Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Avery Out

The following statement was posted on the Mavericks website just minutes ago.  I hope this isn't premature, but in an era where coaches rarely stay with the same team for extended periods of time, I can't say this is too surprising.  
photo courtesy of

Avery Johnson lasted less than four seasons as head coach of the Dallas Mavericks, which doesn't seem like an ample amount of time for a coach to put his stamp on things.  Perhaps his stamp is that of two first-round disappointments.  Unfortunately we'll never know what could have been.

Art Garcia |
Posted: April 30, 2008

Avery Johnson was dismissed as coach of the Dallas Mavericks the day after a disappointing season ended with a first-round playoff exit in New Orleans. Incredible highs and heartbreaking lows marked the tenure of Johnson, who leaves as the most successful coach in franchise history by many measures.

Johnson became the eighth coach in team history on March 19, 2005 and posted a record of 194-70 (.735) during the regular season. He led the Mavs to playoffs four consecutive years, including a trip to the 2006 NBA Finals. His postseason record of 23-24 (.489) included 12 losses in the last 16 games.

“I would like to thank Avery for his valuable contributions to the Mavericks organization,” president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said. “Over the past four years, he has been an integral part of our team’s success. We wish AJ nothing but the very best in his future endeavors.”

In his first full season as head coach (2005-06), Johnson guided the Mavericks to 60 wins and their first appearance in the NBA Finals. He became the fastest coach to reach 50 wins (62 games), coached the Western Conference All-Star team and was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year.

Johnson led Dallas to a franchise-record 67 wins, the NBA’s best record, the following season. The mark was also the sixth best in league history. Following a 10-0 month of February, Johnson garnered Western Conference Coach of the Month honors, an award he won three times in his career.

This past season, Johnson became the fastest coach in NBA history to reach 150 wins with a victory over Memphis on November 17, 2007. He accomplished that feat in just 191 games.

“It is never easy to relieve a coach of his duties, especially one of Avery’s caliber,” owner Mark Cuban said. “He is a talented coach and I want to thank him for his efforts over the last four years and what he has done for this franchise. We wish him well in the future.”

From Post-season to Pot-season

Amidst the backdrop of a Sergei Zubov game-tying goal at the AAC, the Dallas Mavericks could be found 520 miles east letting their season, and all the warm memories of the past decade, fade into the backdrop of a raucous arena in New Orleans. And to think, the Mavs almost had me believing it could happen.

When Dirk launched his 3-pointer from the corner with half a minute to play, the ball carried with it the hopes of the 2007-08 season, the hopes of retaining the head coach, and the hopes of the remnants of the highest-achieving team in franchise history. Back rim. Ball game.

The Mavs lost 99-94 in a game that Dallas tightened down the stretch, but in the end poor shooting prevailed and just plain stupidity prevailed.

There's a lot to be frustrated with today. Stackhouse deciding it would be a good idea to hack the ball out of Chris Paul's arm with play stopped and under 2 minutes left in the game. Stack got a bone-headed 2nd technical foul in the one game in which he actually showed up this postseason.

The Hornets outshot the Mavericks, 48.7% to 42.7%.

And I honestly don't know where to begin with Josh Howard. I'd like to think that perhaps he mental meltdown started this season, but sadly there were flashes of this when the Mavs went to the finals two years ago. Remember the timeout he called in critical Game 5 of the Miami series that cost the Mavs a chance to advance the ball to mid-court for a chance to win the game? (video)

In light of radio comments about his offseason high times and his horrendous performance in the postseason, Howard has lost a significant amount of trade value. He's also lost a great amount of respect from the franchise and the city in which he plays.

Now instead of calling timeouts, he's throwing parties. In a development today, as reported by several sources, Avery Johnson wanted Josh Howard to cancel a party he was throwing after Game 4. The Mavs got crushed at home that night, Howard and others on the team opted for a night on the town regardless of the coach's order, so Avery cancelled practice the next day out of frustration. And why not? If the team wouldn't listen to him anyway to at least focus in on the playoffs for - hell - just two more days, why would they possibly be all that interested in practicing all that hard.'s Marc Stein wrote:

Sources say Johnson's well-chronicled cancellation of Monday's practice was an angry response to discovering that Josh Howard did not cancel a birthday party previously scheduled in his honor at a Dallas night club Sunday night after the Mavs' heavy Game 4 defeat.

In-house frustration with Howard was already at its limit, courtesy of the former All-Star's miserable shooting in this series (which continued in Game 5 with a 2-for-10 finish after a 4-for-4 start) and multiple interviews Howard granted -- one of them hours before Game 3 -- detailing his offseason marijuana use. So you can understand why an exasperated Johnson, also apparently convinced that Howard was not the only Mav out on the town after such a damaging loss, kicked the whole team out of the gym. The team then responded with a players-only meeting and a players-only practice, which their coach applauded at the morning shootaround.

"We had some of our leaders step up, which I've always wanted," Johnson said.

But Johnson also hinted at the depth of his discontent, prefacing his compliment by saying: "We came in [Monday] with the intention to practice. And then something changed." (entire article)

The Mavs leader and the only consistent Dallas player in the playoffs Dirk Nowitzki even got fed up with the distractions his teammates were causing, according to Mavs blogger Tim MacMahon.

"Yeah," Dirk said. "Obviously, very disappointing what happened in the playoffs -- bad timing. I think in the playoffs it's really time to focus on basketball and not let distractions come up. So I'm very, very disappointed with the timing of the whole thing, but I still try to keep them all together, try to make everybody play as hard as they can. But it wasn't good enough."

We can expect major changes this offseason. And while there are less than a handful of Mavericks worth keeping, I do think it's going to be sad to see Avery go. Not because he's been out-coached by Pat Riley and Don Nelson (who are the 3rd- and 2nd-most winningest coaches of all time) in consecutive seasons. Not because he couldn't devise a way to stop Chris Paul (I'll wait to criticize him for that if Greg Poppovich or Phil Jackson figure out a solution to CP3). No, it'll be sad to see Avery go because I think the players are more responsible for this year's shortcomings.

Ultimately it is up to the coach to motivate his team, but when some of the players are either not physically able to get the job done (Stackhouse) or simply uninterested in getting the job done (Josh Howard), the task is a difficult one for any coach. Just because players may not be currently responding to a coach doesn't mean they won't ever.

Case and point: the Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson seem to be doing quite well as the top seed in the Western Conference, but it was the same Kobe Bryant that ran Jackson (and Shaquille O'Neal) out of LA just a few years earlier. The Lakers tried bringing in Rudy Tomjanovich, who left his post halfway through the year, and eventually the Zen Master returned to the bench in LA to lead this team back to the top.

So while Avery Johnson will probably be fired, don't think there is some magician-coach out there who can simply step in and right this franchise. The players here aren't talented enough to get it done. Two years ago, they were. But 2006 seems decades removed from the team that walked off the court last night.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Starting to BELIEVE: R2 G3: Stars win 2-1 (OT)

It's not a stretch to say that Dallas is not a hockey town.  Actually, if the Mavs were still a team competing for a title (instead of a mere nuisance along the way of the New Orleans Hornets playoff run), it would be hard to say how enthralled Big D would truly be with the Stars.

Hockey fans in general seem to be more die-hard than other sports fans.  It goes with the nature of the sport.  But in Dallas, it doesn't hurt that the Stars take a 3-0 series lead over the Sharks in the second round of the playoffs.  Now that the Mavs' playoff run ran out - and the Rangers are still the Rangers - the city of Dallas will focus in on the one team currently shinning the brightest.

Tonight's 2-1 OT win at the AAC has Dallas focusing on hockey again.  It's not that everyone jumped off the bandwagon and deserted this team, but there were simply other distractions.  The Stars hadn't advanced in the playoffs since '03.  They couldn't get past the Avs.  The lockout took away hockey all together.  And meanwhile the Mavericks emerged as contenders in the NBA, going to the finals in 2006, and the Cowboys - which will always own this town regardless of how many titles the Mavericks, Stars or Rangers could ever amass - began to compete again, getting back into the playoffs the last two seasons.

