Dallas Mavericks: Oklahoma City Thunder
1. Brandan Wright ranks among the top 10 players in PER this season. Is that evidence that he deserves more minutes or that Rick Carlisle is doing a masterful job picking spots to play Wright?
Gutierrez: It's evidence he's effective in situations where he's poised to succeed. If you look at the matchups against Portland and Indiana, they involved bigger players who were comfortable working in the post. He's generally ineffective against those players because they impose their will in the paint and that provides easy buckets for the opposition. The positioning is also an issue when it comes to rebounding. Look at Carlisle's track record. Rodrigue Beaubois, DeShawn Stevenson, J.J. Barea, Carlisle picked his spots with those players and put them in situations to succeed. Wright deserves minutes when they're advantageous for the team.
Taylor: Wright, for the time being, is really nice role player. But his role is limited to certain situations because he's a true tweener. He can't bang against the big boys and that means Carlisle feels comfortable playing him only with certain other players, so the spacing remains good on offense. Wright could force Carlisle to play him more if he was a better and more consistent rebounder, but we haven't seen that yet.
MacMahon: I've got a condition I call the Roddy B. Reflex that makes me very hesitant to second-guess Carlisle's rotations. I lobbied hard for Beaubois to get a bigger role as a rookie, and we all know how he wilted when his minutes increased. Having said all that, I'd like to see Wright in the 25-minute-per-game range. He earned his two-year, $10 million deal by flourishing in an increased role down the stretch last season, and his net rating (plus-6.1 points per 100 possessions) is by far the best of the Mavs' centers. Next time Carlisle asks my advice, I'll tell him to stop using DeJuan Blair as the first big off the bench and give those minutes to Wright.
Gutierrez: A sore right Achilles halted Harris' night in Golden State and easily leaves him questionable for the game against Utah. If he's able to avoid missing a lot of time, he's primed to be a factor in the closing lineup. Harris is a quasi-DeShawn Stevenson or maybe even a mixture of Stevenson and Jason Terry. Back in 2011, Stevenson set the tone in terms of defense to start games, and Terry didn't care about starting games during his time in Dallas -- he cared about being out there during crunch time. If Harris can bring some dribble penetration and bring some defensive disposition, it's the best of both worlds. Jose Calderon appears to be the one who will draw the short straw in terms of closing minutes, but he's a veteran and is willing to do what is best for the team. Health permitting, it appears Monta Ellis and Harris could be the closing backcourt during the stretch run.
Taylor: Well, we saw the problem with Harris in Tuesday night's blowout loss to Golden State. We can't trust his health yet. This is the second time he's had a sore Achilles. The best thing to do, right now, regarding Harris is just accept what he can give you on a game-by-game basis. No expectations. When he can play and he's playing well, then use him in fourth quarter. But until we can trust his health it's hard to define his role.
MacMahon: This sore Achilles is pretty poorly timed, but the Mavs don't believe it's serious. If Harris is healthy enough to play, he should be part of the Mavs' closing lineup unless Calderon is just lighting it up that night. Harris earned those opportunities with his clutch heroics over the weekend. He's the Mavs' best defensive guard and his ability to create off the dribble makes a major difference in crunch time. Calderon has been just a floor-spacer during closing time this season -- and not particularly effective in that role. This is an easy decision unless Harris' health complicates the issue.
Gutierrez: It's clear that both San Antonio and Oklahoma City are the teams Dallas needs to avoid. If you're forcing me to pick one, I'm going to go with Dallas needing to avoid San Antonio. They have so much depth at their disposal and that depth can negate Dallas' strength in numbers approach. As we saw in the matchup just over a week ago, the ball movement and pick-and-roll action they create puts the Mavericks in an incredible bind. San Antonio is a machine and Dallas doesn't have the components to slow them down. To avoid both, Dallas needs to emerge as the sixth seed in the West.
Taylor: It's a tie. The Mavs have no chance to beat San Antonio because the Spurs are too smart, and they have no chance to beat Oklahoma City because the Thunder are too athletic. If the Mavs played a lick of defense they'd have a sliver of a chance against these two teams. Since they don't, they would be lucky to force either series to six games.
MacMahon: The Spurs and Thunder are both horrific matchups for the Mavs, but I'd call Oklahoma City the greater of the two evils. There is high potential for humiliation if you face a team with two premier young superstars such as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in a playoff series. Side note: Bricktown is better than that muddy-beep thing they call the Riverwalk.
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.
They’d prefer to be in the same situation next season, although only under certain circumstances.
