- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2011

DALLAS — For five years, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry have lived with the regret of letting an NBA championship slip away. Next week, they get to try again. Maybe even in the same place where everything fell apart.

The scene was Miami, where the Dallas Mavericks led 2-0 in the series and by 13 points with 6:34 left in Game 3. Had the Mavs held on, they almost certainly would’ve claimed their first title. Instead, they lost that game and the next three, a humiliating finish to the greatest season in club history.

Now they’ve topped themselves. A 12-3 romp through the postseason has put the Mavs back in the finals. They would meet the Heat again if Miami can cash in on a 3-1 lead over Chicago in the Eastern Conference finals.

“Whatever happens, happens,” Nowitzki said. “We’re probably going to know here pretty soon who it is, and we’re going to prepare like we have in the first three series and do our homework and then get ready to play.”

Since struggling in Portland during the first round, the Mavericks have won 10 of 11 games. Nowitzki is playing at the highest level of his already outstanding career, and the front-office guys look like geniuses for loading up on 30-something guys who’ve never won a title.

Everyone in the locker room has bought into coach Rick Carlisle’s defense-first approach. Nobody gripes about playing time or personal stats, such as who will be Nowitzki’s top sidekick on a given night. They’re truly bonded by the notion the ring is the only thing that matters.

Their unselfishness was especially evident Wednesday night, when the Mavs pulled off a second straight fourth-quarter rally against the inexperienced Oklahoma City Thunder. Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd and Terry all made key plays - not just baskets, but crucial steals, rebounds and passes in Dallas’ 100-96 win.

Nowitzki and Terry are the only holdovers left from the 2006 squad. Kidd has been to the finals twice. Marion was on some Phoenix teams that came oh-so-close. Peja Stojakovic had some near-misses with Sacramento.

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