Dallas Mavericks: Russell Westbrook

'Gamer' Calderon comes up big for Mavs

March, 26, 2014
3/26/14
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DALLAS – When former Maverick guard DeShawn Stevenson got hot, he’d say he couldn’t feel his face, doing a little hand gesture to drive home the point.

Jose Calderon wishes that was really the case for him.

His face still hurts like heck after getting whacked by a wild forearm from Brooklyn’s Mason Plumlee the other night, which sidelined Calderon for all but 45 seconds of that loss. But Calderon came back hot, turning in a terrific performance in Tuesday night’s overtime win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Playing with a chipped bone between his teeth and nose, Calderon scored 22 points and dished out eight assists in the Mavs’ most important victory so far this season. He was 7-of-10 from the floor and 6-of-9 from 3-point range, including a triple that tied the score in the final minute of overtime.

“I knew it was nothing,” Calderon said of his injury. “It’s going to be uncomfortable for a few weeks. I can play. There’s nothing it’s going to keep me from doing. It was a great game for us. It’s one of those games we needed to get, so I’m really proud of my teammates.”

Calderon’s shooting was obviously critical to the Mavs’ chances of beating the Thunder for the second time in 10 days. Coach Rick Carlisle pointed to a stretch in the second quarter, when the Thunder took a six-point lead and Calderon knocked down a couple of 3s and dished to Shawn Marion for a dunk, as an especially important point of the game that might get overlooked.

But Calderon, who is woefully overmatched athletically by OKC’s Russell Westbrook, also did a decent job defensively. Westbrook had 23 points and eight assists, but he shot only 8-of-18 from the floor and committed eight turnovers, including a high-speed charge Calderon took fearlessly despite his facial injury.

“He’s been a gamer all year,” Carlisle said of Calderon, one of the highest compliments a coach can give a player.

3 Points: What's a successful season?

March, 19, 2014
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Dirk NowitzkiLayne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty ImagesDid Sunday's win in OKC show that the Mavs could challenge the Thunder in a playoff series?
ESPNDallas.com columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor and MavsOutsider.com editor-in-chief Bryan Gutierrez will join me each week to run a three-man weave on a few questions on the minds of Mavs fans.

1. What should be a successful season for these Mavs?

Gutierrez: If we’re still buying in on Mark Cuban’s two-year plan, I would say a successful season in terms of tangible win-loss results would be getting into the playoffs and, depending on the seeding, winning a game or two. I think the probability of extending a series greatly improves if they can somehow manage to wind up as the sixth seed. I think this season has already been a success because they’ve found a true running mate for Dirk Nowitzki in Monta Ellis. They were expecting a nice player, but I think they’ve gotten more than they expected in Ellis. His aggression on offense and commendable all-around play have made him a great piece for the new core. With a new core and cap space, they can continue to propel themselves back to contention near the top of the West. That’s a success in my book.

Taylor: Given the makeup of this roster and where they will likely finish in the Western Conference, I'd say getting to the second round would be a sensational season. A good season, as strange as it sounds, would be pushing their first-round opponent 6 or 7 games, especially if it's San Antonio or Oklahoma City. I don't expect them to get to the second round and for a franchise with their history, it seems bad to say just getting to playoffs is a successful season.

MacMahon: The Mavs have to at least put up a fight in the first round to feel good about this season. No matter how tough the West might be, the Mavs are too proud of a franchise to consider just getting into the playoffs to be an accomplishment worth celebrating. Last season was viewed as an epic failure because the Mavs’ 12-year playoff streak was snapped, and that was with Dirk missing the first two months and dragging his leg around for several more weeks. Cuban will say he’s never satisfied with anything short of a title, but we all know the standards have been lowered over the last few years. Go six games in the first round, and that can be considered significant progress.

(Read full post)

OKC's Westbrook (rest) won't face Mavs

March, 16, 2014
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook will rest Sunday against the Mavericks, a precautionary measure with Oklahoma City playing the first game of a back-to-back.

Opening Tip: Can Mavs slow star PGs?

March, 5, 2014
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DENVER -- San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker's return from his midseason rest came just in time to torment the Dallas Mavericks.

Now comes the Denver Nuggets' Ty Lawson, who didn't look real rusty in his first game back after missing a few weeks because of a fractured rib, tuning up for Wednesday's game against the Mavs with a 31-point, 11-assist performance Monday against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

[+] EnlargeStephen Curry
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Mavericks point guard Jose Calderon, left, has had trouble this season keeping up with elite point guards such as Steph Curry.

And the point guard problems will keep coming for Dallas. The Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard, the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry and the Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook are all on the schedule over the next two weeks.

Jose Calderon, who occasionally resembles a bullfighter on defense, would have his hands full with all of these explosive point guards if he could stay close enough to get a paw on them.

"For sure, it's an individual challenge," Calderon said. "You don't want to get beat there by anybody. You're going to play as hard as you can against great players in this league. I feel pretty comfortable. The team has been helping me a lot. This year, some days are going to be a tougher challenge. You feel better or worse. But at the end of the day, it's about team defense."

