Donut 1: Mavs 111, Suns 124
You can’t imagine how nice it is to watch a team embrace it’s tanking destiny. After weeks of gutting their way back into unexpected contention, the Dallas Mavericks have gone into such respectable tank mode that they’ve lost two in a row to the 24-57 Phoenix Suns.
The Mavs led by 7 early, then they trailed by 16 in the 2nd quarter before (temporarily) recapturing the lead—at halftime they were well within striking distance (down 63-60).
By the end of the third (a 36-20 quarter dominated by Phoenix), the wheels were back off, and the tank treads were back on.
The 4th quarter was a who’s who of who’s that, as the benches emptied onto the court to take whichever shot wasn’t nailed down.
The short version: This wasn’t very good basketball—but if you’re a Mavs fan, it got the job done.
Donut 2: Dirk’s Quiet Milestone
Dirk had an OK night for an old guy who played a grand total of 20 minutes. He managed 11 points (though it did take him 12 shots), 3 boards and 3 assists.
But, he also continued his climb up another all-time list. After playing in his 1,393rd game, he moved past Tim Duncan for sole possession of 7th all time.
Not bad for a guy who missed most of a season with knee surgery a few years ago—and a good chunk of this season with various ailments as well.
Next on the list is Kevin Willis (who played in 1,424 games).
There are two former Dirk teammates nipping at his heels for this milestone by the way. Jason Terry has played in 1,357 games, while Vince Carter dragged his fountain of youth into his 1,346th game this week.
Donut 3: Those Phoenix Suns
Devin Booker was just fine vs. the Mavs in their final matchup of the season. He scored 21 points on 8 of 15 from the floor and he did it in only 23 minutes.
Still—this was nothing like the heat-check, gut wrenching loss that Booker handed the Mavs in their last meeting back on March 11th (when he scored 36 points, including the game winner in a 100-98 Mavs loss).
That said: The Suns are 3-15 in their last 18 games, and two of those three wins came against the Mavericks.
I liked this rivalry better when it lead to Western Conference Finals appearances.
Donut 4: Finney-Smith
Finney-Smith, the Mavs undrafted rookie forward, has played in 79 of the teams 80 games this season. That’s the most ever for an undrafted rookie in Mavs history.
He’s earned that playing time.
He doesn’t play a lot of minutes (under 20 minutes per game), but he makes an impact nearly every time he takes the court.
Don’t be fooled by his chilly 38% field goal percentage. He sports a True Shooting percentage close to 50%, because he knows how to knock down timely threes, and he knows how to get to the line.
He rarely turns the ball over, he seems to relish doing the dirty work, and he defends pretty well for a guy on a team that doesn’t defend very well.
As we saw vs. the Suns, he shoots to keep defenses honest, but he doesn’t need to shoot to stay engaged in a basketball game. In 30 minutes of playing time he had a steal, three assists, 6 points, and 11 rebounds (which doesn’t even count the number of times he tapped balls to teammates and got them easy boards by keeping the ball alive).
One stat that popped off the page at me here: 7 of Finney-Smith’s 11 rebounds came at the offensive end.
If he can learn to capitalize on a few more of those offensive boards by getting himself points, he’s going to have a long career.
Donut 5: Yogi Ferrell
Ferrell has averaged 11.2 points per game in the 33 games he’s been a Maverick. He only averaged 5.4 points per game during his first ten games with the Nets.
His overall PPG average sits at 9.9 with two games left.
Vs. the Suns, Yogi was 8 of 16 for 21 points (3 of 3 from downtown) and he added 4 rebounds and 4 assists.
Assuming (educated guess) Yogi sees plenty of playing time over the last two games—there’s a real chance he’s going to bring his scoring average to above 10 points per game.
The Mavs are bluntly honest about what Yogi is; that's why their words have us examining the team's interest level in guys like Rubio, Holliday and Bledsoe. (See Mavs Premium here.). Still ... Not bad for an undrafted, undersized rookie who started his year unable to impress the 20-60 Brooklyn Nets.