That’s because the Dallas front office wants to have a first-round pick in what’s considered the deepest NBA draft in years. The Mavs still owe the Oklahoma City Thunder a top-20-protected pick, an asset the Mavs originally used to get Lamar Odom (oops) from the Los Angeles Lakers, who traded it to the Houston Rockets, who used it as part of the package to land James Harden.
It’s not that the uncertainty of their first-round pick, which forbids the Mavs from trading any first-rounders, is preventing the Mavs from making a deal. It just eliminates one major form of trade-deadline currency for a buyer. With no picks and no young talent that’s good enough to headline a package, it’s extremely unlikely that the Mavs will do anything significant before Thursday’s deadline.
As it stands coming out of the All-Star break, the Mavs have the eighth best record in the league, meaning the Thunder would own the No. 23 pick.
The Mavs obviously don’t want to drop into the lottery, which is the only way they can guarantee holding on to their pick this year. The ideal situation would be for a few East teams to finish strong enough to bump the Mavs up in the draft order.
Good luck with that. The Toronto Raptors (28-24) and Chicago Bulls (27-25) are the only East teams other than the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers who are even above .500.
This is a pick the Mavs expected to unload in the summer of 2012, but Dallas stumbled in the lockout season and ended up with the No. 17 pick, which they turned into Jared Cunningham, Jae Crowder and Bernard James after a draft-day trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Mavs ended up in the lottery last season, selecting Shane Larkin at No. 18 overall after twice trading down in cost-cutting moves.
The worst-case scenario would be for the Mavs to fail to finish high enough in any season to unload the pick before it becomes unprotected in 2018. Can you imagine the Mavs being in rebuilding mode after Dirk Nowitzki’s retirement and having to donate a lottery pick to the Thunder due to the Odom disaster?
Despite the deep draft, a strong case could be made that it’d be in the Mavs’ best interests to give up the pick this year, especially considering Dallas’ draft history the last decade.
Dirk Nowitzki heads to New Orleans and his teammates scatter to sunny vacation destinations, the Mavs sit in sixth place in the Western Conference standings. That’s a far cry from being six games under .500 at the All-Star break a year ago.
The Mavs can afford to take nothing for granted, but the math is certainly in their favor when it comes to making the playoffs. The Hollinger Playoff Odds, a statistical formula created by Memphis vice president of basketball operations John Hollinger during his days as an ESPN analyst, put the Mavs’ chances at 79.1 percent. (Hollinger’s ninth-place Grizzlies are at 39.1 percent.)
If the playoffs started tomorrow, the Mavs would be matched up with their Interstate 45 rival, the Houston Rockets. That sounds like a lot of fun, pairing two high-scoring teams with the potential for some juicy off-court banter between Mark Cuban and Dwight Howard, last summer’s heartbreaker.
But the playoff pairings could shift on a daily basis, with Houston one of three teams who are 5 ½ games back from the first-place Oklahoma City Thunder and the Mavs leading a pack of three teams within a half-game of each other at the bottom of the playoff bracket. It’s a long shot that the Mavs can climb any higher than sixth in the standings, so let’s look at how they might match up in a playoff series with each of the teams above them.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
The Thunder have the league’s best record despite perennial All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook missing much of the season due to knee surgeries. Kevin Durant is the clear-cut MVP leader, which is remarkable considering that LeBron James is still in his prime. Oklahoma City has won 12 of 13 meetings with Dallas since the Mavs eliminated the Thunder in the 2011 West finals. Needless to say, the Mavs would much prefer to avoid being the eighth seed.
Season series: Thunder, 1-0
Mavs’ shot: A Samuel Dalembert 80-footer
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
The Spurs’ winning streak over the Mavs stands at seven games. The average margin of victory during that streak is 16.9 points. Gregg Popovich is probably the only coach in the West who would have an edge over Rick Carlisle. Tony Parker is a matchup nightmare for the Mavs’ guards. Same goes for Tim Duncan inside. And the Spurs have several role players who have come up big against Dallas.
Season series: Spurs, 2-0
Mavs’ shot: A contested Shawn Marion halfcourt heave
How about first to 120 wins each game? James Harden and Monta Ellis can’t guard each other. The Mavs have no answer for Howard. Nor do the Rockets for Nowitzki. The regular-season series is already over and it ended up even – not just in wins, but in points. This could be a really fun series between teams that have enough bad blood (at least in the front offices) to make for a heck of a Lone Star State rivalry.
