There is no doubt, however, that the Mavericks expect more from Dalembert. Owner Mark Cuban said as much before the Mavs’ win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
“We’ve got to get Sam playing better,” Cuban said.
The Mavs are particularly determined to get Dalembert to perform better defensively. They signed him to a two-year, $7.6 million deal with a partial guarantee for the second season because they needed a big man who could serve as a defensive anchor.
Dallas has a defensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 103.3 with Dalembert on the floor and 103.8 when he’s on the bench. Over the last 10 games, the defensive rating is 106.8 with Dalembert on the floor and 104.4 when he sits.
“I think he gets down on himself sometimes and gets too protective,” Cuban said. “He’s not as aggressive as he needs to be. When Sam is active, we’re better defensively. I think sometimes he just tries not to make mistakes. When a guy does that, that hurts him. When he’s active, we’re just better.”
You can’t blame Cuban for daydreaming about changing conferences. Put the Mavs in the East and they’re a lock to have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. In the West, they’ll probably have to fight to the finish just to earn a postseason berth.
But, as Cuban sees it, the conference imbalance isn’t all bad for the West teams.
“I think it’ll result in the law of unintended consequences,” Cuban said. “As unbalanced as it seems, worse teams will make the playoffs in the East, which means that hurts their draft position, which means better teams in the West will get better players in the draft since this is a good draft. So the law of unintended consequences comes into play.
“So many teams in the East weren’t really out there to be the best possible that they’ll win games against each other, have better records, get into the playoffs, which means they won’t be in the lottery, so it’ll end up hurting them.”
The upcoming draft, expected to be headlined by Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Jabari Parker and Marcus Smart, will be likely be the most hyped in a decade. It’s safe to assume that the loaded draft class influenced several moves that were made over the summer.
“I don’t even know who’s tanking or not tanking,” Cuban said. “But they only have two teams over .500 [in the East]. That says it all. Whether it’s intentional or not, that doesn’t really matter.”
It won’t pay off for all of those teams, either. The law of unintended consequences will come into play.
"Not great," said the Dallas Mavericks point guard. "But it’s done. It’s done, and now I’ve got three days until Saturday. That’s what I was looking for. It’s good that we got a huge win for us as a team and happy to go through this back-to-back like that.
"I knew it was going to be tough, but it’s good. Good enough."
Calderon, who suffered a bone bruise in his right ankle Friday night that caused him to miss one game, was limping noticeably as he left the American Airlines Center following Tuesday night’s win over the Charlotte Bobcats, and he was clearly hobbled during Wednesday night’s win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
A point guard as explosive as Jrue Holiday is going to be a tough cover for Calderon under any circumstances, but that assignment was almost unfair with Calderon playing on one good leg. Holiday lit up the Mavs for 26 points on 10-of-17 shooting and nine assists.
Meanwhile, Calderon couldn’t hit a shot for most of the night. He misfired on seven of his first eight 3-point attempts.
But he then drilled a pair of clutch treys late in the fourth quarter. His 3 with 5:22 remaining gave the Mavs a five-point lead. His 3 with 3:34 to go put the Mavs up two, and they never trailed again.
"I told him in the fourth quarter, 'You’re going to have a couple of daggers for us,'" Dirk Nowitzki said. "I just knew he was going to be open on the weak side a couple of times, and he stepped right into them."
If Calderon didn’t take those shots, he’d have heard about it from coaches and teammates. They frequently tell Calderon, who led the league in 3-point percentage last season and ranked sixth in the NBA entering the game at 49.5 percent this season, that he doesn’t look for his shot enough. It’s a sin for him to turn down an open look, no matter how many he’s missed.
"I know the team is looking for that," said Calderon, who finished with 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting and four assists. "If they keep helping off me, I’ve got to shoot those 3s. That’s all I can do. I was confident. I’ve been shooting those 3s really well. I got those two in the fourth quarter to help the team, and it was good, finally."
Calderon wasn’t at his best the past two nights, but he earned a lot of respect in the locker room by gutting it out and helping the Mavs get two much-needed wins.
"Not 100 percent, but he’s giving us what he has, and it’s really helped us the last two nights," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "We don’t win these games without him."
His jump shot can be taken off the back of all of those milk cartons.
A 15-point performance should be just about the norm for Carter, but it’s newsworthy now because he has been struggling so much. He averaged only 8.8 points while shooting an awful 30.2 percent from the floor in the previous five games.
"But he’s stayed with it," coach Rick Carlisle said. "Even if there have been some tough shooting nights, his attitude has stayed the same. He’s upbeat. He’s upbeat with the guys. He’s still working hard, and tonight it paid off."
This is the Carter the Mavs need.
Carter is 36 years old and in his 16th season, so it was only natural to wonder whether time had finally crept up on him during his slow start this season.
