Dallas Mavericks: Amare Stoudemire
Tuesday night it was the Knicks turn.
The Knicks were upset at two non-calls: A possible walk by Dirk Nowitzki, which drew a technical foul on Tyson Chandler for arguing, and Jason Kidd not getting whistled for a flagrant foul on Jeremy Lin.
In the fourth quarter with the Knicks down 86-78, Nowitzki made a six-foot fadeaway with 2:27 to play. After the basket, Chandler and Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni complained about the non-call.
"He traveled on that last shot by the way," Amare Stoudemire said. "I saw the replay."
D'Antoni said Nowitzki traveled at the start and end of his move to the basket.
The other call that bothered the Knicks came in the third quarter.
On a drive to the basket, Lin was knocked to the floor after taking a blow to the head by Kidd. A foul was called on Kidd, but D’Antoni picked up a technical for wanting a flagrant foul called.
"Anytime you just get clobbered in your face, they had to look at it," D’Antoni said, alluding to the referees' failure to look at a replay to determine if a flagrant foul should have been called. “I don’t even mind them looking at it and thinking maybe not. But to ignore it is kind of tough and I deserve the technical, and it’s probably one of those things where they didn’t see it. Maybe it was quick where they didn’t see it. I wanted to protect our guys."
The Nowitzki non-call might have upset the Knicks even more.
Nowitzki had a quiet first half, scoring just four points while going 1-of-8 from the field.
"I knew that wasn’t going to last," D’Antoni said.
Nowitzki scored 24 of his game-high 28 points in the second half, which included 11 in the fourth quarter as the Mavericks survived losing a 14-point fourth quarter lead to win, 95-85.
"It’s never really a shutdown when you’re playing a great player,” said Stoudemire, who led the Knicks with 26 points. “It’s always going to be a battle of two halves. In the first half, we did a great job of containing him. Second half he was able to get it going a little bit, a couple of open shots, a couple of touch shots, a couple of travel shots...he played well."
"What happened was he clipped my right leg, but I kept on the drive and my left leg actually buckled on it so I hyperextended it a little,'' Nowitzki said. "It loosened up after that and I was able to finish the game.''
It's the right knee that gave Nowitzki fits to start the season and took him out of action for four games to work on strengthening it.
Just two minutes before the incident, Nowitzki completed a four-point play when he swished a 3-pointer with Stoudemire's arm plowing into his face and knocking Nowitzki backward to the floor. Then he hit another 3 to put Dallas up 63-55 with 7:26 left in the third.
After hyperextending his knee, Nowitzki made just two more field goals the rest of the game, plus six free throws to finish with a game-high 34 points. He sat down with 3:47 to go in third and Dallas ahead, 70-60. While on the bench, the Knicks closed to 75-72 to end the quarter.
During the team's 2010-11 championship run with All-Defensive Second Team member Tyson Chandler, they allowed 96.0 points per game (10th-best) and 45.0 percent shooting (eighth-best). Now they're only allowing 90.8 points per game (fifth-best) and 41.4 shooting -- the best mark in the league.
"Well, they're the defending champions. You know they were going to get together," Mike D'Antoni said after Saturday's practice at the Knicks' training facility. "Dirk's got his legs and they're good. They had a great win [Friday] night in Philadelphia, so no surprise. They're good."
While the condensed schedule and the increased back-to-backs have worn offenses down a bit -- scoring is down across the board compared to last season -- Chandler isn't surprised by Dallas' domination on D since he departed for New York.
"I think we became a good defensive team. It wasn't individual," he said. "I feel like they kind of had some lows at the beginning of the season, but I feel like they'll get it together."
D'Antoni credited the Mavericks' veteran leadership, which is represented in every member of the team's starting five to the bench featuring Jason Terry and Lamar Odom, for their maintaining their defensive excellence.
"Obviously they have a good system and they do a heck of a job. They play well, because you know what? They're all veterans," he said. "And that's a big deal in this league. As you get older, you get smarter and you play better defense. You know the rotations, you don't hesitate and it's all on reactions. Not many young teams play well defensively, and that's the reason."
On Saturday, the Knicks watched film as a collective unit and then broke apart for individual sessions. They also went over Dallas' offensive strategy and their defensive strategies. Amare Stoudemire said the keys for the Knicks are to continue to move the ball, stay active on offense and play aggressively on defense.
