Mavs Donuts, Starring 'Connect Four'
This is going to down as one of those Dallas Mavericks victories that gets saddled with the "ugly-win'' cliche. (Or maybe observers will create brand-new malaprop-style cliches, like the Star-Telegram's description of the Mavs' 36th win:
"Tired legs have handcuffed this team.''
Well, close enough. The Mavericks did not shoot well, at just 37.3 percent. They didn't rebound well, getting outdone in that department by minus-14. And they found themselves in a battle against a fairly talented have-not (Utah is now 19-34) before managing to secure an 87-82 win.
In fairness, though, Rajon Rondo's participation (as he heals from a broken face) was limited to Connect Four. (bleacher report art.) Earlier in the day, he took on all comers. Even coach Rick Carlisle tried his hand at challenging the injured point guard at one of his favorite games.
"He got all excited afterward,'' Carlisle relayed later, deadpanning, "I told him to learn how to make a shot.''
In addition to Rondo (who did do some light work at the morning shootaround), Tyson Chandler (ankle) did not play. (Basketball, I mean. I don't know about Connect Four.) And Monta Ellis played despite a bad hip, the ironman struggling as a shooter for the Mavs (1-of-6 from the floor and only seven points) but battling through pain well enough to wow his coach.
“He set an all-time individual team record with 12 deflections in the game defensively, so he played well,” said Carlisle of Ellis, who also managed a career-high-tying seven steals. "It’s not all about points.”'
Said Monta of rubbing some dirt on it: "It was good. I did battle with my soldiers. We needed this win. They could have got it without me but I hate sitting on the sidelines so I go out there and did whatever I could to help us win."
The only "soldier'' around here is Bernard James. But I get the point.
Meanwhile, Rondo's replacement, J.J. Barea, was all about points. JJB reeled off 13 unanswered points in the third quarter and finished with with a game- and season-high 22 points.
“My teammates were just telling me to keep shooting,” said Barea, who was 8-of-15 from the field. “They kept giving me the ball and the ball was going in. (The Jazz) were going under the pick-and-rolls, and then I got going a little bit, and I think that was big for us in the third quarter.”
Dirk Nowitzki (15 points) was the only other Mav in double-figures on a night capped by his 13th selection to the NBA All-Star Game.
“It is always an honor to represent the Mavericks at the All Star Game,” Nowitzki said. “This year it threw a little bit of a wrench into my plans, but I am very excited. Even though it was unexpected I am looking forward to being a part of the festivities in New York.''
Read more about the "honor'' -- and the "wrench'' -- here.
The Mavs got off to a sluggish start here, missing their first seven shots. But they were eventually given an emotional boost by newcomer/old pal Bernard James, the ex-Mav who literally just finished his business after playing in China and signed a 10-day contract with Dallas.
“The guy just got off a plane from China a couple of days ago,” Carlisle said of "Sarge,'' who pitched in with nine points, three rebounds and three blocks in 22 minutes off the bench. (AP photos) “We were jumping through hoops trying to get his letter of clearance from FIBA and all that, and )he’s on the) other side of the world. All that stuff came through basically with one minute before shootaround. Without him, I don’t know if we would have been able to pull it off.”
James spoke with a great deal of confidence ... the sort that comes with having spent a season of stardom while playing for a team owned by Yao Ming.
"There wasn't a steep learning curve at all,'' said James, who watched as Greg Smith started in place of TY (and was then mothballed). "It was kind of me out there being more comfortable. I played a lot of minutes in China so coming back here, my confidence is high and I'm just out there playing, I wasn't thinking or hesitating or anything like that."
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There were other helpers, including Chandler Parsons, who chased Gordon Hayward into a 5-of-14 shooting night, and who now will try to win some sort of NBA Fashion Show before vacationing in Mexico.
"I think his fashion is horrible,'' Dirk said of CP. :We think he dresses like Justin Bieber so if you're into that kind of stuff then I guess you can vote for him. ... These sweaters he wears that are almost down to his knees, the female pajamas I call them, that's the worst look.''
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The 36-19 Mavs have their second-best pre-All-Star Break winning percentage in the last seven seasons, at .655. Only the 2011 title team did it better.
"He continues to surprise us all. Just a guy who always wants to be out there. Reminds me of my younger days, just never wanting to miss games. No matter what you have, you try to give it to the team. No matter if you're not 100 percent, always trying to get it to this franchise, and that's what he's been doing since he got here." - Dirk on Monta.
Dirk Nowitzki was going to take some time off. Instead he'll represent the Mavs in The Big Apple this weekend during a break that won't see the Mavericks return to action until Feb. 19 in Oklahoma City.
The Mavs will tell you that in a sense, they are disappointed that Dirk won't get all his free time. They will also tell you they wish, for Monta Ellis' sake, that he'd made the All-Star cut. But they'll deal with this as they've dealt with many challenges through this campaign.
"No matter how you look at it, it’s a great honor,'' Carlisle said of Commissioner Adam Silver's selection of Dirk. "He’s deserving. … He’s compiling one of the all-time great resumes in NBA history."
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