Dallas Mavericks: Utah Jazz

SALT LAKE CITY -- Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t think Utah is a bad city.

Well, he knows now that it’s actually a state, not a city. But he enjoys Salt Lake City despite his classic “Utah is a bad city” line uttered 13 years ago during the first playoff series of his career.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Ronald Martinez/AllsportDirk Nowitzki might be hated more in Utah than any other NBA outpost, thanks to his comments in the 2001 playoffs.
“Actually, I like the city,” Nowitzki said with a big smile after the Mavericks’ shootaround Tuesday at Energy Solutions Arena. “I don’t mind it. It’s nice with the mountains. I don’t mind being here.”

However, Jazz fans don’t exactly give the big German the warmest welcomes. The passionate Utah fan base has never forgiven or forgotten the perceived disrespect from a young Dirk, and that fire has been fueled over the years by flagrant fouls Nowitzki committed against Jazz fan favorites Matt Harpring and Andrei Kirilenko.

Nowitzki might be hated more in Utah than any other NBA outpost, but he finds humor in the whole situation, laughing as he remembers the outrage his comment ignited.

“I came in with 90 minutes on the clock shooting and there was a sign up there: ‘Germany is a bad city,’” Nowitzki said, referring to his pregame routine before Game 2 of that 2001 first-round series. “They got me good. They booed me with 90 minutes on the clock. We got off on the wrong foot.”

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Dirk NowitzkiAP Photo/Brandon WadeThe Mavericks can trim their magic number to earn a playoff berth to two with a win over the Jazz.

SALT LAKE CITY -- There’s one really good way to recover from a 4-4 homestand that was a major disappointment for a Mavericks team fighting for a playoff spot.

Follow it up with a 4-0 road trip.

“We know we had to,” Vince Carter said. “We needed to. We don’t pull out a couple of these wins, it’s probably over with. I think everybody knew the importance of it and everybody’s locked in. That’s what’s great to see. ... We’ve just got to finish this trip out.”

The Mavs have put themselves in position to do that by sweeping their three games in California. They’ve got a chance to put the finishing touches on a 4-0 trip -- and trim their magic number to earn a playoff berth to two (Mavs wins/Memphis Grizzlies losses) -- by beating the worst team in the Western Conference on Tuesday night.

Not that the Mavs can afford to relax against the Utah Jazz, whose 16 homes wins this season include victories over the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Chicago Bulls and Phoenix Suns.

“This building has always been tough for us,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who has been booed heartily by Jazz fans ever since his classic “Utah is a bad city” comment during the first playoff series of his career. “Coach mentioned that all our last 11 or 12 games were one-possession games at some point in the fourth quarter. There are no easy games, especially for us, especially on the road.”

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Mavs had to work too hard for this win

November, 22, 2013
DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks are good enough not to feel great about a win like this.

Mavs 103, Jazz 93 didn't need to be nearly that close.

[+] EnlargeMonta Ellis
Glenn James/NBAE/Getty ImagesRick Carlisle wanted to avoid playing Monta Ellis, above, and the other Mavs starters more than 30 minutes, but plans changed when the Jazz cut Dallas' lead to five with less than five minutes left.
For a half, Dallas did what a playoff contender should do against a team fighting for the first overall pick. The Mavs jumped on the Jazz pretty much from the opening tip. Utah scored the first basket but never led again as the Mavs built a lead that swelled to as many as 28 points in the second quarter.

The plan was for the Mavs' starters to rest for the fourth quarter, which was particularly important on the front end of a tough back-to-back with Dallas making the long flight to Denver after the game. The problem: The Mavs mailed it in after halftime.

"Our first half was very good," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "The second half we gave in to playing the score instead of continuing to work to do things the right way.

"They made runs. We have to give them a lot of credit. They stuck with it, played hard and made big plays. We had to make some plays at the end to win, but it's a win and we'll take it. I don't like the way we played in the second half, but we have between now and tomorrow, 8 o'clock Central Time, to straighten some things out."

The 9-4 Mavs own the fourth-best record in the Western Conference after their fourth consecutive win, so there's certainly plenty to be pleased about after sweeping a three-game homestand.

