Dallas Mavericks: Gregg Popovich
The reality, however, is that Dallas’ 12-year postseason streak is on its deathbed.
Really, there shouldn’t be any shame to that. It was a remarkable run that featured 11 50-win seasons, two Finals appearances and one title. All great things must come to an end.
Granted, the San Antonio Spurs might be an exception to that. They’re about to win 50 games for the 14th consecutive season. The last time the Spurs failed to win at least 50, they celebrated the first of their four NBA titles, parading down the RiverWalk after Tim Duncan’s lockout-shortened sophomore season.
It’s been a hard fall for the Mavs over the past 21 months. They’ve gone from the NBA penthouse, popping a $90,000 champagne bottle in a Miami Beach club while celebrating the franchise’s first title, to the Lone Star State cellar.
And the Mavs have their work cut out for them if they’re going to catch the Rockets, much less the Spurs, anytime soon.
The Spurs' ability to sustain excellence is unparalleled in today’s NBA. That will be tested when Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili call it a career, but it’d be foolish to doubt a franchise with the league’s best coach (Gregg Popovich) working with a brilliant front office.
The Rockets, who have won only one playoff series since two-time champion Hakeem Olajuwon left town, appear poised to soar again soon.
After three frustrating years of being better than .500 but not good enough to make the playoffs, Houston general manager Daryl Morey made a breakthrough move just before this season started. He acquired the bearded face of the franchise, James Harden, in a blockbuster deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The 23-year-old Harden, who is averaging 26.3 points and 5.7 assists per game, has proved to be a legitimate superstar after getting out of the shadows of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. He’s surrounded by a good, young supporting cast that is locked into reasonable contracts (26-year-old center Omer Asik and 24-year-old point guard Jeremy Lin) or rookie deals (small forward Chandler Parsons, power forward Donatas Motiejunas, power forward Thomas Robinson, etc.).
And the Rockets will have the cap space to be major players in free agency again this summer, when they can potentially acquire a co-star for Harden.
Of course, there are no guarantees for Houston, which will have to fight to stay in the playoff picture with the Los Angeles Lakers making a charge. There have been many young teams that looked great on paper that fizzled out, but Houston has an excellent plan and has already executed several steps.
The Mavs, on the other hand, have a plan that has been publicly questioned by its superstar, the lone player on the roster who is a sure bet to still be a Dallas resident in two years. As Dirk Nowitzki has said several times, this is a big summer for the Mavs.
Much work must be done for the Mavs to approach the high standard they established over the past dozen years.
This isn’t a franchise that will be satisfied to fight for eighth place in the West or settle for third place in the state of Texas.
By all indications, that series might be just as brief as last season’s sweep at the hands of the Mavs’ other Interstate 35 neighbors, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Don’t be fooled by Friday night’s final score. This loss was a lot more lopsided than 113-107 indicates.
In fact, it looked a lot like the previous two Dallas-San Antonio meetings this season, except Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich didn’t contribute to the Spurs’ dominance this time.
The Spurs’ lead swelled to as large as 26 points during the third quarter, and it remained in double digits until the Mavs’ 11-0 garbage-time run. So this game fit right in with the pair of punkings the Mavs got from the Spurs in December, when San Antonio led by as many as 46 and 25 points in routs.
“It’s frustrating,” said Mavs forward Shawn Marion, who had a rough night Friday with only two points and four rebounds. “They have our number. It is what it is.”
Added Dirk Nowitzki, who had 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting in 34 minutes: “They beat us three times, pretty handily all three. It’s not like one of them was close. I guess you can say that if you want.”
The Mavs would rather not say it –- and Darren Collison bristled a bit about the subject -– but they haven’t been able to do much about it.
After four days of rest, the Mavs got off to a miserable offensive start, shooting only 36.7 percent in the first half. That, however, was far from their biggest problem.
