Mavs Get Big Wins, Just Not Enough
Unfortunately, an NBA season is judged on the quantity -- not the quality -- of your wins. In the history books, the Dallas Mavericks' 1997-98 season will go down as a 20-62 campaign, but the Mavericks wowed crowds all season with wins over the unlikeliest of foes.
The Mavericks spoiled the Seattle SuperSonics' home opener on Nov. 1, outscoring Seattle 23-2 over the final 5:01 to steal the 89-81 win. On December 4, with Dallas struggling at 4-12, General Manager Don Nelson relieved Coach Jim Cleamons of his duties and took over as head coach. Nelson's debut featured another surprise showing by the Mavericks, who handily beat the 10-6 New York Knicks, 105-91, behind a team-high 27 points from Michael Finley.
Finley, the team leader in points (21.5 ppg), assists (4.9 apg) and steals (1.61 spg), was the only constant for the Mavericks during a season marked by the coaching change and an injury bug that sidelined Robert Pack and Kurt Thomas for most of the season, and also bit Shawn Bradley and Samaki Walker, Cedric Ceballos and Chris Anstey for extended periods.
Like upset wins, big nights from Finley were a trend that would continue throughout the season. Finley scored 29 (and Erick Strickland had a career-high 30) as the Sonics were victimized again, 107-98, on Jan. 20. One week later, the 25-16 Cleveland Cavaliers were the unsuspecting recipients of an 84-77 overtime loss at the hands of the Mavericks, in which Finley posted a career-high 39 points and 10 rebounds.
All of the aforementioned upsets, and later wins over Indiana, Washington and Minnesota, were just tune-ups for the main event, an improbable 104-97 overtime win over Chicago. Trailing 89-74 with 3:44 remaining, Dallas outscored the defending World Champions 17-2 down the stretch to force overtime.
The most noteworthy individual accomplishment was achieved on Nov. 20, when forward A.C. Green appeared in his 907th consecutive game, setting a new NBA record. Green, who has not missed a game since Nov. 18, 1986, was honored during the game for his streak, which stood at 978 games by season's end.
Won 20, lost 62 (fifth, Midwest)…Dallas was 4-4 in overtime games and only Milwaukee (5-4) and Minnesota (5-4) played in more overtime games in '97-98…the Mavericks were 10-6 when scoring 100-plus points, and 4-2 when shooting better than .500 from the field…the Mavericks finished 8-8 in the month of March, having been 11-46 prior to March…that was the Mavericks' first .500 month since March of 1995…1997-98 marked the first time in club history that three different Mavericks ranked in the top five among league leaders in three different categories (Michael Finley – 1st in minutes, Shawn Bradley – 3rd in blocks, Hubert Davis – 4th in 3-point percentage)…Michael Finley was the only Maverick to start every game …14 different Mavericks started at least one game and 18 different players saw action for Dallas…the Mavericks missed a club-record 363 player-games due to injury/illness (was 246 in '92-93).
THE RECORD: The Mavericks finished their 18th NBA season with a record of 20-62, fifth in the Midwest division. Dallas finished 13-28 at home and 7-34 on the road. They registered eight wins over playoff teams: two wins over Seattle, a 105-91 win over New York, an overtime win vs. Cleveland, an 85-82 double overtime win at Indiana, two wins over Minnesota, and a dramatic 19-point comeback rally to beat Chicago 104-97 in overtime. Dallas was 4-4 in overtime, and only Milwaukee (5-4) and Minnesota (5-4) played in more overtime games during the season. The Mavericks were 10-6 when scoring 100-plus points, and 4-2 when shooting better than .500 from the field.
THE LINEUPS: The Mavs used 41 different starting lineups, with the most frequent being Finley/Green/Bradley/Davis/Reeves (9 times). In Don Nelson's 66 games as head coach the Mavs used 35 different starting lineups. Michael Finley was the only Mav to start every game. Fourteen different Mavericks started at least one game this season and 18 different players saw action this season for Dallas. Only 10-day free agent Shawn Respert, Adrian Caldwell, Kevin Ollie and injured forward Kurt Thomas played this season without a start. The Mavericks missed a club record 363 player-games due to injury/illness, which also led the NBA.
FINLEY BREAKS OUT: Arguably the biggest highlight of the 97-98 Mavericks' season was the play of the third-year swingman Michael Finley. He averaged 21.5 ppg (11th in the NBA) with 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists in 41.4 minutes. His list of personal career bests in '97-98 includes: 1,763 points, 405 assists, 132 steals, 438 rebounds, and a club-record 3,394 minutes. Finley led the NBA in minutes per game at 41.4 per and became the first player in Mavs history to lead the team in points, assists, steals, and minutes (only Grant Hill, Tim Hardaway, and Allen Iverson accomplished this feat for their clubs this season). He eclipsed the Mavs club record for minutes in a single season, and became the 5th Maverick ever to score 1,700+ points in a season and fourth to dish out 400+ assists. Finley joined Grant Hill this season as the only two players in the league to average more than 20 ppg, with more than 5.0 rebounds and 4.9 assists.
