The Mavericks returned to the practice court after being off during the All-Star Break. Players returned from all around after enjoying their nice break. Coach Rick Carlisle said that Tuesday was all about opening the lungs back up and he liked what he saw in the team. "It was good," said Carlisle. "This is an important workout because we've got to get the right amount of work but we don't want to leave our game on the practice court today." The team is aware that they will be seeing a motivated Utah Jazz team and the team expects Utah to be razor sharp on Wednesday night, "They're going to compete like hell," said Carlisle.
The trade sending Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks was a topic of conversation amongst the Mavericks, Dirk Nowitzki is hopeful that the deals are not done. "It's great for the West," Nowitzki said. "Hopefully Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan go East next." The trade does change the culture within the Denver Nuggets orginization and it does make things a little more open in the bottom half of the Western Conference, but the Mavericks know that they are working on doing their best to improve daily. They are not necessarily focused on catching the San Antonio Spurs, but they would not mind if that were to happen. "We're going to catch them sooner or later, whether it's now or in the playoffs," Terry said Tuesday following the Mavericks' first post-All-Star break practice. "We'd rather it be in the playoffs, in the Western finals or what have you. But we're going to catch them."
Carlisle understands that the West will remain a battle, no matter if Carmelo Anthony is in the West or not. "It's the west, it's competitive," Carlisle explained. "Every night is a meaningful game and a big-time grind to compete at a high level. The most important thing is to stay in the moment, continue to work to get better and you've got to go one day at a time." One of the challenges for the team has been the ability to maintain a comfortable lead. Jason Terry attributes it to a "killer instinct." That is not to say that the Mavericks do not have a killer instinct, it is just that it comes and goes. "I think we have it," said Terry. "I think that game in Phoenix really was a statement maker for us. Coming in on a back-to-back, going in there and winning in the fashion that we did, I think this team has a killer instinct and we're going to have to bring it out every night."
Mark Cuban voiced his displeasure with the fact that the team has lacked focus, urgency and awareness when it comes to maintaining those leads and Carlisle agrees with him. "He's tired of us blowing big leads. Our players are tired of it and our coaches are tired of it," Carlisle said. "The reality is leads are hard to get. When you get them, you have to value them. We certainly don't take getting leads for granted."
A story worth monitoring over the final 26 games will be whether or not the rotation starts to shrink in size. Often in the playoffs, teams tend to go to an eight or nine-man rotation. That would negate a strength for the Mavericks since they have the ability to go 10 or 11 players deep. "Right now, we have a system that is working for us," Carlisle said. "At this point, when we need to shorten our rotation during the season we do it. It hasn't been a necessity because we're really getting good contributions top to bottom and we've just got to continue to do that." The depth has been a calling card for the Mavericks and it can truly be an asset that changes the outlook of a team. Again, it will be something to monitor to finish out the season.
One key contributor off of the bench is JJ Barea. The guard missed the game against the Phoenix Suns due to a fever. He mentioned that he traveled back to Puerto Rico during the break and continued getting some rest and relaxation. Barea was also battling a groin issue leading up to the All-Star break. "I'm trying to fix it. I hate it," Barea said. "I’m trying to get it better working with the trainers every day and see where it goes from here. It's been going on for a little bit and got worse the last couple of games before the All-Star break. But, we’ll see what happens." He mentioned that he is not quite 100 percent, but he does feel good enough to play in the game on Wednesday.
Barea plays a big role in making sure Roddy (or Rodrigue, who knows at this point) Beaubois' minutes are not too high. When Coach Carlisle was asked when he predicted Beaubois would be fully healthy he responded, "With Barea back, we'll be fine." It is hard to argue with the point as Beaubois had his struggles on the second night of a back-to-back against the Phoenix Suns on Thursday. Beaubois stayed in Dallas during the break to continue working on getting his wind back. The French guard took Friday off to relax, but he resumed conditioning work on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Dirk Nowitzki continues to have high hopes for Beaubois once he is healthy. "For Roddy, the sky’s the limit," Nowitzki said. "He’s got to keep on working. Once he’s healthy I think he’s exactly what we need: an explosive guy who can get the ball in the paint off the dribble, which is sometimes what we lack."
Another thing to keep track of over the final stretch of the regular season will be where the Mavericks stand in terms of defense. Going into the break, the Mavs allowed at least 100 points in their last five games. By comparison, it took 36 games for the defense to give up its fifth 100-point outing this season. "One of the reasons our offense is clicked better is because we're defending pretty well," Carlisle said. "I wouldn't mistake more points scored for a lesser emphasis on defense or a lesser need for defense." The team still understands that a run-and-gun philosophy will not translate in the playoffs. The goal is to make sure the defense maintains a high level of consistency going forward.
As it was mentioned, the offense is starting to click better. The Mavericks shot over 50 percent from the field in four straight games from February 10-17 (3-1 record). It marked the first time that Dallas shot at least 50 percent from the floor in four consecutive contests since March 10-16, 2008 (4-0 record). The last time the Mavericks shot 50-plus percent from the field in five straight games was from March 28-April 6, 2004. They actually did so in six straight games from March 28-April 8, 2004 (all wins). The Mavericks are 17-3 when they shoot at least 50 percent from the floor this season.
"I think if we keep five, six guys in double figures, we’re tough to guard and tough to stop and tough to beat," Nowitzki said. "That means we’re moving the ball, everybody’s playing well, with confidence and everybody is in their groove and we’re playing well off each other." The records speaks the truth as the Mavs are 27-4 when five-plus players score in double figures and 12-1 when at least six players record 10-plus points in a game. Nowitzki mentioned that that there is a balance that needs to be found when it comes to spreading the ball while making sure he still is able to get quality looks. Consistency and efficiency will be the keys and Nowitzki feels somewhere in the 10-20 shot range is the sweet spot while still maintaining his efficiency from the field.
WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON????
Reports are circulating by various sources that have the Mavericks reuniting with Devin Harris. Indications are leading towards Harris being traded, it is just a matter of where. It appears that Dallas and Portland are in the running for Harris' services. The Nets canceled their practice on Tuesday to continue figuring out the specifics of their roster. Reports are indicating that the Mavericks would only want to part with Caron Butler while the Nets are looking for Butler, Dominique Jones and a first round pick. Both sides are still talking and it is possible there will be some kind of resolution on Wednesday. If anything develops, MMB will keep you in the loop. Stay tuned...
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