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Dallas' Golden State of Mind

The Dallas Mavericks have been the best team in the league this season, and they can still win 70 games, but they keep saying that they don't care about the regular season; that it doesn't matter unless they can actually win in the NBA Finals. The Mavericks are still haunted by their collapse against the Miami Heat -- sorry, Dwyane Wade, the Mavs really did give the series away - which surely has sparked this incredible run this season (point guard Jason Terry still wears his Finals socks and headband at practice as a reminder).

But if the Mavericks really want to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy this June, they might want to start rooting for the Sacramento Kings, New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets or Los Angeles Clippers to win that avoided-like-the-plague eighth spot in the Western Conference - because the Golden State Warriors have their number right now.

The Mavericks (52-10) were eventually going to lose another game again this season, and going about 45 days without a loss cannot be discredited. But the Warriors are responsible for 20 percent (or two) of the Mavericks losses this season - and have won four in a row overall - after humiliating Dallas 117-100 last night in Oakland. The score doesn't beging to illustrate how the Warriors completely dismantled the Mavericks last night with aggressive, swarming defense and an efficient offense with players repeatedly cutting toward the basket and others sharing the ball with precision passes (Wizards take note). Take away the names on the uniforms and it would've been hard to tell which team was riding a 17-game win streak and which team had just lost the night before in Portland.

Dirk Nowitzki is the favorite to win the MVP award - which would be a first for a non-U.S. trained NBA player - but the Warriors consistently got into his head, threw multiple bodies his direction and watched his frustration boil over after he was called for an offensive foul in the third quarter and tried to swat the ball from a cameraman. It was reminiscent of Nowitzki's punt at the end of Game 5.

Warriors Coach Don Nelson clearly has his fingerprints all over the Mavericks - his son is the general manager, Avery Johnson was his former assistant, and he helped draft three of the players essential to Dallas' ascension to the league's best record (Nowitzki, Josh Howard and Devin Harris) - and he obviously knows what it takes to beat them. At least that's what he's shown so far.

The Warriors present matchup problems given their mix of athletic wing players (Jason Richardson, Al Harrington, Stephen Jackson, Mickael Pietrus), quick, playmaking point guards (Baron Davis and Monta Ellis) and a mobile, skilled big man (Andris Beidrins). No doubt, the Mavericks should still beat Golden State in games that really count, but it certainly won't be the typical cupcake No. 8.

By Michael Lee  |  March 13, 2007; 12:07 PM ET
 
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