The one matchup the Knicks will really have to rely on is Jeremy Lin outplaying the 6-foot-7 Shawn Marion, who's the Mavericks' most versatile defender and will be assigned to the point guard. That's especially true with Carmelo Anthony likely out and not returning until the Knicks' game Monday night against the Nets.
Sunday will mark the third straight game Lin will have a bigger-sized, long-armed player defending him. On Wednesday it was the Kings' 6-foot-6 Tyreke Evans, and on Friday it was the Hornets' 6-foot-6 Greivis Vasquez. Marion, however, poses the biggest threat of them all.
"Shawn has always been a phenomenal defensive player," Stoudemire said. "Back with us in Phoenix, he was one of our key stoppers. An area Shawn thrives in on is with deflections, which is not really in the stat sheet. That's really key for a team. That's what he does best. He's very talented. He's very quick. He's very athletic. He's a smart defensive player and he's doing a great job for Dallas."
If Lin can break down Marion, it will allow the Knicks to flourish as they've been doing: capitalizing on lob passes and open shots, which has led to their balanced scoring from the starting five to the second unit. Case in point: In the Knicks' 100-85 win over the Kings on Wednesday night, six players -- in addition to Lin -- scored in double figures.
D'Antoni said Lin shouldn't simply key in on Marion; rather it's about "taking what the defense gives you, because that's how you exploit a good defensive team" like the Mavericks. He said Lin understands that philosophy and will be prepared for Sunday's game.
"He's a smart kid, like [Friday] night I thought in the second half he played well. He had one turnover," he said. "He just seems to have them in bunches right now. But if we can iron that out, he's good. Other than that, his game is good. Again, 26 points, five assists. You might say, 'Oh, that's not Linsanity.' But for any NBA player, that's pretty good. Just too many turnovers."
Lin is especially looking forward to playing against Jason Kidd, who he's watched closely through his career and calls "a legend." That excitement has carried over to all the Knicks.
"It's going to be a big game tomorrow," Stoudemire said. "Everybody is motivated and ready to go."
Jared Zwerling covers the Knicks for ESPNNewYork.com.
You can follow him on Twitter at jaredzwerling.
Then there's still the shock factor involved in the deflating losses of Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson and also Caron Butler. Odom has his own shock factor to overcome in no longer playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, where he won two titles and played the last seven seasons and probably figured he'd play seven more.
|Ben and Skin discuss what can be taken away from the Mavs' two preseason losses including: Lamar Odom's surprising leadership and the depth of the roster.
With that, Dallas Mavericks, get out there and defend your title.
Could things be any zanier with the season opener quickly approaching on Christmas Day against the -- by comparison -- remarkably stable Miami Heat?
The Mavs might be in flux, but as defending champions they know there will be no sympathy. Hey, it's a jungle out there.
"The constant this year is going to be that the teams we play are going to have the increased edge because they're playing the champions," Carlisle said. "I went through this in 1986-87 -- the year after we won the title in Boston. We saw how it was. Every night it's a championship game. I can talk about it all day long and try to get the guys ready for it. But until the games start coming, we won't really know what it's about. And it's going to add to the challenge. But that's part of it."
The Mavs' two preseason losses to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who like the Heat did not undergo major changes -- in fact no changes at all -- did lend credence to the notion that Dallas won't get off to a roaring start. The first 15 games will be played in 23 days and includes matchups against Miami, Denver, two against Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Boston, the Lakers and the new-and-improved Clippers.
And, oh yeah, 12 of those games are back-to-back sets.
"Of course, we’ve got to get a feel for where the new guys are going to be at and situations and stuff like that, but for the most part we just walk in and play ball," forward Shawn Marion said. "There’s always going to be some waves. At the same time, you’ve got to be able to take the good with the bad and learn from it."
So, let's get on with the predictions.
Jeff Caplan, ESPN Dallas beat writer
Like everyone else, I expect the Mavs to have their issues early on as assimilation proves challenging. After the lockout, the roster reshaping was fast and furious and inconveniently intertwined with training camp. Carlisle has proven to be quite proficient in finding workable combinations and mixing and matching to suit different situations. He has a deep team at his disposal and he will find lineups that work. The big question is whether he can implore this team to discover a defensive backbone with Chandler now supplying one for Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. My guess is probably not as strong as they will need, and that's going to produce a lot of shootouts, but in the end it won't be a team capable of repeating.
Predicted record: 40-26
Tim MacMahon, ESPN Dallas beat writer
A slow start should probably be expected from a team fitting in new pieces, especially after seeing the Mavs struggle in the preseason. There will be bumps down the road, too, as the Mavs make resting old legs a priority. The goal is to peak for the playoffs again.
