DONUT 1: "On Going Away to Camp''
"Relax, it'll be fine. You'll build fires, set up tents, sleep outside, it'll be fun … Oh, it's basketball camp? Huh. Well, cross out that sh*t I said you were gonna do and just replace it with ‘play basketball,' I guess."
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook led the Thunder as they pushed the eventual repeat champs to their limit in last year's playoffs. Rather than take solace in that fact and seek out a deserved rest, they committed themselves to Team USA and spent their summer enduring another "camp" and replacing whatever it was they may have done with basketball on their way to tasting gold by winning the FIBA World Championship.
Perhaps fueled by that experience, they've arrived ready to play this season. Durant leads the league in scoring with 27.3 points-per-game, and Westbrook isn't far behind, ranking sixth with 24.6.
More on what Westbrook is accomplishing below.
DONUT 2: "On Getting a Dog''
"Who's going to take care of it? You? … Son, you came in the house yesterday with sh*t on your hands. Human sh*t. I don't know how that happens, but if someone has sh*t on their hands, it's an indicator that maybe the whole responsibility thing isn't for them."
When the Spurs acquired Richard Jefferson prior to last season, they were lauded for the move, with many quickly calling it one of the best of the summer. By the time the playoffs ended in a second round loss to the Suns, those praising the acquisition were few and far between.
Jefferson wasn't fitting in, and wasn't living up to the level of responsibility many had trustingly thrust upon him. Over the offseason, many were shocked when he walked away from $15.2 million by opting out of the final year of his contract. He then took a smaller per-year deal to remain with the Spurs, though he makes the money back over the course of the four year, $39 million deal.
And, amidst lowered expectations, he has become the player many thought the Spurs had traded for a year ago … more on that below, too.
DONUT 3: "On Going Camping with the Family''
"No. I'm gonna stay home. You can take a family vacation, and I'll take a vacation from the family. Trust me, it'll make both of our time more enjoyable."
After their first-round exit at the hands of the rival Spurs, and clearing out the building fog of contract uncertainty, Dirk took some time away from the game … more than two months, by his own estimation.
If his early statistics are any indication, this time apart from the game may have been the best thing for both Dirk and the Mavericks as Nowitzki is playing at a level very few can match … a level comparable to his MVP season.
Compared to his 2006-07 campaign that earned Dirk an MVP trophy, his scoring average is almost identical (in the 35-points range), he's shooting a higher percentage from the floor (53.8-percent entering the weekend to 50.2-percent) and he's continued his gradual improvement as a defender.
At this point, it's hard to argue against his summer hiatus from the game.
DONUT 4: "On Understanding One's Place in the Food Chain''
"Your mother made a batch of meatballs last night. Some are for you, some are for me, but more are for me. Remember that. More. Me."
The Spurs were too old. They'd gotten all they could out of their exceptional core. Tim Duncan was nearing the end of his Hall of Fame road. Manu Ginobli wore the scars of too many injuries. Tony Parker was on his way out, entering the final year of his deal with more trade whispers than extensions talks.
It was a great run, but it was beginning to fade.
Those were the thoughts of many standing on the outside and peering in on San Antonio prior to the 2010-11 season. Now 18 games in, the tone around the league has shifted.
This is a solid team built around a championship core … and they want more.
Duncan doesn't have to carry this team. Parker signed his extension. And Ginobli is playing near an MVP level.
As the league's teams set out to raise their flags over this season, the Spurs have dropped a forceful reminder, "More. Me."
DONUT 5: "On Accidentally Eating Dog Treats''
"Snausages? I've been eating dog treats? Why the F*@k would you put them on the counter where the rest of the food is? F*@k it, they're delicious. I will not be shamed by this."
Shawn Marion entered the 2010-11 season as a four time All-Star and a long time starter. Reaching back to his days in Phoenix, you could find whispers implying more than a hint of a "me first" attitude. Were this currently true, things could be working out quite differently for the Mavs.
As the season began, Caron Butler was moved back to his natural small forward position and Marion was asked to come off the bench. Had ego been embraced over winning, this could have easily led to locker room strife and bruised production.
Instead, Marion proved to be the consummate professional. Though he needn't look far for an example to follow, as another who has continually shown himself willing to do what is asked to help his team, either as a starter or from the bench sat just beside him in Jason Terry, Marion's ability to adjust and remain a positive force have been integral to the Dallas depth … and their success.
Marion refused to be "shamed" by his change in role, and has thrived because of it.
DONUT 6: "On Taking My First Girlfriend to Las Vegas''
"What? I don't get it, neither of you are old enough to gamble. You're not old enough to drink. The only thing you're old enough to do is rent a hotel and—ah, I gotcha. That's smart."
Last season, behind the national emergence of Kevin Durant, the Thunder momentarily set aside the constraints of their youth and made their voice heard.
