There are now 10 games left in the Dallas Mavericks' season. It's the stretch run, the surge for No. 2, and other assorted basketball slogans that seem appropriate in the middle of March Madness. But as pumped as I am for all this, the Mavs in real time took a back seat to the NCAA tournament Thursday night, and I'm so happy I made that decision. Thursday night gave me some moments of pure roundball elation but also left me feeling a little empty.
The following WIA is a semi-coherent, Mavs-centered run down of seven hours of hoop spit out at 1 a.m. and all made possible by mad DVR action.
The Mavs lost to Portland for the third time this season. They'll get 'em once more before it's all said and done, but I can't imagine they want any part of those guys in the first round. Portland is now tied with San Antonio at the bottom of the bracket. The Mavs are now in a three-way tie with Denver and Utah (which owns the season series against Dallas) for the No. 2 seed. Minor hiccups are no longer minor.
I thought Portland's second half defense was simply outstanding. Dallas had to make a ton of tough shots. I thought Dallas' D was better in the second than it was in the first, but they didn't match Portland's level. Especially down the stretch when the Blazers were just smothering.
I'd like to see Roddy B play more too, I just don't know at what point in this game I would have put him in or whose minutes he should've taken.
The night was a blur, so I can't be 100 percent sure that I'm remembering this right, but it seems like I flipped over to the Heat/Bulls game during a commercial late in the Butler-Syracuse game and Chicago was down by 70. Kenny "The Jet" Smith was promoting great stuff to be consumed at NBA.com. I've never wanted to visit a Web site less. I flipped it back in time to see the ubiquitous Luke Wilson nonchalantly pitch me better cell phone coverage.
Speaking of Butler-Cuse, I was impressed that Butler was able to hang in there and get the lead back after relinquishing it with a few minutes to go. When Cuse came storming back to take control, I thought it was curtains. But Butler played like the No. 1 seed at winning time.
The Charles Barkley mic bit was funny. I like how everyone involved in TNT coverage takes turns kicking each other in the crotch. Except for Reggie Miller. He just seems to always be on the receiving end. He should figure out a way to work Spike Lee into the mix.
Back to the Mavs. Caron Butler was benched at the start of the third quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night for not getting back on D. He's shown a tendency towards lingering to air his grievance after he's felt like he didn't get a call he wanted. And sometimes he doesn't get out in transition and run like is required on this team. I thought he had a great fourth quarter playing the 4 spot against the Clippers and an even better effort Thursday night from tip to buzzer in Portland. His toughness and scoring is sorely needed. But the sustained effort has to be there. Maybe the benching tripped the alarm. Which brings us to ...
Brendan Haywood didn't start for the second straight game, and for the second straight game he was a big contributor. Is coming off the bench a motivational factor to keep Haywood on his toes after several sub-par games during the Mavs recent struggles? Not sure. Seems to be the most logical reason. One potential theory thrown down by an astute Mavs observer I know -- Big Damp wins more of his tips than Haywood does. Seems like a small deal, and surely they wouldn't change their starting lineup simply for that reason. But if it motivates Haywood and they get the rock to start the game and the fourth, it could be the two birds with one stone routine.
And finally, you will be hard-pressed to find better guard play in a college basketball game than what was thrown down by both teams in the phenomenal Kansas State-Xavier classic. It's generally shoddy guard play that keeps a college game from being good -- but as unbelievable as Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen were for the Wildcats, Terrell Holloway and Jordan Crawford may have been better in a loss. Clutch bucket after clutch bucket -- so very tasty. Simply put, one of the best college basketball games I've ever seen.
As for the Mavs, these dudes better beat the Warriors on Saturday -- and that's where it's at.