FIRST, LET'S GET LOOSENED UP WITH PEJA: The most requested piece of Premium stuff we've received in the last two weeks: "Can we see Peja shoot?''
See it. Two minutes of Raw Peja.
HEY, CLEVELAND, HOW COLD IS IT?: The Cleveland Cavaliers are 8-44. They have lost an NBA-record 25 consecutive games. They've also exceeded their own franchise record of 25 losses when you count those losses stretching over consecutive seasons.
Who has been this bad?
Well, Cleveland was, before. The 1981-82 Cavs lost their last 19 games of the season, and the 1982-83 Cavs lost their first five games, meaning 24 consecutive losses.
And the 1995-96 Vancouver Grizzlies and the 1997-98 Denver Nuggets held the previous longest losing streak of 23 games.
Oh, and the Mavs are involved in this crap. If you know your Dallas Mavericks history, you know not to laugh at the futility of others.
Memories of that keep us from chuckling too hard at the Cavaliers – well, that and the fact that the Cavs were essentially one bounce away from overcoming their 14.5-point underdog status. The Cavs' last win was on December 18 when they beat the New York Knicks in overtime. (Oh, and before that, they'd lost 10 straight, meaning they've lost 35 of their last 36 going back to mid-November.)
"Everybody else put such a big emphasis on this just because of their record,'' said Shawn Marion, was an emphasis, too, with 17 points and 10 rebounds. "But they play hard. You just can't go out there expecting to blow a team out just because they've got 20-something losses in a row. They've just had some bad luck -- that's all it is. They compete and they've been in a lot of close games."
But the numbers are … atrocious. Cleveland has the NBA's worst scoring differential at -11.4 points per game, and also has the league's worst offense AND the league's worst defense.
Among the notables here: In Antawn Jamison, Cleveland employs one veteran player who, you would think, might be able to power the Cavs to an occasional something.
Additionally, in JJ Hickson, Christian Eyenga, Ramon Sessions and Manny Harris (and not counting the injured Andy Varejao and Mo Williams) the Cavs think they have something of a young core going forward.
"We are real young," Hickson said the other day. "That's not an excuse but at the same time we're growing. Every game we're learning more and we're learning how to play with each other. I think that we're fun to watch but at the same time it's about wins and losses."
Light at the end of that tunnel? It extends maybe all the way to Feb. 13, which marks Cleveland's best chance at a win. That's when they face the Washington Wizards at the Q. The Wizards are currently 0-25 on the road (and they are at home all week so that mark will stand). If the Cavs haven't won by then, their streak would be at 27.
An 0-27 vs. an 0-25.
We don't laugh too hard. As Mavs followers, we've been there.
HEY, DALLAS, HOW HOT IS IT?: Dallas has now won nine straight to vault 21 games above .500 at 36-15. Only three teams, SA, Boston and Miami, have more victories. (And Dallas swept both Boston and Miami this year, if you are scoring at home). Five games now remain before the All-Star Break.
How long can this go on? Well, let's get Coach's unhappy presser out of the way first.
In terms of road-vs.-home games, the Mavs catch no real breaks this month. And before the break, four of the five are roadies. But only one opponent
has a winning record. Dallas is at Sacto on Wednesday, then the b2b at Denver (the only game in which the Mavs might be underdogs), then Saturday at
Houston. Then back home for the Kings again on Wednesday, Feb. 16, and then anothe4r b2b at Phoenix.
Can the streak get to 10 straight, or 11 straight? Can the Mavs win 12 in a row as they did earlier this year, or 13 in a row as happened last season?
Yeah … or the whole damn thing could collapse because Dirk hurts a wrist or commits two turnovers in the final moments of a game – both of which occurred here.
So the news of the night (and the day, and maybe another day) will undoubtedly be Dirk Nowitzki's right wrist. At the end of the first quarter, he would take some contact from teammate Ian Mahinmi and Cleveland's Ryan Hollins while positioning for a rebound, appearing to bend his wrist awkwardly against Mahinmi's side.
Dirk would disappear to the locker room for some time before returning with a wrist wrap he would discard before taking the court.
