Lessons Learned From OKC/Orlando: Mavs Donuts
DONUT 1: Almost a season milestone ...
AUPING'S OKC LESSON: Dallas Mavericks victory over the Thunder on Friday night would have been more than just a litmus test against one of the NBA's championship favorites. It would also have been the first time that the Mavericks won five straight games all season.
This season has featured plenty of positives, but not a lot of consistency. Two steps forward have usually been followed by two steps backwards. Despite losing to the Thunder in overtime and ending their longest win streak of the year (see our full coverage here), it was a huge step for the Mavericks to compete the way that they did.
But after the game, it was all about the "consistency" word to Rick Carlisle.
"Our consistency wasn't where it needed to be to beat a top team," Carlisle said. "We had too many lapses. We were down 14 twice to a team with the best record in the league. We were very fortunate to get back and get a lead. But things got us. Durant got us. Rebounding problems got us."
FISH'S ORLANDO LESSON LEARNED?: Listen to Rick talk now, after Dallas' 111-105 victory:
"We need everything. It's been tough the first 41 (games). I think we're three back, we're in the hunt for the playoffs. That's going to be our motivation.''
This isn't the way Coach usually speaks. This isn't one-game-at-a-time stuff. This is significant.
DONUT 2: American idol ... ...
AUPING'S OKC LESSON: We all know that Kevin Durant has the kind of silky smooth jumper for a big man that reminds any NBA fan of Dirk Nowitzki. But it was actually another Maverick from the 1998 draft that KD grew up a fan of.
Durant recently told reporters that as a young boy he rooted for the Toronto Raptors mainly because he admired Vince Carter, who was known as one of the most exciting players in the NBA in the early 2000's due to his incredible dunking ability.
In 2013 it's Durant who is a franchise player and taking the NBA, by storm. And it's hard to argue with the fact that Friday night was the Durant Show as he scored a career-high 52 points. But Carter was sure to come out and show the All-Star forward that he still had something in the tank.
The man formerly known as Vinsanity threw down a monstrous two-handed dunk in the first quarter to get the AAC crowd into the game and another one-handed slam in the crucial final moments of regulation. Carter finished with a season-high 29 points.
FISH'S ORLANDO LESSON LEARNED?: Vince is also a very big deal in Orlando, where he has a home and traditionally hosts a get-together when his team visits.
It's a leadership thing. It's one of the reason the Mavs use him off the bench ... and then keep using him.
"Me and Vince joke about that," said Elton Brand, who also came off the bench and contributed 14 points to Carter's 15. "If it's not going well for the starting unit, that' our job, to come in and clean things up. That's what we did ... and kind of righted the ship a little bit.''
Dallas' bench outscored Orlando's 40-28. Carter and Brand combined for 29 of those 40.
DONUT 3: But if the Mavs wanted to trade Carter ...
AUPING'S OKC LESSON: With Mark Cuban's recent statements about the "Bank of Cuban" being open and the February trade deadline fast approaching it seems fitting to be looking all over the league to consider viable trade options because that's just what we do.
Coming into this game I had gone over the logistics and contracts and was prepared to propose to DB.com readers a trade that would send Carter to Oklahoma City for Eric Maynor, a young and talented point guard/floor general who has fallen out of the Thunder's rotation.
Carter was the Mavericks' MVP on Friday night and Maynor didn't even see the floor. That trade seems hard to justify at the moment.
Then again, Carter is a high-volume shooter who has been hot an cold all season. And some might argue that his trade value will never be higher than it is right now.
Carlisle wasn't exactly in a hurry to discuss the idea.
"I have no idea." Carlisle said. "Vince is a good player so yeah, maybe so. I don't think this is the time to talk about potential trades.''
FISH'S ORLANDO LESSON LEARNED?: This is a lesson for the media. Don't ask Rick Carlisle about trades!
DONUT 4: A relationship based on trust ...
AUPING'S OKC LESSON: It's no coincidence that O.J. Mayo is having a career season in his first year under coach Rick Carlisle. Before Friday night's game Carlisle talked about the relationship between Mayo and himself.
"It's a relationship based on respect and it's based on the power of the truth," Carlisle said. "More than anything, he's a great kid. He wanted to be coached and taught hard ... He's made a lot of strides and the only way he continues to make strides is if we stay on him if he strays from the path of being the best all-around player he can be."
So how did OJ play vs. OKC?
Well, it seems like Carlisle said the right things to Mayo going into Friday night's game, or specifically in the timeout right before the end of regulation. Mayo game wasn't dominant, but he played with patience and efficiency. Not to mention he hit an amazing 3-point shot to send the game to overtime with just a few seconds left.
Mayo shot wasn't quite on, but he finished the game with 18 points, seven assists and three rebounds.
FISH'S ORLANDO LESSON LEARNED?: Juice seems to be settling in as a go-to guy who supplements Dirk. With 15 points, he was one of seven Mavs in double figures. There needs to be an offensive totem pole here. O.J. needs to be the prominent second guy on that pole.
"Balance has got to be one of the keys to our team," Carlisle said. "Until Dirk gets all the way back we can't heap it all on him. We can't really heap it all on anybody the way we're set up now."
If Mayo keeps the turnovers at a minimum, the responsibility of being the second guy on the totem pole can be heaped on him.
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DONUT 6: Dirk early ...
