'(Tuesday in Charlotte) was definitely a step back,' Dirk says. 'We've got to finish strong before…
Mavs Donuts: The Vulnerable Victims
DONUT 1: Failing vs. the JayVeast ...
The Dallas Mavericks' stage was set and the goal was within sight.
It was Wednesday night in Toronto, where they had put in 12 minutes of work, maybe 24 minutes of work, almost 36 minutes of work ... on the way to moving their record to 12-4 against the East.
That wasn't to take Toronto (coming in at 20-20 but leading the Atlantic Division) for granted; nobody around here has the right to do that after the Raps defeated Dallas in OT, 109-108, on December 20.
And you certainly don't take them for granted after what we just witnessed, a "Canadian Collapse'' in which Dallas held a 21-point bulge and predictably, frittered it all away.
DONUT 2: Big-picture giveaway ...
This 93-85 come-from-ahead loss robs Dallas of a chance to beat up the only worthwhile group of NBA clubs it has a chance to beat up: The JayVeast.
Can we agree that you aren't going to beat up on all the teams ahead of you in the West standings? And that therefore your playoffs hopes rely on beating up someone … so why not go beat the East?
Check out this astounding number: The bottom seven teams in the East, going into last night, had lost a combined 22 straight games. A week ago, the bottom-feeders in the NBA JayVeast had lost 32 straight games!
DONUT 3: The 'Vulnerable Victims' ...
This doesn't exactly apply to Toronto, a first-place team at one game over .500 now. And it doesn't exactly apply to Friday in Brooklyn, where Coach J-Kidd's Nets have actually won three straight – correcting a record that had been 15-22.
But somewhere on this 38-games-remaining schedule, the Mavs have to start finding vulnerable victims. Available tomato cans? Dallas entered last having 11 games left before the All-Star Break – with seven of those are against East teams.
There's your chance to victimize somebody. On Wednesday, the victim got away.
DONUT 4: How and why? ...
You know, of course, that losing 17-point leads is a chronic issue now. Coach Bob Ortegel and I were talking last night and he said, "It's in the scouting report now. Other teams gameplan for it: 'If Dallas gets way ahead, it doesn't stay way ahead. They can come undone.''
But how? But why?
From Devin Harris: "At points in the games, we kind of relaxed.''
From Vince Carter: "I think we just have to zero in on just staying focused, staying the course, continue to do what got us to that point. I think sometimes you get comfortable.''
In other words, because you scored 34 in the first quarter you "relaxed'' and "comfortable'd'' your way to just scoring 34 more in the entire second half?
DONUT 5: The NBA highlight reel ...
It looked something like this ...
DONUT 6: Sitting Dirk ...
Mixed into this mess is the Mavs' decision to give Dirk Nowitzki a night off. It's the sort of thing that is going to be part of the 35-year-old's future with Dallas (a future that we know will include a new deal this summer for two or three more seasons).
But that doesn't mean it wasn't a head-scratcher ... and it doesn't mean it shouldn't come under fire as it relates to the result.
"It was just the right thing to do, right thing to do for him, for the organization," Carlisle said. "He needed a day to rest."
I think it's true that Dirk has been muddling through a few games of dead-leggedness. I guess we'll have to wait until Friday at Brooklyn and beyond to judge if there is any payoff here.
DONUT 7: Down on the farm ...
The Mavs' minor-league affiliate, the D-League Texas Legends, are involving themselves in a flurry of activity that intertwines them with the big club.
The first of the moves: The call-up to Toronto of Ricky Ledo. This was last-minute stuff; I mean, Ledo was being driven to the airport in DFW yesterday at 10:15 a.m. for a game scheduled for less than six hours later.
That call-up was motivated largely by the questions about Sam Dalembert's shoulder. (See our piece here on Dallas' big-man situation: "Goldilocks And The Three Centers.'') Dalembert played in Toronto while wearing a brace over his bruised shoulder and seems to be fine.
Meanwhile, the Legends engineered a complicated trade for rights to center prospect Fab Melo. (Our finance-related report on him during his time in Mavs training camp is here.) Texas has to trade away a player and a pick and involve four teams total to scoot from the bottom of the waiver-wire list to the No. 5 spot (after having checked with the top four teams to make certain they weren't taking Melo). Then the Legends pulled the trigger and claimed Melo.
Is this a Mavs-related move? Not directly, though Texas has Melo's D-League rights for three years. So there is time to develop and time to look and yes, the Mavs will be keeping their eyes on Frisco.
So will an assortment of scouts (from the Bulls, Spurs, T'Wolves, Rockets and more) who I'm told will be in Frisco this weekend to watch former North Carolina star P.J. Hairston (who is draft-eligible for June but not eligible for a call-up and has been dominant in this week's practices), veteran center Melvin Ely and stretch-4 Devin Ebanks.
I'll also be in Frisco on Friday and Saturday nights for the Channel 47 TV broadcasts of the games beginning at 7 alongside R.J. Choppy. Come say hello and get your Legends tickets here.
DONUT 8: Lessons, schmessons ...
