Dallas Mavericks: The Come up
Monday means The Come Up, and with only two regular-season games left before the playoffs begin, the only thing that’s settled is the Lakers as your No. 1 seed. Heading into Monday night’s games, three teams are tied at 52-28 and three teams are tied at 49-31. It’s a big ole mess. Fortunately for you, I know exactly how it’s going to end up. And it a go a 'lil summin' like this:
Amazing How I Know The Unknown
Dallas and Utah will win their two remaining games, making them division winners and the two and three seeds. Phoenix and Denver will split their two remaining games, but Phoenix’s win will be against Denver and it’ll lock up the season series and first-round home-court advantage against, who else, Denver.
The six through eight seeds require bolder predictions, but I fear no prognostication. Portland will win its two remaining games, including Monday night’s clash against OKC. This is a tough one, seeing as Brandon Roy’s availability is questionable after he sat the second half of Sunday’s road victory at the Lakeshow. But with the way Portland has been defending lately and the fact that OKC just spit the bit at Golden State, we’ll roll with it. With OKC and San Antonio splitting their last two, the Spurs secure the seven seed based on winning the season series with the Thunder.
And there it is. The Mavericks will host the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs starting next weekend. Another chapter in a great rivalry. Portland goes to Utah and the Lakers host the kids. Four great first-round playoff matchups in the West, and a bunch of garbage barely worth your attention in the East. Enjoy ...
And it go a 'lil summin' like this:
Youth gone getcha
The OKC game Saturday night was bad for a lot of reasons. And from checking the temperature of anyone walking by me, it seems like the No. 1 thing people felt leaving that game was, “Man, I want no part of those kids.”
But you can count me in the seemingly dwindling group of folks who prefers a first-round matchup against the Thunder as opposed to a Spurs team with a rejuvenated, borderline messianic Manu Ginobili or a Portland team playing D like they’re trying to appease a god known as Daly. I’ll be called a homer for this, something Timmy Mac likes to do on the regular, but I feel like Saturday’s game revealed the hole in OKC’s rise -- youth. You’d have a hard time convincing me that Dallas doesn’t win that game if it wasn’t for the J-Kidd anomaly.
You see, in the last eight seasons (609 games), Kidd has picked up three fouls in the first half only 11 times. On Saturday night, he picked up three fouls in less than 11 minutes of floor time. That spun this game out into the outer realms. Kidd is the difference. There’s no comeback without the veteran lurking around the backcourt robbing kids not that far removed from March Madness of their ability to advance the ball in the fourth quarter. And how does 90 percent free throw shooter Kevin Durant step up and miss two when it mattered if he wasn’t rattled? It’s certainly ironic that Dallas followed up that youthful blunder with a turnover from their own kid, Roddy B, that squelched the comeback with 19 seconds to go.
The Thunder has an unbelievably bright future -- much like last year’s Portland team that didn’t see the second round. This team won’t either. Dallas could only be so lucky to get that draw. The best thing the Mavs have going for them is been-there-done-that veteran expertise, and it will go a long way in a first round where experience matters more than fresh legs because TV obligations means it will be an eternity to advance. An eternity that enables older legs to fake fresh.
The Mavs' veteran presence will emerge -- which is why they’ll get back on track in these final five games. And it starts on Wednesday against the Grizz. And if it doesn’t, than I move a inch closer to the camp saying it doesn’t matter who they play. But I don’t suspect that’s the case, now do I?
And it go a ‘lil summin’ like this:
Who's the best team going?
Aside from the Lakers, it’s the teams in the bottom half of the Western bracket doing the most damage. Phoenix has been on a tear and is now only one game out of second place in the conference standings. The Suns beat Minnesota on Sunday night to bring their current league-leading win streak to seven. They should have people’s attention.
The Spurs refuse to go down without a fight as they’ve beaten Boston, LA and OKC in their last four games, with only a loss to the Lakers sandwiched in that stretch. And Mavs fans got a good dose last week of how well the Blazers are playing. Portland emerged from OKC with a tough win Sunday night. The jumble at the bottom of the bracket is just as convoluted as 2-5.
Standings watching at this point is pretty futile. There’s no sense in worrying about what anyone else is doing. All the Mavs have to do is protect their home floor from here on out and they’ll be in a great position. That would mean beating Orlando, OKC and San Antone at the AAC, but it all starts with a road-weary and punch-drunk Denver team tonight. This is a chance to hit someone square in their nose while they’re already falling. Do they have the wherewithal to back up all that “tougher now” talk? Magically delicious …
Incredulous Roddy B supporters have been assembling en masse ready to run Rick Carlisle out of town for the way he’s been shuffling the rookie in and out of the lineup. Beaubois’ 40-point explosion Saturday night against the Warriors wasn’t some Tony Dumas one-shining-moment type bidness. He’s had plenty of "wow" moments this season. Saturday was an expansion on the show he put on in against Chicago three weeks before when he dropped 18 in the third quarter.
He had a stellar performance against Sacramento and a couple of 17-point gems against Minnesota. What he hasn’t had is a great performance in a game against a top-tier opponent -- his performance against Milwaukee earlier in the season was probably his closest to a clutch performance against a top-notch team. But it’s not by any fault of his own. Carlisle hasn’t been comfortable playing him in those situations.