AUPING'S OKC LESSON: If the first three quarters against the Thunder was the first time you had ever seen the Dallas Mavericks play then it would probably be pretty hard for you to believe that Dirk Nowitzki is the best player in the history of the franchise.
In one of the worst halves The UberMan has ever played, the power forward shot 1-of-9 from the field and scored just three points. He also had a turnover. It's a credit to the rest of the team that the Mavericks only trailed by seven points at half time.
Nowitzki followed it up with an even worse third quarter in which he missed every shot he took and scored zero points.
But you can only keep Dirk down for so long…
Nowitzki erupted against OKC to score 15 points in the fourth quarter and regulation.
FISH'S ORLANDO LESSON LEARNED?: Dirk did a little of everything here, finishing with 12 points (4 for 11 from the field), seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks.
Are we there yet?
"He's just missed some shots," Shawn Marion said of Dirk's climb back to being Dirk. "Everybody bases this thing on missing some shots. He's Dirk. Like if he ain't hitting his shots he ain't himself. He's been playing well. ... He's back to himself. He feels good. His body feels good. His wind is back right.
"He's just missing some shots he normally hits. That's all."
DONUT 7: Rated PG ...
AUPING'S OKC LESSON: Darren Collison is pretty familiar with Russell Westbrook. The two were teammates at UCLA before Westbrook was drafted by the Thunder. Collison followed him to the NBA the next year.
While Westbrook has developed into one of the most unstoppable players in the NBA, Collison seems to raise his game against the man he used to practice against.
When the Thunder and Mavericks last faced off on December 27th (a overtime victory for the Thunder) Collison had his best game of the season scoring 32 points, grabbing four rebounds and dishing four assists. Westbrook had just 16 points in the game.
While it's hard to ask Collison to outplay Westbrook every time they face off, the Mavs' starting point guard once again played excellent basketball on Friday night. He finished the game with 15 points, seven assists and six rebounds.
But we saw no Collison in crunch time.
Despite a solid performance from DC, it was Mike James who played crunch time minutes at point guard for the second straight game. James played solid defense, but took an ill-advised 3-pointer in the final minute of overtime that hurt the Mavericks' chances of winning the game.
Carlisle was not exactly open to revealing his reasoning for playing James at crunch time.
"It's a coach's decision." Carlisle said. "It'll be game to game. That's basically it."
FISH'S ORLANDO LESSON LEARNED?: Collison started and finished. James played 12 minutes.
This was Collison's game ... maybe him grabbing the carrot on a stick long dangled by his coach. DC hit a 3 in the final half-minute to push Dallas' lead back up to five.
"Biggest play of the game,'' said Rick, who went on to mention that it is exactly that sort of play that earns a guy the right to finish games.
In the case of Collison ... we hope so.
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DONUT 9: Like Brand-new ...
AUPING'S OKC LESSON: Elton Brand as a go-to guy? It took him awhile in the OKC game ...
FISH'S ORLANDO LESSON LEARNED?: And it took him not much time in the Orlando game. EB is clearly become the center of record around here. His veteran status gives him a good ability to offer an overview of all things Mavs, too.
"It's good to start winning again," said Brand, part of a team that lost 10 of 11 but has now won five of six and this week doesn't play again until Friday. "We didn't want to go into our break without winning again."
DONUT 10: Best Offensive Player in the World ...
AUPING'S OKC LESSON: After the Friday game, Carlisle had a strong compliment for the man who scored a career-high 52 against the Mavericks on Friday.
"He's a great player," Carlisle said. "The best offensive player on the planet. I don't think there's a question about that. There's things that we could have done to limit him and that's on me too."
FISH'S ORLANDO LESSON LEARNED?: The Magic have no such player. Sunday marked the first time in forever that the Mavs -- with so much traditional success in Orlando, coming in having won six straight there -- opposed the Magic without Dwight Howard on their roster.
Make it seven straight.
DONUT 11: The stretch ...
AUPING'S OKC LESSON: This is a favorable stretch for the Mavs. Home games. Teams on the second night of b-2-b's. Four days off now after a single roadie in Orlando ...
FISH'S ORLANDO LESSON LEARNED?: It has happened. With weekend loses by the Blazers and the Rockets, the Mavs started the evening in Orlando -- and started the second half of their NBA schedule -- just 3.5 games out of last playoff spot in the West. In this "favorable stretch,'' the Mavs made up 3.5 games worth of ground in one week's time.
And now it's three back ... a feat so quickly accomplished and so notable that even the coach is moved to mention it.
DONUT 12: The Final Word ...
AUPING'S OKC LESSON: The biggest story of the Friday game was probably Durant's amazing performance. But the grittiness of the Mavericks' was not lost on him. ... and it produced an interesting quote.
"They got a championship coach and players," Durant said. "They got some tough guys. They have guys that are big-game players. ... the heart of a champion.''
FISH'S ORLANDO LESSON LEARNED?: That is a respectful thing for KD to say. And you can see his point if you look closely at the $25,000 worth of anger expressed by Marion after the OKC game and by the first-half anger expressed by Dirk in Orlando, where he was distressed enough by that early deficit that he marched away from the team's sideline huddle.
Words, though, aren't enough. Anger isn't either. It's about wins. And to this team's credit, the fellas do seem to be learning that lesson.