Dallas Mavericks: Dallas Mavericks

Mavs melt late, waste Monta Ellis' 36 points

January, 25, 2015
Jan 25
8:45
PM CT
NEW ORLEANS – This magnificent Monta Ellis performance had a miserable ending for the Dallas Mavericks.

They couldn’t even get the ball to their go-to guy when they had a chance to win the game. Heck, the Mavs couldn’t get the ball inbounds, period. And unlike the New Orleans Pelicans on the previous possession, the Mavs didn’t get any assistance from a whistle.

Those final 12.3 seconds, when Murphy’s Law seemed to strike the Mavs, made Sunday’s 109-106 loss especially tough to swallow. It also meant Ellis’ 36 points went to waste.

“I thought it was breathtaking,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said of Ellis’ outing. “It was just a great performance. It was just unfortunate that we couldn’t get the ball in his hands on the last possession.”

[+] EnlargeMonta Ellis
AP Photo/Jonathan BachmanMonta Ellis scored 36 points against the Pelicans, but it was all for naught.
Added Ellis: “We didn’t win, so it doesn’t matter.”

Ellis, who was 16-of-27 from the floor, twice gave the Mavs a one-point lead with driving layups in the final minute.

But the Pelicans went ahead for good when star power forward Anthony Davis hit a pair of free throws with 12.3 seconds remaining, after referee Leon Wood called a foul on Tyson Chandler that prompted much complaining from the Mavs. Chandler attempted to deny an inbounds pass to Davis when he was called for the foul about 30 feet from the basket.

“The difference in the game was the whistles, really, the calls that were made,” Carlisle said. “Sometimes, that’s how it goes.”

Dirk Nowitzki described the foul call as “a tough one” and said that kind of contact happens at least 20 times per game.

“Especially down the stretch, there’s always some holding going on -- always,” Nowitzki said. “That’s part of being physical out there, especially down the stretch. I haven’t seen a whistle like that in a while, but nothing’s going to be given to us on the road. We still had enough chances.”

The Mavs had a chance to win on the next possession, when everyone in the Smoothie King Center knew Dallas wanted to put the ball in the hands of Ellis, whose 94 clutch points this season lead the league, according to NBA.com’s statistics.

“I was ready for it,” Ellis said. “I love those moments.”

The Pelicans were ready for it too. The combination of New Orleans’ stifling defense and a mental blunder by the Mavs prevented Dallas from successfully inbounding the ball -- twice.

With New Orleans double-teaming Ellis, inbounds passer Chandler Parsons still attempted to give the shooting guard the ball, but it was deflected out of bounds. Point guard Rajon Rondo then decided to replace Parsons as the inbounds passer, a role Parsons has played all season. With no timeouts and nobody open, Rondo was forced to throw a risky pass to Nowitzki, which Davis intercepted.

“That’s an easy play where you call a timeout, but we didn’t have another one left, so we kind of had to throw it up,” Nowitzki said. “It’s hard to lob it up over one of the longest guys in the league.”

The simple solution would have been for Ellis to bolt into the backcourt to catch the ball. However, Ellis incorrectly thought it would have been a backcourt violation, which made him much easier to cover.

“It’s on me because I’ve got to make sure I remind our guys that we can throw it in the backcourt,” Carlisle said. “Monta was trying to catch it in the frontcourt and just ran out of space, so we ended up in a scrambled possession, and Davis intercepted the ball. That’s my responsibility.”

Said Ellis: “As players, you have to know as well that you’re able to get backcourt. I forgot about it. There’s no one to blame.”

After Davis pushed the Pelicans’ lead to three by hitting another pair of free throws with 7.7 seconds remaining, Ellis had a chance to send the game into overtime.

But it wasn’t much of a chance: His 27-foot runner didn’t even hit the rim, so his 36 points before that didn’t matter.

Chandler appears OK after banging knee

January, 25, 2015
Jan 25
6:49
PM CT
NEW ORLEANS – Dallas Mavericks center Tyson Chandler left Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans due to a left knee injury but returned in the fourth quarter after X-rays were negative.

Chandler exited the game with 7:33 remaining in the third quarter. He went down during a defensive possession after banging knees with Pelicans star Anthony Davis and needed assistance to leave the floor. Chandler put no pressure on his left leg as he left the floor.

"We’re very fortunate," coach Rick Carlisle said. "He banged knees and the fact he’s able to come back was huge. It’s a sigh of relief that he’s OK. At least he appears to be OK."

Chandler, a 14-year veteran who was a critical piece of the Mavs’ 2011 title run and returned to Dallas this summer in a trade, is having one of the best seasons of his career. He is averaging 10.7 points, ranks fourth in the NBA with 12.2 rebounds per game and serves as Dallas’ defensive anchor.

Looking for answers in late Rondo benching

January, 24, 2015
Jan 24
12:55
AM CT
DALLAS -- The two point guards the Dallas Mavericks acquired in blockbuster trades since the end of last season sat next to each other on the bench during crunch time Friday night.

It's certainly no surprise to see Raymond Felton, the tax in the Tyson Chandler trade, riding pine with the game on the line. But it's rather alarming to see Rajon Rondo sitting with his warm-ups on and a towel over his head for the final 5:12 when his teammates are trying -- and failing -- to pull out a hard-fought win over the Chicago Bulls.

[+] EnlargeRajon Rondo
Danny Bollinger/NBAE/Getty ImagesRajon Rondo was not on the court late as the Bulls won in Dallas.
After all, owner Mark Cuban and coach Rick Carlisle often rave about Rondo's proven clutch prowess after Dallas' nearly-two-year pursuit of the four-time All-Star finally ended in a deal being consummated with the Boston Celtics in mid-December. The Mavs coveted Rondo because he reminded them so much of Jason Kidd, a savvy point guard who consistently rose to the moment in crunch time.

So why the heck was Rondo a highly-paid courtside spectator when it mattered most against the Bulls?

