Mavericks take on the Heat, and the curse, in title series
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - When the NBA finals start in Miami on Tuesday, the Mavericks will become the latest team from Dallas to take on the so-called 'Curse of the Crease' when they face the Heat in Game One of the best-of-seven series.
For countless Dallas sports fans, the infamous jinx has cruelly dashed the title hopes of teams from the Texas city since the NHL's Stars claimed their only Stanley Cup in 1999.
Brett Hull scored in triple overtime of Game Six to earn Dallas a 2-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres but the barren title run since then by the Stars, the Mavericks and NFL's Cowboys has left many pondering the possibility of a curse.
When Hull took that Cup-winning shot, subsequent reviews indicated that part of his foot remained in the crease as the puck crossed the goal line, an infringement of the league's 'Crease Rule' that season.
However, the infraction was not spotted by the referee and the goal was allowed to stand.
The Mavericks have already 'succumbed' once to the curse and for only the second time since they were founded in 1980, they have reached the NBA finals where they will, once again, take on the Heat.
Five years ago, Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks were seemingly on their way to their first Championship rings after winning the first two games of the series at home and leading Miami by 13 points late in the third.
However, they lost that game along with the next three as Dwyane Wade took charge and Dallas had to wait five more seasons before booking their place in the 2010-11 championship series against the same opponents.
"It's been a long stretch," 10-time All-Star Nowitzki said after the Mavericks won the best-of-seven Western Conference Finals series by a 4-1 margin over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
"After the year we lost in the Finals, we came back, won almost 70 games, had a great season and lost in the first round (of the playoffs). That was another tough one.
"We've been trying to get back to this stage ever since and fell short a bunch of times. We said our goal in October was to win it all. We haven't done that yet."
It has certainly been a long wait for the Mavericks in their bid for NBA Championship glory since their formation as a franchise three decades ago.
Led by Mark Aguirre, their first draft pick Brad Davis, Rolando Blackman and Derek Harper, they reached the playoffs six times in seven seasons from 1984 and won their first divisional title in 1987.
However, they endured a barren run in the so-called 'Dark Ages' of the 1990s when they failed to advance to the postseason for the entire decade.
German giant Nowitzki, the ninth overall pick at the 1998 Draft, joined the franchise from Milwaukee and, with Michael Finley and Steve Nash, formed a 'Big Three' that paved the way for the Mavericks to return to the playoffs in 2001.
Although Nash returned to the Phoenix Suns in 2004 and Finley was picked up off waivers by the San Antonio Spurs in 2005, the 7-foot Nowitzki has stayed on to help Dallas reach the postseason every year since.
Following the bitter disappointment of their NBA finals loss to Miami in 2006, the Mavericks posted the league's best record the following season with Nowitzki earning MVP honors.
Yet they surprisingly lost to the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs.
Point guard Jason Kidd, who left the Mavericks to join the Suns in 1996, returned to Dallas in 2008. With fellow veterans Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion and Peja Stojakovic, he has underpinned the team's consistency over the last few seasons.
"We've got a bunch of veterans who want to win and play off each other," said Nowitzki, who is widely regarded as the best European ever to play in the NBA.
"That's what makes this group special, everybody sacrificing for each other. It's been fun to play with these guys all season long. We just want to win."
All that now remains for Nowitzki and company is that elusive first NBA Championship, and a chance to end all those rumblings in Dallas about the 'Curse of the Crease'.
(Editing by Julian Linden)