Hard in the Paint: Finale

Catch Jeff “Skin” Wade’s weekly podcast as he interviews local personalities and picks their basketball brains.

This week’s special Season Finale with guest Mark “Followeezy” Followill, the play-by-play voice of the Mavs television broadcasts on Fox Sports Southwest and TXA21.

Hard in the Paint: 2015-16 Finale

Rick Carlisle, Mavs teammates reflect on Dirk Nowitzki’s 18th season

2016 Exit Interview: Dirk Nowitzki

Mavs F Dirk Nowitzki addresses the media following the conclusion of the team's 2015-16 season.

DALLAS — He led the Dallas Mavericks in scoring during the 2015-16 season, becoming the oldest player in the NBA this year to accomplish that feat at the end of the grueling 82-game schedule.

He continued to cement his place in league lore as well, passing Shaquille O’Neal (28,596) to move into sixth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He also lifted the Mavericks into the playoffs for the 15th time in the last 16 seasons, finishing with the sixth seed in the Western Conference standings and a 42-40 record before eventually falling in the first round to the Oklahoma City Thunder. But it’s the impact 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki made in the locker room that Mavs coach Rick Carlisle and his veteran teammates will remember most following the 7-footer’s 18th season.

Last season, Nowitzki played in 77 games for the Mavericks, averaging 17.3 points and 5.9 rebounds in 29.6 minutes an outing. He also connected on 45.9 percent from the field and 38 percent from three-point range while making his 13th All-Star appearance. He followed that up with another strong season during the ’15-16 campaign, posting a team-high 18.3 points and pulling down 6.5 rebounds an outing in 75 appearances while connecting on 44.8 percent shooting and 36.8 percent from three. And after seeing the 37-year-old Nowitzki take on a heavier workload while increasing his minutes to 31.5 per game this year, Carlisle reflected on his superstar’s ability to put the team on his broad shoulders.

“Remarkable. You know, I saw very little drop-off this year, and he was phenomenal in the playoffs,” Carlisle said while assessing Nowitzki’s season. “Again, I just think we’re seeing one of the truly unusual athletes in sports history, proving that it can be done with great longevity, with a great love and respect for the game and a great commitment to excellence. You know, I marvel at his career and everything he does on a day-to-day basis every day.”

2016 Exit Interview: Rick Carlisle

Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle addresses the media following the conclusion of the team's 2015-16 season.

“It’s pretty remarkable what he does night in and night out,” swingman Wesley Matthews added, “especially if you were to see him walking into film sessions after games. … And then he goes out and goes for 32 and 11, and you’re like, ‘You couldn’t walk this morning.’ That’s just a testament to him and the time that he puts into this game, himself and his body. You know, it’s one of the last dinosaurs left, and it’s still remarkable.”

Passing O’Neal on the all-time scoring list with 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting during a 119-118 road win in Brooklyn on Dec. 23, Nowitzki continued adding to his Hall of Fame resume. Averaging 20.4 points in five games against Oklahoma City, Nowitzki also passed three more all-time greats on the league’s postseason scoring list by moving in front of Wilt Chamberlain (3,607), Elgin Baylor (3,623) and Scottie Pippen (3,642) to ascend to the 14th spot in playoff history. With that said, it’s Nowitzki’s commitment to excellence that stuck with his teammates.

“It’s been great. It’s probably been one of the best experiences ever to play with a guy of that level and stature. And he works just as hard as the next guy,” veteran guard Raymond Felton said after two seasons playing alongside Nowitzki. “It’s been great, man. Dirk is by far one of the best superstars, All-Stars and Hall of Famers that I’ve ever played with, and it’s been an amazing experience. It’s one I will always cherish and remember.”

2016 Exit Interview: Chandler Parsons

Mavs F Chandler Parsons addresses the media following the conclusion of the team's 2015-16 season.

“The best thing to happen to me this year was to play with this guy No. 41, and I mean that. That was an amazing experience,” center Zaza Pachulia added following his first season with the Mavs. “I’ve learned so much, seeing his work ethic, his professionalism and jokes. It was priceless. This is something that’s going to stay in me, in my mind and in my heart forever. You know, basketball is temporary, but friendship is going to last forever. I’m really glad to call him my friend, and our relationship is going to continue no matter what next year, because he’s a great person and a great guy with a beautiful family. And I’m just very honored to be in a locker room with this guy, on and off the court.”

