It's two days late ("soft" of us, we know), but it's time to Hot and Cold your Dallas Mavericks with the ferocity of of a Jose Juan Barea-Jason Terry defensive backcourt. We've got four games to cover this week: at the Minnesota Timberwolves, at the New Orleans Hornets, home to the New York Knicks, and home to the Los Angeles Lakers. Let's get it started.
[Ed. Note: We'll be sticking with the usual Sunday-Sunday week setup here, so last night's loss to the Portland Trailblazers will be included in next week's column.]
1) Dirk Nowitzki
The playoffs draw near, and Dirk is ramping up his game. It was an great week for the Blonde Bomber, who averaged 24.8 ppg on exactly 50% shooting from the field. If not for a 7-of-19 (37%) performance in the Knicks game, which was firmly in the Mavs' hands almost throughout, that shooting number would have been even better. Dirk was also rewarded for aggressive play this week, averaging 7.3 foul shots per game (and he didn't miss a single one all week). The best part is, Dirk's ceiling is even higher. Don't be surprised to see him average around 27 or 28 ppg once the playoffs start in mid-April.
2) Brian Cardinal's playing time
If you had one word to describe Carlisle's rotations this week, what would it be? I'll suggest "surprising," primarily because reserve utility-player Cardinal suddenly found himself thrust into a significant role. Cardinal notched 17 minutes against Minnesota, 21 against New Orleans, 14 against New York, and 17 against Los Angeles. He spent some of this time playing backup PF, but also saw substantial time with Dirk (in that scenario, we suppose Cardinal is effectively playing the 3). If you had Cardinal getting these minutes in mid-March, props to you, for you are far wiser than I.
3) Defending star wing players
While the Mavs' defensive performance this week overall left much to be desired, they actually did a nice job against the best wing scorers they faced. The Hornets' David West delivered 16 points, but shot just 5-of-12 (41%). The Knicks' Carmelo Anthony, who torched the Mavs for 42 points while still with the Denver Nuggets in February, 18 points on just 5-of-15 (33%) shooting. Lakers' superstar Kobe Bryant, playing through an ankle injury, shot 6-of-20 (30%) for 16 points and took only 4 trips to the foul line.
1) Jose Juan Barea
After a torrid February, Barea has come back down to Earth. This week, he shot just 12-of-28 (43%), averaging 8.5 ppg and 2.5 apg. He also turned the ball over 10 times in 4 games, despite averaging only 17 minutes per. Of course, compared to the Barea of November and December, this version is still a welcome sight. Going forward, the question will be coach how Rick Carlisle defines Barea's playoff role. Is he the exclusive back up PG to Jason Kidd? Does Jason Terry run any point? And what of Rodrigue Beaubois? We'll know soon enough.
2) Punishing opponents missing their star player
Twice this week, the Mavs had the opportunity to exploit a team missing its star player due to injury. Against the Hornets, Chris Paul missed the entire game due to a concussion sustained a week prior. The Mavs ended up blowing a 7-point lead in the final minute and lost 93-92. Against the Lakers a few nights later, the window was much smaller: Kobe Bryant left the game with an ankle injury just temporarily. Unfortunately, while Kobe was out, the Mavs had a prime opportunity to crank it to eleven and take control of the game. Instead, they did the opposite. Right before Bryant went out, the Mavs had whittled the Lakers' lead to 65-63. So what happened then? Without Kobe, the Lakers immediately scored 8 straight points, making it 73-63 and giving the Mavs a steep hill to climb for the fourth quarter. They would ultimately lose 96-91.
3) The #2 seed, and possible second-round home court against the Lakers
A couple weeks ago, the Mavs had a three-game lead over the Lakers and were a moderate favorite to finish the season at the two-spot in the Western Conference. Now, not only has that lead vanished (the Lakers are a half-game ahead with the loss to Portland last night), but most folks are probably (and fairly) assuming the Lakers will finish #2. Of course, losing to the Lakers Saturday night hardly helped the cause. And blowing what should have been a surefire road win against the Hornets, sans Chris Paul, probably stings even worse. It's still entirely possible that the Mavs finish second, but at this point, most Mavs fans would probably be hesitant to take that bet. And understandably so.
See you in just a few days (Monday) for next week's installment of Mavs Hot and Cold.