OKC 104, Dallas 102: Are Mavs Bent Or Broken?
The Mavs are 104-102 losers at the buzzer in OKC, and now at 0-3 are just one of two defending champs in NBA history to start the ensuing season so poorly. (The '69 Celtics, in answer to your question.)
"The basketball gods are not on our side right now,' says Carlisle.
Kidd and Fish, DB.com 1-on-1 Video Visit
Dirk + Thunder = Efficiency
There's something about Oklahoma City that just brings it out of Dirk.
He steps out on the court, smiles at Serge Ibaka, chuckles at Nick Collison, and proceeds to put on a show.
It's not unheard of for Nowitzki to put on a show in the NBA as he's been doing it in league for more than a decade now, but OKC in particular brings out the efficiency in his game. It hasn't been very long since his 48-points-on-15-shots performance in the Western Conference Finals and he tried to make sure he kept that form intact against the Thunder this time around.
Through three quarters, Dirk was looking at 20 points on only 10 shots, using an 8-for-8 free throw stat to help spruce up his scoring line, as he always seems to do.
By the end of the game, Dirk was 9-of-17 shooting for 29 points. That's unbelievable efficiency, even for a guy who has made a career off of maximizing points in as few shots as possible.
Even the Thunder fans have picked up on this with some healthy hate you learn to have when a player like Dirk consistently ruins your day. They left happy though as "their Dirk,'' Kevin Durant, ruined the Mavs' day with a buzzer beating three-pointer.
Durant's line? 30 points on 16 shots.
He was just a tad better than Dirk and the Thunder were just a tad better than the Mavs.
Likewise, Vince's 3 with 1.4 seconds left was monster. Durant's 3 at the buzzer was monsterer.
And now it's time for Dirk's State of the Mavs Address:
"This league is cruel,'' Nowitzki said. "A loss is a loss, and now we're 0-3. (But) I think we're going to be a good team that's tough to beat."
One-on-One With Cuban
We will write about this extensively in the coming days, as per the request of so many Premium Mavs Fans who want to know if Tyson Chandler's accusation is true: That these veteran Mavs are dismayed at their owner having "given up the season'' in order to have cap room for other teams.
But here's a sampler:
"Well, that's Tyson, right?'' Cuban tells DB.com. "Ridiculous. Tyson knows that I talk to our veteran players. Somebody who doesn't think Dirk or J-Kidd don't understand ... that's really insulting to them.''
The slow start isn't a result of an emotional funk caused by free-agent losses, Cuban says. Rather, it's the result of a team that relies on precision starting a season with virtually no training camp.
"We play as a team and it's the only way we can play,'' he said. "Miami, they can do it differently. They can roll the ball out there and play. Us, it's going to take a little time.''
Stay tuned on this. We've not only had a private conversation with Cuban on the subject, but with Kidd as well. Oh, by the way, Rick also has his thoughts on it. ... and it's powerful stuff:
"There's every built-in excuse in the world for our team -- if you want to look for them and buy into them -- but we're not going to have any of that,'' Carlisle said. "Our owner did the right thing breaking up the team -- (the right thing) for the franchise.''
"And as the coach, I've got to make sure they're doing the right things to do that. "Hey, that's the cold-blooded truth.''
Stay tuned on this. Thanks to Cuban and Kidd and DB.com, it gets better.
The Delonte West – Vince Carter Spectrum
Delonte West earned the start in this one in an attempt to check the speedy Russell Westbrook, and the results were quite positive. West filled up the box score with 15 points, six assists, four rebounds and two steals. On the other end West held Westbrook in check when he was matched up on the Thunder guard. Though Delonte was caught out of position once or twice, he kept Westbrook in front of him for most of the night. Westbrook would finish with 16 points, most of those coming when West was on the bench or had rotated off as the Mavs opted to employ the zone early and often in this one.
We visited one-on-one with West as he limped to the team bus, insisting nothing was wrong with him physically and smiling at our suggestion that his fiestiness -- he pounded Maynor on purpose in attacking a loose ball (triggering the near fight mentioned below) and he won a hand-check slap fight with Harden -- is a nice fit for this Mavs team of nice fellows.