So the Stars haven't been forgotten, but there have been other - more successful - distractions.  As owner Tom Hicks was quoted in a recent Dallas Morning News article about Stars hockey being hot again:

"Dallas is a city that loves winners. Whether it's the Stars or the Mavs or the Cowboys – and hopefully someday it's going to be the Rangers again – there's a lot more interest when they feel like you're going to win."

And he's absolutely right.  Using myself as an example:

I don't think I missed more than one home Cowboys game this past season.  I went to more than a dozen Mavs games this year.  The Stars, well, I went to one game back in November.  When these teams were on the road, I didn't miss a Cowboys game I couldn't attend.  Actually, it was tough for anyone to miss those games as they were virtually all nationally televised.  I caught a lot of Mavericks games on TV when they were on the road.  Home or away, there weren't a lot of times I purposely made time to watch Stars games.  

It's not that I forgot they were there, but they simply weren't a priority over the Mavs or Cowboys at that time.  Hicks is right.  We like winners here in Dallas, and that's where our attention gravitates.  Since the playoffs began, I haven't missed more than a few minutes of the Stars games, even making it out to both Game 3s thus far.

Very few hockey gurus thought the Stars would be merely a game away from the Western Conference finals, yet that's where they are.  Up 3-0 on a team many picked to win the Cup this season, Dallas has a chance to sweep the Sharks with a win tonight at the AAC.  The true hockey fans enjoy seeing their team continue on its way toward the ultimate goal.  The residents of Dallas - myself included - are glad to have a winner.

As I sat at the game tonight with my Dad - a die-hard Cowboys fan since the team's inception in 1960 - explaining penalty shots, offsides and line-changes, it was easy to see why some in this football-intensive town may not totally grasp why someone flooded and froze the floor at that building the basketball team plays in.  Rest assured, it's called hockey.

And now, with the Stars only one win away from their first conference finals since their days at Reunion Arena, this city can focus in on the Stars, joining the hockey purists - who haven't been distracted by such novelties as a 13-3 NFC East champ or NBA Finals - in rooting for this team.  With the Stars on the fringe of being one of the final four teams in the NHL this year, it seems now is a time people are truly starting to BELIEVE.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Which conference is which?

One conference in the NBA has all the excitement.  Everyone knew it would play out this way.  The first round of the NBA playoffs will feature some very close series in one conference and a palate of blowouts in the other.  No one knew, however, that it'd be the Eastern Conference - not the mighty West - that would hold the best match ups.

Here's a look at each of the eight first round series and where they currently stand.

Western Conference
(1) LA Lakers vs. (8) Denver Nuggets
The Lakers (57-25) and Nuggets (50-32) were separated by only seven games in the regular season.  Very few people, if anyone, thought the Nuggets would actually pull the upset, but it didn't seem all that far-fetched.  Instead, Kobe, Pau and Lamar are leading the way from blowout to blowout.  The closest game until tonight's Game 4 clincher was the 14-point thumping the Nuggets faced in the series opener.
Game 1: LAL 128, DEN 114
Game 2: LAL 122, DEN 107
Game 3: LAL 102, DEN 84
Game 4: LAL 107, DEN 101
Los Angeles win series, 4-0

(2) New Orleans Hornets vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks
Before this series started, I thought it odd just how so many thought Dallas would upset the Hornets.  Then again, if the Mavs upset the Hornets, it's be easy to brush it aside as obvious.  Dallas was in the finals two years ago and won 67 games in 2006-07.  The Hornets didn't have any of this much-talked-about and ultra-necessary "playoff experience."  Yeah, New Orleans has been crippled by that lack of experience.  Except for the fact that in his first two career playoff games, Chris Paul dominated both games.  The Mavs find themselves in a 3-1 hole with the series returning to New Orleans where the Hornets can advance to round two on their home floor.
Game 1: NO 104, DAL 92
Game 2: NO 127, DAL 103
Game 3: DAL 97, NO 87
Game 4: NO 97, DAL 84
New Orleans lead series, 3-1

(3) San Antonio Spurs vs. (6) Phoenix Suns
Okay, Game 1 was perhaps the best game of the playoffs so far.  Heck, it nearly went to triple OT (this isn't playoff hockey!).  Since that marathon series opener, the Suns just have not been able to keep up with the defending champs.  The Suns acquired Shaq to better deal with Duncan and have a more dominant inside presence.  Doesn't seem to be working.  The Spurs are finding ways to win these games despite the Suns' best efforts.  Before the playoffs started, I thought this would be the most competitive series.  Game 1 lived up to the hype, but the series since then has been lacking.  The Spurs got up 3-0 in this series, a deficit no NBA has ever overcome.  The series may not be technically over, but the Suns have set.
Game 1: SA 117, PHX 115
Game 2: SA 102, PHX 96
Game 3: SA 115, PHX 99
Game 4: PHX 105, SA 86
San Antonio leads series, 3-1

(4) Utah Jazz vs. (5) Houston Rockets
Everyone knew how touch the Jazz would be on their home court, but they took it one step further and crushed the Rockets in Houston in Games 1 & 2.  Houston stole a game in Salt Lake City, true, but that seemed like more of a fluke than anything.  While the games in this series have been closer than the other three Western Conference battles, the Jazz have shown no reason why they can't go back to Houston for Game 5 and steal a third in H-town to clinch the series.
Game 1: UTAH 93, HOU 82
Game 2: UTAH 90, HOU 84
Game 3: HOU 94, UTAH 92
Game 4: UTAH 86, HOU 82
Utah leads series, 3-1

As it stands right now, there is one series in the West that should go to six games (Jazz-Rockets).  That's because the Rockets are playing Game 5 at home, but Utah still can wait to finish the series at home in a Game 6.  No pressure there.

In the other three series, the Spurs and Hornets can win a home Game 5 to advance to the next round without having to travel back to Phoenix and Dallas, respectively.  The Lakers didn't even need five games to get things done against Denver.

Guess that ultra-competitive Western Conference will have to wait until round two before all that hype is realized.  As for the Eastern Conference, the series were simply a formality before the Celtics topped the Pistons to advance to the NBA Finals as the representative from the East.  As it turns out, both top seeds are struggling against two sub-.500 teams.  

Eastern Conference
(1) Boston Celtics vs. (8) Atlanta Hawks
Remember how there was a seven-game differential between the 1- and 8-seed in the Western Conference?  Well check this out: the Celtics went 66-16 while the Hawks limped to a 37-45 finish.  That's a 29-game difference.  And apparently that doesn't matter.  After the Celtics stormed out to a quick 2-0 series lead, the Hawks held serve in Atlanta by winning both their home games to tie the series at 2-2.  Did anyone - anyone? - see this coming?  I can't find anyone who picked the Hawks to win more than a single game, and even that was considered a stretch.  This would be an even bigger upset than the Golden State Warriors six-game stunner over Dallas last season.  
Game 1: BOS 104, ATL 81
Game 2: BOS 96, ATL 77
Game 3: ATL 102, BOS 93
Game 4: ATL 97, BOS 92
Series tied, 2-2

(2) Detroit Pistons vs. (7) Philadelphia 76ers
Similar situation to the Celtics-Hawks series.  The Pistons went 59-23 while the 76ers were 40-42.  The Sixers started the series strong by shocking the Pistons in Detroit to catapult this series to the forefront.  All of the sudden, this wasn't a pushover match up of the big bad Pistons and some lowly bottom feeder in the East.  Now it's a series, and it's a series worth watching.
Game 1: PHI 90, DET 86
Game 2: DET 105, PHI 88
Game 3: PHI 95, DET 75
Game 4: DET 93, PHI 84
Series tied, 2-2

(3) Orlando Magic vs. (6) Toronto Raptors
The first of the first-round series to wrap up was supposed to be one of the closer opening-round match-ups.  Didn't happen.  The Magic made the Raptors disappear thanks to Dwight Howard's third 20-20 game of the series.  Yeah, 20-20.  He is quite possibly the most dominant player in the Eastern Conference right now.  KG has a solid team around him in Boston, but Dwight Howard has been sensational.
Game 1: ORL 114, TOR 100
Game 2: ORL 104, TOR 103
Game 3: TOR 108, ORL 94
Game 4: ORL 106, TOR 94
Game 5: ORL 102, TOR 92
Orlando win series, 4-1

(4) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (5) Washington Wizards
These two teams seem to gravitate toward each other when the playoffs get going.  For the third year in a row, the Cavs and Wizards are facing off in the first round in what was thought to be the most even match up in the Eastern Conference.  It should be; it is the 4-5 match up.  While Games 1 and 4 were pretty close, Games 2 and 3 turned into blowouts quickly.  LeBron and the Cavs have been able to pull out the closer contests of the series, and the defending Conference champs are now in position to close the series out at home in Game 5 on Wednesday.
Game 1: CLE 93, WAS 86
Game 2: CLE 116, WAS 86
Game 3: WAS 108, CLE 72
Game 4: CLE 100, WAS 97
Cleveland leads series, 3-1

So with one series in each conference already in the books and four other series with the higher seed in position to close things in five, the closest match ups in these playoffs are the two series that everyone thought would be the least contested.  The Celtics and Pistons are both dead-locked in their respective series.  Meanwhile, no single series in the Western Conference was even tied at 1-1.