The Spurs scored with ease, even with Duncan (knee) staying in San Antonio and his All-Star pal Tony Parker missing a chunk of the first half after catching an elbow that opened a cut above his left eye and required three stitches to close.
Parker ended up doing plenty of damage, scoring 23 points and dishing out 10 assists while consistently punishing the Mavs off pick-and-rolls. He took over the third quarter, when he had seven points and six assists while the Spurs lit it up for 35 points.
And Parker had plenty of company. Seven Spurs scored in double figures, led by reserve forward/center DeJuan Blair’s 22 points on 10-of-13 shooting in 19 minutes. Starting center Tiago Splitter scored 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
“It’s hard to overcome layup after layup,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “That’s what happened. We weren’t good enough.”
That’s been the case every time the Mavs have seen the Spurs this season.
Tony Parker and San Antonio’s role players took care of business in Dallas while the Spurs’ star big man (knee) and coach (sick) rested.
Parker had 23 points and 10 assists despite missing most of the first quarter after requiring three stitches to close several cuts above his left eye. He was especially dominant during the third quarter, scoring seven points and dishing out six assists while the Spurs’ lead swelled to as large as 26 points.
Reserve forward/center DeJuan Blair scored a season-high 22 points in 19 minutes to lead seven Spurs in double figures. Center Tiago Splitter added a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
The Mavs, sparked by Rodrigue Beaubois’ season-high 19 points, managed to trim San Antonio’s lead to 10 midway through the fourth quarter. The home team didn't get closer until the final minute, when the Mavs went on an 11-0 run to make this game look much more competitive than it really was.
What it means: Four days of rest obviously didn’t do the Mavs much good. Their run of five wins in six games seems like a long time ago after this rout. With the Rockets beating the Hornets, the 18-25 Mavs fell four games back in the battle for the West’s eighth seed. Dallas is 5-17 against opponents who are .500 or better.
Play of the game: After a botched Mavs fast break, the Spurs had a more successful transition possession. Kawhi Leonard hit trailer Boris Diaw, who took a couple of dribbles into the lane, got Dirk Nowitzki to commit to him and delivered a beautiful, behind-the-back feed to Splitter for a reverse layup. The bucket extended the Spurs’ lead to 25 with a little less than seven minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Stat of the night: Beaubois had more points in this game than he did during the entire month of December (15).
|Rick Carlisle joins Galloway & Company to talk about the Mavericks' four-day break and Delonte West signing with the Texas Legends. |
The Spurs announced that power forward Tim Duncan and coach Gregg Popovich did not make the trip to Dallas and won't participate in Friday night's game at the American Airlines Center.
The Spurs' release stated that Duncan, an all-time great who is averaging 17.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.7 blocks this season, is dealing with a sore left knee. Popovich is sick.
Now, he’s been back for a week and three games, and the nightly question is: When is Dirk going to play like Dirk?
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle urged everyone to exercise patience, which is a little difficult for fans when their team is 12-18 with a five-game losing streak.
“There shouldn’t be any evaluation until at least the middle of January,” Carlisle said before the Mavericks-Spurs game Sunday. “I don’t think anybody should analyze anything. This is a tedious process. And he’s not just back right now to play the games. He’s back to get his career to the point where he can play a few more years.”
Nowitzki has played 20, 26 and 18 minutes, respectively, in his three games back. He’s made only 8-of-23 field goal attempts while scoring 22 points.
“He’s working extremely hard every single day doing a lot of things,” Carlisle said, “so what I’m saying is, if the goal was just to play the last three games to the best of his abilities, the daily process would be a lot worse, but the long-term prospects wouldn’t be as good.
“In looking at this, I would discourage anybody from putting a lot of stock into the ups and downs that are going to be happening for the next two weeks. This is a time that’s very important. And at some point, he’ll hit a plateau where he’s going to feel like himself again. I don’t know when that’s going to happen. But I think daily analysis of what’s going on is kind of the wrong way to go.”
