All-Access Donuts: Mavs 108, Blazers 106
DONUT 1: Biggest win of the season? …
The Dallas Mavericks de-iced themselves and traveled to Portland to face the team with the second-best record in the NBA, the 17-3 Trail Blazers. Portland was coming off a dominating 32-point win the night before, when they set a franchise record by hitting 17 3-pointers at an NBA record level of efficiency (73.9 percent, the highest ever for a team that made at least 15).
Dallas was hoping to win consecutive road games for the first time this season.
The Mavs stepped from the iced-in Metroplex to the fire of their shooting, hitting at least half of their attempts in every quarter except the third, converting at their highest field-goal percentage on the road this season (52.9), before leaning heavily on their two best offensive players, Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, down the stretch.
In what could be argued as their biggest win of this young season, the Mavs watched Ellis's shot fall as time expired to claim the 108-106 victory.
"It's a great win for us," Dirk Nowitzki said. "We knew they were coming off a back-to-back. They were hot last night so it was a good opportunity for us. We made the best out of it."
DONUT 2: Living by the might of your best weapons ...
With 4:47 to play in the final quarter, Vince Carter launched an ill advised 3-pointer from 28-feet out, and was promptly subbed out at the next dead ball.
From that point on, every Dallas field goal came at the hands of either Dirk or Monta.
Dirk would score seven straight Mavs points as the clock ticked from 3:48 to 2:15 remaining.
To that point, Ellis was scoreless and 0-of-5 from the floor in the second half. He would score five of the Mavs final seven points in the final 1:41, including the game winner as time expired.
"Well we just put that play in this morning," Ellis said, "and it came in handy. The first option is obviously Calderon looking for me coming off (the screens), taking one dribble, bouncing and pulling up."
Ellis began the play as the closest Dallas player to the baseline, curled up a Dirk and Carter screen, then around DeJuan Blair's wide frame where he received the ball from Calderon while moving away from the sideline with Wesley Matthews trailing, took the dribble, watched as LaMarcus Aldridge – Blair's defender – did not attack, and rose from 21-feet out to drain the game winner.
"I told Vince before we walked out there, if he gave me the ball, the game was over," Ellis said. "Calderon (and I) were walking and we made eye contact, and I told him to give me the ball ...''
How does Monta Ellis like being the guy to take -- and make -- the buzzer-beating game-winner?
"I was born for it," he said.
DONUT 3: The Big Two ...
Dirk finished with 30 points, 13-of-23 field goals, 3-of-4 behind the arc, six rebounds, seven assists, one block and no turnovers.
"That's what he's done throughout his career," said Blazers coach Terry Stotts, who coached Nowitzki for four seasons as a Mavs assistant. "The shots Dirk hit — free throws, jumpers, drawing fouls, he hit post-ups — he had a great performance late when it counted."
Ellis had 20 points (15 in the first half), 8-of-17 shots, 2-of-3 3-pointers, four assists, one steal and three turnovers.
Crazy game,'' Monta said. "Thank God that we came out with the win."
Do the math: The two combined for 50 points, 52.5 field-goal percentage, seven rebounds, 11 assists and only three turnovers.
In the final 3:48 of a two-point game, they were 6-of-9 (66.7 percent) for 14 points.
DONUT 4: But wait, there's more ...
DeJuan Blair once more got the starting nod and the bulk of the center minutes. There was no "shooting 5-man'' for Portland to make this a matchup-based decision, rather the 7-foot Robin Lopez … who has taken almost 70 percent of his shots from within five feet of the rim, and only 15.3 percent of his attempts beyond 10 feet.
Perhaps Dalembert's ribs are still an issue, but this appeared to be purely a result-based decision … note that Dalembert played only 2:22 in the second half, with all of the backup center minutes in the fourth quarter going to Bernard James, who vastly outplayed the Mavs former starter.
Though he was scoring at a nice clip, Blair was often outmatched by the size of Lopez (as well as Aldridge) in the first half. This height differential helped Portland score 17 second-chance points in the first half -- as many or more than Dallas had allowed in 16 of their first 20 full games – and saw Lopez with a double-double by the intermission.
Blair would finish with 15 points, eight rebounds and one steal in just under 24 minutes in an unfavorable match-up for him. We'll take that. ... and we'll take all those "Great Wall of Dallas'' screens as well.
DONUT 5: The Drive For Five …
Don't hold it against us if we found it to be more than a little entertaining to watch the Blazers defense continually leave the rim open to Jose Calderon in favor of closing down all available passing lanes … as Calderon hit layup after layup after layup after layup after layup … count ‘em, five.
Maybe Damian Lillard (32 points, including 13 in the fourth as he battled back-and-forth with Dirk) refused to believe what was happening. Maybe it's what the scouting report told him to do … Calderon did only take one attempt beyond the arc, a miss. But, we'll take five layups with no interior help from Calderon every game if defenses want to go that route.
Calderon finished with 15 points, 7-of-10 field goals, seven assists, two steals and only one turnover.
DONUT 6: Center pieces ...
Bernard James was the newest in the line of players to show an ability to embrace the time-tested "Be Ready" Carlisle mantra, playing well for the second time in the last three games.
James played 11:28 (only 15 seconds less than Dalembert) and gave five points, six rebounds, including three offensive, and one big block.
While James is doing his best to give justification for minutes in future games (even as we know for a fact there has been some organizational talk about sending him to Frisco to get some game experience), is Dalembert heading in the opposite direction?
