Dallas Mavericks: Dallas Mavericks
NEW YORK -- Dirk Nowitzki drained a jumper from the top of the key at the buzzer, and the Dallas Mavericks escaped with a 110-108 victory over the New York Knicks on Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
How it happened: After the Mavericks lost a 108-100 lead with 97 seconds remaining, Nowitzki bailed them out. His dominance at MSG continues. He scored just 15 points -- none bigger than the final two.
The Mavericks ended up going 15-for-36 from 3-point range. Vince Carter led the way with a season-high 23 points and went 7-for-12 from 3-point territory. Monta Ellis had 22 points, but needed a season-high 22 shots to get there and had two crucial turnovers which nearly cost the Mavericks what looked like an easy victory. Jose Calderon added 20 points.
What it means: The Mavericks (35-23) swept their three-game road trip and improved to 9-2 in their last 11 games.
Play of the game: Early in the second quarter, Brandan Wright and Devin Harris combined on a brilliant screen-and-roll alley-oop in which Wright used his long wingspan to catch the lob and convert a highlight-reel-caliber two-handed slam.
Stat of the night: 44. That’s how many points Carmelo Anthony had, as stretch forwards continue to give the Mavericks trouble. LeBron James had 42, Thaddeus Young 30 and Josh Smith 32 in consecutive games against Dallas.
What's next: The Mavericks return home to face the New Orleans Pelicans at 7 p.m. CT on Wednesday.
“I think he’s taken some great steps on the officiating,” Cuban said of Silver. “There’s been more changes in 15 days or whatever it is than I saw in 14 years. So I like what he’s doing there. I don’t see a lot, but the few things I’ve seen have been very positive.
“Things like sending out reports, proactive reports, being transparent on calls proactively, those are things that never would’ve happened [previously].”
Cuban has been asking for this type of transparency forever, and it’s finally started to happen -- albeit slowly.
Cuban explained more of what he was talking about.
“Like last night in the Houston-Phoenix game, Dwight Howard steps in [to the lane] seven seconds early. He’s waiting there like he’s boxing out before the free throw. And they didn’t call anything. So my expectation is that they’ll say something proactively to the teams, maybe not publicly, so that we we know (A) are they gonna allow that? Or (B), they’re not going to allow it and it should’ve been called and next time it will be called,” Cuban said.
“And then they'll say something to the officials, because we don't know, OK, this is the way to do it, or not the way to do it. In the past, you’d find out the hard way. Now, not on everything, but they’ve been more proactive and it’s a huge step in the right direction.”
- Cuban was also asked Monday if the Mavericks might pursue one of the players who was recently waived.
“We’ll talk about it. But I don’t see anything happening,” Cuban said.
The Mavericks currently have 15 players under contract.
- Cuban on how many years Dirk Nowitzki, 35, has left: “Five, six, seven. Like I said, I think my hops are better than Dirk’s, and so it’s about technique and skill set. And as long as his body holds up, he’ll keep on playing.”
- Cuban on why the Mavericks are 8-2 in their past 10: “We’re boxing out. We’re rebounding. How many games in a row has it been -- with the exception of Charlotte -- 7-8 games in a row we’ve outrebounded a team? If we said we were gonna do that, y’all would’ve laughed at us. We’ve been rebounding, we’re focused on the fundamentals, we’re paying attention to the little things and that’s what a veteran team should know how to do, and that’s what we’re doing.”
- Cuban on the dominance of the Western Conference compared to the East: “That’s been happening for 14 years. There’s no reason to start getting frustrated now.”
- Cuban on a report his team was looking to add an All-Star: “We’re always trying to All-Star-caliber players. We try a lot of things. I’ll give you a second-round pick for that first team all-pro. You ask, but you hope they’re on drugs and say yes.”
- Cuban said the reason for a lack of moves at the trade deadline was that teams placed a huge value on their draft picks. It remains to be seen if that will work out.
And it doesn’t get any easier Monday night when they take to the floor against Knicks star Carmelo Anthony, who ranks second in the NBA in scoring (27.9 PPG).
