Mavs Host Unfamiliar Trailblazers

Not too much time has passed since the Dallas Mavericks and the Portland Trail Blazers met in the First Round of the NBA playoffs last spring, but the cast of characters of one of these teams received a big time face lift. And it wasn’t the team that won that playoff series last April.

After this season’s trade deadline, which saw Portland trade their starting small forward (Gerald Wallace) to New Jersey, their starting center (Marcus Camby) to Houston, and fire their head coach (Nate McMillan), this current version of the Trail Blazers hardly resembles the unit that put so much pressure on the Mavericks last spring.

Of the twelve players who saw minutes in that series for Portland, only three still remain on the roster in LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, and Wesley Matthews.

Not only does the roster overhaul represent a big difference in the current state of each franchise, but so does each team’s current playoffs situation. The Mavericks, while coming into tonight only percentage points behind Memphis for fifth place and two and a half games from being out of the playoffs all together, are in the heart of the battle for seeding. Meanwhile, the playoff fight for Portland is nearly non-existent.

In short, these clubs have taken two very different paths after their meaningful meeting months ago. Though it’s unfortunate to see the Trail Blazers fall as far as they have, it just speaks to how difficult it is to sustain consistent quality over long periods of time in the NBA. It wasn’t long ago that Portland was the young up-and-comer in the NBA with Aldridge, guard Brandon Roy (now retired), and center Greg Oden (waived in March) primed to make Portland a contender for years to come. It takes high quality players to be a good basketball team, but a smart front office mixed with a lot of luck is what makes it last.

For every consistent run of 50-win seasons and playoff appearances you see the current Mavericks or San Antonio Spurs on, you get a dozen 2007 Golden State Warriors, 2008 New Orleans Hornets and Portland Trailblazers, 2009 Denver Nuggets, and so on. Currently the Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Memphis Grizzlies have the tag of a new, quality team/contender with a seemingly solid base. With luck that will continue, but keep in mind how difficult it is to take the step from solid team into a yearly contender. It is quite an underrated part of the process.

With that, the Mavericks and Trail Blazers met tonight in a game that turned out nearly as spirited as the ones during last season’s playoffs, including an amazingly clutch buzzer beater by LaMarcus Aldridge to win the game. Though the old guard like Aldridge and Dirk Nowitzki put on their usual performances as one would expect in an overtime thriller, new figures like Brandan Wright (two highlight dunks) and Raymond Felton (30 points) both made their presences felt at separate points throughout the night.

Though Portland did stray from this season’s script and beat the Mavs 99-97 who very much needed this game, they remain in a state of unknown as they move closer to an offseason that will surely be full of change.

As for the Mavericks, they trek on in search of their 12th consecutive playoffs appearance. A quest that just became a tad more difficult with a loss in a game they desperately needed.

Mavs Will Grind Out A Spot In The Playoffs

The Mavs have one of their toughest and most important stretches of the season this week. It won’t get much easier for the rest of the regular season, either.

In addition to the loss to the Los Angeles Clippers tonight, this week will feature the Portland Trailblazers and Memphis Grizzlies twice going forward. The good news is that victories in all these games clinch tiebreakers over much of the Western Conference.

It’s tough that all these important dates seem to be hitting Dallas all at once, but such in life in a lockout-shortened season. Still, having the ability to decide your own face is better than the alternative.

To make it tougher, the remaining schedule before the playoffs start includes seven of thirteen games on the road, all while being two games out of eight place in the West and uncomfortably three games away from missing the playoffs all together.

Still, panic isn’t something you’re going to find in the Mavericks locker room.

“Everything is important,” Coach Rick Carlisle said referring to the upcoming schedule and tiebreaker implications. “We’ve really got to dig down. We’re going to have to play whistle to whistle.”

Despite the confident locker room, the Mavericks will have to proceed for at least a week without starting point guard Jason Kidd. As one point guard return-eth in Delonte West, another is apparently taketh away.

“It was an issue Friday, he’s likely out a week,” Carlisle said as he went into detail about the groin injury that will sideline Kidd. “It’s something that’s been an issue, but it needed to be resolved.”

The injury is a setback for the present, but puts forth some interesting possibilities going forward for the Mavs. Kidd missing time provides yet another opportunity for third year guard Roddy Beaubois to step into an increased role and produce on a consistent basis. Consistency is always the key for Beaubois, who has always been able to show flashes, but struggles to sustain it. More playing time is the only way to ultimately find out what the Mavs have in Roddy and if he can actually be in the playoff rotation this time around.

Additionally, getting Kidd as much rest as possible, while still making the playoffs will only help. Before the start of the postseason last year, Kidd was shut down for the last week of the regular season and followed it with one of his most impressive playoff series as a Maverick. Obviously the expectation for this season has been lowered quite a bit due to their recent play, but a rested Kidd will eventually lead to a better, sharper Kidd.

West will even get a few starts at point guard with Kidd out. As good as Jason Kidd has been throughout his career, West’s mid-range game and ability to finish at the rim with his left hand adds a wrinkle to the Mavs’ offense that is virtually nonexistent with Kidd at the reins. Although, that clearly wasn’t enough of a factor tonight.

