DONUT 1: Another nail ...
You could use both hands and feet and not have enough digits to count the full number of nails that have been driven into the coffin of the The Dallas Mavericks’ season. For all of those hammered home, for all the moments the season’s outcome felt like an inevitable decline into the lottery; the Mavs entered Tuesday night with a chance.
They left with a suffocating hope now gasping at air grown so thin, a heart that likely knows the precise date of its pending silence … and with what may have been the final nail of true relevance to be driven home.
With a 101-81 loss, Dallas falls 2.5 games behind the Lakers and Jazz – now tied for the eighth seed – and forfeits the tiebreakers with both teams, essentially leaving them 3.5 games back with only eight to play.
“It seemed like we never could get back over that hump,” said Shawn Marion, who was talking about this game but might as well have been talking about this entire season.
The sun has dipped down to set the horizon of this season to flame, sending a wave of fire to devour 12 consecutive playoff appearances, to feed upon the whisper of a hope that has refused to die … to attack the will of a team that has refused to stop fighting even as the world outside sought to bury them.
DONUT 2: It hurts us to see …...
In the final three minutes, with the Mavs down 12 and then 16, Dirk Nowitzki missed 3-of-4 free-throw attempts … one second after missing both free-throws with 2:16 to play, Dirk walked to the bench, and we saw it.
We saw the weight of a team that has been outmatched more often than not, of a 12-year streak facing the near certainty of its end, of a world pressing heavily down on his shoulders … come crumbling apart. We saw a warrior, surrounded by an island of the conquered, facing a continent of other foes come for blood … we saw a warrior staring into the eyes of certain defeat, laying his sword down in exhaustion, in acceptance of a fate he can’t escape.
Perhaps it was only our wounded hopes projected onto the man that formed their roots, but it passed an undeniable sadness through our hearts … it roused an anger cast out in so many directions at once, but not at the man who had to be perfect for any chance to exist in the first place.
It delivered us to a sports pain generally reserved for playoff eliminations. In a sense, perhaps that’s what this was.
Dirk Nowitzki finished with 11 points, 4-of-13 points, five rebounds, six assists, one steal and one block.
Part of Dirk's failure was LA's defense.
"They didn’t leave me on screen-and-rolls and they used their length,” Nowitzki explained. “They used their length, stayed down and contested every shot, so I didn’t have a lot of easy ones tonight.''
And in true UberMan fashion, Dirk concedes that this is on him, too.
"I had to work for it,'' he said. "The ones I did have I’ve just got to knock down.”
DONUT 3: Pulled close, to slip away … ...
In the third quarter, the Mavs rode an 11-0 run capped by an OJ Mayo 3-pointer to erode a 16-point deficit to five. Fed by a renewed defensive vigor, the Mavs had once more fought their way to the lip of the hole they’d dug … again, they had lashed out rage against what appeared to be insurmountable odds.
Then, in just 1:30 of basketball, the Lakers’ lead was back to 14. Los Angeles used a Mavs turnover and continued dominance on the glass to propel a 9-0 run, and essentially end the final Mavs push.
Dallas did not yield, even as the Lakers built their lead back up to 15, cutting the deficit to seven with 4:33 to play, but the tone had been set. The Mavs could shove, but they could not overcome.
DONUT 4: The Glass, The Paint, and the Freebies ...
Dallas has the third worst rebounding differential in the NBA, and for the second time in the last three games they once more fell upon this sword, getting out-rebounded by 20-or-more in a single game.
Against the Pacers, last Thursday, the Mavs allowed Indiana to dominate the glass, 55-to-34 … a disadvantage of 21. This was the most lopsided rebounding performance since Nov. 24th, when they were out-rebounded by 22 … by the Lakers.
Tuesday night, the Lakers bullied the Mavs on the glass once more, grabbing 20 more boards (57-to-37).
Nineteen of those 57 rebounds were collected at the offensive end, the most Dallas has allowed since Jan. 14th, when Minnesota had 20. This led to 19 second-chance points for the Lakers, the most the Mavs have allowed since giving up 26 to the Pistons March 8th.
DONUT 5: Now the Paint ...
The Lakers scored 44 points in the paint. In itself, this may not have been a significant problem, as the Mavs allow 40.9 points in the paint per game.
However, this is generally countered by the 40.0 Dallas averages.
Against the Lakers, the Mavs totaled just 26 points on only 29 attempts in the paint.
We just had our moments when we let them take advantage of us,” Vince Carter explained. “Rebounding and second-chance points, that’s what really hurt us.''
Dwight Howard (24 points, 12 rebounds, 1 block) certainly played a role in the Mavs hesitancy to attack the rim and Earl Clark (17 points, 12 rebounds, 5 blocks) did his part to deny the few chances the Mavs did take … that doesn’t make it hurt any less.
DONUT 6: And, those freebies ...
The Lakers have the greatest advantage in free-throw attempts in the league, averaging 8.1 more attempts than their opponent per game.
The Mavs rank as the third worst in the league, averaging 4.7 less than theirs.
It should then come as no surprise that the Lakers attempted 33 free throws, making 21 of them, compared to only 12 for the Mavs, who made only six.
Oddly enough, primarily due to Howard’s struggles there, the Lakers convert their free throws at a rate of 3.8 percentage points worse than their opponents (5th worst in the league). Dallas shoots 3.9 percentage points better than their opponents (4th best in the league).
Los Angeles converted 63.6 percent from the line, the Mavs only 50 percent.
DONUT 7: Kaman gets the start ...
Chris Kaman got the start and a chance to match-up with Dwight Howard. While it’s hard to say that Kaman had a particularly good game, he did lead the team in scoring with 14 points (7-of-10 field goals) and added six rebounds … in only 20 minutes.
This tells you a couple of things:
One, the rest of the Mavs didn’t score much, and
two, despite his scoring proficiency, Rick Carlisle didn’t see enough from Kaman in other areas to warrant leaving him on the court for extended periods.
I think Kaman is a good player and he’s a guy we need,” Carlisle said. “And I thought coming into tonight our best chance of getting the most out of him was to start him, because he can get open looks. He’s a big body, he could use some of his fouls on Howard early, and I thought he did a solid job out there.”
Well, as "solid'' as the rest of the fellas, we suppose. ... as this was surely a team effort.
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DONUT 9: Mavsellaneous ...
*The 10-day trial for Justin Dentmon is apparently over. Is Steiny-Mo's guy Josh Akognon back in the mix after camping with the Mavs in the fall?
The DB.com Akognon scouting report from camp:
Josh Akognon is a Nigerian-born speedster with point guard size but shooting guard skills who "can really stroke it,'' GM Donnie Nelson tells DB.com. "He can shoot the lights out.'' In two years in China he's scored 28 points per game, scoring with the same efficiency he did at Cal State Fullerton.
As Donnie notes, if Akognon doesn't make the big club, he'll likely head back to China. But for at least a short time, if nothing else, it'll be fun watching the 5-11 international star with a wide array of offensive skills do his thing.
Josh didn't make the big club, of course. Here comes another look.
*Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was on hand Tuesday night for his team's visit to Staples Center to play the Lakers. So was Phil Jackson, boyfriend to the Lakers' Jeanie Buss.
"I have great respect for Phil, 'Jeanie's husband,' as he'll be now be known," Cuban said. "Someone's got to be the first housewife of the Lakers."
Seemed a lot more funny when he said it before than game than it seems now, eh?
*Brandan Wright played 18 minutes, finishing with six points, three rebounds and three blocks. From the start, with Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol on the opposing roster, this was never going to be a good matchup for Wright, who simply doesn’t have the muscle mass to wrestle with either of those players.
*Elton Brand played only 12:30, missed both shots he took, and ended with no points, three rebounds, one assist, one steal.
*Mike James went scoreless for the first time as a starter for the Mavs against the Pacers. Against the Lakers, he had his second. He finished with zero points, four assists and two steals in 20:39.
*Darren Collison received the bulk of the point guard minutes, playing 28:40 and finishing with 11 points, six assists, three steals and two turnovers.
*OJ Mayo did show flashes of finding his shooting stroke once more. He had 12 points, 5-of-10 field goals, 2-of-4 behind the arc, five rebounds, four assists, one steal and three turnovers … two of those turnovers came in the opening minutes of the third quarter.
*With the greatest of respect for Ms. Griner: No, Mark Cuban. This was not the night to discuss the idea of the Mavs drafting a 6-8, 200-pound center with no perimeter game and a vertical leap likely less than 19 inches. This is not the year to discuss such a gimmick, either.
Silly question. Silly answer. End this.
*Kobe Bryant had 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in his 19th career triple-double.
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DONUT 11: Have to thank the stars ...
In a grossly extended halftime presentation to retire his Lakers jersey, it was odd to hear Shaquille O’Neal thank Jack Nicholson, Adam Sandler, Penny Marshall, and Jimmy Goldstein … and not a single teammate (though, in fairness, there was mention of family, and a video Shaq put on Twitter soon after that thanked others, including Kobe).
Sandler was obviously a cynical tie-in to the debut of the "Grown-Ups 2'' movie, the preview of which aired on TNT immediately after the ceremony and stars Sandler and includes Shaq, but …
In an odd way, it makes us appreciate Dirk Nowitzki, the person and the player, all the more. That is, unless you think his eventually AAC jersey-retirement ceremony will feature tributes to Don Knobler, Owen Wilson and Nowitzki's "Like Mike'' co-star 'Lil Bow Wow.
DONUT 12: Trix Army Knife ...
Shawn Marion finished with nine points, seven rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block.
With 7:48 to play in the first quarter, Shawn Marion assisted a Chris Kaman jumper. This was assist number 2000 for Marion.
With that assist, Marion joined a very short list of only four players with at least at least 16,000 points, 9,300 rebounds, 2,000 assists, 1,600 steals, and 1,100 blocks. The others on that list: Hakeem Olajuwon, Karl Malone and Kevin Garnett.
Steals and blocks were not tallied until the 1973-74 season, but that doesn’t diminish the impressive nature of Marion’s versatility. Despite the continued ignorance of those selecting the NBA’s All-Defensive Teams (Marion has never been included on any All-Defensive Team), history should remember one of the greatest all-around players the game has ever known.
DONUT 13: The Final Word ...
With only eight games to play and sitting the equivalent of 3.5 games (two back in the loss column, but without tiebreakers), it’s hard to muster the raw ingredients used to formulate anything more than the most brittle of optimisms.
"This is a game we needed to have to make it interesting,'' Dirk said. "This is a tough loss.''
The Mavs now need a lot of help to fight their way into the playoffs … and though the setting sun may now be touching the horizon, threatening to slip away after leaving any lingering hopes for this season as a wind dressed in ash, there remain eight games.
There’s no time for Dallas to feel sorry for themselves, no room to slip up again, and no opportunity to chase a rest that will likely come in abundance soon enough. This roster has eight more games to make us remember them, to prolong their season … to at least go out swinging.