DONUT 1: The setup ...
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban riled up the media, garnering national attention with comments about Dwight Howard's decision to sign with the Houston Rockets, then reveled in the "headline porn" (as Cuban calls it) that followed.
Howard himself understood the "idiot'' remarks better than the national media did.
"He just said, ‘Dwight, it's biz,'" said Howard, explaining his brief pregame visit with the owner. "We laughed and talked about other things.
"What would you want him to say? He's taking it for his team. I would do the same thing if somebody didn't want to come with me. I would think they had made a bad decision. There's no reason to be mad. We talked about it already. I totally understand. It's business."
And then Cuban himself explained what long-time Cuban watchers already knew.
"I think anybody who doesn't come to the Mavs is making a mistake, an error in judgment,'' Cuban said. "I told Dwight anybody who doesn't come here is an idiot, and if I didn't say that I'd be an idiot, because that's the reality.''
A less debatable reality: Feeling good after a strong offensive performance in their opener, the Mavericks headed to Houston and immediately felt the wheels start to come off, falling down by as much as 16 in the first quarter and 22 in the second. Despite foul trouble for Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavs fought their way back into the game, closing the gap to six in the third before James Harden ended the run at his second home, the free-throw line ... answering a 10-3 Dallas spurt with a 9-2 burst for the Rockets.
The Mavs bench, on the back of Jae Crowder's 3-point hot streak, made it interesting in the end, before Houston prevailed by a final of 113-105.
"We have to play better at the start of the game," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "Our play in the first quarter put us in such a hole that we could never get back over the hump, and every minute counts in an NBA game."
DONUT 2: The first quarter ...
"The truth is, it's a 48-minute game," Rick Carlisle said, "and the first 12 we got demolished. That can't happen, not against this level of competition."
Here's how it happened in that first 12, by the numbers:
|pts in paint||8||16||-8|
|2nd chance pts||4||11||-7|
It's glaring, and it's ugly. Stretch those results from 12 to 48 minutes and you see a monumental level of destruction. The Mavs found themselves beneath a Rockets' avalanche that they had to battle to overcome the rest of the game.
The damage was done.
"It seems like at times tonight you could drive a car down the lane,'' Shawn Marion said. "You can't win like that because it causes a chain reaction.''
You could argue that Dallas outplayed the Rockets over the next three quarters, but the truth is less appealing: every time the Mavs got near enough to make Houston nervous, another turnover, another foul, another grouping of missed shots cascaded down and the deficit grew.
The closeness of final score belies the reality for much of this game. Houston answered when they had to, looking like a team with a solid foundation adding the complement of another core piece.
Meanwhile, the Mavs looked like a team with nine new faces still fighting to find chemistry at both ends of the court.
DONUT 3: Monta-Ball …
In his debut, Monta Ellis gave a taste of just how 32/8 good he can be.
Against Houston, Ellis showed why you don't have to search far to find a negative opinion of his game despite the obvious talent he possesses: efficiency and shot selection.
Ellis finished with 20 points, hitting 7-of-19 shots (36.8 percent), 1-of-4 behind the arc, one assist, four rebounds, three steals and five turnovers.
When he drives, Ellis can be about as lethal as any player in the game. He is a better passer than most credit him. He is a strong finisher. He can create for himself, or others. To be concise, when he attacks the rim good things tend to happen.
With his size, 6-3 and 185 pounds, he cannot be asked to live in the paint, at least not if you want him to physically last. Against the Rockets he had five attempts at the rim (making them all), which isn't a bad total, more than any Mavs player has averaged since Shawn Marion took 5.1 per game in the 2009-10 season.
Yet, when the shot isn't falling, as was the case against the Rockets, Ellis needs to shy away from deep twos and 3-pointers, unless they are open catch-and-shoot attempts within the flow of the offense, and capitalize on his immense skills in attacking off the dribble.
DONUT 4: A microcosm...
There are any number of pieces of video that establishes what occurred in Houston. To wit:
But to us, perhaps no play better illustrates this frustration than what happened with about 5:15 left in the third quarter.
Dallas was down 10.
Ellis curled around a Dirk Nowitzki screen and Dwight Howard switched onto him, leaving Omri Casspi on Dirk at the top of the 3-point line. Ellis pressed into Howard, before backing back out to the left corner of the arc, sizing up the bigger, much slower, defender.