The Mavs were well aware of Calderon's defensive limitations when they signed him to a four-year, $29 million deal last summer. They considered his lack of lateral quickness a flaw they could live, considering it came in a package with his savvy offensive decision-making and elite perimeter shooting.

Calderon has been as billed for the Mavs, for better and worse. He ranks third in the league in 3-point percentage (44.9) and fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.94-to-1). He also has the worst defensive rating (107.1) among guards on winning teams.

While Calderon is a plus overall, it will be especially difficult to mask his defensive flaws during this stretch, which started with Parker's 22-point, seven-rebound performance Sunday in the Spurs' win.

(Read full post)

Mavs' misery vs. OKC continues

November, 7, 2013
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- It's a good thing the Dallas Mavericks got those Oklahoma City kids when they did.

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.

[+] EnlargeRussell Westbrook
Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsRussell Westbrook and the Thunder have won 13 of the last 14 games against the Mavs, including Wednesday's win in OKC.
Those talented kids, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, have grown up a lot in the past couple of years. They're no longer blossoming superstars; they're simply among the league's best players. The Mavs grew old and broke up the gang.

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.
Coach Rick Carlisle will join an exclusive club with his next win, which will be the 500th of his career. Only 27 coaches in NBA history have reached that milestone.

It won’t be easy for Carlisle to make it 28 this week.

The Mavs face three opponents with winning records this week, including two of the Western Conference’s top five teams. Here’s a quick look at the Mavs’ competition this week:

Oklahoma City Thunder, 7 p.m. Monday, Chesapeake Energy Arena: The 35-12 Thunder are in a slump of sorts, losing four of their last seven games, with all the setbacks coming on the road. It’s awfully tough for road teams to win in Oklahoma City, however. The Thunder are 14-1 at home this season. The Mavs have been surprisingly competitive against the defending West champions this season, losing to OKC in overtime in both of their meetings. NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant averaged 46.0 points in those games, including a career-high 52-point performance Jan. 18 in Dallas, featuring 21-of-21 shooting from the free throw line. Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, who made headlines last week by throwing a temper tantrum during a timeout, is one of only two players to rank in the NBA’s top 10 in scoring (22.6 ppg) and assists (8.3 apg) this season.

Portland Trail Blazers, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, American Airlines Center: Ex-Mavs assistant Terry Stotts has done a terrific job during his first season as Portland’s head coach, but the thin-benched Blazers might be running out of gas. Portland (24-23) has lost eight of its last 12 games to fall out of the West’s top eight. One of their wins during that stretch was a controversial 106-104 victory over the Mavs last week, when LaMarcus Aldridge hit a buzzer-beater after a charge call on O.J. Mayo that the league office later admitted was wrong. Aldridge earned his second straight All-Star bid, averaging 20.5 points and 9.0 rebounds. He’s the headliner on a heck of a frontcourt that also features center J.J. Hickson (13.0 ppg, 10.8 rpg) and do-it-all small forward Nicolas Batum (15.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 4.9 apg, 1.4 spg, 1.1 bpg). Point guard Damian Lillard (18.4 ppg, 6.5 apg) is the Rookie of the Year frontrunner, but he’s been outplayed by Darren Collison in both Mavs-Blazers meetings this season.

Golden State Warriors, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, American Airlines Center: The Warriors (30-17) have morphed from a perennial lottery squad into a team that looks like it has the potential to do some playoff damage. All-Star power forward David Lee leads the league with 31 double-doubles, averaging 19.4 points and 11.1 rebounds. Guard Stephen Curry is the best player who didn’t make the All-Star team this season, putting up 21.1 points and 6.5 assists per game. Both Mavs-Warriors games this season have gone down to the wire. Golden State won in overtime Nov. 19 in Dallas, and the Warriors squeezed out a 100-97 win in Oakland last week, when Curry and Dirk Nowitzki sat out due to injuries and Carlisle criticized the officiating after a critical no-call with six seconds remaining.

Rapid Reaction: Thunder 117, Mavs 114 (OT)

January, 18, 2013
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How it happened: It took a career-high 52 points from Kevin Durant to defeat the Dallas Mavericks.

Durant dominated the overtime period, scoring nine points on 3-of-4 shooting. That included a couple of clutch, Dirk Nowitzki-knockoff, one-legged jumpers, the second of which gave the Thunder the lead for good.

The Mavs made a remarkable comeback to survive regulation after trailing by as many as 14 points and entering the fourth quarter facing a nine-point deficit. Nowitzki and Elton Brand, who were ineffective offensively through three quarters, put the Mavs on their backs, combining to score 22 points in the fourth quarter. O.J. Mayo sent the game into overtime by drilling a heavily contested 3-pointer with 2.3 seconds remaining in regulation.

Durant missed a long jumper at the regulation buzzer, but that just gave him a chance to eclipse his previous career high of 51 points. It wasn’t a particularly efficient performance by the three-time NBA scoring champion, who made only 13 of 31 shots from the floor, but Durant did hit 21 of 21 free throws. And he stepped up with sweet step-backs to seal the win.

Point guard Russell Westbrook scored 31 points in a co-starring role for Oklahoma City.