I don’t know that I blame him. All Roddy’s truly great ball has come in bursts at the two, and the Mavs are a veteran team with championship aspirations loaded with veterans at that position. Ahead of Roddy on the depth chart is last year’s Sixth Man of the Year in Jason Terry and newly acquired starter Caron Butler, a former All-Star who has added a tough mentality and physicality to the position.
But what’s interesting to note is that Rick has mentioned (paraphrasing here) that he likes guys to feel uncomfortable about their status and believes competition for playing time is a good thing. So then wouldn’t Roddy’s continued emergence put said uncomfortable pressure on Butler and JET to perform at an elite level? And with all due respect to JET, who has had some brilliant playoff moments in a Mavs uniform, last year’s second season was rather forgettable for Terry.
But I more than get Carlisle being apprehensive to play Roddy in big games down the stretch run -- all these games are playoff games with seeding being as critical as it is. I was trying to think of scenarios where rookies beat out key veterans for playing time down the stretch on team’s viewed as contenders. Byron Scott came to mind for a Laker team that lost in the Finals his rookie season. He’s a rare exception getting 20 minutes a night during the playoffs, but the Lakers had traded away starter Norm Nixon to get him in the first place so the comp wasn’t like this.
But Roddy is going to have to beat out proven clutch performers ensconced on a veteran team in order to get this burn. It’s way different torching awful Golden State and Clippers squads than it is to show and prove in Portland on TNT when your go-to guys are getting snuffed and every shot is contested. We’d all like to see what he could do in that situation -- he’s a blast to watch.
He’s clearly the future (I’m already on record saying he’s your likely starter next year). But history is against him doing it now. He’d be annihilating the odds. What a story it’d be, right? Do we get to see more of that story unfold tonight? This game has been circled on the schedule for a long time. A loooonnnngggg time. What a story it’d be, right?
Not exactly a confidence-building week
As ESPNDallas.com’s Timmy Mac noted about Saturday night's loss to Boston:
The Mavs' league-best winning percentage in games decided by five points or fewer (9-2, .818) didn't take a hit. But that's only because Boston was so dominant down the stretch.
The Mavericks couldn’t get the stops down that aforementioned stretch against the Celtics. Combine that with an out-of-character inability to get big late buckets, and you have a potential nail-biter that lost steam in a rather inglorious fashion. Dallas played great defense in the first half, holding the C’s to 39.5 percent shooting during the first 24. Boston ended the night shooting 52 percent from the field, including 59 percent in the fourth quarter. The fact that the Chicago victory on Wednesday night played out in virtually the same manner defensively is certainly cause for alarm. It was a breakdown at the point of attack in both fourth quarters. Acie Law did his damage against JJ Barea on Wednesday. And during crunch time Saturday night, Rajon Rondo got to where he wanted whether it was Jason Terry or Jason Kidd defending him.
It brings up some tough rotation questions. During crucial late fourth quarter minutes, coach Rick Carlisle went with JET and J-Kidd in the backcourt as Caron Butler, struggling through a difficult shooting night, sat on the bench. When they needed offense, he came back with Butler, JET stayed and Shawn Marion, arguably the Mavericks’ best individual defender, headed to the pine. On most nights that’s probably a fine decision, but JET seemed out of rhythm late (partially because of great Boston D) and Butler took an ill-advised tightly contested 24-footer -- that wasn't particularly close -- with 37 seconds to go down six. The Mavericks didn't have it when it mattered most on either end of the floor.
Coming off a week in which the Mavericks were afforded actual practice time, you wouldn’t expect them to be this out of sync. Maybe we’re over-microscoping it here, especially considering how good Boston has been on the road this year. But a 13-game winning streak raises your expectation level, and we definitely expected better when it mattered most. The Mavs have to be better closers -- especially when it comes to getting those precious stops.
Closing out the schedule
Truth be told, if Dallas doesn’t win three of its next four games, it’ll be more than disappointing. I give them a break on sweeping the next four before they host Denver on the 29th because a road game at Portland is tough. I’m watching the peaking Blazers give a peaking Phoenix squad all they want as I type this.
There is no room for missteps from this point out. Aside from that Denver game, the Mavericks also have three extremely difficult home bouts against Orlando, OKC and the season-finale against Los Spurs. If they don’t bring that closer mentality approach that they need in the fourth quarter to their overall schedule, dreams of being a No. 2 seed could quickly be replaced by life as a 5.
A busy week of practice
Then they’ll see a Boston team Saturday night that isn’t exactly streaking to the finish line. In their last ten, the Celtics have beaten Detroit, Charlotte, Philly, Indy and the Wiz. But they’ve lost to the Cavs (twice), Memphis, Milwaukee and the uhhh, the Nets. If the Mavs don’t come out with energy against a Boston team that plays Houston the night before when the Mavs will have played only one game in the previous six nights, then we’ve got some reason for concern.
A busy week of mediocre opponents
While the Mavs are resting up and focusing on a light schedule of two home games, Denver is playing a full week with four contests it could definitely sweep and end up with a salty ten-game winning streak. The Nuggets finish up a four-game road trip at Houston on Monday night before hosting three straight beginning Tuesday against the Wiz. If the Wiz hadn’t lost seven straight, then that’s a tough scheduling hiccup. But yes, the Wiz have lost seven straight. Denver will see a scrappy Hornets team Thursday night, but I’d be surprised if we didn’t see Team Melo go into Saturday night’s game against the Bucks with a nine-game win streak. But therein lies the rub: John Hollinger and Cheryl Miller have me convinced that Milwaukee will never lose again. They’re pretty much unbeatable with John Salmons. So surely that’s an L.