Despite tonight’s 19-point demolition at the hands of the Clippers, don’t expect doom and gloom in the veteran Mavericks’ locker room. The media and MFFLs will take care of that.

Nowitzki Finds His Stride Despite Criticism

“His days of being the man are over.”

Charles Barkley said it when he infamously commented how Dirk Nowitzki’s time as a leading man in the NBA was fading, despite having taken over the basketball world just months earlier. Barkley chose to dismiss the nature of how Nowitzki spent his offseason and how his game historically does not rely on athleticism in order to go for the shock factor of declaring Nowitzki on a massive downward slope after a slow start to the season.

Since then, it’s safe to say that Nowitzki has proven Barkley’s notion wrong.

As he has always done throughout his career, Nowitzki quietly took the criticism and chose to sway opinions through action rather than words. That ‘action’ has come in the form of 24.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in his last 24 games.

“Father Time is catching up with him.”

Not only that, he has his shooting percentages back up around special levels from the floor (47%), the free throw line (87%), and beyond the three-point arc (37%). The numbers will always round into form for Nowitzki until the day he hangs up his big German Nikes, but efficiency is the trademark that puts him in the elite of the elite. The maximum number of points with the fewest number of shots and misses, while making his teammates better for it, allows Nowitzki to create some of his vintage playoff performances seen over the years. That ability was on full display last Monday in Denver as Nowitzki shot 12 for 19 with 33 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 assists.

Nowitzki finding his groove means he’s scoring at a high rate while making the right pass out of double teams during the flow of the game. Along with point guard Jason Kidd, he becomes the engine in the Mavs’ vaunted ball movement offensive machine. Getting shots for himself while creating them for teammates is when he’s at his best. Right now, he’s at that level.

“…When you’re a great player, you have further to fall.”

Earlier in the season, Nowitzki was a concern for the Mavericks. Now, as the NBA moves into its final 20 games for each team, he seems to be the only lock. Players like Delonte West, Shawn Marion, and Brendan Haywood are coming back from injuries and finding their form may ultimately decide the fate of these Dallas Mavericks during the playoffs, but Nowitzki is as capable as ever to carry his share of the load.

Dirk Nowitzki hears the naysayers and always has. Maybe Charles Barkley’s criticism is what Nowitzki needed as a spark for this season, but he has certainly put the league on alert with his play over the last couple of months.

For the time being, Dirk is still Dirk.

Mavs Not Worried About Wild Trade Deadline

The league’s focus today was the trade deadline where quite a bit of the NBA landscape drastically changed around the Mavericks. For once, it was a quiet deadline for Dallas who is usually involved in most trade rumors or showing interest in big name players made available. That wasn’t the case this year due to the front office making salary cap space such a priority in order to make a run at still-New Jersey Net Deron Williams.

The heavily covered Dwight Howard saga ended with him agreeing to waive his early termination option, making him a member of the Orlando Magic for at least one more year. If not for signing the waiver, Howard would have likely been traded to the Nets to join forces with Williams. His decision indirectly benefited the Mavericks, as it increased the likelihood of Williams entering this summer as an unrestricted free agent.

Despite all of the trade deadline hoopla, there was an actual basketball game to play in Dallas against the Charlotte Bobcats on Thursday night. Most of the drama surrounding the game was whether or not Shawn Marion would play in spite of a balky knee, but that proved to be a non-issue.

“All that matters is I’m going to play,” Marion responded when asked if he would give it a go tonight. Marion went on to start and play 27 minutes.

What should have been a stress-free night for Dallas wasn’t so, as Charlotte shot extremely well in the first half to build a 13-point lead. The Bobcats came into tonight’s game with a 6-35 record, but Dallas’ cushy defense made their poor record irrelevant for most of the night.

If not for a red hot third quarter by Dirk Nowitzki (9 points in the frame and 25 for the night) to pull the Mavs ahead as well as a very Charlotte-esque second half by the Bobcats, another disheartening loss in a string of them after the All Star break was certainly in the cards. Thank goodness for the Mavs that Nowitzki is around to prevent such things.

Despite the win, the Mavericks didn’t escape completely unscathed as starting center Brendan Haywood left with a mild right knee sprain and will almost certainly miss some time. Sean Williams, recently sent down to the Mavericks D-League affiliate the Texas Legends, will be the logical option to fill any void left by an injured Haywood.

Still, despite the win and some good second half energy from the Mavericks, the recently passed trade deadline seemed to be a cloud hanging over the entire league for the majority of the day and night. The uncertainty over contract situations for many Mavericks has been at least partly to blame for Dallas’ recent slump. The trade deadline has come and gone, but the impending availability of Deron Williams the summer provides little relief to the doubt surrounding the roster.

The league-wide drama is over for now and the Mavericks are back on the winning track, but the defining moments of their season are just beginning.

Mavs Continue To Search For Answers

There’s no way around it.