"Coach's decision," Carlisle said after the 102-98 loss at the American Airlines Center.

Good, then we're asking the right guy. What was the logic behind that decision?

"A decision that the coach makes," Carlisle said, and that little dance went on for a few more questions, making for some entertaining sound bites but revealing nothing.

That, of course, leaves the door wide open for speculation. Kind of like opponents often leave Rondo, a notoriously poor shooter, wide open on the perimeter.

And that leads directly to the most plausible theory for not playing Rondo down the stretch against the Bulls.

The Mavs were in comeback mode, trailing by eight points, when Carlisle decided to replace Rondo with Devin Harris. Shooting and floor spacing were at a premium in that situation, and Harris is a much more effective 3-point threat.

Would it be wise for Carlisle to say that for public consumption? Of course not.

Just ask former Mavs coach Avery Johnson. That was the reason he provided after benching Kidd for the final 34 seconds of a loss to the San Antonio Spurs soon after the Mavs made a blockbuster trade for a former All-Star point guard in 2008. That certainly didn’t go over well in the locker room or work out long term for Johnson, who was fired after the Mavs' first-round exit that season.

Let's be clear here: That's where the comparisons to that Kidd crunch-time benching and Rondo riding pine with Friday's game on the line should end.

There isn't any friction brewing behind the scenes between Carlisle and Rondo, who made a point to say he appreciates what his coach has done for him during their brief time together and attempted to downplay the issue.

"Life is too short to complain about not playing five minutes of a big game," said Rondo, noting that he has the maturity to handle these sort of situations now, unlike when he bumped heads with Doc Rivers early in his career with the Celtics. "Like I said, I'm a competitor. I'm pretty sure you guys know that I wanted to be in the game, but it didn't happen. I did my best to cheer my teammates on."

Of course, benching Kidd seven years ago was a factually flawed decision. By that point of his career, Kidd had become a pretty good 3-point shooter, better than Jerry Stackhouse, whom Johnson put on the floor instead of Kidd in that crunch-time situation in San Antonio.

Rondo, with his funky form, is still at least a summer's work away from being even a mediocre 3-point shooter. Many cited Rondo's poor shooting -- 25.9 percent from long range for his career -- as reason for concern about his fit within the Mavs' high-powered flow offense when the trade was made.

The Mavs' offensive efficiency has slipped from sky-high before the trade to pretty good since Rondo's arrival. Their defensive efficiency has improved dramatically, addressing a glaring need for the Mavs, but Rondo didn't have a great night on that end, either, as evidenced by Bulls point guard Derrick Rose's 20 points, 18 of which were scored in the first half.

So a case can be made that Carlisle made the right decision, especially considering that Rondo wasn't effective in his 26 minutes, finishing with 6 points on 3-of-9 shooting, 4 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 turnovers.

However, it directly contradicts his comments after Rondo played a key role in the Mavs' 14-4 run to close out the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday, when he struggled most of the game before sparking the critical spurt with a floater and baseline jumper. ("A guy like that, you've just got to put him in there in crunch time and let him do what he does," Carlisle said then.)

It can also easily be argued that the best rebounding guard in basketball shouldn't have been watching from the bench on the final possession. Rondo couldn't do anything to prevent Rose from grabbing the offensive rebound with 4.7 seconds remaining that essentially sealed Chicago's victory, forcing the Mavs to foul.

If Rondo had been in the game on that possession, the odds of Carlisle getting the opportunity to draw up a potential game-tying or winning play for the dynamic, clutch scoring duo of Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki would have dramatically increased.

This actually isn't the first time Rondo has been a crunch-time spectator for the Mavs. He sat the final 51.2 seconds of the Mavs' 108-104 overtime win over the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 13 despite making an improbable stepback 3 with 1:14 remaining to give Dallas the lead for good.

Carlisle explained that by saying Rondo had a sore Achilles tendon. The Mavs cited that ailment when Rondo sat out the next night's loss against the Denver Nuggets, but that didn't stop some skeptics from being suspicious that the Mavs feared the Kings intentionally fouling the point guard, who is shooting 30.2 from the free throw line this season.

If Rondo's shooting is indeed the reason for Carlisle sitting him down the stretch, it presents some other questions. Two pop to mind.

Is this going to be a somewhat regular thing? We'll find out as the season goes on.

If so, how much is Rondo really worth to the Mavs? We'll find out this summer when it's time to talk money with the pending free agent.

3 Points: Revised record predictions

January, 22, 2015
Jan 22
10:30
AM CT
video ESPNDallas.com columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor and MavsOutsider.com editor-in-chief Bryan Gutierrez join Tim MacMahon each week to run a three-man weave on a few questions on the minds of Mavericks fans.

1. A little more than midway through the season, what's your revised prediction for the Mavs' regular-season record?

Gutierrez: The Mavs went into the halfway point of the season on a 56-win pace. I predicted here at the start of the season that they would have a 55-27 record. Provided that they can stay healthy, I'll go ahead and bump it up one game to keep up with their pace, which is ahead of last season's for home-court advantage. They should stay as a top-four seed in the West with the potential to move up to the third seed.

Taylor: I don't know that my thoughts on the Mavs have changed all that much. They're 30-13 and they haven't really even hit their groove yet, considering the huge Rajon Rondo trade. I will say I didn't think they would win their division, but now they have a great chance to do it because they're in the hunt with Memphis and Houston.

MacMahon: As Rick Carlisle has mentioned, the Mavs’ schedule is much tougher in the second half than it was in the first. They have only 10 games left against the East, and that includes matchups against the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors. I think they’ll finish with 55 wins, which will put them somewhere in the middle of the West playoff pack.

