All-Access To Hornets 93, Mavs 92

Rick Carlisle doesn't want to entertain ‘if's' regarding Hornets 93, Mavs 92. ‘If cows were kittens,' the coach said, ‘there'd be a milk shortage.'



So we'll do it for him, starting with his damning one-word assessment of his team – "Soft!'' – in Your All-Access Pass … The Top Four Soul-Crushing, Confidence-Shaking, Crotch-Kicking ‘If's' Of The Game:

1. IF The Mavs Weren't ‘Soft.'

Maybe the key hint came when Shawn Marion, starting for Peja Stojakovic (back soreness), was pushed into the crowd on a layup attempt, a flagrant foul being assessed to Marco Belinelli. That play ended ‘Trix's night (with seven points, with four rebounds, with 23 minutes and with sore ribs that might make it challenging for him to be ready for Thursday's AAC visit from the Knicks).

Or maybe the key hint came when Dirk gave chase to a ball that was going out of bounds and the notorious David West hip-and-forearm-checked The UberMan into the front row.

"What the f----!'' Nowitzki screamed as fellas from both teams congregated around each other.

A foul on West? A technical foul? A flagrant? An ejection?

Nothing.

Until West found another victim. From behind once again, he shoved Brian Cardinal, who was hovering near Dirk, checking on his well-being. That cheap shot was whistled.

They say "the refs only catch the second hit.'' But usually, that doesn't mean the first AND second hit came from the same guy.


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Dirk made the technical shot at 1:13. But maybe the Hornets viewed the trade-off as worth it. The Dallas Mavericks , who by the way only fought successfully enough to get 31 rebounds, never scored again, Dirk's One-Legged Euro Lean-Back on the final possession coming in a desperate manner.

We hate to even acknowledge this. But it was reminiscent of the way West helped New Orleans to a first-round playoff success over Dallas in 2008 – and in that sense, the Mavs kinda got bitch-slapped again.

2. IF Rick's Finger Didn't Slip While Button-Pushing

Rick Carlisle has pulled a lot of the right strings, tugged a lot of the right levers, pushed a lot of the right buttons, this season. He has adapted to the first-half absence of Roddy B and the second-half loss of Caron Butler to keep his team among the contenders. There are a lot of things he's done very well.

With those disclaimers in hand …

It was hard to watch this game and not come away with a few glaring questions of the coach's decisions. We like to be reasonable here, acknowledging of course that Carlisle and his fine staff are infinitely more in touch with those strings, levers and buttons than we are.


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However, much like the trio of players' mistakes chronicled below, let's look at a set of decisions that leave us searching for the reasoning behind them.

*Wednesday morning, DB.com posted an article stating our desire to see Roddy Beaubois have the leash removed from his minute limitations. Beyond possible physical constraints, we fail to understand his extremely limited exposure.

Against the Hornets, we saw more of the same.

In an opening quarter that would end tied at 16 and see neither team shoot higher than New Orleans' 36.4 percent (Dallas hit a woeful 30.4 percent of their shots), Roddy B came out of the gates hot, and scored seven of the Mavs first 11 points as Dallas held an 11-4 lead.

Yet, he came out with 5:01 to play in the quarter and did not return to the court until the second half.

Struggling on offense, Carlisle left his hottest player, and a guy capable of finding easy baskets, on the bench.

Once the second half arrived, Roddy B tried to pick up where he had left off but found his shot no longer locked in, as he made only one of his five attempts in the third quarter. With 6:07 remaining in the period, he picked up his second foul in four seconds, earned a quick technical as he gestured in protest of the call – a terrible interpretation of the respect-the-game rule, we think -- and returned to the bench for good.

For the game, Roddy B would total nine points on 4-of-10 shooting to go with one assist and one highlight-reel block (catching Belinelli from behind on a break to swat his layup away).

There were mistakes, but hard to justify playing one of your biggest offensive threats only 13 minutes (the least of any player who saw the court for Dallas), particularly after another strong start.

FREE RODDY B? This is no longer just a "short leash.'' Beaubois is now connected to his awaiting seat on the bench by a leash of shoestring-length.

*With Peja Stojakovic, the thought from here was that maybe Corey Brewer could find extended minutes for the first time in his brief Dallas career. When Marion was pushed from behind and bruised his ribs (x-rays were negative), it seemed like the circumstances were primed for him to get a few minutes. Instead, Brewer received a DNP.

Hard to believe Brewer couldn't have added something to a game that saw Brian Cardinal grab a few minutes at small forward, as The Custodian took turns guarding Trevor Ariza with Dirk for small stretches – and was in the game for crunch time. Couldn't Brewer, and his height, have again brought something to the table when the game slowed and situational substitutions became viable?

DeShawn Stevenson did what he could, but was asked to play out of position for the bulk of the night at small forward (Brewer's natural position), and would post almost identical stats to what Brewer accumulated on the bench with one assist, one rebound and zero points over 17 minutes.

*This doesn't come down to a single instance, and was certainly impacted by the players unavailable, but some odd combinations found themselves on the court at times.

One example: With 6:44 to play in the game, the lineup on the court for Dallas was: JJ Barea, Jason Terry, DeShawn Stevenson, Brian Cardinal and Brendan Haywood.

With Barea, Terry, Stevenson playing out of position and Cardinal, this was not a strong defensive unit.

With Cardinal, Haywood and Stevenson's struggling shot, this was also not a strong offensive unit.