* Carlisle was asked about the challenge he currently has as a head coach. The Mavericks have not only lost five straight games, they also have been beaten by an average of 18 points.
With Nowitzki early in the process of trying to regain his All-Star form, Carlisle has a tough job of integrating Nowitzki into the lineup while also trying to get the rest of the team to play at a competitive level.
“Every day, you got to see the big picture and see that there are some positives, even though we’ve been losing games,” Carlisle said, “and just stay on the fundamentals and basics and keep preaching about team and sticking together. There’s nothing easy about a losing streak. I’ve been through my share of them. But experience has given me some perspective. I don’t like it. I think it’s something we have to take personally as a group to bust out of.”
* The Spurs were fined $250,000 earlier this month after head coach Gregg Popovich sent four players home instead of playing them in a nationally televised game in Miami.
Despite the severity of the penalty, Popovich said he has not received any word from the league on what he can and can’t do in the future.
“I don’t know what the guidelines are,” Popovich said. “I don’t know how you plan. I’m just going to do what I’ve been doing for 16-17 years, whatever it is. I’m mostly concerned with the health and safety of my players, especially the ones who are a little bit older. And when they need rest, I’m going to give it to them.”
The Spurs were in a stretch of playing four games in five nights and they had won the first three games. So Popovich sent Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green home. The Spurs had an important division matchup against Memphis two nights after Miami, so Popovich wanted the players to get rest.
But because the game was on TNT and a marquee matchup against the Heat, the league was upset that the Spurs chose to not be at full strength.
“Like I said, the league hasn’t come out with specific guidelines to follow on resting players or anything like that,” Popovich said. “So I don’t really know what the rules are. But given that we’ve been fined for it, I would assume that they’re probably thinking about it and working on it in some way shape or form. But I haven’t had any conversations with the league about it.”
Carlisle’s initial reaction when asked about the controversy was to distance himself from the situation.
“I’m not going to get into it because it’s not my business and I’ve got other, more important things to concentrate on,” Carlisle said.
However, after thinking it through, Carlisle weighed in on the issue with a thoughtful, carefully worded take.
“As President of the NBA Coaches Association, I am always going to work hard to protect coaches and decisions coaches make to protect their teams,” Carlisle wrote in a text message. “The NBA will undoubtedly examine all the facts before making any decision on this matter. The fact that San Antonio played such a great game and were in position to win with their depth is extremely impressive.”
With the Spurs in a stretch of four games in five nights, coach Gregg Popovich sent stars Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker along with key role player Danny Green home on a commercial flight Thursday to allow them to rest for Saturday's game against the West-leading Memphis Grizzlies. The Spurs lost to the Heat, 105-100, in a game that was in doubt during the final minute.
No. 4 San Antonio Spurs
Perhaps no team was lavished upon more last season than the Spurs for their ability to retool on the fly, adjust their on-court philosophy and still manage to remain a top contender. For the second consecutive season, the Spurs owned the West's best regular-season record and extended their string of 50-win seasons to 13 in a row despite the 66-game schedule. They swept the Jazz and Clippers and had a 2-0 lead in the West finals, appearing to be on their way for a shot at a fifth title in the Tim Duncan-Gregg Popovich era. But then the Oklahoma City Thunder rose up to win four in a row. Back to a normal 82-game season, Popovich will no doubt pace his team as he has as the Big Three of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili get older. The Spurs should again hit the 50-win mark, but last season's dominance seems unrealistic. Still, each new season seems to be the last of this group's window of opportunity, only until it's not. Here we go again.