“Right now, he and LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the three hardest guys to guard in the game,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “We played against James five days ago and he had a huge game. And this is just as difficult. Carmelo is on a roll like, he’s averaging [34.6] points in his last five games. I mean, it’s a really difficult task.”
In his past three games, Anthony has posted point totals of 42, 44 and 35.
The good news? His supporting cast has struggled for much of the season, which is why New York has a 21-35 record.
Playing in the Mecca: Dirk Nowitzki has averaged 27.2 points in 13 career games at Madison Square Garden.
“I want you to name a building Dirk hasn't played great in,” Carlisle quipped. “I think that would be my response. He’s been at it a lot of years, and I think guys like Dirk, Jason Kidd always had great success here, Vince [Carter] has been in here a lot. People respect that this is in many ways kind of the basketball epicenter of the world. I mean, New York City is big when it comes to basketball, and the fans here are into it, they appreciate it, and this is a special place to play.”
No doghouse: Despite being a DNP-coach’s decision Saturday, Carlisle said Jae Crowder is not in the doghouse.
“There are no doghouses around here,” Carlisle said. “You gotta be ready because your number could be called at any time.”
Carter and Collins played together on the New Jersey Nets from 2004 to 2008.
“I’m happy he’s back in the league,” Carter said Monday. “He’s a guy that plays extremely hard, sets hard screens. He knows the game very well.”
Still, Carter looks forward to the day when this isn’t a big deal anymore and players are no longer asked about it.
“It’s new. It’s the hot topic, so it’s gonna be asked about. But once the season’s over and it’s not his first time in every city, it’ll be over with,” Carter said. “I understand why (it’s a big deal). But at the same time, it was said, it’s done with, he’s played his game. We understand he’s the first openly gay player and all that. I think it’s time to move on.”
Carter thinks Collins is in the perfect situation in Brooklyn.
“He played with (now Nets coach) Jason (Kidd), but he also played with Paul (Pierce) and KG (Kevin Garnett) in Boston,” Carter said. “I think it all worked out well for him. I mean, what better place than the place that you spent most of your career? Clearly, he was comfortable and he made it work here all that time, so I think this is the best place for him.”
Breaking up a championship team wasn't a popular decision by the Dallas front office at the time, to put it politely. And the Mavs brass’ CBA forecast is still easy fodder for critics more than two years later, with Dirk Nowitzki still the lone All-Star on the roster.
But Mark Cuban and Co. were absolutely right about one thing: Keeping that roster intact would have only guaranteed a large luxury-tax bill. All due respect to Tyson Chandler, who the Mavs will see Monday night at Madison Square Garden, but it’s delusional to believe that Dallas was denied a potential dynasty.
Peja Stojakovic, Jason Kidd and Brian Cardinal have retired. Rodrigue Beaubois and Dominique Jones can’t get NBA jobs. Brendan Haywood, an amnesty clause casualty in Dallas, is collecting checks in Charlotte while sitting out the season following foot surgery. Nowitzki and Shawn Marion -- who combine to make $32 million this season -- are the only 2011 champions who remain on the Mavs’ roster.
Here’s a look at what’s happened to the rest of the title team:
Dallas departure: signed four-year, $55.4 million deal with the New York Knicks
Chandler was the finishing piece of the Mavs’ championship puzzle, but he’s an outstanding role player, not a star capable of being a centerpiece of a title contender. That’s evident by the fact that the Knicks, who feature a legitimate superstar in Carmelo Anthony, have won only one playoff series since signing Chandler in December 2011 and are a long shot to make the playoffs this season. Injuries have limited Chandler to 32 games this season, and he is averaging 8.7 points and 9.3 rebounds, numbers that certainly don’t justify a $14 million salary.
The Mavs declined to make Chandler a multiyear offer after the lockout, much less match the Knicks’ deal. That will always leave the Mavs’ front office open to a couple of second-guess hypotheticals: Could the Mavs have done a respectable job defending their title with Chandler anchoring the 2011-12 Dallas defense? By dangling Chandler, could Dallas have pulled off a blockbuster deal to land Dwight Howard instead of helplessly watching the Los Angeles Lakers use Andrew Bynum to get the league’s best big man in the summer of 2012?