Not surprisingly, this lineup did not last long, or fair well … an odd mix with the game on the line in the final quarter.

All coaches have their "security blankets.'' But here, Rick's level of security with the likes of Cardinal and Stevenson seemed inappropriate, given the presence on the roster of Brewer (maybe) and Beaubois (for damn sure).

3. IF The Mavs Hadn't Choked In The Clutch

We're not frequent practitioners in The Art of Choke Accusation. But if we're going to heap praise on Carlisle's Mavs for winning close games – up until four days ago, in the last three years Dallas' record in five-point games was 51-18 – we might want to point out the flip side.

In the last four days, Dallas is 1-2 in such close games. A home loss to Memphis by 1, a road win at Minny by three, and this mess, in which clutch-time heroes Dirk, Chandler, Kidd and Carlisle all proved that "brain cramps'' are contagious.

Consider …

*With 29.8 seconds to play, the Mavs were still up four and had the ball in the hands of their best player. From the far left corner, Dirk (26 big points otherwise) attempted the worst pass in basketball, as he tried to cross the width of the court with a ball that was easily picked off by Trevor Ariza.


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Tyson Chandler, one of the few Dallas bright spots (until … well, you'll see) raced down the court and nearly erased the error by blocking Ariza's 3 try from behind, only to see the possession end in an Emeka Okafor put-back with a foul, though he would miss the free throw, leading to Chandler's 13th rebound.

The lead was now down to two.

Then …

*This may be more of "an opportunity lost'' than a mistake, but the result's the same. After collecting the rebound on Okafor's missed free throw, Chandler was fouled and headed to the line for two free throws of his own, where he had already made 8-of-10 attempts.

With 17.7 second to go, he missed both.

For the majority of the night, Chandler was a welcome sight as he returned from three-games missed due to a sprained ankle. He finished with 16 points on 4-of-5 shots, 13 rebounds and a block, while limiting Okafor to eight points and six rebounds.

But why would Tyson Chandler pull down a defensive rebound in the final 17 seconds and then hold the ball, as if he was the person Dallas wanted to be fouled? The Mavs got their dubious "wish'' – and then TY's clangs gave his former team a final breath.

Chandler is a good free-thrower and he'd been 8-of-10 to that point. But he didn't even seem to be trying to find a better alternative to pass to, thus blowing for Dallas an easy opportunity to be up four with possibly one defensive possession remaining.

"This was a tough loss,'' TY tweeted after the game. "Especially for me. I feel sick to my stomach!''

And then …

*We assume Jason Kidd isn't feeling well, either.

Kidd has come up with pivotal, game-changing defensive plays with regularity since rejoining the Mavs. Beside the previous two mistakes, it only seeks to clarify the depth of the perfect storm that sank the Dallas ship.

With less than 30 seconds to play and a four-point lead, very few would hesitate to enter these three circumstances with these three players and this coach.

As he had for much of the night, Jarrett Jack (21 points) came through for New Orleans. This time, he was seen swinging his arms through and catching Kidd's forearm and face. Jack drew a call and headed to the line for three free throws … against a two-point deficit.

Dallas watched, and waited through a timeout meant to ice Jack after sinking the first two attempts, as all three attempts fell home and delivered the lead to the Hornets.

Good heavens, why did Kidd reach into Jarrett Jack's body with 8.4 seconds to go and Dallas up two, triggering Jack's smart decision to simulate a 3-point try, earning a foul and a trio of made Hornets free throws?

"I felt that he was going to shoot the 3,'' Kidd said. "He did a good job of drawing the foul. As a defender, you don't think you fouled, but they called it and it was a smart foul on his part."

Three mistakes by three core contributors – and Carlisle right in the middle of it – all guys used to being at the other end of such plays. They left the third loss in 22 games to come on the opposing team's final possession, after significant leads had been washed away.

It hurts. It was ugly. It was the antithesis of what we've come to expect from this team in close contests.

How did Dallas get outscored 8-0 in the final minute, losing a seven-point lead?

New Orleans made a 20-10 run in the last 4:24, but that happens. Runs. Back and forth over the course of a game. But in the final minute, Dallas doing absolutely everything wrong while the Hornets "needed to make every play and they did,'' as Rick said?

That's a Dallas choke job.

4. IF The Hornets Didn't Have Some Sort of Voodoo


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The Mavs have now lost 11 straight (including playoffs) in New Orleans. Freaky enough for you? How about failing here while riding the emotional boost of TY's return/homecoming combined with the injury absence of N.O. superstar Chris Paul (concussion)?

Coming in, a CP3-less Hornets were 14-24.

But against Dallas in this city? All bets are off.

There was the meltdown in the final 1:13 of the game that watched a seven-point lead became a one-point loss. That so rarely happens to these Mavs. There were the injury issues, which Dallas certainly believes its endured more than its share of. There is the near-certainty of victory when Chandler posts a double-double (now down to 13-4) and the near-certainty of same when Dallas leads at the half (now down to 14-2). And Belinelli's fluky half-court 3-pointer.

Hey, we could just focus on Dirk's miss at the end. That just doesn't happen … except it's pretty much exactly what happened back in mid-November, when Dallas last played here and lost 99-97 when West prevented Dirk from attempting a game-changing buzzer-beater.

IF they weren't soft, slipping, choking and voodoo-plagued, none of this would've happened. As it is?

There are your Top Four Soul-Crushing, Confidence-Shaking, Crotch-Kicking ‘If's' Of The Game.

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