Mavs sixth man Vince Carter kept Dallas in the game for much of the night, scoring a season-high 29 points.

Nowitzki missed 10 of his first 11 shots from the floor, finishing with 18 points on 5-of-19 shooting. He also missed a free throw with 41.8 seconds remaining when the Mavs had a chance to take the lead.

What it means: The Mavs’ season-high winning streak was snapped at four games. The Thunder won their sixth straight game, extending the league’s longest active winning streak and improving their NBA-best record to 32-8. Dallas dropped to 17-24 at the Mavs’ season midpoint, falling four games behind the Trail Blazers for what would be the Western Conference’s final playoff seed.

Play of the game: Durant hit his career high and gave the Thunder the lead for good with an off-the-dribble midrange runner over Shawn Marion with 16.5 seconds remaining. Durant caught the ball on the right wing, took a couple of hard dribbles to his left and launched the shot off his left foot a little inside the free throw line, falling away ever so slightly to make it impossible for Marion to block it.

Stat of the night: The Mavs are 1-8 in overtime games this season, including two losses to the Thunder and one to the Miami Heat.

Sizing up the competition: OKC Thunder

August, 23, 2012
8/23/12
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Fourth in a series looking at the five teams ahead of the Dallas Mavericks in our early 2012-13 Western Conference rankings and how the revamped Mavs match up.

No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder
Somehow, some way, the Thunder have to be moved out of the Northwest Division and into the Southwest. The proximity is just too enticing and so is the growing rivalry, even if OKC now holds the decisive advantage. At least the Thunder and Mavs will meet four times again this season, just as they would as division rivals, as opposed to three meetings. It pained me to rank the Thunder, with their youthful Big Three -- Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden -- and newly extended fourth core member -- Serge Ibaka -- a rung behind the new-look Lakers. The West champs, who could easily win 65 games this season, probably don't deserve such a fate. But concerns remain about the limited places this team can go to score points. Yes, OKC ranked third in the league in scoring during the regular season (103.1), but it dropped nearly two points throughout the playoffs and five points in the Finals against the Heat's rugged defense. The Thunder remain ridiculously talented but also a perimeter-oriented team with questionable depth.

[+] EnlargeKevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Thunder's Big Three (Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden) are young and formidable, but depth is an issue for the defending Western Conference champions.
Last season's results (Thunder won, 3-1)
@Thunder 104, Mavs 102
@Mavs 100, Thunder 87
Thunder 95, @Mavs 86
@Thunder 95, Mavs 91
Thunder swept Mavs in first round

This season's games
Dec. 27: @ Thunder
Jan. 18: vs. Thunder
Feb. 4: @ Thunder
March 17: vs. Thunder

What's changed?
The Thunder will largely be the same club we saw roll through the Western Conference before being stopped cold by LeBron James and the Heat. The return of guard Eric Maynor -- he played just the first nine games last season due to injury -- will definitely help the team's backcourt depth, but he has averaged less than five points in his previous 1 1/2 seasons with the Thunder. Rookie Perry Jones will be closely watched. The Duncanville and Baylor product dropped into the Thunder's lap at No. 28, giving OKC another big man behind Ibaka and the perpetually perturbed Kendrick Perkins. Hasheem Thabeet, a lottery bust at this point, was brought in as a depth player who's still young enough to possibly improve. Otherwise, the changes will come from within. What move will Kevin Durant bring back from the summer? Last season he copied Dirk Nowitzki's one-legged fadeaway. How will Westbrook's game rise to another level? How will a contract year affect Harden? Having agreed to an extension, will Ibaka again challenge for defensive player of the year while continuing to upgrade his offensive arsenal?

How the Mavs match up
The Thunder exposed Dallas' weakest positions during the first-round sweep. No one came close to covering Westbrook and Harden, particularly in the Game 4 fourth-quarter clincher. They drove unabated and untouched to the rim time after time. The Mavs feel they're better equipped to deal with those threats this season with speedy Darren Collison at point guard and Chris Kaman and Elton Brand protecting the rim. But look, OKC is a matchup nightmare. Ever catch Durant standing next to 7-footer Dirk Nowitzki? Let's just say Durant is not 6-9 as he's officially listed, and he acts like a 2-guard. Shawn Marion will again get the call to guard Durant, and at 34, that job doesn't get any easier. The 6-3 Westbrook might have the quickest first step in the league. Collison's speed will be a welcome asset for the Mavs in the backcourt, but at 6-foot, Collison will be hard-pressed to keep the ridiculously bouncy Westbrook from freely launching his free-throw jumper right over him. The Mavs will have to take advantage with potentially their best-scoring frontcourt in Nowitzki's career. Chris Kaman and Elton Brand will give Perkins and Ibaka challenges they didn't face with previous Mavs teams.

Previous entries
No. 5: Denver Nuggets
No. 4 San Antonio Spurs
No. 3 Los Angeles Clippers

Ranking the West: Lakers once again team to beat

August, 13, 2012
8/13/12
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After what seemed an eternity, the Dwightmare is over. Team USA giddily won gold in London. And the Los Angeles Lakers are again the envy of the NBA.

