Donut 1: Negativity Bias
It’s a good thing I’m not superstitious, because the Dallas Mavericks can’t seem to win games that I’m assigned to cover. On Wednesday, though, they certainly gave it a solid try.
It was a hard-fought loss to the division-rival Spurs -- their second hard-fought loss to the Spurs in their last five games—but the 94-87 loss drops the Mavs to 3-14 none-the-less.
Donut 2: Wes Matthews is Back
Nobody was a louder critic of Wes Matthews early in the season than yours truly. That doesn’t mean I’m not among the most excited to have nothing to complain about over the last couple of weeks.
Matthews has been playing fantastic defense, he’s been hitting an insane percentage of his three-point shots, and he looks like he’s finally finding a groove that’s been missing—not just this season—but really since he shredded his Achilles tendon a couple of years ago.
He’s starting to remind me a bit of Shawn Marion—and if he keeps getting unexpected blocks under the basket, like he did here, that comparison is going to lead to some big things.
Donut 3: Welcome Back Devin Harris
It was a disappointing evening for Dein; his entire contribution to the box score was a few misses, a personal foul, and a rebound (very similar to the return to action Williams had a couple of weeks ago).
Due to minute restrictions resulting from that troublesome toe, Harris saw all 11 of his minutes in the first half.
Still, it was nice to see Harris on a basketball court for the first time this season (his 393rd time on the floor as a Dallas Maverick).
Donut 4: Conley Out for Two Months
There have been a lot of injuries piling up at the point guard position, which has caused a lot of what-ifs to cycle around the Mavs off-season pursuit of Mike Conley.
One thing that’s easy to forget, especially when looking at the injury woes of the Mavs the last couple of years, is that they don’t hold a candle to the injury issues faced by the Memphis Grizzlies in that span.
The Mavs let often-injured Parsons head to Memphis (where he’s struggled to stay on the court, and struggled when he’s managed to find the court), but they also missed out on their attempts to acquire Conley for the max.
There are a lot of things wrong with the Mavs—as any 3-14 record might tell you. But, they are a team losing with young, gutty players—each of them learning to be NBA regulars.
The Grizz haven’t seen their coveted offseason acquisition (Parsons) suit up since an ugly win vs. Dallas 7 games ago. Now, they get news that the frequently injured Conley is out again—this time for two months—with a broken back.
I’m pretty disappointed for both of those guys—they’re a lot of fun to watch when they’re healthy. But, when I think about the dollars the Mavs don’t have tied up in them, I do find a small sliver of positivity there.
Even if it makes me a little sick to my stomach to admit it.
Donut 5: Andrew Bogut Can Move
Andrew Bogut is at his best when you watch him moving around without the ball like he’s 22 years old again.
The frustrating habits that were piling up a couple of weeks ago, has he looked rooted in cement, and maybe even disinterested, have sort of melted away over the last several games.
His 12 rebounds ... that’s a number we’ve come to expect. But, what’s become pretty clear over the last few weeks is that Bogut wants to distribute that ball and he’s damn good at it when players are ready.
Bogut had a game-high five assists in last night’s contest. Only D-Will matched his big man with five of his own.
If Bogut could develop a dangerous three-point shot, he might be a decent option at point guard for the rest of this season. (Joke.)
Donut 6: Patty Mills Does It Again Part 1
The last time the Mavs and Spurs faced off, it was a 96-91 Spurs victory that was helped along by a 6-of-11 night by Patty Mills that notched 17 much-needed points.
Fast forward a few games and Mills was at it again. This time Mills went 9-of-12 from the floor with 23 points and another four assists.
In two separate parts of the game, Mills found himself in shooting contests with Seth Curry and Wes Matthews—the second of which iced the game for the Spurs.
On the other hand:
Donut 7: Patty Mills Does it Again Part 2
Mills was also, for the second time this season, the winner of our Justin Anderson Play of the Game award (the award I hand out for the player who turns an amazing play into something mildly embarrassing).
During an intense sequence in which Mills and Curry were battling bucket-for-bucket, Mills got frustrated and left the inbounds pass from Leonard just lying on the court while he argued with the ref. Matthews scooped it up and went for the easy layup. He wound up taking a hard foul and making both FTs—at the time it put the Mavs up by eight points—though we know that didn’t last.
Donut 8: Playing Hard, but Not To Win?
Last night the Mavs fielded a pretty decent squad when they sent Barnes, Bogut, Matthews and Curry out there.
