DONUT 1: THE CHESS MATCH
Coaching in the NBA is largely about strategy. Leadership, teaching and strategy.
Most commonly, that strategy manifests itself as a chess match between two masters like Gregg Popovich and Rick Carlisle as they move around pieces in an effort to win a game.
But what if they move pieces in a way because they don’t care about winning? Or because it’s beneficial to lose?
DONUT 2: CHECKMATE?
The San Antonio Spurs, who visit the AAC tonight (see the DBcom GameThread here), have already made the first move.
They announced on the eve of the game that starters Kawhi Leonard (rest), LaMarcus Aldridge (rest), Pau Gasol (rest) and Danny Green (left quad contusion) will not play against the Mavs. Also out are Manu Ginobili (right quad contusion) and Dejounte Murray (left groin injury).
The Spurs are 60-18. They’ve won the Southwest Division. They will enter the playoffs as the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference behind only Golden State.
The Mavs’ reasons to counter the move with a matching one? Less obvious to some.
DONUT 3: CAN RICK OUT-TANK POP?
What Pop is doing here isn’t “tanking,’’ exactly. He’ll play his scrubs and he’ll offer leadership, teaching and strategy.
What Rick can do here IS “tanking.’’ Exactly. And for all the bold and blustery talk from Mavs bosses regarding how the words “tank’’ and “ping-pong balls’’ are barely in this franchise’s vocabulary … Dallas certainly demonstrated an ability to speak the language in its last two outings, back-to-back losses at Sacramento and at the Clippers.
And along the way, throughout the week, the focus (in addition to letting Harrison Barnes chase his 82-game ironman goal) was more about Nico Brussino than it was Dirk Nowitzki.
As it should be, because …
DONUT 4: THE TANKATHON STANDINGS
Dallas is now in ninth place in the Lottery Race. That represents slippage, with Minnesota and Sacramento both a game ahead of the Mavericks.
The 31-47 Kings are at the Lakers tonight in a game neither team especially wants to win.
The 31-47 Timberwolves are at the Jazz tonight in a game they surely will lose.
DONUT 5: AND HERE’S WHAT HURTS
I’ve written volumes on the disease of “losing on purpose,’’ and how it can convert a losing team into a bad franchise. It’s a minefield, and I’ve never taken that lightly.
But now, assuming Dallas is slightly more comfortable with losing for a purpose, you begin to see why I’ve advocated “Organic Tanking’’ since the start of the new year.
It wasn’t about “rooting for losses,’’ necessarily; I mean, what difference does it make if you watch the Mavs on TV and hope they lose? They cannot hear you.
I was, though, about making a hard self-evaluation, and about realizing that when on Jan. 27 the Mavs had the fifth-worst record in the NBA … that was reality. A valiant effort to turn that fifth-worst record around has resulted in Dallas having the ninth-worst record.
And for what?
It’s suddenly tougher to “Organically Tank’’ a game now than it would’ve been then, because the competition can all clearly see the finish line. Minny and Sacramento are right there with you, able to visualize exactly what needs to be done to get a superior pick.
And just like when the Mavs, over the years, have lost a game in, say, January, that’s meant they finish fifth instead of fourth in the NBA playoff race, and we regret it … now the Mavs won a game in, say, January that might mean they finish ninth instead of seventh in the NBA Draft race … and I hope we don’t have to regret it.
DONUT 6: THE NUMBERS GAME
While Dallas has done some good things at home (with two AAC games remaining, the Mavs are 21-18 and guaranteed a winning home record), they have also now lost six of their last seven games. And there has been just enough “Youth Experimentation’’ to land them dead-last in NBA scoring at 97.9 points per. (And dead-last by a wide margin.)
DONUT 7: QUOTABLE
“It’s just time to get it healthier a little bit,” Seth Curry said of his shoulder, which has caused him to miss the last three games. “It’s a little sore, for sure.’’
Yes, yes. It’s just time to get it healthier. Seth this morning is listed as "questionable.''
DONUT 8: DIRK’S MILESTONE
Along with HB’s pursuit, there is another Dirk milestone around the corner. His next appearance will move him past Jason Kidd and into a tie with Tim Duncan (1,392) for seventh on the NBA’s all-time games played list.
Now, does that need to be accomplished tonight? As Nowitzki (nursing a sore Achilles) is already locked into playing next season, is it a milestone that can wait? Can he make an “appearance’’ tonight — thus pleasing AAC ticket-buyers who might be disappointed at having to watch the Spurs JV — and then retire back to the sideline dry-erase board?
DONUT 9: A CAP LOOK FORWARD
From our David Lord:
The cap estimate for this summer has been LOWERED to $101 million by the league, in a memo today.
Next summer, it is expected to be "flat" (i.e., perhaps $101 mil again).
For a Mavs team that was wanting to spend cap room on players like Noel this summer, and Yogi, followed by cap room for Curry next summer, plus have something left over for another player in free agency, this is not good news. Their ability to fit everybody in was already iffy, and now with less to spend it becomes even harder.
I have to believe that GMs are scrambling right now to figure out who is impacted, and this changes the spending dynamics for free agency as we start a new CBA.
Furthermore, we have to say that this makes it all the more difficult to “keep the band together’’ and add a key piece via free agency.
The first step? Conceding that not everyone in this “band’’ is good enough, given the cap ramifications, to “keep together.’’ Our story on this is coming up.
DONUT 10: THE SERIES
The Spurs happen to own the second-best road record in the NBA at 29-9. Their +7.6 point differential is the league’s second-best. There are few cracks in the armor, as the Mavs have seen over the years … and this season, too.
The Mavs lost in San Antonio 96-91 on Nov. 21, and lost again to the Spurs in Dallas 94-87 on Nov. 30. Dallas did register a win over the Spurs this year when, In point guard Yogi Ferrell’s first game with Dallas on Jan. 29, the Mavs defeated the Spurs in San Antonio 105-101. Ferrell finished with nine points, seven assists and two steals, and sealed the game with a pair of free throws with 7.3 seconds to play.
But the Mavs needn’t be fooled by that win, just as they aren’t fooled by Yogi’s relative success.
DONUT 11: THE PG SEARCH
To wit, Mavs owner Mark Cuban is on-record as to what Dallas’ top offseason target will be.
"We got to get better at point, there's no question," Cuban said. "If we can't do it in the draft, we'll look at free agency and see what we can do. Yogi is going to get better. Seth will continue to get better. I'd love to see Nico play some point forward and see how that works. … We'll have depth, but we have to get that one pass-first point guard. That's what we don't have."
We can help.
In our latest Mavs Premium piece, we reveal what Dallas management thinks of Ricky Rubio, we examine how De’Aaron Fox can be an answer in the NBA Draft, and how Jrue Holliday might fit at that “missing piece’’ … all the while considering their fit into the Mavs culture.
DONUT 12: THE FINAL WORD
“I’m not going to take my foot off the gas,’’ said Carlisle after the Mavs’ surprising Sunday win at Milwaukee. “The guys that are playing are going to be responsible for playing the right way.”
Ah, and look closely at that second sentence, as closely as we all examined the first sentence.
“The guys that are playing.’’
Go ahead and press that gas pedal tonight, Rick. Just make sure that your car is only capable of reaching a maximum speed that’s less than Pop’s car.