And then it gets really interesting for the tussle for No. 2 -- Denver will embark on a five-game trip that ends in Dallas on March 29 -- so very magically delicious. Circle it ...
Sometimes we ponder what will happen when injured players return, such as last week’s thoughts on what Erick Dampier's return means for Brendan Haywood. But today we look way off into the distant distant. As in next year.
And it a go a ‘lil summin’ like this:
Roddy Beaubois is on a three-game tear in which he’s rarely missing his shots and besting his career high every time he steps out on the floor. The injury to Jason Terry has opened the door for him to get minutes at the two-guard, and Dallas has benefited from his effortless glide, smooth jumper and absurd gears in the transition game. It also puts him in the position to be a playmaker without having the pressure of running the team -- an ideal role for a player with his explosiveness but lack of experience.
We’ve also seen that when Jason Kidd is on the floor surrounded by a stockpile of offensive weapons his game is downright Olympic. When folks on the coaching staff and in the front-office tell you that Roddy B’s future is running the point, they’re right. It's just not his immediate future. With the way Kidd is playing, I want him on the floor as much as he can possibly be out there for the foreseeable future. And with the crazy athletic ability and the easy scoring chances that Roddy creates and finishes, I want him on the floor as much as possible as well.
At this point, Kidd is better suited covering bigger guards than the mini-rocket ships that are currently holding down the point in The Association. If Kidd and the kid play in the backcourt together, they can easily cover a different position than they’re playing offensively. If you were to tell me that’s the Dallas Mavericks' starting backcourt next season, I’d feel great about that situation. In fact, that’s what I expect it to be.
Someone's getting squeezed ...
Seeing as I was calling for the Caron Butler trade in this space a couple weeks before it happened, you know how I feel about that dude. He’s a beast. I love his game. I love his toughness. I love him in the starting lineup whether it’s at the two or the three. The Big German is a lock at the four. And if Chicago’s 36-point fourth quarter and the relative ease with which they got to the rim told us anything, it’s that Dallas can survive going small in short bursts, but they need a big center back there protecting that rim if they really want to do anything.
So where’s The Matrix in this picture?
He’s easily the team’s best defender and, since the All-Star break, he’s been very effective finishing in transition. But with the offensive explosiveness of Butler and Roddy, Kidd’s ability to knock down the weakside three and Haywood’s prowess at catching and finishing at the iron, it’s very difficult to send that extra defender at Dirk knowing what the other four on the floor can do to you.
In my future world, Shawn Marion is still a huge part of this rotation, as is JET. But in my future world, those two comprise a dynamic duo off the bench for a championship contender. It’s good stuff and something I’d imagine a quality veteran with a good contract would embrace. Then again, the Mavs might just blow all this off and rock a sign-and-trade for King James. And I’d take that future over my version any day.
Monday means The Come Up, and Dallas takes a seven-game win-streak into Monday night’s possible “schedule loss” against the Bobcats. Because of an 8:30 tip time in Sunday night’s win hosting New Orleans and a quick flight out to the coast for a 6 p.m. CT tip in Charlotte, the Mavericks will have completed two games in a 24-hour span by the time Monday night’s game is completed. It’s intriguing, but not as intriguing as the potential center controversy on the horizon. And it go a ‘lil summin’ like this:
Wally Pipp didn’t play basketball
Seems to me that I’ve heard coach Rick Carlisle say that he doesn’t believe in a player losing his starting job due to injury. Maybe I’m wrong on that. But, even if he’s said that in the past, I do know he’s prone to roll with the unexpected when it comes to minutes and rotation. As an example, he said before Sunday night’s game when talking to assembled media that he doesn’t believe this team needs a set rotation.
Virtually everyone I talk to believes that it’s a slam dunk that Brendan Haywood is your starting center for the rest of the season no matter when big Erick Dampier gets back. The initial prognosis after the gruesome finger dislocation injury almost two weeks ago was 3-5 weeks. Big Damp was thinking closer to one week. That was probably wishful thinking knowing what was waiting in the wings.
Haywood has been a revelation. Though his numbers aren’t that much better than Damp’s, the results on the floor have been most glorious indeed. Haywood was basically throwing down 11 and 11 and almost three blocks in 34 minutes a night going into the Hornets game. He gave the Mavs 12 points, nine boards and two big blocks late against David West to help secure the win. The Mavs have yet to lose with Haywood as their starting center.
Then There’s the Other Stuff
Haywood is also in a contract year. The Mavs want him to want to stay here as he’ll be a big part of their future plans. How would he react to playing this well for a team rolling like it is only to take a seat back on the bench when the games start just because Big Damp is back? It’s always hard to know the truth when you’re reading stuff about a team playing five states to the Northeast, but most of what I’ve gathered over the years about Haywood’s competition for minutes with Etan Thomas has been about fighting and team turmoil. Maybe that was misrepresented. Maybe it was the truth and he’s grown out of it. Maybe it was on Thomas. Whatever the case, I do remember reading about Haywood once yanking a couple of dreads out of Thomas’ head during a scuffle. So I’m glad that Damp shaves his domepiece.