Donut 6: Wes Matthews
Wes Matthews racked up 826 three pointers during his time with the Trailblazers. When he left the team, after his injury shortened season in 2014-2015, that was good enough to make him the Blazers all-time leader in threes made.
The new leader is, as you might have guessed, former teammate Damian Lillard, who edged past him late last season (and tacked on another 214 this season).
Don’t you worry though, Wes is well on his way to making his mark on the Mavs record books already.
Matthews already set the tone last year when he hit 189 threes—good enough for third all time behind George McCloud’s 257 threes in 1996 and Jose Calderon’s 191 back in 2014.
Wes was only 1 of 8 from beyond the arc, giving temporary 3 and D bragging rights to Dwight Powell (more on that later), but he’s also compiled 174 three pointers this year (at a rate of 36.7%) to claim the 5th best single season by a Maverick.
Wes is 2 behind Jason Kidd for 4th (and 15 behind his own total from last year)—and he’s unlikely to see enough playing time over the last two games to unseat himself, or Kidd, from the record books.
Still, after Wes started the season in such a funk, it’s a small victory to see him recover and excel.
Donut 7: Starters Bushed, Young Guys Beat
Seth Curry, Harrison Barnes and J.J. were already chilling out for this game.
By the second half, Dirk, Wes Matthews and Nerlens Noel joined them for some rest. Other notable old dude, Devin Harris, played only 9 minutes.
That meant that most of the game, especially in the second half, belonged to Yogi, Finney-Smith, Dwight Powell, Brussino, Hammons and some dude named Jarrod Uthoff.
How did that go? I’ll let Rick Carlisle sum it up:
“The young guys are getting experience. They’re getting their brains beat in, in the second halves, but this is how you learn.”
Yogi Ferrell had his own thoughts about it, saying, “It’s definitely difficult. We don’t like losing, but we know why we’re doing that, and it’s to try to make us young guys better.”
Donut 8: Around the League Pt. 1: Greatness Watch
Just because we saw two teams that have kinda sucked down the stretch does NOT mean we’re NBA fans in a vacuum.
I’ll admit that I was distracted for the first few minutes of the Mavs/Suns 1st quarter because I was watching Atlanta cap off a 26-point 4th-quarter comeback to win in overtime vs. LeBron and the Cavs.
Then, I got distracted with about 3 minutes left in the first half to watch Russell Westbrook make history with his 42nd triple-double of the season (he’ll also average a triple-double for the season no matter what he does over the last couple of games). The icing on the cake is that Russ also hit a three that was Steph-Curry-deep to eliminate Denver from the playoffs picture. I know some think "Russell isn’t a superstar''—but he might be the first non-superstar to see the Hall of Fame one day.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m a die-hard Mavs fan, and I can certainly be myopic about it—but some moments are bigger than team loyalty—and they deserve a moment of respect. You know people around the league were showing Dirk that respect when he hit 30,000 points—so I’m glad to take a second to enjoy the white-hot magic of this Westbrook season.
Plus ... Paul Millsap can opt out of his Hawks contract after this year, and I like to dream of him in Mavs colors.
Donut 9: Dwight Powell, Three-and-D?
Holy crap, Dwight Powell had himself a night.
He got 32 minutes of action and he hit 8 of his 14 shots, he grabbed 5 rebounds (all on the defensive end), he had 2 assists, 2 steals and a block. He was one of only three Mavs with a positive Plus/Minus (and the other two—Salah and Devin—played less than 10 minutes each).
The aspect of Powell’s game that was most fun to watch last night was his work from—I can’t believe I’m saying this—his work from the perimeter.
We all know the guy can grab rebounds. We all know he can get blocks. We all know he can run.
What I didn’t expect to see from him was a 4 of 8 night from beyond the arc.
After his first make, I thought he was just keeping the defense honest. By the time he’d knocked down four threes, I felt like he was announcing a new piece of artistry.
When he knocked down his final three of the night—a Dirk Nowitzki inspired trailing three—he actually got a smirk of approval from Rick Carlisle as he jogged back down to defend.
