Mavs set to answer rest or rust question


The Dallas Mavericks seek to solve a never-ending debate Tuesday in the Western Conference finals.

Tipping off against the Oklahoma City Thunder or Memphis Grizzlies, it will have been 10 days since the Mavericks swept the two-time defending champion Lakers.

The riddle: Is it better to rest, or did Dallas lose valuable momentum only a six-game playoff winning streak can provide?

Pundits belabor the question. Players and coaches deflect it. Only the games answer it.

Since the NBA made the conference semifinals a best-of-7 test of wills in 1968, 18 teams have reached the conference or NBA Finals with a sweep while their next opponent fought to close out a six- or seven-game series.

The sweepers are 10-8 in the following series, and eight won NBA titles. However, the sweepers have lost the past three.

Last year, the Magic blanked the Hawks only to fall to the Celtics, who took six games to beat the Cavaliers.

In 2009, the Cavs routed the Hawks before losing to the Magic, who battled seven games with Boston.

In 2005, the Heat swept the Wizards, then lost in seven to the Pistons, who had a six-game win over Cleveland.

The last conference semis sweeper to advance past a team that faced a challenge was the 2003 Nets, who beat the Pistons after they had survived the 76ers in six.

Then the Spurs beat the Nets in the NBA Finals.

The Spurs are the most recent of the 10 winners to claim the title. In 1999, they swept the Lakers, then the Blazers, who had a six-game series with the Jazz, before hoisting their first Larry O’Brien Trophy.

As for the riddle, Dallas has nine players with 10 or more years in the league, so the rest theory seems to fit.

But consider how Dallas knocked out Los Angeles. It made 20 of 32 3-pointers in Game 4. Does a team smoking the nets at that rate really want rest? The chances of Dallas coming back anywhere near that hot seem remote.

Two characteristics of the eight teams who lost the next round and the two winners who failed to win the title are lack of championship experience and/or running into a team of destiny.

Aside from the four sweepers noted above who failed to win it all, the other six are the 1978 and 1985 76ers, the 1968 and 1989 Lakers, the 1996 SuperSonics and the 1998 Jazz.

Philadelphia in 1985 and L.A. in 1989 weren’t far removed from titles, but they fell to the Celtics, who were in the middle of four straight Finals, and Chuck Daly’s Pistons, respectively.

Point guard Jason Kidd, a 17-year pro and member of the 2003 Nets, is the closest thing Dallas has to championship experience, but it won’t face a team that has any in the Western finals.

That leaves the destiny part of the equation. We won’t know until later if the Thunder or Grizzlies fit the notion, but teams usually don’t leap from No. 4 or No. 8 seeds to titles.

Destiny could be Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki, 32, trying to erase his name off the list of great players without a title.

Hakeem Olajuwon was 31 when he got his first. Kevin Garnett was 31.

However, it’s more likely that the team of destiny — the one with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh — will be waiting in the Finals, making the riddle’s solution pointless.

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