THE TOP STORY: Defense. Defense?
Win a game like this once over the course of a weekend and it looks like an ugly fluke. Do it twice on the road, against supposedly "desperate'' opponents, in the span of 26 hours?
It starts to look like a moderately handsome trend.
The Dallas Mavericks have now gone five games without allowing 100. In three of the last four they've given up 73, 77 and here, 83.
And in the last two? The Mavs have made the fourth quarters theirs: 16.5 points allowed, 32.4 FG percentage allowed, 10 turnovers forced.
ESPN's Jon Barry apparently termed the Dallas defense a "gimmick defense.'' (We didn't hear it for ourselves; why listen to that ignoramus when we have Followill?) Well, it's been quite a gimmick this weekend, including its fueling of a 26-16 margin in the fourth quarter in Phoenix.
Two straight nights, and with about six minutes to go in each, Shawn Marion and company moved to a different gear. This time, the Suns were permitted just four points in the final 6:48.
Yes, when watching most of the game, you couldn't help but wrestle with the notion of whether you were watching two offenses playing poorly, or at least one defense making a tangible impact."The first quarter was terrible,'' Tyson Chandler said. "We allowed them to get layups, we allowed Gortat to get going. They got everything they wanted. They fast-breaked on us, we turned the ball over. I mean, we basically were shooting ourselves in the foot. We made an adjustment from that."
However, you don't have to argue with the facts. Dallas managed to win two rough games that saw their star and offense struggle, including shooting 39 percent through three quarters against Utah and 38 percent for the game against Phoenix, by leaning heavily on their defense in the second half … and particular in the fourth quarter.
With the outcome on the line Saturday, Dallas held Utah to 35-percent shooting in the fourth quarter, and followed that up Sunday by limiting the Suns to 29.4 percent in the final frame.
We're not sure how any defense (while playing zone or not) that features Marion, Tyson Chandler and Kidd can be handed a negative label while performing so well.
But again, when Mavs games are on, our TV might not even get ESPN, for all we know.
KICKED IN THE GORTATS: Marcin Gortat, the one-time almost-Mav, looks like one of the villians in 'Limitness.' You know, the one Bradley Cooper poked in the one good eye with a hypodermic needle?
In addition to being large and bald and white and theatrically funny, he played with a big rectangle of tape over his broken nose that only partially covered his blackened eyes, injuries he sustained Friday in a head-to-head collision with Steve Nash.
He had his nose re-set without the benefit of pain medication, a mistake, he says.
'It was painful,'' Gortat reported. "I don't want to use bad words. I had dirty pants almost.''
Early in the game, Gortat was high on whatever Steve Nash is smoking, as Nashie ran the pick-and-roll to such perfection that it looked like the center – elevated into the starting lineup for this game over Lopez – might score 30.
He scored 12 in the first quarter and he ended with 20 points, and 15 rebounds.
Fortunately, eventually, Tyson Chandler countered.
TY may have been the lone Mav to play well throughout, finishing with 16 points, 18 rebounds (tying his season high, and marking the fifth time he's reached that number this season), one steal and one block. He also led the Mavs in free-throw attempts with nine, sinking six of them.
Chandler was also a part of several key stops late as he consistently rotated to help protect the paint and successfully switch after screens onto Steve Nash, including contesting two huge reverse-layup attempts that fell harmlessly away … the Suns, and Nash, are used to seeing those shots go in.
Yes, the Mavs almost got Kicked In The Gortats. © But happily, TY kicked back.
DIRK'S WORST?: Dirk Nowitzki is having a career-best shooting season, entering the game at 53 percent while averaging 23.4 points per.
For the second consecutive game, Nowitzki found his consistently reliable shot to be something less than reliable. Dirk finished with 15 points, hitting 6-of-19 from the floor, but did add seven rebounds (including four at the offensive end) and four assists.
Oh, he made a big shot late. And he offered up some effort on defense, we suppose, once
pulling a Dirty Dirk nasty play on Nashty Nash, tripping his lil' buddy while setting a screen. Like brothers in the driveway. Fun and cheap.
But Dallas needs more. And over this trying two-game stretch, Dirk has averaged 17 points on 35.5-percent shooting.