Dallas departure: signed three-year, $15.7 million deal with the Boston Celtics
Jet is a journeyman now, having been traded twice over the last eight months. His brief tenure with the Brooklyn Nets was an unmitigated failure, as the 36-year-old Terry averaged only 4.5 points on 36.2 percent shooting before being shipped to the NBA equivalent of Siberia. He’ll sit out the rest of the season instead of reporting to the Sacramento Kings. The hope is that focusing on rehabbing his left knee -- he apparently never fully recovered from summer surgery -- will allow Terry to contribute again next season. However, it’s painfully clear that Jet’s days as an elite bench scorer are over.
Dallas departure: signed four-year, $18 million contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves
Barea is a quality backup point guard, but that’s a steep price to pay for that type of player. Barea’s stats have dipped this season (8.7 PPG, 3.6 APG), but his contract is the primary reason Barea’s name was floated in trade rumors before the deadline.
Dallas departure: signed three-year, $24 million deal with the Los Angeles Clippers
This was a crazy contract to give a then-31-year-old who was coming off a serious knee injury that ended his 2010-11 season on New Year’s Eve. Butler is a high-character guy, but he’s a low-efficiency offensive player at this point of his career. The Clippers insisted on including him in the three-team deal that sent Eric Bledsoe to the Phoenix Suns and Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick to the Clippers. The Bucks are stuck with an expensive part-time starter who is shooting less than 40 percent from the floor for the NBA’s worst team.
Dallas departure: traded to the Denver Nuggets along with Rudy Fernandez for a future second-round pick
The Mavs dumping Brewer’s reasonable salary before the 2011-12 season made little sense, considering Dallas needed all the energy and athleticism it could find on the cheap. The Mavs made creating salary-cap space their priority, but they could have easily found takers for Brewer the next summer if need be. However, the Dallas front office didn’t see a role for Brewer after signing Vince Carter. After a couple of quality seasons coming off the Nuggets’ bench, Brewer signed a three-year, $14.1 million deal to become the Minnesota Timberwolves’ starting small forward.
Dallas departure: signed four-year, $16 million deal with Indiana Pacers
If the Pacers were confident in Mahinmi, they wouldn’t have rolled the dice on Bynum. Mahinimi is averaging 3.2 points and 3.3 rebounds and making $4 million this season.
Ellis matched his season high with 13 assists and committed only two turnovers. He played dominant defense -- yes, you read that right -- holding former Milwaukee Bucks backcourt partner Brandon Jennings to two points on 1-of-7 shooting. And Ellis took over the game in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the final frame.
"Ellis played a great, great game," coach Rick Carlisle told reporters. "Fantastic defense, great floor game, timely scoring. He was the key player tonight."
Ellis arrived in Dallas with a tarnished reputation as a me-first guy after a miserable season and a half trying to carry mediocre-at-best Bucks teams. Ellis, who wanted to escape Milwaukee so badly that he turned down a three-year, $36 million offer and ended up getting a lot less in free agency, insisted that all he wanted to do was win and welcomed the opportunity to prove it.
This is the kind of night that leaves no question about winning being the priority for Ellis, who has proven a lot of people wrong with his efficiency all season.
The finishing touch wasn’t Ellis’ fourth-quarter scoring. It was him diving on the hardwood to come up with a loose ball with less than 30 seconds to play, eliminating the tiny morsel of hope that the Pistons had of making a miracle comeback.
Ellis’ offensive performance was a sweet blend of patience and aggressiveness. He was a force in the first half despite attempting only two field goals and scoring only two points. He dominated as a penetrating distributor, dishing out 11 assists by halftime, several of which led to easy dunks or layups for Shawn Marion and Samuel Dalembert or wide-open 3s for Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter.
When the opportunities opened up for Ellis to score, he pounced, putting the Mavs on his back with his seventh double-digit fourth-quarter point total of the season.
Ellis wasn’t going to let the Mavs lose this game.
