SEATS FOR SOLDIERS: Before tipoff, Dallas' Jason Terry tried to put into words the emotion lift given the club by the presence of area military personnel who annually accept front-row seats from generous season-ticket holders.
"I don't know what our record is on Seats for Soldiers,'' Jet said. "But it's always special to have the soldiers in the building. Not only during the game -- they're sitting courtside, make a great play and you can fly by slap a five with them -- but after the game shaking their hand and meeting the personally."
We can tell you what Dallas' record is for Seats for Soldiers: It's 6-1. The presence of the military men and women (many of whom have been wounded in action) once again presented an emotional foundation for Dallas. Our friend Bob Ortegel often notes that a team cannot just feed off a crowd; the crowd must also feed off the team.
That's all in evidence on those Seats for Soldiers nights … and when the AAC stages a game of "Simon Sez'' and names as its winner a soldier who can't official raise his left hand because the soldier no longer has a left hand … Emotion and inspiration are easy to come by.
FROM ‘UP 25' TO '89-ALL': The Mavs endured Utah's efforts to whittle away at that 25-point lead to instead record a seventh consecutive victory at home, crush Utah's six-game road win streak, and create some separation between two of the "haves'' of the West.
Dirk and Jet took over on the offensive end in the late going (details in a moment), but first to the big picture from the coach.
Rick's pissed, right?
"Those things never hold up,'' said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle of the monster lead. "We don't want to lose leads, but sometimes it happens. We had to win the game and we did. Is it perfect? No.''
GUTSY JAZZ: We keep noting that Utah is a gutsy bunch, that they are a reflection of their gutsy coach Jerry Sloan. (You don't see Mark Cuban calling him a "p- word.'') Or a reflection of their ancestors who crossed the Rocky Mountains to settle in Salt Lake. Or something like that. And indeed, the Jazz – despite playing on the second night of a back-to-back – deserves credit for storming back to tie the game at 89-all fourth.
But in the last 18 meetings in Dallas between these two teams, the Mavs are 15-3. And of course, it was just back on Dec. 3 in Utah when the Mavs notched a 93-81.
So maybe the Mavs are gutsy, too?
THE WILL OF D-WILL: In that Dec. 3 win, Dallas was successful largely because the Mavs controlled Williams. Williams – a native of The Colony and on the short list of "best points guard in the NBA'' – was held in that game to a season-tying-low 12 points, with just one second-half point.
This time, Williams scored 34 points to keep his team alive.
There was a point in this game when Dallas was in early control … up 44-30 … and Deron had 14 points while no other Utah player has more than three
D-Will was single-handedly keeping it a little interesting. And then later, a lot interesting.
Said Dirk: "They kept fighting and they are obviously a team with a lot of pride. They have an unbelievable player in Deron Williams, who took over the game in the second quarter by making some good shots.''
Not to rain on the D-Will parade, but it should be noted: He scored just three points in the final quarter.
USUAL SUSPECTS: We are spoiled by the expected heroics of Dirk Nowitzki. The UberMan scored 31 points on 10-of-12 shooting, with a season-best 15 rebounds and four assists. Oh, and if we can let a Mavs scouting tidbit out of the bag: Dallas' coaching staff has nothing but respect for Utah power forward Paul Millsap. But …
The Mavs view ‘Sap as being too short at 6-8 to handle Dirk's height, whether Nowitzki goes inside or, more commonly, relies on the One-Legged Euro Lean-Back. And they think he lacks the quickness to hang with Dirk's whirling moves into the lane and along the baseline.
In other words, Paul Millsap is short, but at least he's slow.
DIRK FOR 80: Zany stat: Nowitzki has shot above 80 percent from the floor (minimum 10 field-goal attempts) 10 times in his career.
Four of those games have come this season.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: "This is the best Mavs team I've seen since I've been in the NBA.'' – Deron Williams.
UNUSUAL SUSPECTS: DeShawn Stevenson!?
Speaking of scouting reports: The rest of the NBA probably needs to catch up with The New DeShawn, who is presently part of the starting lineup but is not seen as an offensive threat … but who nevertheless frequently provides Dallas with early offense from the arc and here pitched in with a 17-point effort that included five 3-pointers.
THE SECOND WAVE: When the Mavs burst from the gates to that 29-4 lead over the first 7:27, the starters refused to miss a shot other than a single 3-point attempt from Jason Kidd, hitting 11-of-12 from the floor. All 11 made shots were also assisted, and included were that 7-of-8 behind the arc to open the game.
There was defense, too, as all that was happening while holding the Jazz to only two makes in their first 13 attempts.
As Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and DeShawn Stevenson went to the bench, replaced by Jason Terry (the only Mav who played not to score in the first half), Shawn Marion and JJ Barea, the current shifted. Utah went on a 10-0 run as the Jazz fought back to close the quarter down 15.
"We subbed three guys out at the same time and we lost our rhythm a little bit." Dirk understated.
