DONUT 1: Foreward ...
Wednesday night in OKC, the Dallas Mavericks looked a step slow, a tick off. There seemed to be as many unforced errors as forced, but plenty of both. Friday night, there were seams of fluidity, primarily in the hands of the bench (even without the suspended Vince Carter, and still recovering Brandan Wright, Devin Harris and Shane Larkin), but there were more of near helplessness … at least at one end of the floor.
The Minnesota Timberwolves, led inside by Kevin Love (who finished with 32 points, 15 rebounds and 8 assists) dominating the offensive glass and Kevin Martin (32 points) on the perimeter, fought for 26 second-chance points, compared to 14 for Dallas, and buried the Mavericks by a final of 116-108.
“We’ve got to play a little bit harder and we’ve got to compete a little bit harder,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “We’ve got to compete a little harder on the glass … and we’ve got to be on the same page defensively.”
Giving up a season-high 26 second-chance points made this game like sprinting up a hill coated in ice … a lot of sprinting to stand still, to slide back … and eventually proved fatal.
DONUT 2: Dirk the Role Player ...
It’s easy to note the lack of shots from Dirk Nowitzki -- he took 11 against the Wolves, and has only averaged less than the 12.8 field-goal attempts he is after Friday’s contest once in his career: his rookie season.
The frustration of watching Dirk tie for the third most shots on the roster in a game, and being only one forced heave when the ball found him at least five feet behind the arc as the shotclock expired from having four others with as many attempts, can be slippery slope of presumption and anger after a loss.
Is something wrong with Dirk?
Has Father Time finally tightened its grip on his game, dragging him from the sky-plains tread exclusively by the superstar back to the realm of mortals?
Could it be something less dire? Because remember a DB.com mantra: the stupidest bet in basketball is to bet against Dirk Nowitzki. So ...
DONUT 3: A Combination of Things ...
We know that Rick Carlisle would like to monitor the minutes Dirk accumulates. Since the dawn following the championship night, we’ve known of the Mavs wishes to find a star capable of allowing Dirk to become the second best player on the roster. There is no denying that the desire is to lessen the burden piled high on The Uberman’s shoulders.
Seeing Dirk asked to carry less of the offensive load is by hopeful design … it’s the foundation of a fresher 35-year-old player as the season drags on.
There should be nights, or at least stretches, that see him as a passenger, to some degree, or at least that is a part of the hope.
Enter Monta Ellis, the just turned 28-year-old with what appears to be a near infinite motor with the offensive aggression and raw skills to match.
There are others, such as Jose Calderon, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter (absent for this game), DeJuan Blair, the blossoming Jae Crowder, (not to mention those in suits, Wright, Harris, and Larkin) but it was Ellis brought in to take the largest chunk from Dirk’s massive offensive responsibilities.
Ellis has shown the ability to play within the Mavs offensive flow, to be a complement to Dirk capable of taking over a game should the avenue to do so present itself. Dirk has a career of showing he has no problem standing aside to let a teammate assert himself.
Put all of this together and there are destined to be nights when Dirk takes 11 shots while Ellis attempts 24, Marion 13, Calderon 11 and Crowder 10 … as was the case against the Wolves.
DONUT 4: But Can’t Forget …
Yet, in the intricacies of the ideal design the greater truth cannot be lost.
This is Dirk’s team.
Monta Ellis could become a legitimate All-Star, but Dirk already is. The game cannot wander too far from Dirk for too long.
Occasional meandering is acceptable, even preferred. However, the path must find its way home. It must find the fate of this team resting in Nowitzki’s capable hands … particularly when chaos threatens to steal handfuls of possessions at a time.
Great shooters, great scorers and great players are almost always rhythmic creatures. Rare are the instances you can ignore them for prolonged stretches and then arrive in a sprint to ask them to correct all that’s gone wrong in a mere moment.
They dance with the game. They feel their way through it, deftly locating where the weaknesses lie, where exactly their own muscle memory can find it’s perfectly grooved home … and then find the precise manner in which they can impose their undeniable will when it’s most needed.
Friday night, the game went too far from Dirk and never found it’s way back.
Some of the blame falls on Dirk for being too quick to feed his teammates, to defer to those he would lift up -- a strategy that hurt this game, but one must ask if it is also an approach that could pay dividends as chemistries and confidences grow.
Some falls on Ellis for leaving his aggression too free, wild.
Some falls on Calderon for not commandeering the offense, demanding the band follow and match his maestro’s metronome and direct the ball to the team’s best player in his favorite spots, the attack sprouting from there. Basketball-IQ is only a weapon if its guiding whisper is heeded.
Just as almost everything else in this sport so dependent on team, on cohesion, there is no single place to lay the blame. This is still a group learning to play together. The simple truth is that we should expect nights like this.
Every game, win or lose, is a learning experience … the first steps are an exploration, a feeling out for what comes next.
Dirk finished with 14 points, 5-of-11 field goals, three rebounds, one assist, one steal, one block and four turnovers.
DONUT 5: It’s a Process … ...
First to the highlights, which are also "a process'':
What you see there, in part ... is a lack of MontaBall highlights.
By almost all measures, Monta Ellis has been a revelation in Dallas. With the season so young, what it will ultimately mean is still very much in the air. In three of six games, Ellis has been nothing short of great … even as the boxscore hasn’t always agreed (he was outstanding against Memphis, don’t be fooled by 5-of-14 shooting or only two assists).
Against Oklahoma City, he was average to good, for the most part … despite some turnovers that were uncharacteristic in nature, such as trouble gathering passes or with standard (for him) ball handling.
Against Houston and now Minnesota, Ellis struggled.
In Houston, he settled too often, with 12 of his 19 shots being either behind the arc or of the long-two variety.
Against the Wolves, 15 of his 24 attempts came in the paint … with a few of those outside the lane coming late in the game when 3-pointers or quick shots were made necessity by the score.
His aggression was not in question, but he often pressed outside of the flow. His attacks often seemed to come at the expense of better shots available to teammates, especially a red-hot Calderon, or at touches that should have gone to Dirk.
It didn’t “feel” like a game that should have delivered 24 attempts at Monta’s feet. Of course, maybe this “feel” was nothing more than shots missing that will fall more often than not … he was only 3-of-9 at the rim, where he’s converted at least 60 percent of his tries in each of the last seven years.
Ellis finished with 23 points, 9-of-24 field goals, 1-of-4 behind the arc, three rebounds, three assists, one steal and three turnovers.
DONUT 6: The Silver Lining ...
With Vince Carter serving the first suspension of his career for that OKC elbow, Jae Crowder moved a spot up the rotation and continued to show a marked improvement over the player we saw a season ago.
His shooting touch has been impressive, even as he missed his only two attempts from deep in this game, and he’s shown a higher willingness to use the advantage his bulk provides him by expressing his power in the lane.
Against the Wolves, he even grabbed a season-high six rebounds … a total he exceeded only twice, and matched once, all of last season.
Crowder’s numbers: 10 points, 5-of-10 shooting and those six boards.
Joining Crowder in the “silver linings” column would be the play of Jose Calderon ... and almost every player to see time off the bench.
Calderon had a season-high 21 points, 7-of-11 field goals, 6-of-8 3-pointers, seven assists, four rebounds, one steal and one turnover. To be concise, Calderon’s shooting, along with the bench play, kept Dallas in this game.
“It was there for us,” Calderon said of the chance to win. “I think we’ve got to be on everybody today. We should win this game. It was right there for us. We made good runs, we came back, we had good momentum, and we just made easy mistakes. ... It’s easy mistakes … and that was all.”
DONUT 7: Join DB.com Boards! ...
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DONUT 8: The Uberman and The Logo ...
Dirk is now 30 points behind Jerry West for the 16th spot on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
25,192 points for Jerry West.