2. The Dirk Nowitzki slump seems to be done. What can be expected from the big German the rest of the season?

Gutierrez: I imagine that Rick Carlisle will continue to monitor Dirk's minutes and rest him when the schedule allows it. A balanced attack, which is what the Mavs preach, will also help to keep him fresh over the final half of the season. Dirk's recent play should lead to optimism that he will be ready to crank it up, like he did at the end of the game against Memphis, when the Mavs truly need him.

Taylor: I'd treat Dirk the way San Antonio treats its aging stars. I'd rest him as much as he needs -- even if he doesn't think he needs it -- to make sure the Mavs get the best version of Dirk possible in the playoffs. At 36, there may be some stretches when his energy level isn't as high or his body doesn't respond. That's OK, because when he's right, Dirk can still drop 20-25 with peak efficiency.

MacMahon: His November numbers seem like a reasonable expectation for the 36-year-old version of Nowitzki. He averaged 19.4 points while shooting 47.8 percent from the floor and 37.0 percent from 3-point range in the first full month of the season. It’s not like Dirk struggled to get decent looks at the basket in December, when he had one of the worst shooting months of his career. His shots just weren’t falling. That will be the exception.

3. What kind of meaning did Monday's win in Memphis have for the Mavs?

Gutierrez: It meant that Dallas showed their potential on playing playoff-style basketball. They were cognizant of their record against the best in the West going into the matchup, so a win like that can provide them with some confidence going forward. Confidence can build into some serious momentum. We'll have to see if Dallas can build on it, but they set themselves up to get on a roll over the next set of games.

Taylor: This is a team of vets, so they know they can play. The win over Memphis just showed what they're capable of doing on a night when they play well in the most hostile of environments.

MacMahon: That was very much a statement win for the Mavs -- to themselves more so than the rest of the league. They discussed their poor record against the West’s best before the game and proceeded to do something about it. It was especially encouraging for Nowitzki to dominate down the stretch. It sounds strange for the seventh-leading scorer in NBA history, but he recently acknowledged that his confidence still wavers sometimes. He proved to himself with that performance that he’s still a crunch-time killer.

Rondo's value reflected in crunch time

January, 20, 2015
Jan 20
3:30
PM CT
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Six points, three rebounds and one assist isn't the kind of line expected from a four-time All-Star point guard.

“I wasn’t playing up to my standards that I would like the whole game,” Rajon Rondo said after putting up those unremarkable numbers in Monday’s road win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

Yet this was exactly the kind of performance the Dallas Mavericks anticipated getting from Rondo when they made the blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics last month.

The Mavs firmly believed that Rondo, regardless of the circumstances, would consistently find a way to make positive contributions in crunch time. That was certainly the case against the Grizzlies.

Backup point guard Devin Harris picked up the slack for Rondo, who was whistled for two fouls in the first 2:13, most of the game. The Mavs outscored the Grizzlies by 15 points in the 23 minutes played by Harris, who had 12 points, five rebounds and three assists.

However, Rick Carlisle didn’t hesitate to go to Rondo down the stretch. Rondo rewarded him by scoring two buckets – a floater and a baseline jumper -- to spark the Mavs’ 14-4 run to close out the Grizzlies. Rondo also had offensive rebounds on his first two possessions after checking into the game in the fourth quarter, feeding Monta Ellis for a layup after the second.

“He didn’t have a rhythm of the game,” Carlisle said. “The two quick fouls made it difficult for him. But a guy like that, you’ve just got to put him in there in crunch time and let him do what he does.”

Rondo has averaged 10.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 7.6 assists in his 14 games for the Mavs, 10 of which have been Dallas wins. Those are decent numbers but nowhere near as impressive as the gaudy stats of several other point guards in the West.

But Dallas won’t use traditional stats to determine whether the Rondo deal was a success. They’ll measure his value first and foremost on his ability to find ways to help the Mavs pull out close wins over quality competition.

In Rondo's 28 clutch minutes with the Mavs -- using NBA.com's definition of the last five minutes of a game with the score within five points -- Dallas has outscored opponents by 29 points.

“He’s a big-time player, and big-time players make big plays down the stretch,” center Tyson Chandler said. “He’s not going to always put up the huge numbers that are going to wow you, but he’s one of those guys that you want with you in the trenches when you know the game is on the line. He’s just going to do something – something – to make an impact on the game.”

Mavs open second half with statement win

January, 19, 2015
Jan 19
8:50
PM CT
video

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- As the Dallas Mavericks huddled in the hallway before taking the FedEx Forum floor, center Tyson Chandler stepped into the middle of the circle and delivered a simple message.

"It's the second half of the season," Chandler said to his teammates. "Time for us to start building something!"

The construction process began with the Mavs' best win of the season, a grind-it-out 103-95 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. The 14-4 run that put the finishing touches on Dallas' first win this season over a full-strength, top-eight Western Conference team featured two familiar pillars.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty ImagesDirk Nowitzki scored eight of his 21 points in the final 1:51 against the Grizzlies.
Any comparisons to the Mavs' title team are extremely premature at this point, but that crunch-time clinic certainly had a 2011 vibe. How could you not flash back to the best moments in franchise history while watching Dirk Nowitzki dominate offensively and Chandler serve as the glass-cleaning anchor on the other end of the floor?

Recently acquired point guard Rajon Rondo, the Mavs' third starter who owns a championship ring, did a pretty good Jason Kidd impersonation down the stretch, too.

"Really, unless you've been there and done it, you don't really understand it," Chandler said of the value of championship experience in a game like this, a battle of two teams in the middle of the West playoff pack. "We've got enough guys on this team that have been there and done it. We're not easily rattled."

Even good teams tend to get rattled against the Grizzlies, especially in this building. Memphis entered the afternoon 16-4 this season at FedEx Forum, the fourth-best home record in the NBA. It seemed awfully likely that Memphis was on its way to another win when point guard Mike Conley hit a go-ahead 3 with 4:03 remaining, giving the Grizzlies their first lead since early in the first quarter and the sellout crowd reason to roar.

The Mavs embraced the challenge.