If you're looking for another silver lining in this win, consider the fact that Dallas is 2-0 over the same stretch, maybe proof that the Mavs can survive an occasional game like this from The UberMan.
OCCASIONAL. Probably not often two in a row, though.
NASHTY VS. KIDD: Nash had assists on seven of the Suns' 13 first-quarter baskets. He was dazzling. At the moment, he looked like a different level of old-timer than Kidd.
But Nash had just three assists the rest of the game. And Kidd? He just kept grinding upward.
Only Saturday night we lamented the recent shooting slippage from Jason Kidd. After the Suns game, we'll praise it.
With 1:37 remaining in a game tied at 83 after a Jared Dudley basket, Jason Kidd ripped the heart, and perhaps the playoff hopes, from the Suns' chest by embarking upon a personal 8-0 run to close the game and seal the victory.
He finished with 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting, including 4-of-7 behind the arc.
When the Mavs were desperate for a basket, Kidd stepped up and lifted the weight of the game on his shoulders by scoring 10 of Dallas' final 14 points, including the last eight. For the fourth period he hit all three of his shots, with two of them coming behind the arc.
We don't say this to tarnish what Kidd accomplished, but the lead lining (consider it the opposite of a silver lining) would be the fact that he finished with the same number of assists and turnovers for the second consecutive game by having three of each against the Suns.
JET'S ELEVATOR: We don't feel we're misstating things when we say Jason Terry played awful through three quarters.
Entering the fourth, Terry had more turnovers (three) than made field goals, as he had hit only two of his 10 attempts, including missing all five of his shots from three.
Just as there shouldn't have been any shock when Kidd's clutch three-pointers fell, there likely was none when Terry suddenly found his grove in the fourth quarter. Taking his stage, JET scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth by hitting 3-of-6 shots, including 2-of-4 behind the arc and 2-of-2 from the free-throw line. He also added two of his four steals.
We've said it before, and we'll say it again: We love what Terry has been able to do in the fourth quarter, but it does not bode well for Dallas' playoff hopes if he continues to endure such struggles through the first three.
On the plus side, only one of those turnovers came in the final quarter.
ANOTHER START FOR TRIX: Shawn Marion didn't have one of his better performances, with the lowest point coming when he watched a ball squirt from his hands and out of bounds on what should have been an uncontested dunk to finish a break.
He started for the third straight game and totaled six points while hitting only 2-of-10 from the floor, but did add eight rebounds, two assists and three steals.
That said, Marion – whose greatest stardom was achieved in his days as a Suns weapon -- played a key role as a defender when the game reached its critical moments. He was active and helped ensure Phoenix players daring to shoot in his general vicinity did so with a hand in their face.
The stats may tell you Marion had a poor performance, and on offense he did, but he was there at the other end when his team needed him most.
We even think he should be a write-in candidate for "The Dirkie.''
RODDY B – WHAT TROUBLE?: Foul trouble? What trouble?
Roddy Beaubois did not play well in the first half, resulting in another short leash as he played less than anyone not named Brendan Haywood before the intermission.
He emerged from the locker room with a renewed vigor, quickly hitting all three of his second-half shot attempts for seven points and delivering scoring to an offense severely lacking at the time. Unfortunately, he also picked up four fouls in 5:23 of action, giving him five for the game and effectively ending his night.
Roddy B finished with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting, including 2-of-3 behind the arc, four rebounds, one assists and was one of three Mavs guards with three turnovers.
While we understand Roddy B being pulled with five fouls, we find less explanation for not playing in the second quarter. It's easy to say Roddy didn't have a great start, but it's also easy to find a player who faired far worse in the first half in Jason Terry … not to mention that JJ Barea and Jason Kidd weren't performing at peak levels before the break.
In other words, Roddy B may have played poorly – he was especially flummoxed by Nash and the pick-and-roll -- but faired no worse than any other Dallas guard in the first half.
Mind if we wax philosophic for a moment?
In basketball, just as it often is in life, the best lessons often come via trial and error. The strongest chance to have Roddy B ready to contribute in this season's playoffs is to allow him to make his errors now, impart whatever lesson there is to be learned, and get him back on the court for his normal ration of minutes.
