Dirk Near Return; Spurs Feast On Mavs, 101-89

Last spring in the playoffs, at the height of Dallas-SA hatred, a certain French-speaking Mav was coerced into spending a night out with the two French-speaking Spurs. Roddy B was urged to cease the fraternization – but failing to grasp the gravity of it all, he later dined out again. Which brings us to a lesson-learned Friday as the Spurs feasted – and the Mavs were the main course.

BLOW-BY-BLOW(OUT): Final score, Spurs 101, Mavs 89. The 11-point final deficit marks the third consecutive double-digit loss suffered by the Mavs, something that has not occurred since 1999.

So how bad is it, by the numbers?

*That's four straight losses for Dallas. That's a rare occurrence around here, having not happened since November 2009.

*That's a 2-7 record with Dirk wearing street clothes.

* The Spurs have won 14 straight at home and at 34-6, they are off to the best start in team history.

*The Spurs haven't had a division lead this large, this late, since Dec. 14, 1981, when they owned a seven-game edge on Denver in the Midwest Division.

*Worried about more Dallas losses in this streak? Well, once upon a time, the Dirk-era Mavs lost six straight – but that was in February 1999 – The UberMan's rookie season.

Smile DIRK WATCH: We've got Nowitzki's view. … Carlisle's view. … and then an off-camera thought from former Mavs star Ro Blackman, now our telecast partner on Mavs games on FS Southwest.

Dirk, you're first.

"I'm actually really close," Nowitzki told a national TV audience durng the game. "For the first time this morning, I actually did some contact stuff. This whole time before, we did mostly non-contact stuff, mostly cardio and, so I'm getting closer. I don't know which game exactly. We've got a game (Saturday) and we've got a game Monday, so hopefully on this trip. …''

So, Saturday in Memphis. Or maybe Monday at Detroit. Or …

Rick, you're up.

Carlisle said: "He worked out hard today and we have to see how he feels. (Saturday) could be a possibility, but then again maybe not. We can't mess with that.''

Ro?

"I'm watching him very closely,'' Blackman said as we reviewed the non-broadcast feed from San Antonio in the FS Southwest studios. "He's close. But he's not there yet and I'll tell you why: When he comes down after his jump shot, he's coming down gingerly, being careful with that sprained knee. When he comes back, he can't be careful like that.''

And therefore, before he comes back, the Mavs must continue to be careful – as maddening as it is for him, for the team for every single one of us involved.

BOILING OVER: Mavs coach Rick Carlisle preaches it in public pronouncements. Mavs leader Jason Kidd does it in quieter ways, in private sessions with his mates. But their messages are the same. … and they are about composure.Smile

Entering this Soiled Spurs Showdown, the Mavs were beginning to wear the frustration of having gone 2-6 in the eight games without Dirk Nowitzki (not to mention those also without the presence of Caron Butler). We saw a tip of this pissed-off iceberg in Indiana earlier this week and on San Antonio, this was almost iceberg + Titanic + collision.

Really, it didn't take long for that aggravation to manifest itself on the court in this loss.

And when caught by the embrace of frustration, it's the little things that begin to kill. Maybe you don't rotate as quickly as you should while cursing the previous play in your mind. Perhaps you rush an open shot, or get caught watching the ball instead of boxing out. Via one path or another, the mind begins to wander … chasing mistakes, questioning results. Concerning oneself with the "precision'' the coach is demanding … and then the self-doubt creeps in. And then with failure, frustration.

Did the Mavs demonstrate some grit at times here, when Jason Terry, Brian Cardinal and Brendan Haywood took turns getting physical with the Spurs? Or were they maybe just getting frustrated?

Anger alters approach.

And, any slip in attention to detail against a team playing at the level of these Spurs is deadly … as it was Friday night.

"IT SUCKS!'': That was Rick Carlisle's summation when pushed for specific evaluation of a specific issue. It was, officially, about Dallas' rebounding deficit of 52-39. But really, that's not what Rick meant, we don't think.

We think he meant everything.

"If you're looking for silver linings …'' said Carlisle, whose voice then trailed off before finally answering a media question about something else. "It sucks.''

"It'' could be any number of woes for a Dallas team that started the season at a Spurs-like 24-5 but has now lost seven of nine and four straight with Nowitzki out. It could be how easily people like Tony Parker and DeJuan Blair cruised to their 18 points apiece, or how San Antonio toyed with the Mavs in building a 24-point lead, or how the Spurs made seven of their first eight baskets from inside the paint, or how the Dirk-less Mavs simply are absent any offensive weapons who can carry the club through tough challenges.

RO AND FISH ON FS SOUTHWEST: Some postgame highlights on the tube:



BIGGER ‘IT'S'': "It'' could also simply be having been slapped by the reality that Dallas might now want to re-examine its regular-season goals.

Are the Spurs so much better than Dallas that the bar must be at-least temporarily lowered?