The last ten games, which have seen the Mavs go 2-8, have been absolutely abysmal. The Mavs’ execution, effort, and basic desire to play quality basketball weren’t at the level needed in order to compete for a championship. Whether it was due to injuries or contract uncertainty beyond this year, the Mavericks have simply lost too many games against teams they should easily handle nightly. You can analyze or go into the stats and dig around all you want to try and find why the Mavericks have underachieved so much after the All Star break, but the answer is simple: lack of effort.

The world is well aware what this roster can accomplish when locked in, but they haven’t been in a while. Mavs Guard Jason Terry acknowledged the problem last week.

“We’re not a team out there right now,” Terry admitted. “It shows, so until we become a team and play together on both ends of the court we’re not going to be very good.”

Terry, the most vocal during the Mavericks’ recent stretch, has the most to be emotional about with the Mavs’ front office not addressing his contract status until the trade deadline and offseason free agency play out in full. Business is business in the NBA, but you can’t help but feel for guys like Terry and Shawn Marion who could very possibly go from key pieces on an NBA champion to roster flotsam in a year’s time.

Still, the Mavericks needed to regroup at home after capping their ‘nine games in twelve nights’ disaster with losses to Phoenix, Sacramento, and Golden State in consecutive nights. One would think the best way for the defending champions to get back on the winning track is to catch the 9-31 Washington Wizards at the American Airlines Center, but it’s tough to tell the way the Mavericks have played lately.

The good news for the Mavericks was the return of big men Brandan Wright and Brendan Haywood would provide some depth and inside presence that was missing during the west coast trip of death. A near perfect first half by Dirk Nowitzki set the tone as the Uberman dropped 20 points in the first two frames.

Despite letting the Wizards get to the line 38 times, the combined efforts of Nowitzki (finished with 27 points), Jason Terry (24 points), and Roddy Beaubois (19 points) led the Mavs to a spirited 107-98 win that hopefully left much of the last few weeks in the rearview mirror.

But was it enough? Obviously the win is passable for one night, but is the energy from tonight against a low-end team in the league a sign of the Mavericks rolling or are there still poor, effortless performances left in this team’s character?

Which Mavericks team are we going to see for the rest of the year?

Maybe the passing of the trade deadline on Thursday will put some of the uncertainty to rest, but the reality for the Mavericks is that most of the change, if there is any, is due to take place this summer and fall. Nothing will be settled on this roster until then, so it’s up to the strength in the Kidd-Dirk-Carlisle locker room to hold together this foundation for at least another year.

For now, wins against teams like Washington are just a small step in the right direction for what will be a tough road to redeem this season.

Tyson Chandler’s Return To Dallas

The Dallas Mavericks concluded their long-lasting championship celebration tonight by honoring the final, and arguably most important, member of last year’s team in Tyson Chandler by giving him his ring.

As is well known, Chandler moved on to the New York Knicks during the offseason when the Mavericks chose not to pursue the franchise altering center for anything near the $58 million price tag he garnered from the Knicks. Maverick or not, Chandler will be long remembered in Dallas for his heroics in the 2011 Finals and pretty much all season.

“(Chandler is) a guy that will go down as one of the all-time legendary Maverick players,” Coach Rick Carlisle said in front of a full American Airlines Center crowd who stood and roared with approval and thanks for the former Mav. Carlisle also mentioned the grit, energy, and character Chandler brought to a franchise that had never seen such characteristics in one unifying player.

Ironically, the Mavs could use some of that emotion recently as they entered tonight on a skid having lost five of six games. An annual swoon during the regular season dog days of February and March isn’t necessarily unusual for these Mavericks. Since before the All-Star break, specifically Jason Terry, the team has had a rough go recently with turnovers, shot-selection, and questionable decision making in late-game situations. Still, there seems to be a different kind of urgency in the air this year with the condensed schedule in full swing as the Mavs find themselves in the middle of a five games in six nights stretch.

With a disappointing finish last night in Oklahoma City still slightly looming in Dallas, a win over old pal Chandler and the Knicks would be a nice way to wipe the slate clean before the vaunted back-to-back-to-back set of games for Dallas. Led by Nowitzki (28 points), Jason Kidd (15 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds), and Roddy Beaubois (17 points), it appeared that would be the case most of the night after the Mavs built a lead as big as 17 points.

The easy win before the road trip quickly turned gritty and was certainly in doubt during the fourth quarter, as the Mavs even lost the lead with five minutes remaining. A couple shots here and there by Nowitzki gave the Mavericks a comfortable lead for the remainder of the game and Dallas silenced the Linsanity-ridden Knicks for at least one night, 95-85.

One night after coming up short in the closing minutes, the Mavericks were in exact opposite form against the Knicks. The key, simply enough, appears to be making Nowitzki the primary shooter in all sets when the game gets tight in the fourth quarter.

Imagine that.

Now it’s off to the west coast for three games in three nights starting on Thursday.

Distractions Cast Shadows Over Mavs

There was a game that actually had to be played Tuesday night, but that seemed to be priority number two, or even three, amongst the sideshows pertaining to the New Jersey Nets and Dallas Mavericks.

With Guard Delonte West (Hand) still out for a couple more weeks, the Mavericks are otherwise healthy despite one notable omission. Forward Lamar Odom will remain absent for at least one more game after tonight due to personal reasons believed to be him tending to his ailing father. While the situation remains a bit hazy, rumors of Odom wishing for a buyout from the Mavericks even arose.

