Mavs Season Ends; 'What Comes Next' Begins
After the long tumultuous soap opera that was the second half of this campaign -- "To sum up the season, it was a wild ride, some ups and downs,'' Dirk said -- Dallas Mavericks year finally came to an end on Tuesday. Houston claiming the Game 5 decision, 103-94.
“We stayed together and we fought to the end,” said point guard J.J. Barea, thrust into the starting lineup after the soap-operatic villain Rajon Rondo's odd exit. “We’ve just gotta keep our heads up and see what happens next season.”
Ah, next season ... it begins today at about noon, with exit interviews in the AAC basement (and DB.com will be there, of course) ... and then it continues upstairs, with contractual decisions to be made on everybody from star-caliber guys like Tyson Chandler and Monta Ellis to lesser lights who flashed brightly in this series, like Barea and Aminu. And then there is the Chandler Parsons knee surgery (with the club harboring "slow-your-roll'' hope that it doesn't get the worst of news there) and a free-agency summer when the Mavs wish to use whatever tools at their disposal to chase a Dirk-heir-caliber stud like Lamarcus Aldridge or DeAndre Jordan.
Part of the search: Guys with "basketball souls.'' There is nothing wrong with Rondo's back; as DB.com reported last week, he quit on the court in Game 2 and then pulled an Al Czervik ("Ooh, ooh, I think it's broken!'') when informed by coach Rick Carlisle that he wouldn't be starting in Game 3. The Mavs erred badly in the blockbuster trade for Rondo in gauging his fit, his skill, his heart, his soul.
Rondo's buddy Monta Ellis is the next "basketball soul'' concern. He was electrifying before the All-Star Break and at times in this series and can now opt out of his contract while privately desiring a Chandler Parsons-sized payday. Do his pluses override his age and size and "The Moody Monta'' that is sometimes difficult to deal with?
The original plan to use the Bird Rights of Rondo, Monta and Tyson Chandler to bring them all back while splitting up $42 million is dead. DB.com will soon launch a detailed exploration of what Dallas can and will do next (Premium Mavs Fans have long been aware of the Aldridge concept -- right down to the swimming pool he's built for his mom right here in DFW) ...
But first the Mavs lick the wounds administered by the Rockets, who shot 45 percent from the field but were carried by their star duo of James Harden and Dwight Howard. Harden shot 47 percent and had eight helpers en route to his 28-point outing. Howard was a monster (albeit a childish one) once again, scoring 18 points and grabbing 19 rebounds. Josh Smith also continued his role as “Mavs killer” by adding another 20 points, giving him an average of 17.4 points per game for the series.
“They’re legit,” Carlisle said of the Rockets, who owner Mark Cuban has said before the series was something less than that. “They’ve got a great chance at the whole thing.”
Dallas on the other hand, squandered too many opportunities to gain momentum. The Mavs shot a meager 38 percent from the field, including a dreadful 5-of-26 from beyond the arc. They were also beaten on the boards once again, losing the battle 53-47.
Dirk Nowitzki, Ellis and company battled hard, but there were just too many mistakes down the stretch. The Big German, who started off 1-of-10 from the field, finished with 22 points and 14 rebounds. Monta was the Mavs' leading scorer for the game, dropping 25 points to go along with seven assists.
The Mavs seemed to be treading quicksand here, in part because of Dirk's uncharacteristic shooting struggles. (Sidenote: Nowitzki did average 21 points and 10 rebounds in this series; "Playoff Dirk,'' overall, lives.) Every time they closed in on a lead, Houston simply stretched it back out. The Rockets' advantage even dwindled to as little as five points late in the game, but the Mavs just couldn’t get over the hump.
Dallas’ frustration reached a peak late in the fourth quarter, when Ellis left the game with an apparent knee injury and Aminu fouled out. Ellis came back into the game, but was noticeably hobbled for the remainder of the contest.
So the Rockets march on, as a No. 2 seed should, with second-round advancement for just the second time in the Morey era. And the Mavs trudge home, as most No. 7 seeds do, having lost to a rival its been jousting dating all the way back to two summers ago with the Dwight sweepstakes and last summer with the Parsons contract. (Oh, and on Twitter on Tuesday night when the Rockets trolled the Mavs with a now-taken-down emoji pairing of a horse head and a pistol.)
“There will be a lot of activity this summer, a lot of opportunity to get the team better,” Carlisle said. “We’ll take a little time to catch our breath, and then we’ll be real aggressive.”
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