25,162 points for Dirk.
DONUT 9: The DB.com Mavs Podcast on iTunes! ...
The Mavs need to be covered right. So we have our infamous DB.com Mavs Podcast here on iTunes and up and running below as well ... with a very special cast of characters:
Mike Fisher, Kevin Turner, Kevin Brolan and Mike Marshall pull up a chair to the hoops roundtable to kick around the issues in this first week of the Mavs season ... And Vince Carter offers his opinion on one of the top sports stories of the week, hazing (and much worse) in the locker room.
The DallasBasketball.com Mavs Podcast, y'all!
DONUT 10: The Bench ...
Led by Crowder and DeJuan Blair (8 points, 9 rebounds) the Mavs bench – playing without sixth man Vince Carter, Brandan Wright, Devin Harris or Shane Larkin -- did their job, outscoring the Wolves bench 36-to-14.
With early foul trouble for Blair and Dalembert, Carlisle also turned to Bernard James for meaningful minutes in the first half. James filled in nicely with five points and two rebounds in seven minutes.
Single game plus/minus is often an arbitrary stat, but painted an accurate picture Friday night.
The best Mavs starter (Marion) posted a minus-12.
The worst bench player (Wayne Ellington) held a plus-3.
Meaning, all Dallas starters had significant negative plus/minus numbers, while the entire bench stayed in the positive … and that’s pretty much how this game went.
As it now seems to be every game, Gal Mekel showed continued signs of growth. Having been thrown to the deep end of the ocean seems a gift. Mekel finished with seven points, four assists and no turnovers in 15:25 of action. On a per-minute basis, Mekel remains the most prolific assist gatherer on the roster … even with Calderon.
Due to his limited exposure that should be taken with a grain of salt … but it’s still impressive.
DONUT 11: Oh, those steaks and burgers!
Thanks to Dee and the incredible staff at Dee Lincoln Steak and Burger Bar for our incredible Mavs pregame dinners ... the legendary DFW restaurateur has done it again.
DONUT 12: Mavsellaneous ...
*One game after his worst performance since the opening preseason game, Samuel Dalembert played just 12:30 in a game the Mavs could have certainly used his size and interior presence, totaling four points, four rebounds and three blocks.
*The previous high for second-chance points allowed this season was 18 by Houston.
*For Dallas, the 13 points allowed off of their turnovers tied a season low.
*Dallas started the game by hitting 2-of-11 shots, or 18.2 percent. They hit 53.2 percent the rest of the way … and still lost.
DONUT 13: The Final Word ...
As soon as this roster was pieced together it was evident that rebounding and defense would be issues. Sometimes coming face to face with the reality of a truth can hurt.
The Mavs scored 106 points, hit 48.9 percent of their shots, including 45.5 percent behind the arc, managed to hang around in the overall rebound tally (Wolves: 44. Dallas: 40), kept the turnover war close, even if not quite pretty (Mavs 18 turnovers for 15 Minnesota points. Wolves with 15 turnovers for 13 Dallas points), and were plus-12 (52-40) scoring in the paint.
Yet, when they could have put the game away they could not keep Love and company off the offensive glass, could not stop them from collecting those 26 second-chance points, devaluing the occasional defensive stops they claimed but couldn’t complete with a board … allow a team to hit close to 50 percent of their attempts and give them two tries, and well, you can see how the math gets ugly.
Teams with more than one true offensive threat outside of the center position appear poised to make Dallas suffer … having only one Shawn Marion (who spent much of his time trying to contain the Kevin Love) to deploy.
Dallas is now 3-0 at home and 0-3 on the road.
“We had some bright spots, but our consistency so far on the road hasn’t been there,'' coach Rick Carlisle said. "And we’ve got to get it together by (Saturday) night.”
With their fourth game in five nights, they have a chance to reverse that trend in Milwaukee … against old friends Caron Butler and OJ Mayo.