Mark Cuban even commented on his missing power forward before tip-off.

“That’s the assumption,” Cuban said when asked about Odom remaining with the Mavericks for the rest of the season. “Every player goes through ups and downs.”

Cuban went on to express how he expects Odom back, but there just isn’t a timetable for his return. The Mavs have basically left the door open for Odom to return whenever he is ready, continuing with the theme of the Mavericks providing the constant coddling and hand-holding that Odom requires.

Meanwhile, another fire of a story burns bright as the league trade deadline nears. In case you haven’t heard, New Jersey point guard Deron Williams, who has long flirted with comments of how he wouldn’t mind playing back in his hometown of Dallas, is a free agent this summer. As has been thoroughly covered by most forms of local and national media, the Dallas Mavericks haven’t exactly been secretive of their plans to chase Williams, and Dwight Howard for that matter, this summer.

Nets coach Avery Johnson made a few waves yesterday after mentioning how Dallas would probably be aggressive in pursuing Williams this offseason, but backed off those remarks before Tuesday’s game.

“I believe (Williams) has every intention of re-signing with (New Jersey),” Johnson firmly stated after clarifying some of the comments he made yesterday that he believes were misconstrued by the media.

Still, that didn’t do much to keep most of North Texas dreaming and the rest of the nation wondering what a Dirk/Deron/Dwight trio would look like. Local media like DallasBasketball.com all the way up to Sports Illustrated scrambled for blueprints on potential possibilities for formation of what would be the latest “Super Team.”

As enticing as it is for Dallas to have such dreams, the Mavs have a few tasks at hand as they start a stretch of nine games in twelve nights. Fans and media may be focusing on the future, but the players had to handle the Nets before heading out on the road to Memphis and New Orleans. That didn’t look like it was going to be the case late in the fourth quarter with the Mavs down eight, before a furious comeback by the Mavericks even gave them the lead after a three-pointer by Jason Kidd with less than a minute remaining.

The “Veteran Machine”, as Johnson called the Mavs before the game, has made a habit and formed an identity from these late game comebacks over the last few years. That was no different tonight, but the final push fell short as New Jersey held on for a massive road win 93-92 on the strength of a career-high 38 points and clutch play from center Brook Lopez, who just so happens to be the primary piece in a potential New Jersey-Orlando swap that could land Dwight Howard in Brooklyn.

On a night that the Mavericks wanted to use to get an easy win and play their starters light minutes before their nightmare schedule really begins, Dallas instead dug themselves into a hole before their tough run even started. All while raising the value of the Nets’ main trade piece that could end the potential of their pipedream offseason.

All things considered, the Mavs have had better nights.

Mavs Host Celtics Without Rondo, Garnett

The Dallas Mavericks continued through their beast of a schedule heading into the All Star break by hosting the Boston Celtics Monday night. Despite a slight misstep in New York against the Knicks on Sunday, the Mavs entered tonight’s game 6-1 seven games into their nine-game gauntlet.

It may have gone unnoticed by the rest of the country, especially on Sunday, but the current form the Mavericks are showing against some of their toughest competition serves as a reminder to astute NBA viewers how the current champions will put up a fight to defend what they won last summer.

After being declared ‘done’ by some after a slow start, reigning Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki has quietly rounded into form and averaged 25.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game over the last nine games. While Nowitzki and the Mavs are currently trending up, the 15-15 Celtics are doing the opposite as they came into Dallas on a three-game losing streak. Two losses over that stretch were against the lowly Detroit Pistons and another against the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls.

As if they needed worse news, Boston found out before the game that they would be without starting point guard Rajon Rondo (Suspension) and again without starting power forward Kevin Garnett (Personal Reasons). In a game featuring the two league leaders in defensive field goal percentage, missing Rondo and Garnett’s offensive prowess certainly wasn’t going to help an already struggling Celtics offense.

According to the halftime score, the game followed that exact script as the Mavs held Boston to only 34 points on 41% shooting. The Celtics also held Dallas to just 41% shooting, but Dirk Nowitzki was having none of it as he continued being himself with 19 points at the half and ultimately finishing with 26 and 16 rebounds. Tonight marked another notch in the career belt of Nowitzki, as the German recorded his 1,000th career block to become only the third player to ever record 1,000 blocks and 1,000 three-pointers. He also passed Robert Parish for 20th on the All-Time scoring list against The Chief’s long time team.

Jason Kidd also got himself a montage on the big screen in the American Airlines Center as a second quarter steal moved him into second on the All-Time steals list, passing Michael Jordan.

For tonight’s game, Jason Terry also added 16 points, continuing the troubling trend of brilliance at home and debilitating shooting struggles on the road. Terry has always been a hot and cold shooter, but as evidenced in New York on Sunday, Nowitzki needs his right hand man to get back into last season’s playoffs shooting form for the Mavs to reach optimum offensive efficiency.

The final result was about what you would expect between a nearly full-strength defending champion and a struggling, injured Celtics team as Dallas easily won 89-73. The Mavericks jumped on the Celtics from the start, clearly eager to get Sunday’s bitter taste out of their mouth.

