By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com
DALLAS – The home-cooking the Dallas Mavericks dearly needed during a franchise-long eight-game homestand never materialized, not even in the final moments of Tuesday’s crushing overtime loss to the Golden State Warriors when the Mavs couldn’t believe Jermaine O’Neal wasn’t whistled for goaltending.
Dallas, which would have found itself alone in seventh place with the win, instead again fell out of the wild West playoff picture into ninth, one-half game behind Memphis and Phoenix with seven games remaining, including five on the road. Owner Mark Cuban stood in defiant disbelief behind the scorer’s table after the buzzer sounded on Golden State’s 122-120 victory, and distributed choice words to the officiating crew that included longtime nemesis Danny Crawford.
Cuban likely didn’t sleep well considering the toll, as he noted prior to the game, this all-consuming playoff chase exacts on his blood pressure.
“Everything’s stressful to me,” Cuban said. “For those 48 minutes it’s incredibly stressful. It was actually more stressful a couple of weeks ago because we were just going into this thing [the homestand], but now we’re here.”
A couple of weeks ago, Dallas blasted Oklahoma City at their place. They were 40-27 and in seventh place with eight consecutive home games ahead. Inside Tuesday night’s melancholy Mavs locker room, a familiar scene over this 4-4 homestand, one which the Mavs went 1-3 in overtime games and failed to put together consecutive victories, unfolded.
Monta Ellis, who was excellent with 27 points, again bolted the scene before reporters were allowed to enter the locker room. Left to explain why Dallas habitually can’t get stops or a crucial rebound in the final minutes were 37-year-old sixth man Vince Carter and the always stand-up superstar Dirk Nowitzki, whose 33 points on 13-for-21 shooting and a spectacular 6-for-8 from beyond the arc, plus 11 rebounds, wasn’t enough to finish the job.
“All four losses that we took were just brutal, just gut-punches,” said Nowitzki, who missed the playoffs last season for the first time in 13 years. “If we pull out one or two somehow, I think it’s a decent homestand. But we didn’t.”
Over the eight games, Nowitzki, 35, averaged 22.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg and 2.9 apg. Overall, the grueling nature of these final, must-have contests plus the four overtime periods that extended his minutes to 35.3 a game, an increase of three minutes a game more than coach Rick Carlisle prefers to play him, proved tough on Nowitzki’s aging legs, and it showed in a couple of rough fourth quarters and in his shooting percentages: 45.7 overall, 33.3 from beyond the arc and 81.6 from the free-throw line, all well below his season averages that have him on the verge of another 50-40-90 campaign. Only Steve Nash has accomplished such marksmanship at Dirk’s age or older.
The Mavs have put themselves in jeopardy of wasting what has been a magnificent season for Nowitzki in his 16th year. He has steadily climbed the NBA’s all-time scoring list and needs just 33 points to pass Dominique Wilkins for 11th place, and he needs 85 points over the final seven games to pass Oscar Robertson and become a top 10 all-time scorer.
Nowitzki is averaging 21.6 ppg on 49.1 percent shooting (39.2 percent from beyond the arc), 6.2 rpg and 2.7 apg this season. The only other players to put up at least 21.0 ppg on 49 percent shooting, 6.0 rpg and 2.0 apg at age 35 or older? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it four times from age 35 to 38, and Karl Malone did it three times from age 35 to 37. Both made the playoffs in each of those seasons.
The looming question is: Will Dirk?