However, Carter insists his body feels great despite an early Dallas schedule heavy with back-to-back games. He’s disciplined with his diet, stretching and icing regimens, and Carter gets so much precautionary treatment that teammates give him flak about hogging the trainer’s table.
His legs weren’t the issue. Neither were his mechanics. Carter studied film of his shot and saw nothing wrong other than the results. So he tried not to stress, figuring it was a matter of time before they started dropping again.
That time came Wednesday night, when Carter knocked down three of four 3-point attempts and also contributed five rebounds and four assists in 24 minutes.
"I tell you what: Every time I shoot it, I shoot it like, 'Hey, it’s going in,'" Carter said. "I think that’s what bothers me sometimes, because it doesn’t go in, but I think it’s going to go in. But that’s just the way I think.
"I put the pressure on myself to make shots. I know you’re not going to make them all, but the mentality has to stay there. I continued to have that type of mentality to shoot the ball with confidence, not shoot the ball like, 'Ah, maybe it'll go in or not.' I refuse to let myself get into that mode."
Once Carter gets a couple to go down, he thinks he’s in a groove. He doesn’t have the same lift from his days as an eight-time All-Star, but his belief in his game hasn't wavered.
Nor has the Mavs’ belief in Carter, even while he struggled. Carlisle has gone so far as to call Carter part of the Mavs’ big three, along with Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis. That’s going a bit too far, but there’s no question that Dallas is depending on Carter to provide them with a third quality scoring threat.
"He’s obviously a big key to our offense," said Nowitzki, who led the Mavs with 21 points in Wednesday’s win. "With Monta attacking a lot, I’m attacking a lot, but sometimes, we need another guy who can make plays for himself, and Vince is that guy.
"We need his scoring off the bench, and he was great tonight."
The Mavs hope that’s the end of one trend and the beginning of another.
NEW ORLEANS -- The Dallas Mavericks squeaked out a 100-97 win at New Orleans Arena, their second victory in two nights.
How it happened: The Hornets seemed to find all sorts of bizarre ways to beat the Mavs in this building in recent years, but the Pelicans couldn’t close the deal in their first swing at Dallas.
The Mavericks left the door wide open when Dirk Nowitzki split a pair of free throws with 32.3 seconds remaining, meaning Dallas led by only one point. The Pelicans got two great looks on the next possession -- an open, midrange jumper by small forward Al-Farouq Aminu and a driving floater by shooting guard Eric Gordon -- but neither of them went down.
After Nowitzki hit a couple of free throws to push the Mavs’ lead to three with eight seconds remaining, New Orleans got one more good look. Power forward Ryan Anderson, who had been red-hot from 3-point range entering the game, couldn’t knock down a game-tying 26-footer.
The Mavs survived big nights by Aminu (16 points, 20 rebounds) and point guard Jrue Holiday (26 points, 9 assists), who would have given Jose Calderon fits even if the Mavs’ point guard wasn’t hobbled by a bad ankle.
Nowitzki didn’t shoot the ball well, making only 7 of 17 shots from the floor. But he put up double-digit points in the fourth quarter for the second straight night. He had 11 of his team-high 21 points in the final frame.
Mavs sixth man Vince Carter busted out of his slump with 15 points on 4-of-8 shooting. Pelicans sixth man Tyreke Evans had an awful game, scoring eight points on 1-of-9 shooting.
All five New Orleans’ starters scored in double figures, but the Mavs had a 25-10 edge in points off the bench.
What it means: For the first time in five tries, the Mavs recorded a road win against a West foe. Dallas won on back-to-back nights after dropping four of its previous five games. The Mavs are 12-8 at roughly the quarter point of the season, putting them on pace for 49 wins. The Pelicans fell to 9-9.
Play of the game: He’s perhaps the best finesse power forward in NBA history, but Nowitzki showed his willingness to do some dirty work by diving to the floor to grab a contested loose ball in the final minute of the third quarter. He immediately shoveled the ball to a sprinting Jae Crowder, who took one more step before throwing down a game-tying tomahawk slam to finish the transition scramble.
Stat of the night: The Mavs are 11-1 when Monta Ellis has at least five assists and 3-0 when he records double-digits dishes. He matched his season high with 10 assists against the Pelicans to go along with 14 points.
NEW ORLEANS -- Mark Cuban's greatest fear for the Dallas Mavericks is playing out in Brooklyn.
The Mavs owner was heavily criticized for stripping down his 2011 championship roster after the ensuing NBA lockout, opting to create space under the salary cap by not making competitive bids for several key players once they became free agents. His concern was that the franchise would deteriorate into an expensive team that wasn't good enough to contend and didn't have any realistic avenues to improve under the new collective bargaining agreement.
That appears to be the scenario for the Brooklyn Nets, who have stumbled to a 5-13 start despite a veteran-loaded roster with a bloated payroll that will cost owner Mikhail Prokhorov $190 million including the luxury tax this season.
