Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images
LOS ANGELES -- Jason Kidd was on the court this time. It still wasn't enough.
Apparently, Dallas Mavericks coach Avery Johnson learned from his much-criticized decision to leave Kidd on the bench in the final 34.5 seconds at San Antonio on Thursday. But the Mavericks also left Staples Center with the same lesson that has been repeated since the All-Star break: not even Kidd's presence is enough to bring them a road victory against the West's top teams.
They have lost to the Hornets, the Spurs and now the Lakers. They have battled, they have held fourth-quarter leads they have yet to prevail. And you have to wonder how this translates to the playoffs. The 108-104 overtime loss to the Lakers left the Mavs three games behind the Lakers and four behind the Spurs in the loss column, which makes it all the more likely they'd start playoff series against those teams on the road.
And both the Spurs and Lakers stand to get better by the end of the season: Brent Barry will re-sign with San Antonio after his 30-day "cooling-off period," and Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza will come off the inactive list once their injuries have healed. (Ariza will have the walking boot removed from his broken right foot Monday and said he expects to return in April).
The Mavericks have made their move, landing Kidd in the trade saga that had more false endings than the last "Lord of the Rings" movie. He has been everything they expected, instantly injecting a fast-break turbo into their offense. On Sunday, he transformed the half-court offense and brought life to the corpse known as Erick Dampier, setting him up for 16 points (which also inspired Dampier to grab 17 rebounds).
Kidd had 15 points, 11 assists and 4 steals. Given a chance to play in crunch time Sunday (while an ineffective Josh Howard sat on the bench), Kidd set up Dirk Nowitzki for a 3-pointer with two seconds remaining to send the game into overtime. Then he stole the Lakers' attempted inbounds pass to Kobe Bryant. In overtime, Kidd drove for a layup and foul shot that could have tied the game. But Kidd missed the free throw with 10.4 seconds left. ("I just left it short," he said. "That falls on my shoulders. I have to be able to step up and make that free throw.")
Kidd made the most of his time on the court at the beginning of the game, hitting a 3-pointer, finding Josh Howard for a jump shot and throwing an alley-oop to Dampier for a dunk. At that moment, it looked like the greatest trade ever.
On the other hand Kidd spent most of the time guarding Bryant when Kobe went off for 30 of his season-high 52 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. Bryant went around Kidd at will, getting into the paint for layups and drawing fouls on Dampier and Nowitzki.
"I see you," Bryant said to Nowitzki in both admiration and warning after Nowitzki hit a jumper in overtime. "I ain't done with you yet."
The next time Bryant got the ball, he worked his way past Kidd and into the lane for a junior skyhook over Dirk, followed by a Dikembe-esque finger wag.
The Mavericks have defensive issues, something they had to take into account while adding Kidd and sending DeSagana Diop to New Jersey in the big trade. So far Kidd's offensive influence hasn't been quite enough to offset the defensive problems in the big games. Dallas is 4-3 with him, with the victories all coming against teams with losing records.
"The newness is over," Kidd said. "As a team, we've got to find a way to win ballgames. We're very comfortable with one another on the floor. Offensively, and defensively, we're just trying to get better. The hardest thing [is] to learn on the run. But nobody's going to wait for us."
"We can use [the adjustment excuse] if we want. For us to be a competitive team, we've got to push forward at some point. Seven games into it, so let's push forward now. There are going to be some points where there's going to be a mistake or something. We can't use that as a crutch."
Johnson sounded a little more patient.
"We're not where we hope to be in a week or two weeks or in a month," the coach said. "We've got a lot of things going for us. We think our ceiling is still pretty high for this basketball team. We're six or seven games into this thing. We're finding more and more about Kidd. We're finding more and more about how he works well. He and Damp really have played well together."