Predicted record: 40-26
Marc Stein, ESPN.com senior NBA writer
The Mavs won't slip as far without Tyson Chandler as you think. Especially not in the regular season because they've still got a lot of depth and versatility after the arrival of Lamar Odom -- one of the best players in league history with zero All-Star invites on his resume -- as a one-year bridge between Chandler and whoever Mark Cuban lands with all that cap space he's amassing. The streak of 11 consecutive 50-win seasons is going to perish thanks to the 66-game condensed schedule. The dropoff in rim protection minus Tyson, furthermore, will eventually punish Dallas in the playoffs. But this group can still get to the West finals. Bank on 41 wins for Dirk and his Mavs at worst.
Predicted record: 41-25
Chuck Cooperstein, Mavs play-by-play voice
After a bumpy start which will see them naturally struggle to assimilate their new pieces, the Mavericks will finish strong and will be a very entertaining team to watch. They will be like the Nellie teams of '02-'05, with a better defensive presence. But, like the Nellie teams (and every other Mavericks team besides 2011), they don't have the necessary presence in the middle to take them all the way.
Predicted record: 43-23
Jeff "Skin" Wade, co-host of "Ben & Skin Show" 103.3 FM ESPN and Mavs TV sideline reporter
The Mavs will once again have a strong playoff run riding the shoulders of the Big German, but their age and demanding schedule prove too tough to overcome and they eventually run out of gas against a younger, hungrier team. But, it'll be a solid year for a franchise transitioning into their next phase with over $20 million in cap space in the summer of 2012 to build a squad for the few remaining years of Dirk's peak. The real trick is for Dallas to know for certain by the end of the season what they have in Roddy B, DoJo and possibly even Brandan Wright.
Predicted record: 40-26
Chandler will join a star-studded cast of NBA players on a whirlwind adventure of six planned exhibition games played on four continents starting Sunday in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The World All-Star Classic is then scheduled to barnstorm London, Macau and Melbourne, Australia all in a span of 10 days.
However, ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard reported Wednesday that LeBron James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony have backed out of the globe-trotting trip and that could end the tour after the initial stop in San Juan -- and it increasingly appears that San Juan will be the lone stop. Still expected to be on the voyage is Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudemire, Blake Griffin, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo.
Chandler, who has been playing pickup games in L.A. with a variety of NBA players, is hopeful the whole deal goes down.
"I’m looking forward to it," Chandler said Wednesday from his home in Southern California. "I’ve never been to London and I’ve never been to Australia. I’m looking forward to getting to play again with some great talent and the opportunity to see new lands."
If the tour does make it to all four destinations, Chandler will log more than 26,000 air miles and 50 to 60 hours of flying time from liftoff in L.A. on Saturday bound for San Juan to London to Macau to Melbourne and back to L.A.
The players, who are being well-compensated to participate, could find themselves in a bit of a pickle if the world tour manages to go the full distance and somehow the NBA and players association manage to get a labor deal done during talks that renewed Wednesday in New York. A resolution and quick start to training camp could be an issue after such a physically draining trip.
Chandler said he has paid close attention to the negotiations and has spoken several times with union chief Billy Hunter and NBA union president Derek Fisher, and has attended union meetings.
The 7-foot-1 center, who breathed new life into an aging Mavs team that won the franchise's first NBA title, said he believes the lockout is fully in the hands of the owners. He believes the owners are split among common market size and that their internal divide is not allowing the process to move forward.
"I really feel it’s up to the owners at this point. We put an incredible deal on the table and they put their deal on the table and said take it or leave it, so we had to leave it," said Chandler, who will become one of the most sought-after free agents and a top priority of the Mavs to re-sign whenever the lockout is lifted. "Honestly, I feel like it’s between them. Different owners want different things. Personally, I believe that within the ranks they have differing opinions, but have to be as one during negotiations.
"At some point they have to do what’s right for the entire game. Right now, what’s going on is not what’s best for either side."
Chandler had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and after a rough first half against Amare Stoudemire, held up his halftime vow to clamp down on the MVP candidate. Chandler did, holding Stoudemire scoreless in the second half.
The Western Conference coaches select the seven All-Star reserves, and those picks will be announced tonight. Chandler, who went to high school in Los Angeles where the All-Star Game will be played, has said he'd love to get the nod. After the Knicks game he said he feels he has put himself in the conversation, and when he looks around the West, he doesn't see another center playing as dynamic a role for their team as he is for the Mavs.
