LA 96, Mavs 91: 'Mamba' Vs. Mongoose
The Los Angeles Lakers arrived in Dallas with a 5-11 record on the road, including 1-6 against teams that entered Wednesday with a record above .500. There was the LA players-only meeting, the expressed unhappiness from Kobe Bryant with management's handling of Pau Gasol ... and that only begins to describe the craziness.
Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol would all have 0-of-2 trips to the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, Kobe and Gasol's each coming with a chance to ice the game in the final 37.4 seconds before Matt Barnes collected the rebound from Gasol's missed free throw between Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd with 18.9 seconds remaining, drew the foul from Kidd and did what the game's stars could not: made both.
The Mavs may have been without Lamar Odom (excused and back in LA to handle a family matter), Delonte West and Roddy Beaubois, but the names Dallas went without will not erase the fact that poor late execution allowed the game to slip away as the Lakers pulled out the 96-91 victory. For proof of this, one need look no further than Barnes' final offensive rebound ... on a missed free throw.
"I think we had our chances to gain a lead and keep it," said Shawn Marion, "but we had a few mishaps there in the fourth (quarter)."
Strange bounces happen. (As Josh Howard once told DB.com in words that will live in infamy, "You can't control what the ball do.") But, down only two with 20 seconds and given the gift of an opponent missing both freebies, the rebound must be collected. No excuses.
Before the strangeness of the finish, the first half unfolded just as we all believed it would, with Vince Carter and Pau Gasol dominating. Through two quarters, Carter led all scorers with 18 points, only three off his season high of 21. But, there was Gasol at his heels with 16. Both would quiet considerably after the intermission, finishing with 20 and 24 points respectively.
Only the Lakers would survive with the win.
THE ELEGANCE OF GRIT: Beyond the loss, the on-court story of the game for Dallas had to be the defense of Shawn Marion on Kobe Bryant.
Kobe, the league's leading scorer, would finish 4-of-15 from the floor for only 15 points, and only one of his made field-goals came with Marion as the defender. Kobe talked the talk before the game, but Marion was the only one doing the walk once the opening tip arrived.
Marion may have not had his shot falling on offense, going 3-of-11, but anything beyond the excellence he put on the court at the defensive end was nothing more than feed for greed. There were no easy shots, no pockets of air to allow Kobe to find a breath ... just a shadow wearing a Marion jersey, a mongoose toying with the Black Mamba, feasting on him.
Of course, this is nothing new for Marion -- which made The Drama Queen's pregame sarcasm mock-begging for Marion to guard him one-on-one look so pathetic. Since joining the Mavs, Marion had previously faced Kobe and the Lakers eight times. For those eight games, Kobe averaged 18 points, 39 field-goal percentage, 11.5 3-point percentage, 4.1 rebounds and 4.8 assists.
All of those numbers are extremely impressive. Marion bettered them here, holding Kobe to 15 points, 4-of-15 shooting (26.7%) and more turnovers (7) than made field goals.
It may have ultimately been a Mavs loss, but it could also be presented as yet another pile of evidence to shove at the feet of those judging for Defensive Player of the Year ... or at least one of the All-Defensive teams (an honor never granted to him).
CLOSING TIME: Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki are two of the best closers in the game. Generally, 10 points on 3-of-6 shooting, and seven rebounds in the final quarter alone is enough from Dirk. When you get nine points from Jason Terry and a big 0-for-7 for zero points from everyone else, it puts you about five points short of the Lakers.
On the other hand, Kobe went 1-of-4, scoring six points and missing a pair of free throws in the final minute.
Dirk may have won the battle of the individual closers ... but basketball is not an individual game.
For the Lakers, note Matt Barnes hitting those free throws after wrestling away an improbably rebound or Derek Fisher besting his previous season high of 13 points (also set against the Mavs Jan. 16th) to go for 15, including a pair of huge threes.
For the Mavs, Jason Terry is supposed to be that comrade in arms in the final frame. The numbers are there: nine points on 4-of-7 shooting in the fourth. However, the scoring numbers ignore two crucial turnovers and a string of poor decisions that led to either bad shots or lost possessions when they mattered most, not to mention some questionable defense.
The Lakers, as a team, grabbed eight offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter alone, gifting eight second-chance points. They also attacked the interior, scoring 10 of their 38 points in the paint in the final period.
By contrast, even as the referees showed their willingness to reward offensive aggression, the Mavs settled for long shots, taking only two shots in the paint in the final 12 minutes, for a total of two points. Despite getting into the penalty with over eight minutes to play, Dallas attempted only eight free throws in the fourth, compared to 17 for Los Angeles.
The Lakers were the aggressor when the game was up for grabs. As a team, they did what had to be done.
"They got too many chances," Carlisle said. "We just kind of struggled in the game - struggled to hit shots that we normally hit ... but you've got to give them credit: their inside game really hurt us."
