We cannot write about the Dallas Mavericks playing the Sacramento Kings without doing so via the prism of "What If.'' ... as in, "What if the Mavs had a player like DeMarcus Cousins? How would he fit here? How would he mesh with coach Rick Carlisle? Could he put the turmoil that has plagued him in Sacto behind him?''
Acquiring a talent like that has long been a dream scenario for Dallas, but we wake up from the dream following Sunday's matinee result -- even as it's a positive Mavs 99, Kings 79 result -- with two realizations:
One, as our David Lord writes brilliantly here, the new CBA makes it more viable than ever that a player like Cousins, who can receive something like a $225-mil deal remains with his original team, will stay in Sacramento.
And two, while once upon a time we engaged in the dream because the Dallas organization was always clearly more attractive to the Sacramento organization ... but now, maybe not so much.
To be sure, for one afternoon, Dallas turned the tables on the team that crushed it just 11 days ago, a pounding so damaging that Carlisle ordered a closed-door team meeting and a unique post-game film session. (See "At The Movies'' here.) That was one of the six most-lopsided losses in Mavs history, and this? Well, it's a 51-point flip-flop from that game and it featured surprise contributions from the perimeter (Devin Harris played 20 minutes, scored 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting, and added seven rebounds) and on the interior (where somehow Dallas out-rebounded Cousins and the Kings ....
"I'm pretty sure,'' deadpanned Carlisle, "that was a big factor."
It helped that injuries caused the Kings to play SmallBall with a three-guard lineup. But Dallas' backcourt duo of Deron Williams and Wes Matthews bettered all of them with a combined 30 points on 11-of-24 shooting. Then came ex-King Seth Curry with 13 points, five rebounds, four assists, and two steals. And then came Devin, who suggested the Mavs wanted to wash away that earlier loss.
“I think it kind of stuck out in our heads, them coming out on our home floor and embarrassing us the way they did,'' he said. "We just wanted to come out and play hard and stay aggressive the whole game. ... We really needed the win today especially the way we lost the last game. We wanted to come out and give a better effort and don’t leave anything to chance.”
Dallas also got nice work out of Dorian Finney-Smith (a career-high 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting and 3 of 6 from three), and Harrison Barnes' 15 put him right there with D-Will and Wes. all of it more than enough to offset the work of Cousins, who scored 23 points in the first half but faded in the second half, totaling 33 for the game on 24 shots. As has been the case during his entire career in Sacto, he's generally got no help (Ty Lawson was the only other player in double figures with 10) and then Boogie himself seemed to sort of ... lose interest.
Maybe coach Dave Joerger of the Kings was trying to re-invigorate Boogie, or maybe he was sending a less positive message, when, with Sacto down 16 points in the fourth, Cousins was re-inserted into the game and stayed there until about the two-minute mark and Sacramento down by 20. It was a nonsensical move by a nonsensical franchise ...
But at the moment, Dallas has no room to wag fingers or point fingers.
The Kings drop to 10-17. Awful, but Dallas "vaulted'' to just 7-20. Carlisle over Joerger is an easy pick when listing the benefits of Dallas over Sacramento, but can you really squint and see how the Mavs' best player (Harrison Barnes) is superior to Boogie, or how each man's supporting cast makes the Mavs more capable or more promising than the Kings? Some of that changes when Dirk Nowitzki returns to the floor, of course, hopefully later this month. And the Mark Cuban-led stability of the franchise is worth something, too -- though Big Fish free agents have yet to see it all quite like you and I and Cuban do.
Hey, as I've often joked: Dallas will become an NBA "destination city'' on par with Los Angeles just as soon as Cuban's riches ship into DFW some mountains, some beaches and some starlets.
Maybe the most resounding "What-If'' concessions to the facts about where the Dallas Mavericks presently are positioned come in two examples:
One, the NBA's agreeing to move this night game to 3 p.m. so as not to get entirely erased as an event by the Sunday night Cowboys-Bucs game. The Mavs are a "cold'' enough ticket in town that a 7:30 tip directly opposite the NFL game would've caused this event to occur in a vacuum.
And two, Cuban's humble concession -- an admission that mirrors exactly what I've been saying for weeks about "Organic Tanking'' -- about why he opposes losing on purpose in order to get a higher pick in next summer's NBA Draft, i.e., tanking.
"Obviously, we don’t (even) have to try (to lose),'' Cuban said before tipoff. "It’s kind of been a self-fulfilling prophesy."
Not on this afternoon, it wasn't. But overall? Yessir, because you spend the afternoon not thinking nearly as much about how important it is for Dallas to beat Sacramento while spending way to much time being a Mavs lover who looks at the Kings covetously.