Moving to 7-1 on their difficult run through the schedule, the Mavs can make it a solid eight wins out of nine attempts with another solid showing against the Los Angeles Lakers in Dallas on Wednesday.

Mavs Dig For Depth Against The Nuggets

Amongst Linsanity and other long winning streaks around the league, the defending champs had quietly run off four straight wins and began rounding into form. With tough wins over the Nuggets, Timberwolves, Trailblazers, and Clippers, the Mavericks were beginning to find their stride against quality teams in the Western Conference. It was more of the same tonight with Denver in town again.

After three straight games of having a completely healthy roster, the Mavericks found themselves without a couple of key pieces. Before the game, Dallas found out they would be without guards Jason Terry (Right Quad Strain) and Rodrigue Beaubois (Death in the Family). While Terry’s injury isn’t believed to be serious, it remains unknown how much time Beaubois will miss. The circumstances are certainly sad for Beaubois and remind us all how some things are bigger than basketball, but the game had to go on.

The Mavericks’ guard depth took another hit early in the Denver game after Delonte West fractured his finger in a scramble for the ball during the second quarter and did not return. The Nuggets aren’t a team that has any sympathy for Dallas, as they were without highly productive players Nene and Danilo Gallinari, as well as center Timofey Mozgov.

It was a watered down affair at the American Airlines Center for sure, but an important one nonetheless.

Without much of their frontcourt, the Nuggets went into tonight’s game severely lacking size and gave the Mavericks a big advantage with their big men in the paint. It went that way early as Dallas dominated defensively, holding the Nuggets to their season low scoring in a half as they led 51-39 at the break. The Mavericks made the decision to use their best defender in Shawn Marion on Denver’s lone offensive weapon, Ty Lawson, and make the rest of the team beat them. The strategy was a wild success as Lawson was held to only three points and two assists in 26 minutes.

If Shawn Marion hadn’t been making enough noise as a candidate for All-NBA first team defense so far this year, he made sure to do that with his performance tonight. The league isn’t exactly overflowing with players who can check guys like Chris Paul, Ricky Rubio, and Ty Lawson all the way up to Carmelo Anthony and LaMarcus Aldridge on a night-to-night basis. Marion is one of the few who meets those criteria.

Once the second half began, this one quickly turned into a laugher as the Mavericks jumped out to a lead as big as 31 points and eventually settled into a 102-84 Dallas victory. Denver just couldn’t compete with a superior team while not having their own stars on the court. Dallas got the win to stretch their winning streak to five games, but injuries became the main issue for the night. Word came down during the game that West dislocated and fracture his right ring finger, making the timetable for his return unknown until tomorrow. You have to imagine that he will miss some significant time with an injury like that.

With West hurting in addition to Terry and Beaubois, Dallas’ backcourt instantly becomes a big concern. This is especially the case considering the age of Jason Kidd and Vince Carter, as well as the inexperience of rarely used Dominique Jones. Those three are currently the only options Dallas has.

Already in the midst of a difficult portion of their schedule, injuries won’t make games in surprising Philadelphia or ‘Linsanity’ ridden New York any easier. Dirk Nowitzki again had a performance that was less than elite as he shot 5 for 12 from the field for 12 points, but now would be as good a time as any for him to begin carrying the Mavs as he so often has during his career until the bench can heal up and begin being a team strength again.

Lob City Comes To Big D

As the Dallas Mavericks continue their run through a gauntlet of elite NBA opponents, the Los Angeles Clippers and their new Chris Paul-led high flying act came to town. The Clippers have been one of the biggest tickets so far this season due to the excitement, and ensuing results, from the combination of Paul with giant dunk artists Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. With Griffin and Jordan’s finishing ability, Paul was a natural fit as quarterback of the team.

The funny thing is something else happened when Paul was traded to the Clippers after spending his whole career on the New Orleans Hornets. In addition to being a hot ticket, the Clippers actually became a good basketball team. It still doesn’t even feel right to reference a Los Angeles team that is playing so well and not mean the Lakers.

The Mavericks had quite a task on their hands with the Clippers on Monday night, as Los Angeles came in with the second best record in the Western Conference. It’s been a tough road of late for the Mavs as they’ve recently played Denver, Minnesota, and Portland while having Denver again, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and the Los Angeles Lakers all on the docket leading up to the All Star Break in Orlando.

In the meantime, the Mavericks had to deal with the Clippers and try to take advantage of a chance to send a message to the rest of the Western Conference that they were finally finding themselves and ready to meet expectations. Building on their three-game winning streak wasn’t going to be easy against Chris Paul who has seemingly made a career out of shredding the Mavericks. Early on, that wasn’t the case as Shawn Marion kept him in check with only eight points through three quarters. Paul also had eight assists through three frames, but the Mavericks will take that all day considering how much he has tormented Dallas in the past.