However, the Mavs' standards are too high to accept their poor execution on both ends of the court in the second half against the 1-13 Jazz, who have lost nine games by double digits already this season.

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Rapid Reaction: Mavericks 103, Jazz 93

November, 22, 2013
How it happened: It wasn’t quite the dominant performance a playoff contender should want against a team collecting pingpong balls, but it was a win for the Dallas Mavericks.

Ideally, the Mavs starters could have spent the fourth quarter icing their knees and resting in preparation for Saturday night’s game against the Denver Nuggets in Colorado, but Dallas didn’t bury the Utah Jazz after building a big lead.

The Jazz’s lone lead occurred when Utah scored the first bucket of the game. The Mavs led by 15 in the first quarter and 28 in the second quarter and pretty much put it in cruise control from that point.

Utah (1-13) twice trimmed the deficit to five points -- the latter occurrence with 4:41 remaining in the fourth quarter -- keeping it close enough for Mavs coach Rick Carlisle to stick with his regular rotation. An and-1 turnaround jumper by Dirk Nowitzki, which bumped the Mavs’ lead back to 11 after the free throw, essentially served as the dagger.

Monta Ellis led the Mavs with 26 points, on 8-of-19 shooting, and six assists. Center Samuel Dalembert had his first double-double for the Mavs, scoring a season-high 18 points on 8-of-8 shooting and grabbing 12 rebounds. Nowitzki also scored 18 points despite an off shooting night (5-of-14 from the floor).

The Mavs’ defense was dreadful in the second half, when Utah’s Marvin Williams scored 16 of his team-high 19 points. The Jazz shot 59.5 percent from the floor and scored 59 points after halftime.

What it means: The Mavs (9-4) have the fourth-best record in the Western Conference as they head to Denver for the second game of a back-to-back. Dallas is one of five teams which is still undefeated at home this season, joining the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs. After sweeping this week’s three-game home stand, the Mavs are 7-0 at the American Airlines Center, their best home start since opening 10-0 in 2003-04.

Play of the game: The fast break started when Dalembert denied Derrick Favors’ two-hand dunk attempt. It ended with Shawn Marion throwing down a vicious one-hand jam over Utah big man Enes Kanter. Jose Calderon fed Marion, who filled the left lane on the break, for the bucket that stretched the Mavs’ lead to 20-6.

Stat of the night: Nine of the Jazz’s 13 losses have come by double-digit margins.

Mavs need a mile-high miracle

April, 3, 2013
DENVER – This is the Dallas Mavericks’ last chance.

Rick Carlisle joins Galloway & Company to discuss changing up his starting lineup, Brittney Griner possibly playing for the Mavericks and much more.

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No, not their last chance to make a playoff push. That ship has probably already sailed. It’s certainly far out of the Mavs’ control after Tuesday’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers dropped the Mavs 2 games behind the two teams they’re chasing for the West’s final playoff seed with only eight games to go.

This is the Mavs’ last chance to record a road win against a team above them in the West standings since Dirk Nowitzki’s return.

If that happens it’d be a mile-high miracle, considering that the Denver Nuggets have the NBA’s best home record at 33-3.

After Thursday night’s game in the Pepsi Center, the Mavs will have only three road games remaining on the schedule, all against sub-.500 teams.

The Mavs have a 14-23 road record, including a 2-13 mark when visiting the plus-.500 teams in the conference. Those two wins came against the Lakers and Houston Rockets early in the season, when Nowitzki was still rehabbing from his right knee scope.

Since Nowitzki’s return, the Mavs are 0-10 on the road against the West’s top nine teams, beginning with a 38-point blowout in San Antonio the night of his surprise debut.

There were also a few coulda, woulda, shoulda L’s in that mix: a three-point loss at Golden State when the Mavs cried foul, firmly believing that Brandan Wright should have gone to the line for the potential go-ahead free throws with seconds remaining; a one-point loss in San Antonio when Vince Carter missed a buzzer-beater; and an overtime loss in Oklahoma City.

But it’s a 100-94 loss in Utah on Jan. 7 and Tuesday night’s rout by the Lakers that stick out in Nowitzki’s mind.

