SAN ANTONIO -- After giving the home team what he and Tim Duncan normally supply offensively, Manu Ginobili felt helpless when the ball found Dirk Nowitzki in the corner.
"I was holding my breath," Ginobili said. "Definitely."
As for the Dallas perspective
"I was running back to the locker room," Jason Terry
said. "I bet nine times out of 10 he's going to make that shot."
The reaction on both sides of the biggest rivalry in Texas was grand surprise Wednesday night. Nowitzki was presented with a great look on a game-winning triple at the buzzer and somehow managed to leave it short, preserving a gutsy (and chippy) 97-95 victory for the home team at the AT&T Center, with Duncan watching it all in a blazer and jeans.
Truth is, though, that there were bigger surprises in this one. Much bigger.
Exhibit A: Nowitzki had only 11 field-goal attempts and just four in the fourth quarter, or one less than Mavs newcomer Brandon Bass
Exhibit B: Mavs coach Avery Johnson volunteered almost immediately in his post-game remarks that Nowitzki was the second option on the play, behind Josh Howard
Wait a second.
Nowitzki's sluggish start has consumed almost one-fourth of the season and finds him connecting on just 27.3 percent of his 3-point attempts, which doesn't seem possible for a shooter of his pedigree, someone who just posted three straight seasons in the .400 Club from deep. So current form tells us that the miss wasn't all that surprising, especially since Nowitzki missed a similar 3 at the end of regulation that could have beaten New Orleans as recently as Saturday night.
The reigning MVP can't duck blame here. Since his first-round nightmare against Golden State, Nowitzki is seeing more double-teams and traps from the baseline and swarms from smaller defenders. But he's been too passive at times in response. And he knows it.
"I'm still trying to figure it out," he said.
As a frequent Mavs observer, I'd say it's time for Johnson to rethink his equal-opportunity offense and start giving Nowitzki more touches. Keep trying to hold his minutes down, yes, but ask him to be even more involved than usual when he's out there. One obvious way to help Nowitzki shake this malaise is to force feed him out of it by calling more plays for him.
Calling the game's biggest play for Nowitzki, at the very least, would be a good start.
"He's still climbing up the mountain right now," Johnson said. "He's going to get it going. And once he gets it going, we know what he can do."
History says so, too. It's difficult to envision Nowitzki's percentage on 3s staying anywhere close to where it's been, since he's only the sweetest shooting 7-footer of all-time.
But it's worth noting that this wasn't the first time in the Mavs' 19 games that Bass -- a fantastic free-agent find, don't get me wrong, who supplied 18 points and six boards in 26 productive minutes here -- has been featured for a spell in the fourth quarter. Which should be Nowitzki Time.
You wouldn't have been thrown by anything San Antonio did without Duncan in moving to 16-3. Long before he set up Nowitzki's chance to be the hero with 10 straight points in the final 2:23, Jason Terry felled Tony Parker
and Ginobili with hard fouls that enraged the hosts. But Ginobili typically responds to rough stuff better than anyone and did so again, throwing down a memorable dunk in traffic halfway through the third quarter and capping that 16-point period with an uncontested 3 that enraged Johnson. Relinquishing his sixth-man role to start in Duncan's place, Ginobili was so hot in a 23-point second half that the Mavs (12-7) actually ran three defenders at him at one stage, making you wonder how Ginobili was ever a candidate to join Duncan in street clothes because of a sprained finger on his shooting hand.
Yet it's a borderline shocker to hear that Nowitzki -- going for the tie or the win on an inbounds play against their biggest rivals -- was Johnson's second choice. As a matter of confidence, if nothing else.
"It's a shot that [I've] got to make," Nowitzki said, rapping only himself for botching the finish after he unexpectedly got himself open in the corner by running "the wrong route."
"Hopefully we as a team and I get better from month to month and we'll be there at the end."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
By Tim Legler |
Ed Stefanski is going to need some good ulcer medicine.
The new Philadelphia 76ers
GM saw his team for the first time since his hiring, and they played competitively until they took a defeat at the hands of the Boston Celtics
, 113-103, Wednesday at home.
