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Monday, November 8, 2010
Fourth-quarter dead zone short on solutions

By Jeff Caplan

DALLAS -- Jason Terry stated the obvious. The Dallas Mavericks got predictable on offense in the fourth quarter. And so after another excruciatingly dull final 12 minutes netted five more points (13) than turnovers (eight) in Saturday's 103-92 home loss to the Denver Nuggets, Terry wasn't telling Dirk Nowitzki anything he didn't know.

"That’s nothing new. That’s nothing new," Nowitzki said Sunday of the Mavs' gnashing late-game halfcourt sets. "We've got to try to play with movement...Yeah, some of the stuff they [the Nuggets] were sitting on it and made it hard for us. They were physical and we really had nothing going there in really the whole second half."

Nowitzki and Terry combined for 48 of 79 points after three quarters. They'd finish with 49 as both went 0-for-4 from the floor in the fourth. Five of Nowitzki's seven turnovers came in the quarter as he unsuccessfully tried to force his way out of double-teams and Al Harrington's tight coverage.

"Sometimes I think I forced some issues [Saturday] because I didn’t see anything going; turned the ball over too much," Nowitzki said. "Instead of keep doing what we’re doing and getting easy shots, pushing it, getting good looks, sometimes we’re just forcing it. The game’s going to slow down and then we still got to force ourselves to play a movement game and get everybody involved. It’s probably on us more than anything."

In their other home loss to youthful Memphis, the fourth quarter unraveled amid 10 turnovers as the Mavs did everything possible to fret away the lead while scoring  just 15 points.

Even in their three wins, the fourth quarter hasn't exactly been money time. The Mavs are averaging 20 points and haven't topped 21 in any of their first five games. If that trend continues tonight against the 6-1 Boston Celtics -- 92-83 winners Sunday at Oklahoma City -- it could spell big trouble as Dallas looks to end a two-game home skid.

"We’ve got to do a better job of finishing games in the fourth," coach Rick Carlisle said. "We worked hard to get the lead [Saturday] night in the third. We had it at six, [then] three or four empty possessions and they were able to get some momentum. That’s a big part of playing good teams is being able to, when you get momentum, is carry it forward. And when you have struggles being able to get it back."

The fourth-quarter dead zone is a worrisome carry-over from last season, most notably from the first-round playoff loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

The Mavs averaged about 90 points a game in the series. They're currently averaging 96.8 points, 24th in a league in which 14 teams are averaging at least 100 points. They've yet to face a defense as formidable or as committed as the Celtics. 

So what's the answer to fourth-quarter futility? Nowitzki suggested the Mavs' best hope remains in street clothes, his healing left foot still stuck in a boot: Roddy Beaubois.

"I think he’s the one kind of player that brings some unpredicatableness about his game – if that’s a word, unpredictableness," Nowitzki said. "He has that type of game where he can run and push and pull up and just make things happen really out of nothing."

Beaubois' return still appears weeks away. With or without him, it is perplexing why All-Stars and former All-Stars can't successfully run halfcourt sets late in games when they need a bucket. Nowitzki envisions Beaubois as a shot of B-12, a flash of electricty that can space defenses, beat his man one-on-one, create, drive and splash 3s. Aspects woefully in short supply on the active roster.

"We all know I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on Roddy because he’s been showing that he can be that guy," Nowitzki said. "But then again, we’ll just have to see. It’s only his second year. He’s going to make some mistakes, but him coming back, that means Jet is coming back to the bench and our bench will get automatically better by moving Jet back because they’ve been struggling producing points when the starters are out. So, just by getting Roddy back our bench should take a notch up."

Owner Mark Cuban said Beaubois won't play until he's fully healthy. Nowitzki clearly hopes Beaubois returns sooner rather than later. Until then, solutions in short supply early will have to come from within.

Nowitzki reiterated that the Mavs' offense functions more smoothly on the move, but he rightfully noted that it's tough to run when the defense is giving up open 3s to an opposing offense that's consistently knocking them down, as the Nuggets did.

"We’re  best when we’re on the move, when we run, get stops," Nowitzki said. "But, obviously it’s tough to be on the move when you take the ball out and they shoot 3s every time down, and then you’ve got to come down and slow it down and try to make something happen. That’s sometimes tough. We’re best when we get stops and get the ball on the run. That’s when we’re tough to guard."