Not many people outside Dallas expected the acquisition of Kidd to put the Mavericks over the top in the ultracompetitive West. But the games against San Antonio and the Lakers have been eye-opening. The Mavericks came closer to winning than most people thought they would. On Sunday, they did it when Howard and Jerry Stackhouse shot a combined 6-for-27 and the Lakers shot twice as many free throws as the Mavericks (50-25).
No, Sunday's events didn't change the order of things in the West. The Lakers remain the best team, the Spurs the biggest threat to them because of their playoff experience. With Dallas pushing the Spurs, then the Lakers to the brink, it only added a tinge of doubt and a scoop of interest to the brewing postseason intrigue.
As if these playoffs needed any more.
J.A. Adande joined ESPN.com as an NBA columnist in August 2007 after 10 years with the Los Angeles Times. Click here to e-mail J.A.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution broke a story that Hawks general manager Billy Knight tried to fire coach Mike Woodson earlier this season and was turned down by ownership. Then he tried a second time and a third. The most recent effort was less than two weeks ago, right after the team traded for Mike Bibby.
Although neither Knight nor Atlanta's ownership has confirmed this information on the record, their stony silence on the issue spoke volumes by itself.
Of course, the fact the story has leaked out takes Atlanta's situation to a completely different level. To start with, one has to think Woodson's relationship with Knight is beyond repair. In happier times, Knight often spent time before the game in Woodson's office; needless to say, he wasn't seen around those parts Friday.
Even more important, however, is the locker room situation. Woodson is in the last year of his contract and the GM has tried to fire him three times, so it doesn't take a rocket scientist to connect the dots as to his future. The players can't help but be aware of this.
I've never been a certified, avowed, topflight, unabashed Isiah Thomas basher.
By that I mean, I'm not one of those who thinks every move he's made with the Knicks has been idiotic, not one who thinks he's the worst GM in sports history and not one who thinks he couldn't coach a CYO team to a postseason berth.
I feel pretty confident in saying Isiah could lead St. Rita's sixth-graders to an above-.500 record.
But seriously, Isiah's got a good eye for talent, and he's a decent coach.
That said, there is no way he should be sitting on the Knicks bench next season.
A story in the New York Daily News says Knicks owner James Dolan is considering hiring Kiki Vandeweghe as GM, while keeping Isiah on as coach.
That might have been a good idea many moons ago.
Like before the sexual harassment fiasco, before the Stephon Marbury fiasco and before the losing-the-locker-room fiasco.
But now, it's too late for Isiah to do anything with this club but go away.
Kobe Bryant, Lakers guard: Five turnovers? One crummy steal? Kobe's terrible. Seriously, taking charge with 30 points in the fourth quarter and OT against the Mavs was impressive.
Devean George, Mavs forward -- So much for showing up his old team. Missed all five shots in 10 minutes against the Lakers. Small consolation that his sub in the Nets trade, Trenton Hassell, did not shine against the Spurs.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"He didn't cooperate on any of our defenses."
-- Mavs coach Avery Johnson, explaining the futility of the many defenses Dallas used to try to stop Kobe Bryant. • See Sunday's daily leaders
-- Andrew Ayres
David Liam Kyle/Getty Contributor
LeBron James (37 points) rises above the Bulls, leading the Cavaliers to a 95-86 win. If the Cavs played in the West and the season ended Sunday, Cleveland (34-26) would not make the playoffs.
ESPN Fantasy Games
I don't think Sam Cassell is going to help Boston or any other team all that much, not statistically, at least, thus he won't be a must-add in fantasy. In fact, I can't say any of the players moving on late this week will matter in fantasy. The problem is, they could affect some of the players you do own. Chief among those is probably Rajon Rondo.
Boston's point guard has done a nice job, really, averaging 10.7 points. 4.8 assists and 1.73 steals per game, all worthy of being owned in a 10-team fantasy league, and obviously in deeper ones. Rondo is one of the most-dropped players in ESPN leagues in the past week, and I can't find a good reason for this other than the fact Cassell-to-Boston rumors have been running rampant. Rondo's play has remained steady.