It was a rare treat for a guy employed to be at all home Cowboys and Stars games to be at the AAC for a Mavericks game last night, and the game did not disappoint. The Mavericks got a late win over the Miami Heat and further made their case for a chance to move-up in the Western Conference Playoff picture. The following is a random collection of observations that I jotted down from the Section 123 Auxiliary Press Row during the 98-96 win:
* Josh Howard's return was the lead story (unless you consider seeing Dwyane Wade in person the lead story- more on that coming up) and there is no question that this team is better with him doing what he is capable of doing. The team just looks far more dangerous with Howard on the floor on offense (meaning that there is one more player that you have to guard) and the team has a prayer of getting a crunch-time stop with him on the floor as he uses his quickness and length to get into passing lanes and disrupt possessions.
I was talking to Mavs people last night who were quite clear that his ankle still isn't right and he will clearly need surgery in the summer, but he is giving what he has for now.
There is no doubt that people have gone to extremes about Howard (either good or bad) and I may be to blame for some of that , but when he plays his game he can be so valuable.
He is neither as good as some people say (I heard one local radio guy seriously claim that the team needed to "run their offense through Howard" - which might have been the single most insane Mavericks opinion of the season. I bet even Howard was amazed someone would say that. Just to be clear, I think it is highly possible Howard has not had an offense "run through him" since Wake Forest) nor is he as bad as some people say (The trade proposals involving Howard for basically nothing in my email are plentiful).
On offense, Howard can be a valuable weapon as the weak-side wing who can either take an open shot when the ball reverses to him in the offensive set, or he can drive the lane. Otherwise, he hits the offensive boards on occasion and helps with hustle plays. On defense, he easily becomes one of the 2 best defensive players on the floor at crunch time. I am not saying they are a title contender with Josh back, but they instantly become "much better".
The play of the game last night was obviously his taken charge on Mario Chalmers with 2.3 seconds left. There are plenty of questions to ask about this play; Why would Miami not get the ball to Wade? Why would they not call a timeout to remind their rookie PG to get the ball to Wade? Is there any chance that Joey Crawford makes that same call if Wade is the guy with the ball or would the foul have then gone against the Mavs? But, the bottom line is the bottom line - Howard made the play that saved the game.
* The Heat are led by Wade, and although he did not have one of his 50-point MVP nights, he was still very good. Some of his finishes were supreme, and I think most of us cannot watch him with an honest appraisal. Of all of the Mavs-killers in NBA history, the summer of 2006 likely put Wade in the #1 spot forever. Every time he was fouled last night I was reminded of the real possibility that Bennett Salvatore stole an NBA title from Dallas when Wade shot 97 free throws - the NBA Finals Record that may never fall.
Beyond that bitterness, though, it was truly a pleasure to watch one of the three real NBA Superstars in person, even if it was his first game in Dallas since the haunting memory of June 2006.
* Comedy Stat of the Night: The win last night was announced in the media as the 10th straight Mavericks win against the Heat going back to March of 2004. Uh, I seem to recall a 4-game losing streak in June of 2006 against Miami, but I guess we don't count playoff games in stats like that.
* Mavs Man snuck up behind me last night on press row and grabbed my neck. At the same time, I looked down and saw James Singleton on the bench. This proves, once and for all, that they are not the same guy.
* Jason Kidd locked down on Wade in the 4th Quarter. I find it very interesting that lately when the Mavericks need someone to guard a star late, it is Kidd. Antoine Wright is nice, but since you don't have to guard him, he cannot be on the floor late. So, here comes our resident old man to stay with and at times trouble D-Wade. Also, Kidd has the odd ability to not score the entire game and then hit a huge 3 with 5 minutes to play to put the Mavs up front for his first points of the game. Kidd is an incredibly valuable old point guard. I certainly wonder about his upcoming contract situation.
* Jermaine O'Neal will turn 31 this October. Why does he look like basketball's version of Eric Chavez? A guy who should have 5 or 6 years left who has had his true potential zapped by injuries. He was a non-factor in that game last night for the most part.
* Mario Chalmers was a 2nd round pick in the 2008 NBA Draft. Since the Mavericks haven't hit on a draft pick since Josh Howard in 2003, I would like to ask the Mavs to consider drafting someone useful this summer. To see Chalmers, Mike Taylor of the Clippers, Glen Davis of the Celtics, Ramon Sessions of the Bucks, and Marc Gasol of the Grizzlies all taken in the 2nd round of the last 2 NBA drafts, it frustrates me to see the Mavs come up with nothing in the last 5 drafts.
* Did you see Erick Dampier air-ball an open 6 foot shot last night? It was one of those moments where you had to text message your buddies to make sure they saw it. I almost wondered if they were going to stop the game, introduce David Stern to give him the ball, and launch a jumbo-tron video montage to honor Dampier. Amazing.
* JJ Barea really serves a purpose. There is no doubt in my mind that they have a reasonable 15-20 minute back-up PG going into next season. Now, who is the starter? Good question.
* Did I forget to mention that Dirk played a normal 30-point Dirk game? Shame on me. Sorry, most-under-appreciated local sports star in DFW history.
* Good win for the Mavs, now they head off to Memphis to avenge that silly 102-82 loss on 1/4/09 ...