“I actually think that playing Utah only three times this year, playing twice there, hurt us,” Nowitzki said, referring to the unbalanced schedule. “If we would have had two home games against them, we might have won those two, but they’re very good at home so we don’t have the tiebreaker. We needed this one to tie (the season series with the Lakers). We should have beaten them at home. We came up empty twice.

“Saying all that, it doesn’t look good, but we’re going to keep on fighting. This team has a lot of pride left.”

A lot of pride, but precious few chances. This is these Mavs’ last opportunity to pull off a road upset over a West team with Nowitzki on the floor.

If the Mavs manage to pull off the mile-high miracle, their slim playoff hopes will still be alive. If they lose this one, they might as well start booking their late April vacations.

Race for 8th seed: Schedule comparison

April, 1, 2013
Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss the Mavericks-Lakers game Tuesday night. If the Mavs lose, are their playoff hopes over?

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DALLAS –The race for the West’s eighth seed heads into the home stretch with the Dallas Mavericks trailing the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers by a game and a half.

With an assist from ESPN Stats and Information, here’s a quick comparison of the remaining schedules for the three teams. (Note: Strength of schedule is the average winning percentage of the opponents.)

Strength of schedule: .485
Home games: 4
Road games: 5
vs. .500+: 4
Back-to-backs: 2

Strength of schedule: .562
Home games: 6
Road games: 2
vs. .500+: 5
Back-to-backs: 1

Strength of schedule: .522
Home games: 5
Road games: 3
vs. .500+: 4
Back-to-backs: 0

The Jazz own the tiebreakers against both the Mavs and Lakers. The Mavs-Lakers tiebreaker has yet to be determined. The Lakers can claim it with a win Tuesday night over the Mavs. If the Mavs win and tie the season series, the next tiebreaker would be conference record. The Lakers are 21-23 against West teams; the Mavs have a 19-24 conference record.
DALLAS -- Dirk Nowitzki’s best week of the season wasn’t good enough to win Western Conference player of the week honors.

That went to Utah big man Al Jefferson, who averaged 19.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.5 blocks as the Jazz went 4-0 to get back in the driver’s seat in the race for the West’s final seed.

Nowitzki averaged 29.7 points and 7.7 rebounds with shooting percentages of 62.1 from the floor and 45.5 from 3-point range to lead the Mavs to a 2-1 record last week. His clutch heroics keyed comeback wins over the Clippers and Bulls.

“I think at this point it’s pretty obvious that we’re still looking at one of the greatest ever, playing at that level,” coach Rick Carlisle said.

A strong case can be made that Nowitzki was snubbed, but that’s the furthest thing from the mind of a man whose honors include 11 All-Star appearances, an MVP and a Finals MVP as the Mavs leave for a must-win road trip that begins Tuesday night against the Lakers.
DALLAS – As far as off nights go, it wasn’t a good one for the Dallas Mavericks.

Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss the historical perspective of Miami's 27-game win streak, the Mavericks' playoff push, the job Rick Carlisle has done this season and if it's a good idea for the Mavs to shave their .500 beards.

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The Mavs’ two prime competitors for the West’s last playoff seed both won. The Los Angeles Lakers held on for a 120-117 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Utah Jazz cruised to a 103-88 victory over the Phoenix Suns.

The Mavs woke up 1.5 games behind the eighth-seeded Lakers and a half-game behind the Jazz. Good thing scoreboard watching and standings studying aren’t pursuits that the Mavs consider worthy of their time and mental energy.

“We’ve all got to focus on what’s here in front of our nose and not look out into the wild blue yonder,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “If we do that, we’ll win our share. And if we’re supposed to get in, we’ll get in.”

The Mavs have plenty on their plate today anyway with the 45-27 Indiana Pacers in town.

The good news: Indiana is on the second half of a back-to-back, having won in Houston on Wednesday night. The Mavs have excelled at taking advantage of tired teams, going 12-2 at home against teams playing for the second consecutive night. However, the Pacers are pretty tough with no rest, as evidenced by their 13-7 record on the back end of back-to-backs.

All of the Pacers’ starters played at least 32 minutes last night, but reinforcements are reportedly on the way. According to the Indianapolis Star, Danny Granger and David West are expected to return from extended absences to face the Mavs.