When U.S. star of stars and Lakers icon Kobe Bryant squeezed Spain foe and L.A. teammate Pau Gasol for an extended embrace after Sunday's gold medal match, surely Bryant whispered in Gasol's ear to savor his stunning survival in Tinseltown and to sharpen his mind the rest of the summer for another championship run -- the one that will even Bryant with Michael Jordan at six.

[+] EnlargeDwight Howard and Kobe Bryant
Noah Graham/Getty ImagesThe Lakers' addition of Dwight Howard makes them the team to beat in the West.
Apologies to the NBA's fun bunch and reigning Western Conference champs in Oklahoma City, but the Lakers are again the team to beat. How can they not be? General manager Mitch Kupchak, the runaway favorite for Executive of the Year, shored up the club's greatest weakness by landing two-time MVP Steve Nash in a sign-and-trade, and last week incredibly upgraded at center as the other 29 franchise's could only shake their heads. L.A. shipped out All-Star Andrew Bynum and acquired the game's most dominant paint force, Dwight Howard.

The Lakers are set to roll out a starting five of Nash, Kobe, Metta World Peace, Gasol and Howard. A cynic might suggest that the first four average nearly 34 years of age and will never hold up. OK, but they collectively bring 27 All-Star Game appearances and three league MVPs. And that fifth guy on the list, Howard, is only 26 and is a six-time All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year.

With that, here's my early rankings for what should be a remarkably competitive West:

THE BEST

1. Los Angeles Lakers: The big question is if second-year Lakers coach Mike Brown is capable of handling this collection of talent and ego (somewhere in Montana Phil Jackson is contemplating a return). It's not only the two blockbuster moves that should create a more dynamic offense and a more intimidating defense that makes L.A. the favorite in the West, but also quieter moves that bolster the Lakers' previously questionable depth. Antawn Jamison, the 6-foot-9 veteran forward, will be elated to come off the bench and add scoring punch for this bunch (he averaged 17.2 points for Cleveland last season). Soon after Howard signed, the Lakers shrewdly signed free-agent shooting guard Jodie Meeks to shoot 3-balls (37.1 percent last season for Philadelphia) that will come in endless supply with this lineup. Backup point guard Steve Blake is back and so is young, 6-10 forward Jordan Hill, who sparked L.A. with energy and rebounding and even a bit of scoring after coming over at last season's deadline.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder: Hey, we still love these guys. Kevin Durant might win 10 more scoring titles in a row, Russell Westbrook will continue to mature and James Harden and Serge Ibaka only seem to be scratching their potential. So why is it seemingly so easy to rank the West champs behind the Lakers? Because L.A. has double the number of scoring threats and that new defensive stopper in the middle. The Thunder will again rely on the same three scorers: Durant, Westbrook and Harden accounted for nearly 70 percent of the team's scoring last season. Ibaka, at 9.8 points a game, was the closest to averaging in double figures behind the Big Three and then there was significant dropoff to the next high-scorer, L.A. castoff Derek Fisher. Upon his arrival at the deadline, Fisher became the team's fifth-leading scorer and best 3-point option. He won't be back and the Thunder still lack scoring punch off the bench, although the return of Eric Maynor will help. Inside, even with Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder will be as hard-pressed as everyone else to contain Gasol and Howard.

Chris Paul and Blake Griffin
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireThe Clippers' athletic core and trio of newcomers gives them a puncher's chance to win the conference.
3. Los Angeles Clippers: That other team in L.A. is pretty good these days and should get better. So close to becoming a Laker, Chris Paul has instead made the Staples Center co-tenant relevant and a real threat for next season, assuming health for himself and his buddies, starting with the most violent scorer in the league, Blake Griffin. Coach Vinny Del Negro takes a lot of grief, but he got an inconsistent and banged-up team to 40 wins (in 66 games), to finish with the No. 5 seed and to advance to the second round. He has more to work with this year starting with CP3 at the wheel and a ridiculously athletic front court. Veteran guard Chauncey Billups is coming off the early season Achilles injury and he'll be joined by a healthy Eric Bledsoe and an intriguing trio of newcomers including scorer Jamal Crawford replacing Mo Williams, veteran leader Grant Hill and Lamar Odom as he seeks to reclaim his reputation and a spot as one of the more versatile and useful forwards in the game.

4. San Antonio Spurs: The dream season of a year ago spiraled after taking a 2-0 lead on the Thunder in the West finals. It only gets tougher for Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, who played at an MVP level last season, to get back to the Finals, a place they haven't been since 2007. Still, considering how Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford re-tooled the franchise on the fly, both in roster and style, the Spurs, who won 50 games last season, will again be a contender. In-season deals that sent out Richard Jefferson and brought in Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw were shrewd. Youngsters Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter will continue to improve.

5. Denver Nuggets: George Karl should have a lot of fun coaching this team, assuming he can keep center JaVale McGee relatively focused on most nights and always running in the direction of the right hoop. The 7-foot youngster has produced his share of laugh-out-loud bloopers, but he also showed in the playoffs against the Lakers that with time and patience he just might become a force to be reckoned with in this league. The up-tempo Nuggets helped to facilitate the Dwight Howard-to-L.A. trade by taking on Philadelphia 76ers All-Star and Olympian Andre Iguodala, 28, and sending off Al Harrington and Arron Afflalo. Adding Iguodala to a group that includes Ty Lawson, Andre Miller, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried and Corey Brewer should make for some fun times. Denver also brings back improving 7-1 center Timofey Mozgov and signed young power forward Anthony Randolph.

