Dallas Mavericks: Paul Gasol
How it happened: Derek Fisher got the job done against Dallas in crunch time again.
Fisher, the man who hit the game-winning 3-pointer against the Mavs at Staples Center earlier this season, keyed a critical, tiebreaking 7-0 run late in the fourth quarter. The 37-year-old point guard hit a 3-pointer and a driving floater on consecutive possessions to give the Lakers enough breathing room to seal the win in the arena where their season ended in embarrassing fashion last spring.
Fisher (15 points, 6-8 FG), power forward Pau Gasol (24 points, 11-of-18 FG) and big man Andrew Bynum (19 points, 6-of-10 FG, 14 rebounds) carried the Lakers on an off night for Kobe Bryant. With Shawn Marion in his face and getting help, the NBA’s leading scorer had more turnovers (seven) than field goals (4-of-15). Bryant finished with 15 points, a little more than half his average.
The Mavs, who needed a 20-6 run to tie the score at halftime, wasted one of Vince Carter's best offensive performances of the season. Carter scored 20 points, one shy of his season high. The Mavs are now 14-3 when he scores in double figures.
Dallas superstar Dirk Nowitzki had 25 points and 12 rebounds, including two buckets in a frantic comeback attempt that fell short in the final couple of minutes.
What it means: The Mavs missed a chance to enter the All-Star break with major momentum. This was only their second loss in the last nine games. It could be considered a statement win for the Lakers, who looked forward to seeing how they measured up against the Mavs, according to Bryant. L.A. improved to 6-11 on the road this season.
Play of the game: Bryant drove baseline with his left past Jason Kidd and absorbed strong contact from 7-foot, 263-pound Brendan Haywood before flipping the ball off the glass for an and-1 circus shot late in the third quarter. Kobe missed the free throw, but that didn’t affect the aesthetics of the drive and finish.
Stat of the night: The Lakers, who were swept by the Mavs in the West semifinals last season, have won the last four regular season meetings between the teams.
"Hardest it’s ever been," Carlisle said. "By far."
Those seven reserves will be announced tonight. Dirk Nowitzki is considered a lock with center Tyson Chandler a long shot. If Chandler doesn't make his first All-Star squad he can't blame Carlisle. Coaches can't vote for their own players so it will be up to the other 14 West coaches to give Chandler the nod.
After the Dallas Mavericks' Thursday practice at Emerson College in Boston, Carlisle said he had no insight into how other coaches voted, but he said he thinks Chandler has a chance.
"No one ever knows [how the coaches vote] because we don’t know," Carlisle said. "We don’t see the tallies."
And Carlisle said he wasn't about to divulge his votes.
Each conference's coaches vote for that conference's reserves. They vote in order, one through seven, and then the player is assigned that number value. The points are added up and the top seven point totals are in. Coaches are allowed to change a player's position if it makes sense, such as voting Tim Duncan or Pau Gasol as a center to help alleviate the migraine-producing logjam at forward.
More than one deserving forward will be left off the team among a group that includes, but is not limited to, Nowitzki, Gasol, Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge, David West, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin.
"I would be shocked if it wasn’t very, very close a lot of years," Carlisle said. "But, this year in particular."
Maybe he'll provide inspiration. The lethargic Mavs could use some as they drag a six-game losing streak into tonight's nationally televised game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Butler watched the team practice on Tuesday for the first time, but he said he's been in frequent communication with his teammates.
"I've been texting guys, telling them to remain positive, to continue to trust some of the things we always honed in on, playing good defense and just letting them know what I see," Butler said. "Some of it's from a personal standpoint, some just from the obvious, what we need. We exchange texts and conversations and we move on and hopefully we get out of this funk."
Butler also recounted suffering the injury, how he immediately knew something was wrong, and how his mind quickly focused off himself and on his family and friends who came to watch him play from his nearby hometown of Racine, Wisc.
"It was a tough thing just because I knew exactly what happened when it happened," Butler said. "The second I had planted, I knew something was wrong, it just felt uncomfortable. I just jumped on my feet because I knew my mother, my grandmother, my wife and I had so many loved ones in the stands that I wanted walk off the court by myself."
Afterward, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle called it one of the more courageous acts he's seen considering the severity of the injury -- a ruptured patellar tendon that required surgery a few days later and will sideline him for at least the remainder of the regular season.
Butler's injury came two games after Dirk Nowitzki went down with a sprained right knee and missed nine games. The losses had a crippling effect on the Mavs, both on the court and mentally, as they've lost nine of 11 games and slipped six games in the standings while losing their last five games by double figures.