I think Stefanski's going to do a good job in Philadelphia. He had a lot of input in New Jersey's run, he's got the pulse of Philadelphia and his connections to team advisor Larry Brown will help.
Stefanski's predecessor, Billy King, made a lot of bad decisions. The biggest one was the firing of Jim O'Brien, who had improved the team's record and lost to a powerful Pistons team in the 2005 playoffs. So King brought in Mo Cheeks, who has shown he's not nearly the coach that O'Brien is.
So who ends up coaching this team? That will be one of Stefanski's decisions. There's no way Cheeks is coaching there next year. That's why the timing of this is good. Stefanski gets a chance to be around the team on a daily basis before making many of the decisions ahead.
What I see now is a team that can't match the talent of its opponent on a given night. Knowing that, this team should be be figuring a way to win through superior effort or adjusting its defensive approach. I don't see any of that now.
I don't think Brown is going to want to coach this team. There are some things to like -- Louis Williams
has shown he should be a starter -- but this core nucleus has a long way to go before competing with the top teams. Brown doesn't want to go out with the Knicks' disappointment as having been his last job, but I don't think he's going to want to coach a club that's a .500 team, at best.
is probably the No. 3 guy on a really good team. But they're looking for him to be that No. 1 player, a 20-25 point man every night, and I don't think he can do that.
How does Stefanski change the course?
Good ping-pong ball bounces in the next few years is one hope. Getting something good in a trade of veteran point guard Andre Miller
, who had 26 points and 12 assists against the Celtics, would be a start.
Boston could use him, if it could somehow find the right mix of matching salaries and draft picks, which doesn't look possible. I like Rajon Rondo, but if you had Miller out there, you'd be in a better position to take on the Spurs.
The kind of places Miller would be going is to contenders looking for a final piece. So you could probably expect only fringe players in return and a good draft pick. Nothing that could help you right away.
I live in Philly. I hate seeing the decline of this team. Philly would love to have a really good team to root for. Even when they were bad with Allen Iverson
, they had something to cheer for. They don't really have that now.
Based on who they have committed to on the current roster, with big contracts like Samuel Dalembert's, the Sixers likely won't be competitive to win the East over the next four or five years, despite Stefanski's best efforts.
ESPN analyst Tim Legler is a regular contributor to the Daily Dime.
Allen Iverson, Nuggets guard:
Goes for a NBA season-high 51 points on 18-for-27 shooting. If he had kept up his pace of the first three quarters (49 points), he would have finished with 65. Instead, Kobe clutched a 111-107 Lakers win.
J.R. Smith, Nuggets guard:
While AI was on fire, Smith was doused. Missed 9 of 10 shots, including all five from 3. That's no way to support the Answer man.
Quote of the Night
"I'm not one of these players that believes if a guy gets hot there's nothing you can do about it. I just don't believe that."
-- Kobe Bryant,
dismissing the notion of only hoping to contain AI.
• See how all 212 players fared
-- Andrew Ayres
Kenny Mayne gets controversially uncontroversial with Kobe Bryant in the current issue of ESPN the Magazine. A sample:
KM: If you could play any other sport professionally, what would it be?
KB: No. But I enjoy playing soccer. Growing up in Italy, it's something you have
to do. It's your religion over there.
KM: You'd look good in the cricket whites.
KB: Think so? It might be a little weird. I'd be the tallest guy out there, by far.
Chad Ford and John Hollinger examine the early NBA season trends. Is the hot start by the Orlando Magic surprising?
By Michael Jackson
Suns guard Steve Nash posted 18 assists on Wednesday in a 136-123 win over the Raptors. This came after he had 17 assists on Tuesday in a 121-117 win in Indy.
Most Assists, Back-to-Back Days,
| Tim Hardaway
|| Feb. 17-18, 1995
| Andre Miller
|| Feb. 12-13, 2002
| Kevin Johnson
|| Apr. 5-6, 1994
| Steve Nash
|| Dec. 4-5, 2007
| John Stockton
|| Mar. 5-6, 1994
| John Stockton
|| Dec. 18-19, 1992
AP Photo/Eric Gay
Spurs guard Manu Ginobili went for 37 points, earning the defensive wrath of Mavs center DeSagana Diop.