OK, so what coach Rick Carlisle does with his Mavs is not ‘handle.’ How about ‘manage’? ‘Steer’? ‘Guide’? Or, in the Christmas spirit, ‘shepherd’?
Of course, you ‘shepherd’ livestock, too. But you get the point. Carlisle would also probably vehemently deny that this has been a week of “button-pushing’’ and “puppeteering,’’ too.
On Tuesday, in a 103-99 loss at Toronto, his regular rotation guys played with such an absence of pep that after the game, he threatened to ship them all off to the Russian Front, or somewhere.
"If it's going to be like that, these guys aren't going to be Mavericks very long,'' Rick said. "I can promise you that."
No matter that Dallas isn’t really cutting Dirk Nowitzki, suspending Chandler Parsons or trading Wes Matthews to the Reno Bighorns. The words were all Rick had … so he used them.
In that same game, by the way, more button-pushing, as the non-regular-rotation guys actually forged a comeback against the Raptors, and earned down-the-stretch playing time because of it.
So Rick puts the fellas on blast, and then 24 hours later comes the second night of a back-to-back, at Brooklyn, before which he said: "I fly off half-cocked about every other day, so you cant pay much attention to what I say. The truth is I love this team and I really care about these guys. I want them to want it as much as I want it for them, and sometimes that manifests in some unusual ways, but I'm never going to stop caring."
Result? A 119-118 OT win over the Nets, imperfect but energy-filled, featuring Dirk vaulting over Shaq into sixth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list and Deron Williams (hamstring) on the bench watching replacement J.J. Brea button-pushed into the starting lineup to score a career-high 32 points with 11 assists.
And with Deron listed as questionable for tonight’s visit from the Bulls (along with Devin Harris, also with a hammy problem), what does Jolly Ol’ St. Rick give the fellas for Christmas?
Two days off. No practice Thursday. No practice Friday. Just get back in the gym today to prepare for the 7:30 AAC tip against the 16-11 Bulls, who are coming off a 105-96 Christmas Day victory at OKC.
The Mavs are also a 16-win team (albeit with 13 losses) and sit at fifth in the West. They catch a break with the Bulls having to go in a B-2-B roadie, but catch no breaks when it comes to Chicago’s talented trio of Jimmy Butler (23 points and four steals against the Thunder), Pau Gasol (21 points and 13 rebounds) and Derrick Rose (19 points).
Chicago will be without Joakim Noah., the subject of much Mavs-related trade speculation. (Which we cover here.)
Dallas will counter with Nowitzki, of course. He scored 22 in Brooklyn, and for all the talk of The UberMan being something other than this team’s best player … he still is. Dirk is at 28,609 career points and humbly entertains the idea of catching No. 5 Wilt Chamberlain (31,419). But in the moment matters more, and in that Nets moment, it was Dirk scored the go-ahead basket with 19 seconds left after the Mavs had rallied back from an 11-point fourth-quarter hole.
“It’s surreal passing Shaq,'' Dirk said. "He’s arguably the most dominant big man ever seen in this game, so it’s sort of weird that I’m up there now with all these legends. ... (But) I love to win. I love the feeling of the team. Everybody is happy, and that’s what I play for, to compete at the highest level and get wins for this franchise and this team. Obviously, No. 6 in the big picture is a lot bigger than a win in December in Brooklyn, but you don’t think about that. You want to get this win bad.''
There is hopefully also big help from Chandler Parsons, healthy enough to play in both those aforementioned games and charged tonight with helping to bust a Chicago D that allows an NBA-low 41.6-percent shooting. ... and if successful, Dallas will have won consecutive games for just the second time in five weeks.
“They’re a good team,” Carlisle said of a Bulls squad that is trying to win a third straight in Dallas. “They’re a team that’s going to compete every night. I’m not sure what their injury situation is, but either way it’s a blender with body parts in it. I mean, that’s the kind of game it is. It’s physical, and you’ve got to prepare for a mental and physical disposition.''
There is no end to Rick's filing cabinet full of colorful metaphors, and many of them have a farm-animal theme. "If cows were kittens.'' "Bulls and fiddles.'' "Chopping cows.'' And here we go to the kitchen: A "blender with body parts.'' And a Carlisle challenge, to push the button on that blender, to pull another handful of strings, to “shepherd’’ the Mavs through a post-Christmas chance at success.