DONUT 1: Foreward ...
The Dallas Mavericks entered Sunday in a high-tension battle for the ninth seed, and the promised land hiding just on the other side of it, with the Los Angeles Lakers. Amid a season of opportunities wasted, gifts discarded and a deepening pool of moments that could each clamor for recognition as the single instant where playoff hopes were extinguished in earnest; Sunday’s contest with the Lakers will find its voice strong and clear.
DONUT 2: Fighting the norm ...
Whether it was the continued battle of the uncharacteristic fighting to become the norm, as Dirk Nowitzki missed a “clutch” free throw (final five minutes of a five-point-or-less game) with the Mavs down two and only 1:04 to play, the increasingly familiar inability to get the ball to the team’s best player down the stretch -- prior to that 1:04 mark, Mike James had more fourth-quarter shot attempts (4) than Dirk (3) – or emotional letdowns at the most inopportune moments, such as a pair of technical fouls in the final 5:48 of a one-possession back-and-forth game; Dallas could not capitalize when their chances came, losing 103-99.
With only 27 games to play, this loss could prove to be the final corner turned, the last hill crested, before the destination stood out clearly ahead … a place of regret and frustration, another fragment of an inch of beard to carry forward.
Or, perhaps something magical will happen and it will become the moment everything flipped.
The latter has become almost haunting through a consistent insistence of denial … but stranger things have happened.
Relatives have been summoned to say their goodbyes, but hope, tied and bound by tubes and cords and beeps and a vast yawning silence, still houses the faintest of pulses.
DONUT 3: A Battle of Superstars ...
If you’re looking for a silver lining around your ripped-out Mavs’ heart, it was the continued reemergence of Dirk Nowitzki as the Big German was “Super-Uber” (do you get the reference?) once more.
Dirk finished with his first double-double of the season: 30 points (a season high), 13 rebounds (also a season high), hitting 11-of-19 shots, including 4-of-4 behind the arc, and added a season-high three steals … though it may be the single missed free throw with 1:04 remaining that will linger in his mind.
It was the best he has looked this season … unfortunately, it coincided with a game in the discussion for the best Kobe Bryant has looked this season as well.
Kobe finished with 38 points, 13-of-21 field goals, 12 rebounds, seven assists, and a late missed free throw of his own … though his came with 4.5 seconds to play and his team up four, the outcome all but certain.
Both players entered the fourth quarter with 24 points … when Kobe became the undeniable focus of his team’s offensive attack, taking five of the team’s 12 shots – or 41.7 percent of the Lakers total shot attempts -- and scoring 14 points.
Meanwhile, prior to the final minute, Dirk was largely overlooked in favor of Mike James and Vince Carter as the focal points of the offense. Prior to that final 1:04 of the game, where Dirk had two attempts, both Carter and James had more fourth-quarter field-goal attempts than Dirk. For the quarter as a whole, Dirk took five of the Mavs’ 22 shots – or 22.7 percent of the team’s attempts – and scored six points.
One team leaned on their 34-year-old star in the game’s deciding quarter, the other, too often, did not.
DONUT 4: The debate and the statement …
If you find you watch the Mavs with one eye on the game and the other on Twitter, you were likely witness to more than a few comments aimed in the direction of Mike James, and Rick Carlisle’s decision to stick with him for 9:56 of the fourth quarter, compared to 2:04 for Darren Collison.
Since the return from the All-Star break, the last three games, Roddy Beaubois has not played a meaningful minute as Carlisle has turned solely to Mike James for the backup point guard minutes.
For these three games, James is averaging 7.7 points, 3.3 assists, 0 turnovers, while shooting 45.5 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent behind the arc in 19 minutes per game.
Not that those numbers are particularly impressive (though it’s nice to see that “0” in the turnover column), but they are better than one would imagine from the eye test.
The debate of who deserves the backup point guard minutes between Roddy and James may live on, but the statement made by Carlisle’s recent choice is clear: he has found Roddy lacking.
Against the Lakers, however, the debate wasn’t between Roddy and James … but between Collison and James.
Collison did not have one of his better games (7 points, 3-of-11 field goals, 4 assists, 3 steals, 1 turnover), and he simply didn’t look good for stretches. But, given his recent stretch of strong play, it seems reasonable that he should be granted opportunities over James to close games.
You could point to his inability to consistently get the ball to Dirk, but it’s hard to find that James, never known for his passing, has faired any better in this area.
It isn’t that James played particularly poorly (4 points, 2-of-4 field goals, 3 assists in the fourth quarter), other than his proclivity for an itchy trigger finger for quick shots, but that Collison has to be considered the better option at this point … live or die by it, Collison is the best point guard on this roster.
And yet ... We're going to study this and ask around at Mavs HQ. There is something missing from DC's game (in Rick's view) and we're going to find out what that something is.
DONUT 5: No Mayo...
OJ Mayo probably wouldn’t mind if the Mavs didn’t have to see the Lakers again this season … or Memphis, San Antonio or Oklahoma City, for that matter (see Mavsellaneous below).
Mayo finished with eight points, 2-of-9 field goals, three rebounds, two assists, two steals and three turnovers.
Needless to say, finding a win becomes exponentially more difficult when Mayo totals more turnovers than made field goals.
In three games against the Lakers this season, Mayo is now averaging 11 points, 29.7 field-goal percentage, 25.0 3-point percentage, and 2.3 turnovers.
The Mavs are 1-2 in those games.
This season, in games where Mayo has converted at or under 40 percent of his field-goal attempts, the Mavs are 5-18.
DONUT 6: Dirk/Kobe Admiration Society ...
Disrespect Dirk? Mamba doesn't. Hate Kobe? The UberMan doesn't. Here's Our First Impression story on the game notes Dirk and Kobe's mutual admiration with quotes and more ... Starting with these:
Kobe on Dirk: ''He's one of my all-time favorites. He's a throwback type of player. He doesn't mind the physicality. He made some incredible plays down the stretch.''
Dirk on Kobe: ''He's been the best player in my decade. I've been in the NBA a long time and he's the one player I love to watch. It was a big game on the national TV stage. It was a fun one. We just came up a little bit short.''
DONUT 7: Kaman's return. ...
Chris Kaman returned to the court after missing the last 10 games due to issues resulting from a concussion he received in practice. Kaman played 8:17 and did a fair job on Dwight Howard in those minutes. He finished with four points, four rebounds and one turnover.
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DONUT 9: Mavsellaneous ...
*Vince Carter continued his strong play, finishing with 15 points, 6-of-13 shooting, three assists, two steals and two turnovers.
*Five Mavs finished with a positive plus/minus: Chris Kaman (+8), Brandan Wright (+6), Dirk Nowitzki (+5), Jae Crowder (+4) and Vince Carter (+1) … Mayo was a Dallas worst -17.
*Dallas was once more up six minutes into the game, leading 13-12.
*The Mavs starting guards finished with 15 points, 5-of-20 field goals (25 percent), six assists, and four turnovers.
The Lakers starting guards finished with 58 points, 20-of-33 field goals (60.6 percent), 11 assists, and eight turnovers.
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DONUT 11: The kid ...
Jae Crowder played 18:36 and managed to do something many in the NBA have not mastered: he stayed on the ground as Kobe went through countless pump fakes and defended Bryant well.
Unfortunately, it didn’t matter much, as Kobe made the shots anyway, but that doesn’t change the fact that Crowder did play strong defense.
DONUT 12: The Final Word ...
You are by now familiar with the Mavs owner's quotes and pokes at the Lakers. From amnesty to beyond. In DB.com's one-on-one with Mark Cuban over the weekend, there is more of the same. Read it all here.
Regardless of the context of the "Amnesty Kobe'' comment, which was clearly presented as an example of the decisions some teams could hypothetically be faced with under the constrictions of the new CBA, and regardless of whether it was an intentional poke meant to rile up the Lakers and their fans, Mark Cuban’s comments stand as an easy to clutch (sell) narrative … and brought some entertaining quote fodder Sunday.
“They should have listened to Cuban,” Dirk said, “and amnestied (Kobe) this morning.”
Then, as was the case on the court, Kobe had the final say on his Twitter account, posting: “Amnesty THAT”
Beneath this storyline was the game, another in a string of disappointing results this season, another step in the opposite direction of the playoffs, another reminder of just how easy it is for things to go wrong.
“That was a big two-game swing [Los Angeles entered the day one game ahead of Dallas] against us with the loss,'' Elton Brand said. "We needed this one with so much at stake.
We’ll sit at our playoff hope’s bedside, tell it everything is fine through a thin smile, and hold its hand. We’ll share a knowing glance with our fellow Mavs’ fans, and bury the voice in our head that whispers a truth we’ll try to keep denying. And, we’ll shake our heads at another one that just seemed to get away.