@Spurs 93, Mavs 71
@Mavs 101, Spurs 100 (OT)
@Mavs 106, Spurs 99
@Spurs 104, Mavs 87
This season's games
Dec. 23: @ Spurs
Dec. 30: vs. Spurs
Jan. 25: vs. Spurs
March 14: @ Spurs
Much more with the Mavs than the Spurs, who bring back the Big Three for an 11th consecutive season after Tim Duncan re-upped for three more years. The supporting cast remains the same after the midseason maneuverings that brought back former Spur Stephen Jackson and added Parker's French buddy Boris Diaw. Another Frenchman, 25-year-old Nando Colo, a 6-foot-5 guard who played on the French Olympic team in London, joins the Spurs this season. He's another one of those late international picks San Antonio specializes in, taken 53rd overall in 2009. With the Big Three another year older, including Ginobili having turned 35 in July, the Spurs will rely on the continued improvement of guards Gary Neal and Danny Green and forwards Tiago Splitter and Kawhi Leonard, last season's rookie sensation in South Texas.
How the Mavs match up
The first thing that comes to mind is that Duncan will have to expend energy on defense like never before against the Mavs. San Antonio typically has gotten away with Duncan defending the Mavs' center, who, from Erick Dampier to DeSagana Diop to Brendan Haywood to Tyson Chandler and back to Haywood, has not been an offensive threat. So someone other than Duncan has mostly had the privilege of guarding Dirk Nowitzki. This season if, say, Diaw, draws Dirk, Duncan won't have the luxury of only casually defending the Mavs' center. He will now face Chris Kaman, a legitimate back-to-the-basket threat and the most offensively skilled of the Mavs' long list of 7-foot centers. From a Mavs defensive standpoint, new point guard Darren Collison brings needed speed to combat Parker's penetrations and shooting guard O.J. Mayo and Dahntay Jones will be better equipped to help defend Ginobili than the options -- mainly Shawn Marion -- the Mavs had last season.
No. 5: Denver Nuggets
|Mavs F Dirk Nowitzki says he's too old to stay with a rebuilding franchise but couldn't imagine himself leaving the city of Dallas. |
"I think San Antonio's going to do it, just because they've got one more home game," he said during Tuesday's appearance on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM's "Galloway & Company." "They really came on strong late in the season and they snatched home-court advantage away from OKC. So, I got to think just by that there is a little slight advantage. But honestly, both teams are good enough to win on the opponent's floor, so I would give a slight advantage to San Antonio, but, man, OKC is looking really good."
He should know. The Thunder rode the Mavs out of the first round in four games, handing Nowitzki the wrong side of the broom for the first time in his career.
Nowitzki's had his classic battles with the Spurs, including the amazing Game 7 in the 2006 semifinals that propelled Dallas to its first NBA Finals. It was a Spurs team that still included the Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, yet, as Nowitzki pointed out, it is an entirely different style of ball those boys are playing these days, and the reigning NBA Finals MVP says all credit goes to this season's Coach of the Year, Gregg Popovich.
"To me, he's the best coach in the league, he's a genius on both ends of the floor," Nowitzki said. "The adjustment that he goes through -- at the beginning they win all their championships with defense, and he saw where the game's going; the game is going to free-flowing and more movement, you need basically four shooters on the floor at all times, and he's the man, he made it all happen.
"With [general manager] R.C. Buford helping him, finding people left and right. I mean, they draft people in the second round that nobody gives them a shot and they turn them into players. They have an amazing franchise and they really do a great job finding people that play well in their system and Pop makes them believe in their system. They're really fun to watch, they're rolling."
Dirk said he's ready to get this series going now, but unfortunately we'll have to wait until the end of the weekend. So, he's got the Spurs getting back to the NBA Finals for the first time in five seasons, but he's looking for the thing to go the distance, strictly from an entertainment standpoint.
"It's going to be spectacular. Hopefully, it's going to be a long series and we can all watch some great basketball," Nowitzki said. "The whole thing is full of great matchups. Just off the bench with Ginobili and [James] Harden going at it, the two point guards, obviously [Russell] Westbrook was phenomenal against us all series, but Parker is having a phenomenal year, probably in the prime of his career and Duncan is still looking really good this year. And now they got another week off to rest everybody.
