DALLAS — And to think that Monopoly Airlines Center’s original priority was hockey, not basketball.When former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk’s personal project — the American Airlines Center — opened in the summer of 2001, the seating and sight lines were actually designed for hockey more than basketball. There are more “bad seats” at this place for basketball than there are hockey.The logic was the Dallas Stars were the “hot” team and the Dallas Mavericks were a national joke. This generation might not believe it but there was a time when puck was bigger than ball among the winter sports.When the AAC was being designed, Mavs owner Ross Perot Jr. was more concerned with the atriums and pretty architecture, and then Stars owner Tom Hicks had pull. This would not have happened had Mark Cuban owned the team when the plans were drawn.But Cuban’s toy has owned this market in the cold months over the past decade and for the first time since he bought the Mavericks from Perot, he will feel some competition from that other team. The Stars are trending up and the Mavs are trending down.Over the weekend, the local ice hockey team and the local basketball team qualified for the postseason — thank God. For the first time since 2008, Monopoly Airlines Center (the MAC) will host playoff hockey and basketball in the same spring.Since the MAC opened, the Stars have been in the playoffs a pathetic five of 11 seasons, winning three series. The Mavs have been in the playoffs 11 of 12 seasons, winning 12 series, reaching two NBA Finals and winning one title.Neither team should be picked to win its first-round series, but given the more unpredictable and goalie-driven reality of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Stars have a prayer despite their status as an eighth-seed against the top-seeded Anaheim Ducks. And of these two franchises, the Stars look prepared to go on a run over the next few years whereas the Mavs look like they are merely hanging on.“I think we took 50 wins there for granted a couple of times,” Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki said after Monday’s practice. The Mavs need one win to hit 50 for the 13th time since 2001. “We won 67 one year. You think 50 wins is easy to get. The playoffs was our first goal and we reached that.”If the Mavs draw San Antonio or Oklahoma City, forget it. Maybe if the Mavs draw the LA Clippers in the first round, they can induce them to go stupid and surprise us and push a series to six or seven games. In a LeBron league, with this roster, this is about as good as it’s going to get.No, the Mavs are not going to win a title this season, but the playoffs are always better than the ninth pick of the draft (unless you can get Dirk, again). We may want the Mavs to “blow it up” and find their next Dirk, but how is that working for Sacramento? Or Milwaukee? Or Atlanta? Or half the league.Take the playoffs over the lottery. “We won a championship a few years ago and you are really only satisfied if you are competing for it,” Dirk said when I asked him if he was satisfied with the season. “Making the playoffs is the first step. We’ll see how far we can take this, see how long we can ride it out, and talk in a few weeks how the season went.”Deep down, however, we know. So does Mark. So does Rick Carlisle. So does Dirk. The Mavs are not going to be able to keep this up much longer. Dirk is going to be 36 soon, and the Mavericks are the fifth-oldest team in the league.At some point, they are going to have to bite it.This is the same bite the Stars took back in 2006, and it tastes awful.If the Stars push the Anaheim Ducks to seven games in their first-round series, call it major progress and a crucial step in the playoff-learning process.This team is stacked with young players who have to start the process of losing to learn how to win. Young studs like Brenden Dillon, Jamie Benn, Valeri Nichushkin, Tyler Seguin and Alex Chiasson are going to have to get their teeth kicked in a little bit before they take off.For those of you old enough to remember, before the Stars won the Stanley Cup in 1999, they had to lose in the playoffs a few times to Detroit, San Jose, etc.That was when puck was bigger than ball around here. A competitive, media-savvy guy like Cuban will prevent the Mavs from ever becoming so irrelevant again, but he should be on notice that the team he shares a building with is coming. Follow Mac Engel on The Big Mac Blog at star-telegram.com/sports.
Mac Engel, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @macengelprof