Rondo, whose clutch chops made him attractive to the Mavs, ignored the fact that he'd been a nonfactor all game and penetrated into the lane for a runner coming out of a timeout on the next possession. He knocked down a baseline jumper two possessions later, giving him twice as many points in a span of 80 seconds as he had the rest of the game.

"A guy like that, you've got to put him in there in crunch time and let him do what he does," coach Rick Carlisle said. "If you're asking me exactly what he does, it's hard to quantify. He just finds ways to make plays."

It's not hard at all to quantify what Nowitzki does. He's the seventh-leading scorer in NBA history, the 2011 NBA Finals MVP and one of the elite clutch offensive players of all time.

And Rondo's mini-run set up a vintage Dirk closer session.

Nowitzki, the 17-year veteran who just battled through one of the worst shooting slumps of his career, scored eight of his 21 points in the final 1:51. The classic crunch-time scoring spree started with a beautiful off-the-bounce, one-footed fadeaway over All-NBA defender Marc Gasol. Nowitzki finished with a lefty layup after getting a sweet feed from Monta Ellis off the pick-and-roll the next possession. He exploited a mismatch off a switch on the next trip, knocking down a dagger midrange fadeaway over shooting guard Courtney Lee, then followed that up with two free throws on the final trip.

"I love Dirk seeing the ball go through the basket, because I know when he gets on a roll, he's on a roll," Chandler said. "It was good to see him hit some crunch-time baskets because I know he was on himself before that."

Added Rondo: "It's just Dirk being Dirk."

Meanwhile, Chandler was being Chandler in crunch time, too.

The 7-foot-1 center grabbed four of his game-high 16 rebounds in the final four minutes. He anchored a defense that allowed only four points in that span. He harassed Grizzlies go-to guy Zach Randolph into three misses in the final 3:17, blocking a layup on the last attempt.

"It was fun to watch defensively," Nowitzki said. "I'm talking about fighting for each other, rotating for each other, trying to keep those big monsters off the glass. It's tough and I thought it was a great team effort.

"That's how you've got to execute against a very good team, especially on the road. We need Tyson in there being a factor like he was in '11."

Dallas definitely needed a win like this, a hard-fought victory over a team capable of contending for a title.

The Mavs went 28-13 in the first half of the season, the best midseason record of Carlisle's seven-year tenure, but Dallas' inability to beat its West playoff peers left plenty of room for doubt. The Mavs were 1-8 against fellow teams in the West's top eight before this trip, with the lone win coming against the San Antonio Spurs' junior varsity on a night that the defending champs sat all of their starters and a couple of key reserves.

Dallas didn't shy away from their lack of success against the West's best. In fact, Carlisle made it a major point of discussion during the Mavs' pregame meeting Monday.

Then the Mavs' proven champions went out and did something about it.

"We knew we had a long way to go as a team," Carlisle said. "This is a beginning. We by no means have it figured out. This is a team that's relatively new to each other. The only way we're really going to come together is to go through struggles like today and grow together. This was a great opportunity."

This also conjured up some great memories from the Mavs' 2011 title run, premature as that comparison might be.

At midseason, Mavs are a work in progress

January, 19, 2015
Jan 19
8:00
AM CT
At 28-13, the Dallas Mavericks have their best midseason record of coach Rick Carlisle's seven-year tenure.

Think Carlisle cares?

"I knew there was going to be a lot of 'Hey, halfway-point story' questions," Carlisle said. "Whatever."

[+] EnlargeMavericks
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe Mavericks are 9-5 since acquiring Rajon Rondo and are still adjusting to playing with their new point guard.
Hey, the Mavs have too much work to do to waste much time preparing midseason progress reports.

Not that anyone is complaining about the Mavs' record. ("I would have taken this record if you would have given it to me at the beginning of the year," owner Mark Cuban said.) It's good enough to put them smack dab in the middle of the playoff pack in the historically stacked Western Conference, tied for fourth place with the rival Houston Rockets.

However, nobody in the Mavs' locker room thinks they're good enough right now to contend for a championship. Their 1-8 record against the rest of the West's top eight teams entering Monday's road game against the Memphis Grizzlies is a reminder of that. But there is a firm belief that the Mavs can reach that level.

Dallas took a significant step in that direction by dealing for championship-proven point guard Rajon Rondo in mid-December.

Less than a month after Rondo's arrival, Dallas is still early in the process of adjusting to the dramatic change to the roster.

"We had a pretty new team at the start of the season and then you add a guy like Rondo, it changes a lot of things, too," Chandler Parsons said. "The more we play together with our full team, the more comfortable we're going to get with each other. Every day we've got a chance to get better."

As Cuban said, "It feels early in a new season, actually. It doesn't feel midseason at all. But we'll figure it out."

The Mavs are 9-5 since trading for Rondo, including a loss to the Denver Nuggets last week that he sat out along with Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler. Dallas has slipped significantly in its offensive efficiency (from a league-leading 113.6 points per 100 possessions before the trade to 105.1 afterward) and made major strides defensively (from 104.8 to 100.7).

But there aren't any numbers that measure the dramatic boost the Mavs got in their confidence to really compete for a championship with Rondo in the mix.

"The trade made us better," said Nowitzki, whose uncharacteristic shooting slump is partially to blame for Dallas' recent offensive decline. "We have a lot of weapons out there. We've got a point guard that has a lot of experience and has a championship and is a great player for us, but I also think we have some work to do on both ends of the floor.

"I can certainly see the potential that's there, but the problem is the West is so tough. It's loaded."

There is no concern that a team featuring Monta Ellis, Nowitzki and Parsons will be able to score enough points to be a tough out in the playoffs. The question is whether Dallas can be good enough defensively to give itself a shot at playing into June.

Chandler, whose work as a defensive anchor helped hang the championship banner in the American Airlines Center rafters, provides the Mavs excellent rim protection. The Mavs believe that Rondo can still be an elite defender -- especially when it matters most -- despite his admittedly subpar work on that end of the floor during his last couple of years in Boston.

