DONUT 1: Setting the table - Mavs 96, Blazers 91 …
On January 9th the Dallas Mavericks were 13-23. In whimpered whispers a eulogy passed through the minds of a fan base unfamiliar with such an early entanglement of helpless hopelessness. With each overtime loss – to Charlotte, Golden State, Minnesota, Oklahoma City (twice), Miami, New Orleans and Boston – curse words flew as playoff hopes got fitted for their cement shoes and a short swim.
There was the admittedly missed call wiping an OJ Mayo basket from the books and handing the game to the Portland Trailblazers January 31st, any of the 13 games lost by five points or less (now 11-13 record overall in games decided by five points or less), or, more recently, the final-seconds loss to Denver that wove a collection of their season-long weaknesses into one heartbreaking defeat … each a solidification of doubt.
Yet, by their own insistence to keep up the fight, each funeral was followed by birth, each screamed goodbye responded to by a quiet refusal to walk away head down.
Though the final margin was far slimmer than it probably should have been, the five-point victory over the Trailblazers keeps the Mavs faint playoff hopes alive.
DONUT 2: What’s it mean? ...
Prior to the final in Portland, the Los Angeles Lakers lost Sunday afternoon and the Utah Jazz held off the Golden State Warriors for a win.
This leaves the Mavs playoff hopes precariously hanging with one foot over the precipice of the lottery. To avoid the lottery and clinch the eighth seed, with both the Lakers and Jazz holding the tie-breaker over the Mavs, Dallas must now finish 5-0 while the Jazz do no better than 1-3, the Lakers 2-3.
So, we’re telling you there’s a chance … no matter how small.
DONUT 3: The NBA highlight reel ...
DONUT 4: Dirk’s foot, er, ankle ...
For those watching the game, the question of “why isn’t Dirk coming back into this game” undoubtedly arose as the Blazers quickly destroyed a 26-point Mavs lead to stand within three points with 39.4 seconds to play.
Dirk Nowitzki did not play in the fourth quarter, and went scoreless, missing his only three attempts, in 7:49 in the second half. For the game, Dirk had six points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals (more on the steals later).
After the game, Rick Carlisle shed some light on this situation:
“We held Dirk out because he’s got something in his foot that’s bothering him, and, you know, it just felt like either way it was more important to keep him out and get this thing looked at and hopefully get him ready for Wednesday,” Carlisle said.
He would later add:
“I’m not going to get into what it is, because I don’t know exactly what it is. At this point it isn’t considered serious, but you don’t mess around with something like that.”
Turns out, it's Dirk's ankle, not his foot.
“I think I jumped for a rebound or something in the second quarter — halfway through the second quarter — and I must have landed wrong or something,” Nowitzki said. “I must have irritated my bone spurs or something.
“It got really stiff and I couldn’t hardly move much during the third quarter. I said, ‘Let me sit this one and the boys will bring it home.’''
If the odds weren’t long enough, this will certainly be something to watch moving forward for the Mavs. You never want to hear about issues with the feet of 7-footers, though, perhaps the fact that there are likely only five games remaining is a small blessing.
“I’ll be fine,'' Nowitzki said. "I’ll definitely play Wednesday.”
That's Dallas' next game, at home against lousy Phoenix. The Mavs stayed in Portland on Sunday night and weren't to travel back to DFW until Monday. Maybe a light workout for Dirk on Tuesday, or maybe no workout at all ...
For now, we’ll just have to hope this is as minimal a concern as both Carlisle and Dirk presented it to be.
DONUT 5: One of the best scoring performances ever from a Mavs center? ...
Chris Kaman again got the start at center and finished with 26 points (a season high), 11 rebounds (his most since Nov. 19th – and only the fourth time this season he’s had at least 10), two blocks, one steal and one assist.
Kaman got off to a hot start, scoring 14 of the Mavs first 19 points, personally outscoring the Blazers 14-9 at that point, and had a solid all-around game, minus a poorly timed technical foul during Portland’s furious push in the fourth quarter.
So, how strong of an offensive performance was this for Kaman?
This was only the 12th time in Kaman’s career to score 26-or-more, and the most points he’s had since Feb. 13, 2012 (as a member of the Hornets).
According to Basketball-Reference.com (also mentioned on our FSSW broadcast), Chris Kaman’s 26 points were also the most scored by a Mavericks center since March 9, 2000 … when Shawn Bradley scored 26 in a loss to the Timberwolves.
If you’re wondering, the most by a Mavs center/forward was 35 from Roy Tarpley (11/9/88). The most from a “true” center: 32 from Bradley (4/14/97). And, Tyson Chandler’s high was 23 points in a win over Washington (2/26/11).
