By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — In a couple weeks March Madness will descend on the Dallas area when the Final Four arrives at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
At the American Airlines Center, home of the Dallas Mavericks, the madness has arrived early with five consecutive games that produced more wild swings than Charles Barkley on the back nine. Games against Chicago, Portland, Indiana, Boston and Minnesota featured scoreboard swings totaling some 160 points, plus 29 lead changes and 22 ties.
Despite amassing big leads in four of the games and coming all the way back from down 22 in the fifth, Dallas went 3-2 in those games.
In the first three games, Dallas built leads between 16 and 30 points, lost them all, yet managed to salvage wins against the Blazers and Pacers. The close calls prompted Dirk Nowitzki following the Pacers win to suggest the Mavs should do themselves a favor and not get too far ahead too early. After all, losing big, early leads quickly has been something of a Dallas calling card this season: Six games in which its led by at least 16 points have ended up in the loss column.
It didn’t help when the Mavs waited until late in the third quarter to run away from the woeful Celtics and go up by 15 points. Only that lead diminished, too, in all of three minutes, but this time Dallas never lost the lead — it got down to one point — and survived in the final seconds for the win.
On Wednesday, the Timberwolves turned the tables from the previous blueprint by being the ones to jump out early. They went ahead 37-24 in the first quarter and busted it open by 22 points early in the second quarter. Buried? Not exactly. Dallas stormed back to within six at halftime, nearly won it in regulation, led by five in overtime, but then couldn’t close it out. Nowitzki put Dallas up one, Kevin Love answered for the lead with 17.1 seconds to go and then Nowitzki’s last chance didn’t fall in the final seconds.
“It becomes a game of Russian roulette, whether you can make the last shot or not,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said.
For a team clinging to the edge of the playoffs, it’s a dangerous way to live.
The madness might be only just beginning as Dallas plays the third game of its franchise-long eight-game homestand Friday night against unpredictable Denver. But first, a look back at the zany last five:
Feb. 28: Bulls 100, Mavs 91
Biggest leads: Mavs 16 (38-22, 10:17, 2nd); Bulls 9 (100-91)
What happened: Joakim Noah physically dominated Dallas in the fourth quarter. The Bulls won the period, 27-15, after trailing the entire first half and leading by just one point in the third quarter.
March 7: Mavs 103, Trail Blazers 98
Biggest leads: Mavs 30 (44-14, 8:31, 2nd); Blazers 7 (89-82, 8:36, 4th)
What happened: Dallas led 33-10 after the first quarter, but after the lead swelled to 40-10, Portland went on a 79-42 run, and then led 98-92 with 4:26 to go. One of the most improbable comebacks ever was halted as the Mavs mustered the energy to end the game by scoring the final 11 points.
March 9: Mavs 105, Pacers 94
Biggest leads: Mavs 17 (35-18, 9:53, 2nd); Pacers 5 (55-50, 8:58, 3rd)
What happened: The Pacers got it down to 48-45 at halftime and came out strong in the third quarter to grab a 55-50 lead. Then things reversed again with Dallas going ahead 73-62. Indiana made it 94-90, but Dallas closed it out with an 11-4 run.
March 17: Mavs 94, Celtics 89
Biggest leads: Mavs 15 (64-49, 4:19, 3rd); Celtics 4 (37-33, 7:26, 2nd)
What happened: Boston scored six points in the first eight minutes of the third period as Dallas opened up its largest margin, only to lose it on a 12-0 Boston run to close the quarter. The Mavs went back up by 12, 78-66, with 6:25 left. With 21.6 seconds left, Dallas’ lead was down to 90-89, but a couple free throws and a defensive stop saved the Mavs from an embarrassing loss.
March 19: Timberwolves 123, Mavs 122 (OT)
Biggest leads: Timberwolves 22 (50-28); Mavs 5 (120-115, 3:03, OT)
What happened: Neither one of these teams is very good at holding leads and, well, that proved out. Dallas demolished a 22-point deficit and got to within six at halftime, only to fall behind 107-94 with 6:48 to go in the game. Monta Ellis outscored Minnesota 12-2 to give Dallas a 113-111 lead, but the defense failed and the game went to overtime. Dallas had it until it managed one field goal in the final 3:03 and got outscored 8-2.