STEADY IMPROVEMENT: In addition to impressive individual performances, the Mavericks as a team showed consistent improvement under Don Nelson. The Mavs finished 8-8 in the month of March, having been 11-46 prior to March. That was the Mavericks first .500 month since March of 1995. The highlight of the month was a 104-97 overtime win over the Chicago Bulls on March 12. On the season the Mavericks set a club record for the fewest turnovers in a single season, committing only 1,182 (record was 1,183 in '84-85).
LINE OF THE SEASON: Shawn Bradley made history on April 7 vs. Portland when he registered 22 points, a career-high tying 22 rebounds and a career-high/club-record 13 blocked shots in 38 minutes off the bench. He became just the fifth player in NBA history (and first ever off the bench) to tally 20 plus points, 20-plus rebounds, and 10 plus blocked shots in a single game.
MAVERICKS IRON MEN: A.C. Green isn't the only Iron Man in town... Michael Finley has never missed a regular season game in his three-year career, having played in 247 consecutive games, the seventh longest active streak in the NBA. While playing all 82 games, Finley led the NBA in minutes per game (41.4 mpg) and set club records for minutes in a season (3394) and complete games (seven). Green- who completed his 11th straight campaign without a miss- has tallied 978 consecutive games, extending the NBA's all-time record, with the closest active streak belonging to Hershey Hawkins with 461, less than half of Green's streak. Green played in his 907th consecutive NBA regualar season game Nov. 20, 1997, officially making him the NBA's all-time Iron Man. Green passed Randy Smith, who played 906 consecutive games from 1972-83.
DOUBLE TRIPLE: The Mavericks are the only team in the NBA to have two players register triple-doubles in '97-98. Only 12 players in the league tallied triple-doubles this season. On April 7 vs. Portland, Shawn Bradley tallied his sixth career triple-double with 22 points, a career-high-tying 22 rebounds and a career-high/club-record 13 blocks. Michael Finley pushed Dallas ahead of the pack with his first career triple-double on April 24 vs. the Lakers (23 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists).
PLAYER IMPROVEMENT UNDER NELSON: Michael Finley, in 66 games under Nelson, averaged 22.4 ppg (up from 17.8 ppg in the season's first 16 games), with 5.4 rebounds per game (up from 5.0 rpg), in 41.2 minutes per game (up from 38.4 mpg). Finley's overall scoring average is 21.5 ppg, second among Western Conference guards (behind Mitch Richmond) and he registered seven complete games under Nelson, a Mavs club record for a single season. He scored 20+ points 43 times under Nelson and topped 30 points 10 times, including a career-high 39 points on January 27 vs. Cleveland. Finley led Dallas in points, minutes, assists, and steals- one of only five players in the NBA to lead their team in all four categories. Prior to being sidelined with a stress fracture to his right foot, Samaki Walker had also shown dramatic improvement after Nelson took over. In 26 games under Nelson, Walker posted 11.0 ppg (up from 5.3 ppg) on .504 shooting (up from .425) with 8.4 rebounds (up from 5.5) in 28.2 minutes (up from 19.5 mpg). He registered career highs in points (26, on Jan. 13 at Houston), rebounds (20, on Jan. 24 vs. Charlotte), blocks (5, on Dec. 18 vs. Phoenix) and minutes (48, on Jan. 17 vs. Minnesota) all under Nelson.
DAVIS LEADS MAVERICKS FROM OUTSIDE: Mavericks guard Hubert Davis connected on 101-of-230 (.439) from long range, ranking fourth in the NBA. Davis became the sixth player in Mavericks' history to connect on 100-plus three-pointers in a season (McCloud, Kidd, Mashburn, Jackson and Harper). His current three-point percentage ranks as the highest career percentage in Mavs history (passing Mike Iuzzolino's .404 career mark). Davis finished second in the AT&T Long Distance Shootout at the All-Star Weekend in New York. He lost 16-10 in the finals to Utah's Jeff Hornacek, but posted the shootout's highest round with 24 points in the second round, tying the record for points in a semi-final round (also Craig Hodges in 1991). He hit a shootout-record 11 shots in a row and became the sixth competitor to sink all five money balls in a single round. Despite the extended length of the NBA's three point line, the Mavs connected on at least one three-pointer in all but one game. Dallas went 0-10 from long range in a Nov.1 win at Seattle, snapping a streak of 303 consecutive games with a three-pointer. That streak dated back to 12/28/93 at Denver, and at the time was the second-longest streak in NBA history.
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