"Tyson’s an All-Star," Carlisle said. "I don’t know that he’ll get voted, but he’s an All-Star, and there’s probably three or four other guys in the same boat. He’s truly deserving. He has had a great impact on our team. And, it may surprise people, he may have a legitimate shot, and he should, because of the effect he’s had on our group, particularly at the defensive end."
Just as Dirk Nowitzki's value to his team was amplified during his nine-game absence, a similar case can be made for Chandler. When Nowitzki returned, and although he was clearly still hobbled, the Mavs' woes, offensively as well as defensively, continued as Chandler missed several games with an illness.
That's all turned around with Nowitzki and Chandler returning to full strength. In the past seven games, Chandler is averaging 16.9 points and 10.3 rebounds. His season averages are nearing double-double territory as his scoring has jumped to 10.2 points a game to go with 9.3 rebounds.
Chandler slams home his share of alley-oop lobs, but he's also expanding his repertoire as the Mavs integrate him more into the offense. His jumper from the elbow has become nearly automatic and he's been filling it up from the free throw line.
"What we’re all seeing now is he’s doing some great things offensively as well," Carlisle said. "He’s a big part of what we’re doing and I can’t stress that or repeat it enough."
"I gave him way too many open looks in the first half," Mavs center Tyson Chandler said. "I kind of wanted to get a feel of how he wanted to come out, and he came out, he was hot, he knocked down his first couple jump shots. And then he kind of got in a rhythm."
The Knicks got 34 of their 52 first-half points from Stoudemire and Danilo Gallinari. Chandler knew if he could slow down Stoudemire, Dallas would have an excellent shot at extending their 56-52 halftime lead.
"So, I came in the locker room and I told the guys, ‘Hey, you just tell me where you’re at on the floor. I’m going to get aggressive with him and I’m going to force him into traffic.'" Chandler said. "Because of that, I think it made him hesitate a little bit and we were able to slow him down."
Stoudemire missed a couple of easy attempts early in the third quarter, including an awkward dunk attempt that rattled out. He missed all five of his shots in the third quarter as the Mavs rolled to a 26-6 run and then withstood a Knicks run that never got below double digits.
"It really wasn't anything they did," Stoudemire said. "It was just not great rhythm out there in the second half...in the third quarter in particular."
Chandler might disagree with that assertion.
It's a back-and-forth affair as it figured to be against the Mike D'Antoni-coached Knicks and through one half of play and,despite nine turnovers, the Mavs hold a 56-52 lead.
Dirk Nowitzki leads the Mavs with 13 points to give him exactly 22,000 for his career. He becomes the 24th player in NBA history to record 22,000. Dallas has the lead thanks to 10 points from DeShawn Stevenson and 11 from Tyson Chandler, who needs five rebounds for another double-double. J.J. Barea came off the bench to score 10 points and matched Stevenson's two 3-pointers.
Amare Stoudemire is finding little resistance on the offensive end with a game-high 21 points on 10-of-15 shooting. Danilo Galinari has 13 points.
The Mavs got off to a fast start and led 17-8. But, the Knicks answered with a 22-5 run and opened an eight-point lead. Since then, it's been back and forth. To be fair to the Mavs, the Knicks only scored 18 points in the second quarter, so give a nod to the Mavs for making things a little tougher.
Expect more of the same in the second half.
Despite a month 0f injury, turmoil and ongoing transition, five consecutive wins -- tied with the Chicago Bulls as the longest current win streak in the league -- have moved the Mavs within one game of the Los Angeles Lakers for second in the West standings.
Now the club begins another grueling stretch in which they play six of their next seven games on the road, and, in the bigger picture, 20 of 30 away from home. Considering the events that started Dec. 27 when Dirk Nowitzki went down with a sprained knee, to New Year's Day when Caron Butler was lost for the season, Dallas hits the road feeling pretty good about itself.
"It wasn’t pretty there for a while, but I think what we talked about was that we’re too talented and just too good," Nowitzki said. "We just got to get healthy and do some of the stuff we were doing in November, December and we’d get back to our winning ways. That was good to see that we got our stuff back and now we've just got to keep going.
"We’re right in the pack of things. Besides San Antonio, they’re really way too far up for anybody, but other than that everything else is right there in the pack."
