Mavs hope to learn from late-game miscues, costly turnovers against Spurs

DALLAS — After holding their own for 48 minutes against the Southwest Division-leading San Antonio Spurs before eventually suffering a 96-91 loss Monday night on the road, the Dallas Mavericks will look to learn from the costly mistakes that proved to be the difference down the stretch.

Playing without 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki (right Achilles strain), starting point guard Deron Williams (left calf strain), center Andrew Bogut (calf) and fellow veterans J.J. Barea (left calf strain) and Devin Harris (right great toe sprain), the Mavericks (2-11) stepped into the AT&T Center with only 10 players available. The Mavs also hoped to take advantage of a San Antonio squad that opted to rest perennial All-Star big man LaMarcus Aldridge and former NBA Finals MVP Tony Parker, attempting to steal a much-needed road win. Instead, the shorthanded Mavs would fail to hold on to a late fourth-quarter lead. And after falling to their sixth straight loss, the Mavs admittedly felt like they let a win slip through their fingers.

“I mean, we went into this expecting to win it,” swingman Wesley Matthews said after the loss. “I know no one else did, but we did. And that’s how we played. We played well enough to win the game. Even during a couple of stretches that weren’t so well, we still played well enough to win the game. This team didn’t have 100 points, and this could have been ours.”

Led by sharpshooter Seth Curry’s career high-tying 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting and 5 of 10 from three-point range, the Mavericks finished the night with three scorers in double figures as Matthews and versatile forward Harrison Barnes pitched in 20 points apiece. The Mavs also outshot the Spurs for the night, 47.3 percent to 46.7 percent, finishing with a 40-39 rebounding edge and converting San Antonio’s 14 turnovers into 14 points.

However, after committing their own 17 giveaways and allowing 16 points at the other end of the floor off the miscues, the Mavericks know they must play a more efficient game moving forward. That said, the Mavs will look to make the proper adjustments in time for Wednesday’s matchup at home against the high-octane Los Angeles Clippers.

“You know, we had some turnovers that were ill timed,” Barnes confessed. “We had some turnovers that led to fast breaks, and then just a few breakdowns where they just got wide-open looks. You know, we just can’t have that.

“We were right there,” he added. “Seth played great and was hitting shots, getting in the paint. Wes was hitting shots and was getting in the paint as well, so it was great from that perspective. We battled, but we just came up short.”

The Mavericks committed eight turnovers in the fourth quarter alone Monday night, which led to 12 San Antonio points at the other end during the period. The Spurs also outscored the Mavs during the last quarter, 23-18, overshadowing Dallas’ 14-8 rebounding edge and three lead changes down the stretch. Meanwhile, the Dallas defense scrambled to hold the Spurs to 7-of-20 shooting during the final 12 minutes of play, locking in without several of the team’s top offensive options available. And it’s that defensive execution that Mavs coach Rick Carlisle says the team can take moving forward against the NBA-best Clippers (13-2) on Wednesday.

“A lot of positives,” Carlisle said after Monday’s loss. “You know, it comes down to a game of inches. The untimely turnovers and a few unfortunate misses when we had open looks were the difference, but we’re doing an awful lot of things well.”

He added: “It comes down to probably four or five or six plays during the second half that we just were unable to make. Either a turnover that shouldn’t happen or a shot that we just needed to knock in, so it’s tough. But the guys are fighting their (tails) off, and there’s a lot of positives. We’ve got to build on the positives.”

Note: The Mavericks will now return to American Airlines Center on Wednesday, hosting the Los Angeles Clippers. The game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. It will also air in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting Mavs.com, or by calling (214) 747-MAVS.

Injury updates:

Andrew Bogut (calf) — out

Devin Harris (right great toe sprain) — out

J.J. Barea (left calf strain) — out

Deron Williams (left calf strain) — out

Dirk Nowitzki (right Achilles strain) — out

Third quarter against Spurs will serve as learning experience for Mavs

SAN ANTONIO — If you ask the Dallas Mavericks where things went awry Tuesday night against the San Antonio Spurs, they’ll quickly point you in the direction of the third quarter box score.

