Dallas Mavericks: Phoenix Suns

Rapid Reaction: Mavs 88, Suns 62

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
5:14
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LAS VEGAS -- The Dallas Mavericks Dallas Mavericks fell into an early 11-1 hole to start the game but ran the Suns out of the gym from that point on in the consolation round of the Las Vegas Summer League playoffs. Dallas ended the summer league with a record of 3-2 after Friday's 88-62 win. Phoenix ended up 2-3.

How it happened: Fresh off signing a non-guaranteed, one-year deal with the Mavs, high-flying forward Eric Griffin delivered a 20-point performance, finishing 9-of-13 from the field and adding three rebounds and three blocks. Griffin ends his run in Vegas as one of the more impressive and athletic players to play in the desert.

Griffin has essentially earned himself an invite to Dallas' training camp. If he does not make the Dallas roster, Griffin’s D-League rights will be owned by the Texas Legends, the Mavs' D-League affiliate.

Yuki Togashi played more minutes at point guard with Gal Mekel sitting out the final game and departing for Israel. The 5-foot-8 Japanese guard showed flashes of his aggressive game as he attacked the lane within the flow of the team's offense. Togashi could be a prospect for the Texas Legends.

The Suns were led by forward Elias Harris and second-year guard Archie Goodwin, as they combined to score 28 points.

What it means: The Mavs end the summer league on a high note. The team will depart Saturday morning. Most of them will go on their own way after that, with some preparing for Mavs training camp early in the fall.

Mavs player of the game: After a rough performance in their one-point loss to the New Orleans Hornets, swingman Ricky Ledo bounced back with an impressive all-around performance. Ledo scored only nine points on 2-of-16 shooting in the team's loss to the Hornets, but responded friday with a 15-point performance on 6-of-13 shooting.

Showing his playmaking skills, Ledo added a game-high nine assists. The rest of the players on both teams combined for only 11 assists.

Stat of the day: Dallas struggled to shoot with consistency and turned the ball over in their summer league losses. But in their victory over the Suns, the Mavs shot 49.3 percent from the field and committed only 13 turnovers.

Rapid Reaction: Mavs 101, Suns 98

April, 12, 2014
Apr 12
10:19
PM CT

DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks punched their playoff ticket with a 101-98 win over the Phoenix Suns.

How it happened: After big nights by Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavs held on in the final seconds to pull out the wild win.

That duo combined for 44 points after the break to allow the Mavs to erase an 11-point halftime deficit, leaving the Suns and Memphis Grizzlies battling for the West’s last playoff spot.

Nowitzki recovered from a horrendous first half (two points on 1-of-5 shooting) to finished with 23 points and eight rebounds. He was 7-of-10 from the floor in the second half, including a 3-pointer from the left wing with 4:34 remaining that gave the Mavs the lead for good.

Ellis was simply sensational all night. He tied his season high with 37 points on 15-of-23 shooting.

The Mavs led by eight with less than three minutes remaining, but the Suns responded with a 9-2 run to pull within one point. Guard Eric Bledsoe, who had 29 points and six assists, fueled that spurt with five points but missed what would have been a tying free throw with 52 seconds remaining.

The Mavs got a major scare early in that run when Nowitzki appeared to twist his left ankle and limped off the court. He returned to the game after missing only 18 seconds.

Phoenix’s Gerald Green had a chance to give the Suns the lead with 26 seconds remaining, but he missed a short baseline jumper in transition.

After a wild pass that was almost stolen by Bledsoe, Ellis went to the line, splitting a pair of free throws to push the Mavs’ lead back to three with 19 seconds remaining.

Bledsoe drove to the basket on the ensuing possession, but Brandan Wright (12 points, 11 rebounds) came up with the biggest blocked shot of his career.

Ellis couldn’t seal the door at the line, splitting another pair of free throws with 9.4 seconds remaining and leaving the door cracked for the Suns to force overtime.

Markieff Morris' 3-pointer on the final possession -- with Wright's hand in his face -- was way off.

What it means: The Mavs (49-32) clinched a playoff spot for the 13th time in 14 seasons. This win locked up a tiebreaker over the 47-33 Suns, who face the 47-32 Grizzlies on Monday. No matter what happens, the Mavs can claim the seventh seed with a win in Memphis during Wednesday’s regular-season finale.