This three game roadie offers something for everyone. The first stop is tonight at Madison Square Garden to face the rejuvinated, although recently struggling, New York Knicks with Amare Stoudemire. The last time the Mavs played at MSG, they waltzed out with a 50-point win without the services of Jason Kidd. Of course, Stoudemire wasn't there either. And the first Stoudemire vs. Chandler matchup should be fun to watch.
Then it's off to Boston on Friday to face the title contending Celtics, who have gotten the better of this matchup since Kevin Garnett came to Beantown. However, the Mavs took the first game of the series in Dallas in early November, displaying that hustling fourth-quarter defense that defined their 24-5 starts.
On Saturday, the Mavs complete the road trip with a back-to-back at the Charlotte Bobcats. Dallas has won all 13 games against the Bobcats, including six in a row at Charlotte. But, that's not why this game has intrigue. Nor is it because the Bobcats have played better since Paul Silas took over for Larry Brown.
What makes this game interesting is a certain Charlotte swingman named Stephen Jackson. The Mavs have seemed to covet the boisterous Bobcat for several years, but have yet to pull the trigger to bring him to Big D.
Will this be the year? The Mavs have 22 days to make that call.
The concept, in other words, is hardly new.
The reality for the Mavs, furthermore, is that essentially nothing has changed over the past few weeks with regard to their chances of emerging as a feared factor in the Melo bidding.
The subject nonetheless received a significant (and overstated) amount of national attention this week until things came to deeply sad halt Wednesday, when the Nuggets began to inform teams that Anthony trade talks were being placed on an indefinite hold out of respect to their All-Star forward after the death of his 36-year-old sister caused by a pre-existing medical condition.
The following five-point update is where a variety of trade issues stood from the Mavericks' perspective before the sudden and tragic halt to the Melo trade chase, which is expected to put all Anthony-related discussions on hold until after Christmas:
* The Nuggets, according to sources briefed on the teams' discussions to date, have greeted the Mavericks' inquiries with "nothing but pushback" every time they’ve called to check on the status of Anthony's availability. Reason being: Dallas can't come close to the package the New Jersey Nets can assemble, which includes two probable lottery picks in addition to prized rookie Derrick Favors. One source close to the process says Denver remains "heavily" focused on trying to complete a deal with New Jersey, while New York obviously continues to rank as the other standout team in the Melo chase because the Knicks are overwhelmingly regarded around the league as Anthony’s favored destination. Most GMs agree that, at this point, there is no No. 3 option … Dallas or otherwise.
* There's really only one way that the Melo landscape can change sufficiently for Dallas (or Houston, Charlotte and anyone else willing to "rent" Melo) to get seriously involved: New Jersey would have to pull completely out of the bidding. And that would only happen if Melo tells the Nets face to face that he is refusing to sign a three-year, $65 million contract extension as part of an "extend-and-trade," which is what Boston pulled off in July 2007 when it acquired Kevin Garnett from Minnesota and got his signature on a new deal in the process. ESPN.com’s Chris Sheridan reported Dec. 12 that Anthony plans to do just that if the Nuggets and Nets finally reach terms on a trade -- which might or might not involve other teams as facilitators -- because of his deep desire to join Amare Stoudemire with the Knicks. The Nets, though, continue to believe that Anthony's stated determination to sign the extension before the next labor deal kicks in (June 30 is the deadline) and the ability of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov and part owner Jay-Z to sell him on the team's future in Brooklyn will sway him when the time comes.
* Even the Mavericks' appetite for smaller deals, according to sources with knowledge of the team's thinking, has lessened somewhat thanks to a scorching 23-5 start that has made it Dallas' growing priority to preserve the team's current chemistry. Reserve center Alexis Ajinca, for example, has been available since Dallas acquired him as a throw-in from Charlotte in the Tyson Chandler deal and remains the most likely Mav to be dealt. The Mavs, though, are said to be getting more choosy about what they'd expect in exchange for Ajinca, since there will always be a premium on a still-developing young big man in the NBA.
* You probably won't be surprised to hear that there is essentially no external interest bubbling for Brendan Haywood, given that this is Year 1 on a contract with $41.7 million guaranteed over five years and the swiftness with which Haywood (shooting 25.5 percent from the free-throw line) has fallen behind Tyson Chandler in the Mavs' pecking order. Orlando just proved no one is untradeable with the Rashard Lewis-for-Gilbert Arenas deal, but Haywood is high on the list of trade improbables with so many teams out there averse to taking on long-term contracts when they don't know how restrictive the next collective bargaining agreement will be. I’ve likewise been assured in the strongest terms that Houston, even after losing Yao Ming to a potentially career-ending setback, is not looking at Haywood as a potential replacement and has made that clear to the Mavs, despite what has been reported in some precincts locally. "Less than zero interest" is the way one source with knowledge of the Rockets' thinking jokingly described it. Which is why the similarly reported notion that offering up Haywood could somehow put the Mavs in play for longtime Mavs favorite Kevin Martin -- whom Dallas pursued unsuccessfully last season before the Rockets acquired Martin from Sacramento -- has been politely ignored here.