Around the 7:30 mark of the 4th, the Mavs subbed out Matthews (the Mavs best defender, and the guy who led all scorers), and subbed out Barnes. The TV guys said they were going for a defensive look—but I can’t think of two better defenders than Barnes and Matthews—and they also happen to be the guys who get buckets.
That look didn’t last long, but when Rick brought back Barnes, he subbed out Bogut. Soon after, he would give Curry the hook and keep him out the rest of the way—which was strange to see for the guy who’d scored 8 of the Mavs 21 points in the quarter.
Did Gibson, coming in cold, really represent a better offensive/defensive threat than Curry? Had Curry, one of the few guys to prove himself an offensive threat in the fourth not earned a chance to be on the floor to close things out?
I was all ready to fume and fuss and second guess Rick about playing Gibson over Curry—until we heard that Curry wound up with a mild right knee sprain and couldn’t return (though he be with the team in Charlotte tonight).
Make no mistake: If this were a team fighting for a playoff spot, Bogut, Barnes and Matthews probably don’t take any fourth-quarter time off in a tight game against a division rival. Curry probably plays through a mild knee sprain.
But, when you’re playing for the future and you’ve got a back-to-back—maybe you play as hard as you can, but you don’t risk more than you need to.
Donut 9: Dirk Out Again
Dirk was out again vs. San Antonio. He’s laced it up five times over the first 17 games. He managed to play back-to-back games only twice this season. November 2nd and 4th, and then November 23rd and 25th.
He didn’t play in any of the three Mavericks victories this season—and the plan is he'll miss at least one more game (tonight against the Hornets) before returning to action.
One of the things that’s hard to pinpoint—and this piggy-backs off of my previous Donut—is how bad Dirk’s injury actually is right now.
There’s no question that the man is competitive, but he probably knows the writing on the wall is simple: This team isn't playing for a lottery pick, but this franchise likely ultimately is.
If his goal is to have one or two good seasons of basketball left, it might be in his best interest to stay limber, stay in playing shape—but also stay out of the way of young guys who need the time to become assets.
To put it in the form of a question that nobody in Mavs-land is going to answer: Is Dirk hurt as badly as it seems, or would he be miraculously ready to go tonight if they suddenly gave away a playoff spot for gumption?
Donut 10: Wes Matthews Dropping Knowledge to go with those 3s
"I'm proud of this team. Frustration aside ... the fight that we're showing, this is who we were supposed to be all along. Unfortunate injuries here and there, all over the place, it seems like, I think we struggled with an identity. This is who we're supposed to be. This is who we were meant to be. We're fighting every possession. It's fun playing basketball like that."
My wife has heard me say this more times than she cares to recall: I’d rather watch a losing team that gives a damn over a winning team that doesn’t.
It hasn’t been fun to watch the Mavericks lose night after night—but it has been rewarding.
There’s something very magical about watching guys turn into players. Watching youth create energy, even in a loss. Watching an identity form that demands respect—even if it doesn’t quite command fear yet.
These Mavs don’t win—but they don’t back down either—and that’s going to be something to build on.
Donut 11: Rick’s Stamp
Rick Carlisle has been doing this coaching thing for a long time now. I’ve been a fan of his since his days in Detroit—and I’d even wager my distaste for Larry Brown started around the time Rick Carlisle got booted out of Detroit on Brown’s behalf.
Likewise, I’d probably argue that the championship banner Detroit eventually dangled from their rafters had Rick’s influence all over it.
It’s hard to judge Rick for his time with the Pacers, because he had to manage through a lot of chaos.
There is even a lot of talk that Rick was against the acquisition of Rondo, and didn’t want to disrupt the team they’d built.
Right now, with so many young players on the roster, we might be looking at the team that is mostly likely to be shaped by Rick’s influence. Some players—like Powell, Anderson, Curry and Barnes—already seem to be miles ahead of where they started this season.
Hell—even punching-bag-turned-puncher Wes Matthews has taken some pretty huge strides in only 17 games.
When you’re looking for hope—start to ask yourself: What does a team look like when it has nothing but Rick Carlisle’s stamp on it? We’re getting close to finding out—and we know it has a lot of fight—if nothing else.
Donut 12: The Final Word
And now we turn our attention to Thursday night, another level of test at 10-8 Charlotte, not just because of Charlotte's talent but also because of the circumstance. the 6 p.m. CT tip is the second night of a back-to-back, a roadie, no Dirk (as was the case against the Spurs), minutes limits on other guys,
Will Dallas record a win here? I think we know the odds on such a thing, and they're not especially good.
Will Dallas put up a fight? I think we know the odds there, too, and increasingly, they're pretty good.