Herm Edwards once famously said, “You play to win the game!” Using that criteria, last night was a great night for the Dallas Mavericks. They notched their fiftieth win of the season and gained a little ground on the idle Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs. The Mavs are now only one game behind the Lakers for the second seed, while the Spurs are probably out of reach up by seven games with eleven to go.
The Mavericks won their second game in a row and will be heading out on a West Coast trip that will include the Jazz, Suns, and Clippers. All of those games are winnable. All of those games are should win games. But if the team continues to get out to such slow starts, as they did last night, they are going to be in big trouble.
The Mavericks were down 23-17 after the first quarter last night. Down by six at home, against the Minnesota Timberwolves, a team that has five road wins all season who was without their best player, Kevin Love. For reasons unknown to me, the team determined that the three point line had a “Do not trespass” sing and chose not to cross it, hoisting up three ball after three ball, with nothing but the sound of “clink” to show for it.
Thankfully the team finally found its rhythm and began knocking down shots from all over the court, including inside that prohibited three point line. Dirk Nowitzki was his usual, dominating self, leading the team with 30 points, 11 rebounds, while adding 4 assists, 1 block and 1 steal. Jason Kidd had a big game, without scoring a point, by dishing 13 assists, 6 boards, 3 steals, and 1 block. It is good to know that the old guys are still dependable and can be counted on in tough times.
Shawn Marion got the start at SF, added 17 points and 6 assists, and kept the team in the game early on. Jason Terry and Peja Stojakovic, added 18 and 16 points respectively, coming off the bench. Peja hit some really big three’s down the stretch to keep the Wolves at bay.
The big area of concern, aside from the slow start and the questionable shot selection, was the interior defense. Anthony Randolph, who entered the game averaging a whopping 4.4 points, scored 23 points in the first half and finished with 31! What would Kevin Love have done if he had been healthy? Tyson Chandler had some early foul trouble, as did Brendon Haywood, but this is unacceptable.
If this problem is not fixed, Pau Gasol and Tim Duncan, among others, will kill the Mavs in the playoffs. I cannot wonder how differently the Mavs would look if Shaq had decided to come to Big D instead of to Beantown. I know he is not the player he once was. He cannot log huge minutes or dominate an entire game the way he did ten to fifteen years ago. But he is still no pushover in the paint. When needed, he could still provide an intimidating presence in the middle and give other big guys problems. There is no way Anthony Randolph puts up 31 with Shaq out there.
Instead of trying to entice the Wolves to trade the rights of Ricky Rubio, why not start thinking about how this team can look more attractive to Dwight Howard when he becomes a free agent? I doubt Rubio will make that big of a difference. I am not against Rubio. He could be a good role player but I am not sure he is good enough to start, let alone be an All Star caliber player. But more important than a guard, the Mavs need a big man. I know they are hard to come by, which is why Cuban should be working to do whatever it takes to make the new Superman happy and want to come to Texas.
So Maverick fans, be happy that the team cracked fifty wins for the eleventh consecutive year. That is an amazing stat and a sign of great consistency and excellence. Be glad that the team is getting healthy, that even Caron Butler is getting closer to playing (he would be an awesome addition for the playoffs). Let’s hope that Rick Carlisle will figure out the rotation over the next dozen games that will give the team the best chance to succeed in the playoffs, while maybe getting Dirk and Kidd a little rest. There is still time to get some of these things better. But not much…