Earlier this week, Mark Cuban called out/encouraged Dalembert, saying the Mavs needed more from him. He's now come off the bench in consecutive games for the first time this season, in a move that the Portland game makes hard to label as purely matchup-driven … and failed to register 20 minutes for the third straight game, his longest such streak with Dallas (it's only happened two other times total).
For more on Dalembert - and updates on B-Wright and Asik trade talk, too -- read here.
DONUT 7: The path of Kaman or Wright …
Perhaps Carlisle is using minutes as a motivational tool. Perhaps it's the ribs. But, given the expectations the player clearly had when coming to Dallas (considering his own words when describing why he chose the Mavs), does Carlisle risk losing Dalembert?
For someone who has eventually slipped down the depth chart in each of the last two seasons with two different teams, are we seeing the beginning of that end … or the moment Carlisle gets through?
Dalembert may have to decide if he wants to be "Chris Kaman Redux'' or "Brandan Wright Jr.'' … two players who handled eroding minutes very differently, with one eventually proving that he deserved more and the other now playing for a different team.
DONUT 8: It's still Dirk's team …
Some have been quick to amount Monta Ellis as the focal point and best player on this Dallas team. He has been more than most thought possible, impressive from his first touch of the ball. The role he plays puts the ball in his hands more than anyone else on the roster, including the starting point guard (Ellis leads the Mavs with 4.5 minutes of possession per game, just above the 4.4 for Calderon … per NBA.com).
But, this team still balances on the fulcrum of Dirk Nowitzki.
Nothing about that statement should be viewed as a negative towards Ellis.
The Mavs entered Saturday night having employed five different lineups for a minimum of 50 minutes. Three include Dirk. Two do not. The three that do all have positive net ratings (offensive rating minus defensive rating). The two that don't both have negative.
When Dirk is on the court, the Mavs are +8.4 points per 48 minutes (the best on Dallas, and almost twice as high as the next best player to have played at least 400 minutes (Blair, +4.4). When he is not, they are -12.0.
The ball may be in Ellis's hands, but Dirk is the catalyst. ... even when he's the decoy.
"Everybody thought they were going to Dirk," LaMarcus Aldridge said.
DONUT 9: The NBA highlight reel ...
DONUT 10: Mavs fans vote! ...
Who Deserves "The Dirkie''? The tradition goes on as vote here for the Player of the Game ... and make sure you are signed up for free membership on DB.com Boards, of course!
DONUT 11: Mavsellaneous ...
*Gal Mekel once more received all of the backup point guard minutes, while Shane Larkin received a DNP-CD. Mekel finished with seven points, two assists and one turnover … and played fairly well after a shaky start.
*Vince Carter made a few nice passes, but may have one of his worst all-around games of the season. His four turnovers were his second highest of the season, and he once more showed a poor shot selection and worse conversion rate.
Carter was 4-of-13 (30.8 percent) for eight points, four rebounds, four assists and those four turnovers.
In 15 of his 20 games Carter has had a field-goal percentage of 40.0 or below … including 10 below 35 percent – the Mavs are 5-5 in those 10.
*Lillard thought he had his own game-winner, by the way ...
"We were up six with under a minute to go,'' Dirk said. "It feels like we're the only team always giving up 3s to tie. I watch a lot of League Pass, and other teams don't do it. So, when Lillard pump-faked and hit that shot, I just knew it was going in.''
*Dirk had five assists in the first quarter and finished with seven. This marks the 31st time Dirk has had at least seven assists. The Mavs are 30-1 in those games.
Jan. 4, 2012 was the last time he had seven assists.
*It was a coaching reunion night of sorts. Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was a Mavs assistant before getting the Portland job. And Mavericks assistant coach Kaleb Canales is a former Portland assistant who served as interim head coach of the Blazers at the end of the 2011-12 season before Stotts got the job.
*The Mavs are now 9-2 when holding their opponent under 45-percent shooting (held Portland to 44.8), and 4-0 when they post a field-goal percentage of at least 52. This was the second time they've done both this season (the Lakers being the other instance).
*The Mavs allowed 25 second-chance points, the second most they have allowed the season.
*On Dec. 7th last season, the Mavs were one game under .500 (9-10) and had a negative point differential (-2.1).
They are now 13-8 and +1.8.
DONUT 12: The Final Word ...
Carlisle said he thought he saw signs of "coming together" with a tough victory over the Pelicans on Wednesday night. That was a tough act to follow ... and the Mavs outdid themselves here.
In the process, they overcame a frustrating night with the officials that saw discrepancies like a 24-11 advantage at the line for Portland despite Dallas seeming to match their aggression to the rim (including scoring their second most points in the paint this season, exactly half of their 108: 54), double-doubles from both Lopez (14 points, 14 rebounds) and LaMarcus Aldridge (19 points, 13 rebounds … but 7-of-16 from the floor), 32 points from Damian Lillard, including an extremely difficult three over Shawn Marion to tie the game with 1.9 second to play, and 22 from Nicolas Batum.
The hurdles were significant. Dallas lept them all.
"It was definitely a fun game to be a part of," Nowitzki said. "I mean, here, the fans are as good as it gets in this league. The team is hot, so this was a fun atmosphere and fun game to play for us. Helluva of a team effort."
Portland is now 17-4. That's notable. The Mavs have won three in a row, including the last two on the road. That's notable, too.
Dare we say now it's not just Carlisle who sees signs of "coming together" but all of us who get to bask in the vision as well?
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