Play of the game: After Nowitzki’s go-ahead 3-pointer with 4:34 to go, Ellis poked the ball loose from Channing Frye and went flying down the left side of the floor, finishing with a lefty layup despite being challenged by Bledsoe. That stretched the Mavs’ lead to five points with 4:00 remaining.

Stat of the night: The American Airlines Center’s two residents clinched playoff appearances with home wins on consecutive nights. The NHL’s Dallas Stars punched their playoff ticket Friday night with a win over the St. Louis Blues.

Opening Tip: Mavs one win from getting in

April, 12, 2014
Apr 12
8:00
AM CT
Dirk Nowitzki Russ Isabella/USA TODAY SportsThe Mavericks need a win in either of their final two games to clinch a playoff berth.

DALLAS -- Never mind about magic numbers for the Mavericks.

Their path to the playoffs is simple: Win and get in.

All they need is one win at this point. It doesn't matter which game.

The Mavs can officially clinch a playoff spot by beating the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night, assuring the franchise's 13th playoff appearance in 14 seasons.

The Mavs already own the tiebreaker over the Memphis Grizzlies. Saturday night's winner gets the tiebreaker in the Mavs-Suns series.

If the Mavs beat the Suns, Dallas is assured of finishing no worse than 49-33. In that case, the loser of Monday night's Grizzlies-Suns game could finish no better than that, guaranteeing that the Mavs would be going to the playoffs.

A win over the Suns would assure the Mavs of finishing above Phoenix in the standings. The Grizzlies would have to win out to finish higher than the Mavs.

That's if the Mavs handle their business against the Suns. If not, the Mavs might have to win Wednesday night in Memphis to get in.

Speedy, surprising Suns still shining

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
3:24
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DALLAS -- The Phoenix Suns’ rise is one of the remarkable stories in the NBA this season.

Coming off a 25-win season, the Suns were considered by many to be among the tanking teams this season, having traded starting center Marcin Gortat for injured Emeka Okafor and a future first-round pick in late October.

Hornacek
Jennifer Stewart/USA TODAY SportsRookie coach Jeff Hornacek has the surprising Suns fighting for a playoff spot in the final week of the regular season.
It’s hard to believe those same Suns are fighting for a playoff spot in the final week of the regular season.

But, much to the surprise of most NBA observers, Phoenix never faded. Rookie coach Jeff Hornacek’s team, which is 47-31 entering its back-to-back in San Antonio and Dallas, has proven it’s for real.

“They remind me a lot of my first Detroit team back in ’01-02,” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, who was named Coach of the Year after the Pistons won 50 games that season. “It was a team coming off a 32-win season that people didn’t expect to be .500. There are a lot of similarities [to the Suns]. They have a lot of toughness on their team, they have young guys that have been on some bad teams and they’re tired of getting kicked around so they play with attitude, and they’ve got great guard play.”

Goran Dragic, one of those guards, is doubtful for Friday’s game against the Spurs due to an ankle injury and could be sidelined Saturday against the Mavs, the Arizona Republic reports.

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Only one true winner in West's last race

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
9:18
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DALLAS -- The final two playoff spots will be up for grabs when the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies play a serendipitously scheduled round-robin tournament of sorts over the final five days of the regular season.

But let's not kid ourselves: There will be only one winner.

Playing the mighty San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs is no prize, as the Mavs were reminded during their ninth consecutive loss to their Interstate 35 rivals, if that term still applies with the recent results between the teams being so lopsided.

Not that the Oklahoma City Thunder or Los Angeles Clippers would be a great playoff draw, but a 7-seed would have least have a shooter's chance against those offensive powerhouses.

Read the entire story.
DALLAS – Never mind the magic number for the Dallas Mavericks.

The bare minimum for making the playoffs doesn’t do the Mavs much good. Does opening the postseason with a stay on San Antonio’s Riverwalk, clean as it as these days, sound like any fun?

“Honestly, we’re trying to get in,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “The magic number now is two, so as far as I’m concerned, we need to win. That’s how I look at it. I’m not really thinking too much about positioning. Our goal is to get in the playoffs and then whatever happens, happens. … We’ll talk about seedings and everything else and matchups when we’re in.”

