12 Ways Mavs Were 'Screw-Up-Proof' - Donuts

Temp coach Dwane Casey jokingly vowed to "not screw anything up'' for the streaking Mavs as he stepped in for a sidelined Rick Carlisle for Monday's game at OKC. But with Dallas recording a remarkable 103-93 victory over the Thunder -- and doing so with Dirk exiting after a quarter-and-a-half due to a knee injury -- it's increasingly clear that right now, these Mavs are "screw-up-proof.''

Let's Do Donuts!

DONUT 1: Everything is clicking. So much so that Dallas came out of a five-day break and immediately answered that old "rust-vs.-rest'' question.

The Mavs looked like very much a threat to score 40 in the first quarter … and combined with the way they ended it – allowing 4-of-18 shooting to the explosive Thunder – this team and everything about it is hand-in-glove, page-in-book, tongue-in-groove.

And when the Thunder play the Mavs? Man, that entire offense looks like it's kinda just Kevin Durant and then an undefined blob. They are now 3-6 against Dallas lifetime and they look about as comfortable against this team as Mr. Potter rolling down Bedford Falls' Main St. on a skateboard.

Smile

DONUT 2: Missing Rick Carlisle?

Doesn't matter.

So tonight against visiting Toronto (and DB.com Night at the Mavs, too!) hand the clipboard to Bernie Madoff. Give that first chair to the BP engineers. Let Lindsay's Lohan's mom call some plays. Even when things are going wrong for the 24-5 Mavericks ... they can do no wrong.

"A huge team win,'' said Casey. "The guys pulled together. … This should be a huge confidence boost for our guys.''

We're kidding about Casey, of course. He's got almost two full seasons of NBA head-coaching experience (with Minnesota from 2005-07) and he'll be a top man again. There is every reason for the players to have confidence in one another and in him. But what he did here was simply take the same wheel that's been so ably steered by Carlisle, missing this one game to recover from minor knee surgery.

Here's a tidbit to explain in a very literal sense how Dallas picked right up where it left off:

The Mavs played (and won) in OKC a month ago, on Nov. 24, with a nice fourth quarter. They played and won here while getting off to a nice first quarter.

Combine them, and Dallas scored 70 points in the two periods.

Dwane is, as usual, on point regarding a deep thought: After this, there can be no more doubt. If any player over the course of the last three months – Shawn or Caron or Big Wood or DoJo or anybody else – ever dared wonder if Slick Rick knew what he was saying in instructing this team in selflessness ….

They cannot wonder any more.

If your dad tells you, "Son, study hard and you will get an A,'' and then you study hard and by God you get that A?

You end up believing your dear ol' Dad.

DONUT 3: Speaking of monumental success due to a person's absence …

There is no joking about the Dirk Nowitzki situation.

Smile

This was a serious accomplishment given the absence of the best player in franchise history, the man with a 33.8-points-per-game average during his career against the Thunder, the guy who is the centerpiece of everything Dallas does.

This is also a serious concern, at least until today at 9 a.m., when The UberMan will undergo an MRI to determine the state of his sore right knee.

Nowitzki exited the game at the 9:10 mark of the second while in the process of making a jumper after having been fouled. He fell awkwardly to the floor due to what was later announced to be a "sore right knee.'' When he left, he'd scored 13 points in 15 minutes of play -- well on his way to fulfilling the praise heaped on him by his opposite number, OKC's Kevin Durant, who labels Dirk "the toughest cover in the NBA.''

Wanna see that video?

Last week, Dirk surpassed Larry Bird as the No. 25 scorer in NBA history. He was three behind Gary Payton for the No. 24 spot when he departed, leaving the record -- and the game -- in limbo.

Nowitzki said after the game that this may be an aggravation of an existing bothersome knee and that he will probably be "day-to-day.'' But he also said initial X-rays are negative and he was certainly in good spirits.