Wayne’s work: The Mavs signed Wayne Ellington with the belief that he’d provide strong perimeter defense and solid 3-point shooting off the bench. He’s been a highly paid cheerleader for most of the season, but that appears to be changing.
Ellington, who has more DNP-CDs than 3-pointers made this season, got significant playing time for the second straight game and took advantage of his minutes against the Pistons. Ellington had seven points on 2-of-3 shooting, two rebounds, two assists and a steal in 16 minutes.
The playing time for Ellington is coming at the expense of Jae Crowder, who didn’t get off the bench for the first time this season. That leaves Ellis as the only Mav who has played every game this season.
Reunion Arena reunion: The timing of the Mavs' lone visit of the season to Detroit was fortuitous for two old friends. Former Mavs assistant coach Scott Roth, who forged a close bond with Nowitzki during Dirk's early seasons as a member of Don Nelson's first coaching staff with the Mavs, was just hired by Detroit this week to hop onto the bench beside Pistons interim coach John Loyer and serve as Nowitzki's welcoming committee at The Palace.
The Dallas Mavericks moved to 11 games over .500 with a 113-102 win over the Detroit Pistons.
How it happened: Dirk Nowitzki had a routine night for him and three other Mavs starters had double-doubles.
Nowitzki scored 24 points on 9-of-19 shooting, but Monta Ellis stepped up as the Mavs’ closer. Ellis scored 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter, as Dallas slammed the door on a Detroit squad that made a third-quarter run to pull within four points.
Ellis served as a facilitator for most of the game, matching his season high with 13 assists. He was 5-of-9 from the floor and committed only two turnovers.
Shawn Marion (10 points, 11 rebounds) and Samuel Dalembert (12 points, 11 rebounds) had their eighth and third double-doubles of the season, respectively. They were the key to the Mavs winning the rebounding battle against the Pistons, who feature one of the NBA’s biggest frontcourts.
The Mavs overcame a season-high 32-point performance by Pistons forward Josh Smith. Smith was 14-of-20 from the floor but failed to score in the fourth quarter.
What it means: The Mavs improved to 34-23 with their ninth win in 12 games and have a two-game cushion over ninth-place Memphis with the Grizzlies losing Saturday night in Charlotte. Dallas is 16-14 on the road and 17-8 against the Eastern Conference after sweeping the back-to-back in Philadelphia and Detroit. The Pistons, the East’s ninth-place team, dropped to 23-33.
Play of the game: Smith blew by Marion at the left elbow and threw down a tomahawk dunk over DeJuan Blair despite being fouled. The and-1 bucket midway through the third quarter offered a glimpse of the elite athleticism the Pistons’ overpaid forward possesses and sparked a 7-0 Detroit run that sliced the Mavs’ lead to six.
Stat of the night: Smith’s performance marked the third straight game the Mavs have allowed a season-high scoring night to an opposing forward, joining Miami’s LeBron James (42 points) and Philadelphia’s Thaddeus Young (30).
It isn’t often that an NBA team can commit 17 turnovers in the first half and live to tell about it, much less have a halftime lead.
The Mavs still managed to cruise to a 124-112 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, overcoming their sloppy ballhandling with outstanding shooting and an awful opponent.
"We expected it to be 48 minutes of hell with them chasing the ball all over the place," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle told reporters. "We knew that ball security was going to be an important part of it. The first half was an unmitigated failure in that area. The second half [was] much better. We were able to get some separation and finish it."
The Mavs finished with 25 turnovers, their most since a Dec. 2012 double-overtime loss to the Boston Celtics. They could get away with that against a short-handed Sixers team, which had only eight available players while extending its losing streak to 10 straight games a night after trading away two starters.
To put in perspective how unusual this was, the Mavs' last victory in which they committed at least 25 turnovers occurred in Nov. 1994, and that win over the Chicago Bulls came in overtime. You have to go all the way back to a Dec. 1988 win over the San Antonio Spurs to find a 25-plus-turnover win for the Mavs in regulation.
