THE PATCHWORK QUILT: Trying to escape the clutches of an undercurrent that has left the Mavs at 2-5 in the seven games Nowitzki has missed, coach Rick Carlisle made a change to the starting lineup. In search of scoring … a normalization of the rotation … an earned reward for a kid … and maybe just a wild-card … Alexis Ajinca moved into the starting power forward spot.
"Length,'' Rick said after the game in explaining the ‘Lex move. "He's been practicing well. He's a young player who needs a shot.''
This adjustment allowed Shawn Marion to slide over to small forward and DeShawn Stevenson to move to his natural position of shooting guard. In turn, these changes would free Jason Terry to fill the sixth-man role … and bring some valuable scoring to the bench.
In theory, this seemed like a move with a possibility of positive echoes throughout a roster playing without Dirk and Caron Butler.
The theory even held up for a few early minutes. … maybe surprising the Pacers a bit … but eventually the undercurrent won. And so did the Pacers, 102-89.
DAILY DIRK: Dallas hopes Nowitzki can return in time to play at archrival San Antonio on Friday. When Holger predicted his pupil would probably play "this weekend,'' can he please mean that the German "weekend'' is three days?
Nowitzki, a nine-time All-Star and once again an MVP candidate, was hurt on Dec. 27 at Oklahoma City. At that time, Dallas was in the midst of winning 17 of its previous 18. But first Dirk went down, then two-time All-Star Caron Butler underwent knee surgery that finishes his season. Now Dallas awaits the return of Dirk and youngster Roddy Beaubois, a prospective starter who has missed all of his second NBA season with a broken foot.
And awaits … and awaits. … and awaits.
Sitting in the FS Southwest studios all afternoon, Ro Blackman and I got to watch the live (un-telecast) feed of his pregame on-court workout. There was no favoring of the knee on his practice shots. No grimacing. Funny exchanges with staffers Brad Davis and Casey Smith.
But then … as expected … he didn't go.
DB.com is told that The UberMan really wants to try to practice on Thursday in San Antonio.
We really want that, too.
The quote from Dirk: "I don't even know what to tell you," he said. "(The knee) was fine going straight up and down. We'll see what happens."
FISH AND RO ON FS SOUTHWEST POSTGAME ANALYSIS:
Let's let 'er rip:
TRICKLE-DOWN TURNOVERS: In execution, the results of the past seven games could not be flushed away. … in fact, they flooded up for the same reason.
Behind a slew of second-half turnovers, particularly in the third quarter, where Dallas had more cough-ups (five) than they had totaled in the first half (four) … and an inability to convert shots (14-of-36, or 38.8 percent, in the second half) … the chance at a win slipped away.
Each guy is being asked to do one thing more. The effort is there … but so is the frustration when the effort is not rewarded.
Let's apply this to two veteran leaders who sprung little leaks.
*Center Tyson Chandler scrapped (literally, twice with Pacers players) and totaled 13 points, nine rebounds and three blocks. High numbers. High frustration. He allowed Solomon Jones to be a pebble in one of his sneakers and Jeff Foster to be a pebble in the other.
*Jason Terry sliding back out of the starting lineup and into the sixth-man role and maybe finding his groove, shooting 9-of-20 for 18 points, is a positive. But his involvement in the trickle-down? Well, it was interesting to watch him try to survive this, kinda, but he was overmatched.
Example: Jet is having to be a creator … and what you get from that Jet is four turnovers.
LEX IN THE CITY: Alexis Ajinca was given a starting job for just the fourth time in his professional life. A worthwhile experiment because "he deserved a chance,'' as Rick said? Sure, but it was a dice-roll.
Ajinca – the 7-1 Frenchman known to most Mavs staffer as ‘Lex'' because it's so hard to pronounce "Alexis Ajinca'' – remains a prospect. A 7-1, 260-pound athlete with defensive spring and enough offensive confident to take Rick's "step-into-your-3's'' green light VERY SERIOUSLY. (He was 2-of-7.)
But ‘Lex is green. Almost as green as that light.
He's a fine third-string center prospect.
As a starting 4, he's a wild-card, nothing more.
In the first half, we saw a quintet of Barea, Terry, Sasha, Cardinal and Chandler. That hodgepodge was (obviously) AFTER ‘Lex exited, a group of players that nobody at training camp could've foreseen.
Heck, we couldn't have foreseen it 10 seconds before it happened.
And then in the fourth, did our eyes deceive us? Barea/Terry/Pavlovic/Cardinal/Mahinmi?
What the hell is this? When did the D-League Showcase move from South Padre Island to South Bend, Indiana?
Oh, and it's "uh-LEX-EE uh-JIN-sa.''
SO SORRY, SASHA: Just-signed Sasha Pavlovic getting his passport one day and getting 16 minutes the next?
What a country!
