All-Access: Lessons Learned In Mavs Win

Don't write this off as a game against a lousy foe and a win forgettable except for the headline-stealing absence of Dirk. Mavs 83, Hornets 81 is, in one way, the most significant game of the year - because of what we learned about the Mavs and because of what they learned about themselves. Your All-Access Pass:

FOREWARD: The year was 2007. Record players and rotary dial phones dominated our houses. Dinosaurs were just beginning to be relegated to the outskirts of towns before becoming extinct entirely … and it was the last time the Dallas Mavericks won a game in New Orleans.

Without their best player, Dirk Nowitzki , Dallas held on through a final push from the Hornets to take an 83-81 victory after Jarrett Jack's last-second follow to his intentionally missed free throw fell harmlessly away.
As you would have expected once the news that Dirk would sit for four games, it wasn't always pretty, and it may have been closer than it would have otherwise been, but a win is a win … and that's all the standings recognize.

Speaking of those standings, San Antonio lost in overtime to Houston (with Tim Duncan resting and Manu Ginobili still injured) to slip back into a tie with Dallas at 10-7, leaving Memphis in first place by percentage points at 9-6.

THE BIG GERMAN NEWS: The biggest news of the night came before the opening tip was tossed up when Rick Carlisle announced that Dirk Nowitzki would miss the next four games to clean up some "unresolved physical issues."

"It's knee-related. It's conditioning-related." Carlisle said, adding the odd phrase "unresolved physical issues'' onto the pile.

We've got 10 Takes on the situation here and in this space, we add this: Due to the compacted lockout-schedule there is little time for practice or conditioning outside of the actual games. Should a player require something more, there simply isn't time. If a player were to force more, he runs the risk of becoming overly fatigued during the games.

Taking time away from the games allows Dirk to work out as much, for as long, as needed without putting himself in danger. His workouts can be dictated by the needs of his body rather than the NBA's compressed schedule. It also doesn't sound too serious, given that he's not being shut down completely.

Speaking on a technical front, Dirk missed the New Orleans win and will miss the next three homes games against Phoenix, Minnesota and Utah … to return against the Spurs on Jan. 29.

DIRK SPEAKS: Bullet-pointing Dirk's explanation:

•"They approached me with it (Friday) at the meeting and I wasn't thrilled at the beginning. We talked about it in the meeting and I just thought it was a good decision for everybody.''

"I couldn't go by anybody on the dribble, and that's part of my game right now. I was just basically a pop-up shooter every time I caught it. ... And if I didn't have I had to swing it because I just couldn't make a move and couldn't go by anybody and just didn't feel comfortable.''

• "I couldn't lift and run and do the stuff I needed to do because my knee was swollen most of the time. So this week my knee felt better, and this next week gives me some time to lift and really get back to where it should be.''

• "I'm not helping right now any way, and I think the guys are better off when I'm not out there.''

ODOM GETS THE START: Outside of getting Dirk healthy, the biggest positive that may come out of this situation could be the opportunity to allow Lamar Odom to start and hopefully find a few additional minutes, a few more shots, a few more defensive reps … a few more chances to ingrain himself into the fabric of this team.
Though we hope Odom's body will allow his minutes to creep above the 26 he played against the Hornets, it was still six above his average for the season, and he justified the decision to start him by scoring a team high 16 points, matching the 16 Delonte West put in. Included in that total were seven over just six minutes in the final quarter, leading the Mavs.

His aggression changed the feel of the fourth quarter where Dallas missed all seven of their 3-point tries (4-of-26 for the game), though two of those came from Odom. However, it was Odom who earned four free throws, standing as the only Mavs player to go to the line during the period before the Hornets began intentionally fouling in the final minute.

Which lands us at our next point. Odom needs to quickly get his conditioning to a level that allows him to be available to close a game.

Why wasn't he allowed to be on the floor at the end? Hey, isn't Lamar Odom one of Dallas' five best players when Dirk (and Vince) are unavailable?

The reason LO didn't finish is because "he was dead tired,'' reported Carlisle, and that's a good enough reason for us -- for now.

West earned the right to finish. He was quicker than any defender the Hornets could throw at him, but Odom provided the sole one-on-one matchup that so heavily favored the Mavs as to be worthy of being leaned on down the final minutes.

Of course, it's hard to voice too much displeasure with Odom -- who admitted he feels like his "body sometimes betrays'' him -- as Dirk sits to work on his own conditioning.

And as we said on the Fox Sports Southwest MAVS LIVE postgame show: Do you really begrudge any members of last year's title team for using this summer to celebrate or goof off or whatever? And given the lockout oddity, is it not somewhat understandable that an NBA player might be behind on his conditioning ... maybe even five months behind, if you consider the lack of a regular summer, a regular camp and a regular schedule of fall games?

SHOULDN'T WE BE TALKING ABOUT MARION & HAYWOOD?: Funny thing about the mainstream media: Guys write and talk about how Mavs like Marion and Haywood are "underappreciated.''
Well, boys, if you feel that way ... why don't you write and speak more appreciatively about them?

