THE TOP STORY: A three-and-a-half-quarter home-run trot … performed in slow-motion. … while wearing cinder blocks for shoes.
Reaching 50 wins for the 11th consecutive season hasn't exactly set minds at ease, either among Dallas Mavericks onlookers or among the players themselves. While this is an accomplishment to be admired, it isn't an achievement capable of delivering peace of mind for the impending playoffs … something only convincing wins and a proclamation that the past hasn't arrived to be waded through again can yield.
For three-and-a-half quarters, there was no solace to be found for those seeking it. This was an ugly game dominated by whistles that fractured any source of rhythm and left all involved frustrated and dancing at the precipice of slipping down into a disjointed heap of … well, take our word for it, things were ugly.
"I thought it was a great game,'' coach Rick Carlisle said. "You play a team that's desperate and they've been losing close games. They fought and they were physical and they were clawing. They were trying to take us out of our rhythm. We just kept playing. This is what we need. I mean, this is a playoff style game and very emotional. It's all about hanging in there.''
Wait. We're stuck on the "great game'' part.
The final score of 94-77 is highly deceptive. It's a 17-point win that should get spat out of John Trollinger's machinery.
Fifty wins wasn't the be-all. Fifty-one wasn't much better.
FIRST, LET'S GET INTRODUCED: How the Mavs-on-the-road intro works. Featuring Ian screaming and thanks to Cash ...
COOP'S DONUTS: As Chuck Cooperstein noted in Saturday's Mavs Morning Donuts , turnovers can often tell the story of a game. In the first half, particularly in the opening quarter, Stephen King couldn't have spun a deeper tale of horror as Dallas gave away 12 turnovers before the intermission, including eight in the first period. … and in the end, an abnormal six even from the master of BBIQ, Jason Kidd.
For the game, Dallas would commit 19 turnovers, leading to 10 less shot attempts than the Jazz.
Fortunately, they were able to counter this by forcing the Jazz into 19 turnovers of their own, in large part by collecting nine steals and stepping up the defense in the second half.
But yes, Coop, turnovers leading to easy points for the opponent. … Utah scored just 77 points but one fourth of those came because Dallas gagged up the ball to the Jazz.
That's Coop. We think we'll keep him.
A SWITCH FLIPPED: Ah, that second half. Dallas matched a low for points allowed in a half by holding the Jazz to 30, while also keeping them to 30.8-percent shooting (12-of-39).
Despite this, the Mavs found themselves trailing 70-68 with 6:22 to play, when things suddenly clicked into place … and like a sail finally wrapping its arms around a racing wind, Dallas quickly pulled away from a Utah squad left to drift in dingy (you know you like that word) to close the game with a 26-7 run.
With Dirk Nowitzki on the bench for the entire run – hey, a Sunday night in Phoenix looms -- the Mavs were fueled by a burst of energy from Shawn Marion and a timely steal from Jason Kidd that allowed others to join the push.
While worrisome that the game had limped well into the fourth quarter before the Mavs reminded us of the current gap between these two teams, at least that moment did come. That's something. Isn't it?
PEJA VS. ‘TRIX: Peja Stojakovic had his least effective game since his return, but did hit a timely three. In 22 minutes he totaled five points while hitting only one of his six shot attempts, two rebounds and a steal. Also noteworthy: This wasn't just Peja setting up camp in the corner. On at least four occasions, he felt frisky enough to drive into the lane to attempt a wider variety of shots. The results weren't there, but the offensive versatility means Peja must be healthy.
We previously mentioned Shawn Marion's energy being the spark that led to the flame of the Mavs' fourth quarter run. The Matrix continues to climb out of the "unsung hero" label Mark Cuban gave to him earlier this season … and into the spotlight of what gives this team the best chance to be and achieve what they hope to be.
