In this flaming trash receptacle of a year, anno domini 20 and 10 times two, there’s been basically Bo Diddley squat to be excited about. Two weeks ago, however, in lieu of the desperately needed motivation to actually get up off the couch, sports fans were given a legit reason to stay there. That’s right kiddos, pro sports are back!
The Rangers are already boring the fan surrogate cardboard cutouts (given the genuinely funny dad-joke name “Doppel Rangers”) donning the stands of the brand-new giant panini grill they call Globe Life Field. Some 23-year-old kid just won the PGA’s first major of the year. The Cowboys are in “pre-training” training camp, whatever that is. Most importantly, however, after a nearly five-month pause, the NBA and NHL have finally resumed their seasons, albeit in pandemic-adjusted fashion. Each in their respective so-called “bubbles” located in Orlando, Florida, and Edmonton, Alberta, the Mavericks and the Stars have picked up right where they left off in March when the world changed forever.
The Mavs have cemented their spot as the seventh seed in the Western Conference for the NBA playoffs, which began Monday. For now, we’ll ignore that they’ll likely draw a nail-gnawing, anxiety-inducing matchup against the second-seed L.A. Clippers and just enjoy the fact that there’ll be Maverick basketball in April, er, August? for the first time in a long time. It’ll be the Little Mavericks’ first trip to the postseason in three long years. The Mavs’ eight-game “regular season” in the Walt Disney Hermetically Sealed NBA Bubble and Theme ParkTM has been mixed. After melting down in the fourth quarter repeatedly, the Mavs dropped three of their first five games (requiring overtime to achieve both wins). The team seems to have its footing, winning two straight.
Regardless of how many games the Little Mavericks might survive against the Clippers once the games really matter, there’s so much to be excited about with this team for seasons to come. The seamless transition from Euro GOAT Dirk Nowitzki to the next Euro sensation, Luka Doncic, is practically unfair to the rest of the NBA. Doncic, the second-year player, has astoundingly improved upon his Rookie of the Year performance from a year ago, so much so that he’s a finalist for the NBA’s Most Improved Player, i.e., the most improved from Rookie. Of. The. Year.
Against the East-leading Mill-e-wah-que Bucks last Saturday, Luka snagged his league-leading 17th triple-double with a grown-ass-man stat line of 36-19-14, including a career-highlight, no-look, left-handed, straight-up nasty between-the-legs pass to Maxi Kleber for a dunk. Add to Luka’s meteoric rise to superstardom a vastly improved Kristaps Prozingis as his wingman, along with a supporting cast featuring several players capable of stepping up to be a solid third on any given night, and it’s easy to imagine the Mavs beginning to pry open a championship window that looks like it could remain open for the next few years.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for the boys in Victory Green. The Stars entered bubble play with the same stalled offense that plagued them before the shutdown, managing just four goals in the three round robin games. On Sunday, the Stars were able to score with just 31 seconds left in regulation to force overtime against the team I hate most in all the NHL, the St. Louis Blues, snagging their first win since –– wait for it –– February 25th (!) in a shootout. Prior to that win, Dallas had lost eight straight games, nine if you count the exhibition game against the Predators prior to the start of meaningful games. In a funhouse mirror inversion of the Mavs’ rising stars, the Stars’ best players are aging and starting to decline. The core of their team is on the downside of their careers. Reputed sharpshooter Tyler Seguin and captain Jamie Benn haven’t scored a single point since March.
It’s been a crazy up-and-down season for the Stars. From starting the season 1-8, to the sudden and still mysterious firing of head coach Jim Montgomery, to the dazzling magic of the Winter Classic, and the surge to finishing the regular season in the third seed, my neck is sore from all the whiplash. You can’t write them off completely just yet. It’s still the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and anything can happen once the puck drops. The NHL has by far the most parity of any sport come postseason, with eight seeds seemingly winning championships as often as one seeds. However, if the Stars can’t find their offense –– Benn and Seguin especially –– hope for either of them ever hoisting Lord Stanley’s Shiny Silver Tower Bowl Thing grows ever slimmer. Team mediocrity has stolen the best years of Benn’s and Seguin’s careers, and they are running out of time. As the Mavericks seem to be entering their next era of greatness, the Stars appear that the door is closing on an era of greatness that never was.
No matter how it goes, the next couple of months should be really exciting, exciting enough even to get us through to the (keeping everything crossed) start of football season.