DALLAS -- Mark Cuban was asked before tipoff what he'd do if he encountered a sinking ship with David Stern and Don Nelson aboard and time to save only one of them.
Banner night, but Mavs winless
Who would he chose?
"The boat," Cuban blurted out, before pretending not to understand the question.
Yet we repeat: That was before Monday night's tipoff.
Just a few hours later, jokes and laughter were scarce commodities in the Dallas Mavericks' locker room. No one was talking about Nelson's return to Big D or the widening, headline-making rift with his old boss.
Reason being: Dallas dropped to 0-3 with a 107-104 loss to the struggling Golden State Warriors, which means the Mavs haven't won a real game since Game 2 of the NBA Finals.
Which means they'll have to beat the Clippers in Los Angeles on Wednesday night to avoid the first 0-4 start in franchise history.
Those are only a few of the reasons why Mavsland is so quiet.
Their evening wasn't quite as nightmarish as Miami's 42-point loss to Chicago last week after the Heat collected their championship rings . . . but it wasn't far off. The first hint came when the curtain covering Dallas' new Western Conference championship banner didn't retract properly during the pregame unveiling, requiring a stadium operator perched near the ceiling of American Airlines Center to reach up from a catwalk and pull the black drape down himself.
"Didn't get off to a great start," said Mavs swingman Jerry Stackhouse. "We probably should have put it up before the first game of the season anyway."
The Mavs elected not to hoist their banner before Thursday night's opener against their state rivals from San Antonio, feeling sheepish about glorifying a conference title against a team with three full-fledged championships. Doing it before their second home game came with the added bonus, from Cuban's perspective, of tweaking Nelson, re-iterating that the Mavs had gone one step further than they ever did during the Nellieball era.
Trouble was, Dallas' malfunctioning banner was merely the first of many snags.
Avery Johnson was ejected late in the first half after two quick technicals from referee Danny Crawford, who has never been one of the Mavs' favorites.
The misery was then completed in fourth-quarter crunch time when Jason Terry got tossed for an ill-advised swipe at Monta Ellis' head -- not the first over-the-line foul of his career, remember-- and the Warriors pulled away for a victory even Nelson said he "never expected."
Perhaps Nelson forgot that the Warriors, who've now won four straight in this building, tend to look like the '75 Warriors whenever they come to Dallas. He also might not have known that these Mavs don't look anything like last season's Mavs yet.
Offensively or defensively.
Dallas launched 30 triples in this one, while earning just 22 free throws, after attempting 20 or more 3-pointers just seven times last season. Worse yet, Dirk Nowitzki only took one of them, with Nowitzki frequently forced to dish off as the Warriors began to run two or three defenders at him on every catch. Not the sort of shot selection and distribution, in other words, that the deliberate Johnson endorses.
At the other end, it's not so easy to pinpoint the problem except to say that the Mavs suddenly can't guard a chair. In back-to-back losses to Houston and Golden State, Dallas allowed 107 points in each game.
Asked if the Mavs have been too lax, simply expecting success and smoothness because they're so used to it, Stackhouse said: "That's a natural thing. We didn't really make a big overhaul on this team. But where we are right now should end all that, losing to two teams that didn't make the playoffs last year."
"We're going to win a championship playing defense," said Mavs guard Greg Buckner. "We're not going to win a championship on offense. That's the old Mavericks [thinking].
"I think we've got to press a little bit. We can't just keep saying, 'It's early, it's early,' and lose six more."
Don't see that happening. But 0-5 won't to be easy to avoid with the Clippers and Phoenix Suns up next in back-to-back road games and Howard almost certainly unavailable and Terry facing a possible suspension for his Ellis takedown.
"Nowhere to go but up," Terry said.
Layne Murdoch/ /Getty Images
Jazz center Mehmet Okur celebrates his undefeated team's 103-101 win over his former team, the Detroit Pistons.
