PORTLAND, Ore. -- Monta Ellis wasn't quite in a talkative mood after the most miserable offensive performance of the Dallas Mavericks' season, but he wanted to make one thing clear.
"My hip is not a factor," Ellis told ESPNDallas.com while walking briskly to the team bus after the Mavs' 94-75 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday, Dallas' lowest-scoring game during his two-season tenure with the team.
If Ellis is indeed healthy, how to explain his dramatic drop-off in production and efficiency since he strained his left hip in a Feb. 9 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers?
It's just a slump, Ellis insists, plain and simple. Just a rough patch that he needs to fight through.
"That's all it is," Ellis said after going 5-of-20 from the floor during his 12-point outing against Portland.
If Ellis doesn't get back in a groove soon, the Mavs' hopes of owning home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs are all but extinguished. That's how much the shooting guard means to the Mavs' suddenly mediocre offense.
It's no coincidence that the 40-23 Mavs have played .500 basketball since Ellis' injury, going 5-5 dating to the loss to the Clippers, when Ellis missed the final 44 minutes.
It certainly hasn't helped that center Tyson Chandler missed three games with his own hip injury and small forward Chandler Parsons has missed seven straight due to an ankle injury. Father Time winning a few rounds against Dirk Nowitzki (only 12.5 points per game since the All-Star break) is an issue, too. But the Mavs need Ellis to be the efficient scoring machine he was for the first half of the season to have any reasonable expectations of a playoff run.
The return of Parsons, which could come as soon as Sunday against the Los Angeles Lakers, should take some pressure off Ellis by putting another capable creator in the starting lineup. But the Mavs' offense, for better or worse, will still run primarily through Ellis.
At 36, Nowitzki is no longer capable of carrying an offense on a nightly basis, which is why he has gladly anointed in-his-prime Ellis as the Mavs' new go-to guy.
For whatever reason, Ellis hasn't been able to hold up his heavy end lately.
"He plays no matter what," coach Rick Carlisle said when asked about Ellis' health. "That's just how he is, and I know he has aches and pains. I've got to work harder to get him better shots. That's got to be my responsibility. He's not going to make any excuses about it, but I've got to do better to get him better shots. Simple as that."
Ellis operating the pick-and-roll has been a consistently potent weapon since he arrived in Dallas in the summer of 2013. Suddenly, however, it's sputtering.
Defenses have always dared Ellis to beat them with his midrange jumper. He made them pay in the first half of the season, managing to become a midrange shooter, something most never anticipated during his days as conscience-free gunner in Golden State and Milwaukee.
But those shots aren't falling now. According to NBA.com stat tracking, Ellis has hit only 36.3 percent of his shots from 10 to 24 feet in the past nine games, a drop of almost 5 percent from his first-half production.
More concerning, Ellis isn't getting to the basket as often or finishing as efficiently. He averaged 5.1 attempts in the restricted area before injuring his hip, making 59.8 percent of them. In the past nine games, Ellis has averaged only four attempts in the restricted area and made only 50 percent of them.
Dallas needs Ellis to be a dynamic player off the dribble. If he isn't, this half-court offense becomes boring and stagnant, especially when Parsons is wearing skinny jeans and watching from the bench.
Of course, it'd surely help Ellis if he didn't have to create so much out of half-court sets.
"We don't make it easy on ourselves when we're not running," Chandler said. "I thought in the first quarter we ran, and then it's like we took a breath and stopped doing what was working for us. We've got to do a better job of just continuing to pressure teams and allow great players like Monta to get in a rhythm that way instead of having to carry the load shooting jump shot after jump shot without getting in any kind of rhythm."
It's hard enough for Ellis to shoulder such a heavy load when he's healthy. He promises his hip isn't a problem, but with him struggling, the Mavs' offense is painful to watch.
It was Portland's fifth straight win but it was costly: Starting guard Wesley Matthews had to be helped off the court with a left foot injury early in the third quarter. He did not return and the extent of the injury was uncertain.
Nicolas Batum added 15 points and a season-high 12 rebounds for Portland, which had four players in double figures despite coming off back-to-back games.
"It's disbelief, you know?" he told reporters after an MRI confirmed the rupture. "I'm sitting up there in that tube having an MRI, and I don't hear noise, I don't feel my Achilles, I'm just ... . I can't believe I'm up there while my team's battling. I just haven't processed all of it yet."
Matthews said he'll have to have surgery, but it has not been scheduled.
Matthews had to be helped off the court after suffering the injury in the Trail Blazers' 94-75 win over the Dallas Mavericks. He had four points, one rebound and three assists in 18 minutes before exiting.
He went down without contact when he attempted to drive two minutes into the third quarter. He immediately reached for his left Achilles as he grimaced in pain.
"I've made that same cut hundreds of thousands of times in my life," he said. "I felt the initial pop, and I think you guys could tell on the replay, I looked back, and it feels like someone kicked you. I was praying that someone was back there. No one was back there, and I heard Ron [Garretson], the ref, he actually says, 'Oh no' like he knew."