With the arrival of the second half, came the reappearance of the black-tape wrap on Dirk's wrist. He would play, but clearly was not looking to assert himself on offense, as evidenced by the fact that he took only 11 shots and totaled only 12 points.
He would also continue to massage the wrist for the rest of the night.
"I know it's sore,'' coach Rick Carlisle said. "(Trainer Casey Smith) took him back in the locker room (during the game) and checked him out. He said he was OK to keep going. Look, we need him on the floor as much as possible because of how he changes the game, even when he's not shooting the ball. He got one critical jump shot in the fourth, and he's involved in a lot of important things for us out there."
It was a relief to see Dirk back on the court, though he did sit for much of the fourth with Mahinmi playing well in his place beside Tyson Chandler … all of which a relief until after the game … when we witnessed him wearing blue Mavs t-shirt and shorts and shower slippers as he made his way, unannounced, to the x-ray room.
Unsettling, to say the least, but we'll assume the best unless we hear otherwise. We were being careful to say nothing about the injury's seriousness, the results of the x-rays, or even if there WERE x-rays. We asked, and the Mavs offered no information. And, we must add that Dirk didn't seem overly concerned. …
And then finally, Dirk announced it himself: ""I took some X-rays, they were negative. So, it will be better from day-to-day."
SHROUDED IN SECRECY: As recently as a few weeks ago, we scoffed at this notion. Somebody had written that Caron Butler's injury and the news about it was "shrouded in secrecy.''
We think we want a scoffing mulligan.
Why wouldn't anyone tell us that Dirk had x-rays? Why did the Mavs browbeat anyone who predicted that Caron's knee injury would end up being serious? Why don't the Mavs admit that Roddy B re-broke his foot? And now, why don't the Mavs suggest when Roddy B will return to practice? (If it's Tuesday, the public won't know until ... Tuesday.) Oh, and the absence of our friend and telecast icon Bob Ortegel? We know it's not Bob O's health. That's a good thing. But we know everything else isn't all good. Why doesn't the organization simply make an announcement?
We're sure there is an explanation. The Dallas Mavericks are smarter than we are. ... so much smarter that we cannot really fathon the benefit of "shrouding in secrecy'' things like Dirk's x-ray when we're standing right there with a notepad watching him enter the x-ray room.
MORE INJURIES: JJB!: Senor Barea, you seem to be hurting in the rib area … DB.com shows it cares:
PEJA FOR THE START: Peja is Peja and the Mavs are the Mavs. So after he was given the starting job (not really a surprise in this space), he was also given every opportunity to shoot his way back into game shape.
Peja began the game one 3-pointer behind Dale Ellis for fourth on the NBA's all-time list, and would finish tied with him at 1,719. As you may remember, Jason Kidd (1748) passed Ellis not so long ago to currently sit at third on the same list.
Jason Terry's name isn't far behind, coming in at No. 8 with 1,592 3-pointers made.
This means the current Mavs roster throws three of the top eight most prolific three-point shooters in NBA history, and assuming Peja still has his stroke, all three continue to knock them down with some regularity.
You wouldn't have guessed it on this night, when the trio went 5-of-16 behind the arc, but it could be nice to watch as things progress.
Anyway, back to Peja …
The first play of the game was designed to deliver an open shot to its newest member, though it would take Peja a few more minutes to get his initial points as a Mav at the free-throw line with 9:08 to go in the first.
He would finish with eight points on 3-of-9 shooting, 1-of-6 from the arc, and would contribute a season-high of five rebounds … it's been a limited "season" for Peja, who had played only eight games.
He did look in good health as he moved without restraint during his 20 minutes. We'll see how he feels on Tuesday during the Mavs' noon practice, but initial results look positive for Peja working his way into the rotation (he did start) and a return to health quickly.
And Peja likes the look.
"There's a lot of ball movement," Stojakovic said, "and playing with guys like Jason, Dirk and Jet, we draw a lot of attention defensively and there's definitely going to be a lot of good looks out there."
The Mavs won't be impolite enough to quite come out and say this, but the timing for Peja's return to the floor after months of absence (he sat in Toronto before being acquired post-buyout by Dallas on Jan. 20) was ideal. He wasn't absolutely needed while Dallas rattled off eight straight wins while he rehabbed. He didn't travel on last week's 3-0 road trip. And his return comes against a Cleveland team that is largely Antawn Jamison and a collection of D-Leaguers.