After leading the whole game, the Mavs entered the fourth quarter down 76-74, which wasn’t a good sign considering their 0-9 record this season when trailing after three quarters. With five minutes to play, the Mavericks employed a ‘Hack-A-Blake’ strategy to keep Griffin at the free throw line, where he struggles, rather than give the Clippers a chance to score during the run of play. It worked, as Griffin shot from the 1-for-8 from the line during that stretch. After a Jason Terry layup with 2:02 remaining, the Mavericks took an 88-84 lead and look primed to continue their winning ways against this tough streak of opponents. Dirk Nowitzki pushed the lead to five with 22 second remaining after a tough contested jumper over Clippers forward Kenyon Martin and two free throws.

Still, the Clippers weren’t done as they cut it to a 2-point lead with 22 seconds left. After a miss communication between Jason Kidd and Delonte West, the Clippers stole the inbounds pass to set up a potential game-winning three-pointer that former Maverick Caron Butler missed with just seconds remaining.

Before the game, Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle led the American Airlines Center in an emotional ceremony to present Butler his championship ring that he contributed to last season. Butler left the building with his jewelry, but it was the Mavericks who escaped with the win and a shiny, new four-game winning streak.

Mavericks Endure Tough Test From Blazers

Though it was a little sloppier than needed, the Dallas Mavericks celebrated having a completely healthy roster for the first time in weeks by beating the Minnesota Timberwolves 104-97 at the Target Center on Friday. Minnesota made a run or two throughout the night, but it was the Mavericks who stepped up with a response to every threat thrown at them.

The most noteworthy development for the Mavs over the last few days has been the return of starting point guard Jason Kidd, who had missed six games with a strained calf before playing against Minnesota on Friday. Kidd filled up the box score as he usually does with eight points, 10 assists, and five rebounds, but was a tad careless with the ball as he also turned in eight turnovers.

Whether it was taking the presence of young stud point guard Ricky Rubio as a personal challenge or just shaking off a little rust, Kidd showed he was feeling comfortable enough to fling the ball all over the court even if it meant a few passes sailed into the third row.

Test number two for the healthy Mavericks would come just a night later back at the American Airlines Center against the always feisty 15-12 Portland Trailblazers. There’s no doubt that Portland would be looking for some payback in their first meeting with Dallas since the Mavs knocked them out of the playoffs in the first round last year. Only one thing was for sure in this meeting: due to his retirement, Brandon Roy wasn’t going to lead the Blazers to a miracle comeback like he did last spring.

Breathe easy Mavs fans.

Luckily for the Mavericks, Portland is a different team on the road than they are at home and that Portland team is the one who showed up at the AAC. Unluckily, a pretty sloppy version of the Mavericks was also on display Saturday night as well. After having only one turnover after the first quarter, Dallas finished the game with an uncharacteristic 23 and Portland with 15 in a game that featured a style very similar to the sluggish, slow-paced games between these two teams in last year’s playoffs. Both teams struggled offensively and only after the game became tied at 71 during the fourth quarter did the competitiveness of the teams really kick in.

With a killer schedule coming up for Dallas, the Mavericks didn’t want to waste a golden opportunity to beat a good team, especially after blowing an 18-point lead. That nearly happened in regulation after a LaMarcus Aldridge double-pump jumper tied the game at 81-81 and Dirk Nowitzki failed to answer with a jumper that was off by a hair to end the fourth quarter.

The first overtime was dominated by Jamal Crawford for the Trailblazers who consistently got wherever he wanted offensively with the slower Kidd trying to check him. Kidd does a lot of things for the Mavericks, but trying to chase around the quickest offensive player on the floor is near the bottom of that list. Again though, Aldridge came through to tie the game at 87-87 and it was Nowitzki who came up short, this time leaving two seconds on the clock for a desperation three-pointer by Crawford to just miss as the buzzer went off.

Overtime number two was owned by an unlikely source: Delonte West. West had six big points in the sixth frame and Nowitzki was finally able to put the game out of reach with a jump shot at the 16-second mark to secure the 97-94 double overtime Dallas win.

It’s rare that a game can go to two overtimes and neither team hits 100 points, but both Portland and Dallas managed that feat in a game that had fans on edge all night. In the end it was the Mavericks who held on and pushed their winning streak to three.

The Clippers come to town next as the Mavs continue their Murderer’s Row of opponents that includes Denver, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and the Los Angeles Lakers leading up to the All Star Break.

Mavs Rocked By Thunder As Injuries Pile Up

The Oklahoma City Thunder rolled into Dallas tonight and brought the ever-growing Mavericks-Thunder rivalry with them. While the Thunder are beginning to get used to the injured life with backup point guard Eric Maynor out for the season, the Mavericks are getting a little bit too familiar with constant minor injuries.

Against Oklahoma City, Dallas was already going to be without starting point guard Jason Kidd (calf), but found out near game time that Lamar Odom (illness) and Brendan Haywood (back) were going to be unavailable as well. It’s never comfortable to have to play the Thunder these days, but the Mavericks were going to have to do it without three key contributors.

The main story for Oklahoma City the last few days has revolved around answering questions about the massive dunk Blake Griffin laid down on Kendrick Perkins in Los Angeles two nights ago. That may have been the item of interest around the country, but the Thunder were eager to move on and were looking forward to getting that bad taste out of their mouth against their emerging rivals in North Texas.