"I was yelling my ass off,'' Nowitzki said of the time spend watching the game back in the locker room. "The guys played an amazing game after I left.''

Indeed, that's when Dallas' much-touted "depth and balance'' -- petwords that Carlisle may have been reciting as he watched the game on TV back in Dallas -- shifted into drive.

DONUT 4: Caron Butler scored 21 points while earning rare fourth-quarter playing time. This was Batman stuff … Tuff Juice as the offense focus, a guy the ball went through. I was impressed at how he clearly took Dirk's absence on his shoulders rather than "waiting until things come to him,'' which in Caron's case is often another way of saying he "floats,'' overdribbles and multiple-pump-fakes his way to opportunities.

And I was really happy Dwane let him play in the fourth.

Smile

Maybe Rick, watching at home, had a light bulb go off over his shaved head.

Or maybe he just saw imaginary light bulbs as the result of the woozying medication he's on, I don't know.

DONUT 5: Remember when Shawn Marion was a freakishly dominant player at the 4?

"The Matrix'' and "Back To The Future'' just got slapped together as a double-feature.

DallasBasketball.com produced some fancy numbers last year that established that The Matrix is at his best when he plays the 4. Maybe it's because he's such a different animal at the position. He was that again here, absent the old Matrix treys and dunks, though … This was all cuts and floaters and relentlessness.

Marion slid up and in to the power forward spot vacated by Nowitzki and earned 15 shots. Listen, Marion worked so hard to get open inside that even Jason Terry felt confident whipping passes through the traffic to find him. Marion, working almost exclusively at the rim and on the fly, was 10-of-15 for 20 points. You can assume he did his thing on defense, what with OKC shooting 42 percent for the game and 28 percent for the final quarter. Oh, and he was one of three Mavs with at least nine rebounds.

Smile

"I think,'' Casey joked, "he had flashbacks to his All-Star years.''

DONUT 6: The answer to the question of how to use JJB and DeShawn Stevenson now stares us in the face.

DeShawn scored 12 points for the Mavericks by making 3-of-4 from the arc. At this point, that cannot be a fluke. He played 20 important minutes.

Meanwhile, JJB played 12 minutes. He took two shots. He attempted no 3's. He scraped his way to a couple of drawn fouls. He had two assists and no turnovers.

He was a bus driver. Just as I wish him to be.

There will be other nights when JJB's ability to break down a defense and penetrate will be needed. But there are no nights when that must be forced. Nor are there nights when he should exceed more than 12:10 of burn, as was his exact total here.

JJB gets 12:10. Jason Kidd gets 35:50. 12:10 + 35:50 = 48.

And that's it.

No JJB at the 2. … because in most cases why should JJB play the 2 ahead of DeShawn Stevenson?

The genius of The 75-Member Staff, a stat dug up exclusively by our gang (unless it's wrong, in which case we'll blame somebody else): In games DeShawn Stevenson has started last year and this year, the Mavs are 26-3.

I'm going to dick with that when Roddy B comes back. But I'm not going to dick with 26-3 for JJB.

DONUT 7: Ask the coaches for their Dirkie winner and they might just go with Jason Kidd.

Smile

J-Kidd finished with 10 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. He seemed to take the Russell Westbook challenge very seriously, and not just because of the Mavs' zone, the other team's point guard shot just 5-15.

DONUT 8: So I'm watching the game in the FS Southwest studios with telecast partner Ro Blackman (yes, I know how lucky I am) and near the end he says, "The five guys Dallas is putting on the floor are as good together as the five guys Oklahoma City is putting out there. With Dirk, Dallas is better. But without him, Dallas is just as good.''

At that time, it was Jet, Kidd, Tyson, Caron and Marion.

We goof on the non-UberMen around here. … "Nowitzki & The Dirkettes,'' and all that. But Ro has a point about that Dallas quintet …

Or maybe it's just a point about OKC.

Want more Fish & Ro?

