Mavs Donuts: A Dozen-Or-So Takes From Memphis

Among the contributors to the Mavs' 106-91 win at Memphis on Wednesday? Guys named Cardinal, Stevenson, Novak and Mahinmi. With Dirk Nowitzki and Caron Butler unavailable, Rick Carlisle introduced us to The Unusual Suspects. … as we go all Thursday Morning Mavs Donuts on this "hey-they're-for-real-again!'' win:

DONUT 1: The most momentous news – as it is almost annually whenever Dirk Nowitzki twists his ankle – is the health condition of The UberMan.

Dirk went down with 3:30 remaining in the second quarter as Dallas was nursing a 51-42 lead. I watched the game with Ro Blackman (at the luxurious FS Southwest studios) and the long-time Mavs star and staffer immediately tried to put a happy-face sticker on the whole thing.

"He's got an amazing pain threshold,' said Ro ... who was obviously masking his concern. (Wasn't he?) "I bet he'll be back after halftime.''

Nowitzki has only missed 32 games in his astounding career, a credit to his basketballing/handballing/house-painting German parentage … and maybe to Holger's insistence that over the years, Dirk train while simultaneously rowing a canoe, playing Sudoku and tooting out "Danke Schoen'' on the saxophone.

Dirk's ankle might be hurting today but his line was fine: 12 points, 10 rebounds, two assists a block shot and lots of ice.

Any permanent problems, there, UberMan?

At 12:44 a.m, Dirk (swish41) tweeted: "Just back from Memphis. Great team effort. Ankle is a little stiff but will be fine on Friday. Thanks for asking, everyone. Good night.''

DONUT 2: With Caron Butler (back spasms) already not with the team, Dallas came in a bit thin. Some concerns were massaged early with a defense-heavy starting lineup featuring Shawn Marion and DeShawn Stevenson on Jason Kidd's wings … and really, along with Tyson Chandler at center, that adds up to four out of five Dallas starters who are at times "offensively-challenged.''

The headlining slack-picker-upper? Sixth man Jason Terry, who hit 7-of-9 for 15 points as Dallas was able to hang onto the lead without Dirk, 55-50. In the end,11-of-16 shooting for 25 points. Twenty-five points in 31 minutes. A nice clip.

DONUT 3: Oh, and those defensive-minded starters? Chandler was too athletic for Marc Gasol, sprinting the floor on the way to his eight rebounds and 11 points and seemingly endless alley-oop dunks. (Actually, by our Michael Dugat's count, Dallas tried four to him and converted on a pair.) And Marion was a dervish 10-of-15 for 20 points, with seven boards and two blocks in a temp role as a first-time-all-year starter.

DONUT 4: But what about the subhead guys, the fine-print guys, the agate-page guys?

The 5-2 Mavs don't win this thing – their third in three road tries this season – without crazy-happy DeShawn showing himself to be such a perimeter threat (11 points?!) that in the third quarter, the emergency 2-guard starter was fouled on a 3-point try. … because Memphis actually took him seriously enough to contest the shot!

"It's something that I guess we didn't foresee coming in the season, but now it's definitely an option that we have to have,'' Jet said of DeShawn. " His defense, his toughness, and his shot-making ability opens everything up."

To a lesser degree, they probably don't win without Ian Mahinmi, along with Brian Cardinal and Steve Novak (The Winklevoss Twins!) eating up a few minutes.

Carlisle played Novak for a specific reason: At that moment in the second quarter, Dallas was a little hard-up for a bucket. It didn't work out; he didn't get a chance to take a shot during that stint. But the Mavs survived the experiment.

Carlisle played Cardinal for a specific reason: To bang Memphis' bigs inside, and maybe even draw them to the perimeter. Again, "The Janitor'' isn't going to win "The Dirkie'' because he made 1-of-3 treys in the first half. But he wrassled, and that was enough. … Cardinal's second-half plunge to the hoop off a gorgeous J-Kidd backdoor feed was a cherry on top. (More on that momentarily.) And the 20 minutes? Those are eatin' minutes.

Most intriguingly to me, Carlisle played Mahinmi for a specific reason, too. And you know what it is? Dallas thinks he can play. Mahinmi vs. Zach Randolph was a fun (and all-too-brief) bout. The muscular Frenchman is getting closer and closer to earning a few minutes as Dirk's backup, I think.