This was a team that was supposed to be too young to be a factor come playoff time. And yet, there they were giving the Lakers everything they could handle in the first round of the playoffs. They may have been old enough to drink and gamble, but they weren't supposed to be old enough to be this good … and they've only gotten another year of experience under their belts.
This may not be the year the Thunder climb to the top of the mountain, but they've reserved a room on the top floor. And, as long as they can keep their core, they're only getting better.
DONUT 7: "On Selling His Beloved 1967 Two-Door Mercury Cougar''
"This is what happens when you have a family. You sacrifice. [Pause] You sacrifice a lot. [Long pause] It's gonna be in your best interest to stay away from me for the next couple of days."
Brendan Haywood signed his six-year, $55 million deal (the final year is a $10.5 million team option and is no fully guaranteed) over the summer, and many came away with an understanding that he did so believing he would be the certain starter at center for the Mavs … and at the time, he was.
Then came the trade for Tyson Chandler.
Over the course of training camp and the preseason, Tyson Chandler earned the starting role, sending Haywood to the bench. While it hasn't been entirely smooth sailing -- there have been bouts of uninspired play and a one-game suspension after a "heated exchange" with his coach Rick Carlisle --"Big Wood" has begun to show signs of "role acceptance" (a mantra Carlisle began to preach in his first quotes of the year at the Dallas Media Day).
There was the game against the 76ers that saw Brendan grab 17 rebounds in 23 minutes, and over a couple of recent games he averaged 6.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and a block in only 21 minutes per. He battled Al Jefferson in the win at Utah, with the coach calling Brendan the most important player in the game. And then he was important again in the win at Sacto.
With his 7-foot frame and obvious skills, Haywood can be a very important part of what the Mavericks are trying to accomplish. It's up to him to put personal feelings aside and simply perform.
He must be willing to "sacrifice" for his basketball family.
DONUT 8: "On Yard Work''
"What are you doing with that rake? … No, that is not raking. … What? Different styles of raking? No, there's one style, and then there's bullsh*t. Guess which one you're doing."
For years, the Mavs have been a strong offensive team that could never quite work their way into the upper echelon of defensive squads. Through 18 games, they are no longer playing a "style" of something resembling defense. Rather, behind the skills of players like Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion, they are performing the task of defense at an elite level.
The Mavs are currently ranked second in the league in field-goal percentage allowed (43.0-percent) and third in points allowed per game (92.2).
DONUT 9: "On Practicing''
"Nobody likes practice, but what's worse: practicing, or sucking at something? … Oh, give me a f-ing break, practicing is not worse than sucking."
For each of the Mavericks, Spurs and Thunder, at least one key player has shown ample improvement from last season to this. Whether it was practice, health or the natural course of maturation, they're performing at a level above last year.
The numbers in parenthesis show the variance between this season (going into the weekend) and last season.
Richard Jefferson, of the Spurs, has lifted his PER to 16.9 (+3.8), his points-per-game to 14.6 (+2.6), field-goal percentage to 50-percent (+3.3) and his three-point percentage to 44.3-percent (+12.7).
Russell Westbrook, of the Thunder, has raised his PER to the second best in the league 26.4 (+8.6), points-per-game to 24.6 (+8.5), field-goal percentage to 44.6-percent (+2.8) and his steals-per-game to 2.2 (+0.9).
Tyson Chandler, of the Mavs, has pushed his PER up to 19.2 (+6.7), points-per-game to 9.2 (+2.7), rebounds-per-game to 9.4 (+3.1), field-goal percentage to 67.6 (+10.2) and his free-throw percentage to 80.2 (+7).
Though all the headlines over the summer went to the free agents signing in the Eastern Conference, the West has remained at its accustomed position of strength. And, you need not look further than three teams that FS Southwest covers to be reminded of this … yet, beyond this constricted horizon await other obstacles such as the Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Hornets, Denver Nuggets and the Utah Jazz.
The road ahead is not one to be traversed casually, even as we attempt to occasionally lighten the mood … and if asked why we do this, we may just unleash a Derek Anderson-esque tirade on you.
DONUT 10: "On The Secret To Success.''
"You don't have to be good to succeed. You just gotta be the least shitty option. Example: We're eating at The Olive Garden."
The Mavs beg to differ. They've been good … and still haven't quite succeeded to their desired level.
DONUT 11: "On Anxiety''
"Nervous? In 5 billion years the sun will burn out and nothing you did will matter. Feel better?"
Granted. The Mavs play host to the Warriors tonight at the AAC. They are "just the Warriors.'' Yet they are "still the Warriors.'' We are a little anxious.
To sum up …
The Mavs must remain committed to their defensive priorities, stay healthy and scratch for every victory to find their way to where they hope to be … lest they find themselves the victims of unrealized expectations. And, we've been down that road before.
DONUT 12: "On Built-Up Expectations''
Your brother brought his baby over this morning. He told me it could stand. It couldn't stand for sh*t. Just sat there. Big letdown."