Season series: Tied, 2-2
Mavs’ shot: A Dirk one-legged fadeaway with Howard in his face
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
The Clippers pulled off a couple of jaw-dropping comebacks over Dallas with Mavs castoff Darren Collison playing point guard. That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence if a healthy Chris Paul is running the show for Lob City and setting up athletic freaks Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Clippers small forward Matt Barnes, who has faced the Mavs in memorable playoff series with the Warriors and Lakers, used to get under Dallas’ skin as much as anybody. That dishonor might go to Griffin now.
Season series: Clippers, 2-0
Mavs’ shot: An off-the-dribble 30-footer by Monta Ellis
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
The first-round matchup with the Blazers ended up being the Mavs’ toughest challenge en route to the 2011 Finals. LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews are the only players left from that Portland roster. Nowitzki and Marion are the only championship pieces left on the Dallas roster. The Mavs would have a puncher’s chance in this series because the Blazers aren’t any better than Dallas defensively. In fact, Portland is the only team that would make the playoffs at this point that ranks lower than the Mavs in defensive rating.
Season series: Tied, 1-1
Mavs’ shot: A Vince Carter 3-pointer
I simply don’t see the Mavs pulling off a deal of any significance. Maybe they surprise me, but all I could offer at this point is speculation, and I’ve already done plenty of that.
Plus, the Mavs have won five in a row for the first time in two years. Let’s talk about a team that’s given some reason for optimism.
Of the top 4 seeds in the West (OKC, SA, POR, and LAC) which playoff matchup would be the best for the Mavs? -- Michael (Aubrey)
We can include the Rockets in this mix, too, and from a media standpoint, that would be the most interesting series. You know Mark Cuban would have some interesting things to say about Dwight Howard and he might just be able to get in the mentally fragile big man’s head.
We know the Mavs want no part of the Thunder or Spurs, two teams that have dominated Dallas since the lockout.
If I had to pick a team based on the Mavs’ chances to advance, I’d go with the Portland Trail Blazers. Yes, I’m well aware that the Blazers blew out the Mavs during their last stop in Dallas, but the Mavs won at the buzzer in Portland. Really, it’s about styles. Portland is also a poor defensive team. I’d give the Mavs at least a puncher’s chance to win a series that would be a bunch of wild West shootouts.
What do you think of the Mavs' chances to climb to the fifth or sixth seed in the Western Conference? -- TSC_HookEm on Twitter
Maybe sixth. And that’s much more optimistic than I was a week ago. That has as much to do with the Golden State Warriors’ struggles as it does the Mavs taking advantage of a soft stretch of schedule. I thought the Warriors would be fighting for home-court advantage in the first round, but for whatever reasons, they haven’t been nearly as good offensively as I anticipated.
That gives the Mavs and Suns a shot at the sixth seed. I can’t see them catching the Houston Rockets or Los Angeles Clippers, especially after the Clippers kept the ship sailing while Chris Paul was sidelined.
Has Devin Harris been as big of a boost as it seems or is this winning streak more about Dirk's dominance and consistent play from Samuel Dalembert? -- Parker (Dallas)
Vince Carter and Brandan Wright have been outstanding. In fact, they have the best plus-minuses on the team over the last five games. Harris helps them by giving the bench a proven, versatile guard.
Nowitzki’s dominance makes life easier for everybody offensively, but he’s been playing at an All-Star level all season, save for the occasional off night. When Dalembert plays with the kind of energy and intensity he has recently, the Mavs are a different team, as anyone in that locker room will tell you.
Of course, it’s also worth noting that none of the teams the Mavs have beaten during this streak would be in the playoffs if the season ended now, and only Memphis has a winning record. But the Mavs aren’t just squeaking by bad teams. They’re dominating inferior competition.
The northern neighbors have dominated the Red River rivalry since those savvy veteran Mavs made quick work of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2011 Western Conference finals. Bricktown was just a speed bump on the route to a championship parade in downtown Dallas at the time.
Many of the faces have changed over the past couple of seasons for the Mavs, but their results against the Thunder have been frustratingly consistent. Dallas' 107-93 loss Wednesday night marked the 13th Oklahoma City victory in the past 14 meetings between the teams, including a sweep in the first round of the 2012 playoffs.
"It's basically a new team here, so I don't know if they're in anybody's heads but me and Matrix's," Dirk Nowitzki said, referring to Shawn Marion, the only other member of the 2011 title team who remains on the Mavs' roster. "They're good. They got better. We beat them in 2011. They took the next step from there.
"They got better and better, and we didn't."
The Thunder are more talented than the Mavs and the vast majority of other NBA teams. That doesn't make Dallas' losses to Oklahoma City any less frustrating.
