Dallas The Dallas Mavericks started the season with 14 straight victories, one shy of the league record. They finished the regular season with 60 wins, a franchise best.
Now, against the Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas is on the brink of making some history it really wants to avoid: becoming the first NBA team to blow a 3-0 lead in the playoffs.
Portland has a chance to complete the unprecedented turnaround in Game 7 today. That they're going the distance is impressive in itself; only twice in league history had a team won three straight games after losing the first three of a postseason series.
"It's a one-game series now for both teams," Portland's Scottie Pippen said. "We've been able to beat this team three games straight, but I don't think we've taken their best punch yet."
Pippen rested his sore left knee Friday night, playing only seven minutes in Portland's 125-103 victory in Game 6. The Blazers are confident about winning today at Dallas after winning Game 5 there despite only leading in the final 65 seconds.
Dallas, meanwhile, needs to get its confidence back.
"I think we just need to believe," Mavs point guard Steve Nash said. "There is no question in my mind we can win that game."
Who will advance to play the Sacramento Kings in the second round?
History is on the Mavericks' side:
l The other two NBA teams that, like Portland, went from 0-3 to 3-3 in the postseason (the 1994 Denver Nuggets and 1951 New York Knicks) both lost the series finale.
l No road team has won an NBA Game 7 since 1982.
l Dallas hasn't lost four straight games since March 2000 and is 4-2 in elimination games since returning to the playoffs two years ago. None of those was a Game 7, however.
"It'll all be a new experience and a fairly good one," Mavs coach Don Nelson said. "You just get seasoned."
The sort of comeback Portland is attempting is rare in other major team sports, too.
Five NHL teams have stretched a series to the limit by losing three then winning three, and only two of them also won the series: the 1975 New York Islanders and 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs.
No major league baseball team ever forced a winner-take-all finale after going down 0-3.
But the Trail Blazers aren't paying any attention to such statistics, especially considering the way Game 6 went.
After trailing by seven points, Portland went ahead late in the first quarter and led by as many as 32 by doing what it does best: attacking the basket on both ends of the court.
The Blazers drove the lane with about as much difficulty as in pregame layup drills. Their only competition for loose balls was usually each other.
Portland outrebounded Dallas 29-9 in the first half. While the Mavs finished with 32 rebounds, 20 came from reserves who didn't play until the game was out of hand.
The Blazers were laughing at Dallas in the second half, just like they did during another lopsided win in late March. Ruben Patterson epitomized Portland's attitude when he punctuated a third-quarter basket with a victory dance in the lane. After the game, he said the Mavericks looked scared.
"We need to be upbeat," Dallas guard Nick Van Exel said. "We've got to show the same heart and character they have and leave it all on the court."