After the first quarter, Dallas jumped out to an eight-point lead despite the absence of Kidd, Haywood, and Odom in addition to only two combined points from Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry. With Nowitzki still finding his form, it was clear that the points were going to have to come from a few different sources for most of the night.

For the rest of the way after the first quarter, it appeared to be Thunder Ball. Dallas’ cold shooting was a theme for the rest of the Mavs’ night as the Thunder built a 10 point lead early in the fourth quarter. That is a hole teams generally don’t want to be in, but history suggests the Mavericks had the Thunder right where they wanted them at that point.

As the game wound down, that’s exactly how the story played out. As Dallas always seem to do against their slightly northern counterparts, the Mavericks chipped away at the lead late in the game and even tied it up at 85 all at the 2:14 mark of the quarter after a bucket from Shawn Marion.

To the Thunder’s credit, they responded like they never have been able to against the Mavericks with a 7-0 run led by Russell Westbrook who had five of the points. After the burst, the game was out of reach for the Mavericks as Oklahoma City held on for a 95-86 victory and perhaps a win over the vaunted Mavericks Mojo that seemed to cause the Thunder some issues over the past few years.

Still, the Mavericks took many positives from the game considering the fight they gave the Western Conference’s best team according to record without many key pieces and a subpar night from Nowitzki. It resulted in a loss tonight, but the Mavericks continue to follow the plan of firing on all cylinders by the time May rolls around.

Now, if the Mavs can just find some health and keep Nowitzki from going 2 for 15 every other night, then Dallas can get to where they want to be.

Mavs Win OT Thriller Against Spurs

Despite speculation that Dirk Nowitzki’s brief in-season training camp that forced him to miss four games would be increased in length, the Mavs’ superstar returned to the court Sunday against the San Antonio Spurs as the original plan suggested. Nowitzki’s return couldn’t have come at a better time as it was announced before the game Sunday that starting point guard Jason Kidd would be out for at least a week with a strained right calf, which is the second injury Kidd has had this year that has forced him to miss time.

Also returning from a two-game absence on Sunday was Delonte West, who becomes an even more important piece to the point guard rotation with Kidd out again. West was starting alongside Kidd before he suffered his hamstring injury, but came off the bench upon his return with Vince Carter at shooting guard and Roddy Beaubois getting the start at point guard coming off one of his best games as a Maverick.

Beaubois took residence on the stat sheet two nights ago against the Utah Jazz when he scored 22 points on 9 of 15 shooting with six rebounds, seven assists, and four blocks. Beaubois has long been a tease of oozing talent to Mavs fans and this year has been colored somewhat of a “put up or shut up” year for the third-year point guard out of Guadeloupe. That may be a little harsh considering the kid has only been playing organized basketball since he was 16, but patience has been running thin with Mavs Nation as they wait for Beaubois to live up to the vast potential he flashed in the 2010 playoffs.

That 2010 first round series where Beaubois first burst onto the scene was against the San Antonio Spurs, the same familiar opponent who wandered into the American Airlines Center on Sunday. Even though a championship is squeezed in there somewhere, the Mavericks were in the midst of a four-game losing streak to the Spurs, which is unacceptable against their south Texas rivals.

Everything was going to plan through the third quarter as the Mavericks’ lead ballooned to as much as 18 points, but no lead ever seems to be safe in this classic rivalry as long as one team leaves the other enough time. Of all things, it was the Spurs’ unheralded bench featuring Danny Green, James Anderson, and Gary Neal’s hot shooting that kept the Spurs in the game and even got them ahead by as many as nine points in the fourth quarter.

Then the fun started.

Just when it looked like the Mavericks were going to suffer one of their more gut wrenching losses and blown leads this season, Beaubois and Jason Terry led the Mavs on a 16-7 run to tie the game at 91. It appeared Danny Green ended the game in regulation with a buzzer beating jump shot with 0.5 seconds left on the clock before the referees reviewed the basket and ruled Green hadn’t released the ball before the buzzer sounded.

In overtime, it was more Terry, Carter, and yes, the long lost Dirk Nowitzki hitting clutch shots to seal the 101-100 win for the Mavericks. Dallas now finds themselves at the top of the Southwest Division standings during a season where not much has seemingly gone right. There are still issues to sort out like Nowitzki finding form, Lamar Odom finding himself, and tough injuries among other things, but right now the Dallas Mavericks deserve credit for fighting through such an unstable year in the NBA.

Many may use that as an excuse, but the Mavericks are currently playing the hand their dealt as well as they can and so far, it’s paying off.

Injury Riddled Mavs Take Aim At Jazz

In what appeared to be a strong spot at the beginning on the season with Dirk Nowitzki and Lamar Odom in tow, power forward is all of a sudden a place of concern for the Dallas Mavericks. The big news last week was Nowitzki having to take a four-game leave to get himself into playing shape. The news this week is the progressively weakening confidence of Odom. After a five point performance on 2 for 14 shooting two nights again in a loss to Minnesota, Odom was forced to answer even more questions about his confidence and spot in the offense for the next 48 hours.

So was his owner.