It benefits the Mavs to live in the moment. It does them no good to ponder the big picture when they need to focus intensely on every possession.

But let’s be real -- the Mavs want no part of a playoff series with the San Antonio Spurs.

The West’s best team has defeated its Interstate 35 rival eight straight times, convincingly in most cases. Here’s how long it’s been since the Mavs got the best of the Spurs: Jason Kidd, now preparing for the playoffs as the Brooklyn Nets’ head coach, had 14 points and 10 assists in that game.

Managing to end that eight-game losing streak Thursday night at American Airlines Center would greatly help the Mavs’ chances of avoiding the Spurs in the first round.

This is as good a time to play the Spurs as any. All-Star point guard Tony Parker didn’t make the trip, staying in San Antonio to nurse a sore back that isn’t expected to be an issue in the playoffs. And the Spurs don’t have much to play for, being all but locked into the West’s top seed, three games up on the Oklahoma City Thunder with four games remaining on their schedule.

The Mavs, on the other hand, have everything to play for.

The Mavs still have slim hopes of getting the sixth seed, sitting a game back of the Golden State Warriors, although Golden State owns the tiebreakers. The Mavs’ greater concern is not being the odd team out in the three-team battle for the West’s final two playoff spots.

A 4-0 road trip put the Mavs in pole position in that race, but they didn’t get any help Wednesday night, when the Suns and Grizzlies both won. The Suns stand just a half-game behind the Mavs, the Grizzlies a game and a half back.

The Mavs can give themselves a little bit of wiggle room by beating the Spurs before the serendipitously scheduled round-robin tournament of sorts starts with Suns-Mavs on Saturday night and wraps up with a Mavs-Grizzlies regular-season finale.

Finishing last in that race gets a lottery ticket. A second-place finish wouldn’t be much more fun.
SACRAMENTO -- Dirk Nowitzki figured all along the Dallas Mavericks would have to fight to make the playoffs in the deep Western Conference.

He just didn’t anticipate the Phoenix Suns being one of the teams in the mix. For that matter, nobody did.

But the Suns are right there and refusing to go away. The seventh place Mavs have given themselves a bit of breathing room ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies, creating a 1 -game cushion by beating the Sacramento Kings and having Memphis lose in San Antonio on Sunday. The Suns, on the other hand, remain just a half-game behind Dallas after wins over the playoff-bound Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder this weekend.

“I think Phoenix came out of nowhere,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “The so-called analysts had them winning 15 games. They’re well coached. Memphis has [Marc] Gasol back now and they’re playing well, so it’s going to be a fight.

“Down the stretch, we’re going to see both teams. It’s going to be a fight. It’s going to be as competitive as it gets. You gotta love it.”

Yes, in a sweet twist of scheduling fate, the teams involved in a three-way fight for the West’s last two playoff spots essentially play a round-robin tournament in the last week of the regular season. The Suns and Mavs meet in Dallas on April 12, the Grizzlies go to Phoenix on April 14 and the Mavs and Grizzlies wrap up the regular season in Memphis on April 16.

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Mavericks move up after dream day off

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
8:00
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DALLAS -- What a sweet Sunday it was for the Dallas Mavericks.

They woke up ninth in the Western Conference standings, perhaps relaxed by a pool all day with no practice scheduled and moved up two spots before going to sleep.

How did that happen?

The Memphis Grizzlies lost in Portland. That was fairly predictable. The Phoenix Suns got blown out by the Los Angeles Lakers. That’s a pretty big stunner.

How much do you think Dirk Nowitzki enjoyed watching his pal Chris Kaman go for 28 points, 17 rebounds and 6 assists against the Suns? That qualifies as Kaman’s biggest contribution to the Mavs.

Oh, and as a bonus, the Golden State Warriors lost at home to the New York Knicks. That means the Mavs can pull within a half-game of the sixth-place Warriors by beating them Tuesday night.

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DALLAS – Coach Rick Carlisle wants the Mavericks’ players focused on the task at hand each day, not caught up in checking the scoreboard and Western Conference standings.

Of course, Mavs owner Mark Cuban can do whatever he pleases, and he sees significant opportunity when he scans the standings with 10 games to go in the regular season.

