DONUT 1: I Like The Mavs
I like the Dallas Mavericks, and I don't mean that in my usually-homerish way.
I like their collective personality. In addition to the compelling nature of The Triangle of Trust, Cuban, Donnie and Carlisle, and in addition to one of the most likable superstars in the history of sports in Dirk Nowitzki, this is a chemistry-mix team, a fun and funny team, made up of men who recognize they are reclamation projects and men who are comfortable playing on "contract years'' and men who self-effacingly label themselves "consolation prizes'' (Deron Williams) and happy-to-be-loved (Zaza Pachulia).
So how do you not like these Dallas Mavericks ... unless you are counting their in-limbo status as contenders?
DONUT 2: Rockets 115, Mavs 105
As demonstrated again Sunday in a second straight loss against a "regional rival,'' all that Dallas has going for it -- fun personality, elite coaching and clutch DNA -- aren't enough to compensate for an opposing team that employs a, say, James Harden.
Harden destroyed Dallas by scoring 23 points, and lest you think him a one-dimensional fraud, he also tossed into the boxscore his 15 rebounds and his 10 assists. And even if the Mavs had a consistent answer for The Beard going forward (and I suppose I want Wesley Matthews to get another, better crack at this), what was going to be their answer for season-high guy Trevor Ariza and season-high guy Josh Smith?
DONUT 3: Season-High Guys
By the time the other team has a trio of players with "season-highs'' or otherwise eyepopping stats, you know you are in trouble ... and in terms of "true contention,'' the Mavs are "in trouble.''
Oh, they are 25-21 and they are in contention for the No. 5 or No. 6 spot in the West and after The Season of Slapdickery last year with the cowardly Rajon Rondo having been given the keys to a contender and driving that contender into a ditch, "contention'' for something is ... cool.
But while Dallas battled with ex-Rocket Chandler Parsons scoring a season-high 31, and while Dallas battled with Dirk Nowitzki (19 points and please God let the fluid-on-the-knee issue be just fluid on the knee!), we are, just beyond the midway point of the NBA season, beginning to see the settling-in of who's who.
DONUT 4: Moving And Shaking
In Cleveland (with the LeBron-semi-orchestrated firing of David Blatt) and in Houston (with the trade for nothing of Josh Smith), you have other NBA playoff jousters making moves in an attempt to move up.
Here, our David Lord analyzes both the Cavs and the Rockets after their transactions -- yes, LeBron's apologists are liars and yes, Smith might fit nowwhere but Houston but he does fit in ways that give Dallas problems -- and there is a harsh conclusion to be drawn as Dallas watches the shuffling:
There is no such move the Mavs are likely to make that can improve their playoff lot.
DONUT 5: Strength in Stability
Of course, Mavs fans should be thankful that in Dallas, the inmates do not run the asylum. Rick Carlisle runs the asylum, to the point he might bark at you for wearing black-soled shoes on his gym floor ... and there is strength in stability that in the NBA might only exist in three places: San Antonio (Pop), Miami (Riles) and Dallas (where Carlisle's new five-year deal puts him firmly in charge.
It certainly helps that Carlisle's top player, Dirk, isn't a troublemaker with an agent who essentially sees himself as being a franchise powerbroker (as is the case in Cleveland). At the same time, while LeBron disavows any knowledge of plans to dismiss David Blatt ... do you really think back when Dallas divorced Avery Johnson -- a coach with a track record of success similar to Blatt's -- that Nowitzki knew nothing about the "temperature in the room'' and the eventual dismissal of "The Little General'' who saw himself as the second coming of Red Auerbach?
DONUT 6: Analysis, But ...
In a second straight game, against teams that are somewhere between "rival'' and "measuring stick,'' the Mavs proved to be not "clutch enough'' ... even though "clutch'' is truly a Dallas strength. Of course, "clutch'' matters not if you haven't the talent to match up ... and when we analyze the weekend's lose home loss to OKC and now the Houston game ... yeah, the Mavs aren't matching up.
With Dwight Howard (ankle) sitting out, you are catching a break ... but you have your own issues with Zaza sitting out (due to the ominous "lower-leg injury'' that may only hint at a Zaza truth) and so you can't take advantage. We can and do analyze the heck out of these wins and losses, the practices and the transactions, the quotes and the moods ...
But I fear we are about to hit The Wall.
DONUT 7: The Wall
No, not "The Rookie Wall,'' the imaginary barrier that stands in the way of kids trying to make the transition from a college schedule to the NBA's marathon of 82 games. (A marathon that Mavs owner Mark Cuban has an idea about stretching out for the benefit of his players.) This wall is about potential and promise ... or lack thereof.
DONUT 8: Quoteboard
“We slugged it out for two quarters,’’ said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, “but we we're unable to hold the line from there.’’
Read this quote and it almost comes with a built-in shoulder-shrug. It's a frumpy thought, if you consider it not just as a review of the Houston loss (as Rick intends) but as a view on what the franchise is capable of doing to make 2015-16 somewhat more promising.
DONUT 9: The Do-Something Club
I get asked constantly on Twitter at FishSports about potential Mavs trades before the mid-February deadline. It is one of the juiciest subjects on DB.com on an annual basis, one of the major reasons so many of you sign on for Mavs Premium at just about a dime a day: We are on top of every rumor and every scoop, debunking the bogus with facts and breaking the good stuff with depth and insight unmatched in Mavs Nation.
But I'll warn you: There will be more "debunking'' than there will be "goods'' during this trade-deadline season.
You will get frustrated and you will tweet me or you will post on DB.com Boards that Dallas should "Do Something!'' but in fact, there is very little the Mavs can do to make themselves better than a slightly scary second-tier West playoff team that sure would be fun to watch take a poke at, say, the Clippers.
DONUT 10: A Lack of Ammo
Our David Lord does a brilliant job here (a must-read, trust me) with an exclusive breakdown of the Mavs' assets, cap situation and potential room for free-agent pursuits in the summer of 2016. There are assets then; there are not assets now. As DB.com's Michael Dugat so elegantly puts it:
No, the best hope around here is that Parsons (who scored 31 at Houston) is ramping up to full health, and that Wesley Matthews is doing the same. (Forgetting the fact that CP isn't automatically a Mav for life, any more than he canoodled with some person named "Bambi,'' which he didn't).
The best hope is that Devin Harris' toe flare-up is going to be something mild, that kids like Anderson, Evans and Mejri are developing with the help of the D-League Texas Legends ...
... and that if your team is going to be just "OK,'' that it at least have the Basketball Soul enough to care to effort to be better than that.
DONUT 11: Speaking of Fun
On Thursday we're throwing a one-year anniversary party for my bar/restaurant, The Maverick Bar, at 1616 Hebron in Carrollton, and 105.3 The Fan, the Mavs, the Cowboys, the Rangers, the Stars, the Legends and FC Dallas are all part of the party. "Ben & Skin'' broadcast live from 3-7, with "Rockaholics'' providing live music all night and celebrities hanging out all day and night.
We've got 80 beers, 30 HDTVs, Texas-flavored gourmet burgers for around $6 bucks and a front-row seat for you ... This Thursday! Join me at The Maverick Bar and let's have some fellowship fun!
DONUT 12: The Final Word
“You never can get comfortable against a team like this. They’re very talented, they can hurt you in different ways, and we allowed them to make plays, get easy shots and get open threes.” - Parsons on the Rockets ... and maybe on every single team Dallas plays.