Monday Mavs Donuts: 1 Year Later, Land Ho!

At this very time last year, the Good Ship Mavs was in what would be a familiar season-long trek: Floating around the .500 mark, not quite ever able to find safe harbor. And today? Land ho! We discuss the Mavs catching some breaks and making some breaks in Monday Mavs Donuts!

DONUT 1: A year ago ...

At this very time last year, the Good Ship Dallas Mavericks was in what would be a familiar season-long trek: Floating around the .500 mark, not quite ever able to find land ho.
On Dec. 7, 2013, the Mavs were one game under .500 at 9-10. They were months away from growing those .500 Beards and months away from settling into the reality of 41-41. Oh, and had a negative point differential (-2.1), never an encouraging sign.

Fast-forward to today: They have the crush of seven back-to-back series behind them. They are on verge of getting healthier and therefore deeper. They are at beatable Sacramento tonight. They are now 13-8 and at +1.8 in points differential.

DONUT 2: Mavs 108, Blazers 106 ...

Our coverage of the Mavs' thrilling win in Portland includes video and analysis and All-Access Donuts!

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 case you missed it, a sampler ...

That sort of moment? "I was born for it," says Monta, up to his shoulder tattoos in swag.

Please enjoy responsibly.

DONUT 3: Boarding school ...

It's a good thing the Mavs are doing just enough things right because there are issues on the boards.

The Blazers hammered Dallas on the boards in Saturday, 50-36.

And in the game before that, a win at New Orleans that you can read complete coverage of here Dallas was out-rebounded by a margin of 67 to 46.

That's eight quarters of Other Guys 117, Dallas 82. Yikes.

DONUT 4: So should you foul? ...

The Mavs are up three and playing defense with a few seconds left in the game. They have two options:

a) commit a foul to send an opponent to the free-throw line, where their best likely hope is that he makes them both, still leaving you with a one-point margin of victory, or ...

b) try to play defense straight-up, and prevent a made 3.

It does seem like Dallas under Rick Carlisle habitually opts for the latter strategy. And it is funny to hear Dirk Nowitzki talk about how frequently it seems to backfire on the Mavs -- if not the rest of the league's coaches who rely on the same concept.

"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.''

It happened again in Portland, Damian Lillard tying the score at 106-106 with a head-faked double-pump trey made with 1.9 seconds remaining while Shawn Marion was draped all over him.

That's one of the best defenders in the league, forcing the explosive Lillard into a "bad'' shot ... and the score nevertheless being tied.

After the game, even in a Dallas win, Carlisle found himself being quizzed about the decision by long-time NBA writer Kerry Eggers of Portland.

"What difference does it make?" Carlisle said in reply to Eggers' question.

Worth noting: That quote, and what is to follow, will in print make Carlisle sound like a "Rick with a P,'' as he was first labeled by many when he first arrived in Dallas. He is, to be sure, a "The Gym Coach with a Psych Degree.'' It's his gym. You only think it's your interview. Carlisle has fun with this dynamic (even though he denies any knowledge of what I'm talking about every time I bring it up to him) ... and I sense he was having some fun with Eggers, with whom he likely has a friendly-enough relationship.

"What difference does it make?" Eggers attempted to answer, and Rick fired back (playfully, I think), "You should get a D-League (coaching) job.''

DONUT 5: It does make a difference ...

It does make a difference ... And Rick knows it. It's why he and his staff spend the time they do throwing into the pot of ideas everything possible from old-school "gut feeling'' to new-age analytics to form their conclusions.

"We talked about it," Rick said of fouling a Blazer before any of them became a shooter. "It's a very difficult situation. It's gotten harder and harder to even get to a guy and foul him. Then oftentimes when you're trying to foul him, he's going into the shot. So you give them three free throws and a four-point play? So that's tough, too. It's a philosophical thing.''

Now, in this particular case, Dallas could've fouled Aldridge (who received the inbounds pass) with no risk of him transforming himself into a shooter mid-foul; his back was to the basket upon receiving the pass. But that's a hard thing to coach ... for a defensive player to take instruction to try and anticipate where a receiver might be and to gauge the angle of his body in coordination with the basket. ...

Having said all that, I'm extremely comfortable with Carlisle's strategies here because I am aware (as I'm sure Eggers is) that Rick has spent a lifetime diagnosing the options.

I'm a little less comfortable with Rick's poke at the reporters in the interview room in Portland, where he said, "It's the media's favorite thing to second-guess, all right? But none of you guys have ever coached, and very few of you have played.''

I've never been a big fan of that poke ... even though, believe me, the interview rooms across the NBA and NFL are indeed full of people who don't know whether the ball is stuffed or blown up.

But also in those interview rooms are men and women who have devoted themselves to the craft of journalism, with an emphasis on learning from teachers like Rick (who has been incredibly generous with his time in dealing with yours truly) about how to create our own "pots'' full of old-school "gut feeling'' and new-age analytics.
Furthermore, while few of us played at the NBA level or the NFL level, that doesn't mean we never played or coached at all.

Again, I know Rick's being (mostly) playful here. And when he gets back into town, I plan on being (mostly) playful back by reminding him that he once took a year off from coaching to work as a studio analyst for ESPN ... and did so, to my knowledge, with zero experience in journalism.

