Did you think the the Dallas Mavericks had hit rock bottom? Did you think things were as bad as they could get? It’s the darkest just before the dawn, or so they say … and sometimes the light comes up just to taunt you with the reality of how ugly things have gotten.
Things started off well enough, with the Mavericks having their third highest scoring opening quarter of the season, 38 points, and leaping to a 25-point lead early in the second quarter over the Memphis Grizzlies.
And, so began the unraveling … 38 points in the first quarter, 46 over the rest of the game.
Using the final five minutes of the second quarter and a dominant third, holding Dallas to five total points in the period (you read that correctly), Memphis plucked the Mavs hearts from their chest, tossed them to the floor and took turns dancing on them as the beating slowed and finally stopped with a 90-84 Dallas loss.
They stepped up the pressure,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “They started picking us up and really got into us, and we didn’t really have much going from that point on. They got going and were all over us. That really sums it up. They turned the pressure up and that was the game.”
The Unraveling …
The final five minutes of the second quarter and the entire third, 17 minutes of basketball, 17 minutes of utter destruction, 1,020 seconds of watching what you thought could be the rising sun gradually become clear as a crashing fireball arriving to set your world aflame.
How it looked though the numbers:
Dallas was outscored 40-to-9, out-rebounded 22-to-9, and committed 13 turnovers that led directly to 18 Grizzlies points.
The Mavs hit 4-of-24 shots (16.7 percent), missed all five of the 3-pointers they attempted, and hit 1-of-4 free throws … meaning, Dallas had just over three times as many turnovers as made field goals (13-4).
Meanwhile, Memphis hit 16-of-30 field goals (53.3 percent), hit 8-of-9 free throws and had 12 assists (the Mavs had two).
Within the borders of that Ugly …
Trapped within the nastiness of those 17 minutes are a few peculiar numbers that speak to a larger worrisome trend that has long tread the grounds of the “eye test.”
Over the first 19 minutes the Mavs built a 51-26 lead, supported largely on the offensive production of Shawn Marion (14 points on 7-of-10 shooting), Dirk Nowitzki (8 points, 4-of-6 field-goals) and Chris Kaman (6 points, 3-of-4 shots) … combining to take 20 of the teams 32 shot attempts.
Over the next 17 minutes, those three players totaled five of the team’s 24 shot attempts, missing all of them.
From the hot shooters acting as primary options to being rendered to onlookers … from a 51-to-26 to a 9-to-40 run.
In those 17 minutes, OJ Mayo hit 1-of-8 shots … and Mike James hit 1-of-5.
Whatever your thoughts on Mike James, it can’t be viewed as a positive when he has twice as many shots as Dirk over 17 minutes of basketball that ultimately decide a game … that James took as many shots as Dirk, Marion and Kaman combined (the three who were rolling early, who most contributed to the lead) only adds to the bruise.
Looking at the larger picture, it feels like this team far too often has trouble getting the ball into Dirk Nowitzki’s hands consistently. Whether it’s as Dirk slips open after setting a screen, only to have the ball handler never look his direction, or the pass that never comes as Dirk first gets set in one of his “spots” before clearing out to allow the offense that wasn’t coming to him to avoid forced stagnancy; it’s more than worrisome how much trouble this roster has with consistently getting the ball to their best player in a position to succeed.
Dirk isn’t LeBron, isn’t Kobe …
Dirk isn't LeBron in the sense that he can’t be asked to dribble the ball up in the game’s deciding moments. He must rely on others to grant him those chances, to feed him when his hands are waving, his jaw wide and pleading.
You can point a portion of the finger towards a too-deferential Dirk … for making what is often the smart basketball decision in a vacuum, but not when it’s Dirk passing up a contested jumper for what becomes a Mike James jumper … but this is only a small fraction of the entire equation.
Far too often Dirk is left open and waiting … posting up and waiting … clearing out and waiting … setting a pick, popping open and waiting.
Clearly, there is a design in place to limit the burden thrust upon Dirk’s shoulders, a wise decision over the course of the season – particularly this season.
However, when the game rests on a razor, waiting to be pushed in one direction or the other, it feels like Dirk is too often left doing the same … waiting.
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“All I can say is, we all own this. We own all the losses. We own the wins when we get them as a team. And this is a challenging stretch, it’s a challenging year, but we’re going to stick together and keep fighting, and that’s just the way we’re going to do business with this thing. … It’s another tough lesson in a season full of tough lessons.” - Coach Rick Carlisle
Is there a silver lining … Do you care?
When you’re scheduling the surgery to remove the growing collection of fists stuck in your gut is there much desire to seek out the silver lining?
Shawn Marion scored 16 points, hitting 8-of-12 shots, to go with eight rebounds, one steal, one block and four turnovers … continuing his strong play against Memphis this season, averging 16.7 points in three games. Against teams he has faced more than once, he has only faired better against Orlando (18.5 points per) and Golden State (17.0 points per).
Conspicuously absent for much of the fourth quarter, playing only 4:28, Marion was still the team’s leading rebounder in the period, with two, and hit his only shot attempt.
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Getting the start …
After missing 10 games due to symptoms associated with a concussion he received in practice, Chris Kaman returned to play just over eight minutes against the Lakers before getting a DNP-CD (Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision) last game against Milwaukee.
Wednesday night, he was in the starting lineup.
Kaman played almost 22 minutes and had six points, four rebounds, three assists and one block.
Unfortunately, all of those points and three of the rebounds came in his seven first-quarter minutes. Conversely, he had no points and only one rebound over his final 14 minutes … but took only one shot.
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*Dallas had more points in the paint (34-28), second-chance points (8-6), and fastbreak points (16-12) … giving them a plus-12 in these categories combined.
Unfortunately, this was completely buried by the fact that they gave the ball away 21 times, leading to 23 points for the Grizzlies. Though the Mavs forced 17 Memphis turnovers, they scored only six from these … giving them a minus-17 in this category.
You can do a lot well … but when you give your opponent free points, it doesn’t matter.
*Jae Crowder scored nine points to go with four rebounds … and joined Kaman as the only Mavs to play more than one minutes to not have a single turnover.
*We noted the struggles OJ Mayo has had against the best in the West. Against his former team, that trend continued: 11 points, 5-of-13 field goals, two rebounds, two assists, one block and a team-high five turnovers.
*Darren Collison or Mike James in crunch time? Two games ago it was almost solely James. Last game it was Collison. This time it was a little of both in the fourth, but James was on the court for the final six minutes.
*In the odd coincidence department: when the Mavs had their highest scoring first quarter of the season (42) they followed that up by being outscored 23-17 in the second. Wednesday night, after having their third highest scoring first quarter of the season (38), they followed that up by being outscored … 23-17 in the second.
*Dallas scored five points in the third quarter, tying for the least amount scored in a quarter this season by any team. It was also a Memphis franchise record for least points allowed in a quarter … but did not set the Mavs franchise record for a low, as they scored only two points in 1997 against the Lakers (also in the third quarter).
The Final Word …
In a season of soul-crushing disappointments, how do you quantify the individual values of each, the pain associated with any singular hurt?
Why would you want to?
In the end, it’s an accumulation of ache that permeates every fiber of a fan’s sports soul … that threatens to construct the most tortuous of sports hells … the relative banishment that is irrelevance, of a complete void of hope, of a numbness that feeds a scratching apathy.
Such are the places a loss like this, on the back of so many that preceded it, lead you. Instead of dwelling on a path that can do nothing but shove one down a spiral of dissatisfaction, of second-guessing, of regret, of emotions that can lend to something less than full effort; the Mavs must do all that they can do. ... even as they face a playoffs-or-else scenario that seems to require them to go 20-5 down the stretch.
They must swallow this one down and pull up to the table for the next serving … put on their bibs and tear into the slim opportunities that remain.
And us? What are we swallowing?
We're contemplating another sports-soul-healing glass of scotch.