Cuban has heard all the talk about the possibility of the Mavs finishing in ninth place, which would mean missing the playoffs for the second straight season after the franchise earned 12 consecutive postseason berths. He wonders why there isn’t any discussion about Dallas climbing up a few spots and grabbing the fifth seed.

“We’re, what, two games behind Portland?” Cuban said.

Yep, the 43-29 Mavs are only two games behind the slumping Trail Blazers (3-7 in their last 10 games) and own the tiebreaker by virtue of Dallas winning the season series, 2-1. The Mavs are 1 games behind the sixth-place Golden State Warriors and have a golden opportunity to make up a game when the Warriors visit Tuesday.

But the Mavs have no breathing room at the bottom of the playoff picture. They’re sitting in the final spot at the moment, percentage points behind the Memphis Grizzlies and a half-game ahead of the Phoenix Suns entering Wednesday night’s NBA action.

As much as the Mavs are living by the one-day-at-a-time mantra, there is a strong belief in the locker room that their battle for a playoff spot will go down to the last week of the season.

The Mavs’ final two games are April 12 at home against the Suns -- a meeting that will determine the Dallas-Phoenix tiebreaker -- and April 16 on the road against a Memphis team that is 0-3 against Dallas this season. The Grizzlies play in Phoenix on April 14, so the final week of the season essentially features a round-robin tournament between the three teams who are within a half-game of each other now.

“We’re going to have our hands full just to get in,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “We’ve got a heck of a schedule coming down the stretch, so I guess that’s all we’re focusing on now, finishing strong these last 10 games, keep competing and playing off each other on offense and see what happens. We’ll worry about matchups when we finally know, but the way it’s looking, it’s going to come down to the last couple of games.

“We kind of waited on Phoenix the whole season to kind of cast away, but they just keep coming. They’re just so athletic and they’re well coached. They’re a fun, fun group to watch. They’re going to keep pushing, and so are we and Memphis.”

A reminder from Cuban: Don’t forget about Portland and Golden State.

Mavs mailbag: Time to sit Dirk?

March, 25, 2014
Mar 25
12:00
PM CT
Dirk NowitzkiAP Photo/Tony GutierrezWould it be wise for the Mavs to rest Dirk Nowitzki down the stretch as they fight for a playoff spot?

DALLAS -- The Mavericks have lost two of the last three games. Dirk Nowitzki looks old. If the playoffs started today, the Mavs would be back in the lottery.

Last week’s feel-good mailbag seems so long ago. At this point, it seems most MFFLs are awfully worried about this playoff push or already looking forward to the summer.

On to your questions ...

Do you think the Mavs may try to rest Dirk down the stretch? He's looked noticeably exhausted the past few games. -- @ItsaThomasThing on Twitter

I got several versions of this question this week. One faithful reader, @RamiMichail, went so far as to suggest sitting Dirk on Saturday night against the Sacramento Kings.

I’ll be absolutely stunned if that happens. It’s simply a luxury the Mavs can’t afford while fighting for their playoff lives.

Rick Carlisle said the subject hasn’t even been broached internally this week, adding that he talked to Nowitzki at length yesterday and was told that the big German feels fine physically. I’m not sure I buy that, especially after playing a pair of overtime games in the last week, but the Mavs don’t believe Nowitzki is at a point where he absolutely requires a game of rest right now.

“I don’t think he’d agree to sit right now anyway,” Carlisle said. “I think he’d fistfight all of us to keep playing.”

By the way, if Dirk is going to get a DNP-CD (OLD), I wouldn’t do it against a bad team. I’d sit him on the road April 3 against the Los Angeles Clippers, a game the Mavs aren’t likely to win anyway and the front end the only back-to-back left on the Mavs’ schedule.

What effect do you think the loss of Dwane Casey to the Raptors has had on the Mavs D since champ season? Any at all? -- @emptyflare on Twitter

Casey is one of the best defensive minds in the NBA. He’s also a Coach of the Year candidate this season, as his Toronto Raptors team that was supposedly tanking is in third place in the Eastern Conference. I can’t completely dismiss the impact his loss might have had on the Mavs’ defense, but I do believe Dallas defensive coordinator Monte Mathis is a good coach who has kept all the schemes and principles he learned while working under Casey.

