Donuts: Mavs Slip In Portland, Slip To 3rd

Slippage. It's in the standings, where after Tuesday's 104-101 loss at Portland, the Mavs have dropped into third in the West, a half-game behind LA. It's there in a series of serious outcomes: Dallas has in the last 10 days played LA and the Nos. 6, 7 and 8 clubs in the West - and lost all four. It's there in the blemishes revealed in the specifics of the Portland result. Donuts breaks it down:

DONUT 1: When you shoot just under 60 percent for a game, you expect to win. Against the Blazers, the Dallas Mavericks hit 59.7 percent of their shots but lost by three after a last-second corner 3-point attempt from Dirk Nowitzki fell harmlessly away.

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In some respects, it feels like this game served as a microcosm of what may have been a hidden wound under the Band-Aid of the Mavs' recent success … as they scored over 100 points in 19-of-20 games between Jan. 25 and March 7.

DONUT 2: This is the truth, and we recognize it because we feel like we're a hypochondriac back in the doctor's waiting room again, re-reading the same old magazine: This is presently a team – again -- that has gradually strayed from the defensive strength that formed the foundation of their early success, and the respect gained there, to gravitate towards their offensive tendencies.

Remember, just to pick one example, Jason Terry's early-season defensive intensity, and how it seemed to drive others to mimic him in a "if-he-can-do-it-so-can-we'' manner? We do. Barely. Because it seems so long ago.

In a shift, these Mavs remain willing to run on the break, but reluctant to exert the same energy or display the attention to detail at the defensive end.

Offensive proficiency, and a let up in the schedule, allowed the bruises of a slipping defense to be concealed beneath a slew of victories.

Defense isn't alien to this group – damnit, we saw it happen earlier this year! -- but seems to have escaped their grasp.

Take your medicine, hypochondriacs: On Feb. 4th, the Mavs had played one of the toughest schedules in the NBA, yet held their opponents to 94.6 points per game, and a shooting percentage of 44.8.

In the 18 games since that Feb. 4 matchup with Boston (including the loss to Portland), Dallas has allowed 101.3 points per game with a 45.6 field-goal percentage.

However, the fact that they have been scoring 107.3, which yields a strong point-differential of 6, has allowed apparent success to wash away fears of a severe defensive slippage.

DONUT 3: While poking holes in a defensive performance that likely left any Mavs fan pondering just how much it would cost to replace their television while explaining to their wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend/roommate just how the remote became embedded in the wall behind the hole in their screen, let's turn our gaze from the defense for a moment.

(But first, a pause: Both Fish and Dugat have only one of the above. It's not like Fish throws his remote and then asks EITHER his wife OR his boyfriend to please retrieve it.)

Over the past five games, we have seen the effectiveness of Jason Terry fall off. For that span, Jet is averaging 13.8 points (down 2.5 from his season average). Considering that he is hitting right at his season field-goal percentage (45.2 percent), this doesn't seem monumental in itself.

However, in that five-game span, he's dishing out one assist less per game, hasn't taken a free throw in four contests, and has not collected a single rebound over the past two.

Jet's boxscore doesn't look like a carton of eggs … but almost.

Against the Blazers, he almost seemed reminiscent of the overly eager Roddy B we witnessed versus the Lakers. He wasn't alone, and this loss surely doesn't fall squarely on his shoulders, but he's also shown a propensity for untimely turnovers or allowing open shots to become misses … as he did against Portland.

Oh, and if you think this "over-eagerness'' on offense is problematic now, wait until we show you "Coach ‘Em Up,'' our X-and-O video study of why the Spurs are so able to control Terry in the playoffs. (Coming up in anticipation of Friday's visit from San Antonio.)

DONUT 4: Because we are men who conduct ourselves in manly ways (except when we through the remote) we didn't make excuses or pull punches after Roddy Beaubois' performance against the Lakers. In a big game, the sometimes-electric sophomore was nowhere to be found.

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In turn, we'll not hide our pleasure in watching him rebound from that performance in a manner reminiscent of so many "special" players before him. We're not ready to put Roddy B at that level yet, but there must be some piece of solace to be found in the response.

Roddy totaled 16 points (a new season-high) while making 6-of-8 shots (including 4-of-6 behind the arc), four assists and one steal … and only 18 seconds of his 22:22 minutes in the fourth quarter.