Turning 38 years old on June 19, Nowitzki vows to return for a 19th season to conclude his current contract with the team. However, while possessing a player option for his final year, it’s not assured that No. 41 will be in the lineup during the ’16-17 schedule should he have a change of heart.

Sitting just 1,928 points behind Chamberlain for the fifth position on the league’s all-time scoring list, Nowitzki could reach that mark next season. Nowitzki is also just 509 points away from becoming the sixth player in NBA history to amass 30,000 for his career. And after seeing Nowitzki rekindle his elite form this season, Carlisle says he’s ready to do whatever it takes to make sure that both of those feats happen with the Big German in a Dallas uniform.

“I don’t think we can just assume that Dirk’s going to be back,” Carlisle confessed. “I think we’ve got to respect his career here and what it’s been about. You know, we just can’t go in with the assumption that we can take this guy for granted. I don’t. He’s too great. He’s too great a person, he’s been too great for too long, and I’m ready to recruit him.”

Read the NBPA’s story on Deron Williams

Mavs point guard Deron Williams was featured today on the National Basketball Players Association’s site for his involvement in April’s National Autism Awareness Month.

Williams has been involved in the month’s efforts for years now, including hosting an Autism Awareness Night at American Airlines Center earlier this month. Click here to read the full story.

Prominently featured in the article is Williams’ six-year-old son, D.J., who was diagnosed with autism when he was 18 months old. Deron and his wife Amy adopted D.J., in addition to raising their three other children: Deron Jr., Daija, and Denae.

The article begins with a heartwarming story about Deron watching Game 4 of the playoffs with D.J. in the locker room. Deron had suffered a setback just moments before, forcing him to exit the game and, ultimately, ending his season. Dejected, he sat in the locker room.

According to the story:

But a special guest and surprise moment, behind closed doors and away from the cameras, gave Williams the best distraction he needed in his state of dejection.

His wife, Amy, who was in attendance in Dallas, brought their six-year-old son named D.J., who has autism, to the locker room so he could watch the game with his father. It was a rare occurrence, and Williams was in awe that D.J. knew every player as he cheered for each one. D.J. also read off every player’s name when he walked by each of their lockers, like ‘That’s Wes Matthews! He’s iron man!”

The article’s author, Jared Zwerling, reports D.J. is now doing much better in school and doesn’t even need to visit doctors anymore. That’s terrific news.

Aside from his involvement with National Autism Awareness Month and the organization Autism Speaks, Williams’ own foundation, The Point of Hope, is heavily involved in raising awareness and funds for those affected by autism. He’s hosted a “Dodge Barrage” fundraiser and tournament in years past, and Zwerling reports the event will take place in Dallas this September. This year he’s also considering adding an art show, having developed an interest in pop, abstract, and figurative art while living in New York City.

Williams’ and his team’s season might have ended earlier than they’d hoped, but members of this organization continue to be a tremendously positive influence in the community, and Williams is certainly no exception.

Mavs relished proving preseason naysayers wrong during ’15-16 season

DALLAS — Overcoming daunting odds to make the playoffs for a 15th time in the last 16 seasons, the Dallas Mavericks enjoyed proving their naysayers wrong throughout the course of the 2015-16 campaign.

Entering the season with small forward Chandler Parsons still rehabbing from a hybrid microfracture right knee surgery, the Mavericks knew the bar was set low for them in the competitive Western Conference. The Mavs also tried to slowly work new addition Wesley Matthews into the fold after his surgery last offseason to repair a torn Achilles. Still, the Mavericks battled their way to a 42-40 record during the grueling 82-game schedule, finishing sixth in the West to set up a first-round playoff series against the high-octane Oklahoma City Thunder. And despite falling to the Thunder in five games, the Mavs head into the offseason with something to build on.

“This year, even though we lost in the first round, I think those guys competed like champions,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said Tuesday as his squad gathered for one final time to conduct exit interviews.

