According to public opinion, the Dallas’ chances to beat San Antonio on Wednesday ran the gamut, from A to. … oh, about B. But in one of those “must-game’’/“game-of-the-year’’ situations, the Mavs got their heads in the game and off the guillotine and recorded a momentous and tantalizing 107-102 home victory.
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ITEM: Here’s the single most important trend to come out of the victory, and you see it in : That, my friends, was a tight, shortened, playoff-style rotation, a combination of “who’s with Rick’’ and “who Rick needs to be with him.’’JJB and Singleton gave guys a blow, but otherwise this was the starting five carrying a load (42 minutes for Dirk, 31 minutes for Damp) plus heavy minutes for Jason Terry and 15 minutes for Brandon Bass.
Almost a seven-man rotation. Tight.
ITEM: Wild guesses as to the specific people owner Mark Cuban was pinpointing in his pink-slip pledge have focused on, among others, Josh Howard. So bully for J-Ho, who taped an aspirin to it and responded with a gutsy performance: 29 points on 10-of-15 shooting, with seven rebounds. There were moments when Josh took to limping around on that ankle. … was it sore or was it soap-operatic? … but a second later he’d be slicing to the basket, taking measured shots from the arc (4-of-5 from there) and giving a balls-out defensive effort.
In the first quarter he scored 12 straight. By halftime he had 20. And at game’s end, Josh’s dive to the basket for an uncontested layup – after smartly deciding to pass up a jumper – was among the many play-of-the-game candidates. And “tantalizing’’ is the word for Josh at his best.
ITEM: Another pink-slip pinpointee? Maybe Erick Dampier. So he showed up, too, with nine points and a handful of rebounds and most importantly with four blocks shots – one of them a help-out effort on Tim Duncan, another one a huge stuff of Tony Parker in the final minute – and grinding work that helped limit Duncan to 7-of-21 shooting.
ITEM: In the first half, Dirk was so dialed in it seemed his made shots never dared touch rim. In the second half, he was even better, unveiling his offensive repertoire especially in the final few minutes, when he: Cut into the lane and dumped to Dampier for a dunk. … then hit a 3-pointer from the left wing that had him acting as if it was the dagger, as he wagged that tongue as SA called a timeout. … then came a left-wing jumper that pushed Dallas up 98-88 lead. … then came his involvement in some crisp ball movement, and an inside shot from Josh and an outside shot from Kidd … and then another tongue-wag.
“At that time of the game,’’ said Carlisle, "You want the ball in your best player's hands."
Dirk (the aforementioned “best player’’) certainly seemed like he wanted the ball in his hands down the stretch. He finished with 24 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and two tongue-wags.
ITEM: The Spurs have one unsolvable puzzle – or at least, unsolvable for Dallas. Tony Parker scored 37 points. What Dallas did against him defensively in the second half was almost a strategic give-up: Assign Jason Terry to him.
Oh, Jet has the waterbug-thing down. But Jason is as poor a defender as the Mavs have in their rotation. So assigning him to Parker almost plays like a “Tony’s-gonna-get-his’’ concession.
ITEM: One more thing about San Antonio’s PG situation: Roger Mason started, but at times now he will also serve as Parker’s backup. And he scored 23. That’s a lot of potential production from one spot. … and the Mavs simply do not have an answer for it.
ITEM: I don’t think of this as a Popovich tactical error as much as I think of it as Dallas executing the way it ought to do more often. But San Antonio especially got burned, certainly in the second half, when it decided to double-team-trap Mavs ballhandlers when they neared the free-throw line extended. They did it to Dirk and then did it to Kidd and both Mavs stars responded by assertively and quickly swinging the ball to the corner, the weak spot in such a defense. And from that spot, the Dallas offense really clicked.
ITEM: Did somebody not inform JJ Barea that this – “Noche Latina’’ -- was supposed to be his night? Was something lost in translation?
ITEM: Interesting quote from Cuban on this organization’s leadership. … if not its hierarchy: “It starts at the top with me and Rick and Dirk," Cuban said.
ITEM: The win puts the Mavs at 37-24, three full games up on the ninth-place Suns. Of course, eighth place is no picnic; it’s a first-round tangle with the Lakers. So let’s set our sights higher, shall we?
Said Dirk: “We don't want to only look down at Phoenix. We want to look up.’’
ITEM: Am I a Pollyanna for being aware of the fact that this year, against the other eight West contenders, Dallas has twice as many losses as wins? Or is it OK to have thought maybe the Mavs would beat SA, to then savor that victory, and to then turn to tonight, when maybe. … just maybe. … the Mavs make it interesting at New Orleans?
I said this on ESPN 103.3 Radio during the pregame show: “Somebody in the West is going to win six of the next seven, nine of the next 10. Somebody is going to go 17-5 down the stretch. Maybe it can be the Mavericks.’’
Silly, right? Right?
ITEM: Dirk quote: “We can't go up and down all the time. We can't have highs and follow up with a low."
And of course, he’s talking about game-to-game ups-and-downs, with an eye on the Hornets. But here’s another up-and-down avoided: How about quarter-by-quarter? The Mavs scored 29 in the first, 27 in the second, 27 in the third and 24 in the fourth.
ITEM: Dare I say that the Spurs resorted to being a jump-shooting team (as opposed to a rim-attacking team) because of the intimidating presence of … Erick Dampier?
ITEM: Those “Los Mavs’’ uniforms were pretty ugly at tipoff. About three hours later, though, they’d kind of grown on me.
ITEM: With Kidd calling the plays and with the going getting rough, Dallas ran a series of pick-and-roll plays that worked like a charm. “That,’’ Carlisle said of Kidd, “is all about high basketball IQ.’’
This can work against Dallas because of the overconfidence thing, but it can also work for this team: If the Mavs keep any game close, the Mavs can win any game. In fact, this year, in games decided by five points or fewer, the Mavs are 12-3.
ITEM: It is both the Quote Of The Night and the Understatement of the Year, and it comes from Josh: “This was big for us. We've shot ourselves in the foot a few times lately. We needed this.’’
ITEM: ESPN created what is essentially a “CubanCam,’’ and as far as I know, it’s a first: The network placed a camera on the floor underneath the Mavs owner as he labored through his Stairmaster pregame ritual.
ITEM: The Mavs’ offense simply elevates to another level when Jason Kidd is a perimeter scoring threat. His 3-pointer with 31 seconds left gave him 17 for the game. … and gave Dallas another dimension. As we’ve said before, the Mavs don’t need 17 from him – they just need the threat of it.
ITEM: When I was a Cowboys beat writer, we always used to joke that when the Stars, Rangers or Mavericks were preparing for a major press conference or other headline-grabbing move, Jerry Jones would always somehow orchestrate a bigger headline-grabbing move.
But that won’t happen in this space. All Mavericks here, baby … unless T.O. decides to come to a Mavs game. That, I might mention.
ITEM: Is this team on the same page with its coach? How many times can a playoff-contending club lose by 20 before that question becomes a fair one? I think it’s worth closer examination. … but I also think that nothing creates disharmony like a lost to the Thunder. … and nothing renews harmony like a win over the Spurs.
ITEM: Simple math: The Mavericks are now 9-2 when both Howard and Nowitzki score 20 points.
ITEM: Can Mark Cuban really grow disgruntled enough with his Mavs to turn over the entire roster? "I don't know,’’ he said. “We'll find out. Or, hopefully, we won't find out."