I still think the West will produce the champions of the NBA, but for now it's the East that is providing all the excitement.

Scrap Heap

The talk is now unavoidable.  With the Mavericks now only one game away from summer vacation, the talk of blowing up this team and starting over is buzzing now more than ever.  It's never easy to watch a team that went to the finals - the only finals appearance in franchise history - get dissolved.  If, however, the end is inevitably near, I contend there are three players on this roster worth keeping.

He's one of the best players in the NBA.  A 7-foot, 3-point shooting superstar who is always good for 20-some-odd points and 8 or 9 boards.  If the Mavericks try to trade Nowitzki, there is no way they get equal value.  I realize that if you want to rebuild, you could ship him to a team that's on the fringe for some young talent, but Dirk is the face of this franchise.  He still have several good years left, and while they may not be his prime years, Nowitzki will be much more than a serviceable player for that time.  Bottom line: don't ever move superstars.  It never results well.  Ever.

The only possible reason to get rid of Dirk would be because this franchise is simply giving up and will willing to accept going to the very back of the pack in the Western Conference and starting over completely from scratch. 

The JET has a rather large contract - which, by the way, he earned after helping to get this team to the finals.  The argument against Terry is that he doesn't have an actual position.  Is he a 1?  Is he a 2?  I don't know which he is, but he's a solid player.  I get the sense he appreciates to be a contender (or what used to be a contender) after all his years in Atlanta.  He struggled at times this season, but the Mavs can count on him in the postseason - when it really matters.  A look at his playoff numbers the last few years:

YEAR .....   MPG ...  FG%  ...  3P%   ...   PPG
2004-05  ...  38.5  ...  50.6%  ...  49.1%  ...  17.5
2005-06  ...  38.4  ...  44.2%  ...  30.7%  ...  18.9
2006-07  ...  38.2  ...  42.4%  ...  28.1%  ...  17.0
2007-08  ...  34.0  ...  44.9%  ...  44.0%  ...  16.5
CAREER  ...  38.0  ...  45.5%  ...  36.6%  ...  18.0

He's been a solid compliment player to Dirk ever since the JET landed in Dallas four years ago.  Things were a little rocky at first because "how could this guy from Atlanta replace our beloved Steve Nash?"  Well, guess what?  He did.  Terry may not have two MVP-seasons in him, but no one knew Nash had that either.  And when he took that final shot of Game 6 in the 2006 NBA Finals, it didn't bother me that someone other than Dirk was shooting the last chance for Dallas.  And I'm sure most other Mavs fans agree.

While we're at it, here's Terry's six games in the '06 Finals:
Game 1: 13-18 FG, 4-7 on 3s, 3 stls, 32 pts
Game 2: 6-15 FG, 1-6 on 3s, 9 ast, 2 stl, 16 pts
Game 3: 7-14 FG, 1-3 on 3s, 5 ast, 2 stl, 16 pts
Game 4: 8-18 FG, 1-5 on 3s, 9 reb, 16 pts
Game 5: 13-23 FG, 4-9 on 3s, 5 reb, 35 pts
Game 6: 7-25 FG, 2-11 on 3s, 5 ast, 2 stl, 16 pts

Other than his dismal shooting performance in Game 6, Terry had a solid series.  I think it's worth keeping him around for the transition period of getting to the "next generation" of Mavericks.  He's a solid player.

Bass is the only valuable youth on this team.  He's shown that he brings a lot of energy off the bench with his great dunks and nice touch from 16 ft.  And again, he's the ONLY youth on the entire Mavericks roster (not including J.J. Barea).  Without Bass, this first round series this year would be a complete and total bust.

This seasons, Bass has averaged 8.3 ppg off the bench and - despite moves to bring Terry off the bench which became a gimmick at best once Jerry Stackhouse went in the tank - Bass has been the Mavs 6th man in 2007-08.  He's also got that toughness that this team will need when they are ready to make another legitimate run toward the top.

Other than that, I don't know who else deserves to stick around.  Josh Howard?  Maybe if he wises up, shuts up, and gets his scoring up.  Jerry Stackhouse?  Five years ago, sure, but clearly he can't cut it in the role he's in right now.  Devean George?  Ha!  Jason Kidd?  Too much $$ for not enough results.  Malik Allen, Eddie George, JJ Barea, Tyron Lue, Juwan Howard?  No, no, no, no and no.  Sorry, but they are each 9th or 10th guys at best.

Game 4: NO 97 - Dal 84

Some quick thoughts after tonight's heart-wrenching, season-killing, morale-crushing, Kidd-ejecting, Hornet-stinging loss:

+ Jason Kidd's flagrant foul disgusted me. After looking at a few replays, I get that he was going for the ball, but the bottom line is he threw a guy down by the head. Thank goodness Jannero Pargo got his hands down to brace himself on the landing or he would have hit face-first. I don't think Kidd is a dirty player, but that was a dirty foul. It was ugly. It was unnecessary. And there are plenty other ways to foul someone hard and make sure they don't make the bucket without slamming them down by the head.

+ Kidd's foul gives a green light to any other team that wants to bodyslam a Maverick in a future game. I would never want to see Dirk get his head palmed by someone else and flung to the hardwood. Unfortunately, the Mavs can't complain about hard fouls in the near future.

+ As TNT went to Avery Johnson's press conference, Charles Barkley's comments said it all. "What's he gonna say? 'We're getting our ass kicked'?" Pretty much.

+ When Dirk hit that big three-pointer late in the third to bring the score to 63-68, I really thought Dallas would complete the comback and win. Nope.

+ Where was Brandon Bass in the fourth quarter? I think at that point you go with Kidd, Terry, Bass, Dirk and Dampier. Kidd runs the offense. Dirk and JET score. Bass and Dampier clean up the boards. I don't know why Bass wasn't on the court, but I know he could have helped.

+ Josh Howard, your career is in trouble. In the immediate aftermath of all this pot-talk, you play a horrible playoff game. Where there's smoke, there's fire, and J-Ho now finds himself facing some serious heat for his low scoring and high times. Don't worry, Josh. The offseason is one game closer after tonight, so get ready to light 'em up.

+ Things don't look good for Avery. He could do no wrong when he took this team to the finals and finished that up with a 67-win season. But since the franchise-destroying loss in Game 1 to the Golden State Warriors in Dallas, this entire organization transformed and is worse off as a result.

+ Stat sheet scares...

Just glancing at the box score from Game 4, there are a few things that are just plain horrendous if you're a Mavs fan - or even just a random basketball fan who has any functioning brain activity.

+ J.J. Barea (8 pts) outscored the following Mavericks: Josh Howard (6 pts), Erick Dampier (4 pts), Jason Kidd (3 pts), Devean George (4 pts), Jerry Stackhouse (2 pts), and Eddie Jones (3 pts). I realize they were all in garbage time after Kidd had been ejected, but come on, that's just horrible. Nothing against Barea, but if he's outscoring three starters and several role players - garbage time or not - the Mavs have bigger problems than the New Orleans Hornets.

+ Josh Howard's line: 32 min, 3-16 FG, 6 pts, 7 reb, 1 ast, 1 stl, 1 blk. Yuck.

