Mavs Donuts: Riding The Unstable Hog

Listen, we're Mavs homers on par with the next clowns. But we were as bemused before the game as we are pissed after it by the meme that Dallas has nothing in common with soap-operatic teams like Friday's visitors, the Blazers. Truth: losses like this 99-98 OT decision make Dallas' ride seem about as stable as being on the back of Bobby Petrino's hog.

DONUT 1: FOREWARD Yeah, one pregame theme in Dallas before Friday's Blazers-at-Mavs meeting was the level of dysfunction in other NBA cities, and the Mavs' by-comparison lack of blemishes in that department.

"I guess my perspective is it makes me realize how fortunate we are here to have very stable ownership and great stability with star players like Dirk (Nowitzki) and Jason Kidd and Jason Terry," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "We haven't gone through things like (the Dwight Howard drama in Orlando). Dirk was a free agent two years ago and he was only interested in being here, and that's what makes him special and makes our situation special. That's what I take from that situation is it just makes me more grateful for what we've had here."
That's all true.

And it's also all fishwrap. Yesterday's news.

The Dallas Mavericks are special in regard to their decade-plus of excellence and their 2010-11 NBA title. And Carlisle wasn't pushing the meme, but rather, just dutifully answering the question. But this year's Mavs are not without their soap-operatic plots, from Jason Terry's ill-advised "show me the money'' speeches to Lamar Odom's "CSI''-worthy odyssey to the ugliest blemish of all, performances like the one that resulted in this 99-97 OT loss to the have-not Blazers.

"This is a game we should have won,'' said Shawn Marion. "We didn't put them away when we had the chance."

More Straight Talk from 'Trix in a Video Visit:

"A heartbreaker,'' Dirk Nowitzki added.

DONUT 2: ALL THE 'IF'S' ... There are endless bizarre turns in this condensed season. Dwight Howard's love-hate relationship with Orlando and his backstabbing of Magic coach Stan Van Gundy is just the most recent. The Blazers are on the list, too, with dismissed coach Nate McMillan having been replaced by the team's former video coordinator, the 33-year-old Kaleb Canales.

But the Mavs, immune to any of this? They gained an early 15-point lead. Then they got outscored 30-10 in the third quarter. Then they rallied to take it to overtime before gagging on a host of possessions. And suddenly the 31-25 Mavs are stuck in sixth place in the West, one game back of Memphis and looking over their shoulders at the likes of Denver, Houston and Utah.

"I know if we're healthy and intact,'' said Terry, "we just as dangerous as any other team in the West."

That's accurate – but as unstable as "if's'' usually are. The "if's'' can lean Dallas' way on Saturday when on the second night of a back-to-back, the Mavs are at Memphis. Worth noting in this almost nonsensical campaign is the fact that Dallas this year – despite age and injuries – is 12-6 on the second night of b-2-b's – which doesn't explain how the heck there are a putrid 5-14 on the first nights of b-2-2's.

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DONUT 4: HEAVY-LIFTING ... Among the concerns going forward: The Mavs heavy-lifters poured minutes into this loss. Against a Blazers team that some observers think is tanking the season in order to aid its lottery odds, Dallas required a whopping 43 minutes from Dirk Nowitzki, and 42 from Marion, and 37 from Terry. There was some help from the spectacular dunking of Brandan Wright and from the steadying hand of Delonte West (playing hurt in place of a sidelined Jason Kidd). And center Brendan Haywood did his best to challenge Portland star LaMarcus Aldridge, the Mavs hoping to avoid double-teaming Aldridge so no other Blazers could hurt them. Raymond Felton scored 30, so that strategy didn't exactly pan out.

And Aldridge did 25 points (and 12 rebounds) worth of damage, points that included the game-winning turnaround jumper to beat the overtime buzzer.

We're going to LaMarcus," said Canales, who did so repeatedly with the DFW native. "LaMarcus hit a big shot. Big-time player, big-time shot."

DONUT 5: MEANWHILE, THE UBERMAN ... Meanwhile, Nowitzki – a fellow All-Star to whom Aldridge is often compared -- led the Mavs with 23 points and 14 rebounds, but was responsible for the gaffe of the night. With 22 seconds left and the score tied, Dirk attempted a "touchdown pass'' to Marion. If it's on target, Marion catches and dunks and Dallas has the lead.

Instead …

"What happened was I got the rebound and really wanted to hold it for the last shot,'' Nowitzki explained. "(But) I looked up and (Marion) was just wide open. I tried to rush it to him and it just completely got away from me. It was just kind of like an instinct play. … When you look up and see a guy open, you want to give him the ball. I just over-rushed it and completely overthrew it.

"It was just a brutal play," Nowitzki said.

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DONUT 7: THE THIRD QUARTER ... We can lament the lack of fluidity in the offense as the game came to its conclusion, but this was a loss earned in the third quarter. After trailing at halftime in five straight contests (and seven of the last eight, the lone lead being two points against Houston March 24th), Dallas was up 12 at the intermission and in complete control of the game.