Then again, it’s pretty rare to shoot 62.3 percent, as the Mavs did against the Sixers, with the basket looking especially big for forwards Dirk Nowitzki (25 points, 9-of-12 shooting) and Shawn Marion (22 points, 11-of-14 shooting). Dallas hadn’t shot so well in a game since a Nov. 2009 rout of the Houston Rockets.
And it’s been more than a decade since the Mavs racked up at least 39 assists, as they did against Philadelphia, led by point guard Jose Calderon’s 10 dimes. That’s the most in a game by the Mavs since a Nov. 2003 win over the New Orleans Hornets.
"When we were actually able to get into our set in the half court," Marion said on the Mavs’ television broadcast, "we were able to do anything we wanted to do."
That tends to happen against the Sixers, the league’s last-ranked defensive team.
The Dallas Mavericks pulled away for a 124-112 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night at Wells Fargo Center.
How it happened: The Mavs forced themselves to work harder than they should have to against a tanking team with only eight available players.
The Mavs were never in any serious jeopardy of becoming the first team to lose to the Sixers in February, but Dallas’ 25 turnovers allowed Philadelphia to hang around a lot longer than such an inferior foe should against a playoff-caliber team.
When the Mavs managed to protect the ball, scoring came extremely easy. Dallas, led by its starting-forward tandem, shot 62.3 percent from the floor.
Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavs with 25 points in 27 minutes, going 9-of-12 from the floor and 5-of-7 from 3-point range. Shawn Marion scored 22 points on 11-of-14 shooting. DeJuan Blair added 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting off the bench.
The Sixers, whose focus all season has been building for the future, were especially short-handed after trading away two starters before Thursday’s deadline. Philadelphia got big games from two of its three remaining starters, with Thaddeus Young's putting up 30 points, 13 rebounds, seven steals and six assists and Michael Carter-Williams's going for 25 points and six assists.
But the Sixers need a whole lot of help to get a win, much more than the sloppy Mavs gave them in this game.
What it means: It wasn’t an impressive win, but it counts the same for the Mavs, who remain in eighth place in the Western Conference. The Mavs (33-23) improved to 15-14 away from the American Airlines Center, giving them a winning road record for the first time this season. The Sixers’ 10th consecutive loss dropped their record to 15-41, crushing their hopes of having a winning season.
Play of the game: Nowitzki knocked down a 3-pointer from the right wing at the third-quarter buzzer to stretch the Mavs’ lead back to 12. After getting a defensive rebound with 3.8 seconds on the clock, Devin Harris pushed the ball up the floor and fired a cross-court pass to Nowitzki, who caught and released just in time to get the shot off before the buzzer. That bucket made Nowitzki 5-of-5 from 3-point range in the game.
Stat of the night: The Mavs committed 17 turnovers by halftime, the most by any team in a first half this season.
“I’m not interested in hearing about the records, OK?” Carlisle said, cutting off a question about the inferior competition on the Mavericks’ three-game road trip that begins Friday night in Philadelphia.
The three Eastern Conference also-rans the Mavs will face over the next four nights are a combined 47 games under .500. The Philadelphia 76ers (15-40) have a worse record than every team in the league except the Milwaukee Bucks. The Detroit Pistons are 22-32. The New York Knicks are 21-33.
The 76ers are in much worse shape than their record indicates, as miserable as that might be. They’ve lost their last nine games by an average margin of 21.2 points and traded away 40 percent of their starting lineup before Thursday’s deadline.
“All these teams are fighting for something,” Carlisle said. “I can guarantee you on Friday night Philly’s going to be fighting their ass off to get a win at home. Detroit’s fighting to stay in the playoff picture there, and New York’s fighting to be in the playoff picture as well.
“We’ve already lost one game to New York. They’ve got a lot of talent there. Detroit’s got talent and Philly’s got talent, too. There’s no game on our schedule that’s an easy game.”
However, for a Mavs team that has won six of its last eight games, nothing short of a sweep would qualify as a success on this East Coast swing.
The Mavs, who sit in eighth place in the West standings, a game ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies and a game behind the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns, can’t afford to lose any games to lesser teams. And that means they can’t afford to let their guard down against anybody.
