A Win As Pretty As Snooki: Mavs 87, Nets 86

This was a game so ugly that the prettiest part of the Mavs' visit to New Jersey was the presence of Kim Kardashian ... and the second prettiest part of it was the presence of Snooki. That is until the final six seconds, when the Mavs got a well-executed bounce, a well-executed stop, and a much-needed 87-86 over the have-not Nets. Our First Impressions:

EXECUTION? WE'RE IN FAVOR OF IT: Some of the officials' calls were poor enough that it seemed the refs might have been a little out of position – like on the other end of the Holland Tunnel. Much of the Mavs' shooting matched the quality of the zebras' work. But one of the anchors of what coach Rick Carlisle occasionally likes to call "Mavericks Basketball'' is before-the-buzzer execution and late-game execution.

The Mavs got that done over and over and over again.

The headine-grabber: Dirk Nowitzki hit a pump-and-lean-back jumper in the lane with six seconds to play to provide Dallas some of its only breathing room of the night. … though it was breath-taking for a moment as the ball was clearly short, hugged the rim with a shooter's touch, and then carom and spun before going down.

Smile

"Way to go, No. 41!'' the injured Caron Butler tweeted. "Dirk is a bad man!''

It pained ex-Mavs coach Avery Johnson, now the Nets boss, to see that ball going around the rim. Avery said he wanted to "grab a broom stick and punch it out."

But just as important: A pair of defensive stops that came before and after The UberMan's heroics. On the Nets' possession before, old friend Devin Harris was called upon to create a mid-range jumper for himself. He did so – but the ball was far off target. And after Dirk's shot, Devin was in position to do it again. Devin tried to come off a screen but found himself confronted by Dallas defender Shawn Marion. ‘Trix forced Harris to give up on the play – it looked to us like it was designed to go from Devin to Lopez but Tyson Chandler had that option handled -- and Devin kicked the ball way outside to a teammate who has no choice but to launch a contested (by Jason Terry) off-balance airball bomb that has no chance.

Milkface, we love you. You are still one of us. But …

"Unfortunately,'' Avery said, "we just couldn't get that last play executed and came up one-point shy.''

Execution.

GNARLY FLOW: The words of the night from Rick Carlisle were "gnarly" and "flow." (As opposed to "undoing,'' which would've been his word had the Mavs lost.) For three quarters, there was no "flow," and the only thing "gnarly" was the appearance of the Mavs offense.

Despite a third consecutive subpar shooting night from Dirk Nowitzki (7-of-24 but a push-his-way-to-the-line 23 points), until it mattered most, Dallas was sloppy and inefficient.

Dallas shot 34.7 percent, a number salvaged by a few moments of competence.

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Dirk's game-winner, of course. JJB scoring all eight of his points in the fourth. Tyson Chandler, above the rim for 7-of-11 shooting and a season-best-tying 19 points. And Ian Mahinmi, who was the backup center of record what with Alexis Ajinca in limbo (and Brendan Haywood kinda serving as his bunkmate there), going 6-of-6 from the line.

Dallas was 27-of-29 from the line. That's a good.

In the first half, take away Tyson and Dallas was 10-of-34 from the floor. That's a bad.

OH, THE END OF THE HALF: You had to like this, though, speaking of the aforementioned execution: The Mavs closed the half on an 11-0 run. … caught a terrible break when the zebras called a phantom foul on Jet-vs.-Devin … and then got a big stop. Tyson celebrated – between sniffles – and Dallas had that coveted "pep in their step.''

Dallas only shot 38.5 percent in the opening half … and we're still now sure how the Mavs managed to get not only the lead but to get the heavenly total of 48 points at all … Seriously, Dallas led 48-45 mostly because of that one stop and because it hit all 14 free throws.

BEAUTIFUL NIGHT: First there is Ms. Kardashian, and who in pro sports doesn't love Kim Kardshian …

Eventually, anyway.

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And then there was Snooki, the gorgeous human pumpkin from that "Jersey Shore'' TV show. And John Amos was there, apparently having suffered a "temp-or-rary lay-off!'' for the last 30 years.

But most lovely was the work of Tyson Chandler.

Chandler finished with those 19 points, and added eight rebounds and three steals.

Early, Jason Kidd seemed to feed the big man with countless alley-oops, and New Jersey could only wait beneath the soaring Chandler as they were converted into powerful dunks. Chandler vs. Lopez (24 points) was a sidebar watching treat of the night.

But Kim K. wasn't bad, either. She had a front-row seat. What's unusual about Kim Kardashian's body is that she can have a front-row seat and a back-row seat all at the same time.