+ Jason Kidd's line: 1-6 FG. Everyone said when the trade happened that Kidd wasn't much of a shooter, but he would come through when it mattered. It mattered Sunday. Kidd's best shot was the one he took at Jannero Pargo's head.

+ Mavericks in double-figures: Dirk (22), Jet (20) and Brandon Bass (12). Hornets in double-figures: Peja Stojakovic (19), David West (24), Morris Peterson (10), Chris Paul (16), Jannero Pargo (11), and Julian Wright (11). We're a long way from the run-and-gun days of Nellie-ball. I realize that those Mavs couldn't defend, but if these guys now don't defend anyway, Dallas might as well play a Suns '05/Mavs '03 style of basketball and light up the score board. I realize that doesn't win titles, but neither will Mavs '08.

+ Mavs shot 36% from the field. The Hornets: 50%. There's your ballgame.

The series is heading back to New Orleans. Game 5 is Tuesday and the Hornets can finish off the Mavs season in just 48 more minutes. I wonder if these guys have anything left.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The errors of their ways

Against my better judgment, I went to Rangers Ballpark to catch a baseball game.  The Rangers produced plenty of fielding blow ups on fireworks night.  Three (scored) errors for the Rangers tonight in their 12-6 loss to the Twins (box score).  And there could have been plenty more had the official scorer been so inclined.

I understand that Rangers Manager Ron Washington is not the one misplaying ground balls and letting balls bounce off his glove.  And while so many seem to be calling for Washington's head, I wonder what else could any manager do to curtail so many mistakes.  It doesn't help Washington's case that his whole mantra is preaching fundamentals - which seems to be the Rangers weakness.

By the way, when your team's weakness can best be described as "the fundamentals," you've got some serious problems to address.  Speaking of those problems, let's take a look at tonight's:

Top 3:

Twins CF Craig Monroe drives the ball into left field.  Rangers LF Frank Catalanotto runs for the ball, stretches out his glove, and, he, *missed it!*  The ball went off his glove, scoring Delmon Young and advancing Mike Lamb to third.  Lamb scored on a passed ball two batters later, however each of the next three batters were retired.  Had Lamb been on second when the passed ball occurred, he would have merely advanced to second and would not have crossed the plate in that inning.  The play was originally ruled an error on Catalanotto.
(Could-be/Should-be ERROR)

Top 6:

Catalanato's error morphed into a hit when a similarly hit ball (by Twins 2B Brendan Harris) going the other way skipped of the glove of RF David Murphy in the top of the 6th.  At that point, rather than having two errors on the board, both plays were ruled hits for the Twins.
(Could-be/Should-be ERROR)

Twins C Joe Mauer grounded a ball back to Rangers SP Sidney Ponson, who fielded the ball and looked to throw to 3rd to cut off Harris (who - again - was only at second thanks to a should-have-could-have-been caught fly ball to right field).  Ponson tried to lead 3B Ramon Vasquez into the base path with his throw in order to get Vasquez in better position to tag out Harris.  Vasquez started backing up toward the bag.  The ball went into foul territory, scoring Harris and allowing Mauer to end up on second base instead of simply stumbling to first on a fielder choice.  ERROR.

(Btw, still in the Top 6)

Twins RF Michael Cuddyer batting.  Grounds to third where Vasquez boots the ball, and Cuddyer arrives safely at first.  That should have been Out #2 of the inning.  Instead, ERROR! Had that been the case, the Rangers would have saved themselves two additional runs.  Up next, Jason Kubel's single to RF drove in Mauer from second, who was only on second because of Ponson threw the ball at an usher sitting in the corner.  Mike Lamb popped up to LF, which would have been Out #3, ending the inning.  Because of Vasquez's error - meaning the Twins had only one out - Lamb's fly ball to LF turned into a Sac Fly, scoring Cuddyer from third.

Top 8:

First batter of the inning, Twins SS Matt Tolbert grounds to short.  Thank goodness.  At least SS Michael Young can thr- D'OH!  Young can't cleanly field the grounder, and Tolbert reaches on the E6.  ERROR!  Tolbert steals 2B, a sac-bunt from Harris gets Tolbert to 3B.  He scores on Joe Mauer's single to LF, kicking off the dagger 4-run inning.

As I said, tonight I went to the ballpark.  ERROR!

Mavs minutes matter

One thing that caught my eye before the Mavericks began their first-round playoff series was the time off between games.  This year a few of the NBA first-round series are giving the teams two days off between some games instead of playing every other day as in years past.  It was nice to see Avery Johnson exploit that schedule in last night's game.

Four of the five Dallas starters played more than 40 minutes, maxing out the best players on the Mavericks' roster to get the 97-87 win in Game 3 (recap, box score).  Josh Howard, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd may have been gassed as they headed to the locker room after the final buzzer, but Johnson must realize it was worth it to get the win.

Mavericks Minutes - Game 3
Josh Howard ... 43:10
Dirk Nowitzki ... 43:37
Erick Dampier ... 25:00
Jason Terry ... 40:24
Jason Kidd ... 41:06

Jerry Stackhouse ... 7:18
Brandon Bass ... 24:13
Malik Allen ... 3:10
Devean George ... 12:02
JJ Barea ... DNP (Coach's Decision)
Juwan Howard ... DNP (Coach's Decision)
Eddie Jones ... DNP (Coach's Decision)

Furthermore, keeping the likes of Eddie Jones and Juwan Howard on the bench as well as limiting the minutes of Malik Allen made a significant impact.  The more court time those guys see, the more the Mavs will suffer.  I wasn't thrilled seeing Devean George get 12 minutes, but considering how off Jerry Stackhouse has been, George's minutes were a necessary evil.

True George hit a big 3-pointer last night, which was great, but I'm more concerned about Stack's absence. Where has he been? I'm not expecting 15 or even 20 points out of the aging vet. I would, however, like him to register a single positive stat (0-2, 0 points, 0 rebs, 0 stls, 0 blks).

Brandon Bass is the only bench player for the Mavs to make a meaningful contribution - which will be the case if Terry starts.  As long as Johnson continues to get the most out of his starters, the Mavericks can get back into this series and make a run at the next round.

VOW: Cowboys-Bills MNF '07

Cowboys Fans Feel-Good
Whenever I watch this, I am always catapulted into a great mood. If you're a Cowboys fans with nine minutes to spare, watching the final 20 seconds of the MNF game in Buffalo will make you scream out "HOW BOUT THEM COWBOYS!"

Friday, April 25, 2008

Great night for North Texas sports!

What an unbelievable night for the Dallas-area sports franchises.

First, the Dallas Mavericks got back into the first-round playoff series against the Hornets with a 97-87 win.  The Mavs were flying high over the Hornets.

Then the Rangers, who had trailed the Twins 5-0, rallied to tie the game at 5-5.  Texas went on to win in the bottom of the 10th inning and proceeded to celebrate as if they'd clinched a playoff berth.  Either way, it was great to see the Rangers snap their 7-game skid.

Finally, the Stars were in San Jose kicking off their second-round playoff series (their first in five years).  After the Sharks drew even at 2-2 with only minutes left in the third period, Dallas' captain Brenden Morrow scored an overtime goal for the 3-2 OT win!

What a nice night in Dallas sports.  To make the weekend even better, the Cowboys have two 1st round draft picks tomorrow. (And a reported trade tonight gave the 'Boys an additional fourth round pick.)

Amazing night! ... I need sleep.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Rangers 6, Tigers 9 - I mean 19

Last night started off great. The Rangers got up 5-0 and all seemed well, until our starting pitcher couldn't get out of the SECOND inning, and we went on to give up 19 runs. At least, that's what I heard. I stopped watching in the early part of the sixth inning - before they gave up all ELEVEN runs. This team makes my baseball head hurt.

I've been to a couple of Rangers games this year already, but I think that's gonna be all for me. It's a much shorter and much more rewarding drive to Frisco to see the RoughRiders play. Elvis Andrus is awesome to watch. Monday night, I saw him and Adam Fox turn at least four double-plays. The only downside to the RoughRiders is the nagging knowledge in the back of my mind that all these guys will end up playing for a big league team that isn't the Rangers.