(PS -- For those of you who love NBA contract minutiae, Haywood’s $10,522,500 salary in 2015-16 is fully unguaranteed as long as he is waived on or before Aug, 1, 2015.)
The Mavs will play 19 of their first 31 games at American Airlines Center, but will be put to the test starting in February with 21 of their final 35 games coming on the road. Now, just because the early season keeps the Mavs in their cozy confines doesn't mean they'll be able to kick back and count the wins. The October-November slate is an absolute bear with the silver lining being that 10 of those first 17 games are at home. The Mavs will probably start the season without exciting guard Roddy Beaubois (broken foot), a disappointing scenario as they seek an 11th consecutive season of 50 wins and a third under coach Rick Carlisle.
Can they do it?
Here's my month-by-month look at the schedule:
October/November (17 games: 10 home, 7 away)
December (14 games: 9 home, 5 away)
Yes, the Mavs again get a nice, long stay at home, including a season-long six-game homestand from Dec. 7-17, and it would be nice to clean up on their home floor (remember how poorly the Mavs played at times at home last season), but the schedule remains awfully challenging. Dallas gets two looks at Al Jefferson in a Utah Jazz uniform, first in Salt Lake City (Dec. 3) where the Mavs struggle mightily, and then at the ACC (Dec. 11). The Mavs had a chance to pounce on Jefferson, but backed out and the Jazz made the deal with Minnesota to acquire the low-post scorer. The improved Milwaukee Bucks (Dec. 13), plus the Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns wrap up the six-game homestand and set up another killer end-of-the-month slate. It starts with a rugged, back-to-back pre-Christmas Florida trip at Miami (Dec. 20) and Orlando (Dec. 21). After a five-day Christmas break, things resume at home against the Toronto Raptors (Dec. 28) and then the Spurs.
January (16 games: 8 home, 8 away)
February (12 games: 3 home, 9 away)
This will be an important month for the Mavs with such a road-heavy schedule, but the real work might be going on in the club's front office. Mavs owner Mark Cuban has made it no secret that the Mavs will be looking to strike big at the February trade line. There will be several players under expiring contracts who will be wondering if they're staying or going, including Caron Butler, who was acquired at last season's deadline, and newly acquired center Tyson Chandler. On the floor, only half of the 12 games are against playoff teams. The notable exception is a home game against the new-look and considerably downgraded Cleveland Cavaliers (Feb. 7). Of course, a road trip to Houston (Feb. 12) is a fair replacement -- assuming full health -- as a playoff-caliber opponent that wasn't a year ago. A three-game road trip starts the month at Madison Square Garden against Amare Stoudemire and the re-made New York Knicks, then onto Boston and Charlotte. Despite the rough road schedule, this has to be a month where the Mavs make up ground heading into a brutal month of March.
March (16 games, 7 home, 9 away)
April (7 games: 4 home, 3 away)
Dallas can finish strong with four of their final five games at home. They start the month with one final back-to-back at Golden State and Portland (April 2-3) and play a final road game at Houston (April 11). The final home stretch includes Denver, the Clippers, Phoenix and New Orleans to wraup up the regular season on April 13.
Yes, the Mavs will make it 11 consecutive seasons with 50 wins -- but with little margin for error.
My final prediction: 52-30.
Once James decides, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will too, and then the trickle down will allow players like Brendan Haywood to chart their course.
Haywood and the Mavs are currently in contract negotiations, but teams like the Heat, Cavaliers and Knicks are interested, so Haywood is likely to wait and see what unfolds before choosing his destination.
James is hosting a three-day Nike hoops camp at the University of Akron starting today and he isn't expected to make a decision until after the camp. Wade is hosting a camp in South Florida on Tuesday through Thursday. It could take until late in the week to get the wheels turning.
Whether the extra time will afford the Mavs a chance to swoop in for a face-to-face interview with either player is uncertain. The agents for both players have not returned repeated messages and the Mavs are remaining mum. Early in the process, the Mavs contacted both players' representatives seeking an interview.
The Mavs can only acquire a top-tier free agent through a sign-and-trade, so they would have to convince James or Wade to demand the Cavaliers or Heat to trade them to Dallas.
Teams can continue to come to terms with their own free agents, such as the Mavs did with Dirk Nowitzki over the weekend and the Hawks did with Joe Johnson.
Some lower-level free agents will also continue to strike deals, but as far as the upper crust, including Amare Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer, and then the trickle-down free agents such as Haywood will likely be on hold until the lead domino tumbles.
There are rumblings that Stoudemire could be the first of the big names to agree to a new contract, with the Knicks, but that won't clear the logjam. Only James can do that.
Let's just pretend that choices 1 (LeBron James), 1A (Dwyane Wade), 2 (Chris Bosh), 3 (Amare Stoudemire) and 4 (Joe Johnson) don't come through in free agency for your Dallas Mavericks.
Who else is out there?:
Channing Frye, Phoenix (Player option)
Louis Amundson, Phoenix
Amir Johnson, Detroit
Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Cleveland
Jermaine O'Neal, Miami
Shaquille O'Neal, Cleveland
Brad Miller, Chicago
Rasho Nesterovic, Toronto
Ben Wallace, Detroit
Fabricio Oberto, Washington
Johan Petro, Denver
Hilton Armstrong, New Orleans
Ian Mahinmi, San Antonio
Tony Battie, New Jersey
Carlos Boozer, Utah
David Lee, New York
Udonis Haslem, Miami
Al Harrington, New York
Drew Gooden, L.A. Clippers
Hakim Warrick, Chicago
Leon Powe, Boston (Team option)
Joe Smith, Atlanta
Anthony Tolliver, Golden State
Kurt Thomas, Milwaukee
Matt Bonner, San Antonio
Rudy Gay, Memphis (Restricted)
Tracy McGrady, New York
Josh Howard, Washington (Team option)
Richard Jefferson, San Antonio (Early termination option)
Mike Miller, Washington
Travis Outlaw, L.A. Clippers
Rasual Butler, L.A. Clippers
Craig Smith, L.A. Clippers
Matt Barnes, Orlando
Ray Allen, Boston
Kyle Korver, Utah
John Salmons, Milwaukee
Roger Mason, San Antonio
J.J. Redick, Orlando (Restricted)
Raja Bell, Golden State
Anthony Morrow, Golden State (Restricted)
Shannon Brown, L.A. Lakers
Allen Iverson (retired)
Keith Bogans, San Antonio
Quentin Richardson, Miami
Tony Allen, Boston
Raymond Felton, Charlotte
Steve Blake, L.A. Clippers
Chris Duhon, New York
C.J. Watson, Golden State (Restricted)
Kyle Lowry, Houston (Restricted)
Nate Robinson, Boston
Shaun Livingston, Washington
Earl Watson, Indiana
Keyon Dooling, New Jersey
Jordan Farmar, L.A. Lakers (Restricted)
Which of these players do you think would make the best consolation prize for the Mavs?
And then the Phoenix Suns quickly reminded everyone that throughout the regular season the Spurs were a mediocre defensive club, had trouble integrating a slew of new players, most notably Richard Jefferson, and often couldn't get out of their own way.
And, really, only a final-week collapse by the young Oklahoma City Thunder prevented San Antonio, which did play better in the final month-and-a-half of the season -- mind you, without the injured Tony Parker -- from finishing as the No. 8 seed in the tightly contested West.
So how do the Mavs reconcile their 4-2 first-round defeat to the Spurs, whose supposedly stalwart defense so short-circuited Dallas' offense, after the run-and-gun Suns took the broom to San Antonio?
It's not rocket-science. The Suns (109.5) averaged nearly 17 points more a game than the Mavs (92.8) by excelling in three areas in which Dallas failed.
One and Two: Sensational offensive production at the point guard and post positions. At 36, Steve Nash might be at his all-around best. He averaged 22.0 points and 7.7 assists against the Spurs. His uncanny ability to slice the defense, get into the lane and score, or force defenders to collapse for kick-outs to open shooters or dump-offs to Amare Stoudemire, torched San Antonio. Stoudemire is the second aspect. He averaged 20.5 points and 9.3 rebounds in the four games. Stoudemire is a powerful force coming off the pick-and-roll and he's become an efficient shooter off the pick-and-pop.