Still, the Mavs must mesh into a defensive team that's greater than the sum of its parts. They have to find ways to get stops with smarts, much like the 2011 title team.

That's the primary focus in the second half of the season for the Mavs, who pray to the basketball gods that they'll be healthy and clicking when the playoffs come.

"If you would have asked me in the championship year in January how does it look, I would have said I have no idea," Nowitzki said. "You've got to be healthy at the right time. You've got to roll at the right time. There's a lot of factors that play into it late, but we've got to at least put ourselves in position. Hopefully stay healthy, keep working, keep working on defense.

"I think we were an underrated good defensive team in '11, especially with Trix [Shawn Marion], [Jason] Kidd and Tyson out there at all times. You've got to find ways in big situations to get stops. I still think we've got to get there with this team."

3s finally drop again for Dirk Nowitzki

January, 16, 2015
Jan 16
11:55
PM CT
video
DALLAS -- Dirk Nowitzki formed his trademark 3-point symbol with his right thumb, pointer and middle finger and pretended it was a gun, jamming it into the imaginary holster on his right hip as he strutted back to the Dallas Mavericks’ bench during a timeout early in the second half.

Hey, who can blame the big German for getting a little giddy? It’s been a while since he’s felt it from 3-point range like he did during Friday night’s 97-89 win over the Denver Nuggets.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki, Darrell Arthur
AP Photo/LM OteroDirk Nowitzki was in strong offensive form against the Nuggets.

Nowitzki celebratory strut occurred after he swished his third 3 of the game. He ended up going 4-of-5 from long range to highlight his 25-point performance.

That might not seem like a big deal for the sweetest-shooting 7-footer to ever play the game, considering Nowitzki moved into 22nd place for 3s made in NBA history. But the 17-year veteran entered the night with his worst 3-point percentage since his rookie season.

Nowitzki hadn’t made four 3s in a game in more than two months. He made three 3s only once since the first couple of weeks of the season. He shot an unsightly 27.8 percent from beyond the arc in December.

So, yeah, the sweet sight of 24-footer splashing through the net was worthy of celebrating, at least in the moment.

Not so much after the win.

“I don’t know,” said Nowitzki, who was 8-of-18 from the floor and grabbed nine rebounds. “I missed a bunch of shots from 16, 17 feet, just easy turnarounds I’ve got to make. I guess if I try to see the positives, I made a couple of 3s and I didn’t miss a free throw. The in-between game was garbage.”

OK, so perhaps it’s premature to say that Nowitzki has returned to Hall of Fame form.

However, it has to be considered encouraging that Nowitzki scored 25 points for the second time in three games after doing so just once in the previous 19 games. There are real signs that he’s breaking out of one of the longest slumps since he established himself as a star, as he shot just 43.6 percent from the floor and 29.6 percent from 3-point range over a 20-game span.

Not that anyone associated with the Mavs was too concerned.

“I don’t notice that he’s not in normal form,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t necessarily look at whether every shot is going in. I’m looking at the bounce in his step, the quality of the looks and stuff like that. So if you’re looking for a slump story, I’m not going to feed it tonight.”

No, the story is that Nowitzki’s slump might be over.

“Oh,” Carlisle said. “Well, there wasn’t a slump.”

Well, there sure haven’t been many 3-point hand gestures from the big German over the last month and a half. But Nowitzki has the gun in the holster again now.

Legends Latest: D-League Showcase

January, 16, 2015
Jan 16
12:00
PM CT
Each week, ESPNDallas.com will take a look at the Texas Legends, the D-League affiliate for the Dallas Mavericks, in order to see how the two are working hand in hand to improve one another.

The Texas Legends get to show what they can do with as they participate in the NBA D-League Showcase. The five-day event in Santa Cruz, Calif. continues with four games apiece on Jan. 16-18 and culminates in a three-game schedule on Jan. 19.

It’s a huge opportunity for all of the players as all 18 D-League teams converge in one city to play in front of NBA general managers and player personnel executives from all 30 NBA teams.

Hopefuls on the Legends can look back to last season and see that success in the showcase can do wonders for their chances of making it to the NBA. Last year, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Shabazz Muhammad scored a combined 46 points in 49 minutes in two games with the Iowa Energy. Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, who is enjoying a breakout season of his own this year, was a 2014 standout with the Bakersfield Jam.

While the spotlight will shine on teams like the Legends, Eric Griffin will be one of the most intriguing options for the general managers and executives to observe. It's a great opportunity for the Legends' best player to show what he can do.

At 24, the athletic swingman provides plenty of intrigue as he’s playing in just his eighth year of organized basketball. His ability to jump out of the gym and show that he can develop more of an all-around game at a rapid rate makes him a player that the scouts will keep an eye on.

Mark your calendars
The Bakersfield Jam held off a fourth-quarter rally by Texas Legends to win the opening game of the Showcase Cup at the NBA D-League Showcase, 109-102. Both squads qualified for the Showcase Cup by virtue of their records as of Jan. 1, as the top eight teams compete to become the first-ever Showcase Cup champion.

Texas will play in the consolation bracket on Sunday, Jan. 18 at 10 p.m. CT. After the NBA Development League Showcase, the Legends will head out on the road to face the Austin Spurs on Jan. 22 at 7:30 p.m. CT.

Fans will be able to watch the D-League live on the NBA D-League YouTube Channel (YouTube.com/nbadleague), the Legends’ website, as well as via the NBA D-League Center Court mobile app -- the league’s free mobile application providing fans with access to NBA D-League content.

But not least …
The Legends acquired guards William Buford, Myck Kabongo and Brandon Young from the available player pool over the last week.

Buford (6-5, 215) was a four-year starter at Ohio State averaging 13.7 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists. Buford played 11 games with the Canton Charge earlier this season averaging 6.2 points and 2.5 rebounds in 15.1 minutes per game.

