DON NELSON, on the Mavericks:  I can t find any weaknesses at all, and I know we swept  em this year.  (JOSE CARLOS FAJARDO   MediaNews staff)
DON NELSON, on the Mavericks: I can t find any weaknesses at all, and I know we swept em this year. (JOSE CARLOS FAJARDO MediaNews staff)
TO RECALL the 2006 NBA Finals, a series in which Dallas was powerless to stop its own colossal choke job, is to realize the Mavericks' biggest weakness is their collective will.

And to conclude the best way to beat the 2007 Mavericks is to push them hard and often and unapologetically.

Bang them, bruise them, run them and challenge them until they start wondering what they're made of, search the nooks and crannies of their manhood.

This is not to advocate violence or incite thuggery. But a certain amount of clean and clever aggression is required if the Warriors are to upset Dallas in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs beginning tonight at American Airlines Center.

The Mavericks are deeper, more talented, more experienced. They spent the season collecting enough winning streaks to finish with the best record in the league and the top seed throughout the playoffs. They are, and should be, favored to repeat as conference champs.

"I can't find any weaknesses at all," Warriors coach Don Nelson says, fattening the pig, "and I know we swept'em this year."

That the Warriors won all three games against Dallas in the regular season means nothing. Not when the second W's win came after the Mavs crawled into Oakland, fatigued and dragging the weight of a 17-game winning streak, and the third, five days ago, was an outright Dallas surrender.

The Mavericks, making their seventh consecutive postseasonappearance, can dismiss the regular season results because they understand the playoffs are a different brand of basketball, a new season, one with which the W's are unfamiliar.

Still, Dallas remains vulnerable until it proves it can't be intimidated.

And these Warriors, Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson in particular, have chips on their shoulders. They bring an edge, a degree of nastiness. And when BD and Jack are bringing it, the rest of the team tends to follow.

Nobody knows this better than Nelson, a master at playing to the psyche of his team and working through his leaders.

"I didn't want (Jackson) to come in and be a dominant guy," the coach says. "I wanted him to just gradually let that happen naturally, if it was going to happen. We had talked about that early. It's Baron's team, and it's important that it stays that way. He bought into that and just played. Then gradually, it just happened, getting respect from other players on the team.

"He is a great teammate, by the way. You would want him in your foxhole."

These Warriors have been together for about six weeks and seem to be getting more explosive and cohesive each night. Of their last 21 games, they won 16 — 12 by double digits.

Which allows them to believe they belong in the playoffs and should be taken seriously. With the elements coming together as they did down the stretch, the W's are one of the most dangerous No.8 seeds in playoffs history.

"We're so relaxed," says Jason Richardson. "Everybody's just playing ball. I don't think we have one selfish guy on this team. We've got so many scorers that guys like me don't need to force the issue. One night it might be Steve Jackson, might be Baron Davis, might be myself, might be Monta (Ellis). We're just going to go through the guy that's rolling that night."

This is when Nelson turns into the Big Whistle. He is at his best when he has a team he likes and it's considered the underdog. The betting line shows the Warriors are decided 'dogs in this series, and while it's easy to find NBA observers who say Dallas will be tested, it's hard to find anyone who says the Warriors can win.

But they can. They can because they are capable and even willing to apply a thick layer of attitude, thick enough to cover the relatively soft Mavs.

"We got soldiers," Davis said.

Which is code for saying the Warriors relish competitive warfare. Jackson has his crazy moments, but his toughness is not in question. He comes to play hard, and if it gets a bit dirty, so be it. 

For all wondrous gifts of MVP candidate Dirk Nowitzki and the skills of Josh Howard and Jason Terry, who among the Mavericks besides Jerry Stackhouse can summon toughness on demand?

While the series promises a clash of styles — the Warriors' small ball vs. the Mavs' disciplined schemes — there is a very good chance that the W's not only can establish their tempo but also impose their will. That they can outrun the Mavericks and outfight them.

The pressure is on Dallas, and the last time the Mavericks faced real pressure they folded like a greeting card. After taking the first two games of the NBA Finals against Miami last June, they lost the next four — and the series. They lost on the road and at home, three close games and one blowout.

For Dallas, it's championship or bust.

The Warriors are playing with house money. They know it, and so does the opponent. And toughness comes easier when there is everything to gain and nothing to lose.

Monte Poole can be reached at (510) 208-6461 or by e-mail at

mpoole@angnewspapers.com.