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DONUT 6: Much is made of the challenges that the athletic Grizz present for an older Dallas team. The FOX Sports Southwest telecast revealed a cool stat: In the last few years, the team that's handed the Mavs the most losses is New Orleans with five, followed by Memphis and Denver with four, followed by Memphis with three.
But …

We can make these numbers dance any way we wish. For all their gonna-be-as-good-as-Dallas-someday promise, Memphis is now 4-5. When the Grizzlies won in Dallas on Oct. 29 (a game which Dirk frankly characterizes as a "give-away''), it snapped a Mavs' nine-game win streak at the AAC. The Mavs won three of four last year, blew out Memphis 4-0 when the teams played in the 2006 Playoffs, and all-time?

Memphis is now 11-50 all-time against your Mavs.

Now, argue if you will that some of that is old news. But if you watched this game, you saw that the oldest of newsmakers, Jason Kidd, is the sort of player who has more tricks up his sleeveless jersey than any five Grizzlies combined.

"I was trying to stop the leak,'' Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. "They were making layup after layup. ‘'

That was Kidd causing Lionel's train to go off the track. (Ha.)

Kidd is history. And with each of his dozen assists here – clever and crafty but at the same time solid and sound -- he keeps making it.

DONUT 7: We've been big-time hard on Big Wood lately. You know, all those two-point and zero-point games and stuff. I even called him out on the FS Southwest "Mavs Live'' pregame show on TV last night. (Wanna see a few minutes of Ro and Dana and myself? Dig in!)

But the Wednesday night Brendan Haywood? That's the Big Wood who earned the five years guaranteed and the $8.3 mil a year. His six points and eight rebounds were all presented as manly challenges against Memphis' beefy front-court.

Whatever was in that carrot on that stick that got Haywood to play at a level that Gasol and Randolph struggled to match? Keep dangling that delicious carrot, Coach.

DONUT 8: Want in on our MADDEN 11 Tournament at The Back 9 on Nov. 13? It's hosted byGame Havens and sponsored by and … there is no charge to play but there are cool prizes, including game tickets … go to the Game Havens Facebook Page and check ‘em out!

DONUT 9: Who else wants some kudos? Yes, JJB, you can have some.

In the first five games of the season, Jose Juan Barea's plus/minus was so low it was off the charts. Literally. But against Boston on Monday he was an 11-point sparkplug, and here, the backup PG did it again, with five rebounds (Hooray for Hobbiton!) and seven assists and 10 points. This was JJB in control of himself … the best kind of JJB.

DONUT 10: Here's the for-realness of the Dallas defense: It's No. 1 in the NBA in FG-percentage allowed. And it keeps winning that battle, this time by allowing 45 percent while shooting 54 percent. Keep that up, Dallas won't lose a lot of games.

DONUT 11: As you go about humming "These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things'' today, hum this: Consider how competitive the Southwest Division is going to end up being. This ain't the East, where 11 of the 15 teams aren't even over .500. This is the division where the only "bad'' team is 1-6 Houston -- and if you asked their management before the season to make a prediction, they'd have bet anything on winning 50.

So you tuck away a road win inside the division. Now hum!

DONUT 12: More defense, and the way some solutions to some problems are interconnected: Dallas has a problem with turnovers. But in this game, the Mavs committed just 10 – about half what we've come to expect them to cough up.

Well, if you commit just 10 turnovers … next thing you know the athletic Grizzlies cannot run. By my count, Memphis scored just two fast-break buckets. And if you commit just 10 turnovers, Memphis – with a notable 12.6 steals per game coming in – is going to end up with just a meaningless few of them.

Ball protection. That thing is valuable!

And then you get way up and save wear-and-tear on KIDDIRK. (25:44 for Kidd, 29:51 for Dirk.)

KIDDIRK! That thing is valuable, too!

DONUT 13: And we come full circle to the big story of the night that wasn't: Dirk's ankle.

By reputation, this is a constant problem, a chronic one. "Hey, he sprains his ankle all the time!'' But … while Nowitzki has experienced eight different ankle sprains in his 12 years, he's missed just 32 games in his entire career.

So yeah, he hurt his ankle. But as usual, Dirk never allows his hurt ankle to hurt his team.

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