Kabongo (6-3, 180) played two years at the University of Texas averaging 10.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists in 32 minutes. Prior to joining the Legends, Kabongo played 16 games with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants and added 8.9 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists.

Young (6-4, 192) was a four-year starter at DePaul averaging 15.1 points, 3.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists. In his freshman season Young was named to the AAC All-Rookie Team. Young is the only player in DePaul program history with at least 1,200 points, 400 assists and 100 three-pointers, as well as the only player with at least 100 assists in all four seasons.

3 Points: Will Monta get All-Star invite?

January, 15, 2015
Jan 15
12:00
PM CT
Monta EllisGlenn James/NBAE/Getty ImagesMonta Ellis has played like an All-Star this season. Will he get to play in the big game?
ESPNDallas.com columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor and MavsOutsider.com editor-in-chief Bryan Gutierrez join Tim MacMahon each week to run a three-man weave on a few questions on the minds of Mavericks fans.

1. How many West guards are more deserving of an All-Star invite than Monta Ellis?

Gutierrez: James Harden should be a starter, but Kobe Bryant’s popularity sabotages that. Klay Thompson gets overshadowed a bit by Stephen Curry, but Thompson is one of the better all-around guards in the league as he continues to develop as a defender. It gets murky when you look at Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Mike Conley and Damian Lillard. With all the names in the mix, I think Ellis gets lost in the wash.

Taylor: I don't think it's a long list, but it's long enough for him to not be an All-Star. You know what? That's good because it'll keep him hungry, edgy and with a massive chip on his shoulder.

MacMahon: The list is long enough to keep Ellis from making his first All-Star appearance despite performing at a level that could certainly be considered All-Star caliber. Curry, Thompson, Harden, Lillard and Paul all deserve to be locks. Westbrook has an awfully strong case, too. Kobe will win the popularity contest for a starting spot, leaving Ellis and Conley as the best guards not to get an All-Star call this season.

2. What is the most impactful trade made by a West team so far this season?

Gutierrez: It’s clearly an arms race in the Western Conference. Phoenix’s acquisition of Brandan Wright for essentially nothing could have the biggest impact. The reason: they could have enough to secure the final playoff spot, thus keeping Oklahoma City out of the playoff picture. The Suns are simply trying to hold on to the eighth seed for dear life. Phoenix adding Wright could keep the Thunder out, which is, well, impactful.

Taylor: I'm going with Rajon Rondo because the Mavs were a legit contender to get to the Western Conference finals before Rondo arrived, but they were weak at point guard. We all knew it and we all saw the Mavs struggle night after night. Adding Rondo made the Mavs a legitimate championship contender. They're flawed, but name me the team in the NBA this season that isn't. They have one of the great coaches in the league and a roster full of accomplished veterans and adding Rondo gave them the piece they needed to get over the top. Maybe they will and maybe they won't, but Rondo makes it a possibility.

MacMahon: In the long run, it will be the Rondo deal. For the rest of the season, I’ll go with the Memphis Grizzlies getting Jeff Green from Boston. They are both cases of teams in the middle of the West playoff pack making major upgrades to spots that were glaring weaknesses in the starting lineup. But it’s much easier to adapt on the fly to a scoring threat at small forward than to a point guard who runs the show.

3. What is the greater meaning of the Mavs’ 1-8 record against the West’s top eight?

Gutierrez: The record is basically a wash since Rondo has been present for only three of the games, but taking a full body of work, it means that they weren’t good enough to beat those teams at the moment. That doesn’t doom their playoff outlook, simply due to the fact there’s 42 games left in the season. With the amount of turnover that's happened between now and the summer, Dallas is nowhere near its peak. That should be considered a good thing since there's a lot of basketball left to be played.

Taylor: I don't put much stock in anything about the NBA -- as long as you don't play yourself out of the playoffs -- until after the All-Star break. Everything before then is about jockeying for position to make a title run. The Mavs are beating, for the most part, the teams they're supposed to beat. As Rondo gets more incorporated and establishes a more intuitive feel for each player, the Mavs will play better against the league's best teams.

MacMahon: It’s too significant to simply dismiss and not significant enough to cause panic. It’s worth mentioning that six of the losses were on the road and only two have occurred since the Rondo trade. It’s also worth noting that the Mavs lost eight of their last nine games to West playoff foes before their 2011 title run and were swept in consecutive regular seasons by the San Antonio Spurs before pushing the eventual champs to seven games in last year’s first round. No matter what the trends are, a team coached by Rick Carlisle will be a tough out in the spring.

Three Mavs starters sit vs. Nuggets

January, 14, 2015
Jan 14
6:53
PM CT
The Dallas Mavericks decided to sit three starters Wednesday night on the back end of a back-to-back.

Point guard Rajon Rondo, power forward Dirk Nowitzki and center Tyson Chandler will not play in the road game against the Denver Nuggets.

Coach Rick Carlisle told reporters that Rondo has a sore left Achilles tendon. The Mavs do not consider it to be a serious ailment.

Nowitzki and Chandler are taking the night off to rest as a precaution after playing extended minutes in Tuesday's overtime win over the Sacramento Kings.

This is the third game Nowitzki, a 36-year-old in his 17th NBA season, will miss to rest. It is the second game missed this season by Chandler, who sat out the Dec. 28 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder due to an illness.

Chandler turned his left ankle late in the win against the Kings but finished the game and said afterward that he'd be "all right."

Dirk shooting slump doesn't worry Mavs

January, 12, 2015
Jan 12
12:00
PM CT
Dirk NowitzkiRonald Martinez/Getty ImagesDirk Nowitzki and the Mavs aren't concerned with the sharpshooter's most-recent struggles.

For a decade and a half, nothing has been more dependable for the Dallas Mavericks than the historically sweet shooting touch of Dirk Nowitzki.

