Dallas Mavericks: Oklahoma City Thunder
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.”
|DeAndre Jordan of the L.A. Clippers joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to talk about the Mavericks, why Dirk Nowitzki was one of his favorite players growing up and how he enjoyed the success of his Texas A&M Aggies on the football field. |
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. “
|DeAndre Jordan of the L.A. Clippers joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to talk about the Mavericks, why Dirk Nowitzki was one of his favorite players growing up and how he enjoyed the success of his Texas A&M Aggies on the football field. |
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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Durant went 7-of-11 from the floor in the final frame, torching the Mavs for 19 of his 31 points. Nowitzki was held to four points -- all on free throws, not even attempting a field goal attempt -- despite being 8-of-10 from the floor in the first three quarters.
That illustrates the difference between two of the most unique, effective offensive weapons in NBA history at this point of their careers. The 24-year-old Durant is capable of taking over a game at any moment. The 34-year-old Nowitzki needs help to be put in position to dominate.
“The guards kind of have to be able to get the ball to Dirk,” Mavs big man Elton Brand said. “With Durant, he’s dribbling the ball up.”
Durant’s 17-point flurry in a span of 5:13 in the fourth quarter did indeed feature a pull-up 3-pointer. If he wasn’t bringing the ball up the floor, Durant could go as far out as necessary to catch it before attacking.
Jae Crowder and Vince Carter combined to keep Durant relatively quiet for three-plus quarters with Mavs defensive stopper Shawn Marion (calf) wearing street clothes and watching from the bench. But the dam broke for Durant early in the fourth.
“When he made that first shot in the fourth quarter, just the basket was big for him,” said Nowitzki, who finished with 23 points. “He made shots going left, going right, pull-up [3-pointers], got to the basket, he was shooting one-leggers. He had the whole full arsenal going. That’s tough.”
It’s tough for Nowitzki to create shots for himself these days. While he never possessed anything near Durant’s remarkable athleticism, Nowitzki now ranks 18th among the NBA’s all-time leading scorers in large part because of his ability to face up and feast against opposing power forwards and centers.
Dirk isolations, often with him catching the ball just above the elbow, used to make up the meat of the Mavs’ playbook. Those plays are now endangered species in Dallas, partially because of the physical toll it takes for a 7-footer to repeatedly have to create for himself, especially one who missed the first 27 games of the season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.
“We know that a lot of teams are loading up and really making me work and pushing me out on the catches and denying me and just making it hard,” said Nowitzki, whose scoring average (16.2 points) is the lowest since his rookie season in 1998-99. “We feel like it’s easier with screen-and-rolls, keep attacking and keep moving. It’s a fun offense to play if everybody’s touching and moving the ball. That’s how we’ve been winning. We’re not a pound-it, iso team.”
In this case, Nowitzki felt no need to force the issue. He pointed out that the Mavs, who put up 29 points in the fourth quarter, weren’t having a problem scoring.
Nevertheless, it’d be nice to see the Mavs keep feeding Nowitzki after he hits his first eight shots from the floor. He seemed headed for a huge game after a personal 8-2 run early in the third quarter, when he drilled two 3s and a 21-footer in a span of 83 seconds.
Nowitzki got a grand total of two more shots from the floor -- and no more buckets -- in the next 20 minutes.
“They didn’t leave me anymore,” Nowitzki said. “Obviously in transition, they ran right to me. Even when we had some stuff happening on the strong side, they were just hugging me on the weak side and basically saying, ‘We don’t even want him to catch the ball.’ That’s an adjustment a lot of teams make.
“I still think we were right there. I don’t think that’s why we lost the game. We were scoring enough there in the fourth. We just couldn’t get stops anymore. That’s what hurt us.”
Of course, Durant had a lot to do with that. He was demanding the ball while Dirk was in decoy mode.
“I just told [Thunder coach Scott Brooks], ‘Let me see the ball and I’ll try to make the right play,’” Durant said. “And he trusted me enough to give it to me. Fourth quarter, coach always tells me, is my time, I just got to come through.”
The fourth quarter used to be Nowitzki’s time, as the Thunder knows all too well, having been victimized by Dirk’s clutch dominance over and over again in the 2011 Western Conference finals.