Donut 10: Sunday Funday is Over
Going into the game vs. the Suns, the Mavs hadn’t lost on Sunday all season. It seems only fitting (and pun inducing) that the one team that beat them on Sunday during the 2016-2017 season was a team called “The Suns.”
Then again, the Suns have had the Mavs number most of the year (taking the season series by a 3-1 margin).
Any of you who’ve read my work by now—you know I love weird, unexpected, and obscure stats. I would have loved to say, “The Mavs never lost on Sunday, let’s play all 82 games on Sunday next year, har-har-har.”
But, I also love a Mavs team that lost organically at a time when there is more value in a boring stat than there is in a quirky stat.
If the Mavs had made the playoffs this year, it wouldn’t matter if they went 1-3 vs every bottom-feeding team in the NBA. Likewise, going undefeated on Sunday means nothing when it damages your draft stock in a year that you aren’t sniffing the playoffs.
Donut 11: Jarrod Uthoff
It’s hard to know what to think of anybody after only six games as a professional.
Over his first six games he’s averaged 8.2 minutes, 2 points, 0.5 assists and 1.5 rebounds.
On the other hand, he played a total of 8 minutes of NBA ball from March 10th to April 4th and he saw as many Mavs games (2) as he did Texas Legends assignments.
In the last four games, to commemorate tanking, he’s played 21 minutes, 1 minute, 20 minutes and then 27 minutes vs. the Suns.
The Suns are a tough measuring stick, because they don’t defend well, they don’t shoot all that well, and they don’t rebound all that well. You might have guess that by their record?
Plus, it’s not like Jarrod (or anyone lately) had to square off for rebounds against someone like Tyson “DNP-CD” Chandler.
Still, in his biggest minute total so far, Uthoff showed why he (like Yogi) turned a couple of ten-day contracts into a bigger opportunity.
He was 4 of 8 shooting, he was 2 of 3 from three-point territory, he grabbed a steal, he dished an assist, and he pulled down 9 rebounds.
I’m not saying he’s ready to start in the NBA—but he’s a player I’m looking forward to watching over the last two games of the season—and I hope he’s good enough to come off the bench for this team in 2017-2018.
Donut 12: Around the League Pt 2: Lotto Watch
I kept my eyes on the TV late into the night to see if the Mavs could get any help from the Kings or the Timberwolves in their quest for draft position.
Sacramento fared better than I’d have expected against the 54-win Rockets. Harden’s 21st triple double on the season (and his last desperate push for MVP consideration) made a Kings’ victory a tall order. They would eventually lose to the Rockets 135-128. No help there.
The Timberwolves, on the other hand, recovered from an early 8 point deficit to take a 1-point lead into the 4th. If there was ever a game that the T-Wolves should be able to close out, it’s a game vs. the 24-55 Los Angeles Lakers. Right?
Let me ask you something—have you ever watched two teams that were both trying to tank at the same time? It’s like watching two people claiming they want to fight, but both hoping that their friends will hold them back. Then, heartbreak sets in, because you realize that both teams actually want to win so badly that it hurts. Then, it’s like watching a kid with a blindfold and a stick swinging at a piñata that isn’t there.
This wasn’t the Mavs holding out most of their starters and losing at the hands of their youngsters.
Minnesota had in Ricky Rubio, Karl Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and they only played 9 guys the entire game. Coach Thibs tightened up his bench like it was a playoff game, and his guys still struggled (part of that had to do with the fact that his guards were 0-12 before Rubio got a bucket with about 3 minutes left in the game).
Even after 40-point nights from Wiggins and Karl Anthony Towns, the Lakers hit a buzzer beating 3 to win 110-109. The T-Wolves seemed gutted, but it improved their draft odds—they were saved from themselves.
The Lakers, on the other hand, seemed to think they were moving on to the second round of the playoffs, but all they’d done was damage their lottery odds by keeping themselves ahead of the Suns for last place in the Western Conference.
For now, the Mavs -- who are off today with Tony Romo's debut slated for Tuesday -- stay at 9th worst in the NBA despite their greatest tanking efforts. One day, I’ll look back on Harrison Barnes’ amazing game vs. the Bucks and be happy for him, but today is not that day.