DALLAS -- This weekend it's time to watch Dirk Nowitzki in the All-Star Game or time to watch the Oscars or, why not combine the two with my Evaluation of the Mavs' 10 Issues at the Break -- Oscars-Style?
All 2012 Mavs issues. All 2012 Academy-Award-nominated films. Somebody pop the popcorn
1: The Artist
Nowitzki is now No. 20 on the all-time scoring list. But I completely agree with him that milestones are for later, when he and his sweetheart are in rocking chairs and looking back fondly on his playing days. (Congratulations, by the way, future Mr. and Mrs. UberMan!)
What matters for Dirk is right now. And right now, he remains -- after some early struggles that in retrospect were all about that balky knee -- one of the 10 finest basketball players on the planet.
In the 11 games since Barkley's maddening "Dirk is Done'' proclamation, The UberMan is at 25.4 points, 48.5 FG percentage, 37.8 3-point percentage, 8.4 rebounds, .8 blocks, .8 steals, 2.4 assists, 1.9 TOs and (subpar for him) 83.8 percent from the line.
Guess what? Other than a slight rise in scoring, these numbers very closely mirror his career averages.
Want more? One of those 11 games was a blowout win over Denver in which Dirk needed only 25 minutes to get 12 points and the win. Take that game out and the numbers go ...
Totals of 26.7 points, 49 FG percent, 39.5 3-point percent, 8.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, .8 blocks, .8 steals, 1.9 TOs and that at 83.3 FT percent.
The MVP trophies (one in the regular season, one in the Finals). The 11 All-Star appearances. The consistent excellence. All of it sidelined only temporarily by a lockout-induced balky knee.
"I feel good now,'' said Dirk."I'm back.''
2: The Help
Jason Terry leads a Dallas bench that has consistently been among the top three in the NBA so far this season. The Mavs also without doubt one of the three deepest teams in the league as well, as evidenced again Wednesday in the tight loss to the Lakers in which Odom, Beaubois and West were unavailable ... so Wright, Yi and Cardinal grabbed an oar and kept rowing.
But ultimately, this bench is Jet's bench. And Terry's struggling on the road has become a trend. Let's allow DB.com's Michael Dugat to dig up and compare Terry's "Home" and "Road" numbers.
Home: 18 games - 16.9 points, 51.1 FG, 44 3PT, 3.6 assists, 2.1 rebounds, 2.1 TOs
Road: 14 games - 12.0 points, 33.2 FG, 31.1 3PT, 3.9 assists, 2.2 rebounds, 2.1 TOs
That's a heart-in-throat roller coaster for a player who has seen only a minimal decrease on the road over the course of his career, and a primary factor in why Dallas is just 8-7 on the road.
"It's definitely a comfort zone for me here at home,'' Jet conceded. "On the road, again, just got to get more opportunities; more opportunities to be effective and I think it will come. It'll come for me. I'm not even worried about it.
Well, that makes one of us.
3: War Horse
Of Jason Kidd and his "minutes limit,'' coach Rick Carlisle says, "We want to be vigilant about it. You never say never, but right now we've been pretty consistent with it."
The goal is to keep Kidd, at age 38, below 30 minutes a game. Vigilant? Yes, as Kidd is averaging a career-low 28.3 minutes per game -- and tied into this is the week-off he was given to nurse that calf problem. Kidd's game-by-game minutes since returning from the injury: 27, 31, 26, 22, 30, 28 and 34, the 34 being an anomaly maybe because DoJo wasn't allowed much time due to Rick's decision that Mavs-Lakers was for mature participants only.
Kidd, like Dirk, is collecting milestones along the path to the Hall of Fame. This week he moved ahead of Michael Jordan into second place on the NBA's All-Time Steals list.
"Just being able to pass (Jordan) at something is an honor in itself,'' said the humble Kidd, adding, "(I've) just been at the right place at the right time."
