BEST IN WEST: "The best team in the West,'' proclaimed TNT's Charles Barkley, "is the Dallas Mavericks.''
That's a headline-grabber, whether it's true or not. And whether Chuck believes it or not.
These two teams came into the showdown ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the West. (Shhh. Don't tell the lordly Lakers.) The Mavs had won 17 of 19, the Spurs 12 of 13.
The outcome fortifies the roll for the winning Spurs, who vault to a stunning 28-4. But does the same outcome really negate what was accomplished before by Dallas?
There is frustration, I think, over the Mavs having climbed to 24-5 earlier this week … and then come two straight losses (to Toronto and San Antonio) and feeling like the "climb'' was actually a treadmill.
Think of it like the Mavs are Marvin the Martian, the Warner Bros. character who labored to plant his stake-claiming flag in a soft terrain of a planet only to discover that Bugs Bunny was already up there, grinning.
But, as coach Rick Carlisle said, "It's a tough loss. But we've got to keep at it.''
Keep climbing mountains. Keep planting flags.
Besides, didn't Dallas already win at San Antonio this year? And doesn't that make this whole thing sort of a push?
I'm giving Dallas a brownie point for effort. But Dallas didn't need one brownie point.
It needed six or seven actual points.
THE UBERMAN-JET TWO-MAN GAME:
Dirk Nowitzki,'' said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle before the game, "is easily the MVP right now. (But) we're trying to do something that's way bigger than an MVP award."
That's the only way to fly, but as called for in our Mavs-Spurs preview, the Dirk-related storyline had to go away once the ball was tipped. It did, outside of an in-game visit with the street-clothed Nowitzki (he owns TWO suits!), who said he will try to be available for Milwaukee and Cleveland on Saturday and Sunday "or maybe early next week.''
We'll keep chasing Dirk on this, (as we did here on Thursday morning.)
But back to the real storyline:
It wasn't Dirk being absent.
As we noted immediately after the game in First Impressions, it was Jet being absent.
THE JET -- GROUNDED: A million electronic trees will die as reporters note that "Nobody feels worse about this than Jason Terry.''
But that won't be true. Mavs fans are at least tied with Jet for feeling like crap about him making 1-of-13 shots before the final minute, when he finally, mercifully, canned a pair of 3's.
Jet finished 3-of-16. And believe me, it wasn't nearly as good as it sounds.
He couldn't shake George Hill. He couldn't guard anybody on the other end without stumbling clumsily to the floor. He couldn't make a layup. He couldn't get a call.
"They got nothing from me,'' Terry said.." We still played hard and gave ourselves an opportunity to win the game. But we're not going to win many games if I don't do it without Dirk. … When we get him back, we'll have him back. Until then, we'll figure it out."
What Jet needs to figure out: That this fourth-quarter-as-my-personal-playground thing makes for an easily-frame-able picture … but it doesn't help the basketball team as much as being good in some other quarters, too. There is simply no justifiable reason for Terry to be "dialed-in'' in the fourth and not doing so in the first, second and third.
And what we saw here is the risk involved when you think your time is automatically coming later – and "later'' comes too late.
SECRETS BETWEEN FRIENDS?: Before the game, Mavs owner Mark Cuban – a glass-is-half-full dude – said something about the Dirkless situation allowing the Mavs to avoid revealing too much about themselves to the Spurs in December.
Nice try. But personally, I would've rather Dallas revealed something that could make up for six points, you know?
Once the game started – and indeed, in the gameplan designed by the coaching staff – there was no emphasis on "holding back.''
So out came a kitchen sink's worth of relatively new or relatively rare and even relatively weird wrinkles. To wit:
*Caron Butler as the Batman. That's relatively new. He averages around 15 per and he scored 30 here, on 11-of-21 shooting. Tuff Juice fought for position down low, he got to the line nine times (and made them all) and he recorded a still-got-hops dunk on Tim Duncan's punkin' head.
If Dallas-sans-Dirk is somehow automatically inferior to San Antonio … somebody forgot to inform Caron.
"He's aggressive, and he's a big-game player,'' Rick said. "He likes the responsibility of performing and being the lifeline; that's one of the things I love about him . . . he did a good job of attacking."
*Jason Kidd as an interior creator and a post-up threat. That's all too rare. We got to see a triple-double out of Kidd, who did what he could with 12 points (while running out of steam in that department), 13 assists and 10 rebounds, two steals, two blocks. … and one more thing: Kidd – after being sick and subpar in last spring's Round 1 series loss to the Spurs – really wanted to beat San Antonio last night.
His face was all twisted up into Game Face, and really, his only notable goof was the first-half backdoor alley-oop to an in-traffic Jason Terry. Freelancing, I pray.
Kidd didn't care much about the triple-doub, saying, "They come and go "It was a triple-double, and we lost. I'd rather us win and not get a triple-double."
