Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
The Dallas Mavericks lost to the Los Angeles Lakers at home, 103-99, severely dampening their chances of slipping into the playoffs. In a game that never for a minute looked like a matchup between the West's 9th and 10th best teams, it was a duel worthy of their primes for Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki, who went for 38-12 and 30-13, respectively. Vince Carter and Elton Brand both went 6-13 for the Mavs, for 15 and 14 points, and Steve Nash put in 20 for the Lakers.
It was a great, great game. I don't know what the largest lead either team had was, but I'd be surprised if it was more than 5 at any point. This was an old school battle, and it showed the difference between a really good player (say LaMarcus Aldridge) and one of the best ever, as both team's superstars performed like they were completely aware of the facts: that this was a game each had to have.
You're rarely going to see a night like this one from Kobe, where he both scored voluminously AND passed brilliantly (38 points 7 assists), while also hitting the glass like a madman. He was efficient, and driven. If he took a bit too many "Kobe shots" for some basketball purists, this time, he basically made them all.
On the opposite side of the coin we have Dirk, who finally seems fully recovered from his knee injury. The two 34 year olds played 38 and 39 minutes respectively, made 8 out of 9 threes and grabbed a collective 25 boards. Dirk played as wonderfully as a player could, at the end of regulation, converting a tough and-one (though he missed the free throw), to make it a 2 point game with a minute left, then jumper in the lane to make it 2 again with 26 left.
The Mavs simply-and kind of as usual-waited too long to go to him. It's impossible for me to believe that there is literally nothing that can be done about convincing the other Mavs to go to him with more frequency. On a night when the Mavericks were this close to beating the Lakers, leapfrogging them in the standings and making a playoff appearance a credulous possibility, a night when OJ Mayo went 2-9, Collison, 3-11, and Shawn Marion only 3-4, it is absurd that Dirk took only 19 shots, of which he made 11. Absurd. And no one tell me that's not on Rick.
Just like Mike James is on Rick. I can't even talk about this. A fan base should get the chance to vote on a player to chain to the bench to save a coach from himself. This fan base would vote for Mike James 99%-1%, I guarantee it. Rick Carlisle is going to be a hall of fame coach, and we all need to go to that press conference and hold him accountable for his use of James. And literally, he shouldn't be allowed to get in until he satisfactorily explains himself. James is now making less than a third of the shots he takes. Until the last three minutes of the fourth, he'd taken more than Dirk in that quarter.
The officiating was also a little rough. There were some individual calls, obviously, but that just happens. The real shame was the two technicals called in the fourth quarter. Dirk seemed to jaw a bit with the ref (after an obvious foul against him), and he should have been smarter than that, but the second technical, on OJ Mayo, certainly seemed to be a quick reaction, not directed at anybody, to getting a foul call in a crucial situation. As JVG mentioned at the time, pretty cruel and senseless to call that tech. This kind of thing always makes me remember that secretly I do think NBA officiating is rigged. We'll talk about that later.
It's important to remember that this wasn't a real matchup between two basement dwelling teams. The Lakers may have hit the skids this season, but they remain the team with the most individual talent in the league and on a night when nobody but Dirk had it going, the Mavericks battled them all the way.
It, unfortunately, is probably mostly important for when Dallas spends the offseason trying to decide what it has. It's important for showing that Dirk seems to have plenty left, with a little help, and that if this team, now five for their last seven, had been intact all season there'd be no question of comfortably making the playoffs. That could be important, when they start thinking about where to spend money.
There's no need to write the obituary for the Mavs yet. When it happens, there will be plenty of time to talk about it. The Mavs were just a couple breaks away from being half a game behind the Lakers for 9th and owning the tiebreak, now they're two games behind the Lakers and have nothing, but it's likely, unfortunately, that that wouldn't have changed things appreciably.
I am grateful to have watched that game. It was great, from minute one. I saw my favorite player of all time come back to life, and two of the top ten players of all time do their thing for one more of a diminishing number of times. I wish it had gone the other way, but maybe it wouldn't have mattered enough. Maybe beautiful basketball is an okay consolation prize, in a season like this.
The point of last stands is that nobody lives forever.
The Mavs get the feisty Bucks next, then a tough Memphis game, Brooklyn, and two crucial ones against Houston. Enjoy the rest of your Sundays, y'all.