Entering halftime with a 53-45 lead over the defending champions, the Mavericks (0-1) would eventually fall to a hard-fought 101-100 defeat to open the regular season. But, after allowing 31 points in the third period, the Mavericks know exactly where to focus their attention while looking to bounce back from their season-opening loss.

“I thought the third quarter was a killer overall,” 12-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki admitted following Tuesday’s loss. “I thought we lost our composure a little bit and we let the refereeing get to us a little bit, instead of just working through it. We gave up 31 points that quarter, so that was a tough one in the third. But I liked the way we battled back. I mean, we were still down eight or nine in the fourth and kept battling. We had a shot to win.”

Losing defensive anchor Tyson Chandler to foul trouble in the third quarter, the Mavericks would have a hard time containing the Spurs’ offensive attack in the period. Meanwhile, the emotions got the better of Chandler, who was assessed a technical for arguing his fourth foul of the night when a 10-point Dallas advantage eventually led to a 57-all tie with 8:21 left in the period.

“I think it definitely changed the momentum,” Chandler later confessed. “They started going inside and drawing double-teams, and that definitely was a shift in the game.”

“You know, I haven’t looked at the film yet and I can’t give you a direct blow-by-blow on everything, but [Chandler] is important to us and we’ve got to work to keep him out of foul trouble. No question,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle added.

However, like Chandler, emotions would get the better of Nowitzki as well after he also was assessed a technical for arguing his third personal of the night with 7:48 remaining in the quarter. And after committing seven total team fouls, two technicals and three turnovers in the quarter, in addition to allowing the Spurs to shoot 10-of-20 from the field and 4-of-8 from three-point range, the Mavericks will admittedly use the third period as a learning experience going forward.

“Overall, we played a good game. And we can learn from it and get better,” shooting guard Monta Ellis explained. “Go to practice and get ready for the next one. Stay together, leave the referees alone and stay in the game mentally. You know, and come down and get some wins.”

Note: Playing their home opener Thursday night at American Airlines Center, the Mavericks will play host to the Utah Jazz. That game will air locally on Fox Sports Southwest at 7:30 p.m. CT. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by calling (214) 747-MAVS (6287) or by visiting Mavs.com.

Injury updates presented by Baylor Emergency Medical Centers:
– Raymond Felton, high right ankle sprain, out at least another week

What To Watch For: Mavs at Spurs

Practice Report: Dirk Nowitzki

With Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, and Patty Mills out for tonight’s season opener, the Mavericks are in a position to give Tim Duncan his first-ever loss in ring ceremony games.

That said, the Spurs aren’t strangers to playing without key rotation players. Head coach Gregg Popovich is known to rest his entire starting lineup for a game or two every season, and his teams have historically performed very well in such contests. Just last season, for example, Mills led a Tony Parker-less Spurs team to an April victory in Dallas. The lesson: No matter who’s suiting up, opponents should never take San Antonio lightly. And, to that end, you never know just what to expect from San Antonio on any given night.

OFFENSE
Dallas Offense Spurs Defense
Points/100 poss. 111.2 (3) 102.4 (3)
eFG% 52.6 (T-4) 48.2 (4)
TOV% 12.7 (5) 12.8 (23)
Off/Def Reb% 24.6 (23) 76.4 (4)
FT/FGA .201 (20) .184 (3)

How, then, can the Mavs use this to their advantage? For starters, the absence of Leonard and Splitter will change the way San Antonio defends Dallas. Leonard, the reigning Finals MVP, is the ideal defender for a player like Chandler Parsons, a large small forward who can handle the ball. Leonard’s combination of size, speed, and strength goes a long way toward limiting Parsons’s effectiveness on the perimeter. He’s also a tremendous rebounder on both sides of the floor — he’s a lethal offensive rebounder, so his presence would have forced Parsons to box out for boards instead of leaking out for potential fast breaks. The new Maverick averaged 13.5 points and four assists in two games against Leonard-less San Antonio last season.