Ah, "the right time.'' The right time means fewer length-of-court passes, the result of tiredness. The right time means fresher legs so those long-range shots find their mark. The right time means 30 minutes per game ... until the postseason comes and Kidd is ready for a greater burden.
4: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Lamar Odom represents this year's most high-profile NBA bust.
"I would love for Lamar to be the kind of high-impact player that he is supposedly advertised as being,'' Carlisle says."But the truth is, he has been a consistent player.''
Rick is being kind -- and "kindness'' is what the ex-Lakers standout required. "In need of constant validation'' is what a source close to Lamar tells me about him, and while he needs validation, it would be nice if he'd give the Mavs something ... anything ... back in return.
Carlisle's claim that Odom has been "consistent'' is true. Odom has been consistently without energy, consistently without purpose, consistently without production.
Some are trying to spin this into a matter of LO's per-minute production and excusing his work because Odom is averaging just 21.5 minutes a game with Dallas -- 14 fewer minutes than his career average before the preseason trade that brought him here in exchange for a bag of magic beans.
But here's the truth: While Odom isn't flopping on purpose (a ridiculous accusation), he is plagued by a funk resulting in his realization that he's not in Dallas' long-term plans. He felt unloved in LA and now he's not sure he's wanted here and next thing you know, his "funk'' results in 36-percent shooting from the floor, 27.5-percent shooting from arc, 57.7-percent from the line and exactly zero-percent floor burns as a result of him putting out for his new team.
5: Midnight in Paris
The Mavs' French Connection, Roddy Beaubois and Ian Mahinmi, represents a great deal of promise ...
... But that promise might end up being realized elswhere.
A trade of Roddy B before the deadline? Not bloody likely. A give-up on "The Ianimal'' as evidenced by his recent inactivity? No, that's not it.
The Mavs have done a wonderful job rescuing Mahinmi from the scrap heap and transforming him into a legit backup NBA center. The development of Roddy B? That one's not quite where they want it to be -- especially because they've heralded him as a future star.
When is the future coming?
It can be argued that Mahinmi isn't losing minutes as much as Brandan Wright is gaining them. Likewise, it's quite possible that if Dallas had to thrust Beaubois onto the floor, he'd survive just fine -- but he's unable to get on the floor ahead of Jet, Vince and West.
The silver lining with The French Connection is that they will be Mavs assets in one form or another. They are players now, they are prospects even in the future, they can serve as bait in The 3D Blueprint or they can remain in Dallas as part of the affordable supporting cast necessary to make expensive acquisitions affordable.
There have been enough ups and downs, even in a successful 21-13 first half that puts Dallas close enough to a pace for the 61-percent wins that equate to a 12th straight 50-win seasons, to deeply ponder individual grades.
Was Dirk a 'C' before and an 'A' now so The UberMan earns an overall 'B'? Is Marion the only 'A' on the team? And if so, how is the record good enough to have Dallas in the top tier of the West?
That brings me to the one grade that won't bring protest, that won't cause anybody to call for a parents-teacher meeting:
Rick Carlisle's coaching staff gets that 'A.'
A championship and the fat-and-happiness that goes with it, followed by no summer contact, no real training camp, a new CBA that greatly altered the roster, injury issues with Dirk, Kidd and so many others, the departure of Chandler and defensive coordinator Dwane Casey, a 1-4 start to a season that almost never started ...
And Dallas is sittin' pretty as much as any team in the league.
"He's had a tough challenge this year, but he's done a good job,'' Jet says of Carlisle. "This could've been really hard because of the lockout and all the talk about the throwaway season and planning for next year, but Rick never wavered in his approach. All he's ever talked about is defense and winning, and that's what we're doing."
Rick Carlisle is a fascinating man but he's not a complex one. He's a teacher, a leader and a worker. His gameface is always in place. "Never wavers''? That's correct. "Throwaway season''? You've got to be kidding. "Warrior''? As much as a coach can be, in a sporting sense, you bet.
