Donut 1: JAZZ 97, MAVS 81
The Mavericks lost to the Jazz in a 97-81 drubbing that was either way closer than it looks, or way worse than it looks. The loss drops the Mavericks to 0-4.
Um, 0-5, by the way, would be the worst start in franchise history. Worse, even, than the 13-69 team.
"It’s way too early to hang our heads,'' Dirk Nowitzki said. "I thought we fought tonight, but we weren’t very good. Shots didn’t go for us, but I thought the guys kept on battling.”
The battle continues: With Damian Lillard in town on Friday, this uneven Mavericks defense (which we write more about here in our Mavs-Jazz game story) may have its work cut out for them just to avoid starting 0-5.
Donut 2: WHAT HISTORY SAYS
I’d like to say there’s some hope for this team—the last (and only other) Mavericks team to start 0-4? Well, that was the 2006-2007 team. After dropping their first four, that squad won 12 in a row, and finished the season with a franchise best 67 wins, a Dirk Nowitzki MVP trophy, and a brutal loss to the 8th seed Golden State Warriors in the opening round of the playoffs.
That recovery was relatively unheard of—and this team doesn’t seem to have the talent, nor the discipline, to make that kind of bounce-back. That team had a Dirk who almost averaged a double-double for the season. Last night, Dirk didn’t even reach double digits in scoring.
Donut 3: COMICALLY OPEN (BUT NOT FUNNY)
We can’t forget that Dirk is ailing—so we also can’t overreact when we see his stat line from last night: 4 of 14 from the floor, 0 for 5 from three, no assists, only 5 rebounds, and 9 points.
On the other hand, we can’t ignore that Dirk is getting older—and “ailing” Dirk is going to happen more often than it did ten years ago. In fact, it might just be the norm.
On the other hand, Dirk’s best moments came because he did what so many of his teammates have to learn to do—he checked down to his other skillsets when his jumper wasn’t working for him. Yeah, those 5 threes he missed hurt even worse because he was comically open for all of them (to the point that it feels like Utah has never heard about Dirk Nowitzki’s prowess out there). But, as bad as he was with his jumper, he was incredibly effective when he drove to the basket.
Old and ailing Dirk saw that his jumper wasn’t working, but knew he needed to produce, so he drove to the basket, hit a few layups, and even collected the team’s only trip to the free-throw line in the first half. ... An example his teammates ought to emulate.
Donut 4: MORAL VICTORY (YUK)
When I wrote my "Walking Dead'' piece last week, I know I put the Mavericks in that category of teams who don’t have a lot to play for in terms of moral victories. At 0-4, with a tough schedule that doesn’t let up much into mid-November, there might be moral victories waiting in the wings.
One of those might just be the return of Dirk Nowitzki last night.
I made the point that the goal of this franchise, more than anything else, is to make Dirk’s final seasons in Dallas viable. If not championship caliber, they have to be somehow memorable. If your entire team-building strategy is built around the legacy of one player—it hurts even worse to watch him sit out two close divisional games in a row.
Getting Dirk back may not heal the problems this team has on defense, or with overall decision making, but at least it gives the team an emotional icon for teams and players to rally around. And, if I have to watch the Mavs lose much more this season, I want to at least appreciate number 41 for a little while longer.
Donut 5: DIRK'S MILESTONES I
Speaking of moral victories: One of the things we’ll eventually keep our eyes on is Dirk’s pursuit of Wilt Chamberlain—and to some degree Michael Jordan.
Dirk is currently 6th on the NBA’s All-Time scoring list with 29,522 points. Chamberlain sits above him with 31,419 and Jordan is 4th at 32,292.
Unfortunately for the 2016-2017 quad, it’s unlikely that Dirk passes Chamberlain this season. Dirk would need to turn it on and average over 24 points per game to catch Wilt—and that’s assuming he doesn’t miss any of the 78 remaining games. If he passes Wilt, expect that to happen mid-to-late next season.
Donut 6: DIRK'S MILESTONES II
On the other hand, here are some milestones that we can look forward to in 2016-2017 season: Dirk needs 478 points to reach 30,000 points for his career. Even if he only averaged 9 points per game (his total last night), he’ll reach 30,000 by around game 58 of the season.
Another stat worth watching: Dirk’s total career rebound numbers: 1419 offensive, 9134 defensive, 10,553 total. Dirk needs to reach at least 11,464 rebounds to unseat Elgin Baylor and reach the top 25 in career rebounds. Let’s be clear, Dirk is not going to suddenly average 11.7 rebounds a game and overtake Baylor this year. In fact, Dwight Howard is more likely to do that (11,197 boards and counting).
But, depending on how long Dirk plays, he may one day move past guys like Baylor, Patrick Ewing, or even Dennis Dorman.
Certainly, with a decent amount of luck, he’ll become only the 27th player in NBA history to reach 11,000 rebounds. To do that this year, he’d need to average about 5.7 rebounds per game—which doesn’t seem far-fetched, since he had 5 last night, and wasn’t particularly effective on the glass.
Donut 7: THE HIT LIST
My brother-in-law tells me that Wes Matthews is gonna put me on a hit list if I keep trashing his three-point shooting. (See my column, "Would Mavs Win More If Wes Shot Less?'' here.) If Matthews keeps hitting 3 of 5, I won’t need to.