Vince Carter sat in the opposite corner. Chandler Parsons danced from Carter to the opposing side of the paint, promising help should Ellis drive by Howard. Shawn Marion cleared out of the lane, waiting just behind the free-throw line, either to be a cutter or an opportunistic rebounder with the smaller Harden on him. Jose Calderon occupied the space on the 3-point line between Dirk and Carter, his defender, Jeremy Lin, paying as much attention to Ellis as Calderon.
DONUT 5: What should have and did happen … ...
What should have happened: without hesitation Ellis quickly attacks, drives by Howard, Parsons slides over to cutoff the rim, and either a quick bounce pass heads out to the dangerous Carter or Calderon, if Lin slides over too quickly, or an easy dump off to a cutting Marion. From there, either Carter is going to have an uncontested three, have an easy route a sprinting-to-recover Parsons, or an easy pass to a wide-open Calderon if Lin rotated quickly … possibly one more pass to an open Dirk if Casspi makes the next rotation … or Marion is going to have one of his patented floaters, possibly a dunk or layup.
In short, if Ellis drives the offense opens up. He doesn't have to go up strong to the rim, though that could end up being the best option if Parsons is late. If Ellis simply forces the defense to react options should present themselves, either in the form of one of three elite 3-point shooters with an open look, a strong finish or a dump off to the crafty Marion near in the paint on the move.
What happened: Ellis kills several seconds off the shot clock sizing up Howard, taking away the option of any secondary passes due to time constraints, then steps back and takes the worst of all presented options, launching a shot one step inside the 3-point line.
He misses … the Rockets get the rebound, Jeremy Lin attacks the Mavs in transition and kicks out to an open Harden who drills a three.
Mavs down 13 and Carlisle calls a timeout.
DONUT 6: About more than one guy ...
Though we spent some time with Monta's shot selection above, we don't mean to pin this loss to him, or even primarily on him. Ellis draws attention because of his skill, because of what he showed us in the opener. In a sense, it's a compliment. His talent, his ceiling calls the eye, raises expectations.
Of the players to see over 15 minutes of action, only Gal Mekel (5-of-7) and Samuel Dalembert (3-of-5) converted on at least half of their shot attempts, as everyone contributed to the team's 38.0 field-goal percentage on the night.
Perhaps most perplexing of these shooting struggles is watching Jose Calderon continue to miss. Through two games, Calderon is now 1-of-8 (12.5 percent) behind the arc and 1-of-15 (6.7 percent) overall.
He is a career 39.8-percent 3-point and 48.3-percent field-goal shooter.
Calderon finished the game with zero points, 0-of-8 field goals, six assists, one steal and one turnover.
"I've got to do a better job of helping him get better shots,'' Carlisle said. "I'll take a lot of responsibility for that.''
That's ... um ... a valiant thing for the coach to say.
DONUT 7: An Uberman rarity ...
With 6:11 to play in the fourth quarter, James Harden led a break, rushing into the body of a trying-not-to-foul-and-just-get-out-of-the-way Dirk Nowitzki. For the first time since November of 2009, Dirk picked up his sixth foul … whatever remained of the Mavs hopes to win this game vanished.
"I guess I've just got to get out of the way," said Nowitzki. "(Harden) is just so great at creating contact, so I've just got to run to the locker room and let him lay it in.''
Nowitzki said, "I can't even remember the last time I fouled out, but it happened."
Yes, it's happened. But this marked only the 22nd time in his 1,110 regular season games that Dirk has fouled out … or one in every 50.5 games … two-percent of his games played.
Dirk finished prematurely with 22 points, 6-of-15 shooting, 10-11 free throws, four rebounds, two assists and one turnover.
"I would have loved to stick around a couple more minutes and try to push,'' Dirk said.
DONUT 8: Sixth man spark? ...
Vince Carter is acting as the Mavs sixth man, a new-old version of Jason Terry's role. He is being asked to spark the offense of the second unit. In the opener he did just that on his way to 21 points.
Friday night, Carter finished with six points, 2-of-8 field goals, five rebounds, one assists, one block and one turnover.
Carter has discarded the reputation he arrived in Dallas with. He's melted into the whims of team-first basketball, continually showing a willingness to do whatever is asked of him in the best interests of the team.
Undeniably in the twilight of his career, though still capable of occasionally delving into the spectacular realm of "half man, half amazing," there will be nights like this.