This is much more of a personnel problem than a coaching issue. The Mavs knew they’d have major defensive challenges after putting the roster together this summer. They’d have to overachieve to be average defensively. Unfortunately, they’ve lived down to expectations on that end of the floor, ranking 22nd in defensive rating.

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Opening Tip: 'Not the time to panic'

March, 25, 2014
Mar 25
8:00
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DALLAS -- Halfway through this marathon homestand, this is hardly the way the Dallas Mavericks hoped it would go.

They’re 2-2 so far during their extended stay in Dallas. Both losses have come in overtime, adding extra minutes to the old legs of veterans such as Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
AP Photo/Don RyanDirk Nowitzki played 39 and 38 minutes in the Mavericks' recent overtime losses -- not the best medicine for the 35-year-old.
As tight as the fight for the final couple of playoff spots in the Western Conference is, any loss feels like a crisis. The Mavs now are tied with the Phoenix Suns, winners of four straight, for eighth place in the West, a half-game behind the Memphis Grizzlies.

“This is not the time to panic,” Monta Ellis said after Sunday’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

Panicking won’t solve any of the Mavs’ problems, but they’re well aware that their margin for error is miniscule. That’s what made blowing a double-digit third-quarter lead against the Nets -- not to mention a four-point lead in the final minute -- so difficult to stomach.

Oh, and here comes the hard part of the homestand. Three of the Mavs’ next four foes are above them in the West standings, beginning with the 52-18 Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night.

“We’ve got to win them,” Carter said. “It doesn’t matter who they are. We’ve got to win them. I’m not really into who teams are, if they’re good or not. We just have to win them. Whoever’s in front of us, good or bad, we need wins.

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Opening Tip: Mavs feasting in February

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
8:00
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The Mavericks’ success this month shouldn’t come as a surprise. They’re supposed to be one of the NBA’s hottest teams.

Just look at their February schedule.

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Give the Mavs credit for going 8-2 so far this month, the NBA’s third-best February record behind the Miami Heat and Houston Rockets, and recognize that they had quality road wins over the Memphis Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers. But the Heat, who beat Dallas by 11, are the only other team with a winning record the Mavs have faced during their hot streak.

Dating to a victory over the Sacramento Kings on the last day of January, seven of the Mavs’ last nine wins have come against teams that are at least 11 games below .500.

The Mavs have done a magnificent job of handling their business against bad teams, a trend they need to continue Wednesday night with the 23-33 New Orleans Pelicans in town. As tough as the West is, the Mavs need every win.

The Mavs have managed to move up a spot in the West standings by winning nine of the last 11 games. They’ve gone from two games back to one game up on the Phoenix Suns, who have had a .500 February. The Mavs have pulled within a game and a half of the Golden State Warriors and created a two-game cushion over the Memphis Grizzlies, a 1 -game difference in both instances since Jan. 31.

But the Mavs’ schedule is about to get much tougher. In fact, the Mavs have the most difficult schedule the rest of the season of the four teams fighting for the final three spots in the West playoff race.

A look at the remaining strengths of schedule for those teams, determined by opponents’ winning percentage:

Mavs: .542 (tied for third toughest in the NBA)
Grizzlies: .518 (seventh)
Suns: .510 (eighth)
Warriors: .500 (tied for 16th)

The Mavs have seized an opportunity presented by a soft stretch of schedule with their phenomenal February. To make the playoffs, they’ll need to keep the wins coming against much stronger competition in March and April.

Value of picks painful lesson for Mavs

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
2:58
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DALLAS -- Draft picks have never been more precious commodities in the trade market.

That’s one conclusion reached by owner Mark Cuban as the Mavericks do their annual due diligence of exploring any possible opportunities to upgrade their roster. It confirms what the Mavs have learned over the last couple of years.

“Teams really value picks more than they used to,” said Cuban, who has used picks as sweeteners in trades in the past, such as the Jason Kidd deal. “Teams now value receiving picks a lot more than they used to, so I think teams would rather not do a deal than do a deal without picks.