While wearing jeans and black Chuck Taylors, he met with the media:
QUOTEBOARD: "They say you can't win 'em all, but in the same light, you can't lose 'em all, either."
-- Cavaliers forward J.J. Hickson, who is, of course, wrong.
More of what everybody is saying about everything when you check the front page after every game for McKinneyDentist.com Quoteboard!
MAVSELLANEOUS: Yeah, there were some boos at the AAC as the Mavs found themselves struggling to break away from am 80-79 lead with 8:32 remaining. Super Bowl avalanches, worst stretch of North Texas weather ever, and now a loss to the historically crappy Cavs? No, but too close. … Dirk, Chandler and Jason Kidd have the third best plus/minus for a trio in the NBA at +272. Oddly enough, of the top 25 trios, only four average at least +0.3 points per minute, all four are Mavs … We suppose now you see why DB.com's David Lord has spent two seasons raving about PG Ramon Sessions (19 points, 13 assists) … It's a right shoulder contusion for DeShawn Stevenson, who went down early but when exiting the locker room was being reminded by trainer Casey Smith that Tuesday's practice is at noon – a sign that Smith isn't worried about tough-guy DeShawn. … With Peja as a first-teamer, this was the Mavs 14th different starting lineup and their 11th in the last 22 games. … "They had 34 points on the break, which is a staggering number,''Carlisle said. … Nowitzki came in averaging 20.7 points against the Cavs, his second-lowest mark against any team. … While the defense was certainly suspect at times, the offense was easily as inept for long stretches. Outside of a 28-to-7 run by the Mavs spanning the end of the first and beginning of the second quarters, Dallas could never find a consistent rhythm. Outside of Mahinmi's 4-of-6, no Mav would shoot at or above 50 percent as the team would hit only 41 percent for the game. Remove Mahinmi's efficiency, and the rest hit only 39 percent of their attempts. … Peja got a huge ovation when he was introduced. Dirk received a standing O in the second quarter when the PA announcer noted the forward's 10th consecutive All-Star Game selection. And lots of laughs when a bunch of PejaHeads showed up in the stands – and yeah, that was a fun little game staged by your pals at DallasBasketball.com!
WHO DESERVES THE DIRKIE?: You vote here! You are a member of The Academy and the trophy, it's gold, like an Oscar!
DOUBLING UP: Tyson Chandler finished the game with double-double No. 13 of the season (10 points, 11 rebounds), and Dallas reached a record of 11-2 when that occurs.
Shawn Marion would also post a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds, though he shot 5-of-15, including 0-of-6 in the second half.
We noted this the last time it occurred, against the Knicks, but this marks the third time this season two players have accrued a double-double consisting of points and rebounds this season.
SOME OTHER CENTERS: Let's run through ‘em:
*Ex-Mav Ryan Hollins. Why is it that Ryan Hollins always seems to have at least one moment of dirty idiocy against the Mavs? Does he resent them for being unable to match the deal he would sign with Minnesota, or for not making his resigning a priority?
Whatever the root, we again saw a flash of underhanded play from Hollins as he made no attempt on the ball on a Chandler shot under the rim, but made every attempt to perfect his form on a headlock.
Chandler was clearly not pleased with the situation, and somehow the play avoided anything beyond a standard foul call.
Just another example of what Dallas fans have come to expect in a game involving Hollins. The other thing we can expect: a loss for Hollins' team, as he is now 1-5 against Dallas since leaving.
TY, care to comment to DB.com about wrasslin' with Hollins? Oh, and about "taking it out'' on coaches who All-Star Snubbed you?
*TY backup Ian Mahinmi. Funny moment for the suddenly mature Ian Mahinmi: Mavs on the secondary break, eight seconds left in the third quarter, JJB darting around – and The Ianimal gives him the "calm-down'' hands sign.
Serious moments for Ian: Beyond the status of Dirk's wrist, the story of the game for Mavs fans had to be the play of Ian Mahinmi, who got the nod as Chandler's backup from the beginning (see the DNP-CD for Brendan Haywood).