‘Trix was the starter. Peja came off the bench in the Jet wave. We're not sure this game goes into the archives as proof that the arrangement should be etched in stone, but Marion certainly did his part in pulling the Mavs out of their lethargy.
One concern about Shawn: We know his ribs are bruised and his wrist is sore and his pinky looks like a pretzel. So late in the game, when he followed up a breakaway dunk by seeming to almost dislocate his shoulder trying to throw a retaliatory elbow, we were caught preferring he'd do a little more "aggression with discretion,'' you know?
THE NUMBERS GAME: Let's crunch, Cap'n:
*First-half starter scoring: Dirk totaled 17 points. Everyone else totaled 16.
*Shawn Marion eclisped the 15,000-points mark for his career.
*Jet scored 10 points in the fourth. This is his 12th fourth quarter of double-digit scoring this season.
*If the Mavs just split their final 10 games they will improve upon their 55 wins from a season ago.
*With three more wins, Dallas can clinch homecourt in the first round of the playoffs even if the Thunder and Nuggets win out.
*Making the situation as tough as possible and assuming the Thunder go undefeated for their final 11 games, the Mavs would now need to go 8-2 to clinch the third seed.
QUOTEBOARD: To start off the road trip with a win in this building, it builds up your confidence," Jason Terry said. "We've got to keep the momentum.''
Gotta tell you, we have no idea what Jet is talking about there.
MAVSELLANEOUS: The Mavs sweep the four-game regular-season series with the Jazz for the first time in team history … Disappointed that Corey Brewer isn't in the mix? Don't be. Considering the makeout session the refs were having with their whistles, how long would the foul-prone Brewer have lasted in this game? Three minutes? … Very quiet props for Marion's work on Millsap. ... Coach Corbin on Al Jefferson's clapping in the face of an official at game's end to earn an ejection: "It's misguided. I think he's just a little frustrated. That's not who we are." ... Dirk had the 19 points (the 20-ppg streak is over!) and ran his consecutive free-throw mark to 72. …Something JJB will be able to do ‘til he's 70: Huff and puff and fly backwards to draw an offensive foul … No Devin for Utah. As you might imagine, he is hurt. … Love that Carlisle is finally taking Terry out for Stevenson for defensive situational substitutions. It's a Jet-related admission of something we all know is true … We're not saying Utah rook Gordon Heyward looks young, but we hear he is dating Miley Cyrus' daughter.
KIDD'S KALVACADE OF KRUD: The worst game of J-Kidd's illustrious Mavs career?
Jason Kidd endured one of the worst playoff performances of his career last season as the Mavs fell to the Spurs in the first round. In that series he averaged eight points while shooting 30.4 percent from the floor and 32 percent behind the arc, seven assists and 6.8 rebounds in 40.5 minutes per night.
In what we hope does not signify a return to that form, over the past eight games (prior to Utah) Kidd was averaging 4.3 points on 25-percent shooting, including a horrid 19 percent from three, to go with 9.7 assists and 3.9 rebounds.
Against the Jazz, his outside shot continued to elude him (1-of-4 three-point tries), but Kidd turned to a tactic that can be extremely effective against smaller guards. He backed his way into the paint and found the goal much more accepting of his attempts.
It seems like good things come to the Mavs when Kidd forces the issue in this manner, as it did here. In certain matchups it is a weapon often left in the locker room or buried deep in the playbook… perhaps it shouldn't be.
Outside of these moments, Kidd had a night he won't be adding to his extensive highlight reel of a career. He finished with seven points, six assists, three rebounds, two steals, one block … and the one stat seeking to sink the rest … as we noted above, six turnovers.
Those six turnovers matched his season high … and thanks to a pair of fourth-quarter assists, he was able to avoid handing out more turnovers than assists, something he has done only once this season … the last time he gave away six turnovers against Chicago Jan. 20, he had only three assists to counter those giveaways.
THE JET STREAM: Quietly, it seemed for most of the night, Jason Terry had one of the best games of any Mav … until the fourth quarter, when it was no longer quiet.