“I like this team a lot,” he added. “This was one of my favorite teams to coach in 15 years of NBA coaching. Great guys, great locker room, and they really wanted to win. They wanted to make the playoffs to the point where they were willing to undergo a pretty significant style change with nine games to go in the season. You know, I’m proud of them, and I know our fans are proud of the effort and the way they played in the series. Even though we didn’t play great, we competed extremely well and we were beaten by a better team. So, hey, we’re heading into the summer with some decisions to make, and there’s a lot still to be determined.”

Falling three games below .500 following a 133-111 loss at Sacramento back on March 27, the Mavericks finished the season winning seven of their final nine outings and six straight from March 28 to April 8. The Mavs also battled through their fair share of setbacks, overcoming Parsons’ season-ending arthroscopic surgery to address an injury to his right medial meniscus on March 25.

The injuries continued to pile up on the Mavericks in the playoffs, forcing point guard Deron Williams (left abdominal strain/sports hernia), big man David Lee (right plantar fascia injury) and Tunisian center Salah Mejri (right hip strain) out of the lineup for the series-clinching 118-104 loss Monday night in Game 5. Still, the Mavs displayed plenty of fight while dispelling their critics.

“Well, we definitely were higher than the expectations that most people had for us, and I’m proud of the way that this team fought all season long,” Matthews proclaimed. “I’m proud of the way that we battled all season long. We had a lot of adversity, and that comes with an NBA season. You know, a lot of the season depends on luck and health. We were bit by the health bug, but we continued to battle and continued to play hard to put ourselves in a position to be in the playoffs and compete every night.”

Suffering their fourth first-round playoff exit since claiming the NBA title in 2011, the Mavericks admittedly came short of their goal to reclaim the Larry O’Brien trophy. The Mavs also head into the offseason with pelnty of questions to answer moving forward as free agency could deliver a different roster. That said, the Mavericks enter into the summer encouraged by what they did accomplish this season, putting up a valiant fight against the star-studded Thunder without a bevy of their top contributors.

“You know, it was a positive season, I think, if you look where guys had us starting. A lot of (media outlets) were picking us last in the West,” 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki explained. “There were a lot of question marks coming into the season, starting with Parsons and Wes coming off major injuries. D-Will had numerous injuries in Brooklyn, and we had a question mark at center. Guys stepped up greatly for us all year, so I think we battled. You know, we battled through ups and downs. It was a little inconsistent every now and then. But always, whenever we’d hit rock bottom, we showed a lot of pride, came together and fought the same way we did at the end to make that six-game winning streak and fight into the playoffs. We just showed a lot of heart every time we were knocked down. And to make it to a sixth seed in a tough West with a lot of injuries, I think it was a decent season for us.”

The best moments from Mavs players’ exit interviews

2016 Exit Interview: Dirk Nowitzki

Mavs F Dirk Nowitzki addresses the media following the conclusion of the team's 2015-16 season.

Exit interviews can at times be a little run-of-the-mill, but seeing as this Mavericks season was anything but typical, you knew there would be some good moments as the players addressed the media for the final time.

Let’s get right to it. Dirk Nowitzki just completed his 18th NBA season and has a player option in his contract for next season. Moments after the team’s season-ending Game 5 loss to Oklahoma City, Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle said the organization can’t take Nowitzki’s loyalty for granted and must recruit him to come back for another season. When asked both that night and during his exit interview, the German said he plans to honor his contract and return to the Mavericks, so long as the club doesn’t enter rebuilding mode. That isn’t gonna happen.

Somehow, though, a narrative sprang up suggesting Nowitzki might consider retiring. I suppose it’s not unreasonable to think that a soon-to-be 38-year-old would mull over his future, especially now that he has two young children and enough individual accolades for two careers, let alone his own. But Dirk put that rumor to rest pretty quickly.

“I definitely won’t retire. That’s out of the question,” he said. “I felt great this year. I feel like I can still play efficient enough to be there for the team. So no, retirement is not a question at all.”

(As for the accolades, he needs only 509 points to reach 30,000 for his career, and one more playoff run should easily move him past Magic Johnson for 13th place on the all-time postseason scoring list.)