Wes wasn’t great last night, but he did improve his three-point shooting. So, I’ll cut him some slack today.
The Mavs overall? Not so much. The team took another 26 three pointers, and only hit 7 of them, for 26.9 percent. I’m sure the PR will call that 27 percent --but it still doesn’t change the suddenly predictable outcome.
Not all trends are sustainable. If the Mavs were shooting 70 percent from three over the first four games, I’d write about that too—but I’d also caution everyone to expect things to gravitate back toward the norm. That means I don’t think this team is going to shoot 27 percent from behind the arc all year.
But, let me also say this: If statistical variance and standard deviation is the only thing your three-point shooting has going for it: drive to the basket. And once you get in there, finish.
Donut 8: GET DIRTY
I touched on this earlier, but I want to say it again:
Yes, Dirk took and missed some notably wide-open threes. He was missing them ... while Dante Exum, Joe Johnson and George Hill were nailing them.
But, when he saw that his shot wasn’t falling, he put his head down, got a little dirty, and drove to the basket.
The rest of the team seemed to learn that lesson during a fantastic 15-2 run to make it close at 63-66. Unfortunately, just as they got close, the lesson was lost. The Mavs started handing out open threes again, and they started taking bad shots instead of driving to the basket.
The 97-81 final score was especially frustrating BECAUSE the Mavs got so close to righting the ship.
Donut 9: CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM
Another cause for hope, then, is this: The Mavericks may be 0-4, but they’ve found themselves within striking distance in the fourth quarter a number of times—they just can’t seem to break through.
Last night, after getting themselves into trouble, they found a 15-2 run that nearly turned the game around.
Carlisle said his team found some "mojo'' there.
Opening night against the Pacers we saw a confident three by Barnes to send the game to overtime.
Against Houston the other night you saw Wes Matthews nail a three to tie the game, and then play pretty tough defense on Harden. Harden, as he often does, drew the foul, hit the free throws, and won the game for the Rockets—but the distance between winning and losing in the NBA is razor-thin.
At some point, hopefully soon, the razor is gonna slice the other way.
Do you make changes to force fate's hand?
“I’m going to take a hard look at this,'' coach Rick Carlisle said, "and decide where to go from here. We had a couple of good quarters and a couple of stinkers, so we’ve got to put together four good quarters.''
Donut 10: GAME-PLAN ATTENTION
The Mavs seem a little light on scouting—or the players are a little light on listening. The Jazz may be without some of their key players, but this is the same team that dominated San Antonio IN San Antonio on Tuesday night.
George Hill posted a 9-of-13 stat line with 3 of 5 threes and 7 assists against the (arguably more talented) Spurs. He followed that with 9-of-15 and 4-of-6 from three, with 6 boards and 4 assists against the Mavs.
Rodney Hood had 19 points Tuesday and 21 points.
So, if I could watch the Jazz play San Antonio and say to myself, “We gotta find a way to stop Hill and/or Hood,” and then they come out and EACH score more points on the second night of a back-to-back—I start to wonder if the game plan is flawed—or if guys aren’t paying attention to the game plan in the first place.
Or ... they simply aren't good enough to execute it?
Donut 11: SUPPLEMENTAL SETH?
We have a pretty smart piece here on our preseason Seth Curry optimism. We're still here. Weird foul-out in Game 1 aside, I constantly see things about Seth that I like. I’m also pretty sure that once guys start hitting more of the wide open shots he sets them up for, his assist numbers are going to see a spike.
On the other hand, he may be playing with a bit too much deference to his cold-shooting teammates.
Seth clearly knows how to hit a bucket. He’s making over half of his shots from the floor. Yeah, like everyone else on this team, his three point numbers are down this year—but his overall shooting is better.
But, probably to avoid a scathing “tie his hands to keep him from shooting” column from yours truly, Seth just isn’t taking a lot of shots. Maybe he’s just playing smart and he’s aware of his strengths and weaknesses, and refuses to take a good shot when he could set up a great shot.
Still, until guys start converting more of those drive and kick shots he sets them up for (like those beautiful trailing threes he set up against the Pacers), he might consider playing in attack mode.
Donut 12: THE FINAL WORD
Oh, Justin Anderson, why you hurt me?
Justin Anderson is fearless. I love that about him. He went up to try and stop a Rudy Gobert dunk and only cared that Rudy scored points, not that he might end up on a poster. He just wants to make plays and help his team win.
On the other hand, there’s a fine line between what Harp calls, “winning plays,” and what film nerds call a, “Buster Keaton impersonation.”
Do I love watching him dive all over the place to pick up loose balls? Do I know that the reason Anderson had 8 boards in only 20 minutes is because he’s a ball of relentless energy and tenacity? Yes. Do I love that he can also, from time to time, knock down a three and keep people honest? Yes.
But—do I think he ends a few too many offensive possessions with an awkward, flailing, out of control, Yakkity-Sax style of unintentional comedy? Also, yes.
If Anderson could turn that raw energy into a controlled burn, he might find the basket more often. He might hold on to tough rebounds more often. He might not grab a steal and then fling it half-way down, or across, the basketball court.
And, he might just go from making, “winning plays,” to winning some games.