Have at it. Here's our postgame stuff on FS Southwest:

Against, OKC, Alexis Ajinca can enter late in the third quarter to play in the front court – because Dirk is out and Brian Cardinal was sick and Ian Mahinmi was … I dunno -- and the 7-footer can splash home a 3-pointer to slow a Thunder run.

Yeah, yeah, I know ‘Lex can shoot. But c'mon. He's not Dirk from the arc.

Except against OKC.

(P.S.: Was this the one area in which Dwane pushed a button different from the one Rick would've pushed? Carlisle would've called on Mahinmi, right? … Oh, and maybe JJB's 12 minutes fits in here, too.)

The Okies are now 3-6 all-time against the Mavericks. I know they are supposed to be sexy and scary and a preseason pick to win it all. But the Thunder isn't ready to consistently beat Dallas. They just aren't.

DONUT 9: I think some people want this to be a "rivalry,'' and as I said in Monday Donuts, to me, it is getting there. Maybe Jet and Caron are willing to help.

At the end of the game, Terry essentially taunted the booing crowd, encouraging them to boo some more. He smiled. They booed. He smiled some more.

Actually, the trigger on all this was an obnoxious fan sitting in the front row near the OKC bench.

"Keep shooting!'' the man yelled as Jet struggled.

"Every arena I go to, they always pick on me,'' said a smiling Jet. "I always find one or two fans that will pick on me . . . At that point, you're trying to do anything to get yourself going and I just use that to get fired up."

So he kept shooting.

Also fired up? Butler, who at game's end slammed the ball on the floor in an emphatic gesture that seemed to say, "I'm Batman (at least for one night.)''

I don't think the OKC crowd dug that, either.

DONUT 10: Have I really waited until Donut 10 to get to Jason Terry?

Jet was 1-of-9 through three quarters but you knew what was coming, right?

Maybe you – or the Thunder – doubted him because he wouldn't have his usual fourth-quarter two-man-game mate Dirk to run plays with. Or maybe you thought that OKC – which had a two-point lead going into the fourth – would put a lot of defensive demands on the undersized 2.

But he did it again.

Jet scored 11 in the fourth, and while the audience didn't like his gestures or his swagger, hell, do the math:

Jason Terry in the fourth quarter – 11

Entire OKC Thunder team in the fourth quarter -- 12.

The Mavs aren't going to lose many of those.

DONUT 11: I believe Tyson Chandler is one of the greatest "clutch'' players in the NBA.

Does "clutch'' just mean scoring? Or can it apply to a late-game stopper whose defensive work contributed greatly to the fact that OKC was just 4-of-18 shooting in the final quarter for a paltry 12 points? In the final minutes, as usual, Chandler roamed outside to play shut-down man-on defense, then sprinted back to block a shot at the rim, then moved around teammates like chess pieces to force OKC into another miss …

Said Thunder coach Scott Brooks of the Mavs: "I knew this team was a defensive team. They have the record of 24-5 because they have a talented group of guys that play well. Dirk is one of the best players, but he isn't the only guy on their team."

Smile

Give T.Y. credit for being the hub of the wheel that offset the efforts of Kevin Durant, who reached his league-leading average of 28 points – but was held to just five points in the fourth.

DONUT 12: Dallas' eighth straight road victory ties a franchise record, and its 11-1 mark on the road is a major factor in the 24-5 Mavs' ability to retain the second-best record in the West. The Mavs have now won 17 of their last 18.

Oh, and their 13 victories against winning teams leads the NBA.

They play host to Toronto on Tuesday. There is reason to assume Dirk will sit that one out. Depending on the outcome of the MRI, maybe he can target Thursday's home showdown with the division-leading Spurs.

Smile

Barring a catastrophic result at the doctor's office, though, there is reason to have confidence in "screw-up-proof.''

"You hate to see the big German go down," Terry said of Dirk. "But we saw him at halftime (when the score was tied) and he was smiling. He told us, 'No problem. You guys got this.'"

No matter what … they usually do.

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