The mood was somber in the Trail Blazers' locker room as Matthews' teammates lamented the loss of the player fans call "Iron Man" for his toughness.
After Celtics general manager Danny Ainge acknowledged earlier Thursday that the two sides were close to a deal, a source told ESPN.com that it unraveled when McGee wanted a player option for next season while the Celtics wanted a team option.
He has averaged 4.6 points and 2.7 rebounds this season in 23 games -- 17 with the Nuggets and six with Philadelphia.
The Celtics (24-35) are 11th in the Eastern Conference standings but only two games behind the Charlotte Hornets for the eighth playoff spot.
"JaVale is a long, athletic guy, and we don't have that type of player -- an above-the-rim offensive and defensive player," Ainge said earlier Thursday during his weekly appearance on Boston sports radio 98.5 The Sports Hub. "He's been paid a lot of money in our league, had some injuries, hasn't lived up to his potential yet, and we're hoping that he can under [Celtics coach Brad Stevens'] tutelage.
"I think he's in a good place, emotionally and mentally, and he really wants to get his career on the right path."
However, that path apparently will be with another team.
1. Where does Rajon Rondo rank among point guards in the West playoff picture?
Gutierrez: Counting the New Orleans Pelicans in ninth place, Rondo ranks eighth overall in terms of point guards in the West playoff picture. He can still get the nod over Patrick Beverley in Houston, possibly Jrue Holiday in New Orleans if he's unable to get back into the mix. Rondo still has work to do offensively, but he can be a pest on the defensive end of the floor. Consistency is the biggest issue when it comes to his abilities.
Taylor: Taylor: As it stands right now, we can't even start to talk about Rondo until we get to 5 or 6. Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and Stephen Curry are easily the top three. Rondo fits somewhere around struggling Tony Parker and Mike Conley, who's had some injury issues. Rondo can still move up the rankings, but it'll take a few more performances like he had against the Pelicans.
MacMahon: Rondo, a four-time All-Star, might be the seventh-best point guard in the West playoffs. Beverley is the only point guard of the bunch Rondo can reasonably claim to be better than right now, and even that is arguable. Beverley isn’t nearly as pure a passer as Rondo but is a far better shooter and every bit as much of a defensive pest.
2. Where does Rick Carlisle rank among coaches in the West playoff picture?
Gutierrez: Outside of Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, there isn't a better coach in the Western Conference than Rick Carlisle. Based on the fact that Carlisle's coaching proved to be a major factor in Dallas taking San Antonio to seven games in the opening round of the playoffs last season, the Mavs have to feel like they're going to be in just about any series they're in simply due to the fact he has time to plan for an opponent.
Taylor: Once you stop praising Popovich, then you can argue between Carlisle and Doc Rivers about who's the next best coach in the Western Conference. Carlisle is creative with the lineups and does a good job maximizing the talent on the roster. He's excellent coming out of timeouts and he's not afraid to accept the blame when he screws up.
MacMahon: Pop is the only active coach in the West – actually in the NBA – who clearly has more impressive credentials than Carlisle. And it’s not as if Carlisle can’t hold his own against Pop, as he proved last season when the far inferior Mavs pushed the eventual champion Spurs to seven games. All due respect to Rivers, but the Mavs would have the coaching edge in any series unless they see the Spurs again.
3. Where does Dirk Nowitzki rank among power forwards in the West playoff picture?
Gutierrez: It is stacked as ever at the power forward position in the West. I would rank Dirk in the middle of the pack, roughly around fifth overall. Anthony Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, and Tim Duncan should be placed ahead of Dallas' face of the franchise. Another year older, it will be interesting to see how Dirk, a true playoff performer, handles the heavier minutes and overall intensity that come with playing in the playoffs.
Taylor: It depends on what night you ask where Dirk ranks among power forward in the Western Conference. At 36, he has the occasional off night, but in the playoffs when he doesn't have to go back to back, then Dirk is probably fifth or sixth depending on whether you prefer Duncan. Dirk can still get 25 on a given night and no one you'd rather have the ball at the end of the game. He's fifth in my mind.
MacMahon: The days of the Mavs having a huge edge at power forward in almost every playoff series are done. At 36, Nowitzki still commands the respect of being a focal point of opponent’s defensive game plans, but it’s becoming more and more difficult to mask his athletic limitations. That’s especially true when he has to battle physical freaks like the Clippers’ Blake Griffin and the Thunder’s Serge Ibaka. (Ibaka isn’t a better player than Nowitzki, but he is a nightmare matchup for the Mavs.) Memphis’ Zach Randolph and Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge are better players than Nowitzki at this point, too.
Celtics general manager Danny Ainge acknowledged Thursday that the two sides were close to a deal.
"JaVale is a long, athletic guy, and we don't have that type of player -- an above-the-rim offensive and defensive player," Ainge said during his weekly appearance on Boston sports radio 98.5 The Sports Hub. "He's been paid a lot of money in our league, had some injuries, hasn't lived up to his potential yet, and we're hoping that he can under [Celtics coach Brad Stevens'] tutelage.
"I think he's in a good place, emotionally and mentally, and he really wants to get his career on the right path."