Mavs play-by-play ace Mark Followill tweeted to us early in the game – as Sasha was hitting a basket and registering an assist, a steal and a couple of blocks – that DB.com is wrong (funny but wrong) to call him "Sasha PavNovak,'' that he's superior to the Von Wafers and the Steve Novaks and such.
Actually, it wasn't just on DB.com. We went on the Mavs FS Southwest pregame show on Wednesday and said we were "skeptical,'' and said the 10-day contract seems "Von Wafer'y'' and goofily wondered how to say "skeptical'' in Yugoslavian.
And shortly thereafter, Followill tweeted, "Fish! Good pre game show! But Sasha is way better than Von Wafer or Novak for that matter!''
We can hope that as he begins his 10-day-contract tryout, he's got even more in him than this. … but yes. As 15th men go, Sasha wins.
Rick feels comfortable giving you 16 minutes … something he was never gonna do with Novak?
We're sorry. We should've been on your side following our one-on-one Video Visit earlier this week.
Now we're on your side, kid.
BRIAN CARDINAL FOR PRESIDENT: And on and on the trickle-down trickles. … and the patchwork quilt is given another patch.
Why have the Mavs lost six of eight without Dirk and three straight (with Caron gone)? Think of this like it's the hierarchy in the U.S. Government when a President dies.>
If the President is out of office a chain-of-command lines up. There is first the Vice President. If he dies? The Speaker of the House. He's out? The President Pro Tempore. Dead? It's the Secretary of State. Out? Secretary of Treasury. Dead? Secretary of Defense. Gone? OK, then Cabinet members as they were assigned start lining up for the job.
And eventually, it gets down to the White House janitor.
And that's the Mavs. It's down to "The Janitor.'' So Brian Cardinal is in charge.
OPTIONS: To belabor a point, one thing is becoming blatantly clear: In the absence of Dirk and Caron, the Mavs do not have a viable offensive weapon with the ability to consistently step up and fill the gaping void on offense.
Jason Terry led the Mavs with 18 points, but needed 20 shots to get there and hasn't proven capable of shouldering the scoring load on his own. He's a fine secondary scorer, an even better third option, but he isn't a first.
Players have stepped up. This isn't to discount their contributions.
Stevenson has averaged 17.4 points over the last five games, including his 10 in the Pacers contest.
Jason Kidd has made a push in his all-around game, and went 4-of-7 from three-point range against Indiana for 13 points … in addition to seven assists, three rebounds, three steals and two blocks.
Tyson Chandler is averaging 12 points and 11 rebounds over the last six games, including the 13 points and nine rebounds against the Pacers.
Players are playing hard. They're upping their offensive game … it's just not enough.
PAUL, GEORGE, JOHN & RINGO: If you are like most Mavs fans coming into this game, Paul George wasn't exactly on your radar of players to be overly concerned with.
The rookie, drafted 10th overall by the Pacers, scored 10 points in the first half, and then buried his previous career-high of 13 with back-to-back 3 pointers early in the fourth quarter.
He would finish with 16 points on 6-of-9 attempts, including 4-of-6 behind the arc.
We will give you Brandon Rush scoring 20, eight of them in a fourth quarter in which the Mavs faded. We will give you Danny Granger and Darren Collison, Indy's two budding stars, each scoring 17.
We will not give you rookie Paul George – who averages five points per – being good for 16. Seems like a nice kid (as FoxSports.com demonstrates):
Paul George? We're double-checking the boxscore to see how many points John Ringo scored for ‘em.
And then we're noticing that while rookie Paul George got 18 minutes for the winning team, rookie Dominque Jones had a hard day's night for the losing team with one minute of burn.
That does not calm our mood.
KIDD FOR 3: Jason Kidd entered the game with 1,718 career 3-pointers, tied for fourth all-time with Peja and just one behind Dale Ellis. Kidd made of 4-of-7 from the arc and moved into third place on the all-time list.
And we bet he's tired.
Naw, it's not the 1,722 treys he has. Nor is he exhausted by studying the guys ahead if him,Ray Allen (2,522) and former Pacer star Reggie Miller (2,560). We don't think Kidd much thinks of that … and certainly never envisioned himself a shooter capable of such lofty company.
No, he's tired because Jason Kidd's boxscore-stuffing (4-of-7 from the arc, three rebounds, seven assists, three steals, two blocks and13 points) is a violation of the original plan. It is going to wear him down … and the circumstance continues to oblige him to take shots he'd rather not take.>
As he told DB.com the other night, "I'm trying to find the 25-year-old in me.''