"So, it's going to be an incredible series to watch."
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and coach Rick Carlisle might not yet describe this lingering contract situation as a dispute, but the bottom line is that Carlisle has yet to ink a new deal. Neither side is talking about it, so it can only be assumed that money is a central issue.
Carlisle earned $4.5 million in the fourth and final year of his contract this past season. That ranked him seventh at the start of the season, according to Forbes, among the league's highest-paid coaches. Three of the top six on the list didn't make it out of the season. Mike D'Antonio ($6 million, tied with San Antonio's Gregg Popovich for second) resigned from the New York Knicks, Nate McMillan ($5.5 million, fourth) was fired by the Portland Trail Blazers and Flip Saunders ($4.8 million, sixth) was fired by the Washington Wizards.
According to Forbes, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers is the highest-paid coach in the NBA, earning $7 million this season. He's in his 13th season as a head coach and eighth with the Celtics, who hold a 1-0 lead on the Philadelphia 76ers in the East semifinals. Rivers and the Celtics won the 2008 championship and returned to the Finals in 2010, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games.
Is Carlisle looking for Rivers-type money? Or perhaps the $6 million that Popovich, a four-time championship coach, is pocketing this season? The NBA's Coach of the Year has the Spurs in the West semifinals on the heels of a first-round sweep.
In Carlisle's third season in Dallas, he molded a group of title-less veterans into unexpected champions, providing Cuban and the franchise with its first title. While the Miami Heat, the team the Mavs dispatched in the NBA Finals in six games, rewarded coach Erik Spoelstra with an extension in December prior to the start of the season, Carlisle's reward never came.
Cuban dismantled the title team and the season was a struggle from start to finish. Dallas ended it 36-30 in the regular season and then was swept out of the first round by the Oklahoma City Thunder under coach Scott Brooks, who is also coming to the end of his contract and will command a bigger payday.
Cuban claims it's simply not his business style to grant extensions (the 2006 extension he gave Avery Johnson backfired). But now that the season is over and still no deal exists, it figures that either the two sides are negotiating a workable salary or that Carlisle, who would be a hot commodity as a free agent, is keeping his options open.
After all, the Mavs' future, in terms of its roster as Dirk Nowitzki turns 34 in June, is as unsettled as ever in Cuban's dozen years as owner.
Coach Rick Carlisle beat the drum of positivity after completing the 2-7 stretch.
"We went through this, it was tough, it was disappointing, but we have to move forward and keep our spirits up and stay upbeat about the week ahead," Carlisle said. "I’m going to be optimistic and positive with the guys, as well as being truthful. Monday is a big day for us."
It's big because it begins a new stretch of games and because the Mavs could find out that they'll soon be whole again. Starting center Brendan Haywood could get the go-ahead to return and Brandan Wright could, as well. Delonte West, so important to this team's defensive attitude as well as backing up Jason Kidd on the offensive end, will have his broken right ring finger examined.
|Senior NBA writer Marc Stein on whether the Mavs be major players at the NBA trade deadline. |
Then come two games that should get the week off to a good start if the Mavs are unified and truly engaged in making a push during the final third of the season.
The Washington Wizards and Charlotte Bobcats are at the American Airlines Center on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively. These two teams have combined for 14 wins, or as many as the Sacramento Kings. They have five road wins between them. Only one team (Sacramento) allows more points per game than Washington. Only Charlotte averages fewer than 88 points.
Two wins could jump-start some momentum before the San Antonio Spurs come to town Saturday night to kick off a highly competitive stretch of 12 games. A loss to either could serve as a fatal blow to a fragile team.
Tuesday: vs. Washington Wizards (9-30), 7:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: FSSW/ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: The Wizards are actually on one of their better stretches, which is what you have to call going 2-2 after a six-game losing streak. Those wins both came at home against Cleveland and the Los Angeles Lakers. Washington plays at San Antonio on Monday and will be playing a third game in four nights against a Mavs team that will have had two full days to recover. The Wizards have four players that score in double figures, led by a trio of guards -- John Wall (17.4), Nick Young (16.6) and Jordan Crawford (12.9).