As for this offseason’s outlook, Nowitzki declined to comment specifically on free agency, but did lend a little insight on what he’s thinking the team needs to compete for a top-four seed in the West, earning homecourt advantage in the first round.

“A team like this — I think we were the oldest team in the league — and obviously that’s part of the reason why injuries caught up with us,” he said. “That’s a lot of games to play for an older team. I think our average is over 30. It caught up with us a little bit. So you want to get younger, you want to get more athletic, you can never have enough shooting, a big guy in there that can block some shots.”

2016 Exit Interview: Chandler Parsons

Mavs F Chandler Parsons addresses the media following the conclusion of the team's 2015-16 season.

Presumably the Mavs’ primary recruiter when free agency heats up, Chandler Parsons, will likely be a free agent himself this summer. It’s believed he will opt out of the final year of his contract and enter the open market, but, all things being equal, he said he would like to remain a Maverick. And the sooner he signs a contract, the quicker he can hit the recruiting trail.

“In the back of my head, Dallas is home to me and I loved it here,” he said. “I came here to be a great player and to win a lot of games, and I’ve yet to do that here. I feel like I have a lot of unfinished business here that I would love to continue, and grow into the player I saw myself being when I signed here. So the quicker we can get that done allows me to start recruiting and doing that whole thing.”

Regarding Parsons’ health, he just recently began doing some stand-still shooting after undergoing season-ending surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, the same one which required hybrid microfracture surgery last offseason to address an issue which likewise ended his 2014-15 campaign prematurely. The forward bounced back from that significant operation to play some of the best basketball of his career, though, averaging nearly 20 points per game for more than a month before suffering the meniscus injury.

While Parsons said it was “devastating” to miss the playoffs again and not be able to help his team make a run, he can now focus his attention completely on rehab and getting ready for next season, when he hopes to be even better.

“I obviously have a lot of time now, with not rushing back to play in the next round or Western Conference Finals or anything like that, so I can gradually work my way and not rush anything, which is good because I have a lot of time on my hands,” he said. “But I feel great physically. I’m gonna keep ramping up the rehab every single day, every single week, continue to do more and more. Start jogging, start running, and be 100 percent probably in July when I can start training and really start doing basketball things for next season.”

Fellow free-agents-to-be Zaza Pachulia, Deron Williams (he has a player option), and Raymond Felton all said they would love to come back to the Mavericks. Felton said he even plans to buy a home here and move to the city regardless of where he signs this summer. Williams, meanwhile, is originally from The Colony, so his roots run deep in this area as it is. The point guard has said multiple times throughout the season that he’s happy here, and his teammates have noticed that as well. Williams didn’t specify whether he plans to opt out of the final year of his deal.

Those two had plenty of big games for this team, especially in the postseason, but it was Pachulia who delivered one of the best quotes of the day. He and Nowitzki forged a strong bond this season, sharing the frontcourt starting duties for most of the season and connecting off the floor as well.

“I really mean that, from the bottom of my heart: I had a lot of good games, personally, a lot of good wins, and there was the All-Star situation, on and off the court, double-doubles — but the best thing that happened to me this year, it was to play with this guy, number 41,” Pachulia said. “And I mean that. It was an amazing experience. I learned so much, and seeing his work ethic, his professionalism, his jokes, it was priceless. This is something that’s gonna stay in me, in my mind, in my heart, forever. Basketball is temporary but friendships go forever. I’m really glad to call him my friend and our relationship is gonna continue no matter what, if we’re gonna be teammates or not next year, because he’s a great person, a great guy, a beautiful family. I’m just really honored to share the locker room with this guy on and off the court.”

You won’t find a player in the locker room with a bad thing to say about Pachulia, and you also won’t find anyone with a nicer thing to say about Nowitzki.

2016 Exit Interview: Wesley Matthews

Mavs G Wesley Matthews addresses the media following the conclusion of the team's 2015-16 season.

Though Wesley Matthews gave the German some respect, he couldn’t help but joke about him one more time.