The Mavs have an 11-game losing streak to the Thunder. This was one of the more lopsided losses of the bunch. Nine of those losses were decided by six points or fewer, adding to the Mavs' frustration.
"It is frustrating and we're aware of it, of course," said second-year forward Jae Crowder, whose 17 points off the bench were one of the bright spots of the loss. "It'll come. It'll happen."
Maybe the Mavs' inability to beat the Thunder has something to do with Dallas' irritability against this particular foe.
There have been many heated moments in the rivalry over the past few years, and that list got longer Wednesday night. The surprise was that none of the incidents involved Kendrick Perkins, an Oklahoma City enforcer whose basketball skills eroded long ago.
"They've got the white Kendrick Perkins now," Nowitzki cracked.
Nowitzki was referring to rookie center Steven Adams, who was in the middle of the most notable dust-up during this visit from Dallas. Mavs sixth man Vince Carter was ejected and subjected himself to a suspension with a retaliatory whack across Adams' forehead with his forearm in the third quarter.
Crowder got whistled for a double technical along with Westbrook with 1:32 remaining. According to Crowder, Westbrook hit him with a ball during a timeout. Crowder made sure Westbrook knew it wasn't appreciated.
"I'm not surprised it went that route because those guys talk a lot of smack and they can get under your skin a little bit," Crowder said.
As he was leaving the locker room, Crowder muttered, "We'll see those guys again."
But it's hard to see the balance of power in this series shifting again any time soon.
Red River rivalry: Maybe it’s the proximity of the cities or the recent playoff history – although there aren’t many Mavs remaining from the 2011 West finals or 2012 first round series – but this was a typically chippy Dallas-Oklahoma City game. There were three technical fouls assessed and Vince Carter was ejected after being called for a flagrant 2 for hitting Thunder rookie center Steven Adams in the head with a retaliatory elbow.
“We’ve been going at it for a couple of years now and have good battles up here always,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “It got chippy a little bit and the refs didn’t really have it under control. They let a lot of stuff go, and that’s what happens.”
Too many turnovers: Turnovers are trouble against any opponent, but it’s especially true against the Thunder due to the freakish athleticism of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. Oklahoma City actually committed more turnovers than the Mavs, but coughing the ball up 21 times at Cheseapeake Energy Arena is a good recipe for a road loss.
“It’s extra costly against them because they’ll make you pay so fast,” Nowitzki said. “Without you even having a chance to get back, it’s a dunk.”
All-around loss: Coach Rick Carlisle saw a lot of numbers he didn’t like in the box score. Too many turnovers. Not enough rebounds, with OKC winning the battle of the boards by a 44-36 margin. The Thunder shot 54.4 percent from the floor. And we could go on.
“I don’t think there is any area in this game where you could say we couldn’t have done better,” Carlisle said.
Asked after Oklahoma City’s morning shootaround when he identified the one-legged fadeaway as something he wanted to implement into his game, Durant told reporters, “When I was 13.” Nowitzki was 23 at the time and in the midst of the first of his 11 All-Star seasons.
“Sorry I’m making Dirk seem a little bit old, but that’s when I started focusing on Dirk, and he became one of my favorite players to ever play this game,” Durant said hours before the Mavs meet the Thunder at Cheseapeake Energy Arena. “I just tried it one day when I was working out in the summer. It was rougher than I thought it was going to be, so it took me some time to figure it out, but I think I’m doing all right with it.”
The first time Durant unveiled the shot publicly just so happened to be in the gym that Dirk built. Durant knocked down a one-legged midrange jumper in the teams’ preseason opener at the American Airlines Center after the lockout, and it’s become a regular part of his arsenal ever since.
As is the case with the 7-foot Nowitzki, it’s a virtually unblockable shot for Durant, who appears to be at least two inches taller than his listed 6-foot-9 and has the wingspan of a pterodactyl. Their length allows them to get the shot off at will, but it takes great skill to be able to consistently make a shot that isn’t in any basketball textbooks.
Durant, a three-time NBA scoring champion at the ripe old age of 25, learned the shot by watching Nowitzki and working in the gym. He’s never discussed the technique with Nowitzki, who has always had high praise for Durant, particularly during the two playoff series between the Mavs and Thunder.
“I would love to,” Durant said. “I really admire Dirk – probably my favorite player in the league. No, I haven’t talked to him about it. I’m too busy trying to compete with him.”
Some quick thoughts after scanning the Mavericks’ schedule for the 2013-14 season ...
