DALLAS - It took two weeks, $100,000 of Jeff Van Gundy’s earnings, and a superhuman effort from Jason Terry, but the Suns finally have a secondround playoff opponent.
Thanks to Dallas’ 116-76, Game 7 rout of Houston on Saturday, it’s the matchup most people wanted.
OK, maybe not for 1.3 billion Chinese citizens and 5 million greater metropolitan Houstonians, who would rather have seen Yao Ming continue his playoff run with the Rockets.
Forget that fifth of the world’s population.
A Houston-Phoenix series was looking as stale as Mario Elie’s kiss, as tired as Dikembe Mutombo’s finger-wagging, as slow as David Wesley’s defensive feet. Dallas-Phoenix is rife with fast, fresh, intriguing and intertwined story lines.
First, it’s Steve Nash’s grudge match against deeppocketed Mavericks owner Mark Cuban who, in a rare moment of frugality, wouldn’t shell out the cash to keep his plucky floor leader last summer.
"I’ll be so sick of it," Cuban said, when asked about that upcoming subplot. "I’m going to work on my suntan and just put it on my blog, ‘I love Steve. I’m glad he won the MVP. Yadda, yadda, yadda.’ "
Of course, there are other plots.
• There’s Nash vs. best friend Dirk Nowitzki, two softspoken foreigners who will be the focal points of their opponent’s defense.
• Cuban vs. Robert Sarver in a battle to see which check signer can steal more headlines from his team with his sideline antics.
• Former Sun Michael Finley, one of the league’s really good guys.
• Terry, the former Arizona star, who helped the Wildcats to their only national championship in 1997.
• Paul Shirley’s blogs on the debutante culture of Dallas.
• And, best of all, run-and-gun 1.0 vs. run-and-gun 2.0 — the updated version that looks a whole lot better with Amaré Stoudemire in the middle of it.
Good luck to Vegas in setting the over for these games. Might want to start around 240 points.
"Obviously it’s a style we wouldn’t mind playing," Mavericks guard Jerry Stackhouse said. "This past series was no fun until tonight when we got back to doing what we like to do. But we have to make sure that, with Phoenix, we don’t get into running up and down where the defense goes out the window. That’s not who we are, and that’s not how we’re going to win."
While Houston appeared a tougher matchup for the Suns due to its interior length, the Suns have privately been saying all week that they fear the Mavericks more because of their myriad scoring options.
Saturday’s game bolstered that claim.
Dallas shrugged off another poor shooting night from MVP also-ran Nowitzki with 31 points from Terry, 21 from Josh Howard and a superb defensive effort from Finley, who helped hold Tracy McGrady to 10-of-26 shooting.
"We almost had seven guys in double figures," Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said.
Despite their eyepopping offense, the Mavericks insist that this year’s team is predicated more on defense than past, Nashled editions, with Saturday’s game a prime example.
"Defensively, this was the performance I was looking for all series," said Johnson, whose team held the Rockets to 35 percent shooting Saturday. "It was right on time."
Added Cuban: "I’m not sure we’re the run-and-gun team of the past, but it’s going to be interesting to see how this all plays out. It’s going to be fun."
Mavericks vs. Suns Game 1: Monday at Phoenix, 7:30 p.m.
Game 2: Wednesday at Phoenix, 7:30 p.m.
Game 3: Friday at Dallas, 6:30 p.m.
Game 4: May 15 at Dallas, TBA Game 5*: May 18 at Phoenix, TBA
Game 6*: May 20 at Dallas, TBA
Game 7*: May 22 at Phoenix, TBA * - If necessary