All-Access: 2nd-Half Fold, 3rd Straight Loss
When you find opportunity knocking on your door, you don't shuffle off to make a sandwich, you don't pause to see what's on the tube and you don't maybe try to fit in a quick nap before hustling to answer that door.
If you do delay, the odds are you'll find nothing but silence to greet you when you finally swing that door open. Unfortunately, that's exactly what Dallas did against the Cleveland Cavaliers, wasting another strong performance from Dirk Nowitzki and literally giving the game away with a season-high 21 turnovers, falling 91-88 and fumbling away any positive feelings that may have lingered from the return to form of their superstar.
That makes a three-game losing streak for the Dallas Mavericks, burying the three-game winning streak that directly preceded it.
THE NBA HIGHLIGHT REEL: Such as they are ...
SECOND-HALF SUCKITUDE (that's a word): Thanks to Coop for the quick calculations: In the second half of the last three games the Mavs have averaged 35 points on 30.6-percent shooting after having scored over 50 points in the first half of each of those games.
For all of the depth this team has, there are times when we can argue that there is only one true point guard on the roster. Behind Jason Kidd is a group of shooting guards being asked to either learn the position, or play ever so slightly outside of their comfort zone … or both.
Delonte West has been great for the Mavs. Without hesitation he's leapt headfirst into any role asked of him. He has the ability to create off the dribble, penetrate and manufacture space for those around him. His defense can be near-elite at times, certainly never a liability. There's a lot to like, a lot to praise him for.
Last season was swept away by injury for Roddy Beaubois, leaving him tangled as he tried to play catch up a year ago. Now he essentially returns for his sophomore campaign without the benefit of a true training camp, with rules prohibiting contact with his coaches all offseason, severing another avenue of growth. For all of the hope, expectations and hype the truth stands that he remains very raw.
Though their size makes them ideal to defend opposing point guards, it doesn't hold an inherent skill for running an offense, particularly when the train begins to wobble, threatening to let go of the tracks altogether. Neither has displayed the calm, the patience required to lean in the right direction to bring both sides of the train back to the tracks, to steady what is shaken.
In the second half of the Pacers' game, the Dallas offense staggered and then seemed to completely trip over itself while lacking the ability to get their best player involved in the proceedings until the chance at a win had been ripped away.
Against the Cavs came a living echo of the prior – and the third straight second-half letdown. You could see the designs, the diagrams of the architect on the court as Dirk was run off of corner screens and repeatedly arrived at the top of the key to receive the ball. Only, as the game entered its most crucial stages, you saw first Roddy, and then West, watch the play develop, see the defender staying close to Dirk and quickly move away.
Dirk drove hard and gave himself an and-1 chance with exactly five minutes to play. Though he would miss the free throw, Dallas was up three. Going by memory, Dirk would touch the ball twice more, not counting momentarily possessing a ball as he fell out of bounds after an offensive rebound.
He would draw in the defense and pass out to Jason Terry who drained the open 3-pointer and put the Mavs up four with 4:14 to play. The next time an on-target pass finally found his hands, he took his only shot of the final 4:59 with exactly one minute remaining and Dallas down one.
This wasn't for a lack of trying on Dirk's part, or a lack of direction on the coach's. This is simply when you need the calm wisdom, the patience of Jason Kidd.
As insignificant as it may often appear, often failing to mark his personal numbers in any direct manner, this is when Kidd positions himself to create a passing lane to Dirk … or whoever they're trying to get the ball to … and then delivers the pass. Subtle acts are what bring the offense back on track, what keep the team from sputtering on the most important possessions of the game.
"We miss Jason Kidd,'' coach Rick Carlisle said. "This is why when I'm asked about him coming off the bench, it's a nonsensical question. And I'll remind you guys of that the next time any of you ask.''
It sounds so simple … yet, there's a reason Jason Kidd is Jason Kidd, and there's a reason the Mavs miss him.
LEAP FROG: Considering the fact that Cleveland really wasn't playing a center when Anderson Varejao went to the bench until late in the third quarter when Ryan Hollins entered – taking only a couple of minutes to remind us all of his out-of-control idiocy, getting into a small confrontation with Lamar Odom and earning a tech – the fact that Ian Mahinmi didn't play may have at least been influenced by the matchups.
However, the fact that it was Brandan Wright replacing him is no coincidence. If you've followed our game recaps, you've undoubtedly read some very positive reviews of what Wright brings to the court. Mahinmi has recently failed to make an impact at the offensive end, averaging five points while shooting 42.9 percent in 20 minutes over the past six games. Meanwhile, Wright has capitalized on every meaningful minute he's seen the court.