But having said all that, I never have a clue what Carlisle is thinking on matters like this, so I won’t say it’s a done deal until it’s a done deal. The facts are that in eight fewer minutes a night, Damp gets you two fewer rebounds and four fewer points and about one fewer block. But the visible difference is that the on-the-floor confidence the Mavericks are playing with right now is immeasurable. Maybe it’d have been exactly the same had Damp not gotten hurt and the Mavericks had the two-headed beastmaster at center. But that’s an unknown. The Mavericks' current level of play during their win-streak is clear-cut evidence that for the good of everyone involved, only one guy needs to do any adjusting, and that’s Erick Dampier. And I have a feeling he’ll make the most of that new role coming off the bench.
First things first, the Mavs need some practice time with their new dudes, and much has been made about the fact that four games in five nights to start the stretch run made that impossible. But the next month will give them a chance to settle in a little bit. The Mavericks only have two back-to-backs over the next four weeks, and there will be a stretch in mid-March in which they'll play four consecutive home games over an 11-day period that will afford them plenty of practice opportunities. Over their next 15 games, eight opponents are .500 or better but 10 of those 15 games are at the AAC. The team clearly has a new bounce in its step following the trade. The schedule provides the chance for the Mavs to garner that proverbial full head of steam.
An eye on Denver
With 26 games to go for both teams, Dallas is two games behind Denver for the No. 2 seed with the season series tied at 1 and the final home stand coming on March 29. If both teams continue to play at a high level, that game is shaping up to be huge, and Dallas should be the team with the legs. For Denver, that game will be the last night of a week-long road trip in which it'll play five games in seven nights and have played at Orlando the night before. Dallas also plays three more home games than Denver for the remainder of the season.
However, all this Denver talk shouldn't discount Utah or OKC. The Thunder are on the verge of a 10-game win streak and have been remarkable on the road for a young team with a 17-11 record. But the key word is young. For them to claim a top four spot after having been out of the playoff conversation since the franchise's Seattle days would be shocking. And the Jazz have been killing it as of late, but they just gave away a starter at the trade deadline (Ronnie Brewer) and a team that has been notoriously suspect on the road the last few seasons (14-12 this year) plays 15 of their remaining 27 on the road.
Certainly, disregarding Utah is a huge mistake, and the Jazz have already won the season series with the Mavs. But in my estimation, Denver is the team to catch in this race, and Dallas is in a great position to start that ascent.
Times change. We all know the luster of the All-Star Game today isn't nearly what it was in the glorious 1980s. Back then we didn't get to see our favorite players and teams go at it almost nightly on multiple cable channels. Now we take for granted that all 82 regular-season games of our local team are on TV. The All-Star Game was a spectacle, a chance to see the game's great players perform, a made-for-TV event. It was it all about the game.
Today? Well, let Mavericks owner Mark Cuban tell you what he thinks.
"This isn’t about the game," Cuban said, before giving an example of what the NBA's All-Star Weekend is all about. "Last year toward the end of the season, when there was this big thing about me and Shaq meeting, it was about All-Star parties."
And maybe that's not such a horrible thing, at least from the players' perspective. The face of the All-Star Game changed in 1984 when the NBA expanded it to Saturday, bringing in the dunk contest and an old-timer's game. Two years later, All-Star Weekend landed in Dallas at Reunion Arena. Spud Webb outdueled Atlanta Hawks teammate Dominique Wilkins for the dunking crown and Larry Bird lived up to his boast of "Who's coming in second?" when he won the inaugural 3-Point Shootout.
That year in Dallas is when Bird said the evolution of All-Star Weekend kicked in.
"It’s come a long, long way," Bird said. "I can remember going to different places [for the All-Star Game] and they have a banquet where you had to sit up on the dais and all the players and people gave speeches, there were bright lights and you just sit there for three hours. In ’86, I saw a major change. They had the dunk contest before, but had the 3-Point Shootout, and there was sort of a change into hip-hop. The music was different, the atmosphere was different and it was a big change from then on."
This is how it should be done
Remember the last game Dallas played before the All-Star break last year? That was a true exhibition of mental toughness and the will to win. It was just that it was Boston that showed it. Here’s what Paul Pierce said after the game:
"It can go one of two ways. The coach is gone in the last game before the All-Star break, you can pack it in. But this group is very competitive. We're going to fight.''
With just over two minutes left in the third, Dirk had just scored his 31st point. He was killing KG, who had just gone to the bench with a tech and his fifth personal, and Doc Rivers had just gotten ejected with his two technicals. The Mavs were up nine against a tired team that was on the second night of a back-to-back (they’d beaten New Orleans the night before) on the Thursday before the All-Star break.
That’s a recipe for a mail-in if ever there was one, but that Boston team didn’t really get down like that. Pierce went for 18 in the fourth and Dallas lost 99-92. So why dredge all that up now? Because that’s something the Mavs can use to fuel these last two games.
I have a hard time believing a team that has guys like Dirk, J Kidd and JET isn’t interested in fighting. That week off is going to be a whole lot more fun going into it with two wins than it will be having lost six of seven. These next two games starting Monday at Golden State will show everyone if this cast of characters has collectively “packed it in.”
48-hour gut check
We saw Golden State a week ago. Monta Ellis careered but Dallas still won 110-101. The Warriors have only won nine times at home and they’re struggling badly right now having lost their last eight. It’s extremely important that the Mavs put away a bad team early so they can get their key guys some rest before Tuesday night’s match-up against Denver. That game is what is known as a “scheduling loss.”
Denver is a tough place to play for a number of reasons. The obvious is that the Nuggets are really good there, having only lost four times all season on their home floor. It’s a tough place to play on the second night of a back-to-back as it is, especially considering the thin air combined with the aggressive style of play Denver is so adept at employing at the Pepsi Center. These dudes take it to you.
