THE TOP STORY: We've reached game four of six in nine nights, the conclusion of the second of three consecutive back-to-backs, and the pinnacle of the longest road trip of the season. True, there are five other games in the trip that will count equally when the season's wins and losses are tallied, but the Lakers have waited for three days on a pedestal like climber perched at the peak of a mountain looking down on those scurrying below … those striving to replace them and steal their high view.
Despite the fatigue that must be setting in, which cannot be made an excuse, only a fact of circumstance, this was the game where statements would be made. Good or bad, uplifting or damning, it was in Los Angeles against the two-time reigning champs that declarations would echo out from the mountaintop.
What if Dallas goes 5-1 on the road trip?
It won't be quite good enough.
"Every year teams are going to have games where they shit the bed, right?" said Mavs owner Mark Cuban, trying to brush off a loss that is Dallas' most lopsided defeat of the year. "You're going to have games like this. ... The Spurs lost by 30, Miami lost by 30, ... This was just a bad game and we couldn't make a shot. We couldn't hit a shot and we were upset. What are you going to do? ... That's just the way it goes. We haven't had one of these in a long time. It just came at the wrong time. That's all."
Cuban is wise to try to rearview-mirror this, but here's the truth: The Mavs soil the bed fairly regularly at right around April most every year now. (By the time this late-night game ended, it was early-morning April 1.)
That means it's maybe not a fluky soiling. And no, when the Mavs said they were going for "No. 2,'' we didn't know they meant THAT "No. 2.''
Our understanding of the truth doesn't mean Cuban is supposed to stage a press conference stating otherwise, but we can say it.
This loss may not define the season, but it arrived with the ability to deeply impact it … and with playoff standings on the line, as the teams exit with the Lakers holding a game-and-a-half lead for the second seed over the Mavs, the impact of 110-82 could continue to resonate until the season's end.
That's The Top Story. Unless you want to count the fights.
Cuban doesn't have to say it. But we can. Oh, and so can Tyson Chandler.
"We're not where we need to be,'' TY said. "We need to accept that.''
AT THE HALF: At the half, this was a three-point game thanks to a nice push from JJ Barea and the ever-present contributions of Dirk Nowitzki, despite eight turnovers from Dallas, almost all of which came in the second quarter.
Dallas had managed to avoid the brand of start that left them with deep early holes to climb from in recent games.
In what was clearly a playoff atmosphere, the Mavs stood toe-to-toe with the vaunted champions through a half … leaving a fight for the second half to decide the outcome.
No pun intended there. And yes, we'll get to it.
TERRY'S NO-SHOW GAME: Jason Terry hit his first two shots … and then went into premature hibernation as he missed his next seven, totaling as many turnovers as field goals (two of each) and emerging just long enough to vent his frustrations on Steve Blake.
Here's the full replay of the entire incident:
With 9:22 remaining in the game, Blake drove to the left of the rim and absorbed a foul from Terry that would have sent him to the line; only Terry didn't stop there. He couldn't push the ball through the hoop, but found he could send the off-balance Blake to the ground with a little extra shove after the whistle.
Unappreciative of the extra two-handed thrust, Blake rose quickly and stood face-to-face with a bowed up Terry as the two barked at each other.
Matt Barnes made sure things didn't end there by running in and shoving Terry from the side – a hockey-like "third-man in'' -- escalating events and leading to officials and players acting as peacemakers and circling around each other … the sole aggressors remained Terry and Barnes.
Once the dust settled; Jason Terry, Steve Blake, Brendan Haywood and Matt Barnes were all ejected.
We're still searching the replays for what sent Haywood to the locker room, outside of his less-than-enthusiastic play.
We don't have to search far to find the most offensive part of that wrasslin' match:
This is only part of the sideshow that was this showdown, Matt Barnes tossing Dallas assistant coach Terry Stotts to the floor as Stotts was trying to play peacemaker.
It's a matter of debate that will fill the next few days, and one that will restart if these clubs meet in the second round of the NBA Playoffs: Was Jet's shove (dirty as it was) a sign of life? A demonstration that is the opposite of "soft''? Chris Webber's moronic TNT rant about how not enough Mavs joined the fray shouldn't be taken seriously, we know; as C-Webb was detailing how no Mavs jumped in to side with Jet, the replays showed a stream of Mavs on the floor – Barea, then Dirk, then Haywood,then Peja – doing exactly that, but in a non-violent manner.
But that doesn't stop C-Webb from his fugazi act:
Let us take a stab at this: You (and Rick Carlisle) wanted the Mavs to knock SOMEBODY on their ass (a "hard foul'') years ago. You wish a Mav would've knocked Matt Barnes on his ass five years ago when he was a Warrior. Fine. Jet shoved Blake. Jawed with Barnes. And later, Ian Mahinmi and Brian Cardinal teamed up to put Pau Gasol on his butt.
"Emotions got the best of me tonight," Terry said. "I already apologized to the team. You just can't let that happen in big games."