Granger, who had emerged as the Pacers’ franchise player in recent years, has been out since March 6 due to soreness in his left knee and has missed all but five games this season. West, the former All-Star power forward, has missed the past six games with a lower back sprain.

UPDATE: The Pacers announced this afternoon that Granger will undergo season-ending knee surgery.

Mavs, Lakers, Jazz battling for No. 8 seed

March, 27, 2013

The Mavericks, Lakers and Jazz each have 11 games left on their 82-game schedules.

With an assist from Gregory Found from ESPN Stats & Information, here's how the race for No. 8 in the West breaks down among the three teams in four key categories:

Tim MacMahon joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss his recent conversation with Dez Bryant, the Cowboys' attempt at landing free agents without money and the Mavs' playoff push.

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  • Schedules

    * The Mavs play six of their final 11 games at home.

    * The Lakers also play six of their final 11 games at home.

    * The Jazz, who have the worst road record (10-27) of any team still in playoff contention, play seven of their final 11 games at home.

  • Strength of schedule

    * The Mavs play the 16th-toughest remaining schedule in terms of opponent winning percentage: .506.

    * The Lakers play the seventh-toughest: .523.

    * The Jazz play the 13th-toughest: .508.

  • Back-to-backs

    * The Mavs have two back-to-backs left: 1. Denver (A)/Sacramento (A); 2. New Orleans (A)/Memphis (H).

    * The Lakers also have two left: 1. Minnesota (A)/Milwaukee (A); 2. New Orleans (H)/Portland (A).

    * The Jazz have one left: Portland (A)/Brooklyn (H).

  • Tiebreakers

    * The Mavericks have already lost the head-to-head tiebreaker with Utah by losing the season series (2-1) with no games left between them.

    * The Lakers have also lost the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Jazz by losing the season series (2-1) with no games left between them.

    * The Lakers currently own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Dallas, but that could change April 2 when the Mavs go to Staples Center to try to even the season series at 2-2.

    * If the Mavericks and Lakers wind up splitting their season series and need to break a tie between the teams for that last playoff spot, conference record will be the determining factor because the teams are in different divisions. The Lakers (19-23) currently have a slight edge on Dallas (19-24), but those records obviously can change a lot between now and the end of the regular season.

    * The Jazz have likewise already clinched the three-way tiebreaker if the teams all end up deadlocked for the No. 8 seed at season's end because they sport the best record in games among the three teams at 4-2 with no games left. The Lakers are 3-3 against the other two teams with the April 2 game against the Mavs remaining; Dallas is 2-4 against the other two with one game left.
  • 3-pointer: Mavs within whiskers of .500

    March, 25, 2013
    AM CT
    DALLAS – Maybe the Mavericks will get rid of those bushy beards before they hit the beach.

    As has been well chronicled, several Mavs made a pact a couple of months ago that they wouldn’t shave until they get back to .500. (We assume all bets are off once the season is over.) They’ve at least reached the point where grabbing a razor appears to be realistic.

    With eight wins in their last 11 games, the Mavs (34-36) are within two games of .500 for the first time this calendar year. The last time they were this close to breaking even was when Dallas had a 12-14 record in late December.

    The Mavs’ playoff hopes have also been boosted from puny to possible. They’re only two games behind the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Lakers with an April 2 date at the Staples Center looming.

    But first thing’s first.

    "Making the playoffs is most important,” Elton Brand said, “but shaving is essential."

    Can the Mavs go for the Gillettes on this homestand? It won’t be easy. They have three playoff teams – the Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls – coming to town this week.

    But the Mavs, who are 21-13 since being a dozen-year-low of 10 games under .500, consider themselves a playoff team despite what the standings say. They’ve got a dozen games left to prove themselves right.

    “We’ve got to keep pushing forward,” Mike James said. “We’ve put ourselves in a good situation. It’s been tough, the hole that we had to dig ourselves out of, but we’re still fighting to get out of it. We’ve got to get our nails dirty. We’ve got to continue to get our nails dirty and dig ourselves completely out of this hole that we put ourselves in at the beginning of the season.

    “We’re playing probably the best basketball that we’ve played all season now, and this is the right time to be peaking.”

    A few more notes from the Mavs’ closer-than-it-shoulda-been win:

    1. Recharged Brand: Friday night wasn’t the first time Elton Brand had been a DNP-CD during his decorated NBA career. The rest were just when his coach opted to rest him before the playoffs.