The Nuggets will be well-rested, having not seen action since a Saturday night loss at Utah the night after beating the Lakers on their floor. They’ll also want to avenge the 104-96 loss they suffered to the Mavs in Denver on Dec. 27. Dallas will be mentally and physically tired and one day away from a week away from hoops with a schedule loaded with celebrity bashes in their own backyard.
It’s an easy game to lose. They’ll be expected to lose. The schedule shrugs its shoulders and says “too bad.” But it’s also a unique opportunity for a team that a lot of folks are thinking has very little left in the tank for the remainder of this season. It can go one of two ways over the next 48. They can pack it in or they can fight. It’ll be a chance to see just how competitive these guys really are.
Shakin’ It Up or Stayin’ Put
Fans and media are consumed with trade talk this time of year. It’s fun to work out all those fantasy trade scenarios in your head, and the NBA rumor mill is a blast to follow. But this year is a little different than most. The unbelievably star-studded potential free-agent pool this upcoming summer, combined with the notion that so many teams are hurting financially that the league is one giant strip-mall full of businesses having fire sales, makes for delicious fodder.
Maverick fans have had plenty of fun debating whether or not their team should utilize expiring contracts now to go get one of the talented wings supposedly available for financial relief. Would the Mavs be better off trading for Caron Butler or just keeping Josh Howard? Does Kevin Martin’s scoring ability make up for his injury issues and suspect “D?” Could Dallas land Jason Richardson from the cash-strapped Phoenix Suns for the right to overpay him for only one more year? Or why wouldn’t they just go get Andre Iguodala to be a 26-year old Robin to Dirk Nowitzki’s Batman?
ESPN’s Marc Stein is always on the case, and last Friday he wrote what some sources believe might be the Mavericks’ thinking in regards to trading before the deadline. This possible organizational opinion on Iguodala grabbed my attention:
One plugged-in source insisted this week that the Mavs have real reservations about trading Howard for Butler and are hesitant regarding Iguodala as well largely because of the four years and $56 million left on the Philly swingman’s contract after this season.
If the Mavericks think Iguodala has the talent to really add something to their lineup, why would they be concerned about paying a 17/7/6 guy who rarely misses games and will only be 30 when his contract expires? Isn’t he the type of two-way player Dallas really needs at off-guard?
Not if there’s a hard cap he’s not. If some of the predictions for the parameters of the next collective bargaining agreement are true, Iguodala will go from being a top-notch “second tier” talent to a contract that will absolutely torpedo a franchise.
Countdown to Armageddon
SI.com’s Ian Thomsen wrote a must-read, eye-opening piece last Friday that quotes a few GMs on what the next CBA will probably look like. The buzz phrase is most definitely “hard cap.” About the financial prospects for free agents such as Carlos Boozer, Amare' Stoudemire, and Rudy Gay with a hard cap on the horizon he writes:
... are you going to risk an eight-figure salary on a player who isn't likely to carry your team to the championship? If a hard cap is the new reality, then everyone in the league will be taking a new view of player salaries.
One GM Thomsen quotes sees $8 million as the new salary range for a star player, which is about the level I see Iggy. He’s not a superstar, but he’s certainly better than a really good player. So if he’s making $15 million for the Mavericks four years from now and Dirk is eating up another $15 million to $20 million of your hard cap space with another $9 million going to Shawn Marion, what’s the rest of that team looking like? Yikes!
Of course, there’s no guarantee that this doom and gloom will be the actual reality, but it’d be foolish not to take a somewhat conservative approach to what the future holds when making moves with only one year left on the current agreement. The good news is that if any owners have the stomach to go for it, it’s probably a very short list that includes Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.
So if the trade deadline comes and goes without a major deal for the Mavs, remember this while you’re sharpening your sticks to storm the castle. The guy you do get when you make your major move better be the one to put you over the top. Because if he ain’t, you’re probably going to be stuck with him -- stuck between a rock and a hard cap.
Monday means “The Come Up” – and this particular Monday is a day off for players and coaches after the Mavs concluded their longest road trip of the season by beating the Knicks by 50 yesterday.
No J Kidd and No Big Damp meant no problem because NY plays no D. Isn’t it sweet? Will it be a springboard win like last year’s overtime victory at MSG? The Mavs won 10 of their next 12 after taking a 2-7 record to New York early last season. This year’s team has a great record, but the quality of play has been lacking since the Mavs smothered OKC back on Dec. 16.
The schedule is looking manageable the next couple of weeks leading up to All Star Weekend. It starts Tuesday against Milwaukee, and it go a ‘lil summin’ like this:
An OT win with a rookie doing damage
When the Mavs went to Milwaukee back in November, the NBA world was swept up in Brandon Jennings mania as the rookie was coming off of a 55-point explosion against the Warriors. That was also back during the Roddy Beaubois' glory days when the Mavs’ own rook was getting starts, but not heavy minutes, while Josh Howard was out with an injury. He’d start the game, start the second half, but the 15-minute neighborhood was the norm.
But he logged 24 minutes that night against the Bucks, and it was the final five that played such a pivotal role in an overtime road win on the second night of a back-to-back. Roddy B was in his normal fourth-quarter seat on the bench watching Jennings go nuts for 13 points in the quarter.
