Dallas Mavericks: NBA

Mavs hope to teach an old dog new tricks

July, 16, 2014
Jul 16
LAS VEGAS -- Although forward Ivan Johnson is essentially auditioning for every NBA team during the Las Vegas summer league, it appears the Dallas Mavericks are invested in keeping the inside track on giving him a contract, should the situation present itself.

Want proof?

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle spent time with Johnson after "training camp" practices in Dallas to work on his 3-point shot.

Johnson had 19 total attempts from long range in his 125-game stint with the Atlanta Hawks from 2011 to 2013. The Mavs clearly see something in the 30-year-old forward. But the results of the work in the first two games in Las Vegas weren’t great, as he went 1-for-11 from 3-point range.

The persistence paid off in the team's final preliminary game of the summer league, however, and Johnson finished 2-for-4 from 3 in a win over the Toronto Raptors.

"Practice makes perfect," he said.

Dallas certainly will look to see if his strong finish in shooting in the preliminary round can translate into the summer league playoffs. The Mavs will stay the course with the veteran forward and continue to let him shoot those perimeter shots.

"We're going to stay positive with him," said Mavs summer league coach Kaleb Canales. "They're open looks and good looks in our system. We want him to shoot [3-point baskets] and shoot them with confidence. He knocked them down [on Sunday], and we're going to keep encouraging him to shoot that shot."
[+] EnlargeThe Mavericks hope forward Ivan Johnson can develop a new dimension of his game with 3-point coaching.
Jack Arent/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Mavericks hope Ivan Johnson can develop a new dimension of his game with 3-point coaching.

Dallas president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said before the team left Las Vegas that Johnson was "more than just a summer league guy" for his team. Based on that statement and Carlisle's time investment, Johnson could be in the process of being groomed for a roster spot -- groomed with a very specific skill added to the arsenal, that is.

Johnson is an undersized low-post player in a similar vein to DeJuan Blair. Such players are brought in the game to change the flow of the game and create constructive chaos. It's intriguing to see the Mavs trying to develop his shooting range, when he's known more as an aggressive player who gets in the middle of things.

"I'm still that same dude," Johnson said, flashing a smile that showed off his six-tooth gold-and-diamond grill. "I'm still that dude, but I'm expanding my game."

While they are trying to add a new dimension to his offensive game, the Mavs also are trying to ensure Johnson maintains the assertive identity he's known for on the defensive end of the floor and when he attacks the glass. In maintaining his style and spreading out the floor, the staff hopes to bring a different dynamic to Johnson's game altogether.

Showing he is coachable in the development of a perimeter shot could go a long way in extending Johnson's career. That's what the Mavs are envisioning with this assignment for Johnson.

"We've talked about it as a staff in terms of what we want him to specifically do this summer," Canales said. "He's doing a good job with that. We're going to keep getting in the gym with him and keep trying develop that shot for him, which I think will be a good weapon for him going forward."

If persistence and practice pay off for Johnson, he'll be able to continue his dream of playing in the NBA -- whether it’s for the Mavs or elsewhere.

Once upon a time, the Dallas Mavericks were heavily criticized for passing on polished Kansas prospect Paul Pierce to draft some goofy German kid who wasn’t ready for the NBA.

Dirk Nowitzki turned out to be a decent player, to say the least. So did Pierce. They are both destined to spend eternity in Springfield, Massachusetts, the site of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

But Nowitzki and Pierce believe they still have some good basketball left in those legs that have logged 16 NBA seasons. Ages after they went back to back in the 1998 draft -- the ninth and 10th picks, after forgettable players such as Michael Olowokandi, Raef LaFrentz and Robert “Tractor” Traylor went off the board -- there’s a possibility that Pierce and Nowitzki could play together.

[+] EnlargeDirk/Pierce
AP Photo/LM OteroPairing Paul Pierce with Dirk Nowitzki might make sense for the Mavericks.
A case can be made that signing “The Truth” to a short-term deal is the best realistic scenario for the Mavs to upgrade at small forward.

That’s assuming the Mavs can’t pull off the miracle of signing LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony. And that the Houston Rockets will exercise their right to match any offer made to Chandler Parsons, as the Utah Jazz will with Gordon Hayward.

That would leave Luol Deng and Trevor Ariza among the Mavs’ Plan B targets, and they are looking for long-term deals with eight-figure salaries.

Would the Mavs be better off paying a steep price to one of those players for four seasons or making a lesser commitment to Pierce in salary and years?

Pierce, who turns 37 in October, can still play. He isn’t going to add to his 10 All-Star appearances, but he was a productive member of a playoff team last season, averaging 13.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 28 minutes per game for the Brooklyn Nets. He still has the offensive skills to flourish in Rick Carlisle’s flow system next to 7-foot shooter extraordinaire Nowitzki and dynamic driver Monta Ellis.

If the Los Angeles Clippers and Nets can work out a sign-and-trade agreement, Pierce would love to be reunited with Doc Rivers on a contender in Lob City, but those talks have reportedly bogged down. The Mavs, who tried to trade for Pierce a couple of years ago, should be an attractive option to Pierce if his ideal scenario of going to L.A. doesn’t pan out.

After all, the Mavs have a glaring need at small forward and a great recent track record with aging former All-Stars such as Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter, in part due to their outstanding medical team and Mark Cuban’s commitment to being on the cutting edge of sports science.

The price for Pierce, which figures to be north of the midlevel exception but significantly south of what Ariza and Deng are asking for, would likely leave the Mavs enough room to re-sign Carter as the sixth man and fill out the rotation with a backcourt shooter (Mo Williams or D.J. Augustin?) plus a backup power forward (Jason Smith?) or big-man banger (DeJuan Blair or Emeka Okafor?).

The years of a deal might be as much of a sticking point as the salary in negotiations with Pierce.

Maybe the Mavs could give him a partial guarantee for a second year. Perhaps there could be performance-related triggers that turn it into a player option. The front office could work out those kinds of things with agent Jeff Schwartz, whose long-standing, strong working relationship with the Mavs’ management most recently includes Devin Harris’ new deal.

Pierce makes sense for the Mavs if signing him instead of a Plan B target would allow Dallas to have more depth next season. He makes sense for the Mavs if they value future financial flexibility and fear overpaying for Deng or Ariza.

It also would make a great story, pairing Pierce with Nowitzki years after the daily comparisons between the two.
DALLAS -- Tyson Chandler, the finishing piece of a championship puzzle during his lone season in Dallas, doesn’t think the Mavericks are far from being legitimate contenders for another title.

For proof, Chandler points to the Mavs pushing the San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the first round, by far the biggest scare the eventual champions encountered in the playoffs.


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“If you can challenge the champs like that and be a play or two away from actually advancing, that means you're close,” Chandler said. “So I think this team is close.”

Chandler’s checklist of elements the Mavs were missing just so happened to be strengths of his game. He mentioned rim protection, finishing at the basket and offensive rebounding as areas that the Mavs needed to improve.

Of course, Chandler fully expects to fill those voids during his second stint in Dallas, much like he did during the Mavs’ 2011 championship march.

“Yeah, absolutely,” Chandler said. “That was my role when I was there. Watching it in years past, I think it was lacking. My job is to be even better than I was the year that I had there. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to providing that and seeing what we can do.”

The Mavs felt that center Samuel Dalembert was a good value signing last summer, considering his $3.7 million salary a bargain in the second half of the season. However, the Dallas decision-makers entered the offseason determined to upgrade at the position and jumped at the chance to bring Chandler back while putting only a minor dent into this summer’s cap space while improving the team’s financial forecast in the near future.

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One-on-one with Dirk: Legacy on one leg

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
ESPN Dallas recently held court with Dirk Nowitzki. In this series, Nowitzki shares thoughts about his past, present and future.

As time moves on, Dirk Nowitzki will be remembered as one of the most special and unique players to ever play in the NBA. Among his contemporaries, he is held in extremely high regard. We’ve seen the league’s best -- Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and LeBron James -- pay their respect to Nowitzki by copying his patented one-footed fadeaway jumper.

In addition, he’s earned the respect of some legends. In February 2013, ESPN.com’s Wright Thompson wrote a feature on Michael Jordan for ESPN the Magazine in which Jordan stated Nowitzki was one player who made the short list of stars who could be nearly as successful as he was in his era. Also included were James, Bryant and Tim Duncan.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Soobum Im/USA TODAY Sports

A set of fortunate circumstances led Dirk Nowitzki to change the shooting game in favor of big men.

Over years and years of blood, sweat, tears and jumpers, Nowitzki has established a legacy that will live on for generations. When asked about his impact, he couldn’t quite put his finger on what kind of mark he’s left on the game he loves so much.

“I don’t know. I kind of let others do that,” Nowitzki said. “I came in as a little kid, and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I was just working hard, had some talent and came into the right situation with the right kind of guys with [Don Nelson] and [Mark] Cuban. I got better and better.

“A lot of guys come in with talent and never reach their max. Me having a great surrounding, work ethic and coaching and teammates, it just happened.”

With all of that in his favor, Nowitzki has left his mark in the NBA. Based on his body of work and uniqueness, Nowitzki should be considered a revolutionary player of the modern game.

If you look at the past, the likes of Charles Oakley, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and even Duncan and Kevin Garnett defined the power forward position in the traditional manner we knew long ago. Fast-forward to when Nowitzki was starting to gain confidence in the NBA and you see the power forward position being shaped into a position known as the stretch-4.

The idea of a stretch-4 sounded like a gimmick at the time: Stick a big man on the perimeter and present him as a shooting threat to stretch the floor. Players such as Sam Perkins, Kiki VanDeWeghe and Larry Bird were paving the way. Nowitzki took the concept of the stretch-4 and ran with it. The concept of having a stretch-4 is a component every team craves. Nowitzki’s size and shooting are the reason for that.

International scouting already was taking place before Nowitzki joined the league, but his impact forced general managers and scouts to increase the deployment of assets to focus on finding the next international gem. Over the past decade, a goal for front offices has been to find the next Nowitzki.

He came into the league with size and skills no one else had. Time has been his ally when one compares today’s game to that of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The physicality of the past gave way to the fluidity of today’s game, allowing players like Nowitzki to thrive.

“When I first came in, the rules were a little different,” Nowitzki explained. “Now, there’s less handchecking and zone defenses. More of a free-flowing game helped me. I don’t know if the rules were kept the same where there was pounding and one-on-one back-downs for 10 seconds. I’m not sure if I ever would have had the same impact if the rules were the same. There are a lot of circumstances in play that had a role in me succeeding.”

Meshing the rule changes with that next generation of shooter’s like Nowitzki allowed more of a free game. Players now have to respect everyone on the floor as a legitimate scoring threat from anywhere and no matter their size.

"I’m happy now that most of the 5s and 4s can face up and shoot and drive,” Nowitzki said. "It’s fun to watch. Everybody now can score. I think that’s where this game is fun to watch and unbelievable. If all five guys are dangerous, you’ve got to guard everyone. That’s when the game really begins to become fun.”

Though he'll never admit it, his rise in status as an elite scorer provided a key component for those added doses of excitement in today's game. Still, he almost sounds like a proud dad in seeing the league filled with a variety diverse weapons on offense.

Nowitzki's career -- and legacy -- has been the equivalent of a pebble being thrown into the body of water that creates a ripple effect, leading to a wave of shooting big men to arrive after him.

Lack of D wastes Dirk's flash of dominance

April, 30, 2014
Apr 30
SAN ANTONIO -- For the first time this postseason we saw a glimpse of the Dirk Nowitzki, who carried the Dallas Mavericks to an NBA title a few years ago.

Nowitzki morphed into 2011 mode in the fourth quarter on Wednesday night against the San Antonio Spurs, when he finally found his offensive rhythm and rattled off 14 points. Those championship Mavs made so many playoff comebacks, riding the shoulders of the big German, who had one of the great clutch runs in hoops history during those playoffs.

Too bad the Mavs didn’t have 2011 Tyson Chandler, too.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Soobum Im/USA TODAY SportsDirk Nowitzki was brilliant in Game 5, registering his series highs with 26 points and 15 rebounds. But the Mavs couldn't stop the Spurs' shot makers.
In that fantasy world, maybe the Mavs could have finished off the comeback Wednesday, like they did so many times during that title run. The reality is that the Mavs are facing first-round elimination after the top-seeded Spurs seized a 3-2 series lead with a 109-103 win Wednesday night in Game 5.

The Mavs desperately needed a defensive anchor as they attempted to rally from an eight-point deficit at the end of the third quarter against San Antonio, which has lost only once out of the 55 times it has entered the final frame with a lead this season.

Dirk finally did his part after mostly struggling in the first 19 quarters of the series, taking over the game for a stretch and drilling seven of his first eight shots of the fourth. Monta Ellis did a pretty good Jason Terry impersonation, scoring 10 of his 21 points and dishing out four of his five assists in the fourth.

But their offensive brilliance didn’t matter because the Mavs defended like a bunch of bullfighters.

“We didn’t play enough defense to win,” said Nowitzki, who finished with 26 points and 15 rebounds, both by far his highs for the series. “Even when I was scoring there in the fourth every time down, we just couldn’t get the stops to get back into it.”

The smoke and mirrors Mavs coach Rick Carlisle cooked up to make the Spurs’ offense sputter early in the series have been solved. San Antonio picked apart the Mavs with the pick-and-roll, scoring 54 points in the paint.

That’s no surprise. Anyone who watched the Spurs average 112.3 points while sweeping the regular-season series against the Mavs figured it would be a matter of time before San Antonio’s splendid offense started humming again.

It didn’t help matters for the Mavs -- who already were short-handed at center with DeJuan Blair suspended -- when starting big man Samuel Dalembert twisted his right ankle a few minutes into the game. He returned minutes later after getting it re-taped, but Dalembert was clearly hobbled.

Backup center Brandan Wright, who played 24 minutes, struggled mightily on defense. But he had plenty of company among the Mavs, who allowed five Spurs to score at least 15 points, including center Tiago Splitter, whose nine points in the fourth quarter were more than he averaged per game this season.

The Mavs scored 32 points in the fourth quarter, which ought to be enough to at least make it a white-knuckle final few minutes. It wasn’t.

That’s because the Spurs lit it up for 30 points in the last dozen minutes.

Maybe it would have been different if Nowitzki knocked down the wide-open midrange jumper he created by pump-faking Splitter off his feet with a little more than two minutes remaining. That would have cut the lead down to two. Even then, however, the Mavs provided no reason to believe they could have done what's defensively necessary to complete the comeback.

“Our defense has got to be better,” Carlisle said. “Really, they just kind of had it going all night. We’ve got to be better from start to finish, over the whole 48 minutes.”

Carlisle has been saying that consistently since Chandler left after the lockout, turning down cap-conscious Mavs owner Mark Cuban’s one-year offer to sign a four-year, $55.4 million deal with the New York Knicks. The Mavs have downgraded defensively at every other position since that title run, with Nowitzki and stopper Shawn Marion aging a few years and Jose Calderon and Ellis making up one of the NBA’s most defensively challenged backcourt.

This isn’t meant to criticize the Mavs’ decision to strip down that aging title team or even let Chandler go; he was the finishing piece to Dallas’ championship puzzle. But the Mavs couldn’t afford to make that kind of long-term commitment to Chandler, knowing they needed to remodel the roster to give Nowitzki a chance to contend during his golden years.

If Chandler is in Dallas, Ellis and Calderon are elsewhere. The Mavs probably don’t make the playoffs without that kind of scoring punch in their backcourt.

But the Mavs won a title because they were such a dominant crunch-time team on both ends of the floor during that postseason. Those Mavs outscored their opponents 137-66 in 49 postseason clutch minutes, as defined by the score being within five points in the final five minutes of the game.

These Mavs are still an elite offensive team, especially when Nowitzki gets in a groove, but they’re not nearly good enough defensively to be considered serious contenders.

Frankly, they’ve exceeded expectations by pushing the Spurs this far, especially with Nowitzki struggling most of the series.

That flash of Dirk dominance was fun to watch. Too bad the Mavs couldn’t get enough stops to make it matter.

Rapid Reaction: Spurs 109, Mavericks 103

April, 30, 2014
Apr 30

SAN ANTONIO -- The San Antonio Spurs are one win away from advancing to the second round after withstanding another comeback bid by the Dallas Mavericks, holding on for a 109-103 win in Game 5.

How it happened: Dirk Nowitzki’s first dominant stretch of the series wasn’t enough for the Mavs to make a comeback.

Not with Tiago Splitter and the Spurs lighting it up on the other end.

Nowitzki had by far his best performance of the series, finishing with 26 points and 15 rebounds. He had 14 points in the fourth quarter, in which he was 7-of-10 from the floor.

After a 3-pointer by Vince Carter cut the deficit to four points, Nowitzki had a wide-open, midrange jumper after getting Splitter to bite on a pump fake the next possession. A score would have cut the Spurs’ lead to two, but Nowitzki missed off the front iron.

Tony Parker, who led San Antonio with 23 points, hit a contested 3 on the ensuing possession to give the Spurs some breathing room.

Splitter, the Spurs’ defensive-minded center, slashed to the basket for layups a few times in the fourth quarter, when he scored nine of his 17 points. The Spurs had 30 points in the quarter, fighting off the Mavs’ furious comeback attempt.

Carter’s spectacular shooting kept the Mavs within striking distance most of the night. He finished with a game-high 28 points on 10-of-16 shooting, including 7-of-9 from 3-point range. Monta Ellis added 21 points, but only three Mavs finished in double figures.

The Spurs had five players with at least 15 points.

What it means: The eighth-seeded Mavs are on the verge of elimination as they return to Dallas for Game 6. The Spurs, who had the league’s best regular-season record, have seized the series lead by winning two straight games after Carter’s buzzer-beater in Game 3.

Play of the game: Parker’s 3-pointer with 1:52 remaining halted the Mavs’ momentum. Seconds after the Mavs had a shot to cut the deficit to two points, Parker pushed the Spurs’ lead to seven, making it a three-possession game.

Stat of the night: Carter’s previous playoff high as a Maverick was 13 points, which he matched midway through the second quarter. The last time Carter scored at least 28 in a playoff game was in the 2007 with the New Jersey Nets.
Dirk NowitzkiJerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsAmong key players in the Mavs-Spurs series, Dirk Nowitzki is the one who's yet to leave his mark.

DALLAS -- Several players in the Mavericks-Spurs series have Hall of Fame résumés and, one by one, they’ve flashed the greatness that should grant them basketball immortality in Springfield, Massachusetts.

With one exception.


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We’re still waiting for that great game, or even that great moment, from Dirk Nowitzki after the teams split their four contests.

Tim Duncan, widely considered the premier power forward in NBA history, dominated during the series opener. He scored 27 points, a third of which came during the fourth quarter, in the Spurs’ Game 1 win -- during which San Antonio fought back from a 10-point deficit.

Spurs point guard Tony Parker, a three-time champion and six-time All-Star, also delivered on Easter Sunday. He had 21 points and six assists in San Antonio’s first victory.

San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili, another three-time champ and arguably the best sixth man ever to fill that role, was the Spurs’ only real bright spot in Game 2 (27 points) and starred in their Game 4 win, scoring 23 points and dishing out five assists.

Ginobili would have been the Game 3 hero if Mavs sixth man Vince Carter, the No. 25 scorer in NBA history and an eight-time All-Star, had not one-upped him. Coming just 1.7 ticks after Ginobili’s go-ahead runner, Carter's buzzer-beating 3 from the deep-left corner is the series’ most memorable moment so far.

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DALLAS -- The NBA playoffs are no place for moral victories, and coach Rick Carlisle really wasn’t in much of a mood to discuss his Dallas Mavericks’ courageous comeback attempt Monday night.

Carlisle was too focused on how Dallas could dig a 20-point hole against San Antonio -- and he was furious about it.


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“I was so disappointed with our no-show in the first half that it’s hard for me to mitigate it with fighting for 24 minutes out of 48 minutes in a game with this kind of meaning,” Carlisle said after the Spurs evened the series by holding on for a 93-89 win in Game 4. “I’m glad we showed that we were willing and able to fight in the second half, but the way we performed just competitively in the first half was inexcusable.”

The Mavs actually jumped out to a 12-2 lead, prompting San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich to speculate that Carlisle had the better pregame speech. But the rest of the first half was horrendous for the home crowd to watch.

After the Mavs made half of their first 10 shots, they were a hideous 7-of-31 from the floor during the rest of the half. But that wasn’t why Carlisle was bitter.

“Our first-half performance from a competitive standpoint was just not up to snuff,” Carlisle said.

He was disgusted by the Mavs’ defensive effort after San Antonio missed 10 of its first 11 shots. With sixth man Manu Ginobili carving up the Mavs, San Antonio was 20-of-29 the rest of the half, leaving Carlisle to mutter about how it “looked like they were able to do whatever they wanted to do.”

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Series even, but Mavs not scared of Spurs

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29
DALLAS -- A 10-game losing streak to the San Antonio Spurs didn’t strike any fear in the Dallas Mavericks, so the Mavs definitely weren’t going to let something like a little 20-point deficit faze them.

They made a furious comeback.

In the end, however, the Spurs evened the series 2-2 by withstanding the valiant rally, holding on for a 93-89 win in Monday night’s Game 4 at the American Airlines Center.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezDirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks are heading back to San Antonio with the confidence that they can win at AT&T Center again.
As the series heads back to San Antonio, the odds heavily favor the top-seeded Spurs, who regained home-court advantage when Dallas fell inches short -- if you measure it by the distance from which Monta Ellis’ potential game-tying layup missed its mark with 3.9 seconds remaining.

Make no mistake, the Mavs certainly aren’t scared of the big, bad Spurs, who were supposed to use this first-round series as a tune-up.

“We’ve always been underdogs to a certain degree,” Mavs forward Shawn Marion said. “Even when we won the championship, we were underdogs. Didn’t nobody pick us to win it.

“But we busted everybody’s ass, though, didn’t we?"

That’s true, although Marion and Dirk Nowitzki are the only two players remaining on the Mavs’ roster from the surprising title run of 2011. The Mavs missed the playoffs last season, snapping a dozen-year postseason streak, and had to scrap to claim the West’s final spot this year.

But the Mavs definitely don’t carry themselves like an 8-seed.

Maybe the Mavs had to fool themselves into believing they could compete with the Spurs before the series started. After all, that San Antonio winning streak in this Interstate 35 rivalry dated to Jason Kidd’s days playing point guard for the Mavs.

That swagger was legitimized in Game 1, even though the Mavs crumbled in crunch time. They gave themselves reason to really believe by building a 10-point lead with a little more than seven minutes remaining.

[+] EnlargeTony Parker and Manu Ginobili
Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty ImagesTony Parker, Manu Ginobili and the rest of the Spurs realize this first-round series is far more risky than the cakewalk most expected for them.
The Mavs followed that up with a Game 2 rout, handing the Spurs their worst home playoff loss since a dominant Dallas effort in Game 2 of the 2006 Western semifinals. At that point, there was no doubt Dallas could make this series competitive.

“One thing I think the guys have done is looked past the past and how many we haven’t won,” said Mavs sixth man Vince Carter, whose miraculous buzzer-beating 3 from deep in the left corner lifted the Mavs to a Game 3 victory. “We realized that we have to play as hard as them, if not harder, to win.”

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle bitterly pointed out that the Mavs failed miserably to match the Spurs’ intensity in the first half Monday. He called the Mavs out for a “no-show in the first half.” And yet the Mavs found a way to add this game to the long list of heart-thumping finishes from around the NBA this postseason.

“All four games, we’re right there,” Nowitzki said after scoring his series-high 19 points on 7-of-19 shooting in Monday’s loss. “Gotta go down there with confidence and see what happens Wednesday.”

It’s a best-of-three series now, with the Spurs having the edge of getting two of those games, if necessary, at the AT&T Center, where a fan base that lives and dies with its lone big-time pro team will surely be worked into a frenzy.

That’s fine with the Mavs, who tied for the league’s fourth-best road record in the regular season and silenced the “Go Spurs, Go” chants during their last visit to the Alamo City.

They’d never admit it, but the Mavs might have entered the series hoping they could hang with the Spurs, who didn’t have to sweat much to sweep the four regular-season meetings between this Texas rivals. The Mavs know now that they can give the Spurs all they want and more, having proven it despite Nowitzki's being held to fewer than 20 points in four straight playoff games for the first time in his Hall of Fame career.

“We know the only thing we have to do is fight,” Ellis said. “If we fight and get stops and get out and run, we can beat anybody.”

Few believed the Mavs could beat the Spurs when the series tipped off on Easter. Four games later, it's clear the Spurs are in for a fight.

DeJuan Blair's play short but sweet

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29
DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks tried valiantly to pull off another miracle in Game 4 of their first-round matchup against the San Antonio Spurs.

Once down 20 in the early portion of the third quarter, the Mavs battled back and took a stunning 83-82 lead with 3:51 left in the game. Dallas was fueled by third-string center DeJuan Blair as he rattled off 12 points and pulled down nine rebounds in the second half.

His night, however, ended abruptly.

[+] EnlargeDeJuan Blair
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

DeJuan Blair was just money before an ejection for a "hostile act" ended his night prematurely.

The Mavs were able to cause a turnover and a leaping Shawn Marion threw the ball blindly back in play in order to avoid returning the favor. Both Blair and Spurs center Tiago Splitter charged at the ball and the officials blew the whistle, calling a foul on Blair. The backup center ended up kicking his legs in disgust of the foul call and his left foot hit Splitter in the head. The officials looked at the video and ruled that a "hostile act" was made, forcing Blair to be ejected from the game.

"It was clearly a reaction to the call," Blair said. "Actually, I didn’t know because I was facing down there so they are going to judge off of what they do.”

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said his view was distorted, not allowing him to have the cleanest view of the action. But he gave the benefit of the doubt to the officials.

"Scott Foster is one of the best officials," Carlisle said. "If he said that there was a technical foul there and an ejection, then there probably was."


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Veteran forward Marion was asked if he had ever seen a hostile act called during a game.

"Hostile act," Marion questioned. "Is that a movie?"

Actually, a hostile act is in the league's rule book, in reference to Rule No. 13 -- Instant Replays, Section 1, a (4) in relation to replay triggers.

The rule book states that the officials can review the play if one player commits a hostile act against another player, resulting in the offending player being ejected from the game. An example would be when a player intentionally or recklessly harms or attempts to harm another player through the use of a punch, elbow, kick or blow to the head.
It remains to be seen if Blair will be given a suspension for the hostile act.

"I mean, it was an accident, so we'll see what happens," Blair said. "It wasn't intentional. I was just reacting to a call that I thought didn't go my way."

With his first career postseason double-double on 12 points and 11 rebounds, Blair clearly went in and gave the team energy and played tough defense. Unfortunately for the Mavs, he only played a total of 16 minutes.

The league will now decide if Blair will even get to suit up in Game 5.

Mavs lead series without Dirk dominance

April, 26, 2014
Apr 26
DALLAS -- For the first time in what felt like forever, Dirk Nowitzki didn’t head to the podium, grab the microphone and lean back to address the media after a playoff game.

Nowitzki instead took questions from reporters in a more informal setting -- in front of his locker after Saturday’s thrilling 109-108 win over the San Antonio Spurs.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki, Tiago Splitter
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesDirk Nowitzki, who had a series-low 13 shot attempts Saturday against the Spurs, has been held to fewer than 20 points for three straight games in a series for the first time since 2001.
Leading scorer Monta Ellis and buzzer-beating hero Vince Carter got the bright-lights treatment.

Win or lose, Nowitzki has always accepted his face-of-the-franchise responsibilities as a team spokesman, becoming so comfortable in that role that he just reaches for the mike and relaxes as if he’s in his living room. Nowitzki, a highly paid role player so far in this series, was not sure when the last time was that he wasn’t requested for podium duty after a playoff game.

“Hmmm, maybe my first year in the playoffs, 13 years ago,” Nowitzki said.

Not coincidentally, that’s also the last time Nowitzki was held to fewer than 20 points for three straight games in a series.

That just happened to occur in the first three games of a series against the Spurs. Man, have the circumstances changed. Dallas was down 0-3 in those 2001 Western Conference semifinals way back when, a series Nowitzki recently said the Mavs had “no chance” to win as a young team just giddy to be there against the mighty Spurs.

Precious few who aren’t on Mark Cuban’s payroll gave the eighth-seeded Mavs much of a chance, if any, to beat the team with the NBA’s best record in this series. Seriously? The Spurs had a 10-game winning streak over their Lone Star State neighbors after Game 1, spanking them on most of those occasions.

But here the miracle Mavs are, holding a 2-1 lead over the Spurs despite no Dirk dominance so far in this series.

How the heck has that happened?

“It’s the way our whole season’s been, really,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “Dirk’s had a great year, and he was a more-than-deserving All-Star. But this roster is built around being able to keep the load on him lighter than it’s been in other years. That’s what we’ve got to keep striving to do.

“Everybody on our team has gotta be a go-to guy.”

Ellis -- Nowitzki’s new scoring sidekick who has made folks reconsider his reputation as a selfish gunner since arriving in Dallas last summer -- starred in Game 3. He led all scorers with 29 points, 10 of which came in the final 6:35 when Ellis simply refused to allow the Spurs to get any breathing room.

Carter, the 37-year-old future Hall of Famer who has settled into a sixth-man role in Dallas, made the shot the basketball world will be buzzing about for the next day or so, the 18th and last lead change in a wildly entertaining game.

With the Spurs keying on Ellis, Carter popped out to the corner, caught an inbounds pass, pump-faked to get Manu Ginobili to fly by and let fly a beautiful fadeaway 3-pointer that splashed through the net after the buzzer and set off a wild celebration at the American Airlines Center.

“The crowd went absolutely nuts,” said Nowitzki, who scored 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting, his best offensive outing of the series. “That was as loud as I’ve ever heard this building. That was a fun one to be a part of, for sure.”

That phenomenal finish, with Carter answering a go-ahead drive by Ginobili, wouldn’t have been possible without terrific days by the Mavs’ two least-heralded starters.

Point guard Jose Calderon, who appeared to be an afterthought when he played only 16 minutes in Game 1, got the Mavs going offensively with 10 points and three assists in the fast-paced first quarter. He finished with 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting and nine assists.

Center Samuel Dalembert, a journeyman playing for his fifth team in five seasons, played like his hair was on fire Saturday afternoon. He put up 13 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots while battling Tim Duncan for 25 minutes. He hit a couple of clutch free throws to tie it up after grabbing an offensive board with 42 seconds remaining.

Small forward Shawn Marion and backup guard Devin Harris earned most of the Game 2 glory, when the Mavs made it clear that this was going to be a real series by snapping that long losing streak to the Spurs with a rout on the road. Backup big men Brandan Wright and DeJuan Blair and even ninth man Jae Crowder had made some key contributions in what’s shaping up to be one of the most stunning series in NBA history.

“That shows a lot about us as a team,” Dalembert said. “We can’t put everything on Dirk. We’ve got to go out there and do our part as a team, each individual. We knew that was going to happen. Teams are going to focus [on Nowitzki] and make other people step up. As you can see, in different games everybody is stepping up.”

Nowitzki, meanwhile, is trying to play with a mix of patience and aggressiveness as the focal point of the Spurs’ defensive game plan. He’s averaging only 15 points per game in this series -- down significantly from his season average of 21.7 and drastically lower than his career playoff average of 25.8.

Nowitzki’s shooting percentage in Game 3 was by far the highest of the series, but his 13 field goal attempts were the fewest. The Spurs won’t leave him on pick-and-rolls and often double him on post-ups, so he isn’t forcing the action, pleased to be a high-priced decoy as long as the Mavs’ other weapons make San Antonio pay.

“Hey, we won the game, so I did my job,” Nowitzki said.

“Him just being on the floor still makes us better, even when he’s not making shots, because teams respect him,” said Ellis, who has credited Nowitzki’s presence all season for helping him ditch the inefficient label slapped on him as the go-to guy in Golden State and Milwaukee.

“He’s still a threat on the floor, so he still really opens up a lot. Even if his shot is not going down, he’s still a really big part of us winning and making shots and creating the space that we need to create for ourselves.”

With Dirk as the decoy and a wide variety of Dallas players grabbing shares of the spotlight, the Mavs have created much more drama than most anticipated in this series against the mighty Spurs.

Rapid Reaction: Mavs 109, Spurs 108

April, 26, 2014
Apr 26

DALLAS -- The scrappy, eighth-seeded Dallas Mavericks pulled out a high-drama, 109-108 win to take a 2-1 series lead over the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs on Saturday.

How it happened: A phenomenal game came down the final few seconds. The difference was Dallas got the ball last.

Mavs sixth man Vince Carter hit a fadeaway 3-pointer from the corner at the buzzer to give the Mavs the win. That came 1.7 seconds after Spurs sixth man Manu Ginobili hit a high-degree-of-difficulty, go-ahead lefty runner.

This was a beautiful basketball game during which two of the league’s best offensive teams traded buckets and runs for 48 fascinating minutes.

Dallas guard Monta Ellis was sensational, especially down the stretch. He scored a game-high 29 points and twice made driving buckets to tie the game in the final few minutes. He was one of six Mavs to score in double figures.

Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki scored 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting.

And a couple of key Dallas role players delivered by far their best performances of this postseason. Point guard Jose Calderon had 16 points and nine assists. Center Samuel Dalembert had 13 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks while battling Tim Duncan, who led the Spurs for 22 points.

There were 18 ties and 18 lead changes in a wild West shootout reminiscent of the classic 2006 West semifinals between these two teams. It came down to Carter’s last shot in the corner.

What it means: The miracle Mavs have a 2-1 lead against a San Antonio team that entered the series with a nine-game winning streak in the Interstate 35 rivalry. The Spurs, who were eliminated by the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies in the 2011 playoffs, are in jeopardy of becoming the first franchise to twice lose in the first round as a No. 1 seed. Game 4 is Monday night in Dallas.

Play of the game: Carter caught the ball with 1.7 seconds remaining, pump-faked to get Ginobili to leave his feet and drilled a corner 3 at the buzzer. Ballgame.

Stat of the day: Nowitzki was held to fewer than 20 points in three straight playoff games for the first time since the first three games of the 2001 West semifinals against the Spurs.

Jose Calderon answers call in second half

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
SAN ANTONIO -- It was a new day, a new game and a new Jose Calderon for the Dallas Mavericks. Maybe it wasn't a brand-new Calderon, but it was the one the team had come to expect over the course of the season.

As the San Antonio Spurs ended the first half on a 10-point run and pulled to within five points, it was clear the game and, potentially, the series was on the line for Dallas. Out of all of Dallas' explosive options on offense, Calderon was the one who delivered the counterpunch.

[+] Enlarge Jose Calderon
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty ImagesWhen the Mavs needed a boost after the Spurs rallied in the first half, Jose Calderon scored all 12 of his points in the third quarter.
After going scoreless in the first half, Calderon scored all 12 of his points in the third quarter and finished the game 5-of-10 from the field in the victory. The Spurs continued to try to run him off the 3-point shot, but he was able to operate off the dribble. He was able to figure things out and ultimately got hot.

"It felt great when I saw those shots go in," Calderon said. "It always gives you a little bit more confidence, for sure."

After he scored only seven points in Game 1, many wondered if Calderon's minutes were going to be cut again in favor of Devin Harris, who played 32 minutes to Calderone’s 16 in that loss. While Harris delivered another strong game with 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting in 24 minutes, Calderon kept his poise by being aggressive and staying the course over 28 minutes Wednesday night.

"Listen, Calderon has been great for us all year," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "We need him. ... He’s played in a lot of big games. He’s played in a lot of hostile environments. You know, in Europe, those venues are wild. There’s people throwing stuff. There’s all sorts of stuff going on there, so he’s used to that environment.

"He knows what this is all about. My message to him has been, ‘Hey, you stay aggressive and keep doing what you do. That’s what we need you to do.’"

Calderon's response from Game 1 to Game 2 shows that he got the message. As things appeared to be coming apart at the seams, Calderon and the team regrouped and got back on track.

"Sometime when it's low, everybody gets so crazy too quickly," Calderon said. "I've had some bad games or could have done better, but we're 15 guys. Coach makes the decision. It doesn't [matter] who plays more minutes. Whoever is in there is going to try to do the best for our team to win.

"That's what everyone has to understand. It's not about who got more points on our team. It's about who got more points as a team. That's what basketball is about."

Even though this is his first playoff appearance since the 2007-08 season, Calderon is a veteran and knew that Game 1 was just one game and he would have a chance to show he could bring value to the team.

"I wasn't worrying about it," Calderon explained. "I was just trying to go out there and do my job. I was lucky today that my shots were going in. I feel comfortable. My guys have confidence in me. It's been like that for 82 games and two playoff games. It's not going to change after one game."

While Calderon will be the consummate teammate and gladly step to aside for a teammate if he's not delivering, he's still a proud guy who wants to have a positive impact on his team. He was able to rise to the occasion and display some shooter's amnesia as his third-quarter performance was instrumental in Dallas' ability to steal the home-court advantage.

"I always try to go out there and play the best basketball I can and make every shot possible, but there's nights you're shooting and the ball isn't going to fall. I'll keep being aggressive and hopefully they can keep falling."

It might have taken an extra game, but Calderon answered the challenge.
DALLAS -- Completely focused on trying to even the series he's playing in now, Mavericks forward Shawn Marion was in no mood to reminisce about a couple of playoff games that happened eight years ago.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesDirk Nowitzi has averaged 27.1 points in the next game of a playoff series after he has scored fewer than 15 in the previous game.
Maybe that has something to do with the fact that it's a pretty painful memory for Marion, although Mavs fans will fondly remember when "Matrix" and the rest of the Phoenix Suns couldn't do anything to slow down Dirk Nowitzki while the big German went off for a franchise-playoff-record 50 points in Game 5 of the 2006 West finals.

"Right now, I'm on a team with him, so I can't go back to guarding him," Marion said after Tuesday's practice at the American Airlines Center before the Mavs returned to San Antonio for Game 2 with the Spurs. "It's like basically irrelevant now."

Here's why it's at least somewhat relevant right now: Nowitzki was coming off a horrendous performance in the previous game, scoring only 11 points on 3-of-13 shooting in a series-tying loss. His 50-point explosion a couple of nights later is an extreme example of Nowitzki's tendency to have big bounce-back games after off nights in the playoffs.

Sunday's Game 1 loss to the Spurs marked the ninth time out of Nowitzki's 129 career playoff games that he scored fewer than 15 points and shot worse than 30 percent from the field. One of those was when the Golden State Warriors eliminated the top-seeded Mavs in Game 6 of the 2007 first round.

After the other seven Dirk duds, he delivered an average of 27.1 points on 48.8 percent shooting in the next game of the series. That's the kind of performance the Mavs need from the 2011 Finals MVP to steal Game 2 on the Spurs' home floor and even this first-round series.

Some of Nowitzki's most memorable playoff performances have come immediately after poor outings. A few examples: a 33-point, 10-rebound night against the Utah Jazz in the first playoff win of his career; a 31-point, 11-rebound gem in Game 7 against the Portland Trail Blazers in 2003; and his 50/12 against Phoenix in 2006.

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Bully NBA made Heath's tweets big deal

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11

DALLAS -- The NBA magnified the size of Sean Heath’s microphone by about a millionfold by taking it away from the previously rather anonymous Dallas Mavericks public address announcer for two games.

UPDATE: The suspension has been rescinded, according to a source, with the league opting to fine the Mavs $25,000.

Before ESPNDallas.com broke the news of Heath’s two-game suspension for ref-ripping tweets, his Twitter account had a grand total of 253 followers. Heath’s whining after the Mavs’ April 1 overtime loss was merely a drip in the social media ocean.

It’s a thunderstorm now. The story of Heath’s suspension has been tweeted thousands of times, including by the ESPN NBA account that has more than a million followers. It’s an offbeat story that will be discussed on countless TV and radio shows across the country.

If the NBA office intended to silence talk about the league’s “reputation that the games are rigged,” to use Heath’s most inflammatory words, this was one of the worst ways to do it.

That’s not to let Heath totally off the hook. His marching orders from Mark Cuban are to be as passionate a homer as possible while he’s riling up the American Airlines Center crowds, but that passion got the best of him after his official duties ended following the Mavs’ April Fools' Day heartbreaker.

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Dirk Nowitzki
21.7 2.7 0.9 32.9
ReboundsS. Marion 6.5
AssistsM. Ellis 5.7
StealsM. Ellis 1.7
BlocksB. Wright 0.9