The Dallas Mavericks: The Mavs shot 51 percent, compiled 23 assists on their 38 field goals (compared to only 13 turnovers) and were +7 in free throw attempts. Moreover, their star player, Dirk Nowitzki, had a big-time game (32 points, 9-for-17, 12-for-12 from the line, 10 rebounds, 7 assists) and they ended up with 110 points. Those numbers look great on paper, but Dallas lost by 14 and got eliminated from the playoffs 4-1 in a series that very well could have been a sweep.
So what happened? The better question would be what DIDN'T happen, to which I would reply: Defense. The Nuggets shot 64 percent in the first half and 58 percent for the game. They also won the rebounding battle 38-30 and were +3 on the offensive glass. Meanwhile, the Mavericks forced only 13 turnovers and blocked a mere two shots. Carmelo Anthony (30 points, 13-for-22), Chauncey Billups (28 points, 10-for-16, 7 rebounds, 12 assists) and Nene (17 points, 8-for-10, 7 boards) did pretty much whatever they wanted. For all we know, they also had a four-way with Dirk's monstrous ex-fiance/girlfriend/thing. (And, as Basketbawful reader dnach alerted me, they wouldn't be the only ones who have picked strawberries in that field...)
Dallas did put up a fight, though, and they were still within 6 points (103-97) with just under seven minutes to go before a crazy buzzer-beating three by Anthony and a foul shot by Billups (off a tech that was called on Antoine Wright) pushed the lead back to 10 and pretty much croaked the cowboys. Said Dirk: "That 'Melo three was a killer. We get the technical on top. Back to 10 points." I can only assume these simple words were punctuated by big, marshmallow-shaped tears. (Although, I've gotta give Dirk some props: He averaged 34 PPG in this series.)
So...now what? Dallas generally considered to be the hottest team in the league heading into the playoffs. Yet they were knocked out fairly casually by a Nuggets team that, while obviously pretty darn good, isn't really striking fear into anybody's heart (yet). Even assuming everybody (particularly Josh Howard) is completely healthy next season, it's hard to imagine the Mavs being any better. They're already due to pay out $69 million in salary next season...even with Jason Kidd's $21 million coming off the books. Speaking of which, are they going to resign Kidd? If they don't, they're screwed at the point guard position, and if they do, you have to wonder how much Kidd has left in the tank. I don't think Dirk has a "next level." Josh Howard is one big question mark. Jason Terry is a great sixth man who's earning $10 per year. The team has no cap flexibility, a shaky roster and no depth. At best, they're going to be a borderline playoff team unless Mark Cuban makes some seriously amazing offseason moves.
Hey, everybody has already poured dirt on the grave of the Steve Nash-led Phoenix Suns, in terms of their ability to compete for a championship. How are things any different for Dirk's Mavericks? Anyway, here's a little bonus fun with bad animation:
Allen Iverson / Joe Dumars: Check out this excerpt from the AP game recap:
The impetus for the transformation came when the team made its biggest trade ever, Allen Iverson to Detroit for Billups, who turned his hometown team from an afterthought into a championship contender after leading the Pistons to six straight Eastern Conference finals and the NBA championship in 2004.
"We love Allen, Allen's family," Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke said. "But as Allen has said many times it's still a business. Chauncey was right for us, with the different personalities we have on the club Chauncey was a really important part."
"He's a leader," Anthony said of Billups. "He came on this team and he brought a businesslike attitude to our team. He brought a defensive mindset we were looking for."
Hey, this subject has been beaten to death, but that pretty much sums it up: Dumars traded a leader, winner, and proven champion for a guy who...was not those things. And both Iverson (personally, professionally and in terms of his legacy) and the Pistons as a team were forced to pay a pretty steep price.
Erick Dampier: He scored 6 points in 24 minutes and finished with more fouls (3) than rebounds (2). Plus Nene made him look silly in this series. And guess what? He's got two years and $23 million left on his contract. AWESOME.
Lacktion report: Chris was simply agog over last night's epic lacktivity. Agog, I tell you.
Mavs-Nuggets: WOW! One night after the first non-lacktive evening of the playoffs, George Karl and Rick Carlisle decided to plug in their Nintendo 64 consoles for the first time in many years, resulting in the playoffs' first full-on MARIO PARTY!
Mark Cuban's top lacktator James Singleton (51 seconds) was joined by Gerald Green (34 seconds, and a suck differential of +2 via two misses from the stripe) and Mario Brothers Matt Carroll and Ryan Hollins (23 seconds each) for a soiree on Mini-Game Island.
(Green ended up with a +9 combined suck differential for the second round, the worst combined SD score of the playoffs so far!)
Despite the Nuggets' long run away from the conference finals, George Karl has made the team familiar with the process of lighting up celebratory tobacco (thanks in part to Joe Dumars's recurring nightmare). So he decided to bring out the trio of Renaldo Balkman, Jason Hart, and Johan Petro for a 34-second romp through a 3-on-1 Adventure Mode against Gerald Green, in which all of the Mavs' coins were panned away to the chagrin of the most famous unruly fan-owner man-child in the Association. Petro added a foul to his repertoire as well to give himself a +1 and a 1:0 Voskuhl.
Chris McKendry: And now for a little SportsCenter fail: Stotts Era pointed out that McKendry is, apparently, incapable of saying marijuana.