6. Dallas Mavericks: One of the most consistent and predictable outfits in all of basketball over the last dozen years is suddenly the mystery team of the league. If you lived under a rock from June 13, 2011, until now you won't recognize the Mavs outside of recently married Dirk Nowitzki and perennial bachelor Shawn Marion. It's going to take time for this team to come together, but there is intriguing potential here with Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo in the backcourt and Chris Kaman and Elton Brand joining Nowitzki, now 34 and coming off his first brush with Father Time, in the front court. Dallas failed to land Deron Williams, but recovered with a mix of speed and youth in the backcourt and a front court that is obviously not the most mobile, but is as savvy and crafty at scoring the ball as any the Mavs have fielded during their 12-year playoff run. Depth is questionable. There certainly isn't a scorer like Jason Terry to provide instant offense off the bench, but Delonte West, Vince Carter, Dahntay Jones, Brand and a rookies Jae Crowder and Bernard James are capable of being a solid backup group.
Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion
Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT/Getty ImagesThe Mavs' patchwork lineup is mysterious, but should provide enough punch to contend for a playoff spot.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves: It's incredibly tempting to move the Wolves higher because this young, dynamic team should keep getting better under Rick Adelman. Obviously, how long it takes scintillating point guard Ricky Rubio to return from his unfortunate ACL injury last season and then ramp up his game will be a significant factor in the Wolves' quest for a first playoff berth since 2004. Rubio and All-Star/Olympian teammate Kevin Love, a 20-20 machine, have a nice cast around them with J.J. Barea, emerging center Nikola Pekovic and the additions of Andrei Kirilenko and Chase Budinger replacing malcontent Michael Beasley on the wing.

8. Memphis Grizzlies: A team that struggled to shoot the 3-ball last season lost its most prolific bomber in Mayo and replaced him with Jerryd Bayless and Wayne Ellington. The Grizz will continue to be a tough matchup because of their size and skill up front with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, and they still possess a strong starting five with Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Rudy Gay. But Memphis finished 20th in the league in scoring last season and it doesn't appear it will be any easier for them to put up points. Never mind the mental recuperation after last season's choke job in Game 1 of their playoff series with the Clippers and then being unable to bury a banged-up Paul and Griffin in Game 7 at home.

THE REST

Utah Jazz: This could easily round into a playoff team with an upgraded backcourt of Mo Williams and Randy Foye. Gordon Hayward has breakout potential and a front line that includes Derrick Favors, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Enes Kanter will be rough and tough inside.

Portland Trail Blazers: Former Mavs assistant Terry Stotts takes over a roster that includes All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, J.J. Hickson and a two top-11 draft picks in point guard Damian Lillard and center Meyers Leonard.

Golden State Warriors: There's some nice pieces here with Stephen Curry, Andrew Bogut, Klay Thompson, David Lee, Jarrett Jack and rookies Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green. But are there enough pieces to crash into the top eight for the first time since 2007?

Phoenix Suns: Had Mayo opted to come aboard, the re-tooling in the wake of face-of-the-franchise Steve Nash leaving would have looked a lot better. As it is, the Suns reclaimed PG Goran Dragic to replace Nash and added Luis Scola to Marcin Gortat up front.

New Orleans Hornets: From bust after Chris Paul left to boom after winning the lottery and selecting Anthony Davis with the No. 1 pick and Austin Rivers at No. 10. New Orleans also re-signed big-time scorer Eric Gordon and sharpshooter Ryan Anderson as a new era officially begins.

Sacramento Kings: The team might be staying in Sacramento for the time being, but there's not a tremendous amount to get excited about as far as ending a six-year playoff drought. Jimmer Fredette needs a big year to complement DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans and Isaiah Thomas.

Houston Rockets: Jeremy Lin has his work cut out. GM Daryl Morey's maneuverings to land Howard failed and he's left with a hodgepodge roster that includes some nice-looking rookies and former Bulls backup center and defensive force Omer Asik.

What's it mean?: High draft picks line roster

July, 30, 2012
7/30/12
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When Elton Brand sets up shop at his new Dallas Mavericks locker, he and Shawn Marion will certainly reminisce about the 1999 NBA draft, surely the way Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter have about the '98 draft.

Drafts are always fun to look back on when hindsight is, as they say, 20-20. Brand, selected No. 1 overall out of Duke by the Chicago Bulls, was taken eight spots higher than Marion, the No. 9 pick out of UNLV by the Phoenix Suns.

In between are names like Steve Francis, Baron Davis, Lamar Odom, Jonathan Bender, Wally Szczerbiak, Rip Hamilton and Andre Miller. Anyone care for a redraft?