"I'm not doing it for any reason except that's how I play,'' Delonte grinned.
In a sense, Delonte West is not only effectively replacing JJB, but DeShawn, too.
On the other end of the spectrum, aside from one shining moment, was Carter. Vince was the ninth man off the bench, and played at small forward instead of his usual guard spot much of the night. He again took too many head-scratching shots and would finish with eight points on three of eight shooting with three rebounds.
His loudest moment of the night came in a heated confrontation with Serge Ibaka when he was overheard saying "Come On! Who you think you're talking to?"
That wasn't Carter's only fireworks moment as he buried an open three-pointer that should have won the game for the Mavericks with 1.4 seconds left off a nice shovel assist from Dirk.
Said Carlisle, "I can't tell you how impressed I am with Vince Carter after three games," maybe both propping up his struggling scorer and celebrating the eight-time All-Star's willingness to buy into "Be Ready.'' "He is willing to do anything we ask of him to help us win."
However, we argue that too many possessions still end with shots from Carter and his play, at times, seems to halt the ball movement that keeps this offense humming.
Vince's fitness level is not quite where he'd like it; that's no ready-for-the-beach body. But we do like his attitude -- based on his acceptance of going from starter three games ago to ninth man this time around and what he says about it.
"This was an encouraging game for us,'' said guard Jason Terry, and yes, in the sense that they never fell behind by 30, it was encouraging.
Westbrook vs. Durant
Kevin Durant will not allow there to be such a thing.
With 3:20 left in the game, the Thunder forced a turnover and Westbrook out-sprinted the field toward a dunk. Somehow, the Mavs' Jason Terry gave just enough chase to foul Westbrook on the slam, sending the Thunder point guard catapulting into the third-row of the Chesapeake Energy Arena seats.
And we watched for who would be the teammate to rush into the audience to pull Westbrook to his feet.
It was Kevin Durant.
And when Westbrook was at the line, about to complete the three-point play, we watched to see which teammate was waving his arms in leading Thunder fans to chant "West-Brook! West-Brook!''?
It was Kevin Durant.
This is pretty much the highest compliment DallasBasketball.com can give: Kevin Durant's skill, will and class hold that franchise together in precisely the same way The UberMan holds together his.
In a win over the Grizzlies on Wednesday, Westbrook shot 0-of-13 from the floor following an early-game altercation with Durant. There is a history in OKC of the gifted Westbrook losing his cool and the calm Durant having to ice down his teammate's emotions.
"It wasn't nothing that people should be blowing out of proportion," Durant said of the conflict, wisely addressing it while also downplaying it. "It happens every single day. Teams go through emotions, things happen. It's a competitive sport. Everybody's not going to always come in and be happy every single day."
And then there is the Westbrook take, dripping with his typically juvenile smart-assedness: "What happened? I don't know what you're talking about."
Against Dallas, Westbrook was clearly carrying some baggage from the previous day; anger, embarrassment, a feeling that he is unfairly cast as a second banana, something. (We lean toward the last one, and truly believe that if OKC ever collapses it'll be because Westbrook's addled brain tells him he should be in charge of his own team.) And for much of the game, the baggage weighed him down. In a game that included an absurd seven turnovers from him, Westbrook was both tentative and sloppy – at least until that three-point-play dunk in the final few minutes, part of his 16-point total.
And that helped set up Durant's improbable 30-foot winner.
"It was crazy, a crazy course of events," said Durant. "As a kid, you dream about hitting about hitting a game-winning shot in the NBA. It was a dream come true.''
And the bromance lives. Because Kevin Durant holds it together.
Three-Headed Center Position
The Mavs are pleased with the production they received from the center position -- pleased to the point that Jet says the trio will "make everybody forget Tyson Chandler.''
Jet, let's be encouraged ... not stupid, OK?
As a group, they accounted for 19 points and nine rebounds, including six offensive boards that helped the Mavericks score 16 second-chance points to the Thunder's six. On defense, they held the Thunder to 36 points in the paint equaling the Oklahoma City's total. As a group, they struggled keeping the Thunder away from the rim as the Oklahoma City would finish the game shooting nearly 59% % from the field. Though to be fair, there were plenty of lapses in front of them.