HUGS ALL AROUND: Dirk hugged Avery. Avery hugged Cuban. Popeye Jones and Kris Humphries and Devin Harris, they all hugged everybody before the game, and then everybody hugged Avery.

And Avery hugged everybody back. Except, we suppose, Troy Murphy.

BROKEN ARROW: What appears to be broken is the Dallas offense.

Against the Chicago Bulls we lamented the appearance of a Dallas offense seeming to implode on itself with sloppy play and the inability to convert shots, and couldn't help but attribute some of that to the defensive play of the Bulls, a team ranked third in points allowed and first in opponent's field-goal percentage (though those both take into account the results of the Mavs game).

Against the Nets, a far inferior defensive team (ranked 15 in points allowed, and 16 in field-goal percentage allowed), there can be no such explanation … and Dallas performed slightly worse.

We can comprehend how an ailing Dirk may be removed from the accustomed rhythm ridden when healthy … yet, it seems to be everyone struggling (other than Tyson Chandler).

If you remove Chandler's 7-of-11 shooting, the rest of the Mavs hit only 29.7 percent of their shots. If you also remove the strain of Dirk' shooting, things don't improve much, as the team still only hit 30 percent of their attempts.

That's not mildly off. It's attempting to step into your shower and ending up in the neighbor's pool.

JJB FOR 3!: Beyond Chandler, and one magnificent shot from The UberMan, there was a bit of offense worth praising.

JJ Barea did not miss a shot in the final period, where he collected all eight of his points. And, he did so in a manner many would not have predicted early this season, by hitting back-to-back three pointers and burying another jumper.

If the law of averages must be adhered to, the fact that Barea has hit at least 35 percent of his three pointers in each of the past three seasons should have provided a bit of solace as he endured his early slump. … and note too that he did this with the cloud of sadness that likely accompanies him following this week's passing of his grandfather and Barea's attendance at the funeral back in Puerto Rico.

Since Dec. 28, over the course of 13 games, Barea has hit 16-of-30 behind the arc, an impressive 53.3 percent.

BIG WOOD AT THE LINE: Now, if those same laws apply to Brendan Haywood's free-throw shooting, we are in for a mass of makes in the near future … and on this night, Haywood did hit both of his attempts.

For far from the first time this season, it was Haywood getting the first try at filling the role of backup center … and it was someone else finishing. Ian Mahinmi replaced Haywood in the first half, and received all of the minutes at center when Chandler found his rest in the second.

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Mahinmi was active and once again displayed a Brandon Bass-like desire to dunk any time the rim dared come within the reach of a single leap. He would not convert those attempts, but only because he earned a trip to the free-throw line each time, where he converted all six of his attempts.

Bass was "The Animal.''

Should we call this kid "The Ianimal''?

"The Mahinminal''?

OK, we'll stop.

Ian finished with six points and one rebound in 12 minutes of action.

Haywood totaled two points and two rebounds in just over five minutes.

To the lay observer there is one thing that seems to set these players apart: Energy.

LAKERS ANSWERS: What did the Lakers game tell us?

We saw Dallas beat LA, lose at Chicago and beat NJ. Is there a pattern, a meaning, a deep truth? What did the Lakers game tell us?

It told us these Mavs are capable of stepping up their game to defeat one of the best teams in the league.

Beyond that? Not much.

Funny how different eyes see the same thing differently. The AP story from New Jersey notes that "the win was only the Mavericks' second in nine games.'' Which is true, but no more true that us saying that Dallas has won two of three.

Which is right? Both? Neither?

We do not know.

WAITING ON PEJA?: Things didn't get any prettier as this thing plowed on, other than the result. After two sloppy-at-times, lethargic-at-times (though the Mavs did display a bit of resolve and hustle at times, including going to the floor for loose balls multiple times) and less-than-asthetically-pleasing-at-times games, it's hard to deny the feeling of a team lying in wait.

But waiting … for what?

Are they waiting on their star to get healthy? Are they awaiting the arrival of Peja Stojakovic? Roddy B? Is the anticipation of a move the players must feel coming as much as we all do weighing on them?

Regardless, to give the best chance for immediate success, the wait itself must be put on hold.

The Mavericks scored the final 11 points of the half, with eight coming from the free throw line. Nowitzki had seven of the 11, including the only basket, a 3-pointer. Chandler had the other four free throws.

Dallas pushed its lead to 58-51 early in the third quarter, but New Jersey closed with a 17-10 spurt to tie the game heading to the final period.

WAITING ON PEJA FOR THREE WEEKS?: Mark Cuban held court with the Big Apple media and explained the transaction process that figures to bring Peja from Toronto to Dallas by the beginning of the week.