Thursday: vs. Charlotte Bobcats (5-34), 7:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: FSSW/ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: The league's worst team is 2-19 on the road, ranks dead last in scoring and 27th in points allowed. One player, Corey Maggette, averages more than 15 points a game (16.2). They've lost nine of 10 entering tonight's game at New Orleans and 24 of 26. They somehow rallied from a 20-point deficit in the first half to beat the Orlando Magic by 16 on March 6. They've lost three in a row since, to Utah, New Jersey and Oklahoma City. The Bobcats' stop in Dallas will be the finale of a four-game road swing and fifth game in seven nights.
Saturday: vs. San Antonio Spurs (26-13), 7:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: FSSW, NBA TV/ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: It's been a strange first two games in this series, with the Spurs raining 3s in a blowout win at San Antonio and the Mavs taking the second meeting in Dallas in overtime. Dallas blew an 18-point lead in the second half as Gregg Popovich rolled with his hot-shooting reserves for the final quarter-and-half. Danny Green thought he hit the game-winner at the buzzer, but replays showed he got the shot off a split-second too late. The Spurs will have Manu Ginobili for the first time this season against the Mavs, who should have the benefit of a day of rest while San Antonio will be coming of Friday night game at Oklahoma City. If the Spurs were pull off the road win, it would make it very difficult for Dallas to make a run at the Southwest Division crown.
And then Butler chose to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers.
And then the Chris Paul-to-Los Angeles-Lakers trade collapsed.
And then Lamar Odom landed in the lap of the Mavs.
Double-whammy for the Spurs.
"Time will tell what it does for their team," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Thursday prior to the renewal of the I-35 series. "One would guess it will be very positive for them because he’s a heck of a player, great experience, great skills. Anybody would be thrilled to add that to their basketball team. I would assume that as the year goes along, it will be very, very positive for them."
Recently, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle has used Odom as a point forward along with reserves Jason Terry, Vince Carter, Ian Mahinmi and starter Dirk Nowitzki.
Asked about that particular lineup that features Odom at 6-foot-10, Mahinmi at 6-foot-11 and Dirk at 7-foot, and how one might look to defend it, Pop said in classic Pop style: "The best you can."
Of course, everyone knows that Odom is off to a slow start and that he's under Carlisle's watchful eye with a special conditioning program. Odom is coming off his best all-around game with 15 points and five rebounds Wednesday, while playing quite a big of point forward. Carlisle said he is seeking game-by-game improvement.
"Just to continue to be more and more aware of what we’re doing defensively, to get a feel for his teammates on offense, how to play with certain lineups, with different guys, so on and so forth," Carlisle said. "And just to keep working to get his conditioning and get his legs under him and get his rhythm. That’s really the main thing offensively."
Other notes from Thursday's pregame availability:
* A win tonight and Dallas can move to .500 on the season after eight games following the 0-3 start.
"It speaks to some improvement for sure and it speaks to how bad we were to start off with," Carlisle said. "We’ve got to keep looking forward, we’ve got to keep evaluating the club in an honest, but constructive way and got to get everybody ready to play."
* Forward Shawn Marion has been taking more baseline jumpers than he did last season. He said that it's not necessarily by design, but that he's had the open shot. He also said, "I've got to make some of them." Marion and his quirky shot have been off-target. He's shooting just 44.9 percent, well below the 52.0 percent he shot last season when the majority of his attempts came in the paint.
* Jason Kidd is 2-of-12 from the floor in his three games. But the crazy stat is that the next 2-point bucket Kidd makes will be the first of the season. The 18-year veteran is 12-of-32 from beyond the arc (37.5 percent) and 0-of-5 inside the arc.
Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, who guided the Mavs to 57 wins despite a season-ending injury to Caron Butler while also missing Dirk Nowitzki for nine games due to injury, finished 10th in the voting. He received two third-place votes.
Here's the final results.
The Mavs' sixth man thought the two rivals might eventually meet once again in a rugged postseason showdown. That won't be case after the Zach Randolph-led Memphis Grizzlies deposited the aging Spurs into the offseason far earlier than anyone expected. Memphis won its first-ever playoff series with a 99-91 Game 6 win Friday night.
The No. 1 seed Spurs, having won 61 games and led the Western Conference wire-to-wire, join the Mavs in playoff infamy as the only teams beaten by a No. 8 seed since the first round expanded to a best-of-7 series in 2003. San Antonio is the fourth No. 1 overall defeated by a No. 8. Of course, the Golden State Warriors upended the 67-win Mavs in six games in 2007.
Afterward, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, owner of four championship rings, wasn't ready to discuss what lies ahead for one of the NBA's model franchises. But, he did keep his sense of humor.
"We just lost in the first round. I'm not going to talk about overhauls," he said. "I'm going to get a bite to eat and have a Gatorade. Anybody else [with a question] before the happy comes in?"
Dallas, meanwhile, has moved onto the second round and a date with the Los Angeles Lakers, remarkably the first playoff series between these two clubs since 1988. That series begins Monday night in L.A.
In his third season, Carlisle has the club at a record of 40-16 and positioned in the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. How he's gotten them to this point is what I find to be impressive.
First, consider how last season ended in San Antonio. Shawn Marion had his minutes slashed in the first-round series and left for the offseason seemingly confused and uncertain of his role. Caron Butler was benched for an entire half and, like Marion, had to wonder how he fit moving forward. Center Brendan Haywood and Carlisle didn't seem to see eye-to-eye (at the time, Haywood figured to be the best option as this season's starting center if he wasn't lost in free agency).
Jason Kidd, who had an awful playoff series, didn't show for the team's final day when players clear out their lockers, meet with coaches and then give a parting interview to the media. Carlisle played down Kidd's absence due to him being ill. Every other player attended.
Then there was the Roddy Beaubois imbroglio. Carlisle, already being criticized for not playing Beaubois more during the regular season, was being roasted after Game 6 for removing Beaubois before the fourth quarter in favor of the cold-shooting Jason Terry. Beaubois nearly single-handedly rescued the Mavs from an embarrassing beginning to the game, and then Carlisle's trust in his veterans didn't pay off.
So why should Carlisle be among this season's candidates for Coach of the Year?
|Ben and Skin caught up with Dirk Nowitzki over All-Star weekend and The Big German drops some DFW Digs Dirk lyrics on us. He also gives an answer that leaves us in awe of his greatness. |
During the offseason, Carlisle visited with Marion and Butler on their turf, provided his vision for this season and got both players to buy into unaccustomed roles. Marion has been terrific coming off the bench while playing about 27 minutes a game. Butler, up until his knee injury on Jan. 1, was emerging as a major offensive threat despite often not playing at all in the fourth quarter.
Carlisle listened to Kidd, Terry and Dirk Nowitzki when they went to him early in the season and told him DeShawn Stevenson could do the job as the starting shooting guard. He listened and the move paid off.
Throughout the season, Carlisle has managed to get his team to buy into a defensive mentality and he's fostered a genuine one-for-all mentality on the team, which, to no small degree, has been hammered home by center Tyson Chandler in his first season with the team.
When Nowitzki went down on Dec. 27 with a sprained right knee and Butler followed two games later, the team went into a tailspin, losing six in a row and 10 of 14 all-in-all. Throughout, Carlisle remained positive, pumped up his guys and they responded, with Nowitkzki continually improving, to win 13 of 14 heading into the All-Star break.
