Mac Engel

State of Stars and Mavericks give it a 1990s Reunion feel

Jamie Benn and the Stars have captured the hearts of fans in Dallas.
Jamie Benn and the Stars have captured the hearts of fans in Dallas. AP

The 1990s are here again. At least they are for the two teams that share the same address — the American Airlines Center in Dallas.

The Stars have officially replaced the Mavericks as the more relevant and significantly better home team.

The majority of us in the vastness that is the FWd Metroplex might not know the intricacies of hockey, but we all know winning. As Stars Hall of Fame center Mike Modano once said, “This is a winner’s town.”

(The Cowboys are grandfathered in).

Basketball will always be the easier sport to learn and play down here, but the Stars are the real winners, and that currency is king.

The Stars have the top seed in the West and will start the greatest postseason that exists — the Stanley Cup playoffs — on Thursday night against the Minnesota Wild at the AAC. Expect a packed house and fandom for hockey these parts have not seen since the days of Reunion Arena.

There are those of us who remember the days of the long stairwell and the low ceiling at Reunion Arena, when hockey wore the winter crown partially because the basketball team was God awful.

Here we are in 2016 and the Stars are the better option for the bandwagon fans, whereas the Mavs have established themselves as playoff contenders and Finals pretenders.

It only took the Stars to miss the playoffs in six out of the past seven years, but they finally built a core of players we locals can identify with and praise: Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, John Klingberg, Jason Spezza and a few others. It would be great if we felt that way about the goalie, but Ed Belfour ain’t walking through that door.

No one cares how Mark Cuban is going to spin this; we only care how he can fix this.

Marky Mark gets the credit for raising the level of expectations for his toy to NBA title contender. We have all benefited from the Mavs’ run that brought a championship and a lot of entertaining spring basketball. And since Dirk Nowitzki won his boss that life-validating trophy in 2011, Cuban gets the blame for single-highhandedly lowering the expectations to “Playoffs Qualifier Banner” levels.

Rather than come close to maintaining title expectations, Cuban has relegated us to the days of Reunion Arena, when just making the playoffs was cause for celebration.

Since the Mavs won that title, they have won four playoff games. There is zero to suggest they will improve that record this spring, though they did clinch a playoff berth Monday.

Mark has done exactly what he hates: His NBA feet are firmly planted in the middle, helping make the Stars and their ascension even more relevant.

One of the reasons the Stars were so popular in the late ’90s was they contended for titles, but the other winter team around here — the Mavericks — were horrible. We might understand basketball better, but our love for a winner trumps comprehension of the game.

Go ahead and applaud the Mavs for what they have done this season. This is an average roster that features two nice players who were overpaid by a desperate owner because he rewards basketball players who like him. Well played, Chandler Parsons and Wes Matthews.

The team’s best player remains a 37-year-old guy who we do not know how not to take for granted. Don’t feel bad. Mark has been taking Dirk for granted for about the past 15 years.

(I still get sports sick when thinking about the time I asked coach Rick Carlisle about Dirk’s age at the start of the 2012 NBA training camp and he scolded me with the retort of “The only guy worried about that is you.”)

Applaud the job done by Carlisle for once again figuring out what to do with a collection of second-tier free agents and undesireables and coaxing them to buy in. The Mavs seldom mail it in under Rick, which is why they are always around the playoffs.

But a first-round series against the Thunder or Spurs will need a mercy rule.

And as we applaud the Mavs for their professionalism and push to another first-round exit, this is when we take aim at the owner for his failed post-championship building plan and the lowering of expectations.

All of his proclamations of how much the NBA luxury tax and collective bargaining agreement were going to hurt teams predictably blew up in his face.

What hurt his team was the brutal execution of a well-meaning but flawed plan that has the Mavericks right in the middle and celebrating just making the playoffs but not winning in them. And no one in that organization can tell him otherwise because they don’t want to threaten the Cuban Money Train.

The coaches and the players are trying, but they just don’t have enough, which is on the “architect.”

Meanwhile, the Stars went through hell to get here but they are the better ticket and the more entertaining product in a town where the fans might not know everything about hockey, but they certainly know a winner.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

Stanley Cup playoffs

Stars vs. Wild

Thursday: at Dallas, 8:30 p.m., NBCSN, FSSW

Saturday: at Dallas, 7 p.m., NBCSN, FSSW

April 18: at Minnesota, 7:30 p.m., CNBC, FSSW

April 20: at Minnesota, 8:30 p.m., NBCSN, FSSW

April 22: at Dallas, TBD

April 24: at Minnesota, TBD

April 26: at Dallas, TBD

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram