Dallas Mavericks: NBA

Should top 16 make playoffs? Cuban unsure

March, 28, 2014
DALLAS – The Mavericks, despite being 13 games above .500, would be the odd team out in the Western Conference if the playoffs started today.

Put the Mavs in the East and they’d have home-court advantage in the first round as the third seed. Meanwhile, two sub-.500 teams are poised to punch playoff tickets in the NBA’s lesser conference.

[+] EnlargeMark Cuban
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsMark Cuban's Mavs would be the No. 3 seed in the East but left out in the West if the playoffs started today.
The massive disparity between the quality of the conferences has prompted plenty of discussion about revamping the way playoff seeds are determined. One question often gets asked: Should the NBA do away with conference affiliation in determining playoff berths and simply put the best 16 teams in a bracket?

Believe it or not, outspoken Mavs owner Mark Cuban, whose team would obviously benefit from such a change this season, isn’t certain how he’d vote if such a switch were formally proposed.

“I can make an argument on both sides,” said Cuban, who anticipates that new NBA commissioner Adam Silver will examine the subject during the offseason.

The argument for such a change is obvious. The system is screwed up when a team that is 12 games over .500 is a playoff spectator while a squad that finishes nine games under gets a postseason berth.

But Cuban cites an unbalanced schedule and travel as issues he needs to study before determining where he stands in this debate.

Cuban noted that the good teams from the lesser conference could have an unfair advantage in seeding because they got to play the lesser teams more often. That seemed to be a secondary concern to travel and other complications, such as tipoff times, that would arise from having teams from the opposite coast face each other in the early rounds of the playoffs. Cuban used a potential Miami Heat-Portland Trail Blazers series as an example.

“That could be tough,” Cuban said. “The timing and all of that stuff could be really messed up in terms of television. Again, it’s something I could make an argument on the other side that you want your best 16 teams playing from a television perspective, travel be damned.

“I don’t have a final position on it yet. I’m keeping all my options yet.”

(Read full post)

Dangerous Mavs display depth in OKC rout

March, 16, 2014
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Dirk Nowitzki fell short of his scoring norm. An under-the-weather Monta Ellis didn’t even crack double digits.

But the Dallas Mavericks didn’t need big nights from their two most potent offensive weapons to light up the Oklahoma City Thunder en route to a 109-86 win Sunday night.

[+] EnlargeDevin Harris
Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY Sports

Devin Harris is part of a strong Dallas bench that can step up when the Mavericks' top scorers are having off nights.

While Mavs coach Rick Carlisle went out of his way to point out that the Thunder were missing three starters -- perennial All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, perimeter stopper Thabo Sefolosha and rugged center Kendrick Perkins -- this was a spectacular performance by Dallas in snapping an 11-game losing streak against the Red River rivals. The Mavs displayed the depth and dynamic scoring ability that could make them a dangerous matchup in the playoffs.

“If we attack from all angles and have multiple guys score, we’re a tough team to play,” said Nowitzki, who had 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting, sitting out the final six minutes after an Oklahoma City squad that had won the previous 11 meetings with the Mavs waved the white flag.

This performance epitomized the Mavs’ attack-from-all-angles style. Eight players scored at least eight points, led by Shawn Marion’s 19. Dallas shot 53.3 percent from the floor, including a sizzling 13-of-24 from 3-point range.

It was one of the Mavs’ most impressive offensive performances, but it certainly wasn’t out of character. This is a team that ranks third in the NBA in offensive rating (108.5 points per 100 possessions) and third in 3-point shooting (38.3 percent).

Nowitzki’s mere presence guarantees that the Mavs guards will have space to attack. Ellis (nine points, seven assists) and Devin Harris (eight points, six assists), in particular, have the quickness to exploit those creases. That often creates open looks for shooters such as Jose Calderon (16 points, seven assists, 4-of-8 from 3-point range) and Vince Carter (18 points, 4-of-8 on 3s).

And they’ve got a couple of big men in Samuel Dalembert and Brandan Wright, who combined for 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting and can finish at and above the rim.

“We have so many guys that can do so many things,” Carter said. “Even without Monta scoring, he gets in the paint and he does a lot for our team. He just makes it tough for [opponents]. When we’re hitting shots, his ability to get in the paint is to another level. He just gets there with ease and makes the right play. He can find guys for open shots. When we’re hitting them, it’s tough.”

Carlisle prefers to keep his play calling to a minimum because the Mavs are at their best playing a random, flowing offensive style. They’re a veteran bunch that pride themselves on their savvy and unselfishness, well aware that ball movement is a critical element to their efficiency, ranking fifth in the league with 23.6 assists per game.

[+] EnlargeVince Carter
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki"We have so many guys that can do so many things," said Mavs' sixth player Vince Carter.
As Nowitzki said, the Mavs kept the ball “hopping” during this visit to Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Thunder’s rotations were consistently a step or two too slow to contest shots.

“The basketball had too much freedom,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said after Dallas dished out 26 assists, while carving up the Thunder's defense. “They were moving us around. They dictated the game with their ball movement. We could control the basketball, and that is what happens when you are playing against a great 3-point shooting team.”

One of the major goals of the Mavs’ summer roster reconstruction was to put together a team that didn’t need Nowitzki to have monster nights to have a chance to win. The Mavs succeeded in that mission.

Nowitzki is as efficient as ever, ranking 13th in the league in scoring with 21.4 points per game and sitting a half-point shy on his field-goal percentage putting him in the historically exclusive 50/40/90 shooting club. But he has a legitimate scoring sidekick in Ellis; three other teammates who average double figures; and a deep bench to ease the scoring burden on the big German.

This is a good enough offensive team to make one of the West’s big boys sweat in a playoff series.

“We know we can score,” Harris said. “It’s what we do on the other end that [will determine] how successful we’ll be. We know we can make shots.”

The Mavs have proven that over the course of the season. Sunday night was one of their prettiest exhibits.

DENVER -- Sound the alarm. Press the panic button.

There’s no such thing as overreacting to a loss as dreadful as the Dallas Mavericks’ 115-110 setback Wednesday night in Colorado.

OK, so it’s not a season ender. But maybe some shouting and screaming will wake up a team that sure doesn’t appear to realize it is fighting for its playoff life.

The Mavs desperately needed a win after losing their last two games. They were facing a Denver Nuggets squad that had lost 11 of its previous 12 games.

[+] EnlargeDarrell Arthur and Jae Crowder
AP Photo/Joe MahoneyThe Mavericks were an absolute mess against the Nuggets, and now their postseason prospects might well be in question.
How did the Mavs seize the opportunity? By showing up in a haze, allowing the Nuggets to light them up for 41 points in the first quarter.

“I’ve been saying all along, if we don’t play hard, we can get torched by anybody,” said Dirk Nowitzki, whose 27 points were wasted. “We’ve got to compete on defense.”

This was supposed to be the easy game in one of the Mavs’ most difficult stretches of the season. If the Nuggets gash them like this, how the heck can the Mavs stop the bleeding against the Portland Trail Blazers, Indiana Pacers and Golden State Warriors over the next week?

The only good news for Dallas on Wednesday night is that the Memphis Grizzlies lost. So the Mavs maintain a 1 1/2-game cushion for the West’s final playoff spot. However, a humiliating outing like this could be the turning point for a season headed south.

“You’re always worried when you lose three games in a row with 20 left and the playoff standings the way that they are,” Nowitzki said. “So, yeah, are we worried? Sure. Are we going to do anything about it? We’ll see this weekend.”

That’s about as directly as the face of the franchise can challenge his teammates.

A loss under any circumstances to the Nuggets could be considered a catastrophe. But Wednesday night’s showing was especially disturbing because Dallas’ starters showed an inexcusable lack of basketball character.

“Embarrassing,” is the word Nowitzki used to describe Dallas’ effort in the first quarter.

“We didn’t come out to play,” guard Monta Ellis said. “No energy.”

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle agreed.

“We were too casual to start the game,” he said. “We got knocked back on our heels and our butts.”

A failure to compete is never acceptable. It’s absolutely inexplicable for a veteran-heavy team well aware that its fight for a potential playoff berth will probably come down to the wire.

Yet the Mavs let a Nuggets team with nothing to play for punk them to start the game. Denver grabbed 12 of the game’s first 13 rebounds and repeatedly beat the loafing Mavs down the floor for easy buckets.

What happened?

“I know what didn’t happen,” Nowitzki said. “We just didn’t run back. We didn’t get any stops. They got open shots. They got offensive rebounds. They got really whatever they wanted. It’s as easy as that.”

Starting center Samuel Dalembert, whose effort is about as consistent as the stock market, was so lackadaisical that he didn’t play a second in the second half. Based on defensive merit, Ellis and backcourt partner Jose Calderon should have been riding pine, too.

In fact, Carlisle’s biggest regret after the humbling loss in front of an ESPN audience -- and a crowd that featured entire sections that were empty -- was that he didn’t sit his starters after seeing them mail it in for the first few minutes of the game.

“I take full responsibility for this loss because at the beginning of the game we weren’t into it and it was my mistake,” Carlisle said, his voice rising with anger. “I should have subbed all the guys out of the game that were in there that gave up 12 points in three and a half minutes or whatever it was. Not doing that was a major mistake.

“I’ve been allowing guys to play through things. I believe that these guys would snap out of it, and we didn’t.”

Can the Mavs snap out of it this season? Stay tuned.

Opening Tip: Can Mavs slow star PGs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read full post)

Crowder: Another D-League triple-double

March, 1, 2014
Jae Crowder is apparently the Oscar Robertson of the D-League.

For the second time in two games with the Texas Legends, Crowder messed around and got a triple-double. He had 22 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists in Saturday’s 137-126 win over the Los Angeles D-Fenders, following up his 23-point, 18-rebound, 10-assist performance in a victory over the same foe Thursday night.

Crowder, who is shuttling back and forth between the D-League and NBA to get minutes after falling out of the Mavs’ rotation, also had five steals and three blocks.

Some not-so-pretty stats in his box-score line included seven turnovers and 7-of-18 shooting.

Rookie point guard Shane Larkin, the Mavs’ first-round pick, had by far his best statistical outing in his three D-League games. Larkin scored 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting, 10 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals. (But it’s worth noting that D-Fenders point guard Manny Harris, who has 89 games of NBA experience, had 30 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 steals.)

Mavs second-round pick Ricky Ledo, a D-League regular during his rookie season, had an off night with only five points on 2-of-8 shooting. Ledo is shooting less than 40 percent for the Legends this season.

Mavs fade in fourth quarter vs. tough Bulls

February, 28, 2014
DALLAS -- The Mavericks didn’t need to finish strong in several of their February wins, frequently building large enough leads for their core thirty-somethings to grab a seat on the bench down the stretch.

Those kinds of games will likely be few and far between for the rest of the regular season with the Mavs facing one of the league’s most difficult schedules for the next month and a half.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Richard W. Rodriguez/Getty Images"We weren't particularly shooting the ball very well tonight," said Dirk Nowitzki, who was held by the Bulls to 15 points on 7-of-18 shooting.
The step up in competition started Friday night against the Chicago Bulls, a rugged bunch of players that has quietly put together the Eastern Conference’s best record since New Year’s Day. The Mavs didn’t land nearly enough punches late in this 15-round fight, suffering a 100-91 loss at the American Airlines Center.

For Dallas, the fourth quarter was about as ugly as the bushy beards the .500 edition of the Mavs sported at this time last season. The Mavs scored only 15 points in the final 12 minutes, when they shot an unsightly 25 percent from the floor as the Bulls finished them off.

“We got nothing but good looks,” said Monta Ellis, who led the Mavs with 20 points but was only 7-of-19 from the floor, including 2-of-6 in the fourth quarter. “We missed a lot of layups, a lot of shots at the nail, at the free throw line. We missed a lot of wide-open ones. They just weren’t going down for us.”

Actually, more than anything, the Mavs missed a lot of 3-pointers. They were 2-of-12 from long distance in the fourth quarter, when a Joakim Noah-led Chicago defense made it difficult to get anything done in the paint.

And one of those 3-pointers was by Ellis with 24.9 seconds remaining, when the Mavs needed a miracle to make a comeback.

“They’re a good defensive team,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who was held to 15 points on 7-of-18 shooting. “That’s how they win. They’re smart, they’re long at every position and we weren’t particularly shooting the ball very well tonight.”

Shooting isn’t a problem for the Mavs most nights, as they ranked fourth in the league in offensive rating (108.5 points per 100 possessions), fifth in field goal percentage (47.3) and seventh in 3-point percentage (37.7).

But the Bulls are a much different kind of defensive beast than the Mavs had faced for most of their run of 10 wins in 12 games entering Friday night. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau’s tough-nosed team has the league’s second-best defensive rating (97.7).

That sort of smothering defense, however, is the new norm for the Mavs during this tough stretch of schedule. Four of their next seven opponents -- the San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers, Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder -- feature top-five defenses. Three of those games will be on the road.

“Some nights team miss shots and you have to hang in with grit, guts, defense and rebounding,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said.

That’s how the Bulls, who didn’t lead until late in the third quarter, hung in with the Mavs on Friday night. Then the Bulls turned up the defensive intensity to an even higher level down the stretch -- or the Mavs simply couldn’t get a good look to fall, depending on whom you ask.

The Mavs’ last lead came after Ellis’ steal and breakaway dunk with 5:07 remaining. Dallas followed that with a scoreless drought that lasted longer than four minutes.

“I just figured from there, we’re going to find a way to win,” Nowitzki said, referring to Ellis’ go-ahead bucket. “But we didn’t. You’ve got to give them credit. They kept getting stops.”

The Bulls made it tough on the Mavs. It won’t get much easier Sunday evening in San Antonio.

Rapid Reaction: Bulls 100, Mavericks 91

February, 28, 2014

DALLAS -- The Mavericks’ four-game winning streak was snapped in a 100-91 loss to the Chicago Bulls.

How it happened: The Mavs faded in the fourth quarter as the Bulls tightened the defensive screws.

Chicago held the Mavs to 15 points on 6-of-25 shooting in the final frame. Bulls center Joakim Noah keyed Chicago’s dominant defense, spending most of the quarter in Dirk Nowitzki’s face and coming up with steals on two consecutive possessions at one point.

Nowitzki finished what had been a phenomenal February with an off night, scoring 15 points on 7-of-18 shooting. Monta Ellis led the Mavs with 20 points, but he was only 7-of-19 from the floor.

Power forward Taj Gibson led the Bulls with 20 points and 15 rebounds off the bench.

The Mavs didn’t trail until the Bulls took a 73-72 lead late in the third quarter. Dallas lit it up for most of the first half, going into halftime shooting 48.7 percent from the floor. Vince Carter had 14 points and was 4-of-5 from 3-point range in the first half, but he only scored one point after halftime.

What it means: The Mavs slipped to seventh place in the Western Conference with their loss and the Golden State Warriors’ win over the New York Knicks. Dallas dropped to 36-24, finishing the month of February with a 9-3 record. The Bulls won for the eighth time in nine games, improving to 32-26 and tying the Toronto Raptors for the third best record in the East.

Play of the game: After catching a pick-and-roll pass near the free throw line, Noah delivered a pretty pass to a slashing Gibson, who dunked over Samuel Dalembert and a couple of other Mavs. The bucket stretched the Bulls’ lead to four with a little less than four minutes remaining.

Stat of the night: The Mavs are 4-3 when Nowitzki is held to 15 or fewer points this season.

Rapid Reaction: Mavericks 108, Pelicans 89

February, 26, 2014

DALLAS -- The Mavericks cruised to a 108-89 win over the New Orleans Pelicans Wednesday.

How it happened: The Mavs took care of business against a bad team that lost its lone star in the second quarter, when power forward Anthony Davis suffered a sprained left shoulder.

With the league’s leading shot blocker in a sling for most of the game, the Mavs pounded the Pelicans in the paint, where Dallas scored 52 points.

Monta Ellis led the Mavs with 23 points, seven assists and four steals, consistently creating havoc off of drives. Dirk Nowitzki scored 18 points in 27 minutes, and sixth man Vince Carter was even more efficient, finishing with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting in 21 minutes.

What it means: The Mavs climbed back into sixth place in the Western Conference standings with their win and the Golden State Warriors’ loss to the Chicago Bulls. Dallas improved to 36-23 with its 10th win in 12 games, putting the Mavs a season-best 13 games above .500. The Pelicans dropped to 23-34.

Play of the game: Carter finished a spinning drive to the hoop in the fourth quarter with a pretty southpaw scoop shot. After blowing by Tyreke Evans, Carter spun past big man Jeff Withey in the lane and lofted up a left-handed scoop on the other side of the lane. The ball spun around the rim before falling through the net, adding a little aesthetic touch.

Stat of the night: Jose Calderon made at least one 3-pointer for the 17th consecutive game, matching a career-best streak from earlier this season.

Rapid Reaction: Mavericks 81, Pacers 73

February, 12, 2014
The Dallas Mavericks pulled off a major upset in their final game before the All-Star break, fighting off the Eastern Conference-leading Indiana Pacers for an 81-73 win.

How it happened: The Mavs followed up one of their worst defensive performances of the season with their best.

A night after allowing the Charlotte Bobcats to score 114 points, the Mavs held the Pacers to 73 points on 32.1 percent shooting. Dallas didn’t exactly light it up offensively, either, shooting only 35.7 percent from the floor, but the Mavs can be especially proud of this win because it wasn’t pretty.

The Mavs, a team full of finesse players, went elbow for elbow with the NBA’s most physical team and walked out of their gym with the win.

The Pacers, particularly power forward David West, tried unsuccessfully to intimidate the Mavs. West got a technical foul in the final minute of the first half after getting in Dirk Nowitzki’s face. That’s a bitter individual rivalry that dates to West’s days with the New Orleans Hornets, best remembered by West mockingly caressing Nowitzki’s face during the Hornets’ first-round series win over the Mavs in 2008.

Nowitzki’s response this time? He shoved back at West and nailed a high-degree-of-difficulty, one-legged, step-back jumper on the possession after the timeout called to calm things down.

Monta Ellis led the Mavs with 23 points, nine rebounds and six assists. He scored 11 points in the fourth quarter, including 9-of-10 shooting from the free throw line. Nowitzki added 18 points.

The Mavs took the lead for good with an 8-0 run that started with a jumper by Brandan Wright with 5:19 remaining. Wright had two buckets during that spurt. He scored seven points and grabbed four rebounds in the fourth quarter after playing only 44 seconds in the first three frames.

But Dallas’ defense was the story in this game. With Shawn Marion on him most of the game, Pacers superstar Paul George scored only 12 points on 4-of-17 shooting. The Mavs held the Pacers to 11 points in the fourth quarter.

What it means: The Mavs head into the All-Star break on a high note. They have won six of seven games and bounced back from Tuesday night’s blowout loss in Charlotte by handing the Pacers only their third home loss of the season. The Pacers dropped to 40-12, matching the Oklahoma City Thunder for the fewest losses in the league. The Mavs improved to 32-22, which could have them sitting alone in sixth place in the West standings if the Golden State Warriors lose their late game to the Miami Heat.

Play of the game: Vince Carter beat Danny Granger on a backdoor cut to get an inbounds pass, drew a couple of defenders and dished to Wright for the uncontested dunk. That gave the Mavs a 65-62 lead with less than nine minutes to play.

Stat of the night: The Pacers’ 73 points were the fewest allowed by the Mavs since a Feb. 20, 2012, win over the Boston Celtics.

Carlisle: Mavs looking to move up in West

February, 5, 2014

It might be human nature for the Dallas Mavericks to have breathed a little sigh of relief as they left Memphis.

But they better not let coach Rick Carlisle hear it.

The Memphis Grizzlies’ hot breath is no longer blowing on the Mavs’ necks after a statement win Wednesday night by Dallas at FedExForum. The Mavs’ 110-96 victory created a two-game cushion over the Grizzlies for eighth place -- the final playoff spot -- in the Western Conference standings.

That’s swell and all, but it certainly doesn’t satisfy a coach who earned a championship ring a few years ago. Eighth isn't enough.

[+] EnlargeRick Carlisle
Justin Ford/USA TODAY Sports"Who wants to be in the eighth spot if you've got a chance to move up to seventh, sixth, fifth or fourth?" Rick Carlisle said after Dallas took a two-game lead over Memphis for eighth place in the West. "That's what our mindset's got to be."

“We’re a team looking to move up,” Carlisle told reporters. “We’re looking to move up in the standings. We’re not looking to just hang on to the eighth spot. Who wants to be in the eighth spot if you’ve got a chance to move up to seventh, sixth, fifth or fourth? That’s what our mindset’s got to be.”

It’d be foolish to dismiss the Grizzlies, who were as hot as any team in the NBA before losing two of three games since point guard Mike Conley went down with a sprained ankle (which isn’t expected to sideline him much longer).

But Carlisle sent a strong message that the Mavs’ focus should be on catching the teams in front of them, not treading water to barely get back in the playoffs after the proud franchise’s one-year absence.

The opportunity is there for the Mavs, especially if Dirk Nowitzki keeps dominating, Samuel Dalembert makes showing up a habit and a deep bench continues delivering.

For all the talk of how tough it’ll be just to make the playoffs in the West, the Mavs are only a half-game behind the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors in the standings. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Dallas could run down the Houston Rockets or Los Angeles Clippers, who are four games ahead of the Mavs at the moment.

“This is the kind of win we’ve been trying to get to get some momentum,” Carlisle said after Dallas dominated the final 14 minutes in Memphis en route to the Mavs’ third straight win. “We’ve just got to keep it going.”

To be clear, Carlisle doesn’t want the Mavs constantly worrying about the standings, whether they’re looking at the teams ahead or behind them. His daily challenge to his team is to focus on the process of maximizing this team’s potential.

For talented teams that do that -- and stay healthy -- the standings tend to sort out favorably.

As of now, the Mavs couldn’t ask for much better health. The roster has flaws, but it still features a legitimate superstar in Nowitzki, who had another beautifully efficient offensive performance by scoring 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting against one of the league’s elite defensive teams.

Nowitzki’s supporting cast was upgraded significantly in the summer, with Monta Ellis serving as an explosive sidekick, if not a co-star. The Mavs’ bench is one of the better second units in the league now that Devin Harris and Brandan Wright are making impacts after recovering from injuries that sidelined them for long stretches to start the season.

There are signs that Carlisle is getting through to this team, too. He pretty much publicly questioned the Mavs’ basketball manhood after a loss to the Houston Rockets last week. They’ve responded with three straight wins. And they outrebounded the gritty Grizzlies, outscoring Memphis by a stunning 56-32 margin in the paint.

“We showed a lot of guts and resolve tonight, which is encouraging, but it guarantees nothing beyond tonight,” Carlisle said. “We know that.

“We’re looking for more. We’re looking to get better. We had nine new guys this year. We’re 50 games in. We’re at the point now where nobody wants to hear about a bunch of new guys. Fifty games in, you’ve become a team or you haven’t. Tonight shows that we’re in the mode of becoming a real team, but we’ve got to just keep working at it.”

The Mavs’ win in Memphis ranks among their most impressive of the season. It certainly was their most important victory to this point.

For Carlisle, it presented a perfect opportunity to keep pushing.

Rapid Reaction: Mavs 110, Grizzlies 96

February, 5, 2014

The Dallas Mavericks rolled to a 110-96 win over the Memphis Grizzlies in what might be Dallas’ most impressive and important win of the season.

How it happened: The Mavs dictated the tempo in the fourth quarter and ran away with the game in the Grizzlies’ gym.

The Mavs outscored the Grizzlies by a 32-24 margin in the final frame, when Dirk Nowitzki scored nine of his game-high 26 points.