A player listed solely as a center has now scored at least 26 points eight times in the history of the Dallas Mavericks franchise (according to Basketball-Reference.com). Shawn Bradley did it four times. Sean Rooks (scored exactly 26 twice) and Chris Anstey (exactly 26 once) are the only other names on the list.
Lest you think Kaman's effort was motivated by his desire to shave his horrid .500 Beard, think again.
''I don't care it's a lot of work (to maintain),'' he said. "I just let it go. It's like a Chia Pet. ... I'm thinking of keeping it.''
DONUT 6: Most under-appreciated ...
Shawn Marion finished the game with 20 points, seven rebounds, two assists and one block.
For the season, Marion’s field-goal percentage is now up to 51.1, meaning he has shot over 50 percent in three of his four years in Dallas. He’s routinely the best defender on the court, and one of the best rebounding small forwards in the NBA.
No offensive plays are called for him, and he still manages to average double digits in efficient scoring for the Mavs.
As a member of the Mavericks, put all of this together, and you have the makings of one of the most under-appreciated players in the NBA.
DONUT 7: Where did Mike James go? ...
In the last six games (including Sunday night against Portland), Mike James is averaging: 3.5 points, 27.6 field-goal percentage, 16.7 3-point percentage, 4.3 assists, 1.2 turnovers and 23.2 minutes.
During the same stretch, Darren Collison is averaging: 10.3 points, 46.9 field-goal percentage, 22.2 3-point percentage, 6.3 assists, 1.5 turnovers and 28 minutes.
Is this a bit of “regression to the mean,” or just another explanation for why the Mavs are 3-3 in those six games … or both?
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DONUT 9: Battle of the Boards ...
Coming into the game Sunday night, Dallas was 2-3 in their previous five games … with a clear delineation between wins and losses in the rebounding column. In the three losses, Dallas was out-rebounded by an average of 16.7 per game. In the two wins, their rebound differential was a much more manageable minus-1.0.
Against Portland, Dallas built a lead as large as 26 points in large part due to their dominance on the glass, posting a rebound differential of plus-11 in the first half, and plus-9 for the game.
That differential (plus-9) was the most Dallas has out-rebounded an opponent since grabbing 19 more than the Timberwolves in a win on March 10th.
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DONUT 11: Fight for the freebies ...
Looking back at this same five game stretch, in the three losses Dallas allowed their opponents to average 17.7 more free-throw attempts, compared to “only” six more in the two wins.
Against the Blazers, neither spent much time at the line (much to the chagrin of some Blazers fans after the late no-call on Damian Lillard’s layup attempt with 6.9 seconds to play). The Mavs attempted 12 free throws, making nine. Portland attempted 16, making 13.
DONUT 12: Mavsellaneous ...
*A sure ROY held in check … again. Damiam Lillard has been a revelation … except when he plays the Mavericks. In four meetings, Lillard has been held to 14.3 points on a field-goal percentage of 28.3, including 22.2 percent behind the arc. All well below his season averages of 18.8 points, 42.8 and 36.8 field-goal and 3-point percentages respectively.
*This marked only the fourth time in Dirk’s career that he finished a game with more steals than made field goals.
12/18/02: 3 Steals, 2 FGs vs Denver in a win
3/7/04: 9 steals, 7 FGs vs Houston in a loss
11/5/03: 2 steals, 1 FGs vs Washington in a loss
Dirk finished with three steals and two made field goals against Portland.
*An unusual line: Will Barton is the first NBA rookie with 22 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and three steals since Grant Hill on March 25, 1995. More notable: He is first NBA reserve with 22 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and three steals since Cliff Robinson on Jan. 20, 1993. He sort of exploded onto the scene last night ...
*We're hearing from inside Mavs HQ that Elton Brand (who sat out the game with a calf problem) may not be ready to return anytime soon.
*Follow the Mavs on Twitter: Mike Fisher and
Michael Dugat keep you up-to-the-minute informed on all things Mavs!
DONUT 13: The Final Word ...
Much has been made of the Mavs struggles against the top five seeds in the Western Conference, rightfully so.
However, this tends to be a trait of teams fighting just to scrape their way into the playoffs, not solely of the Mavs.
Against the top five seeds in the West:
Los Angeles is 3-14 … and still has a matchup with San Antonio in the second-to-last game of the season.
Utah is 4-13 … and still has to play OKC and Memphis again, though the Memphis game is the last of the season and may have no significance to the Grizzlies.
Dallas is 2-14 … and must still play Denver and Memphis once more each.
As Lloyd Christmas once stated, “So, you’re telling me there’s a chance.”