All-Access Pass: Mavs 113, Jazz 108
Foreward: Mavs 113, Jazz 108 ...
The Dallas Mavericks entered Sunday night with 13 games remaining on the schedule for the 2012-13 season, 2.5 games behind the Los Angeles Lakers for the eighth playoff seed. In other words, every game is a "must win." There are no moral victories, only victories or losses, only baby steps in the right direction, or long leaps in the wrong.
The Utah Jazz came into town a game ahead of the Mavs in the standings, but having won only three of their last 14. Thanks in part to the best game of the season from Mike James (scoring a season-high 19 points, the most he's scored since Feb. 20, 2009, while playing for the Washington Wizards, when he also had 19), the Mavs furthered the Utah slide with a 113-108 victory, pulled into a tie for the ninth seed with the Jazz and sit only two games behind the Lakers (who are 2-3 in their last five games) for a playoff berth.
''Keep hope alive,'' said James. "That's our motto. We have a small heartbeat. But we have a heartbeat. Keep hope alive.''
With only the mark in the win/loss column maintaining importance, we'll ignore the Mavs mop-up squad spilling their bucket all over themselves in the final minutes – when a 21-point lead shriveled to as little as three -- to turn a blowout into a 5-point win.
"My team's execution in the final minutes?'' said Rick Carlisle, channeling the wit of ol' football coach John McKay. "I'm in favor of it.''
And, once again, the Mavs may have pulled you back in … playoff hopes refuse to die.
It was the best of times ...
As noted above, Mike James finished with a season-high 19 points, hitting 7-of-10 shots, including 3-of-4 behind the arc, to go with five assists, three rebounds, one steal and three turnovers … easily his best game as a member of the Mavericks, and his most productive scoring night in over four calendar years.
James continued his outstanding stretch of shooting behind the arc. Over the last 13 games he has converted 48.3 percent of his 3-point tries, with the majority of those makes coming on spot-up attempts … an area of strength for James since joining the Mavs.
Entering Sunday night, James had converted 26-of-58 3-point shots on spot-up attempts (per Synergy Sports), good for 44.8 percent.
For the season, James has now converted 40 percent of his 3-pointers.
As a player that forces the defense to guard him behind the arc, or pay for their lack of doing so, when his shots come from space created by the defense reacting to others, James has more than fulfilled his role.
In this, he has been deadly … in some ways, he's been a savior.
Could the best lead to the worst of times …
The problem comes not when James embraces the green light on open looks behind the arc. There has been no problem when his shots come in the flow of ball movement and the resulting spot-up looks, rather than on the back of his own aggression into the teeth of the defense.
However, even in his very strong 13-game stretch behind the arc (mentioned above), James is hitting only 34.6 percent of his attempts inside the 3-point line.
For the season, he has hit 33.6 percent of his 2-point attempts (including Sunday's contest), including only 30.4 percent on non-spot-up tries (prior to Sunday, per Synergy Sports).
In other words, when James forces the issue and creates his own shot, his efficiency drops off the map.
Another interesting dichotomy in the play of James is the inverse relationship between the number of shots he takes and the level of success for the team.
Including Sunday's victory, James has played over 20 minutes for the Mavs in 15 games. The Mavs record in those games is 10-5.
James has taken 10-or-more shot attempts in those games six times, and their record drops to 2-4.
Of those 15 games he's taken eight-or-less attempts eight times, and Dallas is 7-1.
"Look, we're not a perfect team, in case anybody hasn't noticed,'' coach Rick Carlisle said.
Yes, Coach. We've noticed.
Dirk is good ...
With the Mavs building an insurmountable lead (barely) late, Dirk Nowitzki was only needed for 26 minutes of action. In that time, he totaled 17 points, 7-of-13 field goals, six rebounds, two assists, one steal and one turnover.
Over the last five games, Dirk is averaging 20.0 points, 64.4 FG%, 61.5 3PT%, 6.4 rebounds, two assists and one turnover.
Considering that the Mavs are 3-2 over that stretch, it's hard not to lament the fact that Dirk Nowitzki's taken an average of only 11.8 field-goal attempts.
Brand new ...
Elton Brand did not play against the Boston Celtics on Friday night, a decision likely based somewhat on matchups, but also on the need to give Brand some much-needed rest.
Brand responded by showing new life and proving once more that he has more to offer than the 5.7 points and 3.2 rebounds he had averaged over his last six games.
With the Mavs pulling away late (prior to the collapse in the final minutes), Brand was only needed for just under 18 minutes, scoring 10 points on 5-of-5 field goals, five rebounds, three assists, two blocks, one steal and zero turnovers.
"Like any employee, I wanted to make my boss look smart,'' EB said.
Yet, the numbers don't completely capture Brand's impact. For that, you need only look at Al Jefferson's performance.
Jefferson scored 11 points on 4-of-5 field goals in the first quarter, easily bullying his way around the paint through the much slimmer Brandan Wright, and Jefferson seemed poised to give more of the same in the third quarter, hitting his first two shot attempts.
Jefferson would not score again.
