DONUT 1: Not dead yet ...
Maybe all the Dallas Mavericks needed was for all of us to count them out, for their maturing beards to begin to itch their chests. Despite a 3-4 record in their previous seven games, the Mavs headed to Minnesota only 3.5 games out of the playoffs (after the a Lakers win Sunday afternoon).
After a 100-77 win against a Wolves team playing on the butt end of a back-to-back, the Mavs moved within three games of the eighth seed … and from the void comes a spark, a shudder of movement … a sign of life.
The road remains shrouded in doubt, and cruises through the perils of a very tough schedule – only six of the remaining 20 games come against teams with records currently under .500 – but, for a moment, the mountain almost appears to have been whittled down to a hill, a surmountable feat.
"There is no such thing as 'comfortable' this year,'' coach Rick Carlisle said. "I am pretty certain of that. We have to keep an edge as we keep going on this trip. Each game is too meaningful. With everything we have been through, everything else, we owe it to ourselves and to everyone that follows us to keep staying in this and focus."
DONUT 2: When you play good defense ...
While you must note that the Wolves were playing on the second night of a back-to-back, you don’t want to completely discount the Mavs defense or willingness to hustle. Many outside of the Dallas locker room may have written off this season, but it’s apparent that Rick Carlisle and the rest of the Mavs have not.
For the eighth time this season, Dallas held their opponent to a field-goal percentage below 40 (36.4 percent). Not surprisingly, the Mavs are 7-1 in those games.
Combine that with the fact that the Wolves were held to 11.1 percent on their attempts behind the arc (a season low for Dallas opponents), and you begin to understand how Dallas allowed a season-low 77 points (they had also held the Detroit Pistons to 77 on Dec. 1).
DONUT 3: Consistency within the inconsistency ...
Little has gone consistently well for the Mavs. If you look at the season in 10-game glimpses, regardless of the start date, Dallas has never faired better than 6-4 in 10 consecutive games.
There’s been nothing to grab onto, no stretch that allowed one to define this team as consistently being anything other than … inconsistent.
Then, there’s Vince Carter.
''It's not necessarily just scoring, but, in general, I understand what's going on and I just made it my business to be locked in and want to do whatever is needed,'' Carter said.
At 36-years-old, he’s been asked to be the first, second or third scoring option. He’s been asked to initiate the late-game offense at times. A year ago, Carter arrived in Dallas amid little fanfare and less expectations. He quietly surprised with a solid, if unspectacular, season that helped dispel many of the preconceptions his reputation pushed before him.
Never has he seemed selfish, seldom disconnected from the flow of the offense (even if there are the occasionally ill-advised shot attempts), and rarely has he been an inattentive or apathetic defender. Perhaps he didn’t set the world afire, but he did work day-by-day to erode the negative expectations many housed.
Come this season, with Dirk’s injury and a thoroughly overturned roster, and he’s not only continued to distance himself from the reputation he arrived with, but exceed any positive hopes.
Carter finished with a game-high 22 points, 8-of-15 field goals, 4-of-5 3-pointers, nine rebounds, three assists, two steals … and zero turnovers.
Over the last 21 games, Carter is averaging: 15.5 points, 48.0 field-goal percentage, 49.5 3-point percentage, 4.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.5 turnovers.
''We depend on him for so much,'' Carlisle said. ''Playmaking off the bench, scoring off the bench, defense, rebounding. He really plays a terrific all-around game, so he's essential to whatever we're doing.''
DONUT 4: Still holding out hope? ...
Hope is a good thing. Can you not sense by these Donuts that the last few games has provided us some of that? Flexibility is a good thing, too ...
Flexibility is, in fact, ingenious. Ah, but flexibility without the assets allowing for action on that flexibility is ultimately nothing more than summer cap space … and cap space without the stars looking to fill it is essentially worthless. The 2011 NBA title gives glory and "Plan Powder'' demands patience, but ... This is a must-read:
It's a Mavs essay. We call it "The Statement Of Our Mavs Fears: The Powder And The Glory.''
DONUT 5: Familiarity? What familiarity? ...
The Mavs and Wolves have now faced each other four times, splitting the season series at two games apiece.
In those four games, the Mavs have gone with four different starting lineups … the Wolves have had to counter with three of their own … making each game in this series almost seem like a new adventure.
Dallas won the two games Dirk played … and did not have to face Kevin Love.
DONUT 6: The NBA highlight reel ...
DONUT 7: Thanks to our sponsors! ...
A tip of the cap of appreciation to Frisco Party Station and
Red Rock Bar & Grill! They help make DB.com what it is ... thanks, guys!
DONUT 8: DoJo And 'The Last Time ...
Dominique Jones is now an ex-Mav. and left in his wake is DB.com's summer-of-2011 1-on-1 visit, a reflective and now ironic talk in which he tells us of the title year, "I wish that season would’ve gone on forever.''
DONUT 9: A new Mavs PG? ...
It is our understanding that the Mavs will use the roster spot created by the departure of Dominique Jones to call up and grant a 10-day contract to Chris Wright from the D-League, where he was a member of the Iowa Energy.
Wright is a 23-year-old, 6-foot-1 point guard who has averaged 15.5 points, 42.9 field-goal percentage, 29.3 3-point percentage, 7.0 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 3.1 turnovers in 38 games for the Energy this season.
It's notable that Dallas passed over a bevy of its own Frisco guards for this move. It's also notable that Wright recently discovered he has Multiple Sclerosis, as this story explains.
DONUT 10: Inside the non-trade for Paul Pierce...
Paul Pierce was almost a Mav at the deadline? Here's how the deal didn't go down ... and why ... and why you shouldn't be giving the organization any horseshoes-and-hand-grenades credit.
DONUT 11: Mavsellaneous...
*Dallas posted its largest rebounding advantage of the season, out-rebounding the Wolves 59-40.
*OJ Mayo picked up his seventh technical foul of the season … leading the Mavs. Dirk comes in next with five, despite missing 29 games.
*Minnesota did not shoot above 38.5 percent in any quarter.
*Brandan Wright played 27 minutes and posted 13 points, 6-of-7 field goals, seven rebounds and one block. Over the course of the last three games, he's a 13-ppg guy.
*Mike James again started at point guard, playing 22:31 and scoring three points on 1-of-6 shooting. Though Collison did not get the start, he did get the bulk of the minutes, playing 31, and finished with nine points, eight assists and four rebounds … and a three turnovers.
Carlisle offered some praise for DC that may define his value to this franchise going forward.
"I think he's a great off the bench guy in this league,'' the coach said. "Off the bench, I think he's a special player."
*With the game in hand, Dirk Nowitzki played only 28 minutes, finishing with 16 points, 7-of-13 field goals, 2-of-4 3-pointers, nine rebounds, one steal … and a team-high four turnovers.
DONUT 12: The Final Word ...
It’s easy to say the Mavs were “supposed” to win this game. The Wolves have been in an injury-riddled free fall and were playing on the second night of a back-to-back, but when you’re on the outside looking in on the playoffs with a 29-33 record there are no “supposed to” games. There are only “have to” games.
Too many times we’ve seen the life sucked out of the room by this Mavs team, we’ve felt the inklings of momentum begin to build, like a snowball teetering at the crest of a long hill, appearing an instant from rolling down to gather speed and size … only to see it become frozen in place and shattered.
As many times as we may all have declared hope dead and gone, Dallas sits only three games removed from the playoffs with sixth-seeded Golden State and now ninth-seeded Utah sliding closer and closer – the Warriors are 5-12 in their last 17, Utah has lost four in a row and seven of their last eight – and seventh-seeded Houston isn’t exactly setting the world on fire (8-8 in their last 16).
"We still have our destiny in our own hands if we win some games,'' said Elton Brand.
It's not quite that easy. But if the Mavs can overcome a schedule that will seek to bury them and put together a small smear of wins, things could get interesting very quickly.
Back from the dead, hope is weak and fragile … and waiting to see what comes next.