Could this be the fulcrum, the point this season balanced on; lean one way and fall into the lottery…
All-Access Donuts: Mavs 122, Nuggets 106
DONUT 1: A storm that must be faced ...
Scratching their way up the horizon, the rumble of their angry thunderheads rolling ominously before them, come thee extremely tough matchups in a row: Brooklyn, Oklahoma City and the Clippers in order. A storm that must be faced, a trial that made Friday night's matchup with the Denver Nuggets, who entered the night 3-0 against the Dallas Mavericks this season, all the more important.
Denver would lead by as many as six in the first before Dallas opened the second with a 24-7 run, and would never trail again. The Nuggets made a push late, cutting the lead to three after a Darrell Arthur dunk with 6:29 to play, but from that moment on the game belonged to Monta Ellis.
Much as they opened the second quarter with a burst, Dallas closed the game outscoring Denver 23-10 … as Ellis matched the entire Nuggets team in that stretch with 10 points of his own (14 in the fourth quarter as a whole), without missing a shot.
Above, the official NBA highlight reel, featuring Ellis in Dallas' 122-106 win.
Continue on through Donuts and enjoy reviewing the win ...
"Monta Ellis closed the game for us," coach Rick Carlisle said. "You know, he was fantastic. He made drives. He made outside shots. He made midrange shots. He made assists."
Rick's postgame presser:
DONUT 2: That fourth quarter …
In the fourth, Dirk and Monta combined to go 9-of-9 from the floor, including 2-of-2 behind the arc, for 20 points. In general, that's probably a pretty good design to follow for success.
The bulk of this damage was done by Ellis, who was 6-of-6, including both of those 3-pointers, for 14, including keying the big run that put the game away after the Nuggets had trimmed the lead to three.
Carlisle noted that Dirk was a little "winded" coming off his second-highest minute total of the season, just over 39, only exceeded by the 42:53 he played in an overtime contest with the Raptors back in December, making the manner in which Ellis closed this game all the more timely, all the more welcome.
Ellis also helped cover up a discouraging performance by the Mavs defense in the fourth ... burying the fact that Denver had a field-goal percentage of 61.1 in the period -- eclipsed by the Mavs 73.7.
It helped that the Mavs dominated the glass, both in the game and in the fourth. For the game, Dallas outrebounded the Nuggets by 13 (48-35), including 6-1 in the final 6:20 and 9-5 in the fourth as a whole.
Dirk's final numbers: 21 points, 9-of-15 field goals, 1-of-2 3-pointers, six rebounds, two steals and a block.
Monta's final numbers: 26 points, 11-of-14 field goals, 2-of-4 3-pointers, seven assists, four rebounds, one steal … and we'll happily gloss over the five turnovers considering his complete body of work for this game.
Dirk on Monta: "He's got the confidence to do it. Confidence in this league is like 80 percent [of success]. There's obviously some skill involved. But if you have that confidence, then you've arrived. And he's been great all season for us when we do give him the ball attacking. And he's been shooting the 3-ball well lately. That makes him tough to guard."
DONUT 3: Dirk's Video Visit …
"This is a nice little set-up for us to make a run,'' Dirk said. "But we've got to make it happen ... If we set the tone early, I like our chances.''
DONUT 4: Ellis in the fourth …
For the season, Monta Ellis has been fairly consistent from quarter to quarter, with the exception of the third, where he has underperformed by comparison:
There has been a slight uptick in the fourth, but nothing that immediately grabs the eye, leaving your jaw to drop to the floor. Since the all-star break, that has changed. Part of this has been his struggles in the first three quarters and its direct contrast to how outstanding he's been in the final frame, but there's also the simple fact that he's been very, very good.
Those same numbers in the 16 games since the All-Star break:
In short, withing this window, he's been amazing as a closer. Since the break, in the fourth he ranks 10th in the NBA in points per (tied with Dwyane Wade), third in field-goal percentage (of players to have played at least 10 games and average a minimum of five fourth-quarter points) and second in 3-point percentage (excluding Anthony Davis, who is 1-of-1).
After watching Ellis set an example by playing through illness, and now upping the efficiency and quality of his performance in the game's biggest moments, are we seeing the evolution of Ellis into one of this team's true leaders?
Here's Monta's Video Visit:
DONUT 5: Rim Protection? …
A lot of things contribute, such as allowing opponent's to grab offensive rebounds or the defensive deficiencies of the two lead guards in the rotation that don't exactly put a wall between the perimeter and the rim, but Dallas has been one of the weakest teams in the league at defending within five feet of the rim, entering Friday night allowing opponents to hit 61.2-percent of their tries there, ranking 25th in the league in that category.