There's nothing "underappreciated'' about Marion and Haywood in this space. Quietly, or not so quietly the last two games -- where he's averaged 18 points, 57.1 field-goal percentage and 9.5 rebounds – Shawn Marion has been playing some great basketball.

"Right now,'' Carlisle said, "he's our best player.''

Trix has continued to be a truly elite defensive player while taking what's given to him on offense … not to mention having a double-double in two of the last three games, with the game in between being his 22-point outburst.

From shutting down a then red-hot Kobe Bryant to anyone else the league has thrown his way, Marion continues to show us that you only need nine straight fingers to be effective in this league.

Joining him as a driving force of what must currently be described as an elite defense is Brendan Haywood, who has stepped up to the challenge with a zest for the game that would have seemed unimaginable early last season.

Big Wood and "zest'' in the same sentence!

While this has carried a slight negative – Big Wood's forcing of some poor shots on offense and the occasional lack of willingness to make the smart pass out of a crowd – it is easily outweighed by what he does bring to the court.

He is the fullback who the Mavs allow a couple of goalline carries as a reward for all the grunt work he does.

Big Wood may lack the physical tools to match what Tyson Chandler brought in terms of help defense, but has impacted the game with elite post defense and by making his presence felt on the offensive glass, averaging just over what Chandler was able to give last season on a per-minute basis coming into the Saturday night's contest.

Due to the fact that these two fill roles that do not ask them to score 20 a night, they may be overlooked at times, but they deserve their recognition and your appreciation.

Or, in the case of, your continued appreciation.

GROUNDED: As a pair, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd went 0-of-12 behind the arc and 3-of-22 total against the Hornets.

For both, this has become a trend as of late … though Terry seems incapable of missing those "clutch" attempts in the final minutes of close games, as he did again against the Hornets with a pair of free throws with 5.9 seconds to play to put the Mavs up three.

For the four-game road trip Terry averaged: 10 points, 26.4 FG%, 19.2 3PT%.

Undoubtedly, he'll be happy to see the road trip end and return home.

Over the last nine games he's played, Kidd is averaging: 2.3 points, 19.5 FG%, 12.5 3PT%, 4.8 rebounds, 6 assists, 1.8 steals and 2.6 turnovers.

Considering that he's hit at least 34 percent of his 3-point tries since rejoining Dallas, shooting over 40 percent in three of his four seasons back, it's hard to think his shot won't eventually come around. Combine this with what feels like a rash of uncharacteristic turnovers, perhaps primarily due to the timing of a select few, and you've got a pair of guards who need to turn their game around as quickly as possible … especially as Dirk misses the next three games.

ADDITIONAL OPPORTUNTIES: With the absence of Dirk comes the chance for others to step up, for minutes to trickle down to those unaccustomed to regularly receiving them.

Against the Hornets, Yi Jianlian was the first power forward from the bench and he quickly drew our eye by climbing high to meet DeJuan Summers on a dunk attempt, turning him away with force behind a clean block.

Unfortunately, the highlights for Yi ended there and other than the block and a personal foul the only statistic he'd leave in the boxscore in 5:47 of play would be three turnovers. It may not have been as bad as it sounds, but we'll expect more from him in future chances. And with the team back in town, we're looking forward to asking some staff members for their thoughts on Yi's fit.

In the second half it was Brandan Wright drawing duties as the first power forward from the bench, and he continued to do what he's done all season in limited minutes: made us want more.

In 6:40 of action he hit both shots he took from the field and both from the line as well for six points, one rebound and a gorgeous assist that led to a highlight-reel dunk from Ian Mahinmi.

While much of his game remains a question mark -- he's skinny and foul-prone -- there is no denying his supreme athleticism, which includes a knack for being able to finish almost any alley-oop tossed his way, and his ability to score efficiently.

We'll assume that Carlisle will continue to give both of these guys their chances to earn minutes while Dirk sits, and we look forward to seeing what they can do with their opportunities.

Yeah, it's sort of an "American Idol'' audition. And yeah, it's the part of "American Idol'' where sometimes it seems like none of them can sing. But we bet a week from now, we'll have positive things to say about power forward contributions ... Odom, Wright, Yi and The Custodian, too.

HEAD WEST: From the first time we saw him play we threw praise in the direction of Delonte West. He continues to not disappoint, tying for the team lead in scoring with 16 points as he hit 6-of-10 from the floor, grabbed five rebounds, six assists, one steal and one block.

West seems to have the motor of a Brian Cardinal type, unable to do anything but go all out. He offers the penetration of JJ Barea, while also having the height to punish the rim if given a chance. He has that positive air of "crazy" that every team needs to some degree, that DeShawn Stevenson offered a season ago. In short, he's been everything this team needs him to be … and probably a little more.
We especially loved how Kidd relied on Delonte to bring the ball up the floor late, letting him be the designated foulee ... and how Delonte cooly dropped 'em both.

For someone greatly exceeding their contract and the outside expectations placed in him … you need only head West.

WE CAN DISAGREE RIGHT?: We were ready to question the fact that Odom was not allowed to finish this game before statements after the contest seemed to justify that decision based on Odom's level of fatigue, but there is another we'll continue to question.