As for that '98 draft, Nowitzki was taken ninth by the Milwaukee Bucks and traded to the Mavs for the sixth pick, Michigan's Robert Traylor. Carter, out of North Carolina, was selected fifth by the Golden State Warriors and shipped to the Toronto Raptors for the No. 4 pick, Antawn Jamison.

The Mavs' current 15-man roster is loaded with 13 first-round picks and seven taken in the top nine. Of the 15 players on the roster, only two are second-rounders and those two were June's selections of Bernard James (33rd out of Florida State) and Jae Crowder (34th out of Marquette).

Five of the 13 first-rounders were taken between 20 and 25.

Four of the Mavs' five projected starters are top-nine picks, led by shooting guard O.J. Mayo, the No. 3 pick in 2008, taken one spot behind Michael Beasley, one ahead of Russell Westbrook and two ahead of Kevin Love. There's Nowitzki and Marion at the forward spots, and center Chris Kaman was the No. 6 pick in 2003 (remember how that year unfolded?: LeBron James, Darko Milicic, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Kaman, who coming out of Central Michigan, had a full head of hair).

The odd man out is point guard Darren Collison, the No. 21 pick out of UCLA in 2009 (picked four spots higher than Rodrigue Beaubois that year). Off the bench, the Mavs can bring in the former No. 1 in Brand, No. 5 in Carter and No. 8 in Brandan Wright (2007).

How rare is it for a starting lineup to boast four players picked in the top nine? Consider that the star-laden Los Angeles Lakers will have one among next season's starting five -- the 2001 No. 3 pick, Pau Gasol. Kobe Bryant was taken 13th in 1996 and Steve Nash was selected two spots later. Andrew Bynum beat them both at No. 10 in 2005.

The Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder, with their stable of young guns, have two starters drafted in the top 12 -- No. 2 Kevin Durant in 2007 and Westbrook, who went fourth in '08. They bring off the bench James Harden, taken at No. 3 in '09.

The four-time champion Spurs still feature the 1997 No. 1 pick Tim Duncan. No one else in the starting lineup was drafted higher than last season's surprise rookie, Kawhi Leonard, taken at No. 15 by the Indiana Pacers and traded to San Antonio.

Of course, what it all means is that the draft is a terribly inexact science, even at the top, and spots players were selected at years ago have little bearing on their impact today, one way or the other.

Take 1998 when Nowitzki and Carter both heard these names called before theirs: Michael Olowokandi, Mike Bibby and Raef LaFrentz. Or '07 when the Mavs' Wright, out of North Carolina, was selected one spot higher than two-time NCAA champ Joakim Noah at No. 9.

Did Mavs value cap space more than No. 24?

June, 29, 2012
6/29/12
1:23
PM CT
The Dallas Mavericks traded the No. 17 pick in Thursday's draft to slide to No. 24, where they selected Oregon State combo guard Jared Cunningham. But did they really want that pick?

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Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle dishes on the team's draft picks, how the front office is approaching free agency and much more.

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There were serious rumblings with the Mavs on the clock that they were looking to trade out, probably for either more second-round picks or a future first-round pick.

Obviously a trade partner was not found and the Mavs selected Cunningham, a player that most draft experts had going either late in the first round or early in the second. He was one of three targets the Mavs said they pinpointed and he was the only left when they went on the clock at No. 17. Suspecting they could nab Cunningham lower, they made the deal with Cleveland for Nos. 24, 33 and 34.

But why would Dallas want to get out of the first round all together? For no other reason than the invaluable commodity of cap space.

For months the Mavs have made no secret about their desire to clear cap space for this summer's free-agent spree as they begin to remake a roster that has numerous spots to fill. Free-agent shopping begins with luring Deron Williams on board with a max contract, and that will take some roster maneuverings to make the dollars work. The more cap space the Mavs can clear in advance, the less daunting that task becomes.

It's why they tossed small forward Kelenna Azubuike and his nearly $1 million contract into the trade. Had Dallas exited the first round without a pick, they would have saved close to an additional $1 million for $2 million in total cap savings.

Instead, Cunningham's guaranteed salary for next season will be close to $1 million.

By moving from No. 17 to No. 24, the Mavs saved about $350,000 on the rookie sliding salary scale for a total savings of around $1.35 million when added to the Azubuike savings.

Now, should the Mavs' desired slide to No. 24 followed by an attempt to trade out of the first round mean they valued cap space more than a potential rookie contributor? And should that be seen as good vibrations within the franchise that they will soon be successful in reeling in that big fish?

Maybe. Maybe not.

"Obviously, the more cap space we have the better it is," owner Mark Cuban said. "No matter who it is."

That is true. If not D-Will, then the Mavs will have to make room available to sign other free agents, potentially Steve Nash or any number of players at multiple positions that hit the market.

As coach Rick Carlisle noted after the draft, this is a "time of change."

Carlisle also said Thursday night that they've liked Cunningham since meeting him face-to-face at the combine in Chicago. Dallas didn't bring him to town for a workout, but that doesn't always mean much. Some draft experts regard the selection as a bit of a stretch, but Carlisle and general manager Donnie Nelson described the 6-5 Cunningham as the kind of athletic force a team must have in its backcourt to compete with the likes of Russell Westbrook and the Thunder.