“Hopefully we can keep it going on this trip against three teams that we’re supposed to beat but are dangerous,” Dirk Nowitzki said, adding that young, athletic teams that “junk it up” like the Sixers tend to give the Mavs trouble. “We just showed in Charlotte that we’re not good enough to just show up and make a couple of shots. We’ve got to compete. We’ve got to be solid defensively and rebound, and then I like our chances on this trip.”
The 25-point loss to the Bobcats on Feb. 11 is still fresh in the Mavs’ minds. A 112-97 loss to the Sacramento Kings with just-traded-for Rudy Gay watching from a Sleep Train Arena luxury suite on Dec. 9 is another reminder about the danger of sleeping on any foe, no matter how overmatched they appear to be on paper.
Oh, and the Sixers gave the Mavs a scare during their November trip to Dallas despite Rookie of the Year candidate Michael Carter-Williams sitting out with a sore foot.
“We’re going up against a team that’s desperate, which they were last time they were in here and we were playing from behind the whole game,” Carlisle said. “We’re also going against our own ability to improve on where we are. We’ve got to set the bar high and we’ve got to really work to meet those standards.
“If we keep high standards and keep our concentration and focus, we’re going to keep getting better and have a chance to move up. If we don’t, it’s going to be very hard on us.”
As is the norm, the Mavs explored every potential opportunity in recent weeks. If a player’s name has been mentioned in trade rumors, it’s safe to assume the Mavs inquired about him.
But Dallas’ talks never approached a serious stage with any team, as no potential proposal made sense for the Mavs to undergo a major roster shakeup.
“When you talk about some of the names that were out there, the numbers were so high that you’ve got to put together two, three, sometimes four pieces to get into those conversations,” Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said. “For us, the nucleus is there to have a nice push for the second half. When you do make changes, even if it’s at the end of the roster, it takes a certain period of time to bring guys in. In the West, it’s so thick from top to bottom, you bring new guys in and drop a couple, three games here, it could be the difference in making it or not.
“We definitely did not want to do anything that was lateral. We weren’t afraid to do something if it took us to the next level, but that ultimately did not present itself.”
For example, the Mavs had preliminary discussions with the Cleveland Cavaliers about small forward Luol Deng, a playoff-tested veteran with an expiring contract who will likely be one of Dallas’ top targets this summer.
The problem with dealing for Deng, who has a $14.3 million salary, is that the Mavs would almost certainly have had to give up Shawn Marion along with another player or two, plus possibly a second-round pick.
A Deng-for-Marion swap would make sense this summer when both are free agents due to the difference in their ages, but not necessarily with only 27 games to go and the Mavs in the middle of a fight for one of the West’s final few playoff spots. Marion is an integral part of the Mavs’ chemistry and rotation and has been in Rick Carlisle’s system for five years. Deng would have to learn on the fly while adjusting to new teammates and surroundings.
The Mavs weren’t scared away by Deng’s contract uncertainty. They just didn’t see such a deal improving their team immediately.
Dirk Nowitzki, the 12-time All-Star who has more than held his own with the aging process, knows that as well as anyone.
It’s a stretch to say Nowitzki has struggled down the stretch since then, but he has if judged by his Hall of Fame standards. At 35, sometimes the legs simply don’t work the way he wants late in games.
“I think it’s just stamina,” Nowitzki said. “You’ve got to attack all game. Then, yeah, maybe your legs are not quite as good as they were 10 years ago.”
Nowitzki’s field goal percentage in the fourth quarter this season (44.1) is his lowest in any frame by a significant margin. Nowitzki has run out of gas in a handful of games in which the Mavs blew big leads, making only four of 24 shots in the floor in the fourth quarter and an overtime period in losses to the Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors and twice to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Nowitzki is scoring in the clutch at a more than respectable clip of 39.2 points per 48 minutes. That’s up from the last two seasons, when Nowitzki dealt with knee problems and related conditioning issues. But his efficiency (40.4 field goal percentage, including 1-of-10 from 3-point range) in those situations this is far from his norm.