That makes it look like the whole thing was a mistake. But was it?
Hard fouls. It doesn't make up for 28-point deficits. But at least all the "messages sent'' weren't sent by the Lakers.
THE NAKED TRUTH: The atmosphere instantly shifted from playoff intensity into something else. Fans became a part of the story as one (reportedly a Mavs fan? A woman? A naked woman?) was ejected and another was tackled by building security as he tried to rush the Dallas bench area.
There is no truth to the rumor that Lakers fan Adam Sandler was ejected by the red-coats for the crime that is "Just Go With It.''
Ushers do a great job in arenas around the country, but we're left to wonder if the recent incident in this building with a fan bringing a knife onto the court in the hours before a game didn't leave security a little beefed up … and possibly better prepared to deal with an fan embracing idiocy to charge the visitor's bench area.
The atmosphere was described by many media types as "scary.'' Of course, media types think it's scary when the press room runs out of free hot dogs, so there is no real way to judge.
THE FIGHT IN THE FIGHT: For a brief glimpse after round one of the ejections, it appeared the "fight" had brought out the fight in the Mavs for the first time in the second half as they scraped at the Lakers' lead, cutting the deficit from 17 to 11 … though it was short lived.
In what may have been their most important game of the regular season, the game quickly reverted to what it had devolved into for much of the night: Dirk and four guys allowing themselves to fade into the background.
Dirk shed any claims his knee wasn't right, as fellow "German'' Chris Kaman suggested the night before, to put up 27 points on 10-of-20 shooting and 13 rebounds … though he also gave away an uncharacteristic team-high four turnovers, as the Lakers often blitzed Nowitzki when he put the ball on the floor.
This may have not been an issue if the rest of the Mavs didn't combine to shoot 31.7 percent from the floor.
A P.S. here before we completely dismiss Kaman's remarks: Phil JackZen said it, too.
"He can shoot his shot out of a wheelchair,'' Phil said of The UberMan before the game. "That guy is going to play forever. He's such a great shooter, but he definitely runs with a limited gait. He's got to work at that run. You can see that when you watch him run. We like to take advantage of that when we can."
"A limited gait''?
BAMBI-ON-ICE?: Roddy Beaubois again got the start, after having one of the worst games of his career against these Lakers almost three weeks ago.
Heading into the game, this led one to ponder the quagmire created in the defensive matchups that often left Jason Kidd guarding Ron Artest in their prior meeting. In a bold move, Carlisle addressed this by putting Roddy B on Kobe Bryant and allowing Kidd to refrain from a physical battle with Artest.
One other momentary advantage gained by this move was the Lakers turning away from their interior dominance (more on that in a moment), to feed the ball to Kobe. While this likely wouldn't have gone well with extended exposure, Beaubois was able to remain respectable in the matchup.
Roddy B wasn't a factor in the outcome of the game, but if the criteria for improvement was his last performance against the Lakers … we definitely saw a fair amount of gain.
We also saw a player too often accepting and embracing a poor shot selection. Considering the tools Roddy B brings to the table, he needs to take a few more cues from JJ Barea and realize his speed and athleticism are rendered useless when he submits to the wishes of a the defense and resorts to a three off the dribble.
THE BYNUM FACTOR : We said it on the Mavs pregame show on ESPN Radio: When it comes to the Lakers, the difference between the teams appears fairly simple. The Mavs have no answer for Andrew Bynum. Tyson Chandler lacks the size to battle him in the paint, and Brendan Haywood appears to lack the desire to do so.
You can highlight the fact that Kobe Bryant had a game-high 28 points, but you must also note the 21 shot attempts he needed to get there, making only eight … or 38-percent from the floor.
In fact, since the arrival of Marion last season, Kobe has found his points hard to come by against Dallas. In seven games, including this one, Bryant is hitting 40.3 percent of his shots, and only 13 percent of his attempts behind the arc.
Lamar Odom did some damage late with a barrage of three's late, and Pau Gasol got his (20 points, seven rebounds), but the difference was Bynum's superiority in the paint.
Our point was, you sorta know that Kobe is going to take 21 shots and score 28 points. You sorta know that Gasol might go for 20. (The Odom threes were almost clownin' and did help the game turn lopsided, so they were not predicted and might never happen again.)
But Bynum's invincibility inside – and the zebras' willingness to allow him to take big steps forward as a player while taking four steps without every dribbling the ball – make him the factor that Dallas cannot contest.
THE NUMBERS GAME:
*Kobe's 28 points on 8-of-21 shooting doesn't seem terribly efficient until we note he got to the line 15 times.
*Dallas is now 2-10 against West-seeded playoff teams in the 2011 calendar year.
*Dallas scored 12 points in the fourth quarter - the fewest points the team has managed in a fourth since December 2009.
*This is Dallas' first loss with Peja playing at least 15 minutes. The Mavs are now 16-1 in those games.