With only 1.8 seconds on the clock and Jarrett Jack having sunk his first free-throw attempt the Mavs were up two and there was only one way Dallas could lose the game: if the Hornets rebounded an intentional miss and put it back in for a score.
There will be no offensive play from the Mavs. If the rebound is grabbed by Dallas and the rebounder is fouled at least half of that 1.8 seconds would have run off the clock, maybe more. There was essentially one play remaining and only one way to lose or head to overtime, and that was dependant on New Orleans grabbing the rebound.

For this play, the players on the court for Dallas: Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Delonte West, Shawn Marion and Ian Mahinmi.

Errrr, Rick ...

When all that is needed is a rebound, wouldn't that be a time not to have three guards on the floor?

We certainly won't go as far as to condemn Carlisle, who has earned the right to be recognized as a great coach, but that doesn't mean we can't wonder aloud. Does that make us ungrateful … especially after a win?

MAVSELLANEOUS: Though New Orleans struggled from the field, they did not abandon their aggression, earning 32 FT attempts to the Mavs' 20. In fact, the Hornets made more free throws than the Mavs attempted, keeping them in this one despite the difference in FG%. ... Season highs: Marion with rebounds at 12 and Odom with points at 16. ... Dallas was atrocious from downtown; Dallas shot 4-of-26 from the arc for 15%. Somehow the Hornets were worse, shooting 2-of-19 for only 11%. ... Excellent execution by Dallas in the final N.O. chase to the bucket, as Delonte attempted to draw a blocking foul on a screen (almost good acting!) and Kidd issued the semi-intentional foul on Jack at just the right time. ... Odom shot 6-of-14 but was +9 ... 37,772. That's the number of minutes Dirk has played since the start of last decade, and it's the most of anybody in the NBA.

DEAD DEFENSIVE DEMONS: Ah, the Mavs defense! Remember when it was fun to call them the "Allas Mavericks" because they played no D?

In the immortal words of Rick Carlisle, "Those demons are officially destroyed."

These days, the Mavs are top-five in the NBA in scoring defense, defensive FG%, defensive efficiency, defensive rebound percentage, second-chance points allowed, opponents' turnover percentage, and opponents points in the paint.

At some point we will have to start calling this defense dominant. We aren't there yet, but it may be coming.

Here, Dallas held a 14th straight opponent to under 100 points (that's a franchise record), held the Hornets to only 37% shooting, 11% on threes while blocking six shots and snatching eight steals. It's worth noting however that New Orleans isn't exactly an offensive juggarnaut, coming in at 28th in scoring 86.8 points per game and 27th in 3pt FG% at 27.5%.

They also limited New Orleans to only two second-chance points. (Dallas would enjoy a 16-2 advantage in that department.)

THE NUMBERS GAME: The Big Calculator ...

• Hornets on the Boards: New Orleans is a strong rebounding team. In fact they are sixth in NBA in rebounds per game 44.2, fourth in opponents rebounds per game and second in rebound differential +4.1. Impressive then, that they were outrebounded by Dallas 48-41.

• Mavs Minus Dirk and Carter: We knew the Mavs would struggle to find offense without The UberMan, and Carlisle will have to get creative without Carter or Dirk. In fact, the Mavs have only two five-man lineups that are positive in plus-minus that don't include Carter or Nowitzki.

Tonight it was the three-guard lineup of Kidd-West-Terry playing a key role.

They did it with balance in this one, with four players scoring at least 12.

THE FINAL WORD: With Dirk wearing a suit on the bench, there's no room to style-point a win. Despite our above questioning of strategy on the final play, we don't intend to do that here. A win is a win. While their star sits, Dallas need only survive … and against the Hornets that's exactly what they did.

Odom did his part as the starting power forward. Marion continues to thrive under the radar. Haywood has made a home in the paint. Roddy Beaubois continues to show signs of progress. And, the Mavs were able to survive.

We learned what's going on with Dirk's knee (if not what the heck "unresolved physical issues'' means). We learned what Rick thinks of Marion's excellence. We learned that Odom gives a crap, taking inspiration from Dallas' dismal history in New Orleans. We learned about Delonte as clutch.

And they learned all the above things about themselves, too.

The Mavs did not cave to worthless pleading with the officials, despite the fact that the Hornets took 32 free-throw attempts to only 20 for Dallas (including the four from intentional fouls). They did not wallow in the shooting slumps of Kidd or Terry. They didn't pine over Dirk being on the pine.
No, they did what they had to do and claimed the win, overcoming the singular glitch (allowing their 13-point lead at the end of the third to be carved away at) to gain some realization of who and what they are.

"I'm very, very proud of the way after the first two losses on the trip we bounced back and really gutted two games out,'' Carlisle said, citing the last-second losses at LA/LA and then the gut-outs at Utah and New Orleans. "Which is not easy to do."

They survived … not easily ... and they won. And only if you watch very closely do you become aware that Mavs 83, Hornets 81 is, in one way, the most significant game of the year.

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