FLIPPING A SWITCH: In the end, Terry – who'd had an awful first three quarters – flipped a switch. He scored 12 of his 14 points in the final period to weigh the seesaw in Dallas' favor.
A number that hints at what bench-leader Jet didn't do: In the first half, the Mavs starters shot 16-of-20 (80 percent) for 41 points … while Dallas was up 54-42.
Further breaking this down:
For the first half, the starters shot 16-of-20 (80 percent) for 41 of the team's 54 points, while the bench struggled to 4-of-17 (23.5 percent) on their field-goal attempts … meaning: as the starting five shot 80 percent, Dallas took only a 12-point lead into the half.
Are you getting this?
For the game the starters finished at 25-of-39 (64.1 percent) to the bench's 8-of-27 (29.6 percent). Heck, maybe the starterssimply created a pace that was going to be impossible to even come close to mimicking?
Yet it was three huge shots from a bench player that helped put the game away.
Over the previous three games we had witnessed the resurgence of Jason Terry the scorer as he averaged 19.3 points-per-game on 52.4 percent shooting, discarding the weight of a six-game slump that saw him average 10.7 points while shooting 35.4-precent.
Saturday night, Terry both returned to his slump – and hit three of the biggest shots of the game.
With just under four minutes remaining and the Mavs up only two, Terry stood at 1-of-8 from the floor and 0-of-2 behind the arc. Thankfully for the Mavs, he went 3-of-4 (2-of-3 from 3-point land) over those final minutes … including hitting the biggest shot of the night, a 3-pointer with just 7.6 seconds left on the clock.
The final numbers aren't pretty, but he made the shots when the Mavs needed them the most. Jet finished 4-of-12 from the floor with 14 points. And some of those shots were attempted, it seems, because Utah was about ready to let him attempt them.
As Deron Williams would say after the game:
"Dirk got hot and we had to help off him. Jet hadn't really made a lot of shots all game. We took a chance and he hit the one that mattered most."
FISHELANEOUS: Utah drops to 17-8 and the Mavs jump to 19-4, placing Dallas just a half-game behind San Antonio for the best record in the NBA. Said Rick: "We're on a 12-game win streak and that puts us second in our division. That puts it in perspective." … Raja Bell and Fesenko were both out, as was Okur. … The Janitor (stomach flu from sitting too near T.Y.?) was absent … Seats for Soldiers details: This is the seventh year the Mavs have hosted the event which gave 150 soldiers from Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio and Texas Army National Guard's 36th Infantry Division courtside seats. Tickets are volunteered by season-ticket holders and carry a face value of over $235,000. The soldiers' experience began with transportation provided by American Airlines, dinner at Abacus in Dallas, followed by the main course of the Dallas-Utah contest, and concluded with a chance to meet the Mavs Dancers and Mavs ManiAACs, as well as players and coaches from both teams after the game. … Jet has informed DB.com that the new Mavs goal is to keep opponents field-goal percentage below 45. Saturday night, they did just that … barely -- at 44.4 percent. … Joining Dirk in a dominant shooting from four of the five starters (Jason Kidd went 1-of-5 and 0-of-3 from the arc but did have nine assists, four rebounds and two steals) were Caron Butler, DeShawn Stevenson and Tyson Chandler. This foursome was a combined 15-of-17 (88.2 percent) for 38 points in the first half. … Despite the tag-team thing, Butler got the burn in the fourth quarter and finished with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting to go with four rebounds, three assists and two steals. … Stevenson finished with a season-high 17 points (also his most as a Mav), a number he hadn't reached since Dec. 2, 2008. … The Mavericks franchise all-time record now: 1,226 wins and 1,225 losses – finally over .500! …
CENTERPIECES: Tyson Chandler fouled out with 4:31 left in the fourth, but did change the game during his time by patrolling the paint with diligence. In just under 30 minutes, Chandler totaled six points, nine rebounds (four on the offensive end) and three blocked shots. And Big Wood? Five rebounds in 18 minutes and, hey, he had some pep in his step.
JJB, BUT NOT FOR 3: Barea did not have one of his best games, though he did score seven points in the second quarter by attacking the paint.
However, his outside shot continues to abandon him. Barea is now 7-of-52 (13.5 percent) from behind the arc for the season … and we say this has begun to affect his attitude when faced with open shots.
With a little over four minutes remaining in the second quarter, Caron Butler made a highlight reel, behind-the-back pass that found Barea without a defender near him as he stood in the corner behind the three-point line.
Barea hesitated and then passed on the opportunity altogether.
Again, moments later after a miss from the same spot, Butler was close to Barea, encouraging him to take and make that shot.
We're not sure we agree with that advice, though we like the warm-and-fuzzy approach by Tuff Juice.
THE FINAL WORD: Carlisle asked-and-answered, revisited:
Was it perfect? No. But for a dozen straight games, the Mavs' record has been.