Obviously, hitting all five of the shots he put up is impressive, but Brand's interior defense on one of the game's best interior scorers changed the landscape of this game. When Jefferson hit a six-foot turnaround hook shot with 5:35 to play in the third, the game was tied. Rick Carlisle called a timeout, apparently unhappy with Brand's defensive effort on Jefferson … from that moment on Jefferson's threat was rendered impotent.
As Brand played an integral part of shutting down Jefferson, including blocking his next two attempts, the balance of the game shifted. And, with their leading scorer denied his greatest strength, the Jazz wilted.
"It's tough for (Wright),'' Carlisle said. "He got a few good things going with some of the smaller lineups out there. These are challenges we have faced all year and it's my job to make sure that we are mixing and matching as best we can, that the guys are playing hard, and that we are putting everything in to it. If we do that we will be OK."
The NBA highlight reel ...
The new DB.com Mavs Android App! ...
We've just developed the DB.com Mavs app for Android. (With Apple on its way). It's FREE and ready for Dallas Mavericks fans just like you!
Just a dab of Mayo ...
For the third consecutive game, O.J. Mayo attempted fewer than 10 shots, and often appeared to be little more than afterthought to the flow of the offense.
While playing no less than the near 36 minutes he played Sunday night, Mayo has attempted nine, eight and seven field goals in the last three contests. His conversion rates have remained solid, hitting 50 percent of his total shots, and 57.1 percent of his 3-pointers … he simply isn't getting or taking attempts.
This appears to be a part of a larger trend, as May has attempted at least 12 shots only twice in the last 12 games … and has matched his season average of 13 attempts only once in the last 13 games.
Perhaps we shouldn't worry given the fact that the Mavs are 9-4 over the last 13 games, but it feels dangerous to continue to minimize one of the team's most dangerous scoring threats.
Whether it's by design, an attempt to convert Mayo into a facilitator, or simply to see how he fares in a different role … it continues to be an odd sight to go prolonged stretches with almost no mention of Mayo on the offensive side of the court.
Nice to have you back …
In his second game after missing the previous eight, Shawn Marion played 30 minutes, scored 15 points, hit 6-of-8 shots, added six rebounds, three assists, three steals and only one turnover.
It's easy to take what Marion brings this team for granted as their best rebounder, perimeter defender, most instinctual cutter and finisher and consistent contributor.
It's just nice to see him back out there. ... and nice to hear from him in this Video Visit!
*Mayo took two shot attempts in the 3:52 of the game … he would not take another until 10:32 remained in the third quarter.
*This marks the first time Mike James has led the Mavs is scoring.
*Chris Kaman played just over eight minutes and finished with four points, two rebounds, one block and tied for the team-lead with three turnovers.
This was the eighth time this season Kaman has finished a game with as many or more turnovers than rebounds.
*Darren Collison finished the game with 13 points, five assists, one block and three turnovers.
Collison got the bulk of his points at the free-throw line, hitting 11-of-13 attempts, including 6-of-7 in the final 22.9 seconds to seal the win.
The 13 free-throw attempts ties for the second most by a Dallas player this season. Mayo also attempted 13 Jan. 16th against the Rockets … Vince Carter attempted 16 Jan. 10th against Sacramento for the team high.
If you're wondering, Dirk's season high for free-throw attempts is 11.
*Who Deserves 'The Dirkie'? Vote here!
*Dallas is 8-3 since March 6th. The only teams with better records over that span are the undefeated Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets. Perhaps it's not a coincidence that that exactly coincides with when Mike James became a starter.
As much as we (or you) may not like in what Mike James has brought, it's hard to deny that the Mavs have simply won since he became the starter.
Said Carlisle: "Mike played well. I thought he played a good all around game. I thought his defense was solid. Timely shot making, made good plays, and made timely plays. We need him to keep doing what he's doing. We need (Darren Collison) to give us the speed and energy and scoring off the bench. That's a tag-team position. We're going to need it to be a tag-team position with Chris Paul coming in here on Tuesday."
Vince's State of the team address ...
The Video Visit with Vince Carter:
"The end of the game was ugly. We got through it. I guess I've been around this game long enough to realize and understand that you can't make a win feel like a loss. [Utah Jazz] did a good job, we did a horrible job, but we got the win so we've got to move on." - Carlisle.
The Final Word ...
The last time the Mavs were within two games of .500 was Dec. 20th, after a loss to the Miami Heat knocked their record to 12-14 and kicked off a six-game losing streak. From that moment forward, it's been an uphill battle to reclaim a winning record, and to shave the forest of hair now populating several of the player's chins (and necks, in some cases).
"That's what I'm looking forward to,'' Elton said. "Making the playoffs is most important but shaving is essential."
Since Jan. 10th, Dallas has played in 34 games, or 41.5 percent of the season. Their record in those games is 21-13, the seventh best in the NBA, fifth best in the Western Conference, over that span.
Keeping hope alive.
Being two games out of the eighth seed with 12 to play demands that hope remain timid and brittle, but looking back over the past 34 games not only gives that hope grounds to stand, it births the haunting whisper of what could have been had Dirk Nowitzki not been forced to miss the first 27 games of the season, and 29 overall.
As promising or devastating, depending on your point of view, as that record over the last 34 games may be, there is no time for this team to look back. They remain balanced on a wire fighting a wind determined to shove them off the wrong side … but, for the moment, hope is alive, and they stand on that wire still.