Considering that they deploy a center rotation that includes a player listed at 6-7 (DeJuan Blair), a player that lacks the weight or thickness to deny many that occupy the same space on the floor (Brandan Wright) and a player that leaves many questioning his engagement and hustle for stretches; this isn't a surprise.
Against the Nuggets, this figured to be a problem. Denver entered the night ranked sixth in attempts within five feet per game, at 32.7, converting 58.3 percent of those … with that field-goal percentage jumping to 60.1 in games Ty Lawson played.
Lawson was back, and the Nuggets were able to finish at will near the rim, converting 19-of-29 attempts, or 65.5 percent.
Fortunately for Dallas, this ended up not being a deciding factor in this game.
DONUT 6: For the curious …
The Mavs have seen their best results defending the rim with Samuel Dalembert on the court, but by such a slim margin as to make the three primary centers almost indistinguishable.
Here is how opponents had fared within five feet of the rim with the respective centers on the court entering Friday night:
This shows that all three have had similar results, and that opponent's haven't really shied away from any one center more than the others … though Wright has allowed the highest field-goal percentage, barely, and has been attacked the most of the three.
DONUT 7: In a related note …
For the first time since his rookie season, the Mavs did a great job of limiting the impact of Kenneth Faried, holding him to his lowest career point total and field-goal percentage when facing the Mavs, as well as his lowest rebounding total against Dallas since that rookie season.
Faried was held to six points and five rebounds, hitting just 2-of-10 from the floor. From his first attempt, when Jose Calderon rose up and rejected him (you read that correctly), Faried was a non-factor.
DONUT 8: Mavsellaneous …
*Jae Crowder provided a huge lift to the Mavs in the second quarter, hitting all four of the shots he attempted, all behind the arc. He finished with 12 points and three rebounds in the period.
Prior to Friday night, Crowder had totaled at least 12 points and three rebounds in five games this season.
He would end the night with 12 points, four rebounds and one steal … not taking or missing another shot after the second.
*Samuel Dalembert was frustratingly inept around the rim, going 1-of-6, including misses on a couple of complete gimmes. He would grab 10 rebounds in only 16 minutes of action, though that was padded a bit by grabbing the misses he had at the rim.
*It's getting to the point that going a game without a Brandan Wright alley-oop finish is a true rarity. He had several against the Nuggets, finishing with 13 points, 6-of-9 field goals and three rebounds in just under 21 minutes.
Here's B-Wright's Video Visit ...
*Mark Followill noted during the broadcast that this was Ellis's 10th game this season with 10-or-more points in the fourth, and Dallas is now 7-3 in those games.
*Join DB.com Boards and join the conversation about this game, the Nets on Sunday, the playoff chase ... everything Mavs!
*At +13, the Mavs posted their fifth best rebounding margin of the season, they are now 7-1 when grabbing at least ten more rebounds than their opponent … with the sole loss coming when they posted their largest margin of the season, +22, against the Heat Feb. 18th.
DONUT 9: Fish on 'The Fan' …
*Fish will co-host this weekend, 2-to-3:30 p.m. on Saturday anf 9-1 a.m. on Sunday, on 105.3 The Fan. Mavs talk will be included and you can listen live to 105.3 The Fan here!
DONUT 10: Playoff Update …
After Marc Gasol left the game with an ankle infury, the Memphis Grizzlies fell apart in a loss to the Miami Heat. It has also been reported that Gasol left the arena in a walking boot … and Phoenix beat Detroit.
With 12 to play, the Mavs are a full game up on Memphis for the seventh seed, and 1.5 ahead of the Suns, who currently sit at ninth.
Dallas is two behind the 6-seed Golden State Warriors.
"We want to stay on that pace where we can head in the direction where we can get 50 wins and try to get a great seed in the West," Ellis said.
DONUT 11: Vince's Video Visit ...
Vince Carter dislocated the pinky finger on his right hand early in the game and bounced back and forth to the locker room trying to make it right. X-rays were negative but his performance was positive, as he scored 12 points and made 3-of-5 from 3-point range.
Vince's Video Visit:
"I'm cool,'' Vince said. "We won.''
DONUT 12: The Final Word …
The Mavs needed this game, and after a slow start, they showed that need on the court. Despite the fact that this was one of the games that Dallas was "supposed" to win against a sub-.500 team, this was not an easy contest … as evidenced by the fact that the Mavs had been 0-3 against the Nuggets.
In the end, the Mavs did what they were supposed to and put away a non-playoff team. Their reward? The road only becomes more difficult, the storm devouring the sky between here and the horizon won't wait long. Sunday, Jason Kidd will spend his birthday in Dallas as the coach of the team with the fourth best record in the league since the break (12-4).
We've firmly entered 'the playoffs to make the playoffs.'
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