THE TOP STORY: It was only days ago that the two seed seemed like a distant dream we had all walked away from, while the four felt like an unlikely slip. From top to bottom the Dallas Mavericks seemed accepting of the fact that the three seed would be their entrance point into the playoffs.
Assisted by a five-game losing streak from the Lakers, and a 15-3 record from the Thunder, including four straight wins, what was once a given is suddenly an uncertainty. Them Mavs and Lakers welcomed Monday with identical records, and the Thunder sat only a game behind the pair.
With both teams holding tie-breakers over Dallas, thanks to their status as division winners, anything from the two-to-four seeds remain in the realm of possibility … despite only two games remaining.
By the end of Monday night, the Mavs momentarily stood alone as the two-seed with an overtime victory, their first venture into extra time this season, over the Houston Rockets 98-91 … and a Thunder victory kept OKC close, a single game behind Dallas.
"The game was all about trying to establish some momentum and some traction,'' coach Rick Carlisle said. "Fortunately, we played some of our best minutes of the game during overtime."
Let this be a lesson to us all: The assumption of Lakers infallibility is part of a myth. It's happened this week. Believing that LA couldn't possibly lose a bunch of games caused Dallas to let its guard down. Maybe the Mavs will stick at two, maybe not.
Did we make this clear enough last night on the tube?
But if the opportunity rises again to assume that the Lakers cannot possibly lose … let's hope Dallas is smarter the second time around.
THE DOG ATE JASON TERRY'S MATH HOMEWORK: And speaking of "smarts'' …
Seeding may be The Top Story, but we came dangerously close to having Jason Terry not knowing the score in the final seconds stealing that headline.
Terry swaggered to the free-throw line with the Mavs down one and 1.5 seconds still on the clock. He'd gotten there cleverly, by leaning into off-balance defender Chuck Hayes to salvage a final regulation possession of 10 seconds that was going nowhere fast. Jet – an 85-percent free-thrower -- calmly found nothing but net with his first attempt. Tied!
But the second hit the back of the rim, bounced out and the buzzer sounded… and Terry turned, ran from the line and celebrated the Mavs victory with his arms raised high and a smile spread wide.
"Yay! We wo … We what?!''
Only, the smile would quickly fade … the score was tied. A victory was ultimately on the way, but yet to arrive.
Doing his best to erase what could have been a significant mental error, Terry scored six of the Mavs 12 overtime-points, including four of the team's first six.
Jet finished as one of three Dallas players to score 20 points, who were also the only players to score double digits, he had 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting, four assists, three rebounds and one steal … and six turnovers.
For us, the six turnovers should be a bigger concern over the gaffe with the score in the final seconds, without them, that lapse at the end of regulation likely doesn't occur … because the game's already won.
Additionally, we have to admit: We were sorta charmed by the way Terry's mates reacted. As Dallas started the OT, Dirk, Marion, Chandler and others were kiddingly giving Jet the business. No hard feelings … just Jet left in the postgame locker room to waver back and forth between conceding his error and pretending he knew all along.
Here's the story Jet wants to stick with:
"No, no, I knew the game was tied up," Terry said. "It was a happy reaction that they knocked the ball out of bounds and didn't have an opportunity to
get a shot at the basket (after the miss).''
Coach Rick Carlisle, are you buying any of this?
"You've got to love a guy who is that enthusiastic after a missed free throw," Rick said wryly.
YOUR NBA HIGHLIGHTS PACKAGE: Here. Watch Our Jet for yourself.
MATRIX NUMBERS: Shawn Marion entered the night needing two steals to become the fifth member of a very elite club. The other members: Hakeem Olajuwon, Karl Malone, Kevin Garnett and Julius Erving … not a bad list to be a part of.
That list is players who have amassed 1,500 steals and 1,000 over the course of their careers. Marion walked to the court with 1,498 steals and 1,086 blocks … he exited with 1,499 steals and 1,086 blocks.
On a side note, Marion has a long way to go if he wants to join Hakeem as the lone member of the 3,000-block and 2,000-steals club … and Hakeem had 3,830 blocks.
Anyway, Marion continued his revival of The Matrix numbers from his past with 21 points on 10-of-14 shooting, four rebounds, four assists and a steal.
Over his last 16 games, he is averaging 16.3 points and 7.3 rebounds while hitting 58 percent of his shots … the only blemish: Dallas is 9-7 in those 16 games.
UBERMAN WATCH: Dirk Nowitzki gathered his 16th double-double of the season, and with the win pushed their record to 13-3 in those games.
He finished with a team-high 23 points on 8-of-22 shooting, 12 rebounds, three assists and two steals.
In fairness, though, Chuck Hayes did a pretty solid job on The UberMan. If you are Hayes, you are kicking yourself for 47 :59 of fine regulation work and then one goof while finding yourself guarding Jet.
TINY TOTS: While Dirk and Tyson Chandler did their parts, combining for 24 rebounds, it was disturbing that a Houston team playing only seven players, with Brad Miller being the lone man to stand taller than 6-9, was able to thoroughly out-rebound the taller Mavs (who played five players listed at 6-9 or taller … in addition to Marion and Jason Kidd) for much of the night.
