DONUT 1: Not-So-Super Bowl ...
The Dallas Mavericks are in the middle of a five-of-six games against playoff teams stretch, with the one contest against a non-playoff opponent coming Wednesday night in Denver against a Nuggets squad that had lost six straight and 11 of their last 12.
It's hard to go into this calling it a "must -in," but it was something in the neighborhood of a "really-want," as the Mavs came into the night tied in the loss column with Memphis and Phoenix.
Rick Carlisle, knowing this, labeled Wednesday the first of 21 "Super Bowls" remaining. Dallas responded by opening like they believed the game didn't truly kickoff until, like, next Sunday, trailing by as much as 17 and allowing 41 points in the first (the most the Mavs have allowed in the opening period this season).
There were signs of life in the third, where the Mavs held the Nuggets to 11 (tying for the fewest they've allowed an opponent in any quarter this season), but this was paired with an onslaught of sloppy offense followed by more resistance-free defense in the fourth on their way to a deceivingly close final score of 115-110, capping the first three-game losing streak of the season for the Mavs.
"I take full responsibility for this loss,'' Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "We weren't into it."
DONUT 2: So much ugly …
If you're looking for ugly, there was a cornucopia of it on display from the Mavs in this one. So often, it was like watching someone try to catch a fish by petting a shark's tongue … poorly thought-out, approached and executed with expectedly disastrous results.
Do you begin with the end? Dallas allowed Denver to shoot 12-of-14 in the fourth, good for 85.7 percent, ensuring that their own offensive proficiency in the period would go for naught.
The Mavs scored 37 points in the final quarter, and hit 69.6 percent of their shots, including 4-of-6 behind the arc … though this is a bit misleading, considering that the deficit was 15 with 1:33 to play, with three of those made 3-pointers coming after that point.
DONUT 3: Too much ugly for one donut …
Or, do we begin at the beginning, when almost all of the Mavs not named Dirk Nowitzki appeared somewhat apathetic about the on-court proceedings?
With 3:47 to play in the first, Dallas was down 17 and getting dominated in just about every facet of the game.
When you're getting out-rebounded 12-1 and your opponent has three times as many offensive rebounds as you do total … well, that's a problem.
In review, Carlisle said the uninspired start by his first-teamers should've motivated him to make a change, that he should've pulled starters from the game right after the first three lousy minutes.
Therefore, Carlisle said, "It's a coaching loss.''
And really, the Mavs weren't just getting drowned on the boards; they were also getting clowned on the boards, witness Kenneth Faried's off-the-blass alley-oop to himself:
DONUT 4: Sliver of silver drowned in mud …
In the third, Dallas finally began to show the kind of effort required to beat an NBA team. Unfortunately, that effort resulted in a fine defensive showing marred by a spike in sloppy offense that crippled their efforts to fill the hole they'd dug in the first eight minutes of the game.
Dallas held Denver to 11 points on 4-of-26 field goals (15.4 percent), tying for the least scored by an opponent in any quarter this season, but countered this with seven turnovers (compared to only four in the first half) that led directly to seven Denver points.
The deficit was trimmed by 11 in the quarter, but ultimately, this was just one more opportunity the Mavs failed to capitalize on, scoring only 22 as the Nuggets were trying to come undone.
DONUT 5: An effort wasted …
Dirk Nowitzki: 27 points, 13-20 field goals, 1-of-2 3-pointers, seven rebounds and only one turnover.
Denver had no answer for Dirk. Whether it was Timofey Mozgov, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, JJ Hickson or anyone else … they could not slow Dirk on the offensive end.
Brandan Wright: 18 points, 9-of-13 field goals, two blocks, one steal … but only three rebounds (two offensive) in 25 minutes.
Wright continually found his way to the rim, particularly via the pass from Devin Harris (who had a season high 11 assists).
Shawn Marion: 15 points, 7-of-12 field goals, 1-of-2 3-pointers and six rebounds.
When Dallas gets a combined 29-of-45 (64.4 FG%) for 60 points from these three guys, it's hard to accept a loss.
DONUT 6: Of course …
At the other end of the pendulum:
Jose Calderon: five points, 2-of-5 field goals, 1-of-4 3-pointers, six assists and four turnovers … and calling his defensive effort a struggle is extremely generous.
Vince Carter: 17 points, 5-of-12 field goals, 3-of-7 3-pointers, one steal and no assists.
Monta Ellis: 16 points, 7-of-13 field goals, 1-of-1 3-pointers, four assists, three turnovers, one steal and one block.
At a glance, these numbers don't appear that bad, even bordering on good for Ellis, but they are skewed by a late fourth-quarter push after the game was decided, essentially "garbage time."
Ellis was 5-of-5 in the final period, for 12 of his 16 points … meaning he was 2-of-8 for four points through three quarters.
Carter was 4-of-7 for 10 points in the fourth … 1-of-5 for seven points through the first three.
We don't want to ever discount a strong stretch from a player, especially in the fourth quarter, but in this case it's needed to get a better feel for the impact on the game as a whole … which wasn't overly positive.
"We didn't play good,'' Monta said. "It's a team thing. No one person can take the fault."
That's certainly true. But in the conversation of Calderon's worst games on the Mavs, this would certainly be in the conversation, which brings us to …
DONUT 7: The point guards …
On paper, the Denver Nuggets are a nightmare matchup for Calderon. He doesn't possess the physical properties needed to defend Ty Lawson or Aaron Brooks, nor do/did his offensive strengths, decision making and 3-point shooting, particularly threaten to equalize those deficiencies.
