Lakers Set As Team Mavs Must Chase - Again

Mike Fisher

DALLAS - In the early-2000's, as new Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was overseeing a budding NBA contender, he viewed the regal Los Angeles Lakers as the ultimate foe. Cuban therefore took constant digs at the most high-profile Lakers, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and coach Phil Jackson, the idea being that to become the new schoolyard bully, you gotta punch the existing bully in the nose.

But Cuban did something else more subtle, and more basketball-oriented: He worked with Don and Donnie Nelson to try to construct a roster that could guard Kobe, that could counteract Shaq, that could beat the Lakers once the two teams squared off in the NBA Playoffs.

That never happened in those years, oddly; it wasn't until Dallas' 2011 NBA title run that the Lakers were a postseason obstacle, and while they remained "regal,'' Dallas exposed them as "beatable'' - and with a memorable postseason sweep send Jackson, who Cuban once inexplicably nicknamed "Bucket Boy,'' into retirement.

READ MORE: Report Card: Grading The 2019-20 Mavs

Fast-forward to the NBA in 2021. It's another Lakers era. It's another Mavs era. And yet again, Dallas is chasing - you guessed it - another "regal'' champion from L.A.

As our Melissa Rohlin writes following the Lakers' Sunday Game 6 clincher over Miami: 

Purple and gold confetti shot out from the sidelines, blanketing a Lakers team that had persevered through the unimaginable with the punctation they had been fighting for over a seemingly never-ending 12-month marathon.

LeBron James held trophies for the NBA championship and the Finals MVP on either side of his hips, shimmying back and forth while flashing a giant smile. Anthony Davis was doubled over, choking back tears.

There was champagne. So much champagne that James refused to head into the locker room without goggles, saying in a video captured by a reporter, "No sir, they're not about to spray me in my f---ing eyes." Kyle Kuzma imbibed so much that when he was asked to describe how he was feeling, he said he didn't even know how to act. And Davis similarly couldn't remember the conversation he had with his father an hour earlier.

The Lakers had just beat the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the Finals, 106-93, winning their 17th NBA championship. They are now tied with the Boston Celtics for the most titles in franchise history.

So different ... but somewhat the same.

The purple-and-gold has grown rusty in recent years; just as Dallas experienced a playoff desert before this Luka Doncic-led return, the Lakers had missed the playoffs six straight seasons and had a 10-year championship drought.

It's not Kobe and Shaq now. 

It's LeBron James, who won his fourth NBA championship with three different franchises, finishing here with 28 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists - oh, and also finishing as a unanimous Finals MVP, his fourth such award.

And it's Anthony Davis, an incredible second banana, who here He had 19 points and 15 rebounds.

It might not be forever. LeBron is 35 and Davis can be a free agent. Still, as Cuban and Donnie and coach Rick Carlisle brainstorm their way to a hoped-for climb back up the mountain, there is a clear obstacle. 

Its name is the Los Angeles Lakers.

Just as it almost always was.