Nowitzki stayed hot, hitting 10 of 14 shots from the floor, but the Dallas bench was the difference in this game. The Mavs had a 43-21 edge in bench points, keyed by Brandan Wright’s 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting and Vince Carter’s 13-point, 5-of-8, seven-assist outing.

The Grizzlies had allowed an average of only 88.7 points in the 11 games since center Marc Gasol returned from a knee injury. The Mavs, who shot 53.8 percent from the floor, scored 89 points in the last three quarters.

Memphis also had a good shooting night, making 53.6 percent of its field goal attempts. Power forward Zach Randolph had 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting, and shooting guard Courtney Lee added 22 points on 10-of-15 shooting.

But the Grizzlies, who led the entire first half, went flat in the second half. Memphis scored only 17 points in the third quarter, losing the lead for good late in the frame.

What it means: As far as early February wins go, this one was massive for the Mavs. The Grizzlies had a chance to pull even for eighth place in the Western Conference standings, but the Mavs now have a two-game cushion after improving to 29-21. Dallas is only a half-game behind the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors. The Grizzlies (26-22) had won 11 of 14 games entering the night. This victory clinches the season series for the Mavs, who have defeated the Grizzlies in all three meetings between the teams.

Play of the game: A foiled Grizzlies fast break turned into an uncontested dunk by Samuel Dalembert in transition. Nowitzki came up with a steal, took a couple of dribbles and threw a long pass to Shawn Marion ahead of the Memphis defense. Marion dished to a sprinting Dalembert in the middle of the lane, and the big man finished with a hard one-hand slam that essentially served as the dagger, stretching the Mavs’ lead to 16 with 4:10 remaining.

Stat of the night: The Mavs had a 35-32 rebounding advantage, which is especially notable considering the Grizzlies are the NBA’s third-ranked team in rebounding margin and the Mavs are ranked third to last. Dalmebert delivered a double-double with 14 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.

Rapid Reaction: Mavericks 124, Cavs 107

February, 3, 2014

DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks cruised to a 124-107 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

How it happened: The Mavs pretty much did whatever they wanted offensively against an Eastern Conference also-ran.

Dallas shot 55 percent from the floor and had six players score in double figures.

Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavs with 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting in only 29 minutes, but that’s no big deal for the 12-time All-Star. Nor is it surprising to see Monta Ellis contribute 22 points and seven assists, although his 8-of-12 shooting is particularly impressive.

The most noteworthy performances of the night came from a pair of Mavs role players who signed lower-level contracts this summer.

Center Samuel Dalembert finished two points shy of his season high, scoring 18 on 7-of-8 shooting. He also grabbed eight rebounds and blocked two shots, outplaying Cleveland’s Anderson Varejao.

Guard Devin Harris gave the Mavs a season-high 16 points and four assists in 18 minutes. It’s the kind of impact performance the Mavs were hoping Harris could deliver while he spent the first half of the season recovering from toe surgery.

Kyrie Irving scored 27 points to lead seven Cleveland players in double figures, but the Cavs didn’t get nearly enough defensive stops to keep up with the Mavs.

What it means: The Mavs are alone in eighth place in the Western Conference standings, for a couple of days at least. Dallas (28-21) has a one-game lead on the Memphis Grizzlies, who lost on the road to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Mavs play seven of their next nine games on the road, beginning with Wednesday’s visit to Memphis. The Cavs dropped to 16-32.

Play of the game: Ellis fought through a screen, stole a pass intended for Irving and took off on a one-man fast break that he finished with a double-pump finger roll in traffic. The bucket stretched the Mavs’ lead to six with 6:36 remaining in the third quarter. The fast break and finish were worthy of the highlight reel, but the grit displayed while fighting through the screen will earn Ellis praise in the Mavs’ film room.

Stat of the night: The Mavs are 14-1 in home games they lead entering the fourth quarter this season.

Defensive debacle 'beyond embarrassing'

January, 18, 2014
DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks’ latest defensive disaster caused one painful phrase to pop into coach Rick Carlisle’s mind:

“Other than saying ‘beyond embarrassing,’ I don’t know what to say.”

Carlisle’s sentiments came after the Portland Trail Blazers ran a 36-minute layup line Saturday night en route to a 127-111 rout of the Mavericks at the American Airlines Center.

[+] EnlargeMavericks defense
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezThe defense of the Mavs' starters was particularly porous Saturday against Portland. But the bench rose to the occasion. "Everybody's just got to work a little harder," Dirk Nowitzki said, "and compete like the guys did in the fourth quarter today."

The final score really doesn’t do justice to what an awful outing this was by the Mavs’ regulars. The Dallas reserves dominated garbage time to make the outcome appear to at least be remotely respectable. But this potential playoff preview was a pathetic performance by the home team.