Instead of squaring off against the Spurs star, Parsons will likely be checked by Danny Green for long chunks of the game, as well as possibly Austin Daye and maybe even rookie Kyle Anderson. Green will also be spending time chasing Monta Ellis around the floor, meaning he’s in for a hard night’s work: Parsons and Ellis were two of only 18 players in the NBA who ran at least 2.5 miles per game last season, per SportVU. (Parsons and Jimmy Butler tied for the league lead at 2.7 miles per game.) The other primary Spurs wings, Manu Ginobili and Marco Belinelli, aren’t as quick as Green and I’m not sure Popovich will want either of them guarding Ellis and Parsons for extended periods of time. It’s important to mention that Leonard likely would have spent a few minutes here and there guarding Monta, as well.

Splitter, meanwhile, did about as well as any seven-footer can do against Dirk Nowitzki in the playoffs last season. Nowitzki definitely had his moments in the seven-game classic, but Splitter was effective at knocking him off his spots and limiting his breathing space as much as possible. Boris Diaw will likely take the starting job in his stead, and Diaw is no poor defender himself, especially when it comes to guarding Dirk. Normally Nowitzki has no trouble against bigger, slower players, but both Splitter and Diaw have the strength and length to force Nowitzki into difficult shots. That’s why having players like Ellis and Vince Carter was so important in last season’s series. Nowitzki can’t do it all by himself. That’s also the same type of contribution Ellis and Parsons will look to make tonight.

Despite the slew of injuries, though, the Spurs are still a stout defensive team. As long as Tim Duncan mans the middle, San Antonio is going to be formidable at the rim. However, playing without Splitter gives the Spurs one less rim protector, meaning if Duncan rests — or if the Mavericks can play him out of position with high pick-and-rolls or misdirection sets — free looks at the rim should open up inside. It’ll be up to Ellis, Parsons, and the other guards to generate and finish such opportunities. You don’t get many clean looks against San Antonio — the third-best defense in terms of efficiency last season, per Basketball-Reference — so you’ve got to take advantage of the ones you do find.

The chips are in Dallas’s favor here, as the two starters San Antonio will be without would have been guarding the Mavs’ best offensive players. The team-centric gameplan will always lean slightly toward Nowitzki, Ellis, and Parsons, so I would guess that will be the case tonight — perhaps even more than usual.

DEFENSE
Dallas Defense Spurs Offense
Points/100 108.7 (22) 110.5 (6)
eFG% 51.5 (T-24) 53.7 (2)
TOV% 14.8 (T-5) 13.5 (12)
Def/Off Reb% 72.7 (25) 22.7 (24)
FT/FGA .229 (22) .188 (27)

Leonard might be the defending Finals MVP, but he’s far from the only scoring threat for the Spurs. Tony Parker led the team in scoring last season at 16.7 points per game, and five others averaged double-digits. (Two of those players, Leonard and Mills, are out tonight. Splitter, meanwhile, averaged 8.2 points per game, ninth on the team.) Parker is one of the best pick-and-roll point guards in the NBA and generated 11.8 team points per game off of drives to the rim in 2013-14, third-most in the NBA. (Ellis’s 12.4 led the league.)

Normally, the gameplan would be to try to shut down the opponent’s leading scorer and risk letting role players win the game. However, Dallas found success against San Antonio in last year’s playoffs when it did the opposite. Rick Carlisle essentially tried to remove players like Green, Diaw, and Belinelli from the picture in that first-round series in favor of letting Parker and Duncan work pick-and-rolls in the center of the floor. It very nearly led to a Dallas upset. It’s also a strategy the Mavericks might try implementing again tonight, as Leonard, Splitter, and Mills are three of the Spurs’ top scorers.

As great as Parker, Duncan, and Ginobili are, one of the biggest keys to San Antonio’s recent success against the Mavs has actually been Danny Green. The wing has hit 26-of-39 three-pointers against Dallas during the past two regular seasons, including three games with at least five made treys. However, he had just one game with more than two made three-pointers in the playoff series: Game 7, when he was 4-of-6 in the Spurs win.