"The trade goes through and (Stojakovic) signs the contract Monday," Cuban predicted. "I expect it to go through. I mean, it's the NBA, but you know, that's what I expect."

The snark is justified. This is a league that doesn't investigate LeBron-to-Miami but does investigate Ajinca-to-Toronto?!

Sekfo helps us wth the shortened version of Cuban's blow-by-blow of the deal, which actually started rolling three weeks ago after Caron was hurt:

"I was in their (NBA) offices when all this was going down,'' he said. "I showed them my texts. We have been talking to Toronto about Peja since Caron went down. We called Bryan (Colangelo, the Raptors' GM) and asked if we could talk to Peja's agent. We asked if he'd be interested in us if he got bought out and they said yes. So then when the buyout happened, Bryan asked about Alexis and if we'd be willing to trade him if we paid the rest of his salary. So that's how it happened.''

We mean, it's the NBA. But we do expect it to go through.

WHO WINS THE DIRKIE? Go and vote for the Player of the Game, Mavs fanatics!

MAVELLANEOUS: OK, so the Mavs defense was "gnarly" when it had to be - holding the Nets to 6-of-19 shots in the fourth quarter ... The Nets are now 5-2 with Mikhail Prokhorov in attendance, the Russian owner clearly intimidating his players with "I must break you'' threats. … Dallas has won five in a row and 19 of 22 against New Jersey. Sasha Vujacic appears to be in need of a shower … Do you remember the last time Dirk shot an airball? … The Mavs couldn't fly into Jersey due to the weather. So they landed in Philly and then went all "Planes, Trains and Automobiles'' to get into the Big City. We've got Followill in the Steve Martin role. Nobody on the trip is stepping up to claim to be John Candy … Dallas recorded nine first-half steals. … The Nets were bidding for a third straight win, but no. They haven't done that in two years. They were also bidding for a 13th win – a win they didn't achieve all of last season. .. Far be it from us to suggest that the Nets are poorly-coached, or that they were even poorly-coached for a singular moment. But is that Devin-related execution failure just Devin's fault? Oh, and when Stephen Graham tried to cover Dirk's final shot: Did Stephen Graham have any idea who he was on? Dirk's pump fake is straight out of the opponents' scouting report. Everybody in the gym knew Dirk was going to do that – ‘cept Stephen Graham. … Nowitzki is no longer wearing the rubber sleeve on his sprained right knee. … We know that when Kris Humphries was in Dallas, coaches didn't love him because he didn't quite seem to know the plays or like the plays or want to run the plays or whatever. And this dating-Kim thing is a sort-of distraction in the sense, we are told, that it comes with the hiring of a PR firm to announce the couple's every move. But our experience with Kris: A good guy. A great athlete (once upon a time, we seem to recall, a teenage swim champion). And a lotta 10-rebound games this year as a backup 4, albeit for a lousy team. … Followill notes that the rebounding numbers went 39-all meaning the Mavs have now gone eight straight without outboarding an opponent. …

QUOTEBOARD: The whole darn thing is coming up, courtesy of McKinneyDentist.com, but here's a sampler, poor 2-guard Stephen Graham trying to explain why he ended up on Dirk and what he was attempting to do.

"The plan wasn't to switch, but in a ‘911' situation, you've just got to react," Graham said. "I stopped him, even with the pump fake. But you know, 7 feet, it's hard to guard him when he's 7 feet, fading away."

That's why we call it The One-Legged Euro Lean-Back.

And that's why you as a defender call it "911.''

DIRK'S FINAL SMILE: The biggest story of the night, sitting atop the win with a haunting smile, was the scene as Dirk Nowitzki walked into the tunnel and off the court after watching his shot roll around the rim before tasting the net and giving the Nets another loss. If not for his own grin spreading wide across his face, you'd have thought he was leaving the game with an injury … his limp was extremely pronounced.

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Despite what anyone says, regardless of how healed we're told he is, this is not a healthy Dirk.

That doesn't mean he's an injured Dirk. It just means that anybody who says he's 100 percent looks rather silly.

It's not an excuse, simply a fact that must be taken into account when evaluating his performance.

He's labored at times on the court, couldn't get much lift and saw his shots fall short as a result … but has set aside the aggravation of whatever his knee is telling him and continued to play aggressively. When his shot wasn't falling, and it wasn't on this night, he put the ball on the floor and attacked, earning free throws (7-of-8) and eventually … a win.

Yet with all the smiles – and folks, the Mavs celebrated this win in a not-mundane fashion – there is the lingering worry over Dirk's health. … how far away 100 percent really is … and what the Mavs can do between this time and that.



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