Each year, we're told wait until the next year. And when next year comes, it's "wait til next year" all over again. Frankly, I'm sick of waiting. It's not that I expect the Rangers to win the World Series, make an ALCS or even win the division. I just want them to be semi-competitive.

I don't consider myself a fair-weather fan. I supported the Mavericks going to games when they were winning 11 and 13 games in consecutive years. The payoff for that suffering has been eight consecutive 50-win seasons and a trip to the NBA Finals. While my expectations for the Mavs have risen a great deal since those days in the 1990s, I can at least still appreciate that they are competing in the Western Conference.

The Rangers, they don't compete. They are the cure whatever ails other American League teams. Detroit was looking terrible. Enter the Texas Rangers. 19 runs later, Detroit didn't look so bad.

In the last 8 seasons, Texas has finished above .500 only once.

Am I a bad fan for being so sick of this team? I'd like to think it's reasonable to ask that this team not be a laughing stock every year.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Mavs fan with a broken heart

Dear friends,

Please, I need a shoulder to cry on.  Someone hug me.  I need someone to wrap their arms around me and whisper into my ear that everything will be okay.  I need someone to wipe my tears away.  There are no reasons for me to smile.  My umbrella blew away and a rain cloud is perpetually following me around.  Depression has set in.


Joshua F.

**NOTE: I'm not suicidal; I'm simply a Dallas Mavericks fans.  And tonight, I'm hurting.

I realize that a seven-game series does not really get started until a road team wins, and I've subscribed to that theory for years.  But by that logic this year, the first round playoff series between the Mavericks and Hornets appears to be over before it ever really gets started.

The Mavericks 103-127 loss in New Orleans tonight hurt to watch.  I love the Mavericks.  I've been going to games and cheering for this team when they won 11 and 13 games in consecutive seasons.  But these aren't the 1990s Dallas Mavericks.  There are expectations - not even championship expectations at this point - that are not only not being met, but the team isn't coming close to them.  

As I said, I love the Mavericks; I'll be at Game 3 wearing my blue and cheering my ass off for this team until the final buzzer.  But watching the game tonight, I couldn't help but think back to the 2006 NBA Finals and wonder if that was it.  Was that the window of opportunity for the Dallas Mavericks?  Has it officially closed?  Will they ever get back?

A trip to the finals is not guaranteed for any franchise in any sport, and it's impossible to tell whenever a team will get back.

Since the 2006 Finals, I've tried to be positive.  I haven't thought Avery Johnson needed to be replaced as head coach.  I haven't gone around and said Dirk isn't the answer.  And it's only now - now that the Mavericks are down 0-2 after a pair of very discouraging and disappointing games in New Orleans - that the doubt has crept in.

There are no more officials to blame for mystery fouls of Dwayne Wade (which, by the way, two of the more crucial calls in the 2006 Finals were made by former NBA referee Tim Donoghy, who is now in trouble for fixing games).  There is no more excuse of "they were tired after a 67-win season."  There are no more excuses.

Tonight the Mavs lost to a better team who wanted it more.  A lot more.  The Hornets seemed to care.  The Mavericks didn't.

When Devean George put of a crap 3-pointer after checking into the game just moments before, I think I died a little bit inside.

Now all of this might be irrelevant after two quick Mavericks wins at the American Airlines Center, once again proving the theory that a seven-game series is not officially underway until a road team wins a game.  But the frustration and negative emotion I'm feeling tonight is a direct result of the disappointing performances Dallas has shown in the first two games of the 2008 post season.

I hope they turn it around.  I want them to turn it around.  And part of me will be shocked if they do turn it around.  But as a fan, there is always hope.  Sadly, however, hope is just not a strategy that typically works in the playoffs.

Friday night is Game 3 in Dallas.  The Mavs can put all this negativity behind them with a win at home in three days.  It's easy to do.  Just win at home.  Protect the American Airlines Center.  Defend the home court.  If Dallas does that, they can steal moment have a chance to win this series.

The Mavs are the lower-seeded team.  The Hornets earned home-court and the right to open at home.  They have taken full advantage of home court.  If Dallas can do the same, then this series will not be the beginning of the end of the Mavericks as we know them today.  That's all it takes.  Win at home.

Win at home.

Please, please, Dallas Mavericks, just please win at home.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Response to criticism for Dirk/West incident

It's been a few days since Game 1 of the Mavs/Hornets first round playoff series, and I'm sick of the so-called sports experts on TNT, ESPN, etc saying that Dirk demonstrated a lack of toughness when he "just stood there" and let David West slap him in the face.

To the moron's claiming Dirk demonstrated a lack of toughness by not "doing something about it" and just "taking it" (I'm taking to you, Kenny Smith, Jim Rome, Charles Barkley, and countless others), I wonder what exactly Dirk was supposed to do?

THIS VIDEO demonstrates just how ridiculous some of these NBA analysts are.  If Dirk did "pimp slap him witta backhand" as this WANNABE GHETTO-FABULOUS TAG-ALONG from the Showtime Lakers says Dirk should have, it would have been a suspension, which this dumbass even eludes to!  Michael Cooper - the commentator - says Dirk should have "pimp-slapped him and pimp-slapped him hard" despite the fact that it would have probably caused, as he points out, "a game mob."  How does Dirk starting a fight between these two teams help the Mavs?  How is that showing toughness at all?  Michael Cooper, you are a moron.  I hope someone "pimp-slaps you witta backhand" in the hopes they knock some sense into you!

Quick question: Who is more valuable to their team: Dirk Nowitzki or David West?
Answer: Dirk Nowitzki -- by a long shot

So if Dirk "gets tough" and shoves West back, or swats his hand out of the way, or punches him in the face, or spits on him, or whatever else these bone-headed pundits think he should have done, Dirk would have been suspended for at least the second game of the series - perhaps even more.  Do yall remember what Dallas looked like when Dirk was injured for a few games?  It wasn't pretty.  What about when he was suspended for one game earlier in the year for a hard foul on Utah's Andre Kirilenko?  Dallas got stomped the next night by the Houston Rockets.

Without Dirk, the Mavs are not in the playoffs.  And if he's suspended, Dallas might as well not even take the court because they won't win, and it won't be close.

So if Dirk had gone Kermit Washington on David West and flattened him to the deck -- which would have been pretty cool -- then he would have been easily tossed, definitely costing Dallas game 2, and most likely costing them the series.

In the 2006 conference semi-finals, Jason Terry received a one-game suspension for punching Michael Finley during game 5 in San Antonio.  The result: Terry missed game 6, and San Antonio beat the Mavericks in Dallas to force game 7 at AT&T Center (if not for Ginobili's foul on Dirk to force game 7 into overtime, Terry is the goat for taking a stupid suspension and blowing Dallas' chance to win the series at home in game 6).

But if Dirk did stand up for himself and demonstrate this so-called toughness by turning West into Rudy Tomjanovich, people wouldn't be calling him tough.  They'd call him a cheap-shot punching goon who should be suspended for not only the rest of the (what would become a very short) post-season, but probably a few games into the 2008-09 campaign.

Dirk not slugging West was the smart thing to do.  Keep your cool.  Keep your composure.  Keep yourself eligible to play in the series.  The Mavs lost a game to the Lakers this year when Josh Howard took a stupid technical foul by throwing off his headband.  The Lakers won by four, and the technical foul shot cost Dallas a chance for a tying 3-point attempt at the game's end.  Why would Dirk want to make a similar mistake now when the playoffs are underway?  It makes no sense.

If anything, the referees blew it by not giving West a technical foul for tapping Dirk's face.  West needs to realize that Dirk is currently one of the game's greatest players.  West is a footnote next to an MVP-candidate.  Let's not confuse the two.  Dirk is the reigning NBA MVP.  West isn't the best player on his own team.

We'll find out in game two with Dirk's performance if he truly is "responding" to the incident by how tough he plays.  Until that time, get off this kick that he should have done something about it.  By walking away, he is giving his team the best chance to win -- as a true leader should do.

