After getting a much-needed victory the night before, the Dallas Mavericks headed to Miami to take on the defending champion Heat Wednesday night. The six-game losing streak was over and Dallas looked to build upon any minute drip of momentum against a Heat squad that had lost two of their previous three games, those losses coming against Detroit and Milwaukee.
Moral victories often ring hollow and the standings turn an indifferent shoulder towards them, but perhaps that is what can be claimed after a Dirk Nowitzki jumper drained with 3.9 seconds on the clock sent the game to overtime.
Or, is that the view of an optimist, of a hopelessly hopeful mind?
As has been the case all season, where Dallas entered 0-5 in overtime contests, the Mavs seemed to have run out of gas with the draining of regulation minutes. Miami quickly pulled away in the extra period, winning by the final of 119-109.
Dirk, your summation?
It's a game of inches,'' Nowitzki said, "and if you make a couple of mistakes like that down the stretch a veteran team will make you pay."
Game of inches? Yes. Moral victory? Sure. Something to build upon? Why not? Another final in the wrong column on in the standings? That, too.
WELCOME BACK, WE’VE MISSED YOU … SO MUCH
Moral victories are intangible, they’re a ghost whispering what could be, and they are what you reach for when almost everything else slips from your grasp. Moral victories are a promise one can’t possibly substantiate at the time made.
Seeing Dirk look like Dirk … that’s tangible.
It’s more than a silver lining, more than reaching for the light amidst the darkness. It’s seeing that light up close, and feeling the warmth radiating from it.
His UberManly numbers: 19 points, 7-of-15 field goals, 2-of-4 behind the arc, and six rebounds in 29 minutes … season highs for points and minutes.
We saw a clean stroke behind the arc, a couple of One-Legged Euro LeanBack tries (we’ll try to keep our mouth shut about any calls that did or didn’t come), even a spin move off the dribble to get around Ray Allen for an easy lay in.
We also saw a fist pump and some of the joyfully contorted facial expressions we’ve come to love from The Uberman.
We saw Dirk … mostly.
While we praise what we saw as drawing nearer a complete return to form, we must also lament a single missed free throw with 1:13 on the clock that left the Mavs with a three-point lead rather than four.
Still, hard not to like the progress evident in Dirk’s game Wednesday night.
THE NBA HIGHLIGHT REEL
MAYO LIKE TERRY?
The following excerpt is from our recap of the previous meeting between the Mavs and Heat this season (paraphrased slightly to save room):
Against the Heat, Mayo scored in single digits for the second time this season, with eight points, hitting 3-of-14 shots, including 0-of-5 behind the arc.
Last season, Jason Terry scored three points on 1-of-10 shooting in the Mavs second matchup with the Heat, but faired much better in the first, scoring 23 points on 9-of-18 shots.
We’ll have to hope Mayo follows this same pattern versus the Heat, one bad and one good game.
In this regard, our hopes were fulfilled.
Coming off only his second turnover-free contest of the season against Washington, Mayo buried his poor first matchup with Miami and had his highest scoring night since dropping 40 on the Rockets in early December.
Mayo finished with 30 points, 12-of-21 field goals, 4-of-10 3-pointers, three rebounds, six assists, two steals … and six turnovers.
The turnovers weren’t pretty, and continue a recent trend that’s seen Mayo turn the ball over at least five times in five of the last seven games … though he totaled only two in the previous two contests.
"There were three or four situations where (Mayo) tried to squeeze the ball in and it didn't quite work out, but he was aggressive,'' coach Rick Carlisle said. "He's going to be aggressive and he's going to score.
"But I think the important thing for him is to realize that we don't need him just to be a scorer, we need him to be an all-around basketball player.''
Having said all that: though Dirk played his part, Dallas doesn’t find overtime without Mayo’s late performance. In the fourth quarter, Mayo scored 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting and did not turn the ball over once.
HERO BALL GONE WRONG
While there was a lot to like, one of the worst moments of the game came with under a minute to play in regulation.
Dallas was up one with 41.5 seconds left, Mayo inbounded the ball to Vince Carter, who dribbled around a Shawn Marion screen, and casually took one of the most ill advised shot attempts of the game, launching a three off the dribble with Shane Battier closing fast … with 18 seconds left on the shot clock.
Beyond the fact that Carter would finish the game having made only one of his eight 3-point tries, beyond the fact that there was far too much time left on the shot clock, beyond the fact that this was a 3-point try off the dribble and on the move, beyond the fact that the possession consisted of zero passes, comes the fact that this was either the third or fourth best offensive option, behind at least Dirk and Mayo, on the court for the Mavs.
This was “hero ball” gone wrong. A shot that could have clenched the game, but was horrible in just about every other way, including the likelihood, or lack thereof, for success.