SAVE THE DATE
A look at some of the Mavs’ marquee home games:
vs. Atlanta Hawks, Oct. 30: It's not necessarily a marquee opponent, but it's the season opener and the first time to see Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis wear a Mavs uniform in a game that matters.
vs. Los Angeles Lakers, Nov. 5: This game obviously loses some luster if Kobe Bryant can’t complete a remarkable comeback from a torn Achilles tendon to be ready for the first week of the season. The Lakers come back to Dallas on Dec. 7.
vs. Houston Rockets, Nov. 20: Does deciding to go to Houston make Dwight Howard a villain in Dallas? Maybe the Mavs’ creative team can come up with another video for the Rockets’ Superman. The Rockets return to Dallas on Jan. 29.
vs. San Antonio Spurs, Dec. 26: Perhaps Pop will give the Mavs a late Christmas present and leave a star or two in San Antonio. The Mavs might be fighting for a playoff berth when the Spurs make their second trip to Dallas on April 10.
vs. Los Angeles Clippers, Jan. 3: It might be painful for Mavs fans to watch Chris Paul after all the hoping and praying that he’d sign with Dallas went for naught. But Lob City, which returns to Dallas on March 27, is still a must-watch.
vs. Miami Heat, Feb. 18: Think it bothers LeBron James to see that 2011 championship banner hanging from the American Airlines Center rafters? The Mavs are still the only team to beat the Heat in a playoff series since King James took his talents to South Beach.
vs. Brooklyn Nets, March 23: Don’t expect a jersey retirement ceremony for new Nets coach Jason Kidd.
vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, March 25: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Co. only make one short trip to Dallas this season, unless the Mavs and Thunder match up in the playoffs for the third time in four years.
The NBA didn’t do Dallas any favors in April, when the Mavs could be scratching and clawing for one of the West’s final playoff bids. Five of the Mavs’ final seven games are on the road, including a four-game-in-six-night stretch that starts against the two L.A. teams. Projected West contenders Golden State and San Antonio are among the three teams scheduled to visit the AAC in April.
The second half of January should be good for the Mavs. They play half of those eight games on the road, but that includes trips to Phoenix, Cleveland and Toronto, none of which are the rear end of back-to-backs. Houston is the only potential contender to come to the AAC in that stretch, when the Mavs will also face Portland, Detroit and Sacramento at home.
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Of course, the Mavs had no control over Fisher’s decision to leave Dallas. And Mark Cuban’s hard feelings have been well chronicled regarding Fisher’s late-season change of heart over the value of family time once a contender called.
Nevertheless, a strong argument can be made that the Mavs would have at least extended their playoff streak if Fisher would have stuck around. But he’s not even the best point guard playing for the minimum in these playoffs.
Imagine if Nate Robinson would have been on the Mavs’ roster.
Lil’ Nate is the buzz of the Eastern Conference playoffs right now – having just dropped 27 points and nine assists despite getting 10 stitches in his lip during Chicago’s Game 1 upset of the Miami Heat – but he was a journeyman desperate for a job in the offseason. He accepted a partially guaranteed minimum deal to join the Bulls.
Robinson, the 5-foot-9 former slam dunk champion, has always had a Jason Terry-like borderline irrational type of confidence. And that hasn’t always gone over well, which is part of the reason he’s played for five teams in the last four seasons.
But Robinson has the game of a hyperathletic J.J. Barea. He’s got the ability to score in bunches – as a 3-pointer shooter, off the dribble, as a pick-and-roll initiator. It’s certainly intriguing to think about how he’d fit as an off-the-bench sparkplug playing with Dirk Nowitzki.
There didn’t seem to be a fit for Robinson in Dallas last summer, when Delonte West was on the roster to back up Darren Collison and provide what the Mavs hoped would be a healthy edge. (Yeah, so much for that.)
Might the Mavs and Robinson be a match this summer? His game would definitely work in Dallas, but his playoff performance could be putting him out of the Mavs’ price range for a backup point guard.
|Rick Carlisle joins Galloway & Company to discuss getting Dirk Nowitzki more involved in the Mavericks' game plan and much more.
The Mavs managed to pull themselves back into the playoff picture, thanks in large part to Carlisle pressing buttons to try to squeeze every bit of potential out of this patchwork roster.
“We’re under .500,” Carlisle said dismissively, “so we haven’t done that good of a job.”
That’s humility for the sake of staying in the moment. Carlisle has done a heck of a job to keep this flawed team fighting while constantly fidgeting with the lineup and rotation to give the Mavs the best possible chance of winning.
But a better job than the 2011 title run? C’mon, man.
“Winning a championship is always the best coaching job,” Mark Cuban said. “Period, end of story.”