The Blazers deserve some credit. After all, led by power forward LaMarcus Aldridge and point guard Damian Lillard, Portland is the NBA’s highest-scoring team.

But it’s absolutely ridiculous to allow anybody to make it look as easy as the Blazers did in the first three quarters, when Portland scored more than half of its 104 points in the paint. The Dallas defense was terrible in transition and horrific in the half court. The Mavs could have laid out rose petals to show the Blazers the way to the rim, if that didn't require a little effort.

“It’s on all of us as a team,” Dallas center Samuel Dalembert said. “It’s embarrassing. As you can see, things didn’t go the way we anticipated.”

Anyone else who was surprised either hasn’t been paying attention or is in denial.

Breaking news: The Mavs are a bad defensive team.

They allow the sixth most points in the NBA this season. That tends to happen when your starting lineup features two guards with terrible defensive reputations (Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis), a 35-year-old power forward who has always been severely limited athletically (Dirk Nowitzki) and a maddeningly inconsistent big man who is asked to clean up a lot of the messes (Dalembert).

The problem is the Mavs, with all their new pieces, aren’t showing progress defensively. They’re regressing, actually, at least against quality competition.

This was the eighth game the Mavs played in the past month against a team that is in position to make the Western Conference playoffs. They’re 2-6 in those games and have allowed an average of 117.1 points on 50.2 percent shooting from the floor.

The Mavs have twice this week alone had halves during which they allowed 70 or more points. Even with their personnel flaws, that’s a shameful failure to execute and compete.

“Everybody’s just got to work a little harder, make the catches a little harder and compete like the guys did in the fourth quarter today,” Nowitzki said. “That’s the only way to play. Like I said, I don’t think we’re talented enough to coast through games or coast through quarters. We’re just not good enough.”

Most fans missed the one bright spot for the Mavs in this blowout. Can you blame folks for fleeing for the exits with the home team trailing by 34 points entering the fourth quarter?

But the Mavs’ bench made up enough ground, going on a 17-0 run at one point, to make Portland coach Terry Stotts put his starters back on the floor with 4:19 remaining. As humiliated as he was, Carlisle made sure to recognize the effort of DeJuan Blair, Brandan Wright, Jae Crowder, Wayne Ellington and Shane Larkin in the final frame, using it as a threat to the Mavs’ regulars.

“I’m going to find guys that are going to fight and get them in the game,” Carlisle said. “Simple as that.”

The Mavs’ defensive flaws really aren’t that complicated. They’re just hard to fix without some major roster remodeling.

Blame Mavs' blown lead on inferior defense

January, 16, 2014
LOS ANGELES -- At some point this has to change.

Either the Dallas Mavericks (23-17) are going to figure out a way to close games with their defense, or they’re going to continue suffering excruciating losses after holding double-digit leads and, possibly, miss out on the playoffs in a stacked Western Conference.

[+] EnlargeGriffin
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill"We made some really bad mental mistakes and gave them a chance," coach Rick Carlisle said after Dallas' collapse against the Clippers, "and they took advantage of it."
For the fourth time this season, the Mavs held a 17-plus point lead and failed to win (the other losses were against the Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors). Once or twice might be an aberration, but at this point the blown leads are beginning to creep into Dallas’ psyche.

“I was thinking we might be the only team trying to find a way to lose this one,” Dirk Nowitzki said after the Mavs 129-127 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. “We were up, I don’t know, 15 or 16. We have to find a way to win it. We have to get a couple stops here and there. I have to make one or two shots, and there’s no way we should lose this game.”

With 4:48 remaining in the fourth quarter, reserve big man Brandan Wright -- being fronted on a mismatch by Jamal Crawford -- caught a lob pass from Vince Carter, finished the layup and was struck in the face by Crawford.

As blood oozed from his lip, Wright stepped to the free throw line and completed the and-1. The three-point play stretched Dallas’ lead to a game-high 17 points, 123-106, which seemed improbable after the Mavs trailed by nearly double digits for a majority of the first three frames.

Yet instead of serving as the spark that would propel the Mavs to victory, Wright’s basket essentially functioned as the turning point for the Clippers. Over the final 4:35, Los Angeles outscored Dallas 23-4. Shawn Marion said it was “inexcusable” that the Mavs let the Clippers come back from 17 down.

“We have to get some stops,” Nowitzki said. “We can’t give up 3s, especially when they’re down that many. We knew the only way they could come back was with 3s, and they hit three or four in the last couple minutes.”

Even with their massive collapse rapidly unfolding, the Mavs had a handful of opportunities to seal the game down the stretch -- none more important than on the Clippers’ game-winning possession. Following a missed 16-foot step-back jumper by Nowitzki, the Clippers -- trailing 127-126 -- called a timeout and set up a game-winning shot with 20 seconds remaining.