But he cared about the game.
*And most of all, Alexis Ajinca as a rangy go-through guy … which was weird.
I mean, it's promising. He's 7-1, he's (claiming to be) 260, he's a springy defender and truly has polish as a shooter all the way from the arc to the rim. But this was enough of a zany-good performance to cause some of the cats on DB.com Boards if this was a showcasing-for-trade of ‘Lex. …
He was a bit too much of a shot-hunter, lauching seven tries in 11 minutes. (His two 3-point tries were rather unnecessary.) But Dallas has something here …
Perhaps this becomes a little less peculiar when you consider the situation. Prior to Tuesday's game, Carlisle stated that he understood why temp coach Dwane Casey had turned to Ajinca against the Thunder … the Mavs needed a player to stretch the defense and provide a hint of a perimeter threat.
They needed scoring.
Against the high-octane Spurs, it would seem reasonable to assess this as a similar situation … and Ajinca did provide a small offensive spark.
And so if anybody thinks all of this was some sort of a "secret,'' well, the secrets are out.
DUNCAN'S DONE? OR TIMMY'S TIPTOEING?:
Before the game, Carlisle poo-pooed – in the literally sense of that hyphenated word – the idea that Tim Duncan is on his last legs.
He's still a premier player and an All-Star," Carlisle said. "I can guarantee you that. All this talk about him kind of transitioning is a lot of
On Tuesday, Timmy shot 1-of-7 vs. the Lakers. And just when you think it's ending … He goes for 17/11 against the Mavs, making Tyson Chandler work hard enough on him that T.Y. couldn't do his usual help-out roaming through the lane and along the baselines.
"I played some great defense on him and he made some tough shots,'' Chandler said. "Whenever he gets it going like that, you just have to pat him on his back."
Well, I'd prefer that you put him on his ass. But, whatev.
Anyway, the theory in San Antonio is that Pop and Timmy are picking their spots. The Dallas game was apparently a "spot.''
THE ‘A' IN AAC …: … Doesn't stand for "Alamo.''
Dallas had won four straight regular-season games against San Antonio, including five of the last six. Additionally, the Mavericks have won the last three regular-season meetings and five of the last seven at the AAC. That home-court edge didn't work out, but I think the crowd was into it … a buzz in the air and all that … Dirk even made note of wishing he could play "in front of this big crowd.''
So there will be better nights, I think. At the AAC. And against the Spurs.
‘HE'S GOT BIG-COUNTRY STRENGTH' : That's Dirk's characterization of 'The Janitor,' Brian Cardinal, who started at the 4 for the Mavs.
So, that's why? Because Cardinal (who Dirk also says "is 45'') has some raw power that comes from the womb instead of the weight room?
No. Really, the idea was to upset one domino instead of two.
By starting the little-used Cardinal, the Mavs plan was to only change one player's role – Brian for Dirk, the one necessitated by The UberMan's sprained knee.
No use changing Shawn Marion's role from seventh man to top-five guy … no use asking too many scrubs to jump up from obscurity into a prominent backup role. … just leave as much alone as possible.
The Cardinal portion of the strategy worked. Nine points on 3-of-3 from the arc, three rebounds, two assists, two steals, a threat from the arc, a penchant for knocking drivers on their ass. Maybe Rick allowed "The Janitor'' to be in the fourth-quarter mix a bit too long (29 minutes, Rick?). But overall, it worked.
"It's tough to fill Dirk's role, his void." Cardinal said after the game. "I don't think that can happen with just one guy. I think collectively we have to do that and we played hard tonight, but they got hot and played well and give them the credit because they knocked down a lot of good shots."
Marion? Not as effective. Early on, the Mavs pounded the ball inside with The Matrix as a focal point. But the Mavs got away from that – weren't there more pick-and-roll opportunities for Marion to sneak inside on? -- Shawn ending with 10 points.
OH, ONE MORE ROTATION DISRPUTION: Big Wood, we hardly knew ye.
Brendan Haywood didn't play in last month's Mavs win at SA because he was handed a one-game suspension on the morning of the game for backtalking Coach.
What the heck, Brendan? Did you get suspended again?
Oh, no. There you are! Providing a seemingly sincere clapping sound from the bench whenever his replacement, ‘Lex, did something cool.
HOW MANY POINTS WORSE?: DB.com's "MAVNALYSIS'' said Dallas is four points worse, on average, without Dirk. Against the best team in the NBA, Dallas just lost by six points.
I deserve a raise!
All joking aside – though I'm not joking when I insist that both the numbers and The Eye Test suggest that Dallas-sans-Dirk would NOT be a "bad basketball team'' – I'm glad to have the support of Jason Kidd here.
"With this effort,'' J-Kidd said, "we'll win a lot more games than we'll lose," Kidd said. "But we're having to play a little differently.''
And a little better. And against some inferior foes, to balance things out.