The 7-footer has averaged 4.6 points and 2.7 rebounds this season in 23 games -- 17 with the Nuggets and six with Philadelphia.
McGee would be eligible to play in the postseason because he was waived before the playoff-eligibility deadline,
The Celtics (24-35) are 11th in the Eastern Conference standings through Wednesday's games but only two games behind the Charlotte Hornets
It’s the closest he’s come to getting one of his famous red wine baths since leaving New York.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think it has the same effect,” coach Rick Carlisle cracked to a referee, a conversation caught by the Fox Sports Southwest cameras on Saturday night.
Stoudemire looked for a spa in Dallas that offered vinotherapy, but it was a fruitless search. That lack of luxury is a minor inconvenience that ranks pretty far down the list of challenges presented to Stoudemire during his adjustment period since joining the Dallas Mavericks after the All-Star break.
“It takes a little time, to be honest with you,” Stoudemire said. “It takes a lot of studying. It takes communication to be able to get things figured out. But I think for the most part we’ve been able to work hand in hand, be positive throughout the entire situation and it’s been working for us.
“I’ve always had a training camp and always had some time to figure out the system before the season started. This is my first time really going to a new system midseason. It’s taking time. I still haven’t found a place to live yet, still living out of a suitcase, but it’s working out for me.”
The early results from Stoudemire, whose minutes with the Mavs have come solely at center so far, are certainly encouraging. He has averaged 10.8 points and 4.0 rebounds in 17.5 minutes during his first four games for the Mavs, with whom he signed for the veteran’s minimum after receiving a buyout from the final season of his five-year, $99.7 million deal with the Knicks.
The Mavs, who are 3-1 when Stoudemire plays for them, have chosen to exercise extreme caution with the six-time All-Star, who has chronic knee issues. That’s the primary reason that Stoudemire sat out two games before making his Dallas debut and isn’t playing both games of back-to-backs.
The Mavs also want to make sure that Stoudemire isn’t overwhelmed mentally as he makes the transition from a last-place team to a squad in the thick of the West playoff pack. Carlisle recently estimated that the Mavs have only about a third of their playbook available when Stoudemire is on the floor.
“We haven’t had a lot of quality practice time,” Carlisle said Tuesday after Stoudemire’s second full practice with the team. “The key is simplicity and repetition.”
Stoudemire, who has transitioned from All-Star to quality reserve, certainly has the work ethic to make the transition. That’s something center Tyson Chandler, Stoudemire’s former Knicks teammate, noted would be the case before Stoudemire’s arrival in Dallas.
Stoudemire has met those expectations by consistently being one of the first players in the gym and sticking around for extra film and floor sessions with the coaching staff. The 13-year veteran is doing everything in his power to expedite the process of mastering the Mavs’ offensive and defensive schemes -- and producing in the meantime.
“The problem is, if you start thinking too much, you get out of whack, so right now I’m just playing basketball,” Stoudemire said. “I’m trying to remember the terminologies on the defensive end and trying to figure out my teammates and how they play and work with them, build chemistry on the basketball court. It’s taking a little time, but it’s panning out well.”
Of course, the Mavs are willing to do whatever they can to make Stoudemire comfortable. Carlisle even suggested that owner Mark Cuban help Stoudemire find a hot tub of wine for his next relaxing soak.
“If it works,” Carlisle said, “Mark should get one here.”
Sources told ESPN's Chris Broussard that the Golden State Warriors likewise have interest in signing McGee once the big man clears waivers Wednesday at 5 p.m.
Sources say McGee is drawing interest from a number of teams looking to add size after his release Sunday by the Philadelphia 76ers, who acquired McGee via trade from Denver on Feb. 19 and then waived him before Sunday's midnight playoff-eligiblity deadline, ensuring that the 7-footer would be eligible to play in the playoffs with another team this season.
After ESPN.com reported Sunday afternoon that the Sixers and McGee were engaged in buyout talks, Philadelphia ultimately consented to release the 27-year-old without forcing him to surrender any salary. McGee had roughly $3 million left from his $11.25 million salary this season when he was acquired by the Sixers and is owed $12 million next season.
The Sixers were willing on deadline day to take all that money on because they were millions below the league's salary floor and because they also acquired a future first-round pick from the Nuggets, who simply wanted to move McGee out.
James’ second 10-day contract expired after Monday night’s win over the New Orleans Pelicans, when he started in place of injured Tyson Chandler. The team had to either commit to James for the rest of the season or allow him to be a free agent, and the decision was made weeks ago to keep the former second-round pick.
James, who will make the veteran’s minimum, has averaged 4.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 17.5 minutes per game since signing with the Mavs on Feb. 11. James, who played in China this season after being the Mavs’ final preseason cut, was singled out for praise by coach Rick Carlisle after Monday’s win.
“He was plus-23 and didn’t score a point,” Carlisle said. “He’s another guy that plays with a lot of energy and does a lot of good things at both ends even if he’s not scoring. I think it’s more than noteworthy. We need guys that can step in like he did tonight in the absence of Tyson and do a lot of little things to help us win. What we did tonight was very important for us.”