    In this case, coach Rick Carlisle thought Brand could benefit from a game off, especially against the small-ball Celtics. Brand’s performance in Sunday’s win proved Carlisle right.

    “I always want to make my boss look smart,” Brand said, half-kidding after he had 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting, five rebounds and two blocks in 17 minutes. “It worked. I definitely felt fresher. Even had a dunk.”

    Forget the dunk. Let’s discuss Brand’s defense.

    After the first quarter, it looked like Al Jefferson would feast on the Mavs. Utah’s beefy big man had 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the first quarter but finished the game with only 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting.

    Credit Brand for cooling off Jefferson, who had only three points on 1-of-4 shooting in the 11 minutes he was defended by the 6-foot-9, 255-pound 14-year veteran. Jefferson has 10 points on 4-of-18 shooting in 41 minutes against Brand this season.

    “Against the big bruisers – and they’re coming in, it’s gonna be a murderer’s row of them the next three games – we need to have Elton fresh,” Carlisle said. “He did a great job tonight.”

    2. 86 seconds of stink: The Mavs almost managed to screw up 46-plus good minutes with a miserable finish.

    The Jazz scored 16 points in the final 1:26 of what should have been garbage time to make it a one-possession game with 7.3 seconds remaining. The Mavs survived after Darren Collison iced the win with a couple of free throws, but their coach wasn’t exactly thrilled.

    “My team’s execution in the last minute and a half? I’m in favor of it,” Carlisle said, borrowing a line from former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Rich McKay. “The end of the game was ugly, but we got through it. I guess I’ve been around this long enough to realize and understand that you can’t make a win feel like a loss.”

    3. Dirk’s rest: The Mavs didn’t need Dirk Nowitzki to play a second in the fourth quarter to pull out the win.

    It’s nice to be able to limit the 34-year-old to 26 minutes in a win under any circumstances. He ought to have fresh legs when the Clippers come to town Tuesday, assuming he isn’t under the weather.

    Nowitzki left the locker room before the media entered because he was feeling a bit ill, although it isn’t anything the Mavs are concerned about.

    “Watching the last minute of that game made everybody sick,” one Mavs staffer cracked.

    Rapid Reaction: Mavericks 113, Jazz 108

    March, 24, 2013
    PM CT
    A dominant stretch of seven-plus minutes made the difference in what had been a back-and-forth game.

    The Dallas Mavericks roared off on a tiebreaking 20-2 run that began midway through the third quarter.

    Point guard Mike James had seven of his season-high 19 points during the spurt, highlighting his highest scoring game in four years. Vince Carter, another one of the seven Mavs who scored in double figures, added six of his 15 points during the game-changing stretch.

    But Dallas’ defense was the most remarkable thing about the run. The Jazz were 1-of-11 from the floor with five turnovers, while the Mavs seized control of the game.

    That run could pay dividends the rest of the homestand, which wraps up with three games against playoff teams next week. It allowed coach Rick Carlisle to rest Dirk Nowitzki for the entire fourth quarter. Nowitzki finished with 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting in 27 minutes.

    The Utah Jazz dominated garbage time -- going on a 21-7 run to pull within three points with 7.6 seconds remaining -- to make the game look much closer than it was.

    It appeared early on that Utah center Al Jefferson might be too much for the Mavs. He had 11 points in the first quarter, but he scored only two buckets the rest of the game, finishing with 15 points. The physical defense of Elton Brand (10 points, five rebounds in 17 minutes) was a major factor in cooling off Jefferson.

    What it means: The Mavs pulled even with the Jazz at 34-36. They’re tied for ninth place in the Western Conference standings, but Utah holds the tiebreaker due to the Jazz’s two home wins over Dallas earlier this season. The Mavs have won eight of their past 11 games and are only two games behind the eighth-place Los Angeles Lakers.

    Play of the game: Brandan Wright had only a few buckets, but one of them was a beauty. After Carter missed a wild fadeaway in the lane, Wright soared over Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors for a one-hand putback slam in the first quarter.

    Stat of the night: The Mavs are 17-3 when they shoot at least 50 percent from the floor this season. They made 54.3 percent of their field goal attempts Sunday.