And there stands the double-edged sword of Roddy B's performance against the Lakers.

We want him to be ready for big games without having ever actually played in big moments. We expect him to be ready to thrive under the pressure of circumstance, berate him when/if he isn't, but watch as he is continually protected from these spots.

In the end, he probably learned a lot more failing against the Lakers than all the games (while healthy) he has watched from the bench.

But … Oh, Rick. This is like pulling teeth, isn't it? No, it's more painful than that: It's like Rick Carlisle is PULLING HIS OWN TEETH! That's how painful it is!

DONUT 5: Corey Brewer had his best game as a member of the Mavericks in a convincing win over the Knicks. In the two games since, he has become an afterthought to the rotation, including not seeing the court against Portland.

He brought energy, provided strong defense and found a few easy baskets. Yet, when a supposedly-hobbled Brandon Roy was thrashing the Dallas defense, Brewer never saw the court.

Brewer may not be the answer, and may fall more in line with being a future asset, but it seems hard to justify no minutes while Peja Stojakovic continues to sit with a "stiff neck," and Shawn Marion acts as the only other available true small forward.

We're still reeling from the realization from the Lakers game that somebody in charge around here thinks Corey Brewer is less suited to help (even at the 3) than Brian Cardinal is.

Though it didn't come into play against Portland, there's some credence to the worry carried by more than a few with "The Custodian'' serving as the primary backup at the power forward position.

Cardinal is a solid role player, but when his minutes begin to creep up into the realm of a core rotation player, it's not a compliment to the team's depth or an invitation to success with regularity.

Consider, when Cardinal plays over 15 minutes the Mavs are 8-11.

We don't mean to put it all on The Custodian's shoulders -- hell, actually, the point is we wish to take everything OFF Brian's shoulders -- but his lengthy participation in games is a treading-water move by Rick.

DONUT 6: We've gotten the question before when mentioning Brewer (or Beaubois, or anyone else who is mothballed in a given game): Where did you want him to play? Be specific, DB.com! Instead of questions, how about answers?

OK. If Roddy B plays 18 seconds in the fourth quarter … of a game in which he totals 16 points while making 6-of-8 shots, including 4-of-6 behind the arc … let's start with a 19th second.

And Brewer? We continue to be perplexed as offensive/defensive substitutions are made in the final moments of close games (note how Roddy B entered for the final offensive possessions while Marion took the court for defense), yet Jason Terry remains on the court in place of either Brewer or DeShawn Stevenson.

Jet's presence in that job early in the season came with a reward: He played up to the demands.

That's not happening on the defensive end anymore. So why continue to reward an inferior player with faith that is unlikely to be rewarded?

DONUT 7: There is good news … see, we've still got some Pollyanna in us! … The UberMan and The Matrix are a nice match.

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Going into the Portland game, here's some numbers-crunching on Shawn Marion the starter, and how Dirk Nowitzki has performed beside him in this role.

*Marion's averages while starting and how they relate to his season averages as a whole: 14.7 points (up 2.8), 6.8 rebounds (down 0.1), 57.2 field-goal percentage (up 6.5 percentage points), and 1.9 turnovers (up 0.3).

*Dirk's averages with Marion starting and how they relate to his season averages in parenthesis: 20.7 points (down 2.4), 7.2 rebounds (up 0.5), 47.1 field-goal percentage (down 5.7 percentage points) and 1.7 turnovers (down 0.2).

Now, that's BEFORE a Tuesday game during which Dirk finished with 28 points on 9-of-14 field goals and 11 rebounds and Marion went for 18 points on 9-of-15 shots, five rebounds and four assists.

DONUT 8: Brendan Haywood missed the game with a sore back. Ian Mahinmi gathered 15:49 of playing time in his absence as Tyson Chandler also battled some foul trouble.

Haywood's presence was missed while the Blazers grabbed 15 offensive rebounds, compared to six for Dallas, leading to an 18-4 advantage on second-chance points for Portland.

Of course, Big Wood probably wouldn't have helped in attempting to slow LaMarcus Aldridge. The Dallas-area native's battles against Tyson Chandler (and sometimes Dirk) were beauties – for Portland fans who can take pride in the kid's development into a full-fledged weapon. He's got a back-to-the-basket game. He's stolen a few of Dirk's moves. He can muscle up against TY.