"Every time I get on the floor, my first thing is to bring energy," The Ianimal said. "You know, I really want to impact the game with a lot of energy, rebound the ball, play good defense, and then, you know, the offense comes. The more you're on the floor, the more you feel comfortable."
Mahinmi did exactly what he wanted and made a tremendous impact on the game. In 20 minutes, he put up 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting, eight rebounds and one steal.
"He was by far our best player," Rick Carlisle said.
We've frequently expressed the opinion that it may be time to see a little more Mahinmi, even if it means a little less Haywood. We've commissioned DB.com Studies on the subject! And nights like this could go a long way towards that becoming a reality … and to seeing some Ian at the 4, too … Or, if not, could they light a fire under Big Wood?
"I just felt the way he was playing defensively and offensively that was the way to go,'' Rick said of Ian. "The more he does well with that, the more we'll keep looking at him when we need to."
*Ian Mahinmi backup Brendan Haywood. A DNP. But can we tell you a nice Big Wood story that you won't read anywhere else?
After the game, a bunch of teenage boys collected behind a railing and yelled for the attention of Mavs players.
"Hey, Jason, can I have your shoes?'' "Hey Brian, can I have your shoes?''
Two Mavs players acquiesced. Marion immediately removed his shoes and tossed them into the pack. Brendan Haywood did something different. He asked the kids to wait.
It appeared for a moment like Big Wood's way of saying "no'' without saying "no.'' But by gosh, two minutes later, Brendan came back out of the locker room, found the kids, and handed them his shoes.
We're not saying that makes up for the DNP. Nor are we above joking that maybe Brendan should've given those kids his whole uniform, since maybe they could use it for something. Still, it was kind of touching.
FEISTY FIGHT?: All that feistiness may have led to an exchange between Dirk and Sessions. It appeared that Sessions struck Dirk on the wrist, and then Dirk took a retaliatory lunging swing at Sessons from behind.
Sessions: "He threw a punch. I don't know what it was about it, but I saw the replay. I don't know if he meant to do it, but he did it."
Dirk: "A punch? No. It was nothing.''
STREAKING: This season, Dallas has had winning streaks of 12 and nine. This marks only the second time in the franchise's history with two winning streaks of at least eight games in the same season.
The first? It came during the now infamous 2006-07, 67-win campaign, where they would have five such runs, including 8-, 9-, 12-, 13- and 17-game streaks.
JET AND HIS BENCH: The Mavericks are 9-0 this season when Jason Terry (who totaled 21) scores 10 or more points in the fourth quarter. Dallas is 10-1 when he scores at least 20 points. Good deal, right, Rick, when it's part of a 60-point burst from the bench? Hey, that's the second-best total of the year!
"You're putting too much weight on points scored,'' Carlisle moaned. "Look at the transition defense number. That's the number you've got to look at. That's where this game was disappointing. We've got work to do."
Yes, yes. But Jet scored 11 of his 23 points in the fourth. Be Happy!
THE FINAL WORD: "I told the guys it's not a matter of if we are going to win it's just when," Cavs coach Byron Scott said this weekend. "We just need to keep playing that hard you know when it comes down to the last four or five minutes we just have to believe that we're going to win the game."
For the first 44 minutes or so? They believed. Maybe.
The Cavaliers would hit 11 of their first 18 shots, or 61.1 percent, but would then go on to hit only 9-of-27 (33.3 percent) for the remainder of the first half.
Despite those numbers, the Dallas defense did not appear desirous of stepping up and shutting down the Cavs. Instead, poor offense and stretches of lackadaisical defense kept the Cavs in the game, causing the decision to remain in doubt until a final nine seconds of poorly-delivered basketball from Cleveland.
Dirk Nowitzki would be credited with two turnovers in the final minute, as Dallas didn't truly out-execute the Cavs … but got out-botched … as Anthony Parker took a quick 3 with six seconds on the clock and Shawn Marion contesting. The rebound would carom to Antawn Jamison with time on the clock.
However, there would be only two more passes and no final shot attempt, ‘Twan apparently forgetting how little time was left.
For 44 minutes or so, the Cavs believed. In the final four minutes or so? No, those are games the Mavs almost always win.