For example, do you think Roddy B learned more picking up his fourth and fifth fouls moments apart on plays an intelligent approach may dictate he peel back on, then heading to the bench to hear the words of the Mavs assistant coaches?
Or, would he have taken in more from watching the same thing happen to someone else as he sat quietly on the bench?
The lesson may or may not have been learned, but the chances of it being absorbed were raised greatly because Carlisle left him on the court.
Every situation doesn't allow for that, we know. But Aaron Brooks and Phoenix? Maybe a longer chain, Rick.
THE NUMBERS GAME: Let's crunch, Cap'n:
*The Mavs are on a four-game winning streak with an average margin of +15.25. So, according to Trollinger, they are the best team in the history of basketball. Right?
*Turnovers were again an issue. Dallas gave away six in the first quarter and 15 for the game, leading to 16 Phoenix points.
*The Mavs held Phoenix to just 1 of 16 on 3-point attempts.
*At halftime the Mavs had 27 rebounds -- 13 of those offensive.
* After shooting 51.2 percent in the first half, Phoenix would hit only 13 of their 39 attempts in the second, good for 33.3 percent.
*The Mavs are 12-1 against the Pacific Division.
*Is this playoff-significant? Dallas is 26-10 on the road. That's the best such mark in the NBA.
QUOTEBOARD: "That's a tribute to our defense that we win that game. If you would have told me before that I'm 6-for-19, ‘Trix is 2-for-10, Jet is like 2-for-30 -- if you tell me that before the game that we'd still find a way to win then I wouldn't have believed it. Yeah, we won that game with our defense and it's good to know that we can still do that." - Dirk Nowitzki
For just the ninth time in Vince Carter's 916-game career, he came off the bench. Didn't seem very interested, either. … Here's why you don't "blow it
up,'' Mavs fans: Phoenix was a "power'' just a moment ago, right? The Suns are now 36-36, four games behind Memphis for the eighth spot in the West.
Amare wasn't perfect. But he provided them a shot at something they now have no hope for … Peja almost came up lame when he was banged on the ankle
during a loose-ball scrum. Note that Peja didn't try to get involved in the actual scrum. His back/knee/neck doesn't feel THAT good … Dallas shot just
20 percent (5-of-25) in the first quarter as the slow-start phenomenon continues ... The lights went out in the building and the "Robert Sarver is
cheap'' jokes ran unchecked … Phoenix is a better team than Utah, even if you can't find evidence of this in their current records, and entered the
game clutching at the final strands of playoff hopes. This doesn't excuse the performance from the Mavs in the first half, but it does help understand
the validity of what they were able to accomplish in the second. … Just as they had against Utah, the Dallas defense adjusted to the opposition and
constricted after the intermission. … Nowitzki made two free throws to extend his consecutive makes from the line to 74, the longest streak in the
The Mavs have won four straight over Phoenix, three this season. … The Suns will look back and wonder where Nash's early dominance disappeared to. Oh, and why with a minute left Frye rushed a last-second 3 (airball) when it wasn't a last-second situation. … Thumbs-up to JJB, who seemed to be able to solve the mystery of playing pick-and-roll defense against Phoenix and Nash.
THE FINAL WORD: For the second consecutive night, Dallas pushed the envelope on just how poorly it could play in a first half while staying in a game.
To review: In the first quarter, the Mavs had more turnovers (six) than field goals (five) or assists (three) and hit only five of their 25 shot attempts. On the bright side, they did manage to outscore Marcin Gortat 17-to-12.
That's a joke!
Though the final results have been acceptable for two nights, this poor early play must create worry in the hearts of Mavs' fans. Against Utah and Phoenix, they were able to overcome. Against stronger teams, this may be too much to withstand.
The Mavs (52-21) have won four straight against Western foes going nowhere. That beats the alternative. Now they rest for a day in Phoenix before prepping for another B2B, this one Clippers/Lakers on Wednesday/Thursday.
"If we can take the mindset of we're going to be a defensive team first and then we get it rolling the way we're capable of doing offensively,'' TY said, "we'll be a dangerous team."