Individually, Haywood seemed to be open all night down low and by our count, scored all of his points on dunks. Carlisle said of Big Wood's play, "He set good screens and put himself in a position to be successful." In other words, they fed the big dog some bones ... and he created of himself a wide target for entry passes.
Big thumbs up for Big Wood.
Similarly, Mahimi, would finish with nine points, two rebounds and a steal. He still looked not quite ready for prime time as he was too often out of position on defense. On the other end, the work is paying off, as he is developing a nice offensive touch.
Sean Williams, for his heady work against the Nuggets, earned some early playing time and entered in the first quarter as the No. 2 center. He was active early, displaying almost-comical athleticism while grabbing two offensive rebounds to go with two points. However he would not enter the game again. (Something we will explore below.)
Them's Fightin' Words!
We had the privilege of being close enough to the OKC court to hear two pivotal exchanges between the participants. One is a pro-Mavs gem, the other a brain fart from Dirk.
Vince to Ibaka is gold. Dirk's comments, not so much.
The Mavs gave up a late-game possession on a moving-screen call against Dirk -- one that had some justification. Dirk trotted down the floor dog-cussing ref Scott Wall, who took it until Dirk called him a "Suck-Ass.''
And then he said it again. Right in Wall's mug.
And in doing so, Dirk gave away a point ... after giving away a possession.
Mavericks Defense vs Kevin Durant
Well, they thought they had something there for a minute. Or even for 47 minutes and 59 seconds.
Shawn Marion opened the game attempting to guard Kevin Durant and seemed the most effective at keeping the Thunder forward in front of him. The Mavs also turned to a healthy dose of zone defense in the first half attempting to the speedy Thunder from the paint, and results were mixed.
Though the Mavericks certainly seemed more cohesive on the defensive end of the floor than they were in their first two games, communicating far more than they had been, KD was used cleverly by Brooks ... in the second half essentially playing "point forward'' so the ball would start (and often end) in his hands.
KD eventually seemed to take whatever he wanted in this one. He missed a big 3 late and he was flawed from the line. But Durant would finish with 30 points and 11 rebounds and again, on a number of occasions Durant served as the primary initiator of the offense with excellent results, as he finished with six assists, looking every bit the capable distributor.
"Right now he's probably the best player in the league," Rick said. "He came off and made a phenomenal shot. I don't know how far, 30, 32 feet, whatever it was, he's capable of doing that."
Overall, the Mavericks defense faltered towards the end of the third and into the fourth quarters as the Thunder seemed to be able to drive at will. That opened up shots from outside and Oklahoma City would finish shooting almost 43 percent from downtown. Too many times, the Mavericks were caught out of position and resorted to fouling the Thunder, sending them to the line for 32 free throws.
However, as Carlisle mentioned, "The basketball gods are not on our side right now."
We love the Mavs' new dark-blue alternate uni's and the players love 'em, too; Jet and others were suited up way before they needed to be. But gosh, we wish there was a touch of the old green in there. ... The trick of starting Delonte against smaller guards is a keeper. ... For a second there wet thought Marion might be trying to add the 3-ball back to his repetoire. Don't do it, Trix ... We like the idea of two ballhandlers playing together as with the Kidd/Delonte backcourt, though it squeezes out so many other options -- including using Roddy B and DoJo, who never made it off the bench ... Besides being a little badass, Delonte is making a habit of finding Dirk when he's open. That's a habit that will earn him playing time. ... When did Westbrook finally start going off? Immediately upon West leaving game. ... Dirk remarked that it's nice to finally see signs of life from this team, but are there really moral victories for a champion? ... Gee whiz Perkins has lost a lot of weight. But he's still carrying around about 30 pounds of excess ugly. ... Jason Kidd knows the real goal. "At the end of the day, just make the playoffs." We've pushed that theme all along, knowing it's all along been the private view of the organization. However, there is no denying that at 0-3, that feels an awfully long way away. ... Hey, on that last defensive, play, when Dallas accidently sent six men onto the court and then Rick waved Delonte back to the bench: Shouldn't Delonte have stayed and Jet sat down?