“Whatever [the numbers] are, it’s not a whole year sample,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I would reserve judgment until we play the whole year and see what they are then.
“We’re going to have a whole lot more close games, and he’s going to have the ball in his hands. There are times when teams get it out of his hands, and in those situations we got to have other guys make plays.”
That’s one conclusion reached by owner Mark Cuban as the Mavericks do their annual due diligence of exploring any possible opportunities to upgrade their roster. It confirms what the Mavs have learned over the last couple of years.
“Teams really value picks more than they used to,” said Cuban, who has used picks as sweeteners in trades in the past, such as the Jason Kidd deal. “Teams now value receiving picks a lot more than they used to, so I think teams would rather not do a deal than do a deal without picks.
“Teams have kind of defined their strategy post-CBA where you either went all in and the team you’ve got is the team you’ve got [or] you went all under and you’re going young and you’re mining for draft picks. What I call the three years away from three years away strategy. Then there’s teams like us that are looking to make deals, that are flexible but aren’t willing to give up picks.”
Never mind willing. The Mavs aren’t able to give up any first-round picks before 2020 because of the top-20-protected pick they owe from the dreadful Lamar Odom deal that is now owed to Oklahoma City.
That makes it awfully tough for the Mavs to get any significant conversations started. Cuban says there are ways around it, methods the Mavs could use to be able to peddle picks, but he declined to elaborate. Suffice to say, it wouldn’t be simple or easy.
Gutierrez: It really depends on the opponent they draw in the first round. I think it’s incredibly low, hovering around 15-20 percent, if they end up having to face Oklahoma City or San Antonio in the first round. That’s why it’s incredibly important for them to hold on to the sixth spot in the West. If they hold on and face someone like the Trail Blazers or Rockets, I still don’t put them as a favorite to win a series, but I will say their chances improve dramatically. As of right now, putting a percentage on it, I’d say it hovers around 30-40 percent in terms of odds to win a series if they are the sixth seed in the West.
Taylor: Considering the Mavs seem destined to finish sixth, seventh or eighth in the West, I'd say the odds of the Mavs winning a playoff series are about 10 percent. Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Houston each have such good offenses that it would be difficult for the Mavs to win a series against any of those three teams. The Mavs' defense is so bad overall that it would be difficult to shut down either of those three teams and win a series. The Mavs won't make it easy, and their first-round opponent will have to do some work but the real question is whether the Mavs could win more than two games in a first-round series.
MacMahon: I’d give the Mavs a puncher’s chance against Portland or Houston, but that’s it as far as potential playoff foes. And it doesn’t look likely that either of those teams will be a top-three seed. If the Mavs get matched up with the Thunder or Spurs, the question isn’t whether the Mavs can win the series. It’s whether they can win a playoff game for the first time since the title-clincher in Miami.
2. Where will the Mavs finish in the West standings?
Taylor: The Mavs dropped from sixth to eighth with one loss. I'd say when the season ends they're going to be seventh. The biggest task for the Mavs is to beat the teams they're supposed to beat. They can't really afford any more losses to the dredges of the league.
MacMahon: I’ve been surprised by two things on this subject over the last couple of months. I expected Phoenix to fade and Golden State to make a push for a top-four seed. The Suns have held strong despite Eric Bledsoe’s absence, and the Warriors have been the West’s biggest underachievers. The Mavs’ playoff seed -- and let’s not just dismiss the possibility of the Grizzlies grabbing a spot from one of these teams -- could come down to tie-breakers with the Suns and Warriors. The Mavs have split with the Warriors so far and still see them at home and on the road. They are 1-1 against the Suns, whose only remaining meeting with the Mavs is April 12 in Dallas. As tight as the West is, that could be the difference between a sixth seed and a lottery pick. I’ll wager on the Mavs finishing seventh.