“It’s pretty remarkable what he does night in and night out, especially if you guys were to see him walking into film sessions after games,” Matthews said. “There’s no way that this dude can… like, ‘We’re relying on you right now? God, I don’t know if we’re gonna make it!’ And then he comes out and he goes for 32 and 11. So it’s just a testament to him and the time he puts into his game and his health and his body.”

Nowitzki has a legendary level of commitment to remaining ready to compete, but Matthews doesn’t fall too far behind in that category. After suffering a ruptured Achilles last March, Matthews bounced back in what must have been record time to start for the Mavericks on opening night, less than eight months later. He hit the third-most 3-pointers in a season in franchise history and played relentless defense on a nightly basis. Now that he has a full offseason to focus solely on basketball and not so much on the rehab process, could Matthews become even better?

“I’m gonna be a better player. I’m not worried about any of that,” he said. “My body of work before I got here is what it is. I can’t think of too many people that are gonna do, or that could do, what I just did. I was talking to my mom last night and she just hugged me and said, ‘It’s a blessing that you were able to play.’ At this time last year I was in a cast. Next year is supposed to be the best year. Next year is supposed to be the year that you feel the best after the Achilles surgery, so I’m excited for that. I’m excited to get back to my normal routine. I’m excited to grind again. I’m excited to get the season going.”

Matthews’ approach to the rehab process pretty well sums up the Mavericks’ collective attitude this season. It was all about grit, toughness, and a fighting spirit. Those are the qualities they had to adopt, after all, as both reserves and starters missed a significant number of games this season due to injuries that were mostly out of their control. It takes skill to compete in this league, of course, but it takes a bit of luck, too. But while the chips didn’t necessarily always fall the Mavs’ way, that didn’t stop the players from putting their heads down and pushing even harder.

From Matthews to Nowitzki to Parsons, every player within the organization approached the season that way. Now it’s time for them, and for the front office, to attack the summer with that same spirit.

Mavs find silver lining in injury-riddled ’15-16 season

DALLAS — Falling to the No. 3-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in five games of a first-round playoff series while trying to play through injuries that depleted the roster all season long, the Dallas Mavericks still held their heads up high after putting up a valiant fight.

Suffering a 118-104 series-clinching loss Monday night in Game 5, the Mavericks (1-4) had their 2015-16 season come to an abrupt end after making the playoffs for a 15th time in the last 16 years. The Mavs also overcame injuries to several of their top contributors, playing with only 10 available players in the final outing of the series. And after falling to the Thunder’s star-studded lineup, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle praised his players for their effort and competitiveness during the series.

“We’re disappointed at the result, obviously, but I thought the effort from our team, from start to finish in this series, was second to none,” Carlisle confessed after Monday’s loss. “I couldn’t be prouder of the way our guys competed right up to the very last seconds of the final game. We were up against a great team with great coaching. And metaphorically, we emptied our chamber in five games. I don’t know what we would have thrown at them in Game 6. They just were simply better. We couldn’t solve the rebounding. Their two superstars were great in the series. I thought Dirk Nowitzki was just a fantastic player in this series for us. We had other guys step up, and we had a lot of guys playing hurt.

“That’s the kind of spirit we’ve got on this club. Mavs Nation is going to be extremely proud of this team. You know, getting (into the playoffs) would have seemed like a long shot with nine games to go, but they found a way. And I love the way we competed. I wish we would have had our full contingent of guys.”

Losing versatile forward Chandler Parsons after a season-ending arthroscopic surgery to address an injury to his right medial meniscus on March 25, the Mavs admit that their chances of making the playoffs looked bleak. They also slipped three games below .500 following a 133-111 loss at Sacramento two days later, winning seven of their final nine outings to ascend to the sixth seed in the Western Conference standings.

Unable to give the Mavericks a boost for the second consecutive postseason, Parsons admittedly wonders what could have been had the team remained healthy. The 6-foot-10, 230-pounder finished the ’15-16 campaign averaging 13.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 29.5 minutes, making 61 appearances (51 starts) after battling back from a hybrid microfracture surgery on his right knee last offseason. He then seemed to have hit a stride during his final 30 games of the season, averaging 18.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists while connecting on 52 percent from the floor and 47.5 percent from three-point range during that span. And after seeing the Mavericks put up a fight against the likes of former MVP Kevin Durant and perennial All-Star guard Russell Westbrook, Parsons expressed his frustration with not being available to help his team when it needed him most.

