All-Access Pass: Mavs Survive Houston In OT
FOREWARD: For your Dallas Mavericks, "ugly" seems to be a word we've been able to turn to far too often in describing games this season. Though there were stretches of fluidity, flashes of brilliance in Brandan Wright's seven blocks or Jason Terry's clutch scoring, as well as historical ladder climbing with a bloodied Dirk Nowitzki passing Charles Barkley for 19th on the NBA's All-Time Scoring List; "ugly" accurately encases much of this game.
And to that we say, "Who cares?"
Coming into the night, one game separated the fourth seed in the Western Conference from the ninth, from home-court in the first round to missing the playoffs entirely. Dallas needed the win. How they got there was inconsequential. All that mattered was that they get there.
Stray litter surrounding Dallas was pulled inward as the city collectively sucked in and held a breath as Chase Buddinger rose to fire an open 3-pointer from the corner as the clock expired in overtime. That same litter then scattered on the back of a mass exhalation as the shot fell away and Mavs won 101-99.
From Dirk: "Our playoffs just have to start a little early."
From Jet: "(Coach Rick Carlisle) He said it was a playoff game. And that's all I needed to hear."
FATHER TIME HAS FLIGHT DELAYED: Charles Barkley labeled Dirk Nowitzki a victim of Father Time back on Feb. 2nd, coinciding almost precisely with when Dirk shook off the early season struggles to regain form.
On March 24, with 18.5 seconds to play in overtime The UberMan sank both free throws to lift his point total for the game to 31, push the lead to four (101-97) and move him beyond Charles Barkley into sole possession of the 19th spot on the NBA's All-Time Scoring List.
These makes eventually sealed the game, erasing the vulnerability that Dirk's miss at the line with 10.9 seconds left in regulation opened, his only miss in ten attempts … leaving the lead at three instead of four and allowing an improbable three from Chandler Parsons to force overtime.
But the impression was made.
"He's probably one of the toughest players in the NBA, in the world,'' Luis Scola said. "We tried different looks..he hurt us."
Yes, but while Scola joins us as we praise the career achievements that have left Dirk to stand proudly in the pantheon of greatness, we can feel fairly confident in believing that single miss currently overrides all of the past makes in his thoughts.
Meanwhile, at times, being the first to jump ship on a player merely means you're the unlucky soul left to drown in the wake as the vessel sails on … watching those who stayed out of the water carried on.
Amidst the oddities of schedule guaranteed by the lockout-altered season, making such a bold declaration not only ignored the whole of the circumstances but the many attributes of the player (as we've previously expounded upon) that tend to make such a conclusion at this time feel either contrived or misinformed … and certainly premature.
The UberMan cometh … and he's still here.
Dirk's averages when Barkley made his statement: 16.2 points, 43 FG%, 17.8 3PT%, 5.9 rebounds.
Dirk's averages in the time since Barkley's comment: 24.4 points, 47.3 FG%, 43.9 3PT%, 7.2 rebounds.
Interestingly, Dirk took time to praise Barkley late Saturday.
"I saw him wearing No. 14 in the Olympics, so then I changed my number to 14,'' Dirk said. "When I came over, it became 41 ... Charles was always kind of my hero.''
Probably a true story, though you will recall that Dirk's politeness has at other times in his career caused him to label both Jordan and Pippen as his favorite players while growing up in Germany.
Anyway, now everyone take a moment to turn and wave to that dot fading in the water behind Ship Nowitzki, both figuratively and on the All-Time Scoring List … and if you're feeling kind, toss Chuck a life preserver.
SOMETHING FEELS RIGHT WITH WRIGHT: Often we've professed our affection for the game of Brandan Wright. He's captured the same genie who doled out Roddy Beaubois' athleticism, harnessed and perhaps built upon its gifts for himself to often conclude pregame warm-ups by leaping to stand on the top of the backboard and bowing to the crowd (ok, maybe we made that up). He's a physical freak who manages to avoid consistent lapses in judgment common to 24-year-old players trying to forge an identity with a new team. As such, Carlisle had enough trust to leave him on the court when the game was decided.
In 34 minutes he scored 14 points, hitting seven of his nine shot attempts, grabbed six rebounds and blocked seven shots. You read that correctly … he had seven blocks … seven … matching the total blocks of from the entire Rockets roster.
Beyond those already impressive numbers was the timing with which they came. Six of his points, four blocks and three rebounds came in the fourth quarter and overtime. When the team needed his contribution the most, he stood tall and altered the course of the game.
Neither passive nor dangerously aggressive, he found a way to help his team. When so much criticism is spilled for those who have failed to do so, take a moment (or more) to praise what Wright accomplished here. ... while he takes a moment to praise others:
"It was a team effort,'' said the LIBB making good. "Guys did a good job of funneling guys to me. I was there to pick up the slack."
Perhaps his only misstep was scraping Dirk across the face as Wright skied once more in chase of a block, opening a cut in Nowitzki's right eyebrow that would require four stitches to close after the game … though the "soft Euro" would miss no court time with the wound.