3. Who is the biggest X factor for the Mavs the rest of the season?
Gutierrez: I’m not really sure how it’s not Samuel Dalembert. It’s an exaggeration to say that this team can score in its sleep, but they’re really efficient on the offensive end of the floor. That means that the emphasis continues to be place on the defensive end of the floor. Dallas continues to be a dramatically different team when they have an active and motivated Dalembert. Rick Carlisle and the players will openly tell you that things are different when he plays well. If he can bring any form on positive and consistent play for the final stretch of the season, Dallas has a chance to sustain its pace. That said, it’s a dangerous proposition to depend on the enigmatic center.
Taylor: It pains me to say this because he hasn't earned our trust, but Samuel Dalembert is the Mavs' X factor. There is noticeable difference in the way the Mavs defend when he's on the court and playing well. The problem, of course, is that we never know when that's going to happen. We know what almost every other player gives the Mavs on a nightly basis. We have no idea what Dalembert will do.
MacMahon: OK, this one was a layup with Dalembert, but I’ll discuss another X factor: Vince Carter. The Mavs are a tough team to beat when Carter brings efficient scoring off the bench. Dallas is 14-6 when Carter shoots at least 45 percent from the floor this season. Conversely, they’re 10-13 when he shoots less than 35 percent. The Mavs’ biggest challenge is being able to hold their ground when Dirk sits down. For better or worse, Carter is a huge part of that.
Then again, the Mavs’ title a few seasons ago at the Miami Heat’s expense helped create this monster.
“This team has been a reason why I am the player that I am today, because they beat us,” James said after putting on a 42-point, nine-rebound, six-assist show in the Heat’s 117-106 victory Tuesday night on the Mavs’ home floor. “When they beat us, I went into a place I haven’t been before in a long time. I went back to the fundamentals of the game. I went into breaking down every aspect of my game to get better, because I didn’t perform at the level I knew I could have or should have during those Finals.
“The Mavericks are probably the reason why I am who I am today.”
That’s a force that the Mavs simply can’t reckon with, especially not when James is knocking down jumpers.
That was the case Tuesday night, when James was 16-of-23 from the floor and hit half of his eight 3-point attempts.
Somebody on the Mavs’ bench yapped at James in the third quarter, telling him he wasn’t going to hit another 3. Well, this isn’t 2011, when Jason Terry and DeShawn Stevenson talked trash to James and lived to tell about it. The four-time MVP knocked down 3s on back-to-back possession during his personal 8-0 run in the fourth quarter, tying the score with the first and giving the Heat the lead for good with the second.
Dirk Nowitzki, the best player in the world during the 2011 playoffs. “I mean, if he shoots the ball like that, you can’t guard him.”
You sure can’t guard James if he’s uncontested in transition. A spectacular finish is guaranteed in that situation. That’s how James got his first couple of buckets in this game, starting with a half-court alley-oop from Dwyane Wade that got a crowd littered with lifelong (ha!) Heat fans buzzing.
“When we turned it over, he was gone,” said Shawn Marion, the only other Mav remaining from the 2011 Finals roster and Dallas’ primary defender on James, calling James a "freak of nature" and "a train" when he gets in transition. “He’s one of the fastest guys in the league in the open court. After his fourth open-court dunk, I guess the basket starts to look a little bit bigger for him. He starts trying to pull 3s and he hit some. It just opened the game up.”
That’s been the norm for James against the Mavs since his Finals failure.
The American Airlines Center was a house of horrors for James in that series. He averaged only 14 points on 31.8 percent shooting in three games here during that series.
His three visits to Dallas since then? All James has done is put up 34.3 points per outing while shooting 65.5 percent in three double-digit Heat wins.
Not that the Mavs have had much more success slowing down James in Miami over the last few seasons. His numbers are nearly as impressive (30 ppg, 61.1 field goal percentage) in the Heat’s three home wins over Dallas since the Mavs chugged champagne in Miami.
James had 39 points on 14-of-18 shooting in a Nov. 15 win over the Mavs in Miami. That was his season-high scoring total until this meeting with the Mavs.
“He is great and we know he is great,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “He scored a bundle of points on us last time and he was even better tonight.”
Dallas, starting with Marion and the Mavs’ coaching staff, deserves immense credit for making James look like a mere mortal when the stakes were highest. The living legend seems determined to never, ever let that happen again.
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