boston.com Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe
JACKIE MACMULLAN

An exciting game, and she wants in

I have basketball envy.

Can't help it. I was watching Dallas implode against Golden State the other night and was transfixed by the energy pulsating from Oracle Arena, where the Warriors play. Golden State fans hadn't witnessed a playoff game in 13 years, and the place was positively trembling with excitement.

You know, the way this town used to be.

The fans were loud, supportive, and clever (my favorite sign: "Nellie Smokes Cuban").

The Warriors, the No. 8 seed in the West, were systematically destroying the NBA's deepest and most talented team, something that simply isn't supposed to happen, especially at the hands of point guard Baron Davis, of all people. As recently as 2005, Davis, who played for the New Orleans Hornets at the time, was being heavily shopped to everyone, including Boston, which had been swept by the Pacers in the first round of the playoffs the previous spring.

Davis was viewed as damaged goods (knee trouble) who couldn't -- or was it wouldn't? -- invest the time or effort into making himself a top player. The Hornets' asking price was a big body, a plug nickel, and a bag of marbles. They settled on Speedy Claxton and forward Dale Davis, whom they waived five days later.

And now look! Nellie has turned Baron Davis loose and transformed him into the best player in the postseason, easily overshadowing expected regular-season MVP Dirk Nowitzki. You remember Dirk. Former Celtics coach Rick Pitino secretly worked him out in Italy and hoped to draft him for Boston in 1998, but was foiled by young Mavs executive Donnie Nelson, who swung a deal with Milwaukee and had the Bucks pluck Nowitzki one selection ahead of Boston. (The Celtics' "consolation" prize was Paul Pierce.)

Last night, well past your bedtime and mine, the Mavericks staved off elimination by holding on to beat the Warriors. They now trail in the series, three games to two. Dirk was in a major crisis, talking about passing off and ticking off his coach, Avery Johnson, who wants his best player to shoot, for crying out loud. While the Mavs were teetering on the brink, last year's champ, Miami, was already long gone, swept by the Chicago Bulls.

The Heat will undergo a major overhaul. Expect James Posey and former Celtics Antoine Walker and Gary Payton to be gone. It might also be the end for Jason Williams, who was friends with Randy Moss when they were at Marshall together.

The Heat still have Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal, but they suddenly don't look as trendy as the Phoenix Suns or as durable as, say, the Detroit Pistons.

Truthfully? There isn't an NBA dynasty in sight. Parity rules, and every team has a chance (except for Boston and Memphis, of course).

I want in on the action. I want all those astute Boston NBA fans who have been in suspended animation for close to 20 years now to awaken from their self-induced haze and rejoin the basketball living. The league had its dark moments, but the pro game is fun again, entertaining, too, and if all goes according to plan -- which it hasn't since 1986, when the Curse of Len Bias sent this franchise into a tailspin -- it might be necessary for Celtics fans to reintroduce themselves to the NBA landscape.

Greg Oden provides instant cachet. Kevin Durant can do that for you, too. It's 1, 2, or bust. The prospect of the No. 3 pick or lower is beyond unbearable. I refuse to discuss it.

In the meantime, let's bone up on the league's best, shall we? It's difficult when you don't have a rooting interest. I understand. Houston or Utah? Why should you care? Because Yao Ming has developed into a nimble, effective low-post star, not an oddity from halfway around the world. Because Deron Williams is the most intriguing player you've never heard of, one who has bonded with a host of skinny guys with geeky haircuts to accomplish the impossible: put the Jazz back on the NBA map without Stockton or Malone.

That series is hanging in the balance, with the Rockets ahead, 3-2, mostly because a rookie from Kentucky named Chucky Hayes, who shoots 64 percent from the floor but hardly takes any shots, absorbed a charge on Utah's grizzled guard, Derek Fisher, and turned Game 5 around.

Who says they don't play defense in the NBA?

Now, depending on how long you've been in hibernation, you may have erroneously surmised that Robert Horry retired. That would be incorrect. Horry, who is 36, still plays for the Spurs, and after he drew a couple of DNPs (coach's decision) during the regular season, you wondered if Big Shot Rob had finally nailed his last clutch playoff dagger.

Not so fast. Horry's three from the corner Monday clinched a San Antonio win over the Nuggets, spotting the Spurs a cushy 3-1 series lead.

This makes me happy, because as someone who lobbied vociferously against the Celtics' attempts to trade for Allen Iverson, I find it fitting that Iverson's shooting touch has been hovering around 40 percent. Denver's point guard looks like a guy who only knows how to do one thing: dominate the ball. You all thought Iverson and Pierce together would bear major playoff fruit. Tell that to Carmelo Anthony. He and AI are one game away from a first-round exit.

Remember, too, the only way Iverson was ever coming here was if the Celtics parted with Al Jefferson. The more time I spend around Big Al, the more I entrench myself in his camp. He is candid about his previous shortcomings, including his lack of understanding of the work ethic required to excel. He's motivated, wants to be here, and yearns to be a leader. I like this kid, and not just because he's watching old tapes of Hakeem Olajuwon.

OK. Maybe I do like that.

Big Al, who stubbornly had refused to discuss the merits of Oden or Durant, is finally warming to the idea that maybe Boston has another special young talent on the way.

The missing piece remains a tough, seasoned veteran who can defend. I have no idea where this player will come from.

It's no fun to live vicariously, but what choice do we have? When the All-NBA Defensive first team came out yesterday, naturally there were no Celtics listed, but I found myself laying claim to Tim Duncan, who was almost a Celtic. Bruce Bowen actually was a Celtic, but nobody seems to remember that -- least of all Bowen. Marcus Camby, the Defensive Player of the Year, played for a couple of years up the road at UMass, but few New Englanders went to watch him. Same goes for All-NBA Defensive selection Raja Bell, who began his college career at BU. C'mon now, show of hands. Who can say they saw Bell in a Terrier uniform?

I did. But I had no idea I was seeing someone so special.

Ditto on Baron Davis.

But I plan to stay up, clutch my bag of marbles, and watch him, anyway.

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is macmullan@globe.com.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES