Mavs crush the cute Cavs …
Avery Johnson said he could never remember being in Cleveland when it was this warm. And that was before his torrid-shooting team char-grilled the Cavaliers.
That heat wave on the shore of Lake Erie – more like a nice fall day, by the way – was nothing compared to the Mavericks' sizzling shooting in the season opener, which produced an even-easier-than-it-sounds 92-74 victory Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
It was the kind of night that left you convinced that these were impostors wearing Cleveland uniforms. They couldn't have possibly been the same team that went to the NBA Finals in June.
Then again, all the Mavericks did was dismantle the Cavaliers the same way the San Antonio Spurs did in the last meaningful games in this building.
The Mavericks shot 53 percent through three quarters, when they socked the game away.
"It's a start," said Eddie Jones, who teamed with Trenton Hassell and a strong helping defense to limit LeBron James to 10 points.
The 74 points were the lowest against the Mavericks in a season opener. Jason Terry, getting a running start with his campaign for sixth-man of the year, had 24 points off the bench, including six 3-pointers on eight tries.
A bad rebounding night was about the only negative on an evening that ensured there would be no 0-4 start for the Mavericks like there was last season.
"Defensively, we tried to get the ball out of [LeBron's] hands," Dirk Nowitzki said. "Obviously, it helps when you make a lot of shots. Jet was on fire. And everybody else spread the court. It was a great way to start, and now we move on."
The Mavericks were up by 25 midway through the third quarter, and the Cavaliers looked like they were dead. Turns out they were.
Lebron did not get going very well …
Perhaps James has had worse games, but it's hard to imagine a worse half of basketball than the first 24 minutes Wednesday night.
Jones and Hassell deserve at least some of the credit for James' no-point, three-foul, two-turnover half, when he went 0-for-4 from the field.
There also was some solid help defense against the King. It was arguably his worst game as a pro, although his lowest total is five points. The final line Wednesday: 10 points, 2-for-11 shooting, 6-for-10 from the free throw line.
He needed a garbage-time bucket to reach double figures and outscore DeSagana Diop by two points.
"Tonight, the most valuable players are Trenton Hassell and Eddie Jones," said Jason
Terry. "The way they defended LeBron James and made it tough on him, that's the reason why we brought them here."
The reason the Mavericks need them couldn't have been any clearer. They are defenders first.
"They were great," said Dirk Nowitzki, who along with Diop helped converge on James whenever he got past the primary defender. "We got them for perimeter defense. They don't care if they score or not. They're out there to make things hard for the best scorer on the other team."
James blamed his poor night on a combination of things, not the least of which was a sour shooting night.
"They doubled me for the most part, and I got on the post and tried to look for guys that were open," he said. "But I missed a lot of easy shots. We just have to knock those down."
The Mavs claim out on Kobe ….
Mercurial Mavericks owner Mark Cuban says you can count out Dallas in the Kobe Bryant sweepstakes.
During Wednesday night's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Cuban said that the team is not pursuing a trade for the Los Angeles Lakers star.
"We haven't talked to them," Cuban told ESPN's Lisa Salters during a sideline interview. "It's not going to happen. We've got a great squad. We like it."
Cuban was asked if the team has any interest at all in Bryant.
"We're always looking for bargains, but I don't think they're going to give us any bargains," he said.
According to ESPN's Ric Bucher the Lakers are now actively looking to move the nine-time All-Star. Bryant criticized the Lakers' front office and then demanded a trade five months ago. This offseason, the two sides appeared to bury the hatchet, but Lakers owner Jerry Buss recently said that the team would listen to offers for Bryant and tensions increased.
Sources told Bucher on Wednesday that the Lakers had been in talks this week with the Chicago Bulls and Sacramento Kings about a possible three-way deal. The Lakers would have acquired Ron Artest and Ben Wallace. The Kings would have gotten Ben Gordon and P.J. Brown. And Bryant would have landed in Chicago.
That deal is apparently now dead.
Today’s “Don’t read this if you cannot take Mavs hating” column From the always popular Sam Smith …
Since 1989, no team that has lost in the NBA Finals has won a championship the next season. Ever. And those teams didn't go through what the Mavs did, adding to it the ultimate indignity of losing to a 42-40 team barely eligible for the playoffs in the opening playoff round. And not on a lucky shot or injury. The Mavs were healthy and vastly outplayed.
The only reason I don't completely dismiss the Mavs as a team with a terminal tick, sort of a dribbling twitch when basketball is mentioned, is coach Avery Johnson.
The truth is the Mavs had no business being the best team in the league — in the regular season — the last two years.
It was because of depth and hustle, Johnson demanding defense and effort constantly.
It should have worked, though part of the problem is Nowitzki.
It is a reasonable formula for success: Defend, hustle, overwhelm opponents with depth, waves of players flying off the bench, and then one go-to guy to carry you through the tough spots.
Though Nowitzki was the MVP and is a terrific player, he's not that kind of player, as primarily a jump shooter, to dominate defenses for a stretch. He's been nullified often in playoff situations by smaller players because he doesn't use his size enough for mismatches at the basket. He does appear to be trying out some post moves this season, but we'll see what happens when he's under pressure. Though it's hardly fair to blame it on Nowitzki because he's by far the best player on the team.
Josh Howard is good, though not a real All-Star, getting added late last season for his first appearance. And he's easily the second-best player.
The Mavs are a team that exceeds the sum of its parts because of depth and effort. It can equal a lot of regular season wins, and a lot of playoff disappointment.
It's not unlike the situation with the Chicago Bulls, Kobe's favorite team.
The Bulls are disciplined and deep. They play hard and are well coached, like the
Mavs. Put your hands apart about a foot with the left a foot higher. That's the comparison of their level of effort in the regular season compared to their opponents. But come playoff time that bottom right hand moves higher because those other teams raise their level of effort for the playoffs. Teams like the Mavs and Bulls, who are more a credit to the NBA because they take all the games seriously, can't really go much farther. They are playing pretty much at their highest level already in the regular season.
The Mavs did make the Finals in 2006, though the way it ended maybe they wish they didn't. Still, the Spurs appeared to be the better team in their series. The Spurs fell behind three games to one, the Mavs stealing games at home by a point and in overtime before the Spurs brought it back to 3-3 and led with seconds left in Game 7 at home before an ill-advised Manu Ginobili foul gave the Mavs a chance to win in overtime.
But the Mavs did win, and that's the way it goes. You win; you deserved to win. The Mavs got a break in the conference finals against a weakened Suns team without Amare Stoudemire.
It went badly last spring with the loss to the Warriors, which the Mavs are calling a fluke.
But this team has been together for a while now.
It's the 10th season for Nowitzki and he'll be 30 at the end of this season. Jason
Terry is 30 and Jerry Stackhouse, another key element of their depth, is 32. They added Eddie Jones and Juwan Howard. There's not exactly a young core there.
Yes, the Spurs are getting old, but they have four titles.
Perhaps the Mavs' best chance went away in money saving gestures, letting Steve Nash go in 2004 because they didn't believe he could play another five years. And letting go Michael Finley in a luxury tax savings.
It's often easily forgotten that owner Mark Cuban was handed a top team by then general manager and coach Nelson, who put together the Nowitzki, Nash, Finley core before Cuban bought the team.
Who couldn't have won with that team? The challenge was making it a champion. It didn't look like Nelson was going to with his offensive system, and give Cuban credit for recognizing that and going with Johnson and a more aggressive, defensive style.
But has their time gone?
"We've been close one year, but we didn't go all the way," Nowitzki told Dallas reporters in training camp. "We're going to focus on ourselves and not worry too much about what other people say or think, and go from there. You have to work and believe in yourself and the team. And we've all seen that the window is small. You don't have a great team for a lot of years. We know that this should be another great year."
But can any team recover from what they've been through at a time when their top players are hitting the 30's and they've been through arguably the most crushing disappointments in league history?
Teams like the Suns in the 70's and 90's, the Jazz of the 90's, the Rockets of the 80's and Portland in the late 1980's and early 1990's looked ready to win. But they let chances slip away and they never got back. The Mavs have the talent to return. It's doubtful anymore they have the spirit and resolve to sustain. They just fell too hard to really get back up again.
Stars continue to depress …
Stars fans were poised for a perfect Halloween night Wednesday at American Airlines Center.
Sergei Zubov scored on a power play with just under eight minutes remaining, apparently completing a huge third-period comeback – and Mike Modano was credited with an assist on the go-ahead goal, receiving a rousing ovation from a crowd that believed he had tied Phil Housley for the career lead in points scored by an American-born player.
But the Stars couldn't hold the lead, and Modano told officials he didn't earn the assist.
Trick or treat.
Dallas lost, 5-4, to the Chicago Blackhawks, the second time this season Chicago has scored in the final minute of a game to steal points from the Stars.
Dallas lost a 1-0 lead and eventually the game with one second left in Chicago on Oct. 13.
Maybe they need to stop playing on these jinxed dates.
Modano said he feels cursed.
"It's unfortunate ... just another on the list of things that have happened lately that have been surrounded by me," Modano said, citing a slow start and a move to the fourth line. "It kind of caps off the whole month. I'm glad it's over."
Modano has stumbled out of the gate in pursuit of Housley's record. He needed six points to tie and seven to break the career mark of 1,232 points, but he managed only two points in his first nine games and was moved off the top line because of his slump.
The move helped spark some power-play scoring by Modano, who had three points in his previous two games. Wednesday, he had 21:09 in ice time, including 4:54 on the power play, and hardly was used like a fourth-liner.
So when Zubov scored to put Dallas ahead, 4-3, and the arena announcer trumpeted Modano tying the record, the crowd couldn't resist. Feeling the weight Modano had been carrying, fans in the arena surged every time he came close to scoring. And when they thought he had the record, they gave him a standing ovation that he sheepishly acknowledged.
But Modano knew he hadn't touched the puck. After a faceoff at center ice, won by Mike Ribeiro, the puck moved in a scrum back to Ribeiro, and he fed Zubov for the goal. Modano was near the puck, but did not touch it – a requirement for an assist. Off-ice scorers made the mistake and did not correct it until after the game was over, so fans left the arena believing Modano had tied the record.
"Somebody screwed up," Modano said.
Scoring mistakes often are made and corrected after the game, when plays are reviewed. The timing of this mistake, however, was either terribly unfortunate or ironically perfect.
The Stars blew their 4-3 lead on two goals by Chicago's Jason Williams, the last coming with 20.4 seconds remaining on a lightning shot over Mike Smith, who had come on in relief of Marty Turco. The loss was the Stars' second in a row at home – the second consecutive in which they blew a third-period lead.
"We're just shooting ourselves in the foot," Modano said. "Mistakes that seem minimal at the time are costing us points in games. You can't play a perfect game, but it seems we have to be near perfect lately to get points."
Modano Record Situation last night was really embarrassing …
The officials announced the Modano assist in the building and the announcers made a big deal of the record. The crowd cheered and the officials never announced again that it was not an assist (even though they had seven minutes of clock time to review the play).
So fans left the arena believing they had seen history.
I know the focus should be on the loss, but this is just another black spot on the perception of the Stars. It just seems like as fans, there are a lot of bad nights to deal with.
Dave Tippett on Modano's pursuit of the Housley record: ``That can't get over soon enough. That will help our team to get it over with.''
This all could get fixed quickly if the Stars find their chemistry and start playing like they did last season. There aren't that many differences in the lineup, after all.
Still, you have to look at the first 12 games of the season and ask: What should their record be?
When you consider this team has not battled injuries and had plenty of games against teams that are seriously struggling, 5-5-2 is way below the mark I would have predicted.
The division still is a mess overall, so the Stars can contend for first place. But what if they miss out on that brass ring? Is the second place team in the Pacific Division going to finish ninth overall in the West? Is that the kind of battle this team wants to fight?
And there is the fact the arena was half-empty with an announced crowd of 14,756. They did not have a crowd that small all of last season or the season before. I will have to research the last time a crowd that small watched the game in my books at home, but my guess is it has been a long, long time.
Point being, it was a night to forget for many reasons.
Tippett close to being fired? …I can definitely see this happening before Thanksgiving unless something radical takes place…
It's to the eternal credit of Dallas GM Doug Armstrong that he stayed with Tippett to start this season. When many in the local media called for the coach's job after yet another first-round loss last spring, he stuck by his man, rewarding him for artfully guiding an injury-riddled roster to a miraculous 107-point campaign that should have earned Jack Adams consideration.
But armed with a full complement of players, this year's team appears to be no better off, lurching to a 5-4-2 start that suggests reaching the postseason will be a challenge.
And, if anything, the offensive shortcomings that sank the Stars' playoff hopes last season are even more glaring now.While the quality of the personnel assembled by Armstrong is an issue, so too is Tippett's defense-first style that dictates his charges rarely attack when they have the lead. Rather than display the courage needed to intensify their assault and salt away a victory, these Stars seem afraid to make a mistake that will cost them what they've achieved to that point. That tendency was painfully evident in Monday's 4-2 loss to the Sharks, a game in which the Stars held a 2-1 lead before coughing it up with three stunning defensive blunders in the final eight minutes.
That kind of hardline approach to the game has a limited shelf life (just ask Tippett's Cup-winning predecessor, Ken Hitchcock). And going by body language alone, it appears that dancing along a razor thin margin for error night after night is weighing on several players.
While the Stars continue to struggle to create offense, Tippett's biggest problem may be his decision to add a new fourth liner to an already crowded mix: erstwhile superstar Mike Modano.
Finding a worthy replacement wouldn't be easy (see: Atlanta), so if the Stars falter, Armstrong likely will choose to shake up the mix before handing out a pink slip. Fedoruk, who was effective in a showcase performance against the Sharks, seems like a lock to be moved, perhaps as soon as this week. The Panthers, who had scout Duane Sutter in attendance Monday night, are a likely dance partner. And with rookie Matt Niskanen quickly proving to be a reliable presence on the blueline, Armstrong could cash in some of his defensive depth for a reliable veteran scoring presence. Philippe Boucher, off to a slow start, is a puck-moving veteran who could interest a number of teams.
Whatever the route, the Stars have to find a way to pick up their game. Even as they continue to tread water on the ice, they're hemorrhaging fans. Although the announced crowds continue to sound impressive (17,546 for Monday's nationally-televised game), the number of fannies in the seats was probably closer to 13,000. And that was hardly the exception to the rule at the formerly loud and proud AAC.
Tippett is an excellent coach and a good guy, but like all coaches, he has a Best-by date. The next two weeks should determine how close he is to reaching it.
Weekly Buccigross …
McNabb says Eagles are team to beat ….
Donovan McNabb isn't backing down from his assertion that the Philadelphia Eagles remain the team to beat in the NFC East.
And guess what? The Dallas Cowboys don't blame him.
"They have certainly earned that respect, but we are going to try to change things,"
coach Wade Phillips said.
McNabb raised eyebrows around the league last week when he said the Eagles were still very much in the playoff hunt.
Never mind Philadelphia was 2-4 at the time, 31/2 games behind the idle 6-1 Cowboys.
"I think one thing people tend to forget, the NFC East championship comes through Philadelphia," McNabb told Philadelphia reporters. "We have to protect our territory, and we have enough time to do that."
Given a chance to backpedal on that claim during a conference call Wednesday with reporters who cover the Cowboys, McNabb stuck to his guns.