For some media members -- and no need to embarrass anyone here -- who may have predicted a greater chance of an implosion situation than an emerging Western Conference contender, the record, the communication, the good vibe in the locker room can all in some way be attributed to Carlisle.
Here's my top candidates for Coach of the Year:
1. Tom Thibodeau, Chicago: The first-year head coach has the Bulls at 38-16, three wins from matching last season's total. They've done it despite Carlos Boozer missing 18 games because of injury and Joakim Noah hasn't played since Dec. 15. Known as the defensive brains as an assistant under Doc Rivers at Boston, the Bulls rank second in both scoring defense and field-goal percentage defense. Of course, the Bulls are led by my leading MVP candidate Derrick Rose.
2. Erik Spoelstra, Miami: The greatest team supposedly ever assembled (but hardly to coach) stumbled out of the gates to a 9-8 record, dropping to that mark after another embarrassing loss at Dallas that included the LeBron James (accidental?) body bump on his coach, then a closed-door team meeting. The next day reports surfaced that players didn't have confidence in their 40-year-old coach. But, Spoelstra never flinched, never got intimidated and has the Heat at 41-15 at the break.
3. Rick Carlisle, Dallas: See above.
4. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio: Blessed with good health this season, Popovich has the Spurs at 46-10, the franchise's best mark to this point and the best record in basketball. He has successfully transitioned the focal point of the offense from Tim Duncan to Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, plus heavy doses of 3-point shooting, as the once-offensivelyboring Spurs are sixth in the league in scoring (103.5).
5. Doc Rivers, Boston: The Celtics might be oldies, but they're goodies. Rivers shunned retirement to come back for at least one more season and has his team playing great defense again (despite losing Thibodeau off his bench) and bearing down on a third trip to the NBA Finals in four seasons.
5a. Nate McMillan, Portland: To have that depleted roster sitting fifth in the West at 32-24 -- having won six in a row at the break -- is nothing short of miraculous, and he should probably be much further up on this list.
One night later, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle had a different take. It came after Nowitzki lit up the Phoenix Suns for 35 points on 13-of-18 shooting, which included making three deep-knee-bend 3-pointers on three attempts (he's made five in a row over his last three games). It was his first 30-point game since Jan. 17 at Detroit, just two games into his return and one of the rare good shooting games he had over a 10-day stretch.
If I'm Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, head coach of the Western Conference for Sunday's game in Los Angeles, I think long and hard about playing Nowitzki for the full 48 in his 10th consecutive All-Star appearance. The Mavs head into the break at 40-16, six games behind the Spurs, the number of games the Mavs lost while Nowitzki healed.
But, what if Nowitzki had never gotten hurt? Dallas was 2-7 without him and is 38-9 with him. The Spurs are 46-10.
The injury might keep the Mavs from contending for the West's No. 1 seed and it also took a bite out of Nowitzki's MVP campaign. His rusty return dropped his scoring average two points and his field-goal percentage two points. Still, it's not all that bad. Through 56 games, Nowitzki is averaging 22.7 points on a career-best 52.6-percent shooting. His 3-point percentage is up to 42.6 percent as he continues to get a healthy dose of wide-open, trailing 3s that seem automatic.
Even if Nowitzki is back to full strength, it is hard to say how many more 35-point games are in his future. On most nights, as this team is currently constructed, scoring is being spread around so unlike many teams in the Nowitzki era. Thursday's 112-106 win over the Suns was the 13th consecutive game that at least five Mavs have finished in double figures. The night before eight did it.
In the last six games, Nowitzki has posted 10, 12, 16, 22, 13 and 35 points, respectively, but the important number is his 51.9 percent shooting in those games. Dallas is 5-1 during that stretch with the lone loss coming on a buzzer-beater in Denver. Ironically, Nowitzki missed a late free-throw that would have put the Mavs up by two before the Nuggets' final possession.
As the Mavs head into their final 26 games, it is reassuring for them to know that when they do need 35, Nowitzki is capable of bringing it again.
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.