Playoffs return to Dallas after 11-year absence

Saturday, April 28th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DALLAS (AP) _ Dallas Mavericks fans are being urged to arrive at Reunion Arena two or three hours early for something they haven't seen in 11 years, something that will never again happen in this building.

It's called a playoff game.

For the first time since May 1, 1990, the Mavericks are playing a postseason game at Reunion Arena. They're seeking their first playoff victory since June 1988.

The Utah Jazz come into the game with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series. Another Dallas loss would mean a sweep and lights out for basketball at Reunion. The Mavericks are moving into a new arena next season.

``Our fans have been very supportive, even when times were tough,'' co-captain Michael Finley said. ``Now it's our turn to hopefully give them more than one playoff game.''

Hard as it is to believe now, the playoffs used to be an annual event in Dallas, back when the Mavericks were considered the model expansion team.

The Mavs began in 1980-81 and made the playoffs their fourth year. They even won their first postseason series.

They made it back the next four years, and in 1988 came within a game of the NBA Finals, stretching the eventual champion Lakers to seven games in the conference finals.

But the only playoff game in Dallas since then was May 1, 1990. Portland won 106-92, capping a first-round sweep and beginning the franchise's forgettable decade.

Utah center Greg Ostertag was a teen-ager in the Dallas area during the good old days. He remembers going to about 15 games a year and cheering along with the so-called Reunion Rowdies.

``They're getting back to the way it was when I was growing up,'' Ostertag said. ``Everyone was Maverick-crazy when I was growing up, then they went through that down period. They weren't winning a whole lot of games.

``Fans chose to do other things on those nights because it wasn't exciting to go to. Now, they have an exciting team. They're young, energetic and they really give the fans a lot to cheer about, like back in the mid-80s.''

Reunion and Utah's home, the Delta Center, are among the loudest places in the league. The home-court advantage was definitely a factor in the first two games as Dallas' postseason rookies appeared rattled by the noise.

Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks' leading scorer, took the most abuse. Booed every time he touched the ball in Game 2, Nowitzki didn't take a shot until midway through the second quarter and didn't make a basket until late in the third.

``To get back home and hear the fans cheer him instead of boo, he'll probably have a big game,'' Finley said.

The Mavericks need Nowitzki to start a comeback. Dallas also could use a return of its fast break, which Utah shut off in the first two games.

``The crowd will definitely help us go through the game at our pace,'' Finley said. ``If we do that, the game can be ours.''

As a perennial playoff team, the Jazz know they'll be treated like an enemy.

``If you're worried about the reception you're going to get, you'd better go into something else, maybe professional wrestling,'' coach Jerry Sloan said.