First Impressions: Suns 96, Mavs 94
Nine-games-in-12-nights has reached its crescendo, peaking in the form of a brutal stretch of three games over three nights, the dreaded back-to-back-to-back. The festivities kicked off in Phoenix on Thursday night as the Dallas Mavericks allowed a game they once had well in hand, leading by as much as 12 and appearing to have the Suns outmatched, by once more floundering in the third quarter, leading to an interesting web of circumstances for the final minutes of a 96-94 loss.
As is so often the case in basketball hindsight, we'll begin where the game ended. Roddy Beaubois would take the final two shot attempts for Dallas, a rarity in its own right, but made more so by the absence of Jason Terry … who watched the game's conclusion from the bench having played only three minutes in the final period.
"Coach's decision,'' said a tight-lipped Rick Carlisle afterwards. "Coach's decision.''
While it's true that Terry scored six points on 3-of-4 shooting in the second quarter, adding zero points and missing his other three attempts over the rest of his time, it was still odd to see him on the bench as a close game drew to a close. Even when Carlisle pulled his center to spread the floor with shooters in the final 14.3 seconds, Vince Carter and Roddy B stood beside Jason Kidd on the court … still, Terry sat.
"I can't check myself in and out of the game," Jet said. "You got to ask the person who didn't have me in the game. Ask him his thoughts on why I wasn't in the game. What I think doesn't matter."
Coach Ortegel and Fish offered up two reasons for Jet's late-game benching (not including the fact that he's struggled as a late-game performer as of late):
Fish notes that earlier in the game, Jet may have not been giving full defensive effort. Carlisle allows fredom on offense. But he expects commitment to the program on the other end.
Coach Ortegel notes that Roddy B's openness off the Dirk pick on that final play was a result of Beaubois being unproven ... in comparison to Jet ... and that Phoenix would not have allowed the man coming off the screen a decent look had that man been Jet.
So instead that man that Phoenix thought might not make the shot got to take it ... and Phoenix was right.
Turning back to those on the court, it's becoming harder to digest watching a struggling Mavs offense fail to get the ball to their best player on the game's biggest possessions. Dallas made two of their final seven shot attempts. Care to place a wager on which two came off the fingers of Dirk Nowitzki?
If you guessed the two that went in, you are correct.
Obviously, there are extenuating circumstances in play, as Phoenix directed the primary focus of their defense towards denying Dirk the ball … and both looks from Roddy B in the final five seconds were solid. Was this a singularity, it's dismissed as the perils of happenstance.
Instead, in a season that has seen the Mavs lose their last five consecutive games decided by five points or less (6-9 record in games decided by five or less this season), it feels far too familiar … perhaps because this streak of five losses in close games have all come within the last eight contests.
With a championship run fueled by consistently precise late-game execution still fresh in our minds, this clutch ineptitude is both surprising and alarming.
Lost in the gut-punch that was this loss might be the play of Lamar Odom and the early performance from Vince Carter.
Dallas clearly adopted the strategy of getting the ball to Carter, allowing him to work with his back to smaller Phoenix defenders to find easy shots for him or others. In the first half, this approach proved both efficient and effective as Carter scoring 13 points on 6-of-11 shooting to go with a pair of assists.
Unfortunately for Dallas, he appeared to run out of gas in the second half, scoring only five points while hitting 2-of-10 field-goal attempts.
Lamar Odom, who's been active and looked much better for a half of each of the previous three games (despite the story his stats may tell), extended his physical push beyond a single half to play well for the majority of his 22 minutes. He would score 15 points (his most since Jan. 27) by making six of his 10 attempts, often cutting into space to make himself available to teammates and then finishing when the passes found him.
The Mavs will need Odom, and they'll need him for more than a half of each game. They'll need more of this … if for no other reason than the desire to keep minutes low across the roster.
Dirk (35:31), Ian Mahinmi (32:39), Shawn Marion (31:53) and Jason Kidd (30:16) all played over 30 minutes … made necessary by the fact that Dallas could not put the game away when presented with the opportunity. With two more games over the next two nights, as much as anything other lingering bruise from this loss, this may come back to bite them.
Another is their continued third-quarter woes. After holding the Suns to 44 points in the first half, Dallas granted them 34 points in the third quarter alone by allowing them to hit 73.7 percent of their shots. This momentary lapse is how games that should have been wins slide quickly into the loss column.
Just as the first of the nine games in 12 nights began with a troublesome loss to the New Jersey Nets, the first of the back-to-back-to-back comes as an equally worrisome kicked-in-the-Gortats loss. Rick Carlisle pointed to the challenge of the schedule as an opportunity to see what this team was made up … through seven of the nine games the Mavs are 2-5 with four of those losses being by five points or less, each marred by poor late-game execution, and three delivered at the hands of teams with a current combined winning percentage of .339.
Sacramento and Golden State await, promising to greet a more and more thoroughly worn down Dallas team as this brutal, both by the calendar and via result, stretch comes to an end.
A winning record is no longer possible, and through seven of the nine games the returns do not breed optimism. The goal may be to simply make the playoffs, a reasonable approach in the context of this season, but one that becomes less of a certainty with each passing failure.
And now there are some bruises. Dirk banged knees late in the game but kept playing ... and then received a root canal while drawing a foul to the face from a driving Gortat.
And Jet? Bruises feelings, for certain.
For his part, Carlisle: "I do think we'll stick together.''
And from the leader, Kidd: "There's no better time to play your best basketball than the next game,'' said Jason Kidd in a sentence as mangled as Dallas' recent game-closes, "which we have two of them."
With their depth continually attacked when they've needed it most, Dallas must find a way to persevere … and to collect the wins there for the taking. ... which we have two of them.
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