    Brandan Wright comes up big vs. Celtics

    March, 23, 2013
    AM CT
    DALLAS – The Mavericks figured out a way to get many more touches for one of the NBA’s most efficient scoring big guys, and benefited greatly from it.

    Oh, and Dirk Nowitzki got a lot more looks, too.

    With all due respect to Dirk -– and apologies to Jason Terry, whose American Airlines Center return was ruined -– this was Brandan Wright’s night.

    Wright got a spot start Friday night and responded by making a major impact in the Mavs’ 104-94 win over the Boston Celtics, leading all scorers with a season-high 23 points and grabbing a season-high-matching eight rebounds.

    Meanwhile, Nowitzki got his most shots in a week, scoring 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting.

    It’s a mutually beneficial frontcourt pairing on the offensive end. There’s no question that Wright, who attempted a career-high 16 shots from the floor and made all but two of his 10 buckets from within five feet of the hoop, gets great looks because of the attention defenses must pay Nowitzki on the perimeter. And Wright’s success around and above the rim creates more space for Dirk to work in the midrange.

    “We play well off each other,” Nowitzki said. “We complement each other pretty well.”

    Added Wright, whose 62.2 field goal percentage would rank third in the league if he had enough attempts to qualify: “[Our games] fit perfect together. He’s working the 15-20-foot range and I can work inside of that. When his man is hugging up on him and they’re cheating over with my guy, I can get around the rim and make plays.”

    It’s a combination that has had tremendous success in a small sample size this season. The Nowitzki-Wright duo is tied for the second-best plus-minus (plus-87) among Dallas duos, behind only Nowitzki and Vince Carter.

    However, coach Rick Carlisle has played Wright with Nowitzki for only 213 minutes this season, according to the NBA’s stats. By comparison, Nowitzki has been paired with Elton Brand for 508 minutes (minus-3), Chris Kaman for 347 minutes (minus-63) and even rookie Bernard James for 128 minutes (minus-7).

    This was only the second time this season Wright and Nowitzki started together. The other occurrence was a win over the Houston Rockets earlier this month.

    Why not play Wright and Nowitzki together more often? Carlisle is concerned about the slight, 6-foot-10, 210-pound Wright, whose rebounding problems made him a fringe rotation player for much of the season, being overpowered by traditional centers while playing next to Nowitzki.

    That wasn’t a concern against the Celtics, who start Kevin Garnett at center and play a lot of smallball.

    “It’s his kind of game because there was a lot of small guys out there,” Carlisle said of Wright, who is averaging 12.3 points and 5.9 rebounds in 24.3 minutes per game in March. “That was the reason we started him. He navigates well in an athletic game without a lot of bruisers in it. He played huge for us.”

    Added Nowitzki: “When he uses his athleticism, he’s a force for us. This was a game that was right up his alley.”

    Those aren’t exactly votes of confidence that Wright can have similar success Sunday against the Utah Jazz’s four-man big rotation, headlined by 6-foot-10, 265-pound Al Jefferson. It’s extremely unlikely that Brand, the Mavs’ best banger, will get a DNP-CD for the second straight game and second time this season.

    Wright, however, makes a case that he can be effective against the bruising bigs.

    “We’ve got to run,” Wright said. “That’s what we’ve got to do. We don’t want to slow it down with those guys and get into a half-court type of game.

    “We can expose those guys. We feel like we can attack them. When we get in those type of grinding games, that’s just not our strength as a team, period. If we can get up and down, we’ll be in good shape.”

    With the way Wright’s been rolling, maybe he ought to get a chance to prove himself right.

    3-pointer: Mavs return home with hope

    March, 19, 2013
    AM CT

    The Mavericks made their mini-road trip a success by beating the Atlanta Hawks.

    It just got better after the Mavs boarded the team jet to return to Dallas. The Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz, the two teams directly ahead of the 10th-place Mavs in the West standings, both lost late games.

    ESPN Insider Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to talk about the Mavericks' big win and if Rick Carlisle should be considered for NBA Coach of the Year.

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    Here come the Mavs, three games out of the last playoff spot entering a six-game homestand. Per the Hollinger playoff odds, the Mavs have a 14.5 percent chance of extending their postseason streak to 13 years.