Without Nowitzki, without Caron Butler (out for the year after knee surgery) and without Roddy Beaubois (hoping to soon return after having missed the whole season with a broken foot), there is an undeniable difference in the levels of competence for these two decade-long Southwest Division battlers. The Spurs are 34-6 and now have a seven-game edge over a Dallas team that, when healthy, is considered by most to be in a class with West powers the Spurs and Lakers.

The Spurs are saying all the right things about Dallas-sans-Dirk.

Here's Pop before the game:

Smile "If you're going to pick somebody, I still think the Lakers are the best team (in the West), once it's all said and done. (But) before Dirk got hurt, I thought (the Mavericks) were real close to them."

Here's Tony Parker afterwards:

"They didn't have Dirk, and we took advantage of it," Parker said. "It doesn't mean anything, because they aren't the same team without him."

In reality, of course, the Spurs are the best in the West. They are the healthiest – no small part of their success … and then have enough quality to win games like this going away while Tim Duncan (16 points, 12 boards) and Parker can rest up for the whole fourth quarter and while Manu Ginobili can score just 11.

But a "re-examination'' means worrying less about winning the conference or winning the division and more about trying to assemble a healthy roster for when the playoffs do roll around – while still retaining a top-tier seed, of course.

THEIR DINNER IN THE ALAMO: So here's the story:

Smile Last spring, Round 1, NBA Playoffs. Roddy B is a rookie. His allegiance is to the Mavs, of course, but he's also got a shared background with the Spurs' French-born Parker and with Frenchman Ian Mahinmi, too. Indeed, Mahinmi and Roddy B have been friends for a while. So when Mahinmi – then a backup for the Spurs, now of course a member of the Mavs (who had seven points and four rebounds in 11 scrub minutes Friday) – called Roddy B with an dinner invite while the Mavs were in San Antonio, Beaubois naturally accepted.

And when Parker was also in attendance, all the better.

But then Kidd and other Mavs heard about the French fraternization. Kidd attempted to inform Roddy B that the NBA Playoffs are a basketball war, no place for such olive-branch extension.

And then Roddy B – just not getting it – did it again, hanging out with the Spurs for another social event.

We believe that the fellas involved know better now. Mahinmi did some interviews in San Antonio on Friday and said of his former Spurs team, "Every night, I'm watching, hoping we can catch them. It seems like they never lose.''

Ian, do not adjust your set. It seems they never lose because they almost never do.

By the way, if this game was the one upon which you were to try to convince these kids that Mavs-Spurs is an intense rivalry, a decade-long wrestling match, a "basketball war'' … these kids wouldn't believe you.

NO RESPECT: OK, it's not Dangerfield-bad. San Antonio didn't show no respect, exactly. Better to say the Spurs showed no regard, no regard at all, for the once-daunting Maverick defense. SA took 10 of its first 13 shots inside the paint on their way to an eight-point lead by the end of the first quarter, followed by a 14-to-3 run to start the second.

And, things didn't get easier from there.

HALFTIME ADJUSTMENTS: Dallas emerged from the locker room after the halftime break with a revived sense of energy – maybe an argument against the idea that they are completely drained by this drought? -- but found their efforts could not close the considerable gap on the scoreboard to a reasonable margin.

Behind a push primed by Shawn Marion, who scored 12 in the third quarter, and Tyson Chandler, they would cut the lead to 13, but could claw their way no closer before falling behind by 24 to close the period.

Smile Marion would finish with a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds. … and among rotation players, statistically, that's as good as it was gonna get.

"I'VE GOT TO'': Why was Tyson Chandler playing despite being so ill?

"I've got to,'' he said before the game, and stand-up guy that he is, he also spoke to all comers in the postgame locker room … despite being barely able to speak at all.


The Legend of Chandler's Heart-and-Soul Food continues to grow among Mavs fans who respect that he should be noted for his effort, and for taking the court while pushing aside an illness that prompted him Thursday to tweet, "I've been under the weather the last few days & I just lost my voice. Anybody know something I can take?"

Chandler ignored what ailed him to stand side-by-side with his teammates … to face the firing squad.

And while we do applaud his willingness to play, given the score we can't say we were too upset when he picked up his fifth foul with 6:48 remaining in the third quarter and was able to find a bit of rest … considering the fact that Memphis loomed on the second night of a back-to-back.

Smile

He would finish with eight points and two rebounds and a block in only 16 minutes of action. … and maybe some Nyqil.

LAUGH? CRY? GRIPE? CHEER?: As has become a trend against these Spurs, Brendan Haywood was not the first big man to leave the bench. It was Ian Mahinmi who was first to be called upon when Chandler left the court.

However, Haywood didn't play poorly once he did find the court. He hustled, and made a fair impact on a night when few did.

In 21 minutes, he put up six points, four rebounds and one block.

Big Wood leaves us lost. We're ready to cuss him when he's not the first center off the bench; "What did he do now?'' And then he competes, as he did here, on a night when ‘Lex looked so lost, and we wonder if Haywood's minutes need to slowly start elevating. …

He leaves us lost.