For the past month and a half, however, glimpses of the big German in a groove have been few and far between.

December was absolutely dreadful by Dirk standards. He shot 43.5 percent from the floor and a sickly 27.8 percent from 3-point range in 2014's final month, averaging 17.8 points per game. It was one of the worst shooting months in the career of a man who has scored more points than all but six players in NBA history.

January hasn’t been a whole lot better so far, even after he bumped up his numbers with a 25-point, 10-of-19 outing in Saturday’s blowout loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. In five games this month, Nowitzki is averaging 18.2 points, shooting 44.7 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from the 3-point line.

“I pride myself on being an efficient scorer,” said Nowitzki, who has been fighting a mysterious stomach illness for weeks but reports that he seems to be shaking it. “I don’t think really since December I’ve been as efficient as I would like, but it’s about staying confident, working on your game. Just keep stepping into them when they’re there and eventually things will turn around.”

There is ample evidence to support that optimism.

These early-winter struggles actually continue a trend from recent years. That could be viewed as evidence of the toll Father Time has taken on Nowitzki’s 36-year-old body that is nearing the 50,000-minute mark in the NBA, including playoffs. It’s worth nothing, though, that the struggles have always coincided with some sort of conditioning issue, a category in which the stomach illness falls.

Nowitzki struggled in January 2013 -- averaging 16.9 points on 44.2 percent shooting from the floor, including 36.2 from 3-point range -- when he was early in his return from arthroscopic knee surgery that sidelined him for the first 27 games of that season. There was premature discussion that Dirk was done as a go-to threat at the time. He quieted that by shooting 50.5 percent from the floor and 43.3 percent from 3-point range after the All-Star break, numbers he’d be proud of at any point of his career.

January 2012, the first full month of that lockout-condensed season, was even uglier for Nowitzki: 15.1 points per game, 44.1 field goal percentage, 21.2 3-point percentage. Nowitzki, who admittedly was surprised when the lockout ended and wasn't in his typical shape when he reported to the abbreviated training camp, put up numbers near his career norms the rest of the season.

It’s not as if Nowitzki has been struggling to get good looks. The Mavs no longer rely on him to create his own shot very often, hardly ever running the isolation plays for him that used to be the bread and butter of the offense. They’ll still run the occasional post-up for him, particularly if he has a mismatch, but Nowitzki is primarily a pick-and-pop player and floor spacer at this point in his career.

Dallas’ flow offense continues to get Nowitzki, who is scheduled to welcome mentor Holger Geschwindner to town next month for the shot doctor’s annual midseason visit, plenty of looks he expects to knock down on a consistent basis.

“Every shot in the game has a little twist to it,” Nowitzki said. “Sometimes a guy pushes you, sometimes you’re open. You just have to react to what’s out there, but I still like to make the ones that I’m open. I’ve got to cash in on those, figuring that I’m not going to get a lot of wide-open looks in a game.

“I’ve got to be a little bit more consistent there and make some of the tough ones. It’s actually been weird. I think I’ve been making some of the tougher ones, and some of the open ones I’ve been rattling in and out.”

According to NBA.com’s data, Nowitzki has averaged 7.3 open shots per game since the start of December, as defined by no defender being within four feet when he lets it fly. He has made only 40.6 percent of those, including 13-of-44 (29.5 percent) from 3-point range.

The general reaction around the Mavs to Nowitzki’s slump: Just wait until the big German finds his groove again.

“Look, nobody’s going to have a great shooting night every night,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “You've got to get the looks, step into the shots and be aggressive. The results take care of themselves. I’m not concerned about that.”
Tyson Chandler Glenn James/NBAE/Getty ImagesTyson Chandler's elite finishing skills have helped spur the Mavericks' high-powered offense.
DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks look down on Lob City and every other NBA team, at least in terms of dunk totals.

The Mavs’ perch atop the dunk list might not last much longer after shipping high-rising backup big man Brandan Wright to Boston in the deal for Rajon Rondo.

But as long as Tyson Chandler stays healthy, the Mavs will have an above-the-rim element in their offense.

On Saturday, the Mavs will face the only player in the league who has thrown down more dunks than Chandler this season. Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, half of the famed Lob City finishers, has 106 dunks. Chandler has 95, a baker’s dozen more than any other NBA rim rattler outside of Jordan, and more than half of the Mavs’ total (184).

“I take pride in finishing,” said Chandler, a Southern California native who will have plenty of friends and family in the stands at Staples Center. “I feel like no pass is a bad pass. I always tell my teammates that. Any time they throw the ball and I don’t make a play, I feel like it’s my fault. All year they've been doing an excellent job of feeding me and it’s become a weapon.”

Chandler is putting up 10.8 points per game (third-best in his career), with almost half of his points coming on dunks.

More than half of Chandler’s dunks have been alley-oop finishes (48 dunks on 53 attempts), according to NBA.com data. Some of those have occurred after a driver drew the opposing big man. The majority have come off pick-and-rolls.

“It’s a huge part of our offense,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “If they take the dunks away, that’s what opens up everybody else. We bank a lot on him rolling hard and sucking in defenders. If not, Rondo and Monta [Ellis] can throw it up.”

Coach Rick Carlisle doesn’t really care about how much highlight-reel material the Mavs provide. He’d rather discuss efficiency and ball movement.

There’s no more efficient shot for the Mavs than a Chandler slam. And they tend to be the product of beautiful ball movement.

“The important thing is that the ball moves and somebody gets great shots,” Carlisle said. “If you can get lob dunks, it doesn’t get much better than that. You get points, you get momentum, it generally juices up the team that’s dunking the ball.

“But it’s unrealistic to think that you can get more than a few of them per game, and even then, teams are taking measures to limit the number of times we can get the lob, so we've got to move the ball and get great shots everywhere. Any team in this league is going to love alley-oop dunks whenever they can get them.”

