Experience pays off for Mavericks

Dirk Nowitzki and the veteran-driven Dallas Mavericks have found their way back to the NBA finals, dispatching the youthful Oklahoma City Thunder in five games. "We haven't done anything yet," Nowitzki says.

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Dirk Nowitzki wrapped his hands around the trophy that goes to the Western Conference champions and smiled.

After five years, he and the Dallas Mavericks are heading back to the NBA finals.

But he did not join the celebration wholeheartedly. His season, and the team's, will not be complete unless they go on to win the next round, too, and become NBA champions for the first time.

"This is nice for a day, but we set our goals in October to win it all," Nowitzki said. "We haven't done it yet."

Dallas beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 100-96 on Wednesday night to win the conference finals four games to one. They play the winner of the Chicago-Miami series for the league championship.

"It feels good to finally go back," Nowitzki said. "This time, hopefully, we can finish the job."

The Mavericks' only other trip to the finals was in 2006 against Miami. They were up 2-0, with a big lead late in Game 3, but wound up losing to the Heat in six games.

They had won only one play-off series since until a tremendous run this post-season, winning 12 of 15 and 10 of the past 11 games, including a sweep of the two-time reigning champions, the Los Angeles Lakers.

This Dallas team, filled with veterans all seeking their first rings, has been playing with what coach Rick Carlisle calls "a laser-like focus".

It showed when they clawed back from a 15-point deficit with five minutes left in Game 4, and again in the series-deciding Game 5, when the Mavs were down by six with four-plus minutes left.

They outscored the Thunder 14-4 the rest of the way, with many of their most-accomplished players - Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Jason Terry and Nowitzki - making the key plays.

"We know what we're going through offensively and defensively," said Terry, who along with Nowitzki are the only survivors from the 2006 team. "We know we have to get stops and we're able to do that.

"When you have that belief and that trust in what you're doing it's just a confidence [thing] and more times than not you're going to be successful."

Nowitzki scored 26 points, nine in the fourth quarter. He averaged 32.2 points in the series, 11.8 in the fourth quarters. Marion scored 15 of his 26 points in the fourth.

The victory was important to Marion because, unlike Nowitzki, Kidd and Terry, he never has been to the finals.

"Lots of guys never go, so I'm going to make the best of it," Marion said. "We knew what we were capable of from the start of the season. This is a realisation of that."

When the Mavs last made the finals, they advanced with a win in Phoenix. This time, they got to share the moment with their fans.

"All I can tell everybody is, we ain't done yet," Mark Cuban, the team owner, said during a ceremony to present the Mavs with the Western Conference trophy.

The Mavericks' big edge in the series was experience, and it showed in the final two games. Age never slowed them, in part because their legs were refreshed by eight days off before the opener. Winning this game is vital because it earns them at least six days off before the finals begin.

"Any time you can get rest this time of year is a bonus," said Kidd, who at 38 could become the oldest point guard to ever win a title, by several years.

"For us to close it out here is huge."

* Associated Press