In the end, we're left with the haunt of missed chances.
WITH ABSENCE THE HEART GROWS FONDER: Rick Carlisle tread through the standard fodder of media questions prior to Wednesday's game against the Lakers, answering each question in a manner Mavs fans have grown accustomed to: sometimes terse, often with a vein of dry wit spun beneath statements either direct or evasive, but always thoughtful.
Then, after the final question, just as most began the subtle bodily shifts signaling the press conference was coming to its conclusion, he directly answered a question that had not been asked; announcing that Lamar Odom would miss the game to handle a family matter.
We soon learned that Odom was back in Los Angeles, though both Mark Cuban and Carlisle stated they expect him back after the All-Star break.
With fan acceptance spiraling, Odom was not in the building, leading to a near endless barrage of sarcasm and aggressive humor from many.
We'll not speculate as to the reason's behind Odom's absence, keeping our observations to the court ... where a team already without Delonte West and Roddy Beaubois found their once-dramatic depth thinned further. While the timing is less than ideal, for both the team and the battle of perception being fought between fans and Odom, one could also label it a "softened blow."
Thanks to the looming All-Star break, the Mavs played Wednesday with no games until next Tuesday. The significance of that? As the depleted bench led to additional minutes for the starters (Dirk Nowitzki and Marion over 35 minutes, Kidd, Carter, Haywood and Terry over 30) time for rest will soon follow. A mere sliver of silver, but we'll take what we can get.
Perhaps we've beat this drum before, but some time away (whatever the surrounding circumstances may be) may also be what allows Odom to re-embrace the sanctuary that can be the court or field ... that safe place where the outside world is just that, outside.
We'll hope that whatever called Odom away is not too serious, while we maintain our hope that he becomes the factor we expected him to be. The All-Star break may bear the tattoo of the standings, but buries the games passed, ushering in a brand new season, a brand new chance, another beginning.
THE NBA HIGHLIGHT REEL: You won't like the way this ends ...
MAVSELLANEOUS: How did Fisher, who averages just five points per game, get 15 here? Dallas frequently doubled-down on LA's bigs -- a justifiable move -- and Fisher made the Mavs pay ... Brendan Haywood pulled down 11 rebounds for his seventh double-digit rebounding effort of the season. ... Marion: "We had a few mishaps there in the fourth." ... In the pivotal final quarter, the Mavs suffered from repeated ball-handling errors from Jason Terry (16 points) and a pair of uncharacteristic missed free throws by Dirk ... The Lakers take a 2-0 lead in the 2011-12 season series and have now won four straight regular-season games against the Mavericks. ... "Really exceptional,'' Carlisle said of Marion's defensive work on Kobe ... Where was backup PG Dominique Jones? He played only 4:30 due to being a not-ready-for-prime-time player in a game that required veterans, Rick basically said. ... Lost in the excitement of Dallas going on a 20-6 run to tie the game at 48 going into the break is the fact that climbing that sort of mountain doesn't leave you the energy to keep your balance at the peak again in the second half.
THE FINAL WORD: The Mavs will head into the All-Star break with a loss, and maybe return flying the motivation fueled by it. The timing may be wrong to note it here, with the loss still fresh, but Dallas heads into the break having won seven of their last nine games.
Dirk Nowitzki posted a double-double in back-to-back games for the first time this season, further pushing the sour memories of his early struggles to the realm of afterthought. ... and off to the All-Star Game he goes, his confidence and his knee intact.
I'm going to make the best of it and have a fun weekend,'' The UberMan said.
Once he returns from Orlando, there is reason for hope at 21-13 having endured injuries or absences from everyone on the roster outside of Marion, the lone player to see action in every game.
"I'm going to relax and enjoy this little break," Marion said. "This has been a quick turnaround. We've played a lot of games, but I can't rest too much because we have to keep our wind up because when we come out of the break, it's like nine games in 12 days ... We've got to keep ourselves ready."
The ruthlessness of the season has made its mark, but barely begun to fully reveal itself. Dallas has overcome a lot, but must be ready for what's to come.
"I just told guys to enjoy the break," Carlisle said, "and come back ready because we've got a very busy schedule coming back."
Or, to use a little RickSpeak of our own, the Dallas Mavericks also have a "wealth of opportunities'' on the horizon. Odom and Beaubois are expected back when the Mavs return from the break ... Delonte's hand will be better in a few weeks ... their best offensive player and their best defensive player are in grooves ... Dallas closed to the break with a 7-2 mark. ... And a team designed to get better as the season progresses will find the second half right in its wheelhouse ... we hope.
Said Carlisle: "We're playing playoff style. The team that has the best defense and flow game wins the championship. That's the history of this league in the last 10 years. That's how we did it last year, and that's how we're going to have to do it this year."
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