“Teams have kind of defined their strategy post-CBA where you either went all in and the team you’ve got is the team you’ve got [or] you went all under and you’re going young and you’re mining for draft picks. What I call the three years away from three years away strategy. Then there’s teams like us that are looking to make deals, that are flexible but aren’t willing to give up picks.”

Never mind willing. The Mavs aren’t able to give up any first-round picks before 2020 because of the top-20-protected pick they owe from the dreadful Lamar Odom deal that is now owed to Oklahoma City.

That makes it awfully tough for the Mavs to get any significant conversations started. Cuban says there are ways around it, methods the Mavs could use to be able to peddle picks, but he declined to elaborate. Suffice to say, it wouldn’t be simple or easy.

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3 Points: Odds Mavs win a playoff series?

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
12:00
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ESPNDallas.com columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor and MavsOutsider.com editor-in-chief Bryan Gutierrez will join me each week to run a three-man weave on a few questions on the minds of Mavs fans.

Samuel DalembertGlenn James/NBAE/Getty ImagesIs Samuel Dalembert the Mavericks' biggest X factor for the rest of the season?
1. What odds do you give the Mavs of winning a playoff series?

Gutierrez: It really depends on the opponent they draw in the first round. I think it’s incredibly low, hovering around 15-20 percent, if they end up having to face Oklahoma City or San Antonio in the first round. That’s why it’s incredibly important for them to hold on to the sixth spot in the West. If they hold on and face someone like the Trail Blazers or Rockets, I still don’t put them as a favorite to win a series, but I will say their chances improve dramatically. As of right now, putting a percentage on it, I’d say it hovers around 30-40 percent in terms of odds to win a series if they are the sixth seed in the West.

Taylor: Considering the Mavs seem destined to finish sixth, seventh or eighth in the West, I'd say the odds of the Mavs winning a playoff series are about 10 percent. Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Houston each have such good offenses that it would be difficult for the Mavs to win a series against any of those three teams. The Mavs' defense is so bad overall that it would be difficult to shut down either of those three teams and win a series. The Mavs won't make it easy, and their first-round opponent will have to do some work but the real question is whether the Mavs could win more than two games in a first-round series.

MacMahon: I’d give the Mavs a puncher’s chance against Portland or Houston, but that’s it as far as potential playoff foes. And it doesn’t look likely that either of those teams will be a top-three seed. If the Mavs get matched up with the Thunder or Spurs, the question isn’t whether the Mavs can win the series. It’s whether they can win a playoff game for the first time since the title-clincher in Miami.

2. Where will the Mavs finish in the West standings?

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Gutierrez: I think their schedule dictates that they are due for a fall. The schedule is rather favorable in February but becomes monstrous in March. Facing teams like Oklahoma City (twice) Portland, Indiana, Golden State among others mean that losses are going to come. That’s not to say that they’re going to lose all of them, but loses are coming. Golden State’s struggles this season have been surprising to an extent, but they’re too talented and explosive to be held down. I think they start to hit their stride as the season winds down. It’s a fight between the Mavericks, Warriors and Suns for positioning, with the Grizzlies being on the outside looking in. When the dust settles, the Mavericks end up making the playoffs, but I think they wind up being the seventh seed in the West.

Taylor: The Mavs dropped from sixth to eighth with one loss. I'd say when the season ends they're going to be seventh. The biggest task for the Mavs is to beat the teams they're supposed to beat. They can't really afford any more losses to the dredges of the league.

MacMahon: I’ve been surprised by two things on this subject over the last couple of months. I expected Phoenix to fade and Golden State to make a push for a top-four seed. The Suns have held strong despite Eric Bledsoe’s absence, and the Warriors have been the West’s biggest underachievers. The Mavs’ playoff seed -- and let’s not just dismiss the possibility of the Grizzlies grabbing a spot from one of these teams -- could come down to tie-breakers with the Suns and Warriors. The Mavs have split with the Warriors so far and still see them at home and on the road. They are 1-1 against the Suns, whose only remaining meeting with the Mavs is April 12 in Dallas. As tight as the West is, that could be the difference between a sixth seed and a lottery pick. I’ll wager on the Mavs finishing seventh.

