There was recent reason to wonder when the Mavs’ dynamic scoring duo would start clicking in the clutch. After all, Dallas’ crunch-time numbers for the season were dismal after last week’s meltdown in Atlanta, but that seems like such a distant memory after the Mavs reeled off three wins in a row.
Nowitzki and Ellis combined to score the Mavs’ final 19 points against the Charlotte Bobcats in the first win of that streak. They scored the Mavs’ final 14 in the heart-pounding victory in Portland, capped by the franchise’s first buzzer-beating game winner in more than four years.
“We shouldn’t have been in that situation, but when you get in that situation, you’ve got to get the ball to one of those two guys,” coach Rick Carlisle told reporters.
Let's take a quick look at the Dallas Mavericks' 108-106 win over the Portland Trail Blazers:
How it happened: This was a classic example of Dirk Nowitzki's clutch dominance, but his sidekick delivered at the buzzer.
Monta Ellis knocked down a 20-footer at the buzzer after Portland point guard Damian Lillard tied it on a 3-pointer with 1.9 seconds remaining.
Nowitzki gave the Mavs a chance to win the game after it seemed like the Trail Blazers, the team with the Western Conference’s best record, was on the verge of slamming the door shut.
The face of the Mavericks’ franchise simply took over the game after the Trail Blazers made a run to tie it up with 3:58 remaining. Nowitzki scored nine points over the next three-plus minutes, knocking down four of five shots from the floor.
The clutch scoring spree started with a beautifully designed play out of a timeout, when DeJuan Blair set a screen to free Nowitzki up for a midrange jumper near the top of the key. The Mavs ran the same play with the same results on the next possession.
Nowitzki, who scored 10 of his team-high 28 points in the fourth quarter, mixed in an and-1 jumper over Lillard and one of his patented one-legged fadeaways over Nicolas Batum. The fadeaway seemed to be a dagger, giving the Mavs a six-point lead with 45.9 seconds remaining.
But the Blazers rallied in the final minute, getting 3s from Batum (22 points) and Lillard (32 points) to tie it up.
That set up the first game winner of Ellis’ tenure with the Mavs.
What it means: Beating the 17-4 Trail Blazers, who sit atop the Western Conference standings, is by far the most impressive win of the Mavs’ season. The Mavs accomplished something that the Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder weren’t able to do this week by winning in Portland. This marks the third consecutive win for the Mavs, who improved to 13-8.
Play of the game: For all of the pretty shots knocked down by Nowitzki, it’s impossible to go with anything other than Ellis’ game winner. He started off in the corner, came off staggered screens by Nowitzki and Blair, caught Jose Calderon’s inbounds pass near the top of the arc, took one dribble and drilled the long 2-pointer. That gave Ellis 22 points and set off a wild celebration by the Mavs.
Stat of the night: Calderon made five layups against the Trail Blazers. According to NBA.com’s data, Calderon had five buckets within 8 feet of the basket all season entering Saturday night.
Wright joined the Mavs on their three-game West Coast road trip and there is a chance he could play as soon as Wednesday night against the Golden State Warriors, although there is no firm timetable for his return to game action.
“My body feels good,” Wright said. “I was a little rusty, but everything felt good. ... I need to get my legs up under me. I need to get in better shape, especially for what I need to do up there to help the team win. It’s going to take me a little bit, but not too long, though.”
The Mavs re-signed Wright to a two-year, $10 million deal this summer with the hope that he could pick up where he left off last season. The 6-foot-10 high-flyer averaged 11.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 24 minutes over the final 23 games last season, helping the Mavs go 15-8 over that stretch to finish .500.
“Decent,” is Dirk Nowitzki’s description for Dallas’ 12-8 start, followed by him grumbly about the game in Atlanta the Mavs let get away.
“I don’t take stock during the season,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We’ve got to go day to day with this thing. It’s that hard. You’ve got to have that kind of respect for it. I’m not a big look back/analyze kind of person. Where are we right now? Where are we tomorrow? That’s what we’ve got to look at.”
It’s good enough to be seventh in the Western Conference standings at the moment. It’s rare that 49 wins wouldn’t punch a playoff ticket. The last time teams needed at least 50 wins to get in the playoffs was in the 2009-10 West.
As Carlisle said, however, the issue on the Mavs’ mind isn’t whether a 49-win pace would be good enough. It’s how they can get better.
“The good news is, regardless of what happens on this road trip and obviously I want to win all four, we have a chance to get a lot better as a team, a lot better, with practice and getting healthy,” owner Mark Cuban said.
The first month-plus of the Mavs’ schedule was tough in terms of the frequency of games. Only five other teams have played 20 games already, and the Mavs have played seven back-to-backs, which is especially difficult on a roster that relies heavily on so many dudes with a decade-plus of NBA miles on their legs.
“It’s crazy the schedule that we had here in November, basically playing every Friday and Saturday for five weeks,” said Nowitzki, a 16-year vet. “It’s been tough, but here in December, I think it eases up a lot.”
The Mavs’ depth should be improving significantly soon, as center/forward Brandan Wright and guard Devin Harris will likely make their season debuts in December.
That should provide scoring punch off the bench and address Dallas’ biggest flaw: a dreadful defense. Harris will be the Mavs’ best defensive guard, which admittedly is pretty faint praise. Wright can be bullied by brutish big men, but he’s a shot blocker and an adept zone defender. For the Mavs to be adequate defensively, they’ll have to mix in a lot of zone, which requires practice time.
“There’s nothing where you look at this team and you go, ‘That’s our weak spot. We can’t do anything there. We can’t get better,’” Cuban said. “It’s just, OK, we’ve got to get better as a team. We’ve got to get healthy. Guys play hard. Guys like playing together. There’s lots of good pieces there.”
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.
103.3 FM ESPN PODCASTS
Play Podcast Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett at Mavericks media day to discuss his expectations for the upcoming season.
Play Podcast Mark Cuban joins Galloway and Company to discuss the Mavericks' new GM Gersson Rosas and much more.
Play Podcast Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss Mark Cuban's comments from Las Vegas about the Mavericks' offseason, how he sees the team without Dwight Howard and more.
Play Podcast Marc Stein joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why the Mavericks didn't want to match Cleveland's offer to Andrew Bynum, what's next for the Mavs and the possibility of Dirk Nowitzki ending his career elsewhere.
Play Podcast Jeff Platt fires quick-hitters at Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon in the weekly sports standoff about Andrew Bynum, the Mavs' current backcourt, a potential Nelson Cruz suspension and more.
Play Podcast ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why she thinks Andrew Bynum got a bad rap in Los Angeles and how he would fit in with the Mavericks.
Play Podcast Buy, sell or hold? If Dwight Howard goes to another team, what are the Mavs' options? The guys take a look at a list of potential fallback options.
Play Podcast ESPN's Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the latest news on the Mavericks' meeting with Dwight Howard.