THE SECOND HARD FOUL: Amidst deepening frustration, Brian Cardinal delivered a clean, but hard foul to Pau Gasol in garbage time, which was followed by a brief interaction between Cardinal and Shannon Brown. Cardinal swung his arm free of Brown, and a moment later, Brown was ejected … making a total of five players sent to the locker room early.
We're being thoughtful here, rather than emotional (we think): Do you want the Mavs to deliver hard fouls on opponents' in-the-paint shots or don't you? C-Webb apparently wants it to be Dirk who does the assaulting. (Genius, C-Webb; that was it's the one guy Dallas cannot afford to play without who gets suspended for a game.) We know the idea guy for that job is Brian Cardinal.
So it's The Custodian who, in Fight I, held Tyson Chandler back when Barnes tossed Stotts to the floor. And it's The Custodian who, in Fight II, delivered the knockdown on Gasol and then wouldn't take any shit from a protesting Shannon Brown.
This IS what we wanted? Right?
NO SILVER LININGS: When you lose by 28 in what may have been the biggest game of the season thus far, there are no silver linings.
The Mavs walked up the mountain with the intention of throwing down those sitting at its peak, and were sent to walk back down in embarrassing fashion. Dirk did his part … but where were the rest? What happened to "six guys in double-figures'' and "balance'' and all that?
PHIL'S PREGAME EVALUATION OF DALLAS: Is this Dallas team better than other seasons' editions?
"I wouldn't say that,'' the Lakers coach said. "I think Chandler brings them a really good defensive presence out there. I think that's great. Marion is a wildcard they can use. Terry is also in those situations. The team speed isn't there they used to have. They don't offensive rebound very well. There's a couple things there that they've done better in the past. That team that won 60-something games, they got eliminated and the team that went to the Finals, those two teams were very good teams and deep teams. So I wouldn't say this team is any better than that team."
There's the prosecution. This morning, who wants to represent the defense?
MAVSELLANEOUS: "Tough one,'' tweets The Matrix, "Tough one, but (that) just made it that (much) more exciting next time we play.'' … The second seed and homecourt advantage in the second round? Gone as a possibility. Want a bright spot? Now Dallas will focus on the right thing, the first thing: Its first-round foe. Let's worry about the Lakers and the Spurs shall we get that far, OK? ... When you know you've lost: When Ron Artest makes a circus layup and then kisses his biceps in celebration – and Mark Cuban is screaming at the refs to call a technical on his for excessive end-zone celebrations … More Peja? Peja Stojakovic scored 13 on 4-of-10 shooting. Tough juggling act for coach, though, as if you do more Peja you essentially do less Marion … The Dallas Mavericks are 53-22 and the Los Angeles Lakers are 54-20 but yes, the gap is larger right now that just that 1.5 games. … Remember when the Lakers lost three games in a row before the All-Star break? They are 16-1 since then. … The Mavericks have lost six of seven against the Lakers at Staples. … Jet is arguing that he didn't intend to injury Blake so he doesn't "see a suspension.'' But Jet also knows that despite his campaigning, that isn't how the rule works. Dallas plays Saturday at Golden State and likely does so without Terry … "There was no fight," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "There were two cock roosters bumping chests is what it was. It heated up, and there was just some pushing and shoving going on." ... Why is it so difficult for TNT's Reggie Miller to pronounce J.J. Barea's name? Dude's been in the NBA for FIVE years. He's DATING MISS UNIVERSE! The league provides a pronunciation guide. Reggie can walk right over to Followill or Cuban or Barea or anybody and ASK ‘em. And yet he keeps spitting out, JJ 'Burrora' ... er, JJ 'Burro' ... um, JJ 'Barrio' ... eh, JJ 'Burrito.' ... There were a lot of Hollywood celebs at the game. We told 'em all, "Say hello to your muddah for me.'' ... A "playoff atmosphere''? Sure, if 28-point losses get you all fired up for a Mavs-Lakers series, which, as it stands now, would occur in Round 2 if the involved combatants get that far.
QUOTEBOARD: "I know that Mark (Cuban) likes to prick the skin of people. But he's not a player. He just sits behind the bench with his suntanned face and has to make comments like that. He's got nothing to do with it. I know that he's provided a great roster that's almost as good as money can buy. But not quite." – Phil Jackson, "pricking'' right back.
TERRY'S TOUGH WEEK: Worth mentioning: This has been an emotion week for Jason Terry.
"It's been a long week for me," said Terry, who missed a practice earlier to travel to his hometown of Seattle to attend his aunt's funeral. "Emotions got the best of me tonight. I already apologized to the team. You just can't let that happen in big games. But the game was getting out of hand, so things happen."
THE FINAL WORD: Is playing on the second night of a b2b an excuse for a loss? Sure. It is an excuse for a 28-point loss? Nope.
"The playoffs started early," Nowitzki said. "That's what the playoffs are all about. Emotions are going to run high and things are going to happen."