"That's just the way it is. It's just reality," McNabb said. "When you want to be the best and be the heavyweight champion, you can beat everyone that you're fighting. But no one will look to you as the champion unless you beat the champion.
"It's not anything like bulletin-board material or something that can motivate you. If you need that to motivate you to play this game, you don't need to play."
Philly may get Brian Dawkins back …That is huge…
For the last five games, Brian Dawkins has been reduced to a towel-waving cheerleader on the Eagles' sideline.
It is an NFL job for which he is way overqualified and overpaid. It is also one he happily plans to leave behind Sunday night when the first-place Dallas Cowboys come to Lincoln Financial Field for an NFC East showdown with the Eagles.
After 51/2 weeks of rehabilitating a severe neck injury suffered in Week 2 against the Washington Redskins, the Eagles' six-time Pro Bowl safety has convinced himself and the doctors who have treated him that he is ready to resume his career in a game against the Eagles' fiercest rival.
Dawkins vowed he would play with the same fervor that has defined him as one of the game's best safeties during his 12-year career.
"That's the plan," he said yesterday before practicing with the first-team defense at the NovaCare Complex. "Like I've said previously, I don't want to get into a game and be all tentative about doing what I do. I only know how to play one way. That's how I've always played the game. If I'm on the field playing any way other than that, then I'm not helping the team win."
Although Dawkins has received medical clearance to return, he admitted there's never a complete guarantee that the problem will not resurface.
"Doctors can never give you 100 percent clearance and say you're never going to have any risk on anything," Dawkins said. "That will hurt them in claims court."
The Eagles safety also confessed that this injury was a scary one, but that he doesn't have any fear about going back on the field.
"It was a scary situation to go through, especially with what happened in Buffalo," Dawkins said, alluding to the serious spinal cord injury suffered by Bills tight end Kevin Everett on opening day. "You're definitely thinking about those things after it happens, but not when the game is going on. It's not something you continue to think about. Once I got the prognosis and all the details of the injury, then all of that was out of the window. I was just thinking about getting back on the field."
And now he will return. The question is how effective he can be after missing the entire preseason with Achilles tendinitis and all but two of the first seven games this season.
Weekly Jimmy Burch …
BIG 12 PICKS
MATCHUP OF THE WEEK
Texas A&M at Oklahoma
With a victory, the Aggies tighten the South Division race. A loss dashes any realistic title hopes and increases speculation about Coach Fran's successor. Expect A&M to play hard for its embattled coach. But don't expect it to be enough to pull an upset.
Pick: Oklahoma 31, A&M 17
Oklahoma State 35, Texas 24: The Cowboys are eager to prove they are legitimate title contenders and the Longhorns look vulnerable.
Texas Tech 56, Baylor 21: After two turnover-filled weeks, the Tech offense gets back in sync against the Bears' defense.
Missouri 34, Colorado 28: Mizzou finds itself in a second-half tussle but finds a way to win a pivotal road game.
Kansas 42, Nebraska 17: Make it five consecutive losses for the reeling Cornhuskers, who can't stop Kansas' ground game.
Kansas State 44, Iowa State 16: The Wildcats become bowl-eligible by blowing out the Cyclones.
Thanks to Awfulannouncing, here are your Big 12 announcers…
Nebraska @ Kansas (FSN, 12:30) - Bill Land, Dave Lapham, Emily Jones
Kansas State @ Iowa State (VS, 12:30) - Ron Thulin, Kelly Stouffer, Lewis Johnson
Texas @ Oklahoma State (ABC, 3:30) - TBA: Bob Wischusen or Dave LaMont, James Hasty, Joe Schad
Missouri @ Colorado (FSN, 6:30) - Joel Meyers, Gary Reasons, Jim Knox
Texas A&M @ Oklahoma (ABC, 8:00) - Ron Franklin, Ed Cunningham, Jack Arute
With the biggest game of their season on Friday, let’s celebrate FC Dallas’ 51 goals this summer.
And since it is Thursday, Here is Dwight versus Andy