DALLAS "Lost time," Benjamin Franklin said, "is never found again." In terms of minutes played by stars, much of the rest of the NBA isn't adhering to this philosophy. But the Dallas Mavericks and coach Rick Carlisle apparently share Mr. Franklin's values, which is why on Monday even in winning their seventh straight home game against the Suns, 93-87, Dallas once again kept a tight-as-Tupperware lid on players' minutes.
"The bottom line," Carlisle told me after the victory, "is that come April or May we want to be able to still walk around under our own power.''
"The Dirk-Out Workout'' period continued with 10-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki sidelined while engaging in special exercise sessions for what Carlisle had termed "the knee, conditioning and unresolved physical issues.'' And yes, that's one way to limit the wear and tear on a player who started the week leading the NBA in minutes played since 1999-2000. (Dirk is at 35,772; Kobe Bryant was at 35,741.)
But the limit on minutes is a team-wide policy for the Mavs. Dirk's 30.9 minutes leads the team. Entering Monday, nobody else on the club was even that high, with heavy-lifting veterans like Jason Kidd (30.1), Jason Terry (29.2), Shawn Marion (28.5), Delonte West (22.6) Brendan Haywood (21.4) and Lamar Odom (20.9) all, in a sense, easing their way, minutes-wise, into this demanding condensed season.
What makes this notable? Virtually nobody else in the NBA is following the same path.
I made this point to Carlisle in a one-on-one visit late Monday and he wondered inquisitively, "Where you goin' with this?''
So I told him (actually, I told him something I'm sure he already knows, but hey, let's all play along!): Look at the minutes around the league for other standouts: Entering the week, I said, Kevin Love is at 40 in Minnesota. Dwight Howard is at 38 in Orlando, LaMarcus Aldridge is at 38 in Portland, Derrick Rose is at 37 in Chicago, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are at 37 with the Clippers
"Well, maybe (our low minutes) are because we've been involved in six blowouts,'' he said unconvincingly. "And with those guys you mention, they're all young guys. Maybe that's why it's different. We're not young guys.''
OK, I fired back: Check out the Big 3's with the Lakers and the Heat. The Lakers? Kobe is at 38, Paul Gasol at 37, Andrew Bynum at 35. Miami? LeBron James is at 37, Chris Bosh at 37, Dwyane Wade at 35.
And only then did Rick budge, offering that "bottom line'' line about the Mavs still being able to have legs under them come "April or May'' which, of course, is playoff time.
I asked Carlisle if the Mavs use some specific monitoring system during a game as the minutes get racked up. Is there some statistical-analysis printout that some staffer feeds the coach? Or does Carlisle simply use feel?
"In this day and age, yes, there are all sorts of stats being handed to a coach, all sorts of information being yelled in his ear, so you are pretty well kept informed about everything,'' he said. "But sometimes, you mix in 'feel.'
An example, please, Coach?
"Tonight,'' Carlisle told me, "Kidd played too many minutes in the first half. That, I could feel. But we had a need at the time, so we rolled with it.''
This is a Dallas path forged with a built-in understanding of the single pitfall: Spreading out minutes, utilizing depth and believing that a mid-January game is not the be-all can lead to the occasional loss along the way.
But the Mavs are now 11-7; so "occasional'' seems the appropriate word.
Mavs owner Mark Cuban hints that other veterans might also get the "Dirk-Out Workout'' treatment and that Nowitzki's time away from the game floor could extend beyond the planned four games.
"All that matters is that we make the playoffs, and we're healthy and playing our best basketball,'' Cuban said.
Again, the approach can arguably create a lack-of-urgency mindset; if everyone is "just trying to get by until the playoffs start,'' a Monday night game against a now-6-10 Phoenix team can produce less-than-spectacular results. And indeed, Dallas' highly-rated defense gave up 27 first-quarter points and then led just 49-46 at the half.
"The energy is so important this season,'' Rick said, "and in periods of low energy, you become really vulnerable."
But in the end, what once was a Suns-Mavs rivalry that carried playoff implications and that features Mavs departee Steve Nash was deconstructed into yet another chapter in how most clubs (like Phoenix) have spent the last decade bobbing up and down while the Mavs are in their 12th consecutive year of contention.
Dallas rode the all-around work of Marion (deemed "our best player'' by Carlisle), who tied a Mavs-career-high with 29 points and made four 3-pointers. Ian Mahinmi and Brendan Haywood combined for 27 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks. The Mavs shot just 40 percent but limited Phoenix to 37.3-percent shooting.
Oh, and the minutes: While Dirk watched from the bench in a blue sportscoat, Marion did his 29-point damage in just 31 minutes. Terry and Kidd played 32. Odom and Mahinmi played 28. Even with Dirk unavailable, the minutes lid stayed pretty tight.
"Every night,'' Carlisle said, "we're going to need somebody to step up big."
Big performances. Not big minutes.