He was getting torn up at one end of the court, tying a season high for turnovers at the other and doing little to positively influence the game.
Meanwhile, Devin Harris had tied his season high in assist by halftime (eight), and was forming a lethal duo with Brandan Wright that Denver appeared incapable of slowing … at least, when JJ Hickson wasn't blocking Wright near the rim (as he did twice on the night).
A sample of Devin/B-Wright:
Harris would finish with two points, 0-of-5 field goals, 11 assists, four rebounds, one steal and one turnover in just under 18 minutes.
DONUT 8: Is 18 enough? …
Harris has seen his shot completely abandon him over the last six games, hitting just 18.8 percent of his field goals, including just 9.1 percent behind the arc (yes, you read that correctly), but even as he went 0-of-5 from the floor against Denver, it was hard not to notice how much more of a positive impact his presence was having in comparison to Calderon … as evidenced to some degree by the plus/minus of each player: Calderon's -11 was second worst on the team, Harris was +5 despite missing every shot he took.
Given the matchups, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to leave Harris on the court a bit longer, with Calderon on the bench.
Instead, Harris played almost right at his season average, which hovers around 18 minutes per.
There were multiple instances of Harris moving gingerly after collisions or falls, along with a career of injuries and missed games, forcing the question: are we seeing Harris's health being protected, or simply Carlisle's trust in his starting point guard?
Against the Nuggets, it seemed like the choice on paper was easy … and that choice, in a vacuum, would have Harris on the court for more than 18 minutes.
DONUT 9: Still more ugly …
We couldn't have multiple donuts dedicated to "ugly" and not talk about Samuel Dalembert's effort.
Dalembert played just 9:33 of uninspired basketball, including a second-half benching. In those minutes, he was 0-of-3 from the floor for zero points and one rebound.
Bernard James would start the second half in Dalembert's place, and in James' first 53 seconds of action he had as many rebounds as all of the Mavs centers combined in the first half (Dalembert 1, Wright 1, DeJuan Blair 0).
Perhaps "ugly" isn't the right word in this case. "Nonexistent" is probably a little more apt.
We previewed this game by believing that Dalembert would need to be a rim-protecting force because of the potential for perimeter breakdowns. But on this night, even the few times Somnambulant Sam did put out, it got put back:
DONUT 10: Mavsellaneous …
*Wayne Ellington was excused from the game due to personal reasons, moving Jae Crowder back into the rotation. Crowder was solid, finishing with eight points, four rebounds and a block in almost 16 minutes of action, and didn't miss a shot.
*Dirk/Marion/Wright combined for 29-of-45 (64.4 FG%) and 60 points.
The rest of the Mavs were 17-of-42 (40.5 FG%) for 45 points.
*While the Mavs game was going poorly, Gal Mekel's rehab stint in Frisco was going well. He scored seven points with seven rebounds in 24 minutes in a Texas Legends' win over Bakersfield. (Ricky Ledo was solid with 18 and the game-winner in a 109-106 victory.) The Legends play again tonight and will feature the two Mavs in a 7 p.m. start. Fish will have TV on Channel 47 and you can get Legends tickets here.
*From Feb. 1 through Feb. 22, the Mavs led the league in rebounding percentage at 55.1, out-rebounding opponents in seven of nine games, tying in one and only having less in one.
From Feb. 23 through March 5, Dallas ranks 26th in rebounding percentage at 45.6 and have been out-rebounded in all five games they've played … their opponents averaging seven more boards per game.
*Jae Crowder closed the first quarter with a pair of free throws … the Mavs would not return to the line until Monta Ellis converted an and-one attempt with 5:30 to play in the fourth.
Denver attempted 36 free throws, compared to nine for Dallas.
It's hard to win when you give your opponent 27 more attempts from the line.
Entering Wednesday night, teams were 12-31 with a -20 free-throw differential or worse (Dallas is now 1-3 in such games) … teams are 4-14 with a free-throw differential of -25 or worse (Dallas is now 0-2).
The Mavs have returned from Denver and will practice today at the AAC. Lot of fixing to do.
DONUT 11: The official highlight reel ...
Such as it is ...
"We win and lose together, so I'm not going to sit here and point fingers,'' Carlisle said. "I've already pointed the finger at myself. I'm taking the majority of blame for this.''
DONUT 12: The Final Word ...
This was supposed to be the "Isle of Reprieve" the "Rainbow Oasis" in an otherwise dark portion of the schedule. Perhaps calling it a "must-win" with 20 games still to be played fringes on the melodramatic, but that doesn't change the fact that this loss hurts.
It hurts the fans that gathered the frustration of a no-show for just long enough to put the win out of reach. It hurts the hopes of a team that has slipped into the 8 hole in the West having now lost three in a row for the first time this season. It hurts in the context of a less-than-forgiving schedule that starts up again with weekend home games against the Portland Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers.
"You always worry when you lose three games in a row with 20 left and the playoff standings the way they are,'' Nowitzki said. "So yeah, are we worried? Sure.
"Are we going to do anything about it? We'll see this weekend.''
Perhaps it's a silver lining that both Memphis and Minnesota lost Wednesday night as well … or, perhaps it's just another opportunity lost.
"It's going to take anger and resolve on every defensive possession for 20 more games for us to get to the hump and to get over the hump,'' said Carlisle, and while he's right ... "anger'' and "resolve'' and "hurt'' were supposed to be the fuel that preceded the tipoff of this "Super Bowl,'' not the promises made after it.