Duck Season over: Stars advance to Round 2

The Stars are in the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2003, and oh, does it feel so good! While losing game five hurt, being able to close out the series on home ice became a rewarding bonus for the team and its fans.

courtesy of

A few thoughts on the game:

+ Interesting stat the Dallas Morning News had: this is the first time the Stars closed out a series on home ice since beating the Colorado Avalanche in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals at Reunion Arena. This was the first ever series clinched by the Stars at the AAC (which opened in 2001, *cough* *cough*).

+ Stephane Robidas = good. Stephane Robidas + broken nose = great. Has anyone else almost forgotten about Zubov and Boucher? Okay, okay, not forgotten, but the way the defensemen have been playing, the future of the franchise looks brighter with each game. If Zubov and Boucher - or perhaps even if just one of them - can make it back for any part of this postseason, the emotional boost and the talent boost could prove a deadly combination for any Stars opponent.

+ Marty Turco : clutch. Dallas trailed 1-0 until finally getting on the board in the third period. Turco not only limited the Ducks offense to one goal one several quality scoring chances early in the game, but when the Stars snatched two quick goals on the other end, Turco dug in and held the one-goal lead when it mattered most. Turco out-dueled JS Giguere in this series - which is not something many goalies can say. If he keeps this up, the Stars have potential to continue advancing.

+ In playoff hockey, the best team doesn't always win; the hottest team does (see Anaheim then-Mighty Ducks, 2003). The Stars are hot.

+ Third period scoring for Dallas has been amazing this series. The Stars scored 12 3rd-period goals this series compared to only four from the Ducks. In fact, the Stars 3rd-period goals was nearly as many goals the Ducks had for the entire series (13).

+ Dallas averaged 3.33 goals/game this series, scoring three or more goals in all but two games. Early this season, there were concerns this team couldn't score enough to compete. If you average more than three goals per game, and if Turco continues to play how he has so far in the playoffs, we could be in for more than just two more weeks of hockey.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Mavs/Hornets Game 1 thoughts

Some quick thoughts on the Mavericks/Hornets Game 1 of their first round playoff series:

Very frustrating Mavs loss, especially after such a nice first half. Did Dallas think that just because they beat the Hornets Wednesday when New Orleans had relatively little to play for that they could just take the second half off?

I don't think it's time to be calling for Avery's head (yet), and the concept of trading Dirk is idiotic (because you never get equal value when trading a superstar). But the supporting cast has to show up. Period.

This Hornets team struggles when they get in foul trouble because of their lack of depth, thus the Mavs should be driving the ball every chance they get. Just look at the damage the Mavs did Wednesday when the Hornets got in foul trouble. It's tough to draw fouls when you're shooting (and missing) 18-20 ft jump shots.

More aggressive in Game 2, and Dallas can split in N.O. - which is really all that's necessary.

For the Mavericks to win this series, they cannot do it on talent alone. They are going to have to play smarter than the Hornets (and all the Mavs fans mumbled collectively "CRAP!"). That means a few things:

1. No technical fouls (that means you, Josh Howard).  Tempers will get hot throughout a seven game series, but the team that wins will not let their emotions overtake them in crucial points of the game.

2. No dumb turnovers (ie, shot clock expiring as if out of nowhere).  If Jason Kidd makes an aggressive pass into the lane for a waiting Dampier and David West reaches in to break it up, that's fine.  But if the buzzer sounds on the shot clock, please don't look surprised.

3. Put pressure on the Hornets bench.  Drive to the basket to get the New Orleans bigs in early foul trouble.  The Mavs made their comeback run in Wednesday's regular-season finale when a lot of the New Orleans starters were on the bench in foul trouble.  The easiest way to make that happen again is by driving to the basket.  No one gets fouled shooting a fall-away three pointer.

4. Take high-percentage shots.  You'd think this would be obvious, but the Mavs made only nine - NINE! - field goals in the second half.  They shot 33.3% from the field on the night.  Perhaps some credit is due to the Hornets' defense, but a lot of the troubles stem from extremely poor shot selection.

A lot of this falls on Avery to reinforce, but some of it should not have to be reinforced.  Avery isn't the one not watching the shot clock or drawing up plays for bad shots.  The responsibility falls on the men on the court.  They need to play smarter the rest of this series.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

PODCAST: Stars return home for Game 6

Dallas Stars returning home for Game 6

Great Barkley quote on Gasol

The following is from Barry Horn's column in today's Dallas Morning News:
    The final word goes to TNT's Charles Barkley, who pontificated on the Lakers' acquisition of Pau Gasol from the Grizzlies: "Remember when we stole everything from the Indians? That's what it was like when the Lakers got Gasol for nobody."
I love Charles Barkley's analysis. He truly tells it like it is and doesn't care what others think. He is by far the most entertaining broadcaster, and he does a great job of breaking things down to the lower common denominator so even the most casual basketball fan can relate to the action. Barkley is the one of the reasons I'm excited for the Mavericks to have several games on TNT in the first round.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Game 5 post-game notes

A few quick thoughts on Game 5, and then I need some sleep (stupid late-starting West Coast games).
  • Can't blame Marty Turco for this loss.  He was solid in net despite a 5-2 score.  One of those goals was an empty-netter, one found the net during a 5-on-3, and another snuck through more traffic than a motorcycle on The 5 in Anaheim.  In the other net, Giguere played his best game of the series when he needed to the most.  The Ducks had their backs against the wall, and they put plent of shots on goal, pushing Turco to his limits.  If I'm a Stars fan, I'm not thrilled with Turco's performance, but I'm not bothered by it either.

  • The lower-seeded teams in a seven-game series typically win it in Game 6, when they are back at their home arena.  The idea that the Stars would win this series in 5 was out there - to say the least - going into this series.  Dallas has a chance to close out the series at the AAC Sunday night at 8pm, a much friendlier environment than Honda Center.

  • Where'd the power-play go?In the first three games of the series, Dallas scored eight power-play goals in 20 chances.  Since then, the power-play became a sour-play, with the Stars going 0-for-11 in game 4 & 5.  Dallas found ways to score in the last two games, but they need to take advantage of having an extra man.

  • Desperation settled in for Anaheim.  The defending Stanley Cup champions know how to deal with urgency (see: 2007 playoffs and the resulting title), so it's not a total shocker they came out strong with their backs against the wall.  Dallas still holds a 3-2 series lead with a chance to close things out at home.  Despite the Duck-desperation, if you're a lower-seeded team in the playoffs, all you really want is a 3-2 series lead going into Game 6 on your home floor.  If you get to that point, you have more than solid chance to advance to the next round.

Stars/Ducks series highlights

Game 1
Dallas Stars @ Anaheim Ducks - April 10, 2008
Stars win, 4-0

Game 2
Dallas Stars @ Anaheim Ducks - April 12, 2008
Stars win, 5-2

Game 3
Anaheim Ducks @ Dallas Stars - April 15, 2008
Ducks win, 4-2

Game 4
Anaheim Ducks @ Dallas Stars - April 17, 2008
Stars win, 3-1

Mavs/Hornets Picks

The Mavs open the post season in New Orleans tomorrow night as the clear-cut underdog in a series for the first time in several years. Or at least, that's what I thought.

But looking over some of the experts picks from some national outlets, perhaps these "experts" forgot which team was seeded where. The Hornets are the 2-seed, and they've been at or near the top of the Western Conference for the majority of the season. The Mavericks have struggled during the 2008 campaign, spending time in both first place and flirting with missing the playoffs. Dallas locked into the 7-seed when they beat the Hornets on Wednesday night.

