Dallas has four straight wins, a 9-2 mark in the month and a 10-2 record in the last dozen games. Is…
DONUT 1: Beggars & Choosers ....
The Dallas Mavericks have no business thinking about purposely nestling into a place in the final Western Conference standings that allows them to avoid an unfavorable matchup.
Get too trick-'em/dick-'em like that and next thing you know, you've nestled yourself right out of the playoffs altogether.
So let's establish what Job 1 is around here: Lie, steal, cheat, beg your way into the postseason. Somehow, some way, some opponent awaiting you.
DONUT 2: Unless ...
That is, of course, unless you opt to nestle your way UP the standings in order to make certain you're not, say, a No. 7 seed required to oppose a No. 2 seed like, say, San Antonio.
The Mavs don't beat the Spurs anymore.
Once upon a time, this was a bitterly entertaining rivalry. But now it's bitter defeat after bitter defeat for Dallas, the latest being this hard-fought 112-106 loss down by the Ugly-Ass River.
"This effort is good enough to beat a lot of teams, but not (the Spurs) with the way they played tonight," coach Rick Carlisle said. "I've got to look at our team and look at where we are and where we're trying to get to. I'm disappointed by the result, but not the effort. I thought the effort was good."
Can Uncle Ricky discover an as-yet-untapped formula? That'd be nice. But this is Dallas' eighth consecutive loss to the Spurs. And it's a seventh straight loss at The Alamo.
You'd think, if there was a formula, science would've experimented its way into it by now.
DONUT 3: The official highlight reel ....
DONUT 4: "Perfectionists'' ...
By halftime of this game, you were given hints at problems, hints that once again you were up against it - "it'' being the imperial Spurs.
*At the end of the first half, the Mavs closed on a 17-8 run. ... And Dallas still trailed by one.
*Vince Carter made three 3s and late in the second Monta Ellis accidentally banked a straight-on long 2 off the glass. ... And Dallas still trailed by one.
*The Spurs committed an uncharacteristic 10 first-half turnovers, and seven in the second quarter alone ... and Dallas still trailed by one.
The other night, Shawn Marion was talking in advance about this game and he gave San Antonio an unusual compliment. Shawn called the Spurs "perfectionists.''
Isn't that odd and fitting and sickening ... perfect?
Even when the hated Spurs played poorly, they were up by one. And when they played well? They took charge, leaving you scratching your collective Mavs head yet again.
Perfectionists aren't always perfect. They just always strive to be. Frustratingly, once again, that's the Spurs.
DONUT 5: Their Big Three ...
Worth noting: San Antonio has built this 43-16 record without the full health of all hands. Tony Parker had missed the previous six games but came back here for 22 points and seven assists. Tim Duncan scored 17 points. Manu Ginobili had 15 points and seven assists.
And the Spurs are the Spurs. Again.
"I thought Parker looked great again coming off a nice little 10-day break they can afford to give him," Nowitzki said. "And he just comes in and looks great."
It's a habit down there; the Spurs have had 24 different lineups this season. And it still all works.
Dallas got 22 from Nowitzki, 21 from Vince and 17 from Monta. But what Dallas does not get is the luxury of giving too many guys too many "nice little breaks.''
The playoff push doesn't allow that. And the desire to nestle up to the No. 6 spot doesn't, either.
DONUT 6: Quotable ...
"Well, the way our record is against winning teams, I don't know if we want to see anybody, just to be quite honest with you." -- Dirk Nowitzki.
DONUT 7: Honestly is its own reward ...
I don't think The Uberman is being "brutally honest'' there; in fact, he sort of grinned when he said it, acknowledgement that he was being self-depreciating in his evaluation of his Mavs.
And besides, is it "brutal'' if it's so obviously true?
How do the Mavs do against teams with winning records? They are 13-18.
How do the Mavs do against the top five teams in the West? They are 3-9.
How do the Mavs do against the top seven teams in the West? They are 5-12.
How have they fared in the last two games against playoff-contending Chicago and San Antonio? They are 0-2.
DONUT 8: The carrot on the stick ...
The carrot on the stick, then -- uninviting as it is because Dwight Howard is a large and ominous carrot -- is the relative reward of being the No. 6 seed. That's how Dallas (presently in seventh place) continues to push up, how Dallas avoids San Antonio, and how Dallas avoids OKC (presently the No. 1 seed).
Not that it's a picnic to oppose the Rockets, Blazers or Clippers in a series; Dallas would be obvious underdogs in any of those matchups. But the Mavs have at least established they can play competitively with those clubs.
They damn sure haven't established that against the Spurs, winners of 12 of the last 14 Dallas-San Antonio games.
The Thunder? Well, the Dallas-OKC games have been competitive ... but the Thunder are winners of 11 of the last 11. So, no thanks.
DONUT 9: Join DB.com Boards! ...
Mavs conversation about ... well, everything? The best discussion forum in the NBA, The DB.com Boards, is in its 14th season and membership is free, fun ... oh, and sometimes frustrating! But mostly free and fun!
DONUT 10: The essential difference ...
There is an essential difference, by the way, between the way Dallas is structured and the way the last two foes are structured.
Chicago is without its best player (Rose) and fresh from trading away an All-Star (Deng) but still ... at game's end, the Bulls' defense can choke you.
San Antonio can put it on cruise control at different points in the season but still ... at game's end, the Spurs' defense can choke you.
The Mavs are not constructed that way.
When you have one-dimensional players at the top of your rotation ... And let's be frank, Dallas' best guys are definitely better down at that end than they are down at THAT end ... Coach has one-dimensional decisions to make.
You find yourself believing the way to win is to kitchen-sink the aspect of your team most capable of flooding the other guy ... And so the Mavs try to do that down the stretch with offense ... and offense only.
This is no indictment of Dirk, Monta, Vince and Jose, all of whom lean toward the offensive side, of course. But those were Rick's stretch-run finishers last night. That means Marion can't be a finisher. And that greatly lessens your chance of getting that elusive late-game stop that never did come. ... because 'Trix is the rare Dallas rotation guy capable of such a thing.
The Bulls got those stops on Friday.
The Spurs got those stops on Sunday.
And the Mavs, in two straight games and in two straight losses to quality opponents, found themselves a dimension short -- another formula that needs work from Uncle Ricky and staff if they are to be the West's sixth seed, or, maybe, to be anywhere in the top eight slots at all.
DONUT 11: Strategic nuggets ....
One of these days, whether its in this year's playoffs or not, Dallas will have to find a way to contend with San Antonio -- and no, waiting to eulogize Tim Duncan at his funeral does not count as "one of these days.''
Close on their 3-point ace? Sure, so Green didn't do damage but Leonard did. Use five-guys-on-a-string to contend with Parker? Sure, but if he beats his initial defender (and he does) the string breaks. Front Timmy Duncan to deny him the ball? Nah, let's not try that again.
They are perfectionists. They are imperial. They are to be avoided.
DONUT 12: The Final Word ....
"We've got a tough stretch here going toward the end of the season and we got to win some games,'' Dirk summarized. "We got to beat some teams to even make it in. Memphis is going to make a push. And all season long you figured Phoenix would at some point crumble, but they play hard. ... So it looks like we got to keep winning at a high clip and these two games in a row losing doesn't help."