Before the untimely passing of my wife’s dogs, Rocky and Pebbles, she would feed them their medicine by wrapping the pills in cookie dough. The two Cavalier King Charles pooches, smart as they were (well, Pebbles was smart; Rocky was a lovable dope) would fall for the ruse every time, and gobble up the goodie, unaware of the yuck inside.
Did Marcia do this because the tiny pill might get lost in the bowl? Or because the hand-to-mouth exchange would be awkward? Or because as Mary Poppins taught us, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down?
The Dallas Mavericks are 0-2 after a 106-98 home-opening loss to the Rockets on Friday. That — and a glimpse of what Life Without Dirk might be like — is the bitter pill.
Harrison Barnes is the cookie dough.
Dirk Nowitzki stayed away from the AAC with a stomach illness, presumably watching on TV as the Mavs eventually ran out of gas, allowing themselves to be outscored 10-2 to close the third before Houston (behind 27 points from Trevor Ariza and 26 from James Harden) opened up a 15-point fourth-quarter bulge. In that sense, the loss mirrored Game 1 at Indy, where Dallas took the game to overtime before losing 130-121.
(AFTERNOON ALERT: Dirk Nowitzki, ill last night, is traveling with the Mavs to Houston, should be fine for Sunday night.).
That two-day mirror, however, also puts on display Barnes, who made the clutch 3-pointer to push the Pacers to that extra period and here scored a career-best 31 points.
"I expected Harrison to play extremely well and I think he has a chance to be a very special player, and I’ve felt that all along,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said. "And I like the way he competed … He put the ball in the basket, which was much needed with Dirk out. Some nights we’re going to need him more to guard a great player, but he’s still going to be a guy we depend on for production on offense.’’
Dallas is getting that production from its $94-million offseason prize, the player lifted from the championship-level Warriors roster to replace off-to-Memphis (and still unhealthy) Chandler Parsons. Here, Barnes scored 12 points in the first quarter and shot 13-of-23 overall, including some creativity all over the floor.
In the first two games of the season, Barnes has a team-high 50 points on 21-of-37 shots, and is 5-of-10 from 3-point range.
"I feel good,’’ said Barnes, who also five rebounds in his 39 minutes. "I’m getting good shots. In the preseason I was struggling shooting it, but they were shots that I felt I could knock down, and I’m still getting those looks. Now it’s just a matter of putting this all together.’’
In this Game 2, J.J. Barea took on some of that responsibility, Carlisle opting for SmallBall by starting him in Nowitzki’s place. Barea finished with 10 points, and backcourt buddies Deron Williams scored 14 with Wesley Matthews adding 13. But Matthews in these first two games is just 7-of-30 from the field and just 3-of-18 from beyond the arc, and while Dallas demands much of him defensively, this club that planned on being a top-10 defensive team in the NBA has just opened the week by allowing 236 points.
So when Barnes talks of “putting it all together,’’ he is referencing better overall execution by his team, which is Carlisle’s biggest bullet point from this loss, and something he’d like fixed as the Mavs prep to travel to Houston for a Sunday back end of a home-and-home challenge.
“We’ve got to execute better,” Carlisle said. “Execution is a lot of things. We had some free throw block-outs missed, we had some missed assignments, we had some bad decisions on personnel where we over-helped at times and opened guys up for 3’s. It’s become a game of inches in this league and you’ve got to win the game of inches to beat talented teams with great players.”
Dallas believes Barnes, at just 24 and with that North Carolina and Golden State pedigree, can develop into such a player. Meanwhile, trying to survive with the absence of greatness is an issue that none of us really wants to deal with … but we must.
At different points in Rick’s postgame address, the coach noted both that Dirk’s absence “shouldn’t take away from what we’re doing defensively and how tough we’re playing and how involved we are as a team’’ and that while Barnes was terrific, “We lost, and that’s the story. So let’s keep our eye on the ball here.’’
And then one more point.
“Dirk,’’ Carlisle said, “is not going to be around here forever.’’
Coach, couldn’t you at least have wrapped that bitter pill inside a hunk of cookie dough?