Some aspects of my job are far shy of brain surgery, no doubt. But fans and media members who want to analyze the "when-to-foul'' question? We're not exactly engaging in brain surgery, either.

DONUT 6: Kings abdicate ...

The Kings have acquired forward Rudy Gay as part of a seven-player trade. ... Just in time to throw them into disarray for tonight's Mavs-at-Sacto meeting.

Gay is 27, comes from Toronto with a $17.9 million salary this season and a player option for $19.3 million next season, and while he's a "name" player, he's yet to make an All-Star team.

The Kings are spending here. I'm not sure that's a good thing in this case, especially compared to what Toronto is doing -- a salary dump that could mean $20 mil of shopping room next summer.

Of course, I'm even more interested in what it all means to the Mavs.

DONUT 7: Mavs at Kings ...

Leaving the Kings: Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Greivis Vasquez. This Sunday deal still requires league approval and paperwork, so those guys won't play in Sacto tonight ... But their replacements Gay, Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray won't, either. This looks like a nine-man Kings team tonight that will continue to feature Cousins, along with fellow kids Isaiah Thomas, Ray McCallum and Ben McLemore.

But having said all that ... Sacto is 5-13. That's the second-poorest mark in the West for a now-traditionally downtrodden franchise that ought to be caught in the changing room tonight.

Land ho!

DONUT 8: Musical centers ...

DeJuan is now starting at center. Bernard James is suddenly getting backup minutes (yes, downtown, as opposed to in Frisco, which was recently a consideration). And planned-on starter Sam Dalembert?

Maybe he's back in the lineup tonight against the Kings. Maybe he's sleepwalked his way to Carlisle's S-list. Maybe his ribs are bothering him. Maybe he's slow to respond to Mark Cuban's public pep talk.

But as we detail here, we believe Dalembert is simply demonstrating the truth about "he-is-who-he-is'' ... and here we have updates on B-Wright and Asik trade talk as well.

DONUT 9: "Shooters Gotta Shoot'' ...

Justification for Vince to be a member of "The Big Three''?

It does not exist.

Production. Shot selection. Conversion rate. In the win at Portland, all not what they need to be for Carter to be an effective sixth man ... let alone this club's third member of a "Big Three.''

Carter was 4-of-13 (30.8 percent) for eight points, four rebounds, four assists and those four turnovers.

Last week, VC espoused the view that essentially goes like this: "Shooters gotta shoot.''

But there are numbers that insist that so far this year -- a full fourth of the way into the season! -- Vince is not a "shooter who's gotta shoot.'' In 15 of his 20 games Carter has had a field-goal percentage of 40 percent or below … including 10 below 35 percent.

Once you are one-fourth of the way into an NBA season, those sort of numbers inch you away from thinking, "Aw, I'm just in a slump.''

Don't they?

On Saturday in Portland, Rick Carlisle angrily tugged Vince from the game after a horrid shooting decision. Eventually, though, Carter was back on the floor as a finisher, at both ends.

But again, know that Vince is shooting under 35 percent in half of the Mavs' outings ... and maybe due in part to his "Shooters Gotta Shoot'' philosophy, Dallas is 5-5 in those 10 outings.

DONUT 10: Join the club! ...
For 14 NBA seasons, Mavs conversation cooks on the best discussion forum in the NBA, The Boards! Membership is free and arguments are wise. Sometimes.

DONUT 11: Dirk's assessment ...

You are forgiven if you see the highlights or read the traditional stat sheet and sense a passing of the torch from Dirk to Monta. It's exciting that Dirk is being given this level of help ... But The UberMan remains the center of this universe,

Consider: the Mavs entered Saturday night having employed five different lineups for a minimum of 50 minutes. Three of those include Dirk. Two do not. Guess which three have positive net ratings? Guess which two have negative ratings?

Monta brings skill and electricity and swag to a program that some fans feared might be growing ... Well, stale. He is the new toy under the Christmas tree. And who doesn't love a new toy, especially when it's your favorite team's new leading scorer!

But as you consider those lineup numbers, know this: It's become a cliche used to define the undefinable, a way to measure intangibles, a way to visualize the unseen. But you only have to combine your excitement with the new with your respect for the old to get this:

Dirk Nowitzki is a winner.

DONUT 12: The Final Word ...

A simple teaching point for Rick when he tries to get the fellas to understand the importance of defense? The Mavs are now 9-2 when holding their opponent under 45-percent shooting.

It's one thing to talk in platitudes about putting out on that end. But sometimes even the most hard-headed respond to hard numbers.

DONUT 13: The Finest Dentists in North Texas! ...

Our neighborhood dentists, even though we don't even live in the McKinney neighborhood? It's, and it's been the case for Nate, Tony and me for my kids' entire lifetime.

At, Dr. Berlin, Dr. Markham, Dr. Lynch and Dr. Wood have been providing the finest in everything from technology to chair-side manner for years, to my family and to so many of you. Their great work has part of us bringing our Mavs coverage to you since 1995 ... And we're proud to be associated with The Finest Dentists in North Texas ...!

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