My Wednesday night TV duties included a postgame interview, and towards the end of the game, Mavs PR honcho Sarah Melton asked if we wanted the Big German -- and it made sense to me. But when I got back to the locker room, she mentioned that Dirk Nowitzki wasn’t particularly into chattin’ it up on this night.
No worries, we’ll roll with Caron Butler. He’d just set up shop at the free throw line, going 14-of-16 from the stripe on his way to 27 points. I told the boys in the booth there’d be a change of plans and I started focusing on what to ask Caron.
But when it was go-time, Dirk came strolling out of the locker room, head down, looking over a box score that genuinely irritated him. Dirk’s a stand-up guy, and he wasn’t going to skip out on a post-victory interview despite some numbers that really bugged him. It wasn’t a good interview. Dirk was unhappy and it clearly came across. And I thought it was very cool.
The Mavs had their full complement of guys for the first time since the OKC loss immediately following "The Trade" that changed the course of this season. Before the game I’d asked coach Rick Carlisle if the defensive slip we’d seen over the back half of the streak and the ridiculous home loss to the Knicks were more a function of adapting to the injuries (i.e. small ball) or had the team gone astray of what Carlisle insists is their true identity -- defend and run? He started talking about the necessity of bringing a more assertive defensive disposition. And this is No. 1 reason for the slow starts. When the Mavs “D” up from the jump, things are good. When they don’t, hello New York and New Jersey.
On Wednesday night, they started with the right defensive disposition. And they ate the poor Bulls’ lunch. The Mavs were up 64-44 at the half as Jason Kidd didn’t have to play a single second in the second quarter. Their 17 fast-break points underscored the mantra -- contest, clear and get the rock out. The lead was still 16 after three, and J-Kidd was ready to ice his knees.
And then the D fell apart.
The Mavs still won, but their defensive lapses in the fourth obscured any of the early style points they’d tallied. Brendan Haywood was visibly upset for several minutes following a disagreement with Dirk over who was supposed to rotate on an easy Hakim Warrick dunk. The Mavericks weren’t all on the same page on the defensive end of the floor and it showed. And there was no Kidd to bail them out this time.
Fortunately for Dallas, “JJ was the one who really saved” the Mavs in the fourth, as Dirk said after the game. But that was on the offensive end. A.C. Law had his way with Barea in the fourth, and had JJ not returned the pressure when he had the rock, Law’s night would have been a much bigger story. And Dirk knew the truth. You could hear it in his tone, see it in his shoulders, and it was clearly evident in his answers on how the night unfolded. This wasn’t contender ball from tip to buzzer.
A win is a win. And Dallas has a lot of those this season, especially lately. But if a concerted 48-minute defensive effort doesn’t become the norm by playoff time, the norm will be moping about poor defensive nights during postgame losses as opposed to concerns after victories over sub-.500 Eastern Conference fodder.
And that's Where It's At ...