Perhaps that win led to a lot of the expert picks for this series, or maybe it's the lack of post-season experience of the Hornets, or maybe this whole Jason Kidd thing is finally clicking. Whatever it is, here are some of the national picks for this series: Expert Picks:
  • J.A. Adande ... MAVERICKS (in 6)
  • Chris Broussard ... MAVERICKS (in 7)
  • Chad Ford ... HORNETS (in 7)
  • John Hollinger ... HORNETS (in 7)
  • Marc Stein ... MAVERICKS (in 6)
  • David Thorpe ... MAVERICKS (in 7)
Two-thirds of the experts are picking the Mavericks, and two are saying they'll win in a Game 7 which would take place in New Orleans. It's no easy task to win Game 7 on someone else's home court. So I went to another source to see what their experts thought. Expert Picks
  • Greg Bromberg ... HORNETS (in 6)
  • Lyle Crouse ... HORNETS (in 7)
  • Sergio Gonzalez ... HORNETS (in 6)
  • Jamey Elsenberg ... MAVERICKS (in 7)
  • Aaron Weisberg ... HORNETS (in 7)
This seemed a little more like what the national perspective of this first-round series should be. The Mavericks aren't a top-seed. They aren't even a mid-level seed. They are essentially second-to-last in the Western Conference playoffs. That being said, Dallas finished only five games behind New Orleans for the season. Usually there is a much greater discrepancy of team records in a 2-7 series. Not in this year's West. Not be a long shot. Sports
USA Today
Fox Sports
AOL Sports
So while the Mavericks might be underdogs going into this series, there is a strong feeling that Dallas' experience and their overall desire to redeem themselves for last season's debacle will get them over the hump in this series.  A frightening number of experts are picking Dallas to win the series in seven games.  The Mavs' most recent Game 7 win on an opponent's floor came in the 2006 conference semi-finals in San Antonio.  Manu Ginobili fouled Dirk Nowitzki with mere seconds to go, sending Dirk to the line to sink a free throw to send the game into overtime.  Dallas stole the momentum and the series.

Of these national experts that I've been able to find, seven are picking New Orleans while eight are picking Dallas.  Despite having an MVP-candidate and a very strong team, the Hornets' lack of post-season experience is the reason some say they won't make a strong playoff run.  Others say it won't be a problem.  And while experience can be overrated, Dallas has a dearth of it that can't be counted out.

Only one thing is certain: when this series tips off tomorrow night, it'll be fun to watch.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Power to overcome

The Dallas Stars are one game away from the second round of the playoffs.  Up 3-1 on the defending Stanley Cup champions, the series returns to Anaheim tomorrow night for Game 5.  After a fart-and-fall-down performance in the first two periods of Game 3, Dallas picked up right where they left off in their strong third period.

Dallas defeated the Ducks tonight 3-1, with Anaheim's only goal coming with a meaningless 7.6 seconds left in the game.  The Ducks hit the Stars early and often, and the Stars simply seemed to shrug them off, accept the punishment, then rebound to burry the puck.

I do worry that the very physical play of the Ducks could hurt the Stars in the long run; the long-run being the rest of this opening-round series, or the rest of their playoff run - however long it may be.  It's a good thing Dallas is up 3-1 in this series, because they are being dealt so much punishment along the boards, I'm concerned about their ability to continue to shrug off these hits.

As long as the Stars are willing to absorb these hits and pass the puck up to neutralize the Ducks' forecheck, Dallas will continue to find the success they've had all series long.  In the next rounds, providing they finish this series off, it will be interesting to see how much pain they can absorb.  The Stars don't have the type of "enforcers" that patrolled the rink when they won the Cup in '99.  The Hatcher-Matvichuck type of defensemen no longer reside in Dallas.  The Stars are succeeding with younger, faster defensemen (more because they've had to as a result of injuries) instead of big bruisers.

If Dallas continues to fight through the big hits, they can enjoy a long playoff run.  If not, they could find themselves at home sooner than expected.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mavs wrap regular season

Great win tonight by the Mavericks.  Great, great win.  They faced a tough opponent and were down by double-digits on multiple occasions.  Each time the Mavs rushed back to capture the lead and eventually the W over their will-be playoff opponent, the New Orleans Hornets.

The energy at the AAC tonight reached levels last seen during the 2006 playoffs when Dallas made its NBA Finals run.  I've been going to several Mavs games this season, and the fans did a great job of supporting the team tonight.  Too often do the Johnny-come-lately Dallas Mavs take the heat for not making the AAC a tough place to play, but tonight the sixth man came through.

Actually, it was the eighth man into the game for Dallas that fueled the fire...

  • Jason Terry came off the bench after Eddie Jones and Brandon Bass entered the game.  JET wasted little time getting going.  Mavs fans say, "JET is on the runway."  After tonight, JET is soaring.  He dropped 30 points (one shy of his season high) on the Hornets, connecting on 50% of his 3-pointers, and energizing the fans with timely buckets.  Terry has been up and down during the 2007-08 season, but if he's at one of these peaks (instead of one of his valley's), the Mavericks are a dangerous team.  Dirk has to be respected as a great shooter.  If Terry is also on, an opposing defense gets stretched mighty thin.

But if a hot-shooting Terry will stretch the floor, Dirk needs to get back to his top-tier form...

  • With three minutes and change left in tonight's game, Dirk had nine (not nineteen, not twenty-nine - just nine) points.  He finished 4-for-16 with 12 points.  That's 25% shooting.  Either Dirk is still is a great deal of pain from the ankle injury he suffered a few weeks back against San Antonio on Easter, or he had an off night.  Mavs fans should pray it's the latter.  If Dirk is still recovering - which I believe to some extent he is - then time is up on how long he has to get back to 100%.  The playoffs begin now.  NOW!  Readysetgo!  So while he's still a little sore, Nowitzki has to fight through it now.  No more waiting.  The positive aspect of tonight's game: the Mavs won - and won BIG - without a big performance from the Big German.  If Dirk hadn't been injured and was at 100% going into this series, I'd pick the Mavs in 6. No question.  With Dirk hurt, it's going to be a much playoff first-round match-up for Dallas.

Speaking of recovering from injuries, it was good to see Jerry Stackhouse get back into things...

  • Stack had been out for a few weeks, and while he only played 16 minutes scoring 4 points, his return still gives Dallas a boost heading into the first round of the playoffs.  While he didn't pour in the points, when Terry goes for 30, Stack doesn't need to.  Getting some early court-time gave Stack a chance to get his legs back under him and see some game action.  Now he's not going into the first round of the playoffs cold.  Good to see him back.  He's by far the best singer of the Star Spangled Banner on the entire Mavericks roster.

Jason Kidd gave the fans a reason to sing his name when he grabbed rebound number 10 on the night... 

  • Kidd recorded his 100th career triple-double tonight with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.  It's his first trip-dub since returning to the Mavericks in February.  The surprising stat from Kidd tonight has to be the 27 points.  Yes, Dirk was off so J-Kidd needed to step up, but if Kidd is scoring more than 20 points, the Mavericks are going to win.  It's that simple.  He is not the go-to shooter for the Mavs.  He's not their second option (Josh Howard) or their third option (JET/Stack).  But Kidd was there there behind the arc knocking down triples and driving to the basket for lay-ups.  When Kidd gets his, he rallies the Mavs because he signifies the "win-now" attitude this team grew into.  The trade for #2 meant Dallas wanted to charge hard for a shot at getting back to the finals, and they wanted to do it now.  Kidd scoring, dishing, boarding, stealing... when he's on, it validates the trade and give Dallas life.

It also didn't hurt tonight that MVP-candidate Chris Paul picked up his fifth foul right before Dallas went on their monstrous second-half run to take the lead for good...

  • Chris Paul, or CP3, or C3PO is a great player.  He made some amazing shots tonight and put the Hornets in a position to win.  At least, until he got in foul trouble.  Mavs fans shouldn't count on him being on the bench during some crucial minutes because he's picked up some careless fouls when the playoffs come around.  It was a nice bonus tonight for Dallas, but Paul will be on the court down the stretch over the next two weeks.  It's clear why he's an MVP candidate.  

Speaking of MVP candidates, things could have been much worse for the Mavs had they dropped tonight's game...

  • The Los Angels Lakers, and their other-worldly assassin of a shooter Kobe Bryant, locked up the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs.  Avoiding LA as long as possible is the best chance for Western Conference teams to advance.  I don't know if LA will get out of the West and into the finals (perhaps an old-school LAL-BOS final?  Anyone?), but Dallas is fortunate they open in New Orleans instead of at Staples Center.  Plain and simple: Kobe kills Dallas.  He has for years.  He has post-Shaq.  If Dirk isn't 100%, Dallas's odd versus LAL aren't nearly what they need to be to pull the upset.  Kobe will be the 2008 MVP, and his team will be playing well into May.  Best advice for Dallas: stay out of their way as long as possible.