The Mavs did not get Jason Kidd at his best, having averaged 8.0 points and 7.0 assists. Kidd could not get into the lane and create for others and he was way off with his 3-point shot. And, the Mavs got nothing in the post. While Dirk Nowitzki was able to drive and get some scoring in the paint, he's obviously a player who lives by the step-back jumper. That leaves offensively limited centers Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood to score down low. How'd that go? The pair combined to average 6.0 points in the six-game series. Dampier did not have a single field goal. During the series, Nowitzki acknowledged that the Spurs weren't even guarding the Mavs' centers, allowing for more pressure on the perimeter.
At those two critical positions, the Suns averaged nearly 30 points more a game than the Mavs.
Third: 3-point shooting. The Mavs want to play like the Suns, but lacking a point guard that can get into the lane and with no inside scoring threat to run the offense through, perimeter shooting better be near-perfect. Dallas shot 32.8 percent from beyond the arc against San Antonio. If Jason Terry and Kidd aren't hitting 3s, as they weren't, the Mavs are in trouble. Caron Butler is not a consistent 3-point shooter and Shawn Marion hasn't shot them since he left Phoenix.
The Suns, meanwhile, as they have done all season, shot a blistering 41.2 percent from long range for the series with a bevy of different players -- Nash, Jason Richardson, Goran Dragic, Channing Frye and Jared Dudley all producing on the big stage.
Those are big holes the Mavs will try to address this summer. They can thank the Suns for making it all the more apparent now that they've exposed the Spurs as a true No. 7 seed.
We will always wonder what might have been had Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki, with three MVPs between them since their Mavericks breakup, remained together. But, everyone knows how that story ended following the 2003-04 season. Mavs owner Mark Cuban, unwilling to pay the jackpot the Suns had offered the then-30-year-old point guard, allowed Nash to walk to Phoenix.
Could Nash and Nowitzki win an elusive championship if reunited in Phoenix? Well, maybe. But, don't expect Nowitzki to go house hunting in Nash's desert neighborhood any time soon.
First, the Suns next season are already locked into more than $63 million for 11 players, assuming player options are all exercised by Amare Stoudemire ($17.7 million), Grant Hill ($3.2 million) and Channing Frye ($2.1 million). Now, if Stoudemire opts out -- which is isn't expected -- then suddenly the Suns have money to throw around.
Otherwise, Nowitzki, due to earn $21.5 million next season with the Mavs, would have to accept a drastically reduced salary, and that's something he said he's not ready to do. Nowitzki turns 32 in June and believes he still has prime career years in front of him.
"That's somewhere maybe down the line a couple more years when stuff hasn't really worked out the way I want it to," Nowitzki said the day after the Mavs bowed out of the playoffs in six games to the Spurs. "But, at this point, I'm still in my prime. I feel like I've got a couple good years left, so I think that's a decision that's way down the line."
Still, deep down, Nowitzki must wonder what it would be like to again play pick-and-roll with Nash, 36, who continues to play at an elite level. Nash has his Suns leading the Spurs in their Western Conference semifinal playoff series. During the Mavs' final interviews of the season last week, Nowitzki was asked if a certain Canadian point guard might try to recruit him this summer.
"All that is, as of right now, everything is speculation," Nowitzki said. "I always said I want to finish my career here in Dallas. It wouldn't feel the same putting on a different uniform. That really was always my plan, so we'll just have to wait and see."
103.3 FM ESPN PODCASTS
Play Podcast Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett at Mavericks media day to discuss his expectations for the upcoming season.
Play Podcast Mark Cuban joins Galloway and Company to discuss the Mavericks' new GM Gersson Rosas and much more.
Play Podcast Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss Mark Cuban's comments from Las Vegas about the Mavericks' offseason, how he sees the team without Dwight Howard and more.
Play Podcast Marc Stein joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why the Mavericks didn't want to match Cleveland's offer to Andrew Bynum, what's next for the Mavs and the possibility of Dirk Nowitzki ending his career elsewhere.
Play Podcast Jeff Platt fires quick-hitters at Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon in the weekly sports standoff about Andrew Bynum, the Mavs' current backcourt, a potential Nelson Cruz suspension and more.
Play Podcast ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why she thinks Andrew Bynum got a bad rap in Los Angeles and how he would fit in with the Mavericks.
Play Podcast Buy, sell or hold? If Dwight Howard goes to another team, what are the Mavs' options? The guys take a look at a list of potential fallback options.
Play Podcast ESPN's Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the latest news on the Mavericks' meeting with Dwight Howard.