In the third, they weren't the same team. Every aspect of their play crumbled. In a game vital to their playoff standing's, they emerged from the locker room and proceeded to sleepwalk through 12 minutes of basketball, essentially converting a win to a battle and eventually into a loss.

In the third period, Portland scored 30 points on 12-of-23 field-goal attempts (52.2%), 3-of-6 3-pointers, 14 points in the paint, four second-chance points, 16 rebounds, 3 offensive boards and only 1 turnover that led to one Dallas point.

If there are kids in the room, quickly usher them away from the horrors of the numbers below.

As the Blazers posted the numbers above, Dallas scored a season low for any quarter, 10 points, 4-of-18 field-goals (22.2%), 1-of-6 3-pointers, 4 points in the paint, zero second-chance points, 8 rebounds, none on the offensive end, and 4 turnovers that led directly to 10 Portland points.

See anything wrong with those numbers? The 20 points Portland outscored Dallas by were the biggest negative differential the Mavs have had in a quarter this season. Portland had double the number of rebounds, more than three times as many paint-points … and erased any positive emotions built in what had been a strong first-half effort.

Said Carlisle: "The adjustment was, they picked up their intensity, level of play, and we didn't."

Enough said?

We've been extremely sensitive towards separating the man from his play, the human being and the player. So, the words that follow are not a comment on the man, only at his complete lack of impact on the court.

The raw numbers: 11:24 played, three points, 1-of-3 field goals, 1-of-2 3-pointers, one rebound, one assist, two turnovers.

In response to his admittedly fatigue-driven lazy play that sent him to the bench Wednesday night against Memphis when he failed to give the proper effort in chase of an easy rebound that resulted in a 3-point play for the Grizzlies, Odom brought hesitation and an unnatural passivity to the court against Portland.

An example of that passivity: with just under three minutes to play in the first quarter, a defensive switch left Jamal Crawford guarding Odom in what should have been a blatant mismatch in Odom's favor. Before Vince Carter strongly motioned for Odom to post-up Crawford, Odom was content to stand at the perimeter. Following Carter's lead, he put his back into Crawford and made himself available for the pass … then promptly looked to do anything but attack, eventually passing the ball to Roddy Beaubois for a baseline jumper.

If all expectation is destroyed, you're left with the need for Odom to play well enough to allow Dirk's minutes to be held in check. To sum up his performance, as Odom played those 11:24, Nowitzki tallied 42:35.

Some people are critizing the Mavs for not playing Dirk even more, as Carlisle tugged him out as part of the normal substitution pattern. Folks, Dirk can't play 48 on the first night of a b2b ... and a break is perfectly acceptable -- or would be if the guy expected to sub for him would show up ready to work.

We don't normally throw a guy under the bus like this, because there can always be extenuating circumstances. But don't think we weren't a little bothered to show up at the AAC at 5:30 and see that while Dominique Jones and others were already on the court working out ... Lamar Odom was 29 minutes away from even showing up at the gym.

Yup. LO got to work at 5:59. And it's not like a flat tire slowed him or anything, given that he lives across the street at the W.

DONUT 9: MAVSELLANEOUS ... The last time these two teams met, back on Feb. 11, two overtimes were needed to determine the outcome. In that game, Dallas led by 11 at the half but watched their advantage erode away as they scored only 38 points in the second half. Friday night, the Mavs led by 12 at the half, scored 35 in the second half, including just ten in the third period (their season low for any quarter this season) and again were forced into extra time. ... With 35.9 seconds remaining in the first quarter Jason Terry hit the 1,761st 3-pointer of his career, moving him ahead of former teammate Peja Stojakovic into sole possession of the 5th spot on the NBA's all-time 3-pointers-made list. Next up on the list: Chauncey Billups, now 19 away at 1,783. After that: Jason Kidd … Coming into the night, Aldridge averaged 21.1 points against Dallas for his career, his second best against any team (22.1 against Detroit) … Ian Mahinmi missed the game to attend the birth of his daughter. Congrats to the family and welcome to the world, 'Little Ianimal'! … Raymond Felton scored his new season-high 30 points, fueling Portland's comeback … Mavs were up 12 after two quarters, which was the most they've led by at the half since Feb. 15th vs Denver (also 12). ...

DONUT 10: THE BEST AND WORST OF JET ... Jason Terry has made a reputation for being a worthy Robin in the fourth quarter, at times even dabbling in the area of becoming a second Batman. Against Portland, he made the four huge plays at the end of regulation – hitting a 3-pointer to bring the Mavs within one, hitting another to tie the game at 89, making a beautiful side-flip pass to a cutting Shawn Marion for an easy finish at the rim to tie the game at 91 and then stealing the a pass headed to Aldridge in the final seconds – but also left you shaking your head several times.