As has been his calling, Terry helped dump fuel on the spark Marion created and put in 10 of his game-high 22 points in the fourth quarter by hitting his only two shot attempts, both from behind the arc, and draining all four of his trips to the free-throw line."We were searching for a group that could get some traction and the group that finished the game was awesome,'' Carlisle said. "Jet made some huge offensive plays. Defensively we scrambled and got stops and run outs. Everything else was really good."
Terry wasn't immune to the turnover bug that infected the entire team, giving away two, but he did manage to remain remarkably efficient. He finished with 22 points on 6-of-7 shooting, including 4-of-5 behind the arc.
If we can be hypercritical: Jet was among the many Mavs who allowed themselves to get caught up in jabbering at the officials. The zebras had an undue impact on this game; in the first quarter they called offensive fouls on four straight possessions, and there were all sorts of phantom fouls befalling poor souls like Peja, Roddy B and Ian.
Tyson Chandler stood at the forefront of a clear displeasure with the handling of the game by the refs, though he was far from alone … on either team.
At times, the Mavs appeared to allow their frustration with the whistles to dominate their disposition for the game, spending more time complaining about calls on the defensive end than attacking at the offensive end.
The squeaky wheel just kept squeaking here. And fellas, it doesn't become you.
Said Dirk: "They always play physical, especially here in their building. I thought there in the first half, we got frustrated here and there, but you know, in this building, you've got to fight through some stuff, and play through it, and that's what we did there in the second half."
RODDY B AT THE POINT: Roddy B saw his minutes severely limited by early foul trouble, but did manage to play well during his 16:10 on the court.
Perhaps most encouraging was a strong stretch of point-guard play in the second quarter that saw him put his talents to use by penetrating the defense and creating for his teammates or finishing in the paint. No, it wasn't against elite guard talent in Utah, but it was a promising sight nonetheless.
Roddy finished with seven points, six rebounds, two assists (which don't accurately tell the story of his play), two blocks, one steal … and he was the lone starter to end the game without a turnover.
Rick gave him an early tug but then gave him the chance at the 1. It all evened out.
CENTERS OF ATTENTION: Brendan Haywood was given the first opportunity off the bench behind Tyson Chandler, but fell flat … enough so that he did not see the court in the second half as Carlisle turned to Ian Mahinmi in his place.
Statistically, there wasn't much difference in the production of Haywood (two points, three rebounds in seven minutes) and Mahinmi (zero points, four rebounds in 14 minutes). Yet, Mahinmi seemed to bring more energy and enthusiasm to the court.
In short, Mahinmi found ways to not hurt the team, perhaps even making a marginal positive impact, while Haywood seemed to only get in the way.
Tyson Chandler also endured a bit of foul trouble, which kept him to 27 minutes, and he ended the game with ten points, seven rebounds and two assists.
TY's status opened up a chance for somebody. How interested did Big Wood seem in the proceedings? When Dallas mounted its big takeover, Brian Cardinal could be seen jumping from the bench excitedly. Alongside him was Brendan, eyes roaming about the gym as if he wondered if any vendor might bring him some nachos.
YOUR OFFICIAL NBA HIGHLIGHT PACKAGE: Dig it.
THE FINAL WORD: Somebody asked Marion if this represents a "statement game.''
"If we got a statement game, it's probably when we play the Lakers," he said. "We're 1-2 against them right now. They're the defending champions. That's the statement game."
If your heart is set on the second seed, Dallas is now one game behind the Lakers with both teams having ten games remaining … meaning that Dallas would need to best the Lakers' record by two games over that stretch to claim the second seed. For example, if the Lakers go 8-2, Dallas must remain a perfect 10-0.
Dallas does play the Lakers one final time, March 31. The Mavs don't seem especially prepared for the challenge, but … there is always tomorrow … er, today, in Phoenix.
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