When Dallas dodged a last-second Jennings trey attempt to force OT, Roddy got the call to slow down his fellow rookie for the additional frame. He held him to two points in OT, including nicely contesting a late-game step-back bomb by Jennings who couldn’t get a better shot because Roddy B wouldn’t let him turn the corner. That stop set up late-game heroics from Dirk Nowitzki, and the rest is history.
Beaubois wouldn’t see that much burn again until yesterday, when he logged 24 minutes in the aforementioned 50-point destruction of the Knicks. After a dicey start (two turnovers in his first 3 minutes), Beaubois responded with 13 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals.
He may have only got the minutes yesterday because Kidd missed the game due to personal reasons. But with Jennings coming to town Tuesday night and Roddy B coming off a money showing, it just seems like the right time, doesn’t it?
In other news Jerry Stackhouse is now a Buck. So then there’s that.
You don’t want to be that team
Remember when Dallas started December by traveling to New Jersey and Mavs fans were trippin’ about being "that" team? You know, the team that would sport the badge of humiliation bestowed upon the first crew to lose to the Nets as they stumbled towards infamy. “Please, don’t be those guys,” fans worried. They shouldn’t have. Dallas rolled.
For the record, it was the Charlotte Bobcats who played the Hester Prynne role in that Nets soap opera. And the Bobcats are doing just fine since then, thank you. It’s actually the Phoenix Suns whose current trajectory looks like Demi Moore’s film career.
Truth is, not much was expected of this team, and most people figured they’d try and unload class of 2010 free-agent Amare Stoudemire before the trade deadline next month. But Steve Nash's game continues to age like Moore's looks, and he’s rolling out another statistical gem with 18 and 11 on 53 percent shooting.
But it probably will go for naught.
The Suns have lost five of their last seven games heading into tonight’s tip at Utah, and all the buzz they generated by rolling through a tough early-season schedule with lots of roadies has now been muted with Memphis, OKC and New Orleans all charging hard for those bottom of the bracket playoff spots.
Leandro Barbosa is set to miss the next month with a wrist injury. Combine that with a tough schedule before the break, and a stale yet still expensive Suns team may be facing that trade scenario everyone thought was inevitable anyway.
As for being "that" team? Dallas plays at Phoenix on Thursday night (TV: TNT). The Suns have lost their last 18 straight games broadcast on that network. That’s bad. And the Mavs clearly don’t want to be "that" team to let the Suns off the hook.
It should be noted that Demi Moore has three films slated for release in 2010. I know this because I looked up her IMDB page -- I honestly couldn’t remember any of her recent movies. I just knew she hadn’t been in anything good since Santiago suffered a Code Red.
She was in a movie called The Juror. Seriously, someone made a movie and called it The Juror and put Demi Moore in it. That’s a movie give-up of Nellie-sized proportions.
Now that's devastation
Who knows who else will be hurt by the time the Mavs host Portland on Saturday. Their injury report this year has been epic -- already 200 games missed due to injury. Their current mini-disaster is that stud Brandon Roy is nursing a sore hammy. He'll be reevaluated before they play Houston on Friday night. That’s right, Dallas will host a beat-up team on the second night of a back-to-back -- their fourth game in six nights.
Portland hopes to get Nicolas Batum back for the first time this week, which is good news for Martell Webster since he had to play all 48 in a win against Detroit on Saturday night. Rudy Fernandez has been back for the last six games, which is timely since Jerryd Bayless just messed up his ankle.
As I'm sure you're aware, it’s so bad that Juwan Howard is actually getting 21 minutes a night for these guys. Meanwhile, C Webb and Jalen Rose are already broadcast veterans. Decent minutes for old men is what happens when both of your centers sustain season-ending injuries.
All that, and Portland is still in fourth place in the Western Conference at 27-18. Dudes have heart. It’s a shame those hearts are beating in tore-up bodies.
MLK Day matchup of two struggling division leaders
The Celts are a healthy 27-11, but it’s somewhat deceiving. They are 8-1 against the tepid competition in the Atlantic Division and have struggled in their last 10 games, winning only four and losing their last two home games to Chicago and Atlanta.
Injuries are the primary culprit. Kevin Garnett has missed time recently with a hyper-extended knee but isn’t expected back until Friday. Rasheed Wallace has missed the last three games with a foot sprain, but is expected back for tonight’s tip. Paul Pierce banged his previously hurt knee in practice yesterday. Doc Rivers must be praying he’s OK. Brian Scalabrine has started the last three games. Seriously.
The Mavericks had some huge individual milestones in the last week as The Big German passed the 20,000 mark in points and Jason Kidd entered the top five in NBA history in three-pointers made. They’re both chasing Ray Allen.
Dirk enters Monday’s game 231 points behind Allen, who is also 804 3-pointers up on Kidd. Dirk will eventually catch Allen and leave him in the dust. If he stays healthy, Allen will pass Reggie Miller as the all-time downtown champ sometime late next season (he needs 198 more to pass Miller’s 2,560).
Did I mention that the Mavs were reeling? Out East?
And sometimes they play basketball, too
The Mavs play The Wiz on Wednesday night, but it’s hard to find any news on what’s been going on with these guys lately.
What are you supposed to write here? Even the most casual of hoops fan is completely aware of what a toxic situation exists in Washington right now. These dudes have won eight games since Dec. 1.
Gilbert Arenas’ legal situation is less murky than his future playing status, and he won’t get sentenced until March 26. That’s so inconsiderate considering the mid-February trade deadline.