"That's exactly right," Cuban said Wednesday night. "You get stuck. That's exactly what I thought. ... That was definitely a fear."
Cuban had paid the luxury tax every season of its existence until 2011-12. The new CBA includes much harsher luxury tax penalties, which escalate for repeater taxpaying teams and at an incremental rate based on how much teams are over the limit.
However, it's not necessarily the money that concerned Cuban. Rather, it's the difficulty of improving a roster as a team paying the luxury tax under the current set of rules that led him to bid farewell to key championship pieces such as Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and current Nets guard Jason Terry.
Blair, who is averaging 8.5 points and 7.8 rebounds off the bench, is starting Wednesday night against the New Orleans Pelicans. The move was described as a coach's decision.
Owner Mark Cuban mentioned pregame that the Mavs needed Dalembert to play better. He's averaging 7.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks but has not been the defensive force the Mavs hoped he'd be when they signed him to a two-year, $7.6 million deal.
Point guard Jose Calderon is starting a second consecutive game despite a bone bruise in his right ankle. After missing one game, Calderon returned for Tuesday night's win over the Charlotte Bobcats, scoring 12 points in 33 minutes. However, he was limping noticeably after the game and coach Rick Carlisle said Calderon would be a game-time decision against the Pelicans.
Who is the most valuable player who averages fewer than 20 points per game on this team?
DeJuan Blair, but I would be falling into the trap of not appreciating what Shawn Marion brings to the team. If it weren’t for Blair, Marion would be leading the team once again in rebounds. Nobody saw Marion’s reintroduction of his 3-point shot coming, and that certainly adds more value. Add that to his defensive disposition and you’ve got a multidimensional asset.
Taylor: DeJuan Blair has been so much better than expected. I knew the reputation as a grinder and rebounder, but it's not hyperbole to talk about him being a beast this year for the Mavs. He has four double-doubles. He's also had five other games with at least eight rebounds. He plays hard and he's relentless on the boards. He's the reason the Mavs have held their own on the boards, when I figured they'd get slaughtered much of the season.
MacMahon: I give you guys a layup and you blow it. OK, Jose Calderon can't make a layup either, but he's the easy answer. Did you see the Mavs fall apart without him in the fourth quarter Friday night in Atlanta? There's a reason Dirk Nowitzki essentially demanded that the Mavs get a proven point guard over the summer. Calderon's experience, ability to get the Mavs into their sets and the threat he presents as a perimeter shooter have immense value to the Mavs, especially when his only backups are rookies.
After a one-game absence due to a bone bruise in his right ankle, Calderon returned to Dallas’ starting lineup and played 33 serviceable minutes, but the day-to-day designation will apparently continue as the Mavs begin a four-game road trip.
“It was good,” Calderon said of his ankle. “I don’t know what it’s going to be in a few hours, but it’s OK.”
Added Mavs coach Rick Carlisle: “We’ll see how he is tomorrow, but he was vital tonight. He played extremely well.”
Calderon’s statistics in the win over the Bobcats won’t overwhelm anybody. He scored 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting (4-of-5 from 3-point range) and dished out only one assist, only the sixth time he has had one or fewer assists in a game he started during his nine-year NBA career.
But Calderon’s calming effect for the offense has immense value for the Mavs, as does the threat he presents as a perimeter shooter.
“He’s one of the lowest turnover point guards in the league and he puts us in the right sets offensively,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “Then on the weak side, he’s one of the best shooters, and his presence means a lot to us out there. He was great again tonight. He grinded it out and we needed him.”
They’ll need Calderon again Wednesday night in New Orleans. Whether he’ll be able to answer the bell remains to be determined.
"I wasn’t trying to, but I’m glad some of them went in," Nowitzki said after the Mavericks’ come-from-behind 89-82 win over the Charlotte Bobcats. "The first half was pretty frustrating there."
The first half was one to forget. Nowitzki was 1-of-10 from the floor, dragging Dallas’ field goal percentage all the way down to 31.0 percent, the worst for the Mavs in any half this season.
But Nowitzki more than made up for it in the fourth quarter when he caught fire, scoring 14 of his game-high 25 points. This was a vintage Dirk clutch-shooting exhibition, in which he went 6-of-7 from the floor in the frame, all on jumpers.
"He stuck with it like Dirk should and came and made shots at the end," said shooting guard Monta Ellis, who also heated up in the fourth quarter, when he scored 10 of his 22 points.
It wasn’t exactly a complicated adjustment. After the first half, when Nowitzki felt like he had several good looks that didn’t go down, he figured out that he wasn’t bending his knees enough on the jumper.
Nowitzki came out a few minutes earlier than usual at halftime to get some shots up, then got in a groove midway through the fourth quarter, pinpointing a transition 3-pointer as the moment he felt like he found his rhythm.