Though the overall totals would even out at 52 boards for the Rockets, compared to 49 for Dallas … in a game that carried deep playoff ramifications for the Mavericks, while bearing no significance to the playoff-eliminated Rockets … Houston often appeared to hold an edge in desire when it came to loose balls.
Note their 17 offensive rebounds, compared to six for Dallas.
You may point to the high number of three-point attempts missed (a combined 32), leading to an inordinate amount of "long" rebounds, there remains little reason these seven Houston players should have been able to steal an advantage on the glass over these Mavs … under these circumstances, with playoff seedings on the line and Houston playing without their leading rebounder, Luis Scola.
KIDD'S MINUTES COUNT: "I don't want to run his minutes up and we won't."
Those were the words from Rick Carlisle prior to the game against the Rockets in reference to Jason Kidd.
Kidd played 39 minutes, one of five Mavs to play over 35 minutes.
Dirk led the way with 39:30, Marion played 37:42, Tyson Chandler played 35:08 and Jason Terry was on the court for 36:25.
That's what you might call "running up their minutes.''
If rest was a goal, these totals must be seen as less than ideal … and they came on the second night of a back-to-back, even if the first night left no one particularly taxed.
But we'll argue, as we did on the FS Southwest "Mavs Live'' pregame show, that the importance of the wins overrides the saving of a minute here or there.
And for one night, Rick agrees with us.
QUOTEBOARD: So is Jet now rooting for the Spurs to beat LA, thus helping Dallas to No. 2?
No, not necessarily,'' Jet said. "I never cheer for them."
ODD DECISION? Brendan Haywood was the player left inactive. On the back of a handful of solid performances, this decision strikes us as rather strange.
Does Haywood need the rest … while averaging a career-low in minutes per game?
If this was based on the matchup rather than the need for rest, why do it? Was the need for DeShawn Stevenson (the only active Mav not to play) that great?
We have all become greatly aware that Haywood is a player bound to his emotional leanings. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but knowing this, why toy … or risk an action that may be perceived as "toying" through Big Wood's eyes … if you don't have to?
Haywood is sure to be a primary piece in the Mavs playoff rotations, so why even approach a gesture he may view as a possible slight on his play?
Hopefully this is nothing, and Carlisle surely knows the mind of his center better than those looking in, but it seems like a needless risk. Of course, if it is for rest, and was discussed with Haywood prior to the game, we have no reason to state he may not have been on board with the whole thing.
But it bears watching.
48 MINUTES OF IMPERFECTION: The FS Southwest postgame show ...
MAVSELLANEOUS: Houston played without Luis Scola, their second leading scorer at 18.3 points per game and leading rebounder (8.2 per game) … They were also without Kyle Lowry, their third leading scorer (13.5 points per game) and leader in assists (6.7 per game) … The Rockets played only seven players, the Mavs played 11 … There was a brief appearance by Corey Brewer. In nine minutes he again showed the level of hustle we've begun to associate with him, grabbing four rebounds and a steal, though he missed all three of his shot attempts. Still, have to love the energy he brings, and have to think there should be room on the active roster for that presence …
Brian Cardinal hit 1-of-2 behind the arc and is now shooting 47.7 percent for the season … Cardinal has 41 made three-point baskets and 56 rebounds on the season … Roddy Beaubois continued to struggle, finishing with six points on 2-of-5 shooting, three rebounds, two assists, one block and three turnovers. … Boy, you watch The Ianimal play receiver and finisher in the two-man game – as he did midway through the fourth when he tied it at 78-all with a three-point play – and you wonder: Can he do that at all regularly? As a backup 5? As a backup 4? This postseason? Next year? … Houston's won 42, but it is hard to take seriously a lineup of 6-6 guys, a rotation of only those seven guys, and an atmosphere in Houston that seemed something less than electric. … Dallas breaks a three-game road losing streak. …
THE NUMBERS GAME: Crunching …
*Dallas gave away 20 turnovers, including eight in the first quarter. This marked the sixth time all season the Mavs have reached 20 turnovers. Surprisingly, they are 6-0 in these games.
*This was Dallas' first OT game of the season. The Mavs almost became the first team to navigate through a full season without an OT game since could've become the first team since the 2001-02 Pistons to do that. That team was coached by? Rick Carlisle.
*KIDDIRK opened by missing a combined 10 of 12 shots.
*The win is the 56th of the season for the Mavs, adding one to their total from last season.
*The Mavs finish on the road at 28-13. That will at least tie them for the NBA's best. Dallas has held that outright honor four times before in this decade ('01-02, '02-03, '06-07, '09-10).
THE FINAL WORD: So where does Dallas stand? How can the Mavs clinch the second seed?
1. With a win against the Hornets and a single Lakers loss in their final two games against San Antonio Tuesday night (where the question becomes: will Pop play to win this game, possibly setting up a second-round matchup with the Lakers?) and Sacramento on Wednesday night.
2. The Mavs can still clinch the second seed with a season-closing loss to New Orleans, but would then have to rely on the Lakers losing both of their final two games and the Thunder losing their final contest.
How do the Mavs clinch at least the third seed?
If the Thunder loses their finale Wednesday against the Bucks, or the Mavericks win Wednesday against the Hornets they are guaranteed nothing below the third seed.
Impressive enough. Knowledge they need. They oughta just have someone besides Jason Terry in charge of counting up this stuff.