Bring on Milwaukee and Cleveland.
And bring Dirk to the Snow Belt, too, if he's healthy enough to try it.
THE McKINNEYDENTIST.com QUOTEBOARD: The full Quoteboard is here. But here's a sampling, something to stash in your pocket today:
"We were fortunate in a lot of ways. I don't think we were very sharp and I thought Dallas showed a lot of character, a lot of class, which one would expect. They were very aggressive, fired up and really got after it and played a damn good game and we were fortunate to get out of here with a win." -- Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
That "character and class'' part, that's feel-good, right?
UGLY-ASS BREAKS : That might be an Ugly-Ass River, but the Spurs sure are paddling down it with little resistance. Maybe that's because they keep playing teams that are missing key cogs -- but hey, that's part of what happens to a team that ends up a top-tier playoff team in the West.
Oh, and in fairness, aren't the Spurs historically pretty salty even when missing a Duncan, a Manu or a Longoria?
Manu talked before the game about how much the Spurs savored the challenge of playing the Lakers and Mavs in the same week.
Well, good. Keep savoring. Because next up for the Spurs come the Thunder, Knicks and Celtics.
Of course, the Celtics will be absent the limping Kevin Garnett. Heck, between now and then the whole Thunder team bus will probably miss a game while stranded with a flat tire in Ardmore and Amar'e will injury a private part while again jumping about naked for a magazine cover.
So … that Ol' Ugly-Ass River keeps rollin' along.
DIRK DISCREPANCY : Before the game, the Mavs TV stat geniuses (unable to do their normal gig because TNT hogged all the fun) pointed out that Dallas has the biggest difference between its top two scorers. The top five: DAL - 8.3, TOR - 8.2, NY - 8.1, IND - 7.6, DEN - 7.4.
Them's some fancy numbers. But I just watched Caron Butler score … because he was allowed to, because his team needed to.
Dirk is not THE team. He is part of the team. The best part, but a part nevertheless.
GO SPURS GO: It is the most Kindergartenish slogan in all of sports, and will remain that way until some team adopts "See Dick Run'' as its inspirational chant.
But normally, this year's Spurs really do go.
Popovich's club is suddenly an up-tempo bunch that is fourth in the league in scoring at 105.9 per. That's up from 101.4 last year, when the Spurs remained more of a grind-it-out team. Pop has loosened things up so much that San Antonio is even a league-leader in 3-point tries -- fifth in the league in attempts (22.2 per game) and first in accuracy (40.2 percent).
And I tip my Vikings Santa cap to them because at the end of the game, they didn't Go Spurs Go anymore. They started grinding … and it was over.
TNT KNOWS DRAMA: Besides Barkley's pro-Mavericks view, a choice chunk:
"They're like the step-sister in Texas,'' said C-Webb of the Mavs, but that opinion is not the reason I think he's abysmal on TV. Chris Webber is trying to be outrageously funny to bookend Charles, but there's no there there. Not even the Spurs think of the Mavs that way; ask ‘em.
So why would a man who as a player usually got "step-sistered'' (whatever that means) by the Mavs say such a thing?
It speaks to C-Webb's insignificance that I'm probably one of the few bothering to write about it.
I say this: With Dirk sidelined, if I'm TNT, I pull the plug on Webber and hand the headset to Dirk.
FISHELLANEOUS: Rookie Gary Neal fits right in with the Spurs in the sense that he NEVER commits a foul. … At the same time, it seemed like he never missed, either, scoring 21 points – 13 over his average. … Manu (15 points, eight rebounds, three assists) was apparently feeling under the weather, maybe one of the reasons he found himself settling for shots. But his cleverness still contributed greatly here. … San Antonio dominated the Mavs on the boards, out-rebounding Dallas 50-to-35. … To Dallas' credit, the Mavs got back in it after SA posted a 21-2 run in the second. … I'm assuming Steve Novak's completely meaningless turnaround bomb for 3 to close the scoring ruined the night for a million gamblers, right? … The slogan at the top of the Mavs' locker-room strategy board: "Defense – Hit First.". … All of the sudden, SA now leads Dallas in the standing by 3.5 games – and there's that Martin the Martian feeling again.
ANOTHER CHAPTER IN THE RIVALRY? The Mavs have opposed the Spurs six times in the last years in the playoffs. They are the NBA's twin 10X50's. There is Michael Finley switching teams and Jet family-jeweling them and Cuban's sneering at them and their city-wide inferiority complex and ‘Gana-on-Timmy and Joey Crawford wanting desperately to be part of the show and Manu's frequent nose pops (usually courtesy of Dirk) and Game 7 in 2006 and last year, Roddy B being freed too late.
And now, maybe we can plan ahead for the heartwarming story of another Mavs-Spurs game in which Dirk Nowitzki has more than one good leg and Jason Terry has more than three good shots.