    Not that Dirk Nowitzki wants to get bogged down with details, numbers and scenarios. At this point, the face of the Mavs’ franchise prefers to keep things very simple.

    “We’re going to fight at the end,” Nowitzki told reporters. “We’ll see where that brings us at the end. I think we want to fight for every night and not look at the big picture. We want to win the next game, and that’s what we need to focus on and really leave it all out there.”

    Since the season’s low point, when the Mavs dropped to 10 games under .500 for the first time since right after Mark Cuban bought the team in 2000, Dallas has performed like a playoff team. The Mavs are 19-12 in their last 31 games, a .613 winning percentage, a.k.a. a 50-win pace.

    That still hasn’t been enough for the Mavs to dig out of the huge hole they dug themselves – or even shave – but they’ve given themselves hope with 15 games remaining.

    “The second part of the season, we’re just a different team,” Vince Carter told reporters. “Guys are just learning. That’s just the way it is. I think we’ve stayed the course and been relentless.”

    Added Darren Collison: "We still believe. We still believe we can make it. There's no quit in us. We believe that every game from here out we can get a win. We're talented enough. We've got the players to do it."

    A few more notes from the Mavs’ highest-scoring game of the season:

    1. Defense rests: Coach Rick Carlisle described the Mavs’ 127-113 win in Atlanta as a “defensive pillow fight.”

    Needless to say, he wasn’t ecstatic with allowing the Hawks to shoot 56 percent from the floor, although Carlisle acknowledged that he’d take the win and run.

    Carlisle’s point was that the Mavs would have to play better defense for this six-game homestand, which starts Wednesday against the Brooklyn Nets and features nothing but plus-.500 foes, to be a happy one. Nowitzki hammered that point home in the locker room.

    “I don’t think we’re happy with our defensive outing, but offensively that’s just about as good as we’ve played all year,” Nowitzki said. “We’ve got a big homestand coming up. We’ve got to be better defensively than that.”

    2. Collison on point: Darren Collison lit up the Hawks for 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting, his second-highest scoring game of the season. It was the first time Collison scored at least 20 points since Jan. 14.

    Collison took over the game in the second quarter, scoring 15 points in the frame on an array of jumpers, drives to the basket and cuts for layups.

    "I was able to get it going," Collison told reporters. "A lot of players in this league, once they get it going, that basket looks bigger and bigger, and that's what happened in the second quarter."

    3. Making use of Morrow: Anthony Morrow made by far his biggest impact for the Mavericks in his return to Atlanta, the team that traded him to Dallas at the deadline.

    Morrow played 13 minutes – more than twice his total playing time for the Mavs entering the night – and had eight points and three assists. That included some meaningful minutes in the first half. Morrow, known for his long-range marksmanship, has still yet to hit a 3-pointer for the Mavs. He didn’t attempt one against the Hawks, but he was 3-for-4 from the floor and moved the ball crisply and efficiently when the Hawks closed out on him in 3-point territory.

    “We dusted off Anthony Morrow,” Nowitzki joked.
    The Mavericks’ current losing streak is up to three games. Not coincidentally, so is their streak of complaining about the officiating.

    Coach Rick Carlisle considered the turning point of Monday’s loss in Utah to be when the Jazz started “thugging it up” in the fourth quarter.

    “That’s when the officiating went their way,” Carlisle told reporters. “They started to get calls and we weren’t able to get the whistles. It was probably a function of their aggressiveness, but at the same time, I thought there were times where the whistle could have blown for us.”

    Carlisle specifically cited a couple of contact-drawing Dallas drives – one by Vince Carter, one by Darren Collison -- that didn’t result in a foul.

    Elton Brand obviously wasn’t happy when the whistle did blow with 2:54 remaining, when he was called for a highly questionable foul on Utah’s Al Jefferson. The veteran uncharacteristically lost his cool and got hit with a costly technical foul that allowed the Jazz to make it a two-possession game.

    A few more notes from the Mavs’ ninth loss in 10 games:

    1. Back to the beginning: How long has it been since the Mavs lost nine out of 10 games? You’ve got to go all the way back to Dec. 1999 and Jan. 2000. The Mavs had lost seven of eight games when Mark Cuban bought the team, and they lost the next two games after he took over.