In the meantime, Dallas and Mavs fans can relax and get ready for the playoffs.  The team needs to prepare for a young and gritty New Orleans Hornets team that what they lack in post-season experience, they make up for with spunk (sort of like the 2001 Mavericks).  The MFFL must mentally prepare themselves for the fact that Dallas is not the "top dog" of the West this year.  Actually, they're second-to-last among playoff teams.  As the seventh seed, in order to pull the upset, the crowd will need to make American Airlines Center a difficult place to play for the Hornets.  New Orleans has never won at the Double-A C (which opened in 2001).  If that trend continues, the Mavs task can be simplified into two words: steal one.  Steal one.  If Dallas steals one game at New Orleans, they can win this series and advance.

Considering some local sports pundits were looking for a lottery pick mere weeks ago, advancing to the second round (regardless of what happens after that) would be a huge boost to the Mavs team for next season.  They are built to win soon, not long-term.  Getting the seventh seed is already a "win" for this team compared to how they played early on in the Kidd 2.0 era.  Now it's time to prove to the rest of the league - and in all honesty to themselves - that the Mavericks belong in the conversation as a championship-caliber team.

Let the (playoff) games begin!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

3rd period may have saved series

Tonight's loss could have stung a lot worse for the Stars.  While a two-goal third period could not salvage Game 3, it may have just saved the series.

When Brenden Morrow scored his second goal of the third period to bring the score to the eventual final of 4-2, the Dallas crowd powered up.  The Stars became more aggressive along with their more realistic chance to complete a comeback.  While the four-goal comeback fell short, the surge sent a message to the Anaheim Ducks:

The Stars will not be rolling over.

Dallas still holds a 2-1 series lead.  A loss tonight is not a catastrophe thanks to sweeping the opening two games at Honda Center.  But had tonight's loss been by the demoralizing score of 4-0, I think the mentality of the team would be at a much lower point going into Game 4.  Because the Stars made a late charge to bring the deficit to two, the Stars should gain some confident and momentum that will carry over from tonight's final period into the opening moment of Thursday's game.

When the puck drops in 45 hours, the Stars should come out strong.  The Ducks still have some momentum from winning Game 3, but when Anaheim called their timeout after Dallas pulled within two, it sent a message to not only the Stars but the crowd at the Double-A C.  The Ducks needed to find a band-aid to stop the third-period bleeding.  They found it when they killed a four-minute penalty late in the game, but the panicky timeout represented the fear Anaheim had of letting things get more out of control.

Come Thursday, we'll see who takes control by winning the game and going on to win this opening-round series.  The Game 4 winner will go on to take this series.  If the Ducks win, it's 2-2, and all the good work Dallas did by winning twice in Anaheim is ancient history.  A win for Dallas, and the Stars go up 3-1 with three chances to put away the Stanley Cup champions.

Go Stars!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Goodbye Gumbel

Bryant Gumbel's tenure in the booth at the NFL Network is over.  It's about time. It's so hard to listen to Gumbel calling NFL games the past two seasons.  It's bad enough he can't get players names right, and he doesn't have a strong concept of the game of football.

Gumbel no longer calling games for NFL Network is a good first step in improving the actual live game broadcast that NFL Network airs. This is truly a cause for celebration for football fans nationwide. I don't know of too many Cowboys fans who will miss hearing about our amazing young QB "Rick Romo."

Past posts about Gumbel's play-by-play for NFLN:

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Duck Hunt

After two games in Anaheim to open their first-round playoff series between the Dallas Stars and the Ducks, I'm not surprised to see a 2-0 series. I just had no idea it would be the Ducks now chasing the series.

Dallas has looked liked a team of Stars with goalie Marty Turco allowing only two goals in two games, including a shut out in Game 1 (his fourth in his last seven playoff games). The powerplay has been disgustingly successful (6-of-13) while the penalty kill has frustrated the Ducks (1-of-9).

While it might be a shock the Stars left Anaheim with a 2-0 series lead, this is a Stars team that has been trying to gel since making the deadline deal to bring Brad Richards to Dallas from Tampa Bay. Now the Stars seem to gellin' like a fellon who just stole two games that on paper they had no business winning.

The series moves to the American Airlines Center in Dallas this Tuesday with Dallas working on putting a big hurt on the Ducks. If Dallas can go up 3-0, they will have two chances (if necessary) to close out the series in Dallas. However, after how they've been playing in the first two games, maybe going for the series win in Anaheim would be better.

Will the Stars go all the way? Eh, there's not really a lot of evidence from the regular season that suggests they can. However if you ask that question and must answer based on what we've seen in two playoff games (an admittedly small sample size), then you have to like Dallas's chances for a deep playoff run.

Mavs losses cause for concern

With the Mavs loss tonight to the Seattle SuperSonics, they have now put themselves in the position where the Mavericks must beat the New Orleans Hornets to secure the seventh seed and avoid the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. And if the Mavs want to enjoy a long (or at least longer than last year) playoff run, avoid LAL in the first round will be key.

The loss to Portland on Saturday was discouraging, but the Seattle game placed the Mavericks in an emotion-filled arena much like the kind they'll find in the playoffs. The SuperSonics were playing what appears to be their final game in Seattle unless courts decide the owners cannot move the team to Oklahoma City just yet. As a result, the Key Arena crowd was juiced. They were pumped. Chants of "SAVE OUR SONICS! SAVE OUR SONICS!" echoed through the building. To honor their city and their fans, the SuperSonics put forth an extraordinary effort.

The Mavericks need to take notice. Those raucous arenas are going to become more of the norm than an abberation over the next few weeks. You think the New Orleans Hornets fans wouldn't have their fans ready to go for their first playoff series since the team moved to New Orleans from Charlotte? You think the Lakers fans at the Staples Center won't be pumped? Any chance the defending champion Spurs and their fans will be yawning over the opportunity to send home the Mavericks in the first round? Don't count on it.

The one positive to take away from the loss in Seattle:
  • I did like how Avery Johnson called a timeout with 1.4 seconds left after the Sonics hit a free throw to put the game out of reach. Despite being down four, Avery was drawing up a game-winning type of play the Mavericks will probably need for the post-season. While the timeout drew boos from a packed Key Arena and extended a game that was already decided, the timeout gave the Mavs a chance to get ready for high-pressure playoff scenarios. The last-second shot by Dirk hit the rim and missed, but he did get the shot off and wasn't too far off the mark. That's encouraging.

So now Dallas has one game left in the regular season, a regular season that only seven months ago people were calling insignificant. Remember the days of October/November when all the talk was about, "Well, once the Mavs get back to the playoffs, that's where we'll really be able to rate their season." I submit to you this season's ratings can be separated: regular and post seasons. I may not have made that argument back in the fall of 2007, but it's spring 2008, so all bets are off.

Dallas has a chance to upset a top-tier team in the playoffs. Actually, anyone in the Western Conference who registers a series win will have knocked off a top-tier team, a 50-win team at that. So while the Mavericks playoff success will - I believe - largely depend on who they face in the first round, their regular season success has come in spurts and therefore is difficult to measure.

If the Mavs get hot in the post-season, they are going to be a very difficult team to stop. Remember, Dirk and Co. are just two years removed from an NBA Finals appearance. On the other hand, when Dallas has been off this season, they have been way off. The playoffs will depend not only on which team shows up to face Dallas, but also on which Dallas team shows up to play. This team has been so up and down, they are difficult to truly guage. Before back-to-back loses in the Pacific Northwest, I thought this team was capable of advancing to the conference finals. After losing to the likes of Portland and Seattle, all that confidence evaporated as quickly as a 13-point lead with six minutes to play in the third game of an NBA Finals (not that I have a specific example in mind).

So as the Mavs close out their regular season Wednesday in what could be a playoff preview against the New Orleans Hornets, look for which Mavericks team is showing up. Are they going for the W in order to end the regular season on a high - something they failed to do last year before exiting in the first round? Or are the Mavericks on cruise control, going through the motions and waiting until it matters. I suggest it already matters. How will the Mavericks respond?

Hit Counter

Everyone's visiting the NO JOSHIN' blog. Tell your friends to take a look!
Hit Counter