In Round 1, I rooted for our Nuggets. In Round 2, I rooted for the Grizzlies. Now on to Round 3, I’m enthusiastically rooting for the Mavericks. And it’s not just because they’re playing the hated Thunder.

It’s a shame that the NBA is heading for a lockout of its players, because one of the most likable among them – Dirk Nowitzki – should be celebrated all summer. Whether Nowitzki wins a long-deserved championship ring this season or not, we’re still witnessing one of the great late career renaissances in the history of professional sports. Should Nowitzki claim a title, he’ll join greats like John Elway and Ray Borque in winning a ring late into an incredible professional sports career that had been previously ring-less.

It was just two years ago that we were booing Nowitzki out of the Pepsi Center as our Nuggets bested the Mavericks in five games. At the time, it seemed apparent that the Nowitzki Era in Dallas would end without a championship ring, nevermind even another championship appearance. Prior to losing to the Nuggets that season, the Mavericks had choked away (with Nowitzki's help at the free throw line) the 2006 NBA Championship to the Heat, were monumentally upset by the 8th-seeded Warriors in 2007 and had been bounced out of the first round by the upstart Hornets in 2008.

But after witnessing Nowiztki’s remarkable 48-point outburst against the Thunder in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals – after the seven-foot German superstar took out the Lakers in a sweep – it seems as though Nowitzki is hell bent on getting to the Finals one more time before his career is over. And he certainly deserves to be there.

Kevin Durant – playing almost as good as Nowitzki this postseason – will get ample opportunities to play on the NBA’s greatest stage. As will Derrick Rose, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

But Nowitzki, 13 years into his amazing NBA career and almost 33 years old, has this one – and possibly just one more – shot at the ultimate NBA glory. And for all that he has given to basketball, and for him always doing it with class, and for him always playing hard and playing the right way, NBA fans not residing in Oklahoma City, Chicago and Miami should be rooting for Nowitzki to win it all.

Nothing would make this NBA fan happier than seeing Nowitzki draw a rematch with the hated Heat en route to the 2011 NBA Championship. But I’ll settle for Nowitzki and the Mavericks to beat the Bulls, too.

Before getting to the Finals, Nowitzki and the Mavericks have to beat the energetic, youthful Thunder first. I believe they will, but we need NBA fans everywhere to send their good karma in the direction of Dallas right now. At nearly 33 years old, Nowitzki might need a little boost from us all so he can continue to show the basketball world how it's supposed to be done. And make us miss the NBA even more should a lockout arise this summer.


On to the links…

N.B.A. Executive Dares to Leave the Safety of His Shadow Life –
Until now, Rick Welts, the president and chief executive of the Phoenix Suns, had not felt comfortable enough in his chosen field to be open about his sexuality.

Paige: Carmelo Anthony, Tim Tebow sharing Big Apple – The Denver Post
Woody Paige catches up with Melo and Tebow in New York.

NBA's 2011 draft lottery offers small payout – NBA – Yahoo! Sports
According to Marc Spears, this year's draft is one of the thinnest in years. Even the teams picking at the top might not get stars. 

2011 NBA Playoffs: Charles Barkley said he likes the Miami Heat, but they are a whiny bunch – ESPN Chicago
Charles Barkley is not afraid to speak his mind, which is a quality that makes him one of the most popular NBA announcers on television — except with some players, from time to time.

2011 NBA Mock Draft – ESPN
Here's John Hollinger's updated projection of how the draft might play out.

Cavs win draft lottery, will draft No. 1 – NBA – Yahoo! Sports
The new face of the Cavaliers is 14 years old, wears a bow tie and has battled disease since birth. Nick Gilbert looks nothing like LeBron James, but on Tuesday night he brought back all the hope that left Cleveland right along with its franchise player last summer. The Cavaliers got a huge jump on their post-LeBron rebuilding process, winning the lottery.