Crawford, who had 16 points on just 4-of-13 shooting, isolated Marion at the top of the key, drove right and attacked the heart of Dallas’ defense. Marion, unquestionably the Mavs’ best one-on-one defender, stuck with Crawford, but bit on a pump fake and was called for a controversial foul. Dallas’ bench erupted in disagreement, and Marion, in particular, was visibly upset.

“I played great defense on him at the time,” Marion said. “[The refs] felt like they needed to make the call, and it is what it is.”

Nowitzki, meanwhile, was a bit more brash in his assessment of the play.

“I actually don’t think ’Trix fouled Crawford on that play,” Nowitzki said. “I think he lost the ball and flailed his arms, and the refs bailed him out. So that was a tough play, but it should never have come down to that.”

While some might cite the questionable call as a key reason the Mavs lost, Dallas actually has been on the receiving end of two beneficial calls recently that the NBA publicly retracted. The postgame locker-room theme was that maybe their luck had caught up to them.

Regardless, Dallas coach Rick Carlisle isn’t looking to make any excuses for his team's inability to win Wednesday's game.

“We couldn’t get stops and that was the reason we lost,” Carlisle said. “If you’re going to pin all your hopes on shot-making in this league, you’re not going to win nearly as many games as you can if you have the ability to get stops.”

At basically the midway point of the season, the Mavs have yet to establish themselves as an above-average defensive team.

Heading into Wednesday night’s game, the Mavericks had been giving up 103.1 points per 100 possessions since Christmas -- an encouraging number that was good for the 12th-best mark in the league over that span. Tonight’s outing, though, dropped the Mavs’ defensive efficiency to 105.4 (19th during that stretch), and 22nd overall for the season.

With the Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets nipping at their heels for one of the West's final playoff spots, the Mavericks need to address their defensive struggles, and soon. Whether it’s by making tactical adjustments or switching up the rotation, the Mavs know they can’t build a sustainable winning formula with a below-average defense.

“We got the lead by getting stops,” Carlisle said, “and then we lost it with mental mistakes and poor defense down the stretch.

“We made some really bad mental mistakes and gave them a chance, and they took advantage of it.”

Rapid Reaction: Clippers 129, Mavericks 127

January, 16, 2014

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Clippers, led by guard J.J. Redick’s 33 points, defeated the Dallas Mavericks 129-127 on Wednesday night behind a dazzling late fourth-quarter rally.

How it happened: Both squads picked up from where they left off nearly two weeks ago, combining for 134 points and 16 3-pointers in a first half that saw precise offensive execution and little defensive success. (The teams combined for 137 points and 17 3s, respectively, on Jan. 3.) Despite shooting 50 percent, the Mavs trailed 72-62 at intermission, in large part because the Clippers shot a blistering 56.8 percent. Redick -- 23 points and 6-of-8 from deep -- was a difficult cover for Monta Ellis, especially.

In the third quarter, Dallas used a 16-7 run midway through the frame to get within a point at 86-85 before Los Angeles promptly stretched the lead to 100-91 with 2:47 remaining. The Mavs closed the quarter strong, though, scoring seven quick points to cut the deficit to two at 100-98.

The first 7:12 of the final frame featured nearly flawless basketball by Dallas, as the Mavs rode their momentum from the third quarter to a 25-6 run and 123-106 lead. From that point on, though, the Mavs collapsed, getting outscored 23-4 by the Clippers. Ultimately, Dallas -- ranked 19th in defensive efficiency heading into Wednesday’s contest -- couldn’t get the necessary stops with the game on the line and blew a double-digit lead with three minutes remaining.

Dirk Nowitzki (27 points, eight rebounds) led the Mavs with his usual All-Star-level production, while Samuel Dalembert (20 points, seven rebounds) was surprisingly effective. Jose Calderon (16 points), Shawn Marion (14) and Brandon Wright (13) also scored in double figures.

For the Clippers, Redick (33), Blake Griffin (23 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists), Matt Barnes (25 points), Jamal Crawford (16), Darren Collison (13) and Jared Dudley (10) were all in double figures.

What it means: The Mavs (23-17) have yet to find their defensive identity halfway through the season. There were stretches of defensive competence in the second half, but their effort was inconsistent overall. It cost them another winnable game against a top-tier opponent.

Play of the game: With 20 seconds left and the Clippers down 127-126, Crawford -- defended by Marion at the top of the key -- isolated the Mavs' best one-on-one defender and drove right. He jump-stopped, pump-faked and drew a controversial foul call on Marion with 11 seconds remaining. Crawford sank both free throws, giving the Clippers a 128-127 lead and the victory.

After being on the beneficial end of a few controversial calls recently, the Mavs’ luck caught up to them.

Stat of the night: Four. That's the number of times the Mavs have had a 17-plus point lead and lost the game this season.



Monta Ellis
19.5 4.4 1.9 33.7
ReboundsT. Chandler 11.7
AssistsR. Rondo 6.2
StealsM. Ellis 1.9
BlocksB. James 2.0