Maybe that’s simplifying things too much, but that was a historically excellent coaching job that Carlisle and his staff did during the 2011 postseason, which started with nobody taking the Mavs seriously as contenders and ended with a championship parade in downtown Dallas.
Think about the gauntlet the Mavs had to get through to win that title. They beat Kobe Bryant’s two-time defending champion Lakers, sweeping arguably the best coach in pro sports history into retirement. They gave Kevin Durant’s Thunder a clutch clinic to delay what could be a decade of Western Conference dominance for OKC. And they beat LeBron James’ Heat, a feat that might not be accomplished in a playoff series for quite some time, if ever, depending on whether the NBA’s premier player opts to stay in Miami for the rest of his career.
That’s a miraculous run by a lone-star team that was a popular first-round upset pick.
There were plenty of examples of coaching genius by Carlisle and his staff – headlined by two assistants, defensive coordinator Dwane Casey and offensive coordinator Terry Stotts, who were hired away as head coaches.
Start with the psychological wisdom of owning the Mavs’ 23-point collapse after Game 4 in Portland. This wasn’t just an empty it’s-always-the-coach’s-fault declaration. Carlisle made a point to fall on the sword for failing to make adjustments to get the ball out of Brandon Roy’s hands during the Blazers guard’s spectacular fourth quarter, an admission that reinforced a tone of accountability in the Mavs’ locker room and prevented a potentially catastrophic meltdown from having a carryover effect.
That was the last time during those playoffs that Carlisle’s strategy was questioned. Heck, the Mavs lost only three more games during that run.
How about the decision to dust off Corey Brewer when Game 1 in Los Angeles seemed to be getting away from the Mavs? Brewer, a benchwarmer on that team, earned every penny Cuban paid him during his high-energy, high-impact eight minutes that turned around that game and changed that series against the Lakers.
One of the primary reasons the Mavs were able to sweep a team practically nobody gave them a chance of beating was because of their success with an unconventional lineup. With Brendan Haywood serving as the defensive backbone in this particular lineup, Dirk Nowitzki and a few second-unit scoring threats (Jason Terry, J.J. Barea and Peja Stojakovic) lit up the Lakers. Phil Jackson never figured out a way to slow down the Barea/Nowitzki high pick-and-pop with Terry and Stojakovic spacing the floor with scorching 3-point shooting.
The defensive game plan that turned James, the NBA’s most dominant force, into a confused, timid player in the Finals was just as genius. Part of that was the bold move of starting Barea at shooting guard after the Heat took a 2-1 series lead, a decision that ensured that DeShawn Stevenson could come off the bench with fresh legs and ferocity to spell Shawn Marion as head of the snake against James.
We could go on and on. Suffice to say it’s silly to think that a fight for .500 – no matter how flawed the team, no matter that a Coach of the Year case can be made for Carlisle if the Mavs make the playoffs – is more impressive than one of the greatest coaching jobs in NBA history.
DALLAS – Mike James has every reason to believe that the Dallas Mavericks are a playoff-caliber team.
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“Maybe I’m the rabbit’s foot,” James joked after Thursday’s shootaround.
James is completely serious when he discusses Dallas’ opportunity to earn the right to play in the postseason and the potential to do some damage if they get there.
“We know we’re a playoff team,” James said. “But because of our record and how slow we started, especially before I got here, we’ve had to dig ourselves out of a hole. Let’s just say if the season started in January and you take away the first half of the season and just talk about what we’ve done from January to now, we’re one of the better teams in the NBA.”
That’s not an exaggeration.
James’ first game with the Mavs was Jan. 9, when he played five seconds in a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers that dropped the Mavs to 10 games under .500 for the first time in a dozen years. The Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers are the only teams that have a better record since then.
“Were we a playoff team early? No,” James said. “But are we a team that could really make a lot of noise in the playoffs? Yes. I believe that if we get in, we’re going to be dangerous for any team to play against because we’re going to be playing our best basketball.”
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That’s a trend the Mavs have an opportunity to end with the 48-22 Los Angeles Clippers in town tonight.
“It’s time,” Shawn Marion said. “We’ve been right there scratching at the door of a lot of these best teams in the Western Conference. It’s time. We’re starting to get our continuity a little better and our defensive principles down. Gotta make it happen.”