On a per-minute basis, Wright came into Saturday night leading the active Mavs players in scoring, blocks, and field-goal percentage, trailed only Dominique Jones in free-throws attempts per minute, and only Brian Cardinal averaged less turnovers per minute … he also had a PER of 26.5, easily leading all active Mavs.
Showcasing elite athleticism and a consistent motor, Wright has provided a spark in his limited time. Against the Cavs, Wright played 28:34 and was impressive, finishing with 11 points, eight rebounds and four blocks … covering a lot of ground around the rim at the defensive end, and a constant threat to throw down a big alley oop.
It may be somewhat dependant on matchups, but it will be interesting to watch as this battle for minutes progresses … and how Wright handles additional minutes, if they are to come.
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ANOTHER MILESTONE: With 7:37 to play in the fourth quarter, Dirk Nowitzki drained a fall-away jumper in the face of Antawn Jamison and help-defender Alonzo Gee and moved passed the great Elgin Baylor into 22nd on the NBA's All-Time Scoring list.
Next up is Adrian Dantley, only 23 points away.
For those who may be wondering, Charles Barkley sits a mere 603 points away at the 18th spot. If Dirk plays all 41 games remaining in this season, he needs only average 14.8 points per game to surpass Sir Charles.
MAVSELLANEOUS: The 19-year-old Irving scooted inside with 15.8 seconds left for the difference-making layup. "Big players make big plays," said Delonte West. "Irving made some big plays down the stretch." The rookie finished with 20 points, 7 assists and just one turnover in 36 minutes. ... Varejao was good for 17/17 and has 51 rebounds in the last four games ... The Cavs are 9-13. Dallas is 14-11 and are 5-6 on the road. ... A most stunning number is the Cavs' FG attempts vs. the Mavs' FG attempts: 93-67.
THE OTHER SHIFT TO THE DEPTH CHART: Roddy Beaubois had started the last five games as Jason Kidd missed with a calf strain. We noted that he seemed to falter after missing an open dunk against the Pacers, apparently Carlisle did as well as Delonte West moved into the starting lineup.
Kidd shouldn't be too far from returning, and this may not amount to much … but a clear message is being sent: Carlisle wants more than he's getting from Roddy B.
In the start, West had 11 points, seven assists, one rebound, three steals … and four turnovers.
Roddy B was still on the court for 20 minutes, missing his only two shots and going scoreless, though he did add five assists, two rebounds, two steals and a block … and looked like he would be the closing point guard until he was pulled with 2:34 to play after going away from Dirk on back-to-back possessions (in fairness, one was a nice pass to Wright near the rim, who earned a pair of free throws), missing a shot and seeing Kyrie Irving score on the ensuing possession.
And throughout, the Mavs couldn't find Kyrie Irving.
THE FINAL WORD: The trend of looking like the superior team in the first half only to falter significantly in the second has to be worrisome. Hopefully, this is nothing more than the Mavs missing Jason Kidd and not a symptom of a team that simply runs out of gas after 24 minutes of basketball.
Against the Cavs, the letdown actually began much earlier. Dallas hit 58 percent of their shots while holding Cleveland to a paltry 33 percent and led by only eight. Given these levels of shot execution, the Mavs should have been threatening to put the game away by building an insurmountable lead.
Instead, they countered their shot-making and strong initial defense with careless passes -- 11 turnovers in the first half, 21 on the game – and a lack of hustle plays … note that the Mavs did not have a single offensive rebound in the first half while giving up 11 to the Cavs. It was this brand of play that allowed Cleveland to take 93 shots to only 67 for Dallas. You don't have to shoot a high percentage when you end up getting almost 30 more attempts.
There were spans in the second half that saw Dallas playing some of the ugliest basketball they've put on the court in a long time. From poor defense to horrid offense to a careless, lackadaisical approach, it was exactly the kind of execution that allows a lesser team to gain confidence and begin to truly believe they should/would win.
The Mavs had their chance to put this away, but failed to do so. We can hold the warmth of seeing Dirk once again look like the player we know him to be (24 points, 9-of-15 FGs, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks … and 5 turnovers, as no one was immune), but it's hard to find much to like about a loss that should have never been.
"It's ugly, especially since we have to sit on this one for a couple of days," said Nowitzki, whose Mavs don't play again until Wednesday. "We'll enjoy our (Sunday) day off, the best we can, and come back to work."
And hopefully continue working, even after halftimes.