As has been the case so often, Dallas turned to the two-man game of Terry and Nowitzki to close out. We mentioned the highs above, but there were also the offense-stalling possessions born directly from Terry's over dribbling and poor or late decisions. Dirk consistently curled out after setting picks for Terry, finding himself in open space almost every time, only Terry failed to look for the pass until the defense was given time to rotate.

This caused multiple poor offensive possessions … but, then again, he also made several of the biggest plays of the game. One may say Jet was the reason the game made it to overtime … and he was the reason the game was forced to overtime.
DONUT 11: LATE-GAME EXECUTION Branching off the thoughts on Terry, we're led back to grounds covered often this season: poor late execution in close games.

A staple from the championship team a year ago, where they were 17-11 in games decided by five points or less, dramatic inconsistencies have haunted this year's squad in these games, leading them to a 9-9 record.

Perhaps it would be understandable if the lapses came at the defensive end due to the absence of Tyson Chandler (and they have at times), but more often than not, it feels like the offense has been where the letdown comes, where the shift of Chandler to Brendan Haywood/Ian Mahinmi/Brandan Wright shouldn't have such a dramatic impact. Outside of the center position, the primary closers remain Jason Kidd, Terry, Shawn Marion and Dirk … only the product on display is so vastly different.

Spacing often becomes erratic or clustered. Ball movement evaporates into fractured attacks. Where the certainty of trust once permeated the whole, there appears to be hesitation and doubt.

Against the Blazers, some of this can be attributed to missing Kidd (out for his third consecutive game with a groin strain), thanks in large part to the fact that this team has failed to master the art of getting the ball to their best player consistently without Kidd at the controls. However, it's difficult to bury the feeling that something is missing.

The chemistry hasn't snapped into place.

DONUT 12: BIG UPS, AND NOT SO BIG UPS ... Far from a rarity was the exciting play of Brandan Wright, epitomized by a highlight-dominating alley-oop finish in the second quarter when Terry fed him with a pass that demanded Wright use his right hand to gather the ball in. He then swung the ball down, windmilling it down to his left hand before slamming it home … just as his head dipped back beneath the rim.

Displays like this have become almost commonplace from Wright. He's a walking spark, a highlight waiting to happen, a breathing dunk.

Here's B-Wright's Video Visit ...

And here's the windmill oop we're talking about ...

On the other end of the sometimes-spectacular spectum ...

Vince Carter was a pleasant surprise early in the season. He was able to adapt to whatever the team demanded of him, from solid defense to sharing the offensive load for stretches … essentially allowing Dirk to find some version of rest even when on the court.

At the end of January, through 17 games Carter averaged 11 points by hitting 45.2 percent of his shots, including a remarkable 47.1 behind the arc.

Since the beginning of February, Carter has played 34 games and averaged 8.9 points by hitting 37.8 percent of his shots, including 32.2 behind the arc.

Can the team afford to grant Vince a quick rest? Should they want to?

DONUT 13: DANGLING TOES ... The loss pushed the Mavs a full game back of Memphis, who beat the Heat by 15 in Miami Friday night, and leaves Dallas with the same number of losses as the seventh and eighth seeds (Denver and Houston), and only two less than Utah and Phoenix who currently sit on the outside of the postseason picture looking in.

This was supposed to be the beginning of small stretch that could allow the Mavs to build upon their accumulation of wins as the winning percentage of their opponents took a dip. Instead, thanks to a disastrous third quarter, it's another on a growing list of opportunities missed.

Until it is no longer true, we'll continue to point to the fact that time has not run out, but cannot deny that it is becoming increasingly thin. Dallas has invited the precarious stance of balancing at the precipice, but they maintain the power over their will. How they react will decide their fate.

Last year, this team very specifically rallied around JJ Barea. His underdoggedness became theirs. Can they do the same now? Can they talk like Jet does about "championship swag'' but also rally around the backstories and efforts of people like B-Wright and West?

"I give (West) a lot of credit for being out there,'' said Carlisle, maybe trying to create a movement based on Delonte played with a screwed-up hand and a twisted ankle sustained in the morning shootaround. "A lot of guys - the majority of guys in this league - wouldn't have. He's a great kid. He stands for all the right things on the basketball court, and he gave us what he had. I was impressed."

Delonte added to the story with this Video Visit:

Is The Delonte Tale worth repeating on the bus and on the plane on Saturday?

Do they step back from the ledge, find their footing and gather themselves to press onward? Or, do they feel the tickle of a wind at the bottom of toes dangling over the abyss, before stumbling into the lottery?

It won't take long to find out.

DONUT 14: THE FINAL WORD ... Are the Mavs "different'' – less "brutal'' -- than the soap-opera teams? It can be argued that that's a "big-picture/small-picture'' question. Is Dallas' record dating back to Feb. 1 big-picture enough? Because over the course of that span, the defending champs are now a .500 team.

"We've got to keep going,'' Carlisle said by way of addressing that fact. "I don't know that it's a time for amateur psychologist analysis. It's a time for everybody to get in gear.''

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