    2. It’s gotten late early: The Mavs suffered their 22nd loss of the season a week into January. That’s a month a half earlier than loss No. 22 happened in any season during their 12-year playoff streak.

    The dates of the Mavs’ 22nd loss over the last dozen seasons: Feb. 24, 2001, March 28, 2002, April 11, 2003, March 5, 2004, March 15, 2005, April 19, 2006, never in 2007, March 3, 2008, Feb. 20, 2009, March 13, 2010, March 31, 2011, March 23, 2012

    3. Collison benched for crunch time: Carlisle’s lack of trust in Darren Collison resulted in a startling development. Rodrigue Beaubois ran the point for the final 2:54 of a close game.
    Beaubois had an assist and a garbage-time bucket down the stretch, but Utah increased its lead from two to six.

    The decision to bench Collison for Beaubois makes one wonder if 37-year-old Mike James will be the Mavs’ closer after his two-game D-League tune-up.

    Mavericks seek finishing touch

    January, 8, 2013
    AM CT

    SALT LAKE CITY -- A missing ingredient remains for a Dallas Mavericks team desperate to stop their season from spiraling out of control.

    The Mavericks continue to lack a finishing touch in close games.

    Marc Stein of ESPN.com joins Ben and Skin to talk about Dirk Nowitzki's current mindset.

    Listen Listen
    This flaw manifested itself once again Monday night in a 100-94 loss to the Utah Jazz. Dallas held a six-point lead with 6:20 remaining in the fourth quarter only to surrender it for good amid a 13-0 run by the Jazz.

    "It's difficult," Mavs forward Elton Brand said. "We're right there. We're playing much better. We've just got to close out games. That's our next step."

    A flurry of late-game defensive lapses, bad shots and turnovers kept Dallas from taking that step yet again. The Mavericks had no answer in particular for Jazz sixth man Gordon Hayward, who finished with 27 points, six rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots off the bench. Hayward keyed big Utah runs in both hands and kept the Dallas defense off-balance at key times.

    It started when he hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final two minutes of the first half to help even it 53-53 at halftime. Hayward continued his assault in the fourth quarter, intercepting a pass by Dirk Nowitzki and scoring the go-ahead layup during the Jazz's decisive run. Hayward followed that with a 3-pointer to cap the run and put Utah ahead 93-86 with 2:19 left.

    "Hayward had a great game," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "He hurt us all night long. He's a very athletic player. He's very skilled and understands how to play. He got us time and time again."

    Alec Burks and Paul Millsap also played a part in burning the Mavs late. Burks scored eight of his season-high 13 points in the fourth quarter, and Millsap alternated big defensive plays with crtical baskets to keep Dallas from shutting down the Jazz rally.

    Another late collapse wiped out solid efforts from several Dallas post players. Nowitzki matched his season high with 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting. Chris Kaman also sparked the team with 14 points -- all in the first half -- and nine rebounds. Brand chipped in 11 points and nine boards.

    Nowitzki felt as if the team couldn't stay composed when the game turned physical as the fourth quarter wore on.

    "You've got to at least make a play and get a shot up," Nowitzki said. "It seems like it's always coming back to the same things -- making mental mistakes. Defensively, I thought we battled. We battled one of the most physical teams on the board. We were right there there all night and, down the stretch, there's always something missing unfortunately."

    Carlisle felt like the referees allowed Utah to get a little too physical down the stretch, and it played a big role in sapping momentum from the Mavericks.

    "They went to thugging it out," Carlisle said. "That's where the game turned. That's when the officiating went their way. They started to get calls. We weren't able to get the whistles."

    The Mavericks wove a familiar tale of missed chances. Writing a new chapter will not be possible until they learn how to eliminate mental mistakes late in games and learn how to close games out.

    "That separates the good teams or the great teams from the bad teams," Nowitzki said. "They find ways to win ugly games with a couple of big plays down the stretch."



    Dirk Nowitzki
    21.7 2.7 0.9 32.9
    ReboundsD. Nowitzki 6.2
    AssistsM. Ellis 5.7
    StealsM. Ellis 1.7
    BlocksB. Wright 0.9