"The way the game is being played now, you’ve got to have quickness, you’ve got to have dynamic athleticism and you’ve got to have the ability to get by people and make shots and make basketball plays," Carlisle said. "We feel he’s good and has a chance to be exceptionally good, but it’s going to be hard work. Things we know about him is he’s a terrific kid, he works extremely hard and loves to play."

Dirk Nowitzki picks Spurs, praises Pop

May, 22, 2012
5/22/12
5:41
PM CT
If Dirk Nowitzki can't play in it, he's darn sure going to watch the Western Conference finals between the Dallas Mavericks' oldest rival and their newest.

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Mavs F Dirk Nowitzki says he's too old to stay with a rebuilding franchise but couldn't imagine himself leaving the city of Dallas.

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The San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder tip off on Sunday night. Who's Dirk got?

"I think San Antonio's going to do it, just because they've got one more home game," he said during Tuesday's appearance on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM's "Galloway & Company." "They really came on strong late in the season and they snatched home-court advantage away from OKC. So, I got to think just by that there is a little slight advantage. But honestly, both teams are good enough to win on the opponent's floor, so I would give a slight advantage to San Antonio, but, man, OKC is looking really good."

He should know. The Thunder rode the Mavs out of the first round in four games, handing Nowitzki the wrong side of the broom for the first time in his career.

Nowitzki's had his classic battles with the Spurs, including the amazing Game 7 in the 2006 semifinals that propelled Dallas to its first NBA Finals. It was a Spurs team that still included the Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, yet, as Nowitzki pointed out, it is an entirely different style of ball those boys are playing these days, and the reigning NBA Finals MVP says all credit goes to this season's Coach of the Year, Gregg Popovich.

"To me, he's the best coach in the league, he's a genius on both ends of the floor," Nowitzki said. "The adjustment that he goes through -- at the beginning they win all their championships with defense, and he saw where the game's going; the game is going to free-flowing and more movement, you need basically four shooters on the floor at all times, and he's the man, he made it all happen.

"With [general manager] R.C. Buford helping him, finding people left and right. I mean, they draft people in the second round that nobody gives them a shot and they turn them into players. They have an amazing franchise and they really do a great job finding people that play well in their system and Pop makes them believe in their system. They're really fun to watch, they're rolling."

Dirk said he's ready to get this series going now, but unfortunately we'll have to wait until the end of the weekend. So, he's got the Spurs getting back to the NBA Finals for the first time in five seasons, but he's looking for the thing to go the distance, strictly from an entertainment standpoint.

"It's going to be spectacular. Hopefully, it's going to be a long series and we can all watch some great basketball," Nowitzki said. "The whole thing is full of great matchups. Just off the bench with Ginobili and [James] Harden going at it, the two point guards, obviously [Russell] Westbrook was phenomenal against us all series, but Parker is having a phenomenal year, probably in the prime of his career and Duncan is still looking really good this year. And now they got another week off to rest everybody.

"So, it's going to be an incredible series to watch."

Would Thunder run be more impressive than Mavs'?

May, 22, 2012
5/22/12
2:16
PM CT
Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle had high praise for the Oklahoma City Thunder after being swept out of the first round, and his opinion was likely only reinforced after OKC's impressive dismantling and elimination of the Los Angeles Lakers in five games.

"No question that they got better," Carlisle said, comparing this OKC team that is 8-1 in the playoffs to the one the Mavs ousted in five games in last season's West finals. "When they went through what they did last year where they won two rounds and got in a tough series with us and basically were right there in every game, you take quantum leaps in terms of your emotional growth, understanding what it takes to advance to the highest levels."

It's been documented by the Thunder's coolness and effectiveness under late-game duress against the Mavs and Lakers, extinguishing the harshest criticism heaped on the kiddos a year ago.

If the Thunder, elevated by a core of four players age 23 and younger -- Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka -- beat the championship-pedigreed and re-invented San Antonio Spurs in the West finals, their path to the NBA Finals will have rolled through the three franchises that have represented the West since 1999, and that have won 10 of the last 13 championships.

It would certainly signal an official restructuring of the West hierarchy.

"Their players individually have gotten better," Carlisle said. "Westbrook is a better player this year. Durant’s a little stronger and a little bit better. Ibaka has taken a major quantum leap and (Kendrick) Perkins, last year he wasn’t the same player. He was coming off of a surgery the previous summer and there’s a huge difference in his body this year. He’s 20 to 25 pounds lighter, back playing above the rim again and was doing some good things offensively. He really brought toughness to their team. They’re in a great position."

If OKC goes on to win it all -- and for the sake of argument let's say it beats the Miami Heat in the Finals -- will a run through the Mavs, Lakers, Spurs and Heat be more impressive than the trail of superstar ashes left in the Mavs' wake as they bulldozed through the Lakers, Thunder and Heat?

With at least four more days until the start of this highly anticipated West final, let the debate begin.

Is Jason Terry preparing for farewell?

May, 5, 2012
5/05/12
11:20
AM CT
DALLAS -- "No question," was Jason Terry's response when asked if he's thinking that tonight's Game 4 could be his last wearing a Dallas Mavericks uniform.