And when he did the latter? Chandler didn't handle it well, in our opinion. TY's reaction to foul calls included a T for punching a dead ball into the stands. TY didn't seem to understand that Aldridge (30 points and eight rebounds) was getting superstar calls because … well, because he's now kind of a superstar.

Tyson needs to be reminded that his emotion is a commodity if properly funneled. … and on that punch-ball play, it was quite the opposite. The Mavs were asserting themselves, up 71-64 with under six minutes to go in the third, when TY fouled Aldridge and then followed through by making sure to block Aldridge's shot. Mission accomplished, but then as the ball was bounding about, TY decided to "block'' it again, punching it away and earning a technical.

And the foundation started crumbling.

Portland made its T shot to make it 71-65. Then Aldridge went to the line. He made the first (71-66) and missed the second … but Nicolas Batum scooted inside for the offensive putback and it was suddenly 71-68.

The Mavs should've given up one point on the trip. They gave up four.

DONUT 9: This was a game Dallas allowed to slip from their grasp with poor defensive intensity, an inability to protect their defensive glass and untimely turnovers. Indeed, among the most alarming things about the loss was the way more than a few Mavs lollygagged their way to available balls … and treated offensive possessions without acknowledging their value. Roddy B was a sloppy downcourt receiver, JJ Barea was a sloppy overdribbler, Jason Terry was an inattentive chaser of loose balls and coughed up three turnovers in the final quarter alone …

The end-game execution was poor. But from start to finish, in terms of stuff beyond hot shooting (Dallas opened the game 11-of-11), all the pacesetters were Blazers. Not just Aldridge.

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That goes for Brandon Roy, who seems to have made a miraculous return for a guy who a couple of months ago was walking on knees pronounced by doctors as Dead On Arrival. In what is truly a neat story, Roy came off the bench and scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half, overcoming every challenge Dallas threw at him (from Kidd to Marion … but not Brewer, of course).

"He made some tough shots. He looked like the Brandon Roy of old," Nowitzki said. "If he shoots the ball like that, they've got two legit go-to guys with Aldridge, who is playing phenomenal, and him. They're going to be tough to beat in the playoffs whoever they play."

(Hold on, Dirk. You must've looked ahead to Donut 12.)

And it even goes for Rudy Fernandez, who scored 12 points but we think more notable harassed Dallas perimeter players as if he was imitating a Pacific Northwest ancestor.

When did Rudy Fernandez turn into "The Glove''?

"I thought he was the difference," Portland coach Nate McMillan said. "We got into the game when Rudy got pressure on the ball and started forcing some turnovers. We got some traps going and all of a sudden we started to make some shots and make a run."

Somebody needs to thumbtack this to a Dallas bulletin board. Some cat named "Rudy Fernandez'' was "the difference'' … all because he dared to guard the hell out of every Mav in his path.

DONUT 10: We're the ones who kept touting Dallas' three-year record under Rick in games decided by five points or fewer. A couple of weeks ago it was, what, 51-18?

As of this morning, Dallas' past five losses have been by a combined 11 points.

DONUT 11: Celebrate, if you want to, all the "cool'' things Dallas accomplished. They shot 59.7 percent from the floor! (Their highest FG-percentage in a loss since Mar. 15, 1991!) They shot 42.9 percent from the arc! The Mavs are still good (31-6) when at least five players score in double figures! The Mavs are still good (36-4) when they score 100! FREE RODDY B! Kidd had 14 assists! The Matrix is on target! Portland's consistent banging on Dirk's shoulders left him battered but undeterred in his push to a 25/11 double-double!

But …

All the accomplishments were on one end. Pretty much as has been the case around here for the last 10 days.

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DONUT 12: Tucked into the last 10 days is a blowout victory over the Knicks, which was all well and good. But the Mavs are making our deadline-day evaluation of the West look stupid. You know the one: That the "haves'' were able to stand-pat while the second-tier teams stripped down knowing they were destined for first-round failure, anyway.

Stupid.

The Mavs in the last 10 days just lost to not only the Lakers (and lost the No. 2 slot to them, too) … but also just lost to (according to today's standings) No. 8 seed Memphis, No. 7 New Orleans and No. 6 seed Portland.

Which of these teams does Dallas not want to see in the first round? As of this morning … all of ‘em.

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