ENTER THE DOJO: Look, we get Rick's point; there are no silver linings when you're in the middle of a four-game losing streak … beyond the eventual return of Dirk, there's very little to smile upon.

That said: Dominique Jones was one of the few Mavs to play well enough to justify praise, though it does come with the caveat that most of his minutes came in garbage time long after the game had been decided.

Smile

Jones continues to display a talent few share on this active roster, the ability to get into the paint and either create for others or finish.

In just under 14 minutes, he totaled a career-high 13 points on 6-of-11 shots in addition to three assists, two rebounds, two steals and an impressive zero turnovers.

DoJo continues to show strong signs that he belongs, as Carlisle noted.

"The one thing I know is, he's ready,'' Rick said. "He's putting the time in, he's showing improvement, and he gave us some juice in the fourth quarter. He's going to keep working-- he showed that he's getting better tonight.''

When he first arrived in Dallas as a first-round pick, DoJo put on display what we've called "too much confidence.'' A little D-League humility serves him well … and 14 minutes did, too.

Said DoJo: "I think I did OK, and I think I can play a lot better. I'm never satisfied with what I do."

All of this is a consolation prize, we know. … the sort of thing fans try to extract from otherwise meaningless games … the sort of place you never want your Mavs to be, where we're reacting to losses by saying things like, "Well, our 13th man looked pretty good tonight!''

GROUNDED JET: Jason Terry has struggled against the Spurs in the recent past. In the previous two contests this season Terry averaged 10 points on 27.6 percent shooting. … and in the 17 games since the '09 playoffs, he's shooting just 36 percent.


Friday would not deviate from this pattern. Terry hit only 3-of-14 shots on his way to nine points. This is, sadly, rather predictable at this point. The Spurs know Jet's pet plays and they take those away – and that's WITH Dirk on the floor. When Terry is the lone top-notch scorer on the floor, San Antonio can come off lesser Mavs, focus on him … and stifle him.

As it usually does.

MAVSELLANEOUS: Alexis Ajinca (the 7-1 Frenchman who started) seemed quite lost. It's fair to say that San Antonio's skillful execution exposed ‘Lex as a kid who doesn't fully understand the concept of "help defense'' … In these last nine games, Dallas has failed to score 100 points seven times. … Are we being nitpicky to note that SA has lousy defensive numbers -- 12th in points allowed; 15th in opponent field-goal percentage; third-to-last in opponent 3-point percentage? … The Mavs had some early defensive troubles as the Spurs scored seven of their first eight baskets in the paint. … OK, so can we start winning the argument about Sasha being Sasha PavNovak now? … We suppose this is what makes horseraces, but when Terry bulled into Manu – completely on purpose, of course – the Spurs thought it was flagrant. "That's bullshit!'' yelled Pop. And we thought is was a Manu Flop. … Ajinca got that first-half start, but once the second half tipped, it was JJB who was the fifth Mav on the floor … Silliest comment of the night was heard by anyone who made the mistake of flipping over from Mark and Bob for a moment to hear the national network play-by-play man intone that Tony Parker is "overlooked.'' Yessir, Tony Parker is so overlooked that we barely even know anything about his marriage or anything!

SPURS QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: There was apparently a pregame strategic theme in the SA locker room. "Make sure we don't give them any hope," Tony Parker said.

MAVS QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: "It sucks,'' said Carlisle … and you can catch more of what was said in the locker room in DB.com's QUOTEBOARD.

Smile HEALTH CLASS: San Antonio has been blessed to put the same starting lineup on the court for all 40 games they've played this season, and are the only team in the league that has not deviated from their opening-day starters.

In contrast, the Mavs have now used eight lineups to encircle the opening tip.

This is not a dig at the Spurs. They've earned this.

But it is out contention that San Antonio's strength is not "depth'' represented by Matt Bonner and Gary Neal, as some observers so often claim.

We still contend that Neal (eight points) is a cog carried by SA's truly quality players, and that That Bonner Character (six points before leaving with a knee problem) is the same.

San Antonio's strength is not "depth.

San Antonio's strength is "health.''

Smile Right, Timmy?

"We've been pretty good about staying healthy,'' Duncan said, "and that's been a big part of it."

THE FINAL WORD: After a game like this, when they were heavily outmatched by the San Antonio Spurs, and under the current circumstances (no Dirk and no Caron and no Roddy B) there's not much positive to walk away with.

The Mavs fall to 2-7 without Dirk, and appear to be reeling on the court in search of a Dirk-less identity. It's hard to watch, just as it's hard for them to endure.

Bad offense.

Bad defense.

Bad psyche?

"A lot of things went wrong,'' Carlisle said. "There's not much more to say than that.''

The team's confidence must be at a season low, but all of that can change in an instant … an easily definable instant.

The moment Dirk steps back on the court, this malaise will become a memory. That's not to guarantee the results will instantly change, but the mindset is sure to.


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