FIGHT CLUB: I've always made a mental list of "guys I'd love to see in a battle royale." Ron Artest, Ben Wallace, Danny Fortson and Reggie Evans are on that list. After watching the Wolves three times now, I am adding rookie Craig Smith. -- David Thorpe
STARR POWER: Utah plays like the old Green Bay Packers; they know exactly what they want to do, and so does their opponent. But stopping them is still a challenge because they read and execute so well. -- Thorpe
MURRAY STATE: Has anyone ever seen Flip Saunders and Bill Murray in the same room together (OK, a 1980's version of Murray, but you get my drift)? -- Thorpe
MEMO TO JOE: While watching Mehmet Okur beat the Pistons with 23 points, 10 rebounds and a game-saving blocked shot at the buzzer, Detroit president Joe Dumars must have been asking himself, Did we really have to let him get away for nothing? -- Royce Webb
BABY SHAQ? "Shaq did not have the footwork or the skills around the basket that Dwight Howard has." That's the claim of Orlando Magic broadcaster Matt Guokas, who happens to have been Shaquille O'Neal's first NBA coach. But maybe Guokas wasn't paying attention. When he was Howard's age, Shaq averaged 29.3 points per game on 59.9 percent shooting. -- Webb
NEXT POINT: Carlos Arroyo is blowing up. In his last two games, Arroyo has made 18-of-23 shots, including 4-of-5 on 3-pointers. With Arroyo so hot, Orlando starting point guard and rising star Jameer Nelson can't stay on the floor. -- Webb
Bruce Bowen is one of the toughest defenders in the NBA. But Bowen's critics say his aggressive style sometimes crosses the line into dirty defense. One of Bowen's tricks is to get up under jump shooters when they're in the air. This can lead to some bad landings for the shooter.
Francis suffered an ankle injury when he landed on Bowen's foot after attempting a jumper early in the Spurs-Knicks game at the Garden on Monday. X-rays were negative, but Francis was forced to watch the second half from the bench in street clothes.
-- Chris Ramsay
Don Nelson helped make Dallas a contender. After watching the team raise its conference title banner, his new/old team, the Warriors, took a 107-104 win over his former employers.
Don Nelson returns to Dallas
Gary Dineen/Getty Images
Ben Gordon lets fly the final shot that gave him his 37th point. Next up, Central Division rival Cleveland on Thursday.
Quote of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony told ESPN Radio's Eric Kuselias about their slow start.
"We're all right. We're 0-2 right now and supposed to be 2-0. We still have 80 more games to go. It's a long season. Even the best teams from last year are starting off with a losing record. We got to get back on track," he said. "We'll be all right. We won't start off like we did last year, I can tell you that."
Conveniently, the Knicks come to town Wednesday.
And, his reaction to "The LeBrons?"
"They're funny. They give him some type of personality, they make people look at him in a different way. I'm different, if I were to try and go out there and do it, I couldn't do that, because my personality is totally different than his," Anthony said.
How about "The Carmelos?"
"The 'Melos would be totally, totally different," Anthony said.
Mike (Wisconsin): How likely is it that Detroit GM Joe Dumars lets Chauncey Billups get away this summer? Apparently, the Bucks have cap room, a need at the point and Billups has interest.
John Hollinger: I would be deeply concerned if I'm Detroit. I don't know if Dumars was planning on paying the max to keep him, but he's going to have to.
Jesse (San Antonio): Early impressions of top five picks?
John Hollinger: Too early to say in general. I saw Adam Morrison against Cleveland and liked what he did out there -- he moves better than I expected and it seems he's adjusted to the 3-point distance immediately. Some guys need a year. Andrea Bargnani hardly played when I saw the Raps, so no comment.
Tyrus Thomas impressed me with his athleticism but has a ways go on the basics. Let's see, that leaves LaMarcus Aldridge, who DNPed when I saw them, and the Landlord, who is slightly disappointing -- offensively he's really weak, seems like his absolute best-case scenario is that he becomes Antonio Davis.
Chad Ford's NBA podcast features John Hollinger, who explains why Al Jefferson has a projected PER ahead of Dwight Howard. Basically, Darius Miles had a bad third year, and he threw off projections because comparable players at that age and position are few in number, Hollinger says.
He has explained that, but fans scanning the rankings of power forward don't see the explanation on the player card.
"That hasn't stopped the Magic fans from emailing me daily," Hollinger says.