The Mavs get them more than any team, at least so far this season.

Legends Latest: 10-day deal candidates

January, 9, 2015
Jan 9
12:00
PM CT
Each week, ESPNDallas.com will take a look at the Texas Legends, the D-League affiliate for the Dallas Mavericks, in order to see how the two are working hand in hand to improve one another.

January 5 is an important date on the NBA’s calendar for everyone in the D-League. That’s due to the fact that NBA teams can sign anyone, including players in the D-League, to 10-day contracts. A 10-day contract is just that, a player contract which lasts ten days (or three games, whichever comes later). Teams cannot sign players to 10-day contracts that would extend past their last regular season game.

A team may sign an individual player to two 10-day contracts in one season. After the second 10-day contract, the team can only retain the player by signing him for at least the remainder of the season.

With the talent the Legends have, it’s possible that some of their players could receive the call and earn a 10-day deal. Here are some of the players that have performed at a level that could merit some attention from the NBA.

Eric Griffin
Every team needs a versatile weapon at their disposal. The athletic Griffin ranks 10th overall in the league in scoring with an average of 20.1 points per game. In addition, he’s able to fill up the stat sheet by averaging 6.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.4 steals and 2.7 blocks this season.

Damion James
Rebounding is a valuable commodity in the NBA, and James has shown the ability to handle his own in that department. The Legends’ leading rebounder ranks 10th overall in the league with an average of 10.3 rebounds per night.

Mike James
At age 39, the veteran is looking to show he’s still worthy of one more run in the NBA. After multiple 10-day contracts with them, James finished last season with the Chicago Bulls. While the position is as deep as ever, a veteran point guard like James might come be useful as injuries pop up.

Mark your calendars

The 11-7 Legends have a two-game homestand over the weekend. They will host the Los Angeles D-Fenders on Friday. The Legends then host the Rio Grande Valley Vipers on Saturday. Both games will tip off at 7 p.m. CT at Dr.Pepper Arena in Frisco.

Fans will be able to watch the D-League live on the NBA D-League YouTube Channel (YouTube.com/nbadleague), the Legends’ website, as well as via the NBA D-League Center Court mobile app -- the league’s free mobile application providing fans with access to NBA D-League content.

But not least …

It’s a light schedule for the Legends as they prepare for the next phase of the D-League’s season. The 2015 NBA D-League Showcase tips off with a four-game slate on Jan. 15 when the Texas Legends and Bakersfield Jam face off in a Showcase Cup game at 12 p.m. CT.

The five-day event in Santa Cruz, Calif. continues with four games apiece on Jan. 16-18 and culminates in a three-game schedule on Jan. 19. Each of the NBA D-League’s 18 teams will play two games apiece during the 2015 NBA D-League Showcase, with eight teams competing for the inaugural Showcase Cup, a bracketed in-season tournament.

The league’s premier in-season scouting event, the 2015 NBA D-League Showcase affords players and coaches the opportunity to show their skills in front of general managers and player personnel executives from all 30 NBA teams.

Mavs' rebounding misery must end

January, 9, 2015
Jan 9
9:30
AM CT
DALLAS -- Terrible rebounding teams do not win NBA titles.

That’s not a trend that the Dallas Mavericks expect to end this season. In other words, they recognize the need to make major strides in the rebounding department.

However, the Mavs currently rank 29th in the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage (71.8) and 27th in rebounding margin (minus-2.7). To put that in perspective, 13 of the last 15 NBA champions ranked in the top 10 in one of those categories, including eight in both. The 2012-13 Miami Heat are the only title team in that span to rank in the bottom third in either of those categories, finishing 23rd in defensive rebounding percentage.

“If we can’t be at least even with teams on the boards, it just heightens the challenge so much,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “It just makes it really difficult.”

The Mavs have one of the best rebounding big men in the NBA. Tyson Chandler ranks third in the league with 12.1 rebounds per game. But he needs much more help than he’s been getting on a regular basis.

That’s especially true against teams that feature big, physical frontcourts. Case in point: The Detroit Pistons, who dominated the Mavs by a 60-43 rebounding margin in Dallas’ home loss Wednesday.

“We’ve just got to focus in better,” Chandler said. “It has to be a concentration thing that we’re finishing plays. Defensively, it’s not a stop until you secure the ball, so we’ve got to make it a point of emphasis to get the boxouts and make sure that we secure the ball.

“It knocks the air out of yourselves when you play great defense and in the final three seconds, they get a loose ball or they tip it in or they tip it back out for a wide-open, uncontested shot. We have to do a much better job of sticking our noses in there and getting rebounds.”

The trade for Rajon Rondo, the NBA’s premier rebounding point guard right now, addressed Dallas’ desperate need in this department. The team also hopes more help is on the way with a backup big man. (Anytime you’re ready, Jermaine O’Neal.)

But the Mavs still have personnel flaws that make the rebounding battle a major challenge. Monta Ellis has the second-worst rebounding percentage (4.0) among regular starting shooting guards, grabbing only 2.4 per game. Dirk Nowitzki (11.3 rebounding percentage, 5.9 rebounds per game) ranks near the bottom of starting power forwards in this facet of the game.

And the only above-average rebounder off the Mavs’ bench is forward Al-Farouq Aminu, who has fallen to the fringe of the rotation recently.

“We’ve got to check out, and we’ve got to have five guys going after it. Simple as that,” Carlisle said. “I’m not going to lament our physical challenges. There’s five of us and there’s five of them. It’s not like there’s six of them out there.

“We’ve just got to take the challenge collectively to conquer this thing, and it’s tough. It’s tough because we’re going to be going up against some very physical teams and the challenge is heightened even more.”

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Monta Ellis
PTS AST STL MIN
20.3 4.4 1.8 33.8
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsT. Chandler 12.0
AssistsR. Rondo 7.2
StealsM. Ellis 1.8
BlocksT. Chandler 1.4