Containing Green, Belinelli, and the rest of the Spurs shooters is no easy task. Six Spurs hit at least 40 percent of their threes last season, and only one (Mills) will not be playing tonight. San Antonio led the league by a mile in three-point percentage in 2013-14, hitting 39.7 percent beyond the arc. The next closest, Dallas, hit 38.4 percent — still an insanely high number to be fair. Not surprisingly, the Spurs made most of their hey on catch-and-shoot three-pointers, which they hit a third-best 40.7 percent of the time, per SportVU. The deadliest player of them all, Belinelli, hit a blistering 46.1 percent on those shots, tied for fifth-highest in the NBA.

Again, it doesn’t really matter who’s playing for the Spurs, because all of their players are dangerous. They’re the defending champs, after all, and their “next man up” mentality has played a huge role in the team making two consecutive trips to the NBA Finals. This is the single-toughest team you could possibly open the season with. Add to it that it’s ring ceremony night, and Dallas is going to start its season in a pretty tough environment. It won’t take long to find out what this Mavs squad we have such high expectations for is made of.

DeJuan Blair provided Mavs with gritty play, toughness this season

DALLAS — Although he wasn’t the most heralded offseason signing for the Dallas Mavericks last summer, big man DeJuan Blair would eventually show his value to the team when it mattered most.

Finding himself in the doghouse during his fourth and final season in San Antonio, Blair would go from starting 150 combined games the three previous years to just 16 during the 2012-13 campaign. He then looked to exact some revenge on his former team during the Mavericks’ first-round playoff series against the Spurs, emerging as a key contributor off the Dallas bench to help push the top-seeded squad to seven games.

“He did a (heck) of a job out there,” teammate Shawn Marion said of Blair’s impact during the series. “He made his presence felt inside. He was getting some great rebounds. He has some unbelievable hands for his size. He might not be as big as most bigs in the league, but he is very active and he uses his body very well.”

“Tons of activity and [Blair] brings us a real physical presence,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle added. “He clears out a lot of space in there.”

Sharing time with first-string center Samuel Dalembert and fellow big man Brandan Wright at the 5 spot, Blair would start 13 of his 78 appearances this season while averaging 6.4 points and 4.7 rebounds an outing during his 15.6 minutes per game. The undersized Blair also connected on 53.4 percent from the field, quickly earning the confidence of his teammates and Carlisle.

But it was Blair’s production in the playoffs that may have garnered the most attention while also impressing Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, providing the Mavericks with grittiness and toughness inside during the heated first-round series.

Averaging 6.7 points and 6.2 rebounds in just 13.5 minutes of action during the series, Blair also collected a team-best 2.0 steals a contest on the defensive end. Blair’s presence was also sorely missed in Game 5 of the series while he served a one-game suspension for kicking Spurs center Tiago Splitter in the head, leading to a 109-103 defeat for the Mavs.

Still, after putting up a fight against his former team, Blair left the court feeling like he had vindicated his exit from San Antonio while Popovich and 14-time All-Star Tim Duncan praised the former Pittsburgh standout’s play at the conclusion of the series.

“He just said, ‘Way to hand it to us,’ Blair recalled Popovich telling him as the two embraced following Game 7. “He said, ‘Way to hand it to us in our rear end.’ That’s what he said. … I still have respect for all of them, but it didn’t work out (in San Antonio), so I had to go somewhere else. It was a fun series. I had a good time.

“[Duncan] said he was proud of me, too, and just keep going. And he was happy for me, you know, and that’s what everybody was saying. Just coming out and playing like I did was great.”

But where does Blair, who is just 25 years old, go from there?

Entering free agency for the second straight offseason, the 6-foot-7 big man hopes to return to the Mavericks as the team tries to take another step forward next season. However, with Dalembert and Wright already signed through next year, it remains to be seen if Blair’s services will again be called upon in Dallas.

“I think I did a good job this season and this series, playing hard and playing how I know how,” Blair said after the Mavericks were eliminated from the playoffs. “Hopefully I can come back to Dallas and we can get another shot at it.

“I think I can bring that energy and toughness,” he added, “more toughness to our team. We’ve just got to click as a team.”