Marion makes a legitimate point. The Mavs’ two meetings with elite West teams this month could have gone either way. Vince Carter’s 3-pointer at the buzzer rimmed out in a 92-91 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. The score was tied with a minute remaining in a 107-101 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
But close doesn’t count for a team fighting to get into the playoffs for the 13th consecutive season. For the Mavs to beat the odds and punch their postseason ticket, they must have some success against the West’s best, considering the 12 games left on the schedule include tonight’s meeting with the Clippers, home and road games against the Denver Nuggets and a home game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
“We can be playing a college team – we need the win,” Carter said. “I think records really at this point go out the window because whether they’re the best team or the worst team, we have to win. We have to find a way.
“We have, what, 12 games? It’s a small window. The games are so important. It can’t matter what it says on the opponent’s jersey.”
The Mavs have kept their playoff hopes alive by going 21-13 since being a dozen-year-low of 10 games under .500. That’s the fifth-best record in the West during that span. After eight wins in 11 games, the Mavs find themselves only a game and a half behind the eighth-place Los Angeles Lakers, losers of three in a row.
Coach Rick Carlisle acknowledges the Mavs’ lack of success against the West’s best, but it doesn’t do him any good to think about what’s already happened. He’d rather discuss the two days of meticulous preparation for the Clippers, focusing on details such as ball security and boxing out against their freakishly athletic foe.
“Right now, we need to win one game,” Carlisle said, “and that’s tonight. “
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Khloe’s little Lam Lam was acquitted on one count of attempted murder on the Mavs’ soul. After all, Odom can’t be reasonably accused of trying during his four months of failure in Dallas.
“It was like going to war with wet gunpowder,” Donnie Nelson said after the Mavs parted ways with the veteran in April, summing up the Lamar Odom saga in Dallas.
Alas, the punishment for Odom’s hoops felony is pretty light. Other than a permanently stained reputation for the former reality show star, all Odom has to deal with is the wrath of the American Airlines Center crowd during the Los Angeles Clippers’ lone visit this season.
It’s safe to assume that Mark Cuban will join a sellout crowd in giving Odom a cold welcome. Cuban admits to muttering bad things about Odom under his breath during the Mavs’ two road losses to the Clippers earlier this season. The boo-every-time-he-touches-the-ball treatment would be appropriate.
You can’t blame Cuban for still being furious about Odom’s fraud. Forget what seemed like a steal of a deal backfiring in the Mavs front office’s face. Odom made Cuban look like a fool for having his back over and over again to the point of being perceived as an enabler, especially during Odom’s bizarre post-All-Star-break sabbatical, when the owner met with Odom at the W Hotel to talk him into rejoining the team while the rest of the Mavs were in the midst of the lockout-compressed season’s most grueling stretch of games.
Cuban finally had his fill of Odom’s bull by April 7, well after home fans had started booing him. After seeing Odom loaf through four first-half minutes in Memphis that night, Cuban angrily confronted him in the locker room, repeatedly asking if he was “in or out.” Odom’s response of “stop playing games” didn’t satisfy the owner, who decided to send Odom home for the rest of the season, paying him to just go away.
Oh, and the Mavs aren’t done paying for the Odom ordeal.
Dallas still has to give up a first-round pick to complete the Odom trade. It’s now the property of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who acquired it in the James Harden deal from the Houston Rockets, who acquired it from the Lakers along with Derek Fisher (how fitting) for Jordan Hill.
The pick is top-20 protected through 2017, so the worst-case scenario is that the OKC gets a lottery gift from its Interstate 35 rival in 2018, just before Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook turn 30.
Maybe the Odom deal, which was made possible by the trade exception created in the sign-and-trade that sent Tyson Chandler to the New York Knicks, was the basketball gods’ way of punishing Cuban for breaking up a team coming off an NBA title.
The basketball gods certainly didn’t enact any vengeance on Odom. He landed back in Los Angeles with the contending Clippers, making the full $8.2 million salary in the final season of his contract to serve as a role player on arguably the NBA’s best bench. (The fact that Dallas was able to trade Odom for essentially nothing instead of having to pay his $2.4 million buyout was considered a minor win for the Mavs.)
Odom hasn’t exactly regained his Sixth Man of the Year from 2010-11. In fact, he’s averaging a career-low 4.1 points per game while shooting an unsightly 38.8 percent from the floor, numbers that are a continuation of his drastic offensive decline last season. However, Odom has been a contributor for the Clippers since getting in reasonably decent shape, averaging 5.8 rebounds in 20.4 minutes and playing good defense.
“He’s in a situation that’s really perfect for him,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said, taking the diplomatic route. “He’s a defender, rebounder and can play off of other people. He’s having a really good year for them.”
Mavs fans have every right to interrupt that “really good year” by making Odom miserable for one night.
Not coincidentally, so have the Mavs.