Some Truths About Sean Williams
Your All-Access Mavs Pass is full-service, so we are here to report that a) yes, Sean Williams will once again try chocolate-covered almonds someday; b) that no, that LeFreakElastiqe Twitter account isn't his; Sean was disappointed that somebody had created a fake until we explained to him that parody is the sincerest form of respect; and that c) dude is legit.
And not just as "an energy guy.'' This is no gimmick. This is what our sources down at the Texas Legends said it would be: a polished defensive player and a rubber-band-like athlete.
Sean Williams absolutely made his presence felt in the Thunder game. The good news is that he made sure everyone knew he was there on the offensive boards and with a big dunk to bring some much needed energy to the Mavs in the first half. The bad news is that he also made some negative waves with some silly fouls and a technical foul for hanging on the rim after said big dunk.
This series of plays perfectly sums up what Williams can potentially mean to the Mavericks. The guy is pure energy, sure, and that's how it works with young guys with springs for legs. They can come in and lay down a huge dunk to fire up his side, then turn around and foul a guy with 23 seconds on the shot clock while trying to gain approval from his new team. Williams only played foru minutes and was clearly all over the floor making his presence felt with two points, two rebounds, and two fouls.
But the mistakes? He can be coached out of those. And the should-been blocked shot? That was a superstar call given KD.
There is one department Williams definitely improved in in Game 3, though. He accounted for zero throw-ups and you know his teammates approved of that.
Rick Carlisle Gold
Insight, unedited, without some editor or writer putting his jack-ass spin on it:
Lamar Not Fitting In
It still remains a bit unclear how Carlisle intends to make Lamar Odom consistently comfortable in the offense.
A popular theory continues to be having him play right alongside Dirk at small forward for periods of time, but something just seems… off. Even while trying him next to Shawn Marion at power forward, Odom just doesn't look totally comfortable yet. One daunting factor hovering over Odom is there is a history of difficulty while squeezing him into the puzzle.
When he was on the Lakers, it was always odd how he didn't quite fit in when Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum were both on the floor. He always found his best productivity next to one or the other, but not both. The Lakers were never truly able to take advantage of a lineup with all of their best players on the floor. What does that say for him?
It's tough to say, but tonight's line of 2-for-11 shooting for four points in 17 minutes doesn't say much for his current situation.
It's still very early yet in the Odom project so no harsh judgments should be passed, but it is clear there is no natural spot for Odom to fit right into now. That was the case in Los Angeles, and so far it's the same in Dallas.
Now, he and Dirk communicated wonderfully when choosing their wing sides in the zone defense. And Odom drove to the basket with relative ease before so often failing to finish. And teammates have nothing but good things to say about him.
Ah, but then there's Carlisle's overall assessment, without naming names, of course.
"We need some other guys to step up who aren't getting it done,'' Rick said.
DB.com huddled privately with Jason Kidd, and we asked him who Rick is talking about. Kidd acknowledged how excited he will be when "Odom comes around,'' and there you go.
The good news is that Carlisle and Odom are smart enough guys to carve out a niche for a player with such a useful set of tools. The bad news is it will take something the Mavs don't have much of right now.
ESPN's Video Summary
Starting Sunday night, Fox Sports Southwest will be in charge and Bob Ortegel and our own Fish and the familiar gang will do its thing. But for this one, we'll let ESPN give it a try ...
The Final Word
Last weekend Carlisle explained his golf analogy.
"It's kind of like Gary Player used to say when he would go to one tournament where there were Bermuda greens,'' Carlisle said. "He'd say, 'You know what? Bermuda's my favorite kind of grass to putt on.' Then when he'd go to another tournament and there was bentgrass, he would say, 'You know what? I love bentgrass.''
There may still be lots to love about the defending champions and as this is just opening week in the NBA, there are many more greens to be played.
But right now, the Dallas Mavericks are bent. And, for the moment, broken.