Frisco is a place to learn. The big club is a place where the lessons are supposed to produce results. In addition Dallas (25-19) having blown leads of 17, 17, 18, 19 and now 21 points in losses, there was in Toronto the dual failure on both ends of the floor to avoid embarrassment.
On offense, Dallas scored 12 points in the fourth quarter. The Mavs were challenged by a Dwane Casey-coached defense that is the stingiest in the NBA in fourth quarters.
They give up an average of 22 per. You scored 12.
And on the other end? Toronto has an assortment of good players. But young DeMar DeRozan represented greatness for a night, with a career-best 40 points.
How lofty is that in this Mavericks season? It's tops for an individual, beating out LeBron's.
"You can't ... give up a 40-point night to a guy who is a ... good player,'' Carlisle said, picking his words careful as to not insult a young man who should not be scoring 40 points in 37 minutes of NBA play.
DONUT 9: All those PGs ...
An issue I'm struggling to come to grips with: Given the players used and the combinations used, how did Dallas commit all those turnovers?
The Raptors turned 21 Dallas turnovers into 25 points. Nineteen of those turnovers came over the final three quarters. Twelve of them came in the final period.
Monta had eight by himself, and that's disastrous. But isn't Calderon's presence here meant to solve this? Isn't Devin's return meant to solve it? When Rick uses Monta, Devin and Shane Larkin on the court together as he did in Toronto, shouldn't the turnover numbers go down?
DONUT 10: Quoteboard ...
"It's a hard league and the games are long.'' -- Rick Carlisle.
It is not my intention to remove Rick's comments from their proper context. He meant this as a caution, not as an excuse. But here's the news that needs to be delivered to this Mavs bunch: The NBA will remain "hard.'' The games will remain "long.'' And considering my above note regarding how teams now scout to poke at Dallas' weakness?
They are likely to get harder. And longer.
DONUT 11: Brotherhood and leadership ...
This isn't a basketball story I'm about to tell you. It's not even a football story, really. It's about bonding and friendship and brotherhood and leadership ... and in that sense, it's universal ...
It was the middle of July in 2006, and Troy Aikman was in possession of football's most demanding schedule – overflowing with the rights and responsibilities that come with existing as a freshly-minted three-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. There was mostly the business of leading a football team. But Aikman couldn't leave one member of that team behind.
"It meant everything in the world to me,'' Michael Irvin recently told me, reflecting on Aikman's voluntary appearance in a Dallas courtroom to support a teammate embroiled in a sordid second-degree felony drug case. "It meant more than football, more than black and white. It meant he was my brother.''
Aikman and Irvin had forged an unusually close alliance as their Cowboys built from a 1-15 season to those Super Bowls. I have no indication that Josh Brent and Sean Lee share a similar bond.
Yet there was Lee, attending Tuesday's closing arguments in a Dallas courtroom sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with Brent, who now awaits sentencing after being found guilty of intoxication manslaughter in the December 2012 death of his friend, Cowboys practice-squadder Jerry Brown.
Lee left the courtroom without speaking to reporters, but might've very well been motivated as Aikman was before him.
"I'm here to support a friend, certainly, in a time of need,'' Aikman said outside the courtroom in July 2006. "It is not to come here and try to influence the jury or the outcome of this trial in any way. I'm here much like many of Michael's family members are here, and that is for support.''
Aikman and Irvin aren't the same as Lee and Brent. The first pairing achieved superstardom; Lee is gifted but oft-injured, and Brent is a former seventh-round pick who was a part-time starter. Aikman may have risked some public scorn for his support of his teammate, though the quarterback's glorious achievements and pristine reputation may have caused him to be bulletproof to any criticism.
Lee? He isn't bulletproof. But his unselfish actions here (mirrored by Tuesday's courtroom presence of ex-Cowboys standout Nate Newton) demonstrate that Lee thinks there are bigger issues here than criticism that might come his way.
Like I said, this isn't a football story, of course; these men play that game and that's their job and because one life has already been lost here and another rather hangs in the balance – Brent could get a sentence as lengthy as 20 years – this courtroom drama goes beyond football and the Cowboys.
But it takes a desire for bonding and a skill in leadership to do what Aikman once did.
And it takes a desire for bonding and a skill in leadership to do what Lee isn't doing now.
I believe Sean Lee is thinking the same thing Troy Aikman once put into words: "I'm here to support a friend in a time of need.''
I believe Josh Brent is thinking what Michael Irvin told me: "It meant more than football, more than black and white. It meant he was my brother.''
DONUT 12: The Final Word ...
And finally, back to the Mavs:
Rick Carlisle said, "I believe in our team and I believe in these guys, and we're going to keep working at it. I'm going to keep believing in them."
He has no choice, of course. And my seat on the bandwagon is reserved for a lifetime, so I'm good. But as another potential tomato can goes un-punched, I cannot help but paraphrase something Mark Cuban is famous for saying regarding "deal-making'' and "suckers.''
When you look around the court for a "Vulnerable Victim'' and don't see one ... the "Vulnerable Victim'' is you.
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