Those nights are no longer the norm for Nowitzki. For the Mavs to make a miraculous playoff push, they need to be, although the reward might be an unhealthy dose of Durant.
The NBA’s leading scorer lit up the Mavs for 17 of his 31 points during a span of just more than five minutes in the fourth quarter, putting on a shot-creating clinic and pumping the Thunder’s lead up to six points with 4:15 remaining. The Mavs fought back to tie it up again, but Russell Westbrook’s pull-up jumper at the 1:00 mark gave OKC the lead for good.
The Mavs, who were missing defensive stopper Shawn Marion (calf) for the second consecutive game, did a terrific job defending Durant for the first three-plus quarters. But Durant dominated for a chunk of the fourth quarter.
Durant's go-ahead jumper with 9:28 remaining was his first basket of the second half. That started a scoring flurry over the next 5:13 that featured an and-1 drive, a contested 3, another drive for a layup, a floater in the lane, a pull-up 3 and a Dirk-esque, off-the-dribble, one-legged fadeaway.
Meanwhile, Dirk Nowitzki didn’t get a shot from the floor in the fourth quarter, despite 8-of-10 shooting in the first three frames. Nowitzki finished with 23 points, including the free throws that tied it up with a little more than a minute remaining.
Westbrook, who finished with 35 points on 13-of-23 shooting and six assists, carried Oklahoma City for most of the game.
The Mavs got 18 points from sixth man Vince Carter, including seven in the fourth quarter while the Mavs couldn’t figure out how to get their superstar the ball.
What it means: The Mavs fell to 31-35, putting them four games behind the eighth-place Los Angeles Lakers after L.A.'s win Sunday over the Sacramento Kings. The Mavs were swept in the season series by the Thunder and San Antonio Spurs, the two teams fighting for the West’s top seed, one of which would be waiting if the Mavs somehow manage to sneak into the playoffs. The Mavs will have to reach deep to muster energy Monday night, when they’ll be in Atlanta for their fourth game in five nights.
Play of the game: Phenomenal displays of athleticism on both ends of the floor in the matter of four seconds seconds gave the Thunder the lead in the final minute of the first half. Serge Ibaka swatted Darren Collison’s layup attempt off the glass to spark a fast break that Westbrook finished with an emphatic two-handed slam off a feed from Thabo Sefolosha.
Stat of the night: The Mavs are 1-11 against the Thunder since beating Oklahoma City in the 2011 Western Conference finals, including last season’s sweep in the first round of the playoffs. The Mavs have lost their last 10 games against the Thunder.
Rick Carlisle went with his 21st starting lineup of the season for Sunday night's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, benching center Chris Kaman for Elton Brand.
Kaman's playing time has been a sore subject recently. He expressed displeasure after being benched 2:14 into last week's win over the Milwaukee Bucks. Carlisle essentially apologized for starting Kaman in that game, saying it was a bad matchup for the big man.
Kaman played only 5:45 in Friday's win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Mavs are 8-9 when Brand starts this season, including 3-2 when he starts at center. Brand has struggled offensively as a starter, averaging only 5.6 points on 34.3 percent shooting.
Unfortunately for the Mavs, Marion won’t be available for the Thunder’s visit tonight, as he’ll be sidelined by a strained right calf for the sixth consecutive game.
How much will the Mavs miss Marion against Durant? Believe it or not, the stats suggest that Marion is no longer more effective defending Durant than the Mavs’ other options.
That’s quite a contrast to the 2011 West finals, when Marion spearheaded a magnificent defensive effort against Durant.
According to NBA.com’s numbers, Durant shot only 38.2 percent from the floor and 15.0 percent from 3-point range when Marion was on the floor during that series, averaging an inefficient 26.9 points per 48 minutes. Durant’s stats soared with Marion off the floor: 38.6 points per 48 minutes on 55.2 percent shooting from the floor, including 40.0 percent from 3-point range. The Mavs were plus-30 in 163 minutes of Durant vs. Marion and minus-15 when Durant was on the floor while Marion rested.