Mayo is leading the Mavs with an efficient 16.8 points per game this season, but his production has fallen off a cliff against the conference’s top four contenders. Mayo is averaging only 10.6 points in those 13 games, shooting .352 from the floor and .146 from 3-point range, as opposed to .461 and .414 overall this season.
The Mavs have been outscored by 128 points with Mayo on the floor in those 13 games. He’s a plus-21 for the rest of the season.
Why has Mayo struggled so much against the conference’s elite?
“I don’t know,” Mayo said after scoring nine points on 4-of-10 shooting Sunday. “Couldn’t tell you.”
Fortunately, Mayo’s neighbor in the Mavs’ locker room offered a much more elaborate answer.
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“He’s just got to keep on working. Keep coming off down screens and looking for his shot. He got to the basket a couple of times. I guess he’s got to just keep attacking. Keep attacking and look for what’s there.”
Coach Rick Carlisle has preached the importance of patience and discipline to Mayo, stressing that it’s especially important not to try to do too much against good defensive teams. Mayo didn’t feel like he had a chance to make an impact in Sunday’s loss, mentioning that he “was pretty much just spotted up in the corner.”
“I just got to have an opportunity to be aggressive,” said Mayo, who has been the Mavs’ third offensive option this month with Vince Carter getting hot. “We’ve got a moving type of offense. You don’t want to be ball chasing or really forcing the issue because that looks bad. You’ve got to just take what they give you and have an opportunity to knock down some shots.”
When Mayo has had those opportunities against the West’s best, he hasn’t knocked them down nearly often enough.
That’s a concern with the Clippers on the schedule next week and one more game remaining against the Grizzlies. It’s also a concern for the future if Mayo returns to Dallas next season.
“He’s got to pick up his game against those (teams),” owner Mark Cuban said before Sunday’s game. “Juice and I have talked about it. He knows he does. There’s nobody who’s more aware of it than O.J. is. O.J. works hard. That’s part of the progression of being 25.”
A few more notes from the Mavs’ second gut-wrenching loss to a contender in their last three games:
1. Bad break for Roddy B.: Rodrigue Beaubois’ season might be over after he fractured the second metacarpal in his left hand during Sunday’s second quarter.
“I don’t know what to say,” Carlisle said. “I just feel very bad for him. He had put the work in. He had been playing well and this was a game we needed him. He’s had some bad luck with injuries. We just hope he can get back. I don’t know if he’s going to be able to this year or not.”
The injury bug first hit Beaubois in the summer after his promising rookie season, when he broke his foot while practicing with the French national team. That injury required two operations to repair and limited him to 22 games his second season.
Beaubois has dealt with various nagging injuries over the last two years and has failed to develop into a solid rotation player, much less a star. But he earned his way back into the rotation with two solid performances last week, including an 18-point, five-assist outing to key the Mavs’ Friday win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It’s now uncertain whether Beaubois, who was unavailable for comment after the game, will ever play for the Mavs again. His rookie contract expires at the end of the season.
“I feel bad for the kid,” Nowitzki said. “It’s just sad. Just so many injuries. He’s been here for four years and has missed a lot of action. … It’s tough. We feel bad for him. But he’s a good kid.
“He’ll stick around. The good thing is when you break your hand, you can still work out and run and stay in decent shape, because this is obviously a big summer for him. He’s a free agent and he obviously wants to stay in the league and have a long career. Hopefully he can get healthy and we’ll see where he lands.”
2. Center switch: The Mavs’ starter at center is back to being a mystery that will be solved when starting lineups are announced 16 minutes before tipoff.
Elton Brand started for the first time since Feb. 1, scoring four points and grabbing four rebounds in 21 minutes.
“The starting center doesn’t play too many minutes usually,” Brand said, half-kidding. “I was hoping that wasn’t me, so I was trying to make a difference out there.”
Chris Kaman, who had started the previous five games, had two points and three rebounds in 4:32 off the bench. It was the third time in the last four games that Kaman played six or fewer minutes.
Brandan Wright, who saw some time at power forward, got the most minutes among the big men. Wright had eight points and seven rebounds, but he was only 4-of-12 from the floor, far less efficient than he’d been recently.
Rookie Bernard James, the starting center for most of February, got a DNP-CD for the seventh time in the last 10 games.
3. On to ATL: The Mavs finish up a dreaded four-games-in-five-nights stretch on the road Monday night against the Atlanta Hawks. With the Mavs clinging to slim playoff hopes, they’ll need to muster energy to perform in what’s pretty much a must-win game.
“We have to dig deep,” Brand said. “This is a game that can make or break our season.”
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