Mark Cuban made sure to come to the defense of his ailing power forwards. He insisted that Odom and Nowitzki both are having issues that stem from not having the proper preseason time to go through their normal routine of preparing for the grind that is an NBA regular season. Nowitzki obviously had the long playoff run from a season ago, some national team duty, and then the abrupt start to the season to aide his hasty preparation.

Odom was involved with the trade from Los Angeles in addition to adjusting to his new life and offensive role in Dallas.

Odom may have been in a difficult place physically and mentally, but his current team needed him to snap out of it quickly with the Utah Jazz in town and the injury bug beginning to find its way in the Maverick locker room. With Nowitzki already out, Delonte West was a late scratch with a bothersome hamstring. To make matters even worse at the point guard position, Jason Kidd checked out of the game with a strained calf at the 9:47 mark of the first quarter and didn’t return.

There was some good news on the injury front tonight for the Mavs as Vince Carter returned from a foot injury that sidelined him for five games, leaving most of the guard duties up to him, Roddy Beaubois, Jason Terry, and lightly used second-year guard Dominique Jones.

Beaubois made sure to take the available minutes as a personal challenge. It must be something about playing against the Utah Jazz that Beaubois seems to thoroughly enjoy, as he picked up right where he left off last Thursday when he had 17 points in Utah to help the Mavs pick up a testy win at EnergySolutions Arena. Beaubois picked up the slack almost immediately and sat pretty with 16 points at halftime.

Beaubois’ energetic play and contributions from Terry, Carter, Shawn Marion and, yes, even Lamar Odom (19 points on 7 of 12 shooting) in the second half helped the Mavs hang on to a third win in four games without Nowitzki with a 116-101 win over the Jazz. The stretch of games without the German forward is set to end Sunday against the Spurs in Dallas. The Mavs may have begun to get used to playing without their star over the last few games, but despite their success, they’re just as ready as anybody to have Nowitzki back.

And with Nowitzki’s impending return, let the Mavericks’ quest for top form continue.

Wolves-Mavs Has A Different Ring To It

For most of the last decade, Minnesota Timberwolves and Dallas Mavericks match-ups have been virtually meaningless. For two different reasons, that wasn’t the case tonight in Dallas.

The Timberwolves have undergone a renaissance of renewed quality and excitement this season with the arrival of Ricky Rubio and the always progressing game of Kevin Love. Since Kevin Garnett left in 2007, the Timberwolves have been nearly unwatchable, but they are entertaining and talented this season with their young stars on the floor and Rick Adelman running the show from the sidelines.

Since the arrival of Dirk Nowitzki, mediocrity has never been an issue for the Mavericks, so that wasn’t their reason for excitement. For Dallas, tonight was the night players from last year’s team had long awaited, as they received their championship rings from a year ago in a pre-game ceremony. Judging by all the misty eyes of MFFLs, it may have been a little dusty in the American Airlines Center as the rings were handed out player by player. The Mavs and their fans took one last night to remember last year’s legendary season with the ring ceremony that finally concluded a nearly seven month long championship celebration.

While it was another historic night in Dallas that took place over this magical year, the end of the celebration finally closed the chapter on last season and allowed the Mavs to fully focus on the season at hand. Players obviously are grateful for their success and the support of the fans, but it’s been apparent recently that they’ve become more and more ready to close the door on last season and make repeating their success the priority.

The last time the Mavericks had a pre-game celebration, their focus clearly wasn’t on the game that followed as they got hammered by the Miami Heat 105-94 after raising their championship banner on Christmas Day. Considering the Mavericks have already lost to the Timberwolves once this year, 99-82, in a game that Minnesota controlled the whole way, it was in their best interest to move on from their ring party and take their opponent seriously. Minnesota used to be a team that didn’t require such a serious attitude, but these aren’t your slightly older cousin’s Timberwolves.

After hitting two three-pointers to close the first half, Minnesota carried that momentum into the third quarter and outscored the Mavs by eight to take a six point lead into the final frame. It was mainly Rubio and Love who had their way with the Mavs tonight as they both has double-doubles, and the former nearly had a triple-double.

Behind their two young cornerstones, the Timberwolves 105-90 win pushed the Mavs to an 0-2 record after celebrations this year. That may not be an official stat, but it speaks to the difficulty Dallas is having on their pursuit to constant effort and focus from game to game this season. The Mavs were without Dirk Nowitzki for the third straight game, but obviously that’s no excuse for the lack of execution and defensive intensity.

The Mavericks also said goodbye to their 15-game streak of holding opponents under 100 points, as Minnesota tore that up with two minutes remaining in the game. The Wolves are no longer a pushover in this league and these are games the Mavericks may expect to lose from now on when they are without their superstar.

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle agreed with that notion.

“We didn’t deserve to win tonight,” Carlisle admitted in a frustrated state after the game. “They’re pretty good, number one. Number two, we haven’t played well.”

In hindsight, a 2-1 record so far without Nowitzki is a positive sign, but at the same time the Mavericks remain a far cry from where they will need to be in order to have another ring ceremony next season.

Although Dallas may be sick of celebrations now considering how poorly they seem to play following such events.