7: The Tree of Life Everything
Dallas has done defensively this year -- and what the Mavs have done there is create a new "identity,'' as Carlisle says, as the NBA's No. 1 team in FG percentage allowed, is rooted in the work of Shawn Marion.
In terms of the team concept, its about philosophy, coaching and all 15 guys. But on the court, it's rooted in the work of The Matrix, who at 33 is poised to be selected for his first-ever berth on an NBA All-Defensive Team.
"I do it all,'' says Marion, and in terms of a full floor game as well as his ability to control the variety pack of NBA talents -- from the 6-10 Durant to the Kobes and the LeBrons all the way down to point guards like Paul and Rubio -- yeah, he does it all. "I'm just doing what I do every game. Y'all are just not paying attention.''
In terms of league-wide recognition, I believe that is about to change for Shawn Marion.
Marion gets to the hole; he's in the top 20 in the NBA when it comes to shot attempts inside 10 feet. Vince Carter can drive and finish and has done so consistently. Delonte does it. Roddy B can do it. And watch Dirk in the second half: I confidently predict he will increasingly work his way to the basket, his spinning layups joining his One-Legged Euro FadeAway as Dirk Trademarks.
But a vignette from the Lakers loss keeps flashing through my mind: Roddy's out and Vince is tired and Delonte's out and in the fourth quarter of that game, with the traditional terrific free-throw-shooting Mavs in the bonus ...
But the Mavs settled for bombs, taking only two shots in the paint in the final 12 minutes. Despite getting into the penalty with over eight minutes to play, Dallas attempted only eight free throws in the fourth, compared to 17 for LA.
Rick is right about Dallas' "identity'' as a defensive team. But when it does come to offense, the Mavs need to avoid reverting to an identity that centers on settling, shot-hunting, iso's and jumpshots.
The Mavs have an attraction to young reclamation projects (think Barea and Bass, or think Gerald Green and Shawne Williams, if you must). They've taken a trio of stabs at bigs with promise this year: Sean Williams, Yi Jianlian and Brandan Wright.
All have had their moments, but we have to remind ourselves occasionally that while it's fun to unwrap new toys, the established toys you have work just fine. (Was it just my Dad who told me that every Christmas?)
We tend to "want to see more out of'' Beginner X or we "wish Rick would give a chance to'' Beginner Y. Frankly, though, fans of that sort of basketball would be wise to go enjoy themselves some Hornets games or some Bobcats games, where kids are being given a chance on the court because the Hornets and Bobcats are shy other options.
Consider very seriously Carlisle's remark going into the break:
"We're playing playoff-style,'' he says. "The team that has the best defense and flow game wins the championship. That's the history of this league in the last 10 years. That's how we did it last year, and that's how we're going to have to do it this year."
This is a team with a purpose. The purpose isn't to unveil new toys. The purpose is to ready the established toys. The purpose is to get to the Tournament.
One of my favorite NBA games is "Asset Management.'' We are blessed to be able to study a Dallas Mavericks front office with a mastery of it to match our fascination with it.
In the case of Cuban, Donnie, Keith Grant and the rest, I truly believe they gobbled up the new CBA and its implications as efficiently and as effectively as possible. And then they took a bold and proper stand: We are coming into The Era of the SuperTeam. You are either going to play by SuperTeam rules or you are destined to be an also-ran.
The Mavs are preparing for The SuperTeam Era (Plan A) while also attempting to position themseves for a run at repeating as champions. (Plan A2? Plan B?) It's the simultaneous operation of two distinctly different plans, some might say "conflicting'' plans. But it's working.
Part of making Asset Management is having all components properly plugged in and aligned. Consider the takes from the ownership level, from the coaching level and from the locker-room level:
From Cuban: "We think we've got a good team. We still haven't played good basketball yet. There's still a lot of room for improvement.''
From Carlisle: "We can play much better.''
From Marion: "I think we're good. We want to go into the break feeling good. For the most part, we're in a good position."