Roddy Beaubois has quietly moved back ahead of Dominique Jones for the role of backup point guard. In each of the last three games, Roddy B has played more minutes than Jones.
Unfortunately, though Roddy B has played fair at times, his scoring ability remains largely amiss.
Against the Heat, Roddy B had three points, 1-of-4 field goals, one rebound and one assists … and zero turnovers.
Over this three-game stretch, Beaubois is averaging 3.3 points, 23.5 field-goal percentage, 22.2 3-point percentage … but has only one turnover total in 39 minutes.
Roddy B isn’t making the “catastrophic turnovers” or mistakes, though he isn’t doing much else either.
*Chris Kaman reached double digits in rebounding for the third time this season, and had his second double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds to go with three blocks. For the second consecutive game, we also saw signs of a defensive presence from Kaman.
*Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Carter, Marion, and Kaman were the Mavs starters for the third consecutive game. For the season, this is the most used 5-man unit for Dallas, totaling 87 minutes entering Wednesday night and posting an even plus/minus.
Entering Wednesday, per 48 minutes, this unit had shot 41.9 FG%, 42.4 3PT%, and grabbed 39.4 rebounds while allowing opponents 44.1 FG%, 40 3PT%, and 48.8 rebounds.
Meaning this lineup had a rebound differential of minus-9.4 per 48 minutes.
To put that in perspective: as a team, Dallas has a league-worst minus-4.9 rebound differential.
Still, this is far from the worst rebounding five-man unit. Of lineups to have played at least 20 minutes together, that honor goes to a grouping of Collison, Mayo, Carter, Troy Murphy, Kaman at minus-18.2 rebounds per 48 minutes.
*Perhaps reflected in those numbers is the fact that this lineup turns what should be a Mavs strength into a weakness as Shawn Marion is forced to play power forward.
Per ESPN’s stats, Marion has the second best rebounding rate among small forwards (15.2 – behind only Kenneth Faried at 18.8). Yet, that number would rank 26th among power forwards.
Obviously, injuries, particularly to Dirk, may have forced this lineup to some degree, but it’s worth noting how quickly, how easily, a strength can become a weakness.
*Dirk’s worst game of his young season came on his only other opportunity to play on the back end of a back-to-back vs. Denver. That makes this showing that much nicer to see.
*Since seeing Dominique Jones start a game at point guard, including that night, Darren Collison has stepped up his game and his claim to the starting spot.
In six games, Collison has averaged 16.8 points, 53.2 field-goal percentage, 50 3-point percentage, 4.8 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 1.3 steals … and only 1.8 turnovers.
After losing to the Heat in the Finals in 2006, Dallas won 10 straight against them in the regular season.
After losing to the Mavs in the 2011 Finals, Miami has won four straight against the Mavs.
For the first time in those four losses, Dallas won the rebounding battle: 47-46, thanks to 10 from Kaman and nine each from Marion and Carter.
Dallas is now 0-6 in overtime games this season, having been outscored by 36 in those 35 minutes of basketball (seven total extra periods due to one double overtime) and lost nine total overtime contests in a row … one away from tying the NBA record.
Can losing a bunch of games by a tight enough margin be a positive in the sense that they are
“It’s one or two plays a game when you’re talking about overtimes,” Carlisle said. “And when you’re in six of them, those are tough lessons to learn. We’ve got to learn them.”
"There was a collision, I haven't seen the replay of it, so I don't know exactly what happened. You're asking if it was a missed call? It could have been. I'm not going to speculate and I'm not in the money-spending mood right now.'' - Rick Carlisle on a non-call in the final minute of regulation when Wade collided with Dirk and forced a Dallas turnover. ... Quote from Dirk: “The last couple years, we knew each other so well and we had a point guard, in Jason Kidd, who was always the smartest out there. I think it’s going to take us a little more time together to figure those end-of-game situations out.”
Miami is now 3-0 in overtime this season. ... LeBron has scored 20 or more points in all 30 Miami games this year, the second-longest such season-opening streak since the NBA-ABA merger ...
Dallas kept its in-regulation turnovers down to 11, a promising number ... LeBron James and Dwayne Wade took as many free throws (20) as the entire Mavericks team ...
THE FINAL WORD
When a team is 13-20 there is one of two outlooks you can take after a loss like this. You can take solace in moral victories or you can curse another in a plethora of gut-punch losses … or maybe a little of both.
"I like what we're doing,'' said Dirk. "We just have to keep on working, so games like this we're able to close out."
It’s hard not to feel a little giddy about hearing Dirk talk this way, and about seeing Dirk look as near the norm (for him) as we’ve seen this year, but it’s also getting harder and harder to see any hope for something beyond lottery balls to come of this season.
Thus, we’ll grab onto what we can … and smile for what we saw from Dirk, and that quick glimpse of what this team could be … and hope that maybe there’s still time for that to matter this year.