"It’s a tremendous blow," Butler said. "You lose two of your better players with any team, you know if the Lakers lose Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol or something like that, that would be a blow to the team. But, guys are stepping up, Dirk’s back into a nice rhythm, other guys are going to step up, roles are going to change. Roddy Beaubois will be back soon, things will change and hopefully get this back rolling."
Butler can now only rest and watch. He is in a precarious situation in that he is in the final year of his contract and the Mavs could trade him before the late February deadline in attempt to acquire reinforcements for the stretch run. Butler was always a potential trade piece, but his recent emergence as a high-powered scorer and tough-minded overall player was a key ingredient in Dallas' 24-5 start that has all but evaporated.
"I'm just staying positive. You want to come in and put that aside because I know that will take care of itself," Butler said. "You only can control what you can control. The only thing I can control right now is just ice [his knee]. all I can do is ice and support my teammates. I’m a Maverick, so just come in here and support them and when opportunity comes for all that, when I start rehabbing, I’ll prepare for free agency. But, right now I’m a Maverick and I’m going to continue to be a good teammate."
Not so much where he'll play next season since he is expected to become a free agent on July 1 -- he'll be in Dallas unless, as the autor of the article Tom Haberstroh says, there's a "cataclysmic misstep in negotiations" -- but what type of player the Dallas Mavericks need to best complement Nowitzki's unique skills and to better compete for a championship.
One line by Haberstroh grabbed me: "At this point in his career, it's time to treat Nowitzki more as a 7-foot shooting guard than a big man gifted with a lights-out shot."
It struck me because I've long wondered how the Mavericks would look if the 7-foot Nowitzki played a more traditional, low-block position like the Los Angeles Lakers' 7-footer Pau Gasol. Physically, they are near-identical. Nowitzki is listed at 245 pounds; Gasol at 250. But, their offensive games could not be more dissimilar.
Gasol plays the 4 (power forward) or the 5 (center), but Nowitzki is a 4 who really plays more like a 2 (shooting guard). Yet, at this point in his career, Nowitzki doesn't shoot nearly as many 3-pointers as he did earlier in his career or as many as a shooting guard typically launches.
This isn't about comparing which player is better. My colleague Tim MacMahon went down that path last week. When their careers are over, Gasol might own more championship rings, but Nowitzki will go down as the more devastating player.
But, because Nowitzki makes his living with an unstoppable step-back jumper from 16 to 18 feet from the basket, he is, in essence, playing out of position, and it has a ripple effect throughout the lineup. The Mavs typically don't employ a traditional power forward when Nowitzki is on the floor. Add that the Mavs have not had a scoring center throughout Nowitzki's career and it's easy to see why Dallas has typically finished on the short end of the points-in-the-paint statistic, especially in the playoffs.
It's way too late in Nowitzki's career to think he's all of a sudden going to develop a low-post, back-to-the basket game. He's talked about adding that dimension to his arsenal for years, but while he shoots far less 3-pointers than he used to, and he does attack the basket with success, the offense doesn't run through him in the fashion it would if he played a more traditional power forward/center position.
So, while an elite wing player like LeBron James or Dwyane Wade would obviously be the most welcome addition, short of that, the Mavs, as Haberstroh points out, need a reliable low-post scoring threat.
The Mavs might lose center Brendan Haywood to free agency, although with a 7.7 career scoring average, he's not a coveted low-post scorer. Neither is Erick Dampier.
I like Haberstroh's suggestion of trying to pry Minnesota's Al Jefferson, who is having a turf battle with teammate Kevin Love. Jefferson is due big money -- $42 million over the next three years -- but the 6-10, 25-year-old center could be well worth it.
I've always liked Memphis' Zach Randolph -- who will enter the final year of his contract at $17.3 million -- despite his (fading?) reputation as being a knucklehead. At 6-9, Randolph (who turns 29 on July 16) is undersized as a center -- although just an inch shorter than Jefferson -- but at 260 pounds, he's a load in the paint and on the boards (he's averaged double-digit rebounds in five seasons, including the last two) and he also brings a solid mid-range game.
Low-post scoring threats don't grow on trees. It's one reason I'll always be curious how things might have been if Nowitzki played it more traditional like Gasol.
Los Angeles and Texas will be in the finals of this shooting competition.
For Team Texas, Nowitzki went 2-of-4 from three-point range and Smith made a halfcourt shot to send the team to the finals.
We're not sure why Smith reps Texas, he did play for the Houston Rockets, but he's from Queens.
We'll have more later.
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