DONUT 9: The Jae Crowder Show …
With the deficit pushed to 16 with 5:33 to play, Carlisle went to his reserves. The white flag had been waved, only Jae Crowder decided to make the Rockets feel at least a slight sense of concern.
In the fourth quarter alone, Crowder scored 15 points, hitting 5-of-7 3-pointers as he almost single-handedly pulled the Mavs to back within six with 37 seconds to play, then five with 24.4 to go.
"I just didn't want to lay down, and I felt since we have to play these guys again to just put a little fear in their head and their heart and make them think about how the game ended,'' Crowder said.
Houston pulled away by converting their free throws, but Crowder made it interesting. "Fear'' may be a little much. But we bet he garnered some respect. That will have to do.
DONUT 10: Welcome, Social Club! ...
We welcome to the DB.com family Oak Cliff Social Club, voted Dallas' best "dive bar'' and located in the heart of the Bishop Arts District.
This "place for local people to come without paying tourist prices" is anchored by a 40-foot, oak-backed, Brazilian black granite bar, and a "garage" area featuring couches, TVs, and twin pool tables. Local beers and home-style pizza will do the trick before or after the Mavs game.
Thanks to Oak Cliff Social Club for supporting the Mavs, DB.com and so many positives things happening in the Bishop Arts District!
DONUT 11: Mavsellaenous ...
*Dallas employed some Hack-a-Howard for a bit, but Dwight responded by making four of five during one run, ending the strategy. "I just have to make them," Howard said. "I got to sing a new song. Tonight, my song was too fast in my head. I got to sing a slower song."
*Monta Ellis hit 5-of-7 attempts in the paint, including 5-of-5 at the rim. He was only 2-of-12 (16.7 percent) from everywhere else.
*One of Calderon's strengths has always been his shooting efficiency. A career 38.3 3-point shooter, Wayne Ellington was signed in large part due to his ability to spread the floor.
Those two are a combined 3-of-15 behind the arc. We'd expect both to start to see shots fall soon.
*DeJuan Blair posted the first double-double of the season for the Mavs with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
*Omer Asik fouled out in just 15:28 scoring six points and grabbing 12 rebounds. If it was an audition, though the fouls may have held it back, most would be pretty happy with 12 rebunds in under 16 minutes.
*Gal Mekel played his best game as a member of the Mavs. He was impressive throughout on his way to 11 points, six assists and only one turnover. On display was his ability to create and pass as well as finish on the attack.
This revelation of play may be the greatest silver lining to be found in this game.
*The 32 points Ellis scored in the opener was the most in the Mavs franchise history for a debut. The previous high had been Jamal Mashburn's 22 Nov. 5, 1993.
*Dwight Howard started strong with six points and nine rebounds in the first quarter. He followed that up with zeroes in both categories in the second. He finished the game with 13 points and 16 rebounds … meaning he was held in check in quarters 2-through-4, where he totaled 7 points and 7 rebounds.
*Harden's final line: 34 points, 11-of-17 field goals, four steals. He entered the day with back and wrist soreness and exited it as a central figure on what appears to be a club on a different level than Dallas can be.
*Ricky Ledo made his NBA debut, playing alongside Crowder and company as the Mavs made their final push. On the court for the final 4:22 he hit 1-of-3 shots, a 3-pointer, and finished with three points, one assist and one turnover.
DONUT 12: The Final Word ...
Perhaps, the most glaring lesson from this game is that, with the addition of Dwight Howard, the Rockets are a nightmare of a matchup for the Mavs.
Dallas simply can't match up with the size Houston can throw out there … a problem many teams may find they share. Neither can the Mavs hide any of their weaker defenders (not even in the zones they tried), nor afford to deploy Marion for prolonged periods on their biggest perimeter threat … unless you want to ask Ellis or Calderon to defend Chandler Parsons, a small forward with enough offensive game to take advantage of either.
Where the Mavs are thin, the Rockets are strong. Where the Mavs have strengths, Houston has the pieces to counter.
"Honestly, we didn't deserve to win,'' Nowitzki said. "We weren't good defensively, and we shot 38 percent. It's a credit to us and our bench that we kept plugging and kept fighting to even make it a close ballgame at the end. But it shouldn't have been that close.''
And yet just as the opener was only one game, so is this.
Today the Mavs have a chance to throw the massively shifting tides of emotion back to the good with one more game against the Memphis Grizzlies. With every game comes an opportunity, and the chance to push away from a tough loss to Houston comes quickly.