MAVSELLANEOUS: The Pacers' color man on our sister station in Indy? Fox Sports Indiana's Quinn Buckner, the former Mavs coach! … The Pacers, who are in seventh place in the Eastern Conference despite being below .500, just won consecutive games for the first time since Nov. 28 and 30. … Sefko reports that Cardinal is a local hero, being from Tolono, Ill., and Purdue and all. Plus, he's "country strong'' and these folks like that in a man. … One of the reasons Alexis Ajinca has that green light, even as he's missing his first four attempts on his way to a total of four points on 2-of-7 shooting? Without two of their top offensive options, the Mavs are struggling to find another source for scoring. They are letting him take a stab at it. Desperation, your name is ‘Lex shooting 3's. … We still can't quite add up how the Pacers shot just 44.6 percent and were crummy from the arc at 8-of-33 and got just five buckets out of Granger and still scored 102 and won going away. … Caplan notes that Dallas now has more losses without Dirk in eight games (six) than it had with Dirk in 29 games (five). … Boy, there was almost something there at the end of the first half: 1:27 left, T.Y. fights to the hole and get fouled and Dallas is down 50-47. And then later some great team D at the other end, and then a Kidd post-up and kick-out to DeShawn for the 3 to make it 52-all at the half. But the momentum faded from there. … For the record, while we continually mention the absence of Dirk, because he is due back soon, you can't dismiss the loss of Caron as well. Bob Ortegel mentioned it during the telecast, and Fish and Rolando Blackman pointed it out in the post-game show: it's hard to overcome a loss of both of these players. And overcome the Mavs have not, falling to 2-6 since the first of those two injuries took place – oh, and being 2-6 has dropped them to six games back of SA … and Dallas is now behind the Lakers in the West as well. … Hell, we'll go ahead and say it: Without Nowitzki, Caron and Roddy? It can be argued that the Mavs ARE the Pacers. At the same time, Dallas' plan is to have two of those guys back soon. At which point maybe the Indianas can be rear-view-mirrored. … Hey, is it just us or did Shawn Marion seem kinda … lost?
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: "The key word is ‘precise,'' said Carlisle, who had been 9-3 in coaching against his former Pacers club. "We have to be really precise in everything we do.''
BREAKDOWN AVOIDANCE: "As a team, we've had some breakdowns,'' said Carlisle previous to the game, taking a quick glance back. "Not coincidentally, good team put you in a position to be broken down.''
Apparently mediocre teams can do that, too.
But this wasn't the Thunder or the Magic or the Spurs. These breakdowns came against the Pacers.
Rick is right about the non-coincidence when it comes to OKC/Orlando/SA winning these sort of games.
But not insignificantly, the Pacers are not one of those "good teams.''
TOO BAD YOU'RE NOT IN THE EAST: Indy can fiddle along like this, celebrate their youth, all that stuff, an throw a parade if it wins the No. 7 seed.
Why can't we do that?
"Because,'' as Donnie once said, "it's Dallas.''
Dallas doesn't have that luxury. In the Southwest Division and in the West, the Mavs are attempting to keep NBA-leading San Antonio within reach. At this moment – certainly without Dirk – Dallas isn't on the Spurs' level.
Opportunities hover. After visiting San Antonio, Dallas plays at Memphis on Saturday and at Detroit on Monday afternoon. Entering play Wednesday, the Pacers, Grizzlies and Pistons were a combined 44-66. OK, forget the Pacers (just as we're forgetting SA for the moment). Grizzlies and Pistons! That's a winnable chunk, right?
But historically, so is a meeting with Indy. The Mavericks had won five straight over Indiana and nine of the last 10 meetings. The Pacers just broke a nine-game road losing streak. Before this mid-week, they hadn't score 100 in a game in nine outings.
We can imagine Dallas' confidence is a bit shaken. A 13-3 road record … looks like its in some jeopardy.
READY FOR RODDY B?: So, who's ready for the return of Roddy Beaubois?
He is a source of hibernating hope … and Dear Mavs Cynic, do not rob yourself of this.
Allow yourself to hope.
It's something. Something better than being 2-6.
If he can live up to the substantial expectations being placed on his back, he's the easiest and most direct solution to so many of the above issues … especially if Dirk has returned as well.
However, this isn't likely an ideal situation to thrust upon him. The pressure to succeed immediately will be immense. From fans – not from the coaches, but from us -- no grace period will be granted for him to become re-acclimated to the speed and intensity of the NBA game.
Rather, he'll be handed the label of "savior" and chided as a failure if the results don't instantly justify the appointment.>
Again, this would be a fan (or media) phenomenon, not an organizational one, but it must be described as less than idyllic for a second-year player fresh off injury.
That said, the easiest way to alleviate any added pressure, on top of what will already be a significant amount, would be to start winning … something that should be exponentially easier once Dirk returns, which will happen prior to Roddy B taking the court.
Beaubois was out there on the Indianapolis court, too, shooting and jumping and hoping.
They need a guy back. Or two. They need an infusion, a boost. They needn't panic, but they need Dirk, and maybe more.
The Mavs must wait … and wait … and wait …
Maybe the Mavs wait for trades, too … But for certain they await another meeting with San Antonio and then next week, on Jan. 19, a first meeting of the season at home meeting with the Lakers.
And the opportunity to "break down'' or "be broken down'' will exist at the highest level.