play against Tim Duncan won us that series, and if Dallas wins the title ? is his contract worth it?

There?s a reason though he was relegated to the bench and there?s a reason he?s one of the most hated players in Dallas ? he can?t hit his freethrows (on the bright-side, at least he did not go 1-9), his offensive repertoire is redundant (at least he has one, Diop) and he picks up ticky-tack fouls which generally set the Mavericks off for a sub-par game. He only played in 2 games in the Phoenix series, but even with these shortcomings, Erick and DeSagana form one of the best center pairs in the league.

Ding Dong The Spurs Are Dead; Suns And Mavs Ready To Sort Out The West

Screenshot courtesy of 2kSports

With both teams coming off inspiring Game 7 victories, look for the 2006 Western Conference Finals to be more intense than Jaws. The stakes are high with both teams looking to dispel the thoughts that they aren?t built for the playoffs and make an entrance to the NBA finals, facing the winner of the Detroit-Miami series.

The Mavericks just finished off the reigning NBA Champions with a 119-111 overtime victory were Dirk Nowitzki proved critics wrong with his tough 37 points and 15 rebounds. Despite being up 3-1 then losing two heart-wrenching games in a row, the Mavericks pulled through in emphatic style partly due to the 27 points from returning boxer, Jason Terry. The Suns, on the other hand, cruised to victory in Game 7 with 20 points to spare. Lead by a combined 59 points from Marion and Nash (30 & 29 respectively) the Suns smashed the longtime playoff virgins, the Clippers.

Returning Western Conference Finals competitors, Phoenix Suns, face a tough task when they arrive in the American Airlines Center on Wednesday for Game 1. The Mavericks have the momentum of a running bull, thanks to the defeat of the Spurs recently, they are the hottest team in the league, and all eyes will be placed upon the blue and white boys of Fort Worth.

Avery Johnson out-coached mentor Gregg Poppovich, but what gameplan lies ahead against the team that eliminated Dallas last year? Well, the Suns can be defeated, and Avery just needs to press the right buttons and the Mavericks will be too hot for the Suns.

Dirk Nowitzki needs to attack the basket relentlessly, he averaged 27/13 against the Spurs thanks to his attacking mindset. He shot over the quicker Michael Finley, the Mavs legend for 8 years, and drove against the defensive Tim Duncan. He faces another task against rebounding machine Shawn Marion where not only does Marion have quickness and agility working for him, but he has an amazing array of defensive moves ? partly thanks to his long arms. Nowitzki needs to be ?our MVP? (as Harris describes him) and step up, to erase last year?s embarrassing early playoff exit.

The X factor for Dallas will be sophomore Devin Harris, whose importance in swinging the series in Dallas? favour is understated. He averaged 20.6 PPG between game 2 and game 5, but then did a Houdini and disappeared when during the ?clutch?. Dallas needs him to step up big and prove to be a slashing machine, to make do for the post defense the Suns don?t have. The Suns have let Elton Brand dominate them, the same way Dallas let Tim Duncan dominate them, but I will choose to ignore that section history. Devin Harris, if on his game, has the chance to embarrass two time MVP Steve Nash. Nash struggled with fatigue during the Second Round, and against a speedster like Devin, Nash? legs could fall off. The game were Harris bullied Nash into 10 turnovers will forever be etched into my mind.

The Mavericks also have to deny the Phoenix Suns their 3 ball, they made a record 15 3 pointer?s in Game 7. Dallas need to put their arms in the face of every 3 point shot that Phoenix takes, challenge all attempts and the hustle will be paid off. The Suns live by the 3, and Dallas? goal will to make them die by it as well. However, Dallas still needs to be able to hit the bucket consistently to mix up their offense. In comparison, Dallas made 29 3 pointers in their 2nd round, compared to Phoenix? 77 makes.

Dallas can not be burnt by the other Suns, namely Boris Diaw. His versatility proves to be an imminent threat to Dallas, whoever matches up on him is faced with a difficult task, to stop the consistent rebounding and playmaking that Diaw brings to Phoenix. The Mavs need to counter with their ?forgotten stars?, like Stackhouse, Dampier (whose post defense will anchor the series) and even DJ MBenga, who has 2 career starts  both against Phoenix.

The upcoming series will undoubtedly be a defining moment in Dallas Mavericks history, they lost last season in 6 games to former Dallas All-Star Steve Nash and his Valley boys ? but the team has another Avery Johnson buckle on their belt and their defense has risen. They need to control the pace of the game and not get sucked into the Suns run?n?gun system, they run it to a tee, matching up with the Showtime Lakers. I hope the precedent of a great 2nd round will not be forgotten and I assure you that it will have more twists than ?Saw? and it will get the heart racing.

?As a franchise and as a team we have definitely taken a step in the right direction, but we are not done yet,? promised Jason Terry

I almost forgot, Mavs fans, Dirk (I) implore you to boo Steve Nash until your throat is sore. Not because he bolted for more money, but because it would be unjust to Finley.

Dallas in 6. Book it.

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