Here’s hoping Arenas doesn’t have to spend any significant time behind bars (if any at all), and he and Washington can come to some sort of a sensible buyout that allows him to go somewhere else and start over while minimizing the utter devastation his contract has imposed on the Wiz’s roster flexibility.
Surely Washington will be big players at the trade deadline regardless of Arenas’ uncertain status. Their play can most kindly be described as “uninterested,” and they’re surrounded by worse vibes than a leasing office at one of Donald Sterling’s properties. They have plenty of expiring contracts and two very desirable players in Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, even if Jamison’s contract is pretty dicey (about 28.5 million for the two seasons following this one).
So when you watch a Washington game it’s kind of like one big audition to “get off the island.” And these guys rolled the Mavs on opening night at AAC. Did I mention Brian Scalabrine started the last three games for the Celtics? I’m serious. About all this.
Basketball is a team game, kids
Remember what a ridiculous circus the whole Allen Iverson retirement charade was? I watch a lot of NBATV -- a definitive sign that I don’t have much going for me -- and everyday there was somebody else in AI’s circle on the league’s network carrying on about what a tragedy it was that Allen Iverson was forced into retirement.
John Thompson was indignant, Eric Snow was stoically displeased, Cheryl Miller was crying without tears and, of course, Rick Kamla was there through it all to assure everyone that he truly loved AI. Yet I couldn’t figure out who was behind this outlandish plot seeing as he was on a roster and active just weeks before this awful tragedy.
Thankfully, Philly had absolutely nothing going on and a disintegrating fan base so that they could provide safe harbor for a man, who despite being a completely unrestricted free agent just months earlier, couldn’t find a team with a role to suit his liking. Society owed Iverson a starting role and whatever minutes he desired and had Philly not stepped up and delivered, civilization might have completely unraveled. It didn’t matter that he had a role and a paycheck in Memphis -- that spot was a complete injustice and an affront to the spirit of the sport.
The 76ers are 6-8 in the 14 games that Iverson has played with them, which is way better than the 7-18 they’ve tallied without him (and all the other dudes who were hurt early in the season). Iverson was an amazing individual player who goes hard and is still very talented.
But if you remove the names of everyone involved and just look at the situation for what it is without bias, this whole scenario is about an aging player who has no interest in being part of a team unless that team wants to acquiesce to what it is he wants. And if a team does revolve around him, it will be, best-case scenario, mediocre and out of the playoff picture. What is there to like about that?
By the way, a Memphis team that everyone wrote off as a horrible mess is 19-10 since they waived Iverson. Not that it’s related. I just enjoy pointing out random asides.
I like Andre Iguodala. I like Thad Young -- reminds me of a heyday '80s scoring forward. I like Lou Williams’ name -- sounds like he’d be a heyday '80s scoring forward.
This is another bad team the Mavs struggled to barely beat at home earlier in the season. What age is too young to be a Steely Dan fan?
I want revenge ...
A week ago, the Lakeshow rolled the Mavs to the tune of 131-96 in what was a painful-to-watch performance on both ends of the floor for Dallas. And believe it or not, it’s LA who’s been struggling since last Sunday.
The Lakers have the best record in the league (29-8), but they head into Tuesday night’s game against the Spurs having lost three road games in a row. Pau Gasol hasn’t played since he strained his left hammy in the first quarter against the Mavs last Sunday.
But the biggest reason the Lakers are stumbling has to do with Kobe Bryant's broken right index finger. Because he’s Kobe, he won’t miss any time as he grinds through games attempting different splint approaches in an attempt to play through. And because he’s Kobe, the Lakers will grind through nights of high-volume bricking.
In Sunday’s night blowout of the Bucks, Kobe was 4-21 from the floor. And that’s right on par with his recent shooting trend. In his last four games, Kobe is 37–111 -- or what calculators like to call 33 percent. He’s still averaging right at 25 a night during that span, but the efficiency obviously isn’t there.
One dude who has had it together is big Andrew Bynum, who is coming off his third straight double-double.
So you have hurt Kobe, probably inactive Gasol and the road-troubled Lakers coming to town on the second night of a back-to-back. If you can’t get your revenge with those parameters, it may be time for a pulse check.
A new I-35 rival?
Last Friday, Dallas handled their hated rival to the South -- San Antone. This Friday night, the Mavericks host the young guns from the North in what I’m thinking will be Dallas’ pesky new rival for the next few years.
I realize that the Oklahoma City Thunder plays in a different division, and that somewhat complicates that idea, but don’t be surprised if Friday night’s game is a preview of a first-round playoff series.
The last time we scribbled about the Thunder in The Come Up, we noted the offensive brilliance of Kevin Durant. But we also took note of their new attention to defense that had been perhaps the biggest reason for the Thunder's ascension to playoff-worthy basketball.
So what happened in that first meeting?
Dallas held Durant to 12 points on 4-18 shooting while hitting half its own shots in running away in the fourth quarter of a 100-86 victory. Since then? Durant had one stretch of seven straight games where he hung 30 or more on whoever got in his way. At the tender age of 21, Durant is one of the most effortless scorers in the NBA and will no doubt end the season in the top five.
The Thunder (20-16) have won seven of their last nine heading into Monday's home game against the Knicks. Their arrow is pointing up in a big, big way.
Opposite the Cowboys again?
You know the story. Anything happening in The Dub opposite a Dallas Cowboys playoff game is a tough proposition. And for the second consecutive weekend, the Mavs face a tough proposition.