"All that’s on the line and all those thoughts are there," Terry said. "And that means more of a reason why I want to come out and play well tonight and get the win."

It's been a wild eight-year run in Dallas for Terry, who was acquired in 2004 in a no-win situation to take over for the beloved Steve Nash. It didn't help that Nash and the Suns eliminated the Mavs in the second round with the former Mavs point guard nailing a huge 3-point shot with Terry playing off of him and Dirk Nowitzki then giving his new teammate an earful.

Bygones are bygones. That's what winning a title will do for you. That was just 11 months ago, and now here the Mavs are, not only staring down first-round elimination, but a sweep at the hands of the youthful Oklahoma City Thunder.

"But no excuses," Terry said. "Come out here tonight. If we get one it's going to get scary. The pressure is on them."

Terry played the pressure card, trying to sound convincing that team up 3-0 in the series is actually shouldering the pressure. Terry said he's also been taking other measures to help get Dallas a win and begin to turn this thing around.

"I broke every broom in the house, so that’s a little superstition so I don’t think there will be any sweeps going on," Terry said. "I’ve got the black shoes on for tonight. I wanted to wear the gold ones, but they (the NBA) banned them. We’re going to try the black suit thing -- the funeral -- and we just hope it ain't ours."

After his red-hot start to the series, Terry has not been a factor, averaging 14.7 points and 4.0 assists. He's had trouble breaking free for open looks, particularly when guarded by 23-year-old Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook.

"The pressure is on them all the way," Terry said. "They're kind of young. They might not realize it, but it’s there, and hopefully they’ll feel it during the game because it’s hard to close a team out. And then if you do lose, then what? Now you start to think about it a little bit. Not a situation (down 3-0) we want to be in, but we’ll take it at this point."

Rapid Reaction: Thunder 95, Mavs 79

May, 3, 2012
5/03/12
11:17
PM CT


DALLAS -- How it happened: Oklahoma City built a 15-point lead in the first and second quarters, and the Mavericks could never keep a run going long enough to make it a game. The defending champions are truly up against it, down 3-0.

To avoid a humiliating sweep after an embarrassing, wire-to-wire Game 3 loss on their home floor, the defending champs must win Game 4 in Dallas on Saturday night.

The Mavs had two promising runs that got snuffed, one late in the second quarter to cut the deficit to seven and one early in the third that chopped it to five, 50-45. But a red-hot Kevin Durant (31 points on 11-of-15 shooting, 8-of-10 in the first half) and his running buddy Russell Westbrook (20 points on 8-of-19, 5-of-8 in the second half) kicked it back in gear to go up 60-48 with 7:21 left in the third quarter, and then it was quickly 66-50.

And then 83-58, and it was lights out.

Durant, after shooting just 34.1 percent in the first two games, was magnificent from the jump. On the Mavs' side, superstar Dirk Nowitzki never seemed engaged. He was 4-of-8 from the floor in the first half and finished 6-of-15 for 17 points. He even missed three free throws. Jason Terry was terrible, 1-of-6 in the first half, and he finished with just 11 points.

Dallas shot an abysmal 34.2 percent for the game.

The bottom line to it all, as much as the Mavs and their fans wanted to believe otherwise, is that this stripped-down version of the title team lacks essential parts to properly function. Gone: the fiery leadership, rebounding and defense of Tyson Chandler; the penetration of J.J. Barea; and the fierceness of DeShawn Stevenson.

These Mavs really are too old and too slow to keep up with the Thunder's remarkable foursome of Durant, Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden, all of whom have yet to turn 24. And to think this is the team most fans wanted over the Los Angeles Lakers. It probably didn't matter.

Things got off to a chaotic start in the first quarter with the Mavs believing they were on the wrong side of the whistle more than once. Nowitzki got nailed with a technical four minutes into the game, and then an absolutely irate Rick Carlisle got his own and was fortunate not to get ejected.

Durant and the Thunder came out throwing haymakers, and jumped out to a 28-13 lead. The Mavs closed the gap to 32-26 with a 13-4 run to close the quarter. But Dallas scored just 15 points in the second quarter and 16 in the third.

What it means: No team has come back from a 3-0 series deficit. If Dallas is going to avoid becoming the first defending champion since the 2007 Miami Heat to bow out in the first round, the Mavs will have to overcome decades of NBA postseason history. Miami, one season removed from rallying past the Mavs in the NBA Finals, was swept by the Chicago Bulls.

Bold play of the game: Early in the third quarter, the Mavs were desperately trying to keep a run alive, having pushed to within 50-45, but OKC was back up 54-45. Delonte West drove the lane, looking to score and maybe an and-1, but his shot was swatted away by Ibaka for his third and final block of the game. Westbrook pulled up for a jumper at the other end, and it was 56-45 with 8:51 to go.

Stat of the game: Since the Mavs beat the Thunder 4-1 in the Western Conference finals last season, they are 1-6 against OKC.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Monta Ellis
PTS AST STL MIN
20.5 4.4 1.7 33.9
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsT. Chandler 12.0
AssistsR. Rondo 7.0
StealsM. Ellis 1.7
BlocksT. Chandler 1.4