Mark Cuban, before the Dallas Mavericks played host to the revenge-minded Portland Trailblazers on Tuesday, put his latest twisted twist on the "tank-vs.-playoffs'' debate.
"It's not just about making (the playoffs),'' the owner said. "It's about being good enough to be there."
Interpret that as you will, but here's one takeaway: The Mavs' 114-113 at-the-buzzer loss to Portland fits Cuban's qualifiers and satisfies both sides of the debate. Because, hey, this "must-win game,'' as the Mavs termed it, didn't end up being a playoff-helping win. But it did demonstrate some of Dallas' best qualities, qualities that show Dirk Nowitzki and Harrison Barnes and Yogi Ferrell can be part of a "good-enough-to-be-there'' bunch.
And maybe that's good enough.
C.J. McCollum's floater in the lane with 0.3 remaining served as the game-winner (it's the second time that sonofagun has done this exact thing to Dallas) ...
And the now 20-32 Mavs are obviously far from perfect. They ..... They ... They ...
But despite early concerns from some MFFL that The UberMan is suddenly no longer capable of uber things (c'mon, people!), Dirk did something historic (passing Hondo on the NBA's all-time field-goals list with 10,513, good for 10th place) and Dirk did something clutch.
"This was vintage (Nowitzki),'' coach Rick Carlisle said of the DFW icon, who totaled 25 points, 19 in the second half, to go with five rebounds, three assists and two blocks. "He played a phenomenal game. His shot-making at the end was vintage it was breathtaking."
Here's Dirk on Dirk:
Dirk remains one of the reasons this franchise has "basketball soul,'' one of the reasons this core has a future beyond 2016-17. (As long as he's having enough fun to wish to be a part of it, which we believe and hope is the case.) It's not a grand plan for him to be Dallas' best player anymore; Cuban's insisted for four years now that the roster would be built in such a way as to relieve that burden.
And again, we see glimpses and hints of this happening ... right around a few corners.
Ferrell ("The patron saint of the D-League,'' said Mavs boss Donnie Nelson, who oversaw the acquisition of the unheralded rookie who now has a two-year contract) had 12 points, but an assist/turnover total of 2/2, and he wasn't quite able to hang with the Portland backcourt (see below) ... yet, in terms of him being a future rotation helper, Dallas was right about him.
Barnes notched a team-high 26 points to go with five rebounds and two steals. He's led Dallas in scoring 27 times and he's hit the 20-point mark 27 times. Dallas was right about him.
Wesley Matthews scored 23 points but like the rest of the Dallas D had his hands full with the likes of McCollum (32 points) and Dame Lillard (29 points and a pre-game promise to not let the Mavs' weekend win at Portland be repeated here.) Dallas was right about him, and in declining to dangle him in trade, is probably right again.
Of course, those are nice pieces. But they're not all superior to Nowitzki, which has to happen around here, and soon. Dirk being the "fourth-best player'' on the team or "being the sixth man'' can't happen as a result of him stinking. It has to happen with Dirk remaining effective ... while having teammates who are even more effective.
We'll argue, though, that we are seeing the tip of the iceberg of that sort of a group.
At the same time, this collection of guys that makes up this "underrated shit team'' that was able to record back-to-back consecutive-night wins against NBA powerhouses San Antonio and Cleveland, just one week later has now lost back-to-back consecutive-night games to Denver and Portland, two Treadmill-of-Mediocrity partners in Dallas' same class.
"It's just one of those nights. You win some and you lose some. ... You know, just a bounce here & there in a one-point game."
Dallas won't practice on Wednesday. It's a chance to check on the shoulder of Seth Curry, which got dinged up here, and on the injury progress of Andrew Bogut, Deron Williams and JJ Barea, progress that is slow enough to leave in doubt their value as Mavs and as Feb. 23 trade-deadline bait.
A day off also offers a chance to lick wounds and reflect.
Sometimes things demand deep analysis. This game represents one of those times.
Sometimes things can be boiled down with simplicity. This game represents one of those times, too.
"We made the last shot,'' deadpanned Blazers coach Terry Stotts, a simple truth that may just leave the Mavs not in the playoffs ... but good enough to feel good enough nevertheless.