"I guess routine and experience plays a big factor," said Nowitzki, a 16-year veteran who ranks 14th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. "Maybe 12 or 13 years ago, I couldn’t correct myself in a game like that. When you’ve done it so many times, you try some stuff. Sometimes, it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but this time it worked well. We got the big win. We needed that win."
The alternative would have been taking a three-game losing streak on the road, with five losses in the past six games. That gruesome scenario still seemed pretty likely until Nowitzki knocked down midrange jumpers on three consecutive possessions midway through the fourth quarter, when the Bobcats were burned by their risk of leaving Josh McRoberts alone to defend the big German.
The flurry started right away after Nowitzki checked back into the game following a brief rest. He posted up on the left wing, faced up against McRoberts and shot a midrange jumper over him.
On the next possession, Nowitzki caught the ball at pretty much the same spot and hit a turnaround fadeaway in McRoberts’ face.
On the following possession, Nowitzki posted up on the other side of the floor. Charlotte big man Al Jefferson bluffed a double-team but left McRoberts alone, allowing Nowitzki to face up, pump fake and hit another fadeway.
Just like that, one of the worst shooting halves of the future Hall of Famer’s career felt like a distant memory.
After Ellis took over for a stretch, the Dirk dagger came on a wide-open 21-footer with 27.9 seconds remaining.
"He can do anything," point guard Jose Calderon said of Nowitzki. "He doesn’t surprise me anymore. He can go 1-for-10, 1-for-12. It doesn’t matter. I'm getting the ball to him to shoot those shots for sure in the second half. No hesitation at all."
And no chance for McRoberts to stop him once Nowitzki made a minor adjustment, just in time to stop the Mavs’ losing streak.
DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks’ dynamic duo heated up just in time for the Mavericks to beat the Charlotte Bobcats.
How it happened: Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis dominated crunch time, keying the Mavs’ comeback win.
Nowitzki and Ellis accounted for Dallas’ final 19 points, including a 13-5 run that gave the Mavs the lead for good.
The spurt started with three consecutive midrange jumpers by Nowitzki, who finished with 25 points on 10-of-21 shooting but was only 1-of-10 from the floor in the first half. The Bobcats left Josh McRoberts alone on Nowitzki, and the Mavs took advantage of that matchup by getting the face of their franchise the ball on post-ups or isolations on three straight trips.
Ellis (22 points, 8-of-18 shooting) scored on the next three possessions, with Nowitzki mixing in a free throw following a technical foul. Ellis hit a pair of pull-up jumpers and made a driving layup during the span.
Nowitzki’s 21-footer with 27 seconds remaining was the dagger. Ellis sealed the victory with four free throws after that.
The Mavs shot a dreadful 31 percent in the first half and trailed the Bobcats by as many as 12 points in the third quarter. But Dallas’ stars sizzled in the fourth quarter, when Nowitzki and Ellis combined to score 24 of the Mavs’ 29 points.
What it means: The Mavs avoided crisis mode. This would have been their fifth loss in six games, but the Mavs pulled out the win to snap a two-game losing streak before they head to New Orleans to wrap up a back-to-back. The Mavs’ record improved to 11-8. The Bobcats dropped to 8-11.
Play of the game: There wasn’t much that was pretty in this game, but Ellis’ off-the-dribble baseline fadeaway with 3:43 remaining was a thing of beauty. It’s the kind of shot the Mavs don’t want Ellis to have to take, but he had no choice with the shot clock ticking down and did a great job of creating space to get off the high-arcing shot.
Stat of the night: In a first quarter that was far from aesthetically pleasing, the Bobcats attempted more free throws than field goals. Charlotte was 12-of-16 from the line and 3-of-15 from the floor.
Calderon, who injured the ankle during Friday's loss to the Atlanta Hawks, did not practice Monday but participated in the Tuesday morning shootaround.
Calderon, who signed a four-year, $29 million deal with the Mavs this summer, is averaging 11.1 points and 4.9 assists per game this season.
Asked how he felt, Harris cracked, "Like I hadn't played in five months."
Harris hopes to be ready to play in games by mid-December. The Mavs are counting on the 10-year veteran to provide depth at both guard positions.
"I've still got a lot of work to do," Harris said, "but it was a good first step."
Harris said he's feeling a little bit of soreness, but that's to be anticipated after his first practice coming off toe surgery. He said he didn't feel limited physically during the practice and participated in all of the drills.
The 30-year-old Harris originally agreed to a three-year deal worth more than $9 million to return to Dallas, where he began his NBA career and played from 2004 to 2008. The severity of his toe injury, which he played through last season for the Atlanta Hawks, was revealed during a pre-signing physical screening, prompting the parties to mutually agree to a one-year deal for the veteran's minimum.
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