3. Who is the biggest X factor for the Mavs the rest of the season?

Gutierrez: I’m not really sure how it’s not Samuel Dalembert. It’s an exaggeration to say that this team can score in its sleep, but they’re really efficient on the offensive end of the floor. That means that the emphasis continues to be place on the defensive end of the floor. Dallas continues to be a dramatically different team when they have an active and motivated Dalembert. Rick Carlisle and the players will openly tell you that things are different when he plays well. If he can bring any form on positive and consistent play for the final stretch of the season, Dallas has a chance to sustain its pace. That said, it’s a dangerous proposition to depend on the enigmatic center.

Taylor: It pains me to say this because he hasn't earned our trust, but Samuel Dalembert is the Mavs' X factor. There is noticeable difference in the way the Mavs defend when he's on the court and playing well. The problem, of course, is that we never know when that's going to happen. We know what almost every other player gives the Mavs on a nightly basis. We have no idea what Dalembert will do.

MacMahon: OK, this one was a layup with Dalembert, but I’ll discuss another X factor: Vince Carter. The Mavs are a tough team to beat when Carter brings efficient scoring off the bench. Dallas is 14-6 when Carter shoots at least 45 percent from the floor this season. Conversely, they’re 10-13 when he shoots less than 35 percent. The Mavs’ biggest challenge is being able to hold their ground when Dirk sits down. For better or worse, Carter is a huge part of that.

Rapid Reaction: Suns 123, Mavericks 108

December, 21, 2013
12/21/13
10:49
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Guards Eric Bledsoe and Gerald Green combining for 47 points and the Phoenix Suns crushed the Dallas Mavericks’ defense en route to a 123-108 win. Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavericks with 21 points in the losing effort.

How it happened: Dallas failed to close out on shooters early, as Phoenix took a 15-6 lead within the first five minutes of the game. The Mavericks tried to play straight up and with their zone defense, but neither option worked. Both teams played the previous night, but it was quite obvious Dallas was rolling on tired legs.

The weary legs were evident on offense, as well, with Dallas starting the game 3-of-11 from the field. Nowitzki and Monta Ellis combined to start the game 0-of-7 from the field. Phoenix hit seven shots from 3-point range on 10 attempts to take a 38-25 lead at the end of one.

After starting the game 0-of-5 from the field, Nowitzki hit his first bucket of the game with 9:12 left in the first half. Led by its bench, Dallas finally delivered in the energy department in the second quarter. It also took advantage of some unforced turnovers by the Suns. After falling behind by as many as 15, Dallas slowly crept back into the game, reducing the deficit to three points with just less than five minutes to go in the half. Phoenix led 63-58 at the half.

Due to his energy and productivity in the first half, Brandan Wright started the second half at center for Dallas. Phoenix pushed the tempo to start the third period on a 10-4 run. Dallas quickly responded with a 7-0 run of its own to get within four points. The runs continued after an exchange of baskets as the Suns countered with eight straight points. After all of that, Phoenix took a nine-point lead into the final frame.

The early portion of the fourth quarter saw Dallas continually get closer, but Phoenix ultimately kept the Mavericks at bay with perimeter jumpers. Dallas’ woes on defense continued as it didn’t have an answer for the Suns’ dribble penetration.

What it means: Dallas suffered an ugly set of back-to-back losses. The Mavericks’ woes on D continue as they allowed 123 points in the loss. Meanwhile, Phoenix impresses as it moves into sixth in the Western Conference with a record of 16-10.

Play of the game: Ellis drove to the rim and found a cutting Wright, who finished with a slam dunk with 3.6 seconds left in the first half. In a moment of slippage, Dallas allowed Goran Dragic to score an uncontested layup with 1.1 left in the half. That play was a microcosm of Dallas’ night in terms of defense. It simply wasn’t there.

Stat of the night: The Mavericks had 62 points in the paint, but they were dreadful in terms of perimeter defense against Phoenix, which had 45 points from beyond the arc (15-of-30 shooting). It was the second straight games in which Dallas tallied at least 60 points in the paint. After losing both tilts, the Mavs now are 14-4 since 1985-86 when they score at least 60 points in the paint.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Dirk Nowitzki
PTS AST STL MIN
21.7 2.7 0.9 32.9
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsS. Marion 6.5
AssistsM. Ellis 5.7
StealsM. Ellis 1.7
BlocksB. Wright 0.9