"It's like talking about the Mavs,’’ Mark Cuban said Friday before Dallas played host to the Jazz, speaking on Donald Trump’s inauguration. “Sometimes you speak to your fan base, and sometimes you tell the truth."
Forget Mark’s politics here, and yours, and mine, and consider what the “back-and-forth’’ on tanking owner is really saying about marketing and management and roster moves and basketball.
There are times to make public admissions and maybe they are different than the times when you make private ones.
But either way, an admission is about due.
The Utah Jazz know what “hot’’ actually means. The Jazz have been one of the best teams in the Western Conference since Thanksgiving. Since that time, they came in having accumulated a 19-8 record, and were winners in four of their last five games coming into Friday.
The Mavs? They were “fake-hot’’ a few days ago, with a three-game winning streak against poor opponents. A test would come here … and hey, they have been a tough matchup for the Jazz this season. In each of their first two matchups, the game came down to the final moments, and in each game, the Mavs have fallen short.
It was more of the same on Friday, as theyJazz defeated the Dallas 112-107 in overtime, sending the Mavs to a paltry record of 14-29 in the Western Conference.
So which is it, guys?
“We had chances,’’ said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, and it’s true. But even while the game’s margin was slim … look at the margin between these two teams.
Utah is 28-16. It has been able developed a talented, young core, mostly through the draft, and have really become a blueprint of which that Mavs should strive to emulate in the years to come. They play tough defense, and rely on elite rebounding and great team basketball to win games.
That young core (with an average age is around 25 years old) is headlined by Rudy Gobert, Gordon Hayward, Rodney Hood (who was inactive here), and Derrick Favors. They have put Utah in a great position to compete this season, and for many years to come as they continue to improve. And yet, they still aren’t a top-four team in the West, the long-stated Dallas goal back when it was realistic.
Dallas, as we all know by now, is in the middle of a much different stage in their lifecycle. The roster mostly consists of old veterans and young role players, who (with the exception of Harrison Barnes) are not guys that you can build a franchise around.
Perhaps it’s a frustrating loss like this one that firmly puts the Mavs on the train toward earning a good draft pick — and in position to finally admit “the truth’’ to their fan base.
Now, let’s be clear, the Mavs put in a hell of a TEAM effort.
Seven guys went into double figures for Dallas, and the bench combined for 43 points as a unit. Barnes led the Mavs with 19 points on 7-16 from the field, while Deron Williams (16 points and eight dimes) and Seth Curry (15 points) helped guide this thing into the final minutes.
But the guy that Dallas has counted on consistently for the last 18 years to come up big in situations like this came up with one of the poorest shooting performances of his entire career.
Dirk, who shot just 1-13 from the field, and scored three points, was a complete non-factor in this game. And in the end, the absence of any sort of scoring production from him, (as well as the loss of J.J. Barea to an injury near the end of regulation) ended up costing the Mavs the game, and had Rick Carlisle sitting Nowitzki on the bench in the final minutes.
Instead those minutes went to Dwight Powell, who was able to come up with some big buckets down the stretch.
“Powell played terrific,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s very difficult with the size differential on the boards, but his energy was great. … He made a lot of nice rolls and some good finishes. He’s a guy you can always count on to play with unbelievable energy and purity out there. He just goes at it hard.”
The Jazz, however were just too much. … especially when they caught a late break as Carlisle signaled for a timeout near the close of regulation that he wasn’t awarded.
“With regard to me calling a timeout and them not seeing? That they didn’t see it – although none of them told me that,’’ Rick said. “I’m just making that assumption based on the result. To my knowledge, and I didn’t look at the film yet, the ball came off at probably two seconds, and they just didn’t see it, didn’t hear it. It was a bad result.”
Meanwhile, Gobert absolutely crushed the Mavs, going for 27 points and 25 rebounds, and two blocks in the game. He was 8-11 from the field, had 10 offensive boards, and seemed to alter nearly every shot the Mavs attempted to take in the painted area throughout his 41 minutes on the floor. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as after Friday’s game, Gobert now averages 21.5 points and 17.5 boards per game against Dallas this season.
Hayward asserted himself as one of the most underrated young talents in today’s game, going for for 26 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 38 minutes. He was everywhere, and Dallas had no answer for him.
So maybe, just maybe, after losing for the eighth time in a row on the second night of a back-to-back in such a brutal fashion, this game will serve as the tipping point the rebuilding process to officially begin. Does that mean selling off assets? Does it mean playing guys like Finney-Smith, Powell, Pierre Jackson and Salah Mejri a bump in minutes going forward? Does it mean Justin Anderson can have his letter jacket back? Can it mean moving Dirk to more of a sixth man role off the bench, one that comes with some minute restrictions on the side?
Interesting remark from Dirk: “At this stage I’m fighting my way back still from injury. But I battled and the whole team battled. It was just a play here and there.’’
Yes, yes. The “battle’’ part is good. But Dirk’s still “hurt,’’ kinda? What if you limit him. … now?
Barea (with a here-we-go-again calf strain) will be out for weeks. Andrew Bogut is still hurt. At 15 games under .500, this team is almost not going anywhere this season. … and that requires some “truth’’ from management, in some form.
Dirk, as much as we all love and adore him, is simply not capable of carrying a ball club for 82 (or even 60-70) games anymore. Barnes might be capable of that in the next couple of years, but he needs help, and that help will needs to come in the form of a lottery pick. … and a $29-mil young free agent, as our David Lord so brilliantly details here.
And you, Otto Porter, Jr.
The Mavs will be back at it again on Sunday afternoon when the wounded Los Angeles Lakers (who may be without D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance Jr., and Nick Young) come into town. The Mavs have handled the 15-31 Lakers fairly easily this season, winning both matchups by double-digits.
And you see the back-and-forth temptation already forming. The Lakers are bad. It would feel good to win. Standings miracles do happen.
You see “the truth.’’