Sunday road games tipping during lunch should be banned. But Sunday road games tipping half an hour before kickoff of a Cowboy playoff game is downright cruel.
The Raptors have actually come to life in their last 10, winning eight and pulling themselves back into the Eastern Conference playoff conversation at 19-19.
You’ll remember early November when Toronto came to town and allowed the Mavs to score 129 in what was a laughable defensive “effort.” Not that these guys are suddenly playing Fratello-ball, but it should be noted that, during their recent run, the Raps have held five of their 10 opponents to under 100 points.
But it’s not as if anybody is noticing. Most stories about Toronto these days have to do with where Chris Bosh will sign this summer or if he’ll actually be traded by the deadline in February. As most know, CB4 is part of the much ballyhooed 2010 free agent class.
Interesting side note, former Mav great and current ESPN hoops analyst Jamal Mashburn had Bosh on his All-Underrated team Sunday night at halftime of the Portland-Cleveland broadcast. Bosh is a max contract dude who rolls out 24 and 11 a night on 52 percent shooting and is a member of Team USA. Also making appearances on Mash's All-Underrated team were Meryl Streep, Mexican food and petroleum.
Can’t believe the Cowboys didn’t get a nod. There’s your week.
And it go a ‘lil summin’ like this:
At least Villanueva is a salty Tweeter …
The Pistons have lost nine in a row. That’s bad. Their last five losses have come against sub-.500 East teams -- three of those coming at home. That’s really bad.
They’ve had a lot to deal with -- a new coach (John Kuester), several key offseason acquisitions to work in (Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva and Ben Wallace) and a lot of injuries to key guys. They’ve just recently been able to put Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton and Gordon back on the floor after extended bouts with some hurt.
The result is they don’t score much at 91.5 a night and they let their opponents hit almost 47 percent of their shots against them. I think they’ll eventually be able to score at a higher clip, but I don’t know that’ll translate to being more than a middle-of-the-road team in the East.
I do like Rodney Stuckey, but not as a point. And I can’t help but think he and Gordon are a bad fit together. I could easily be off base there. It does seem like Stuckey could be related to the GZA, however. I dunno, maybe off base there too.
Speaking of off base, I can’t help but think of this Wayne Winston rant on True Hoop (some of the most over-the-top basketball analysis I’ve ever read) whenever I think of the Pistons signing Gordon:
My prediction is that the Bulls are going to stink this year. Ben Gordon and Brad Miller were their best players. They let Ben Gordon go to the team they need to beat for the playoffs? Why'd they do that? Letting him go is just beyond stupid. It's ridiculous. And who'd they pick up to replace him? Jannero Pargo?
I find this hilarious on so many levels, I can only summarize it with -- this is what you get when you turn to math professors for basketball commentary. He predicted that a mediocre .500 team in the East would stink this year after losing their leading scorer. Now that’s bold. But let’s move on to his more acerbic take -- that letting Gordon go is “beyond stupid” and “ridiculous.”
It should be noted that the 6-foot-3 2-guard that the Bulls decided not to pay $10 million a year has a career playoff shooting percentage of 40 percent to go with his almost 1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, is a sub-par defender and had led the Bulls to exactly one playoff series win in his five years there.
Gordon is a talented scorer, a gunner who can single-handedly keep you in a game. I’ve also seen him shoot his team out of games with possessions in which he’s the only guy that touches the ball -- several trips in a row. I’m not a big fan of that type of basketball, so I must be beyond stupid and ridiculous to not be on board with throwing away $10 million a year when you need so much other help. Especially if it hasn’t translated to big winning in the NBA yet and when probably every GM in the league would much rather have D-Rose dominate the ball at half the salary.
When this season is said and done, I’d be surprised if the Bulls and Pistons are more than a few wins apart from one another in the standings. But Chicago will have, at minimum, $10 million in salary-cap room this summer, probably more once the final numbers come in. Money they wouldn’t have had if they’d chosen to pay Gordon instead and be that same .500 team in the East.
What a bunch of idiots, right Wayne?
Friday Night Lights on the Riverwalk
The Spurs started the month of December with three straight losses and were sitting at 9-7 and having to answer all the “what’s wrong” questions. A month later, they’re won 11 of their last 14 as they’ve closed the Sothwestern gap down to two games behind Dallas.
Those who are still apprehensive about San Antonio will note that the Spurs have been feasting on weaker teams during that stretch and that they’re two toughest games, Phoenix and Portland, resulted in L’s. But The Spurs are deep -- nobody on their team is averaging 32 minutes a night -- and they're versatile and have no trouble scoring and rebounding.
It starts with Tim Duncan, who is still giving you 20 and 10 a night. They outrebound their opponents by 4.5 a night and hit 39 percent of their treys and 48.6 percent from the field on their way to 102 whenever they tip it up.
But you know the drill with the Spurs. They are the Mavs' biggest rival, and these games always seem to matter more than any other each year. They’ve split the season series at one each with both teams protecting their home floor.
Always fun ...
And this is how you put a team on your back…
The Jazz season to date has been one long steady ho-hum. They’re 18-15, but only 6-10 on the road. They’ll roll into town Saturday night after having visited the currently unbeatable Memphis Grizz the night before. The interesting thing about their record is that they haven’t had any prolonged streaks one way or the other with two different three-game winning streaks being their longest stretches of note.
But seeing as it’s Mavs/Jazz -- this is the only thing you’re really thinking about, isn’t it?
What more can I say, top billin' ...
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.