Garcia: Best sports story also most unlikely 

The Dallas Mavericks had one of the best seasons in the history of the National Basketball Association, compiling the most wins in franchise history, the top record and boasting the league’s probable Most Valuable Player.

They came within a jump shot of going to the NBA Finals last year, and most experts are predicting themto march to a league title.

So you would think they must be giddy about facing the Golden State Warriors, who have been wandering in the barren desert of bad NBA teams so long they

haven’t sniffed the playoffs since when Don Nelson had only Latrell Sprewell’s locks to dread.

Think again.

The Warriors have got to be the scariest team in the playoffs for the mighty Mavericks — a team with absolutely nothing to lose, a team with a complete lack of expectations and a team downright dangerous because it never has to concentrate on a key aspect of basketball facing other lineups — defense.

Oh, and it’s one of the only teams in the NBA to have a winning record against Dallas, beating the Mavericks in the last six out of seven games.

No knock on the San Jose Sharks, who have enjoyed a fine season, but at this moment the Warriors are the best sports story in the Bay Area. Their own coach had all but left them for dead a month ago, and now the Warriors are going to the playoffs for the first time since George Dubya Bush was still a front man for the Texas Rangers and Chris Webber was still a popular name in these parts.

Ah, the good old days.

I admit to being highly skeptical when the Warriors announced in the offseason that they were bringing Nelson back as coach — it seemed a desperate attempt to remind fans of the way it used to be before Nelson’s run-ins with Webber and the sharp and steady descent of a once-exciting team. The Warriors seemed to have neither the talent nor the chemistry to play Nelson’s up-tempo, small-ball style, and the beginning of the season only confirmed the obvious.

What a difference a trade makes. Or as they like to say in Hoosierland, thank God for Indiana.

In one big role of the dice, Chris Mullin made up for years of personnel mistakes by unloading a bunch of chronic, overpaid underachievers for AlHarrington and Stephen Jackson. After the return of all-everything Jason Richardson, the Warriors not only became competitive — they actually looked like they enjoyed being on the court.

And the fans certainly enjoyed it when they were because, quite simply, the Warriors are one of the most fun teams to watch in the NBA, matador defense notwithstanding. Forget the brutish Eastern Conference style of banging and clanging — the Warriors and the Phoenix Suns play "showtime’’ basketball, where you run till the other team drops and rain down on the rim with 3s. Some nights they get outscored, and some nights they scorch. It’s fast. It’s furious. It’s a basketball feast.

Which brings us back to Dallas. The pundits are already predicting that this will be a high-scoring affair, with most experts saying that the Mavericks will win — because they have to. How could you pick the team that was lucky to edge into the playoffs against the league’s best team all season?

Yet that’s what makes the match-up so dangerous, because the Warriors have nothing to lose. They could be swept in four games and no one would blink an eye. Or they could win a few games and make Dallas very, very nervous. And if you think anyone actually wants to play a team like the Warriors right now, you must have turned off the television after March Madness.

The reports out of Dallas are that for the Mavericks to get to the NBA Finals, then their center, ex-Warrior Erick Dampier, must play extremely well, providing a real presence in the middle. And that must be music to the ears of any Warriors fan, because they waited for years for Dampier to play well and provide a presence in the middle. In fact, they’re still waiting.

But the real key is going to be watching Nelson come up with a scheme to counter the NBA’s best team. Will he triple-team Dirk Nowiztki? Will he employ an amoeba zone? Will he tell the world his team simply has no chance?

This much is certain — it won’t be boring. Chances are it could be the most entertaining series in this year’s playoffs, and Nelson has been anointed a savior for a franchise that had become the national model for how not to run a professional sports organization.

The ride may not last long, but you don’t want to miss it.

Ken Garcia’s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends in The Examiner. E-mail him at or call him at (415) 359-2663.

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