“It’s frustrating,” Parsons said. “Obviously, I was in a really good groove there and a good rhythm, and I’ve said many times that the playoffs is the most fun time of the year. I really think this series would be different if I was healthy and I was playing, or our team was at full strength.”

But the injuries didn’t stop with Parsons.

The Mavs also saw three-time All-Star point guard Deron Williams slide in and out of the lineup with a left abdominal strain and sports hernia, missing eight games from March 25 to April 8 before being limited in the playoffs. The injury bug continued to bite the Mavericks from there as 10-year veteran J.J. Barea suffered a right groin strain that slowed the cat-quick guard near the close of the regular season and into the playoffs. Meanwhile, backup big man David Lee missed three of the five games in the first-round series after sustaining a right plantar fascia injury in the regular-season finale. Still, the Mavericks pushed the Thunder to the best of their abilities before eventually succumbing to the piling injuries.

“I think we can be proud of the guys. We fought,” Nowitzki said after averaging 20.4 points per game on 49.4 percent shooting in the series. “I think ultimately we had too many injuries, and it caught up with us. You know, it really started already at the end of the regular season. Losing Parsons, losing D-Will, losing D-Lee, and Salah (Mejri) couldn’t even go (Monday). J.J. wasn’t moving well all series, so it was too many injuries, but we battled hard. We battled unbelievably hard to even get to the sixth seed, winning six in a row when everybody thought we were dead, so I’m proud of the guys. We gave it all we had.”

The Fast Break: Game 5

Powell Finishes Alley-Oop

J.J. Barea finds Dwight Powell for the alley-oop dunk.

Final: Thunder 118, Mavs 104

Box Score | Highlights

Behind the Box Score

Dirk Nowitzki came into tonight averaging 19.5 points per game in the playoffs. He nearly matched his average in the first half, scoring 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting. He ended with 24. There’s only one Nowitzki, and he made some spectacular plays in this series.

The Mavs scored 1.542 points per possession in a sizzling second quarter in which they scored 37 points but on only 50.0 percent shooting. They did it by not turning the ball over and grabbing six offensive rebounds, which led to all sorts of easy put-back points, mostly by Dwight Powell.

Notebook

  • Zaza Pachulia had a monster game, stuffing the stat sheet for maybe the most impressive passing performance by a center in franchise history. The Georgian recorded nine dimes, the second-most by a center in Mavericks history, topped only by Kurt Nimphius’ 10 during the 1983-84 season. (He did it twice that year.) Pachulia was very effective dishing out passes from the elbow as usual, but he also made plays on the move in pick-and-roll situations. With so many playmakers hurt for this team, someone needed to step up and help to move the ball, and Pachulia did a very good job.

  • Dwight Powell might not have received major playing time earlier in the postseason, and he wasn’t even playing steady minutes late in the regular season, but he had a huge game tonight, especially in the first half. Powell was effective on both ends of the floor, using his size and athleticism to battle OKC’s big men on the glass while also contributing in the pick-and-roll and on put-backs offensively. The second-year big man made the most of his minutes in this game, as he was promoted to the third big with both Salah Mejri and David Lee out due to injury. The young big man could have a strong career should he continue improving as either a 4 or a 5 — or, ideally, both. Tonight showed the potential is certainly there.

  • With no Deron Williams tonight, Justin Anderson earned the first starting nod of his postseason career. The Mavs ran an alley-oop play for him on their third possession of the game — what many might remember as the “Roddy play,” named after former Mavs guard Rodrigue Beaubois. Anderson also drew the first assignment on Russell Westbrook, which is a pretty tough task for a rookie. Westbrook got off to a hot start in the first frame, scoring 13 points, although that had less to do Anderson making mistakes than it does Westbrook being a terrific player. He hit a few mid-range and 3-point jumpers in the opening minutes, and if those shots are falling he is nearly unguardable should you make any adjustments and press up more on him, as he has the quickness and force to drive the lane and finish either through you or over you.