"Brandan Wright was great in there,'' Dirk said. "It seemed like he blocked every shot that came in there."
JET BREAKS THE SOUND BARRIER: His voice wasn't quite right ...
But his game was.
In a literal sense, Jason Terry's voice was failing him as he spoke to reporters in the aftermath of the victory. In the figurative sense, he scored eight of his 24 points in the fourth quarter and then almost single-handedly matched the Rockets in overtime, scoring six to their eight … meaning 14 of his 24 points came in just the fourth quarter and overtime. He gathered speed as the game progressed to glide prominently above the game's biggest moments.
In fact, since there was said to have been a clearing of the air after the Phoenix game, JET has averaged 19.1 points with a 48.1 field-goal percentage including 47 percent behind the arc … while reminding us all of why he claims the final quarter as his own, taking his earned place beside Dirk as a figure who can be depended on in crucial moments.
"That's his quarter,'' coach Rick Carlisle said. "That's his reputation. He takes pride in it ... He's a different breed of cat."
Undoubtedly the contract concerns have not vanished and the discussion of it is unlikely to disappear completely, but one thing is clear: Terry has recaptured the handle on his game.
THE NBA HIGHLIGHT REEL: And you get extra stuff!
HERE WE ARE AGAIN: After getting the first DNP-CD of his career in San Antonio, Lamar Odom returned to the rotation in Houston. There were signs of hustle, signs of "want to" … and little else.
He finished with no points, two rebounds, and one turnover in 13:17 of playing time.
Over the last eight games, Odom is averaging 2.9 points and 3.9 rebounds while hitting 21.4 percent of his shots, including a putrid 8 percent behind the 3-point arc.
In other words, he essentially lived up to the expectations he's built for himself recently.
Ah, but wait.
"I thought he gave us some energy there,'' Dirk said of Odom. "(Marion) got in early foul trouble, and I thought he was ready to play."
Added Carlisle: "He's trying his ass off. That's all we can ask of him."
As we said, there were certainly fleeting signs of life, bits of hustle, morsels that may or may not give Carlisle and his staff reason to grant him another chance, but only the faintest dying embers of expectation could be said to have been met … contributions at the level of a 12th man on the roster, nothing more.
Excuses have withered beside whatever hopes linger on. We'll continue to hope for some legitimate sign of life, but we won't lie in the coffin where they already lie by holding our breath.
You are a Premium Mavs Fan, so you know what the world at large does not regarding Odom's value in terms of Asset Management. Before the game, Cuban and Carlisle met with Odom. Not a big deal for the suits to meet with Odom about Odom, no matter what the media makes of it. The big deal is if and when Dirk and Kidd meet with the suits about Odom.
THE NBA DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Carlisle said it after Friday's game and he said it again here: Shawn Marion, who finished with 12 points and 15 rebounds and made the game-saving play with help defense at the end of OT, "is back in a big way. He was terrific again. He's Defensive Player of the Year material."
MAVSELLANEOUS: Brandan Wright was one off his season high with 14 points, set a new career high with seven blocks and a new career high with 34:22 of action … Samuel Dalembert scored 10 points in the first quarter, a point total he had failed to reach in 31 of his 48 previous appearances this season … The Mavs are 15-1 when scoring 100 points this season. … The Mavs' bench outscored Houston's subs 44-13. ... Dirk Nowitzki now has 23,758 points in his career. Charles Barkley had 23,757. Why not write that once more? … Jet on Dirk and the milestone: Jet on 41's milestone: "He's a teammate I'll always remember & cherish for the rest of the life. Not only as a teammate, but he's a friend." ... Brendan Haywood and Delonte West worked out on conditioning before the game and its possible both could return Tuesday for the "second game of the doubleheader'' with the Rockets at the AAC.
QUOTEBOARD: It's all yours, Farmer Rick. Let's talk about the almost-alley-oop to B-Wright at the end of regulation:
"If cows were kittens,'' Rick said, "there would be a milk shortage."
THE FINAL WORD: The late execution was far from perfect, marred by a critical mental mistake from Roddy Beaubois with 5.9 seconds to play in overtime, when he failed to get the ball across halfcourt before being guilty of an 8-second violation, handing the Rockets the ball and a chance to steal the game. This came after Jason Terry allowed himself to be trapped in the corner of the backcourt, forcing Jason Kidd to save him with a timeout.
Had Shawn Marion not tipped the pass from Goran Dragic disrupting the flow of the final play, leading to Chase Buddinger missing that final attempt, there is no denying the talk would have once more fell to Dallas crumbling in the closing moments of a close game. But, Marion did tip the pass, Buddinger did miss the shot, Jason Terry did carry the offense as Wright did his part on the defensive end and the Mavs did collect the win.
As Mark Cuban tweeted after the game, "It's on the left" … the column in the standings saved for wins.
And it's not just "a win.'' It's what Rick calls "the biggest win of the year for us.'' It's what everyone else was calling an early playoff win.