The stats suggest Durant learned from that experience and developed the weaknesses exposed by Marion’s physical, aggressive defense in that series. Durant was actually more productive with Marion on the floor than when he rested last season, both in the regular season and the Thunder’s first-round sweep.
Durant has dominated the matchup against Marion in the Mavs’ three losses to the Thunder this season, averaging 41.1 points per 48 minutes, shooting 45.7 percent from the floor, 50.0 percent from 3-point range and hitting 25 of 26 free throws. (Oh, those free throws are a sore issue. Marion was fined $25,000 for declaring that it was difficult to “play 5-on-8” after Durant’s free throw-fueled 52-point performance during his last trip to Dallas.)
It’s not like the Mavs have had much success stopping Durant this season with Marion sitting. Durant’s stats in those situations: 38 points in 42 minutes, 45.8 field goal percentage, 71.4 3-point percentage, 11-of-11 from the line. But Durant has committed seven turnovers in those 42 minutes, and the Mavs outscored the Thunder by 15, compared to OKC’s plus-37 when Marion faces Durant this season.
Rookie Jae Crowder is expected to get the first crack at defending Durant (with a whole lot of help) tonight. It’s a glaring mismatch on paper, with the 6-foot-6 Crowder realistically giving up four or five inches to the ridiculously skilled and talented Durant.
However, Crowder has done an outstanding job against Durant, albeit in a small sample size. They’ve been on the floor together for 30 minutes, during which Durant had 18 points on 6-of-15 shooting with three turnovers and the score was even.
There's no tougher matchup than Durant, who is on pace to join Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in NBA history to lead the league in scoring for four straight seasons. The Mavs' rookie has proven to be ready for the challenge.
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Nevertheless, Nowitzki said he felt “good” as far as his health was concerned.
Nowitzki acknowledged Monday morning that the timing of his muscle pull “stinks.” He had just started to resemble the perennial All-Star he’d been for more than a decade, pouring in a season-high 26 points in Portland before the adductor acted up late in that game.
The rhythm that Nowitzki has finally generated is gone. He’ll have to try to get it going again, but it never happened against the Thunder, who have held him to an average of 12.3 points on 26.8 percent shooting in three OKC wins this season.
“His shooting numbers weren’t good, but I thought he moved well,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We came up against a big-time opponent and we made too many mistakes. When that happens, nobody looks good.”
Added Nowitzki: “I’m going to keep pushing. I’m going to keep getting better.”
A few more notes from the Mavs’ league-high ninth loss by at least 20 points:
1. Perkins makes another Mavs friend: You can add rookie forward Jae Crowder to the list of men who have worn Mavericks uniforms and angered Oklahoma City center Kendrick Perkins.
Perkins, who invented a rivalry with Tyson Chandler during the 2011 West finals and got into a heated confrontation with Nowitzki and Carlisle during last year’s first round, drew a technical foul after barking in Crowder’s face during the second quarter.
The drama started after Crowder committed the apparently unforgivable act of hitting a jumper over Perkins. According to Crowder, Perkins responded with a colorful phrase that included some expletives, which Crowder repeated as a response.
When play stopped after the next possession, Perkins marched from under the basket to near the free throw line to continue the conversation in close proximity. O.J. Mayo took up to his rookie teammate, hollering at Perkins for several seconds during the timeout.
“All it was was him trying to intimidate me,” Crowder said. “That’s him.”
2. Mavs missed Carter: Sixth man Vince Carter watched the game in the locker room because he was sick. One can only imagine how he felt while watching the Thunder seize control late in the first quarter, when he typically enters the game.
“When we substituted, we struggled,” Carlisle said. “Not having Vince out there was a big factor, but we’ve got to play better, too.”
The Mavs hope Carter will be able to play Wednesday against the Portland Trail Blazers.
3. Season highs in stinker: It will surely get overshadowed in the aftermath of a blowout loss, but Shawn Marion and Dominique Jones each set season highs in scoring.
Marion had 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting despite sitting out the entire fourth quarter. Jones dominated garbage time, scoring 12 of his 15 points in the fourth. Jones was 5-of-8 from the floor in 14 minutes.
It was somewhat newsworthy that Jones was on the floor at all. He played a grand total of 53 seconds in the entire month of January.
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