Doubting Dallas' late decision

Updated: April 21, 2004, 4:34 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Del Harris and Don Nelson
Don Nelson, right, could be facing his last games as the Mavs' head coach.
God Bless Sacramento. God Bless Dallas. Can't think of two other teams that could make an 83-79 game so entertaining.

Yet that's the extent of the pleasantries.

This one's a rough morning for the Mavericks, who made the decision to spend Tuesday night in Sacramento and then fly home Wednesday long before suffering their narrow Game 2 defeat at Arco Arena. It's a decision that meant one more night in their Sacto hotel rooms to contemplate how much confidence they've pumped into the hobbled Kings by failing to steal one of the first two games, and how many Don Nelson questions await them back in Dallas.

The Mavs squandered a fantastic opportunity to secure a 1-1 split mainly because they shot miserably in Game 2. They shot 32 percent from the floor, somehow missed 17 of their 19 3-point attempts and lost most of all because they didn't pull away from Sacramento when the hosts, in one late stretch, missed 17 of 19 shots from all ranges.

You can be sure, though, that you haven't heard the last about Nelson's decision to run a play for an ailing Michael Finley with the Mavericks down by a bucket and less than 10 seconds to go in regulation. Finley, to this day, remains one of Dallas' deadliest catch-and-shoot threats, but asking him to dribble and penetrate against the underrated defense of Peja Stojakovic -- not his best move even when healthy -- was a curious choice at best. Even Nelson acknowledged in his postgame remarks that you could question the decision.

It makes even less sense that Dirk Nowitzki gets the ball so rarely in these situations for Dallas, especially considering his pick-and-roll prowess alongside Steve Nash. Maybe Nowitzki wouldn't have done any better than Finley, who got stripped before he could squeeze off a shot, but it's far better for Nowitzki's development (and the franchise's future) to make him win or lose it.

Now, unless the Mavericks can rally to beat the Kings four times in the next five games -- far from a good bet given Dallas' recurring inability to win close games on the road -- the talk will inevitably start to get louder about whether this is the last series Nelson will be deciding who takes Dallas' last shot.

  • Not only is Philly native Jim O'Brien a great choice to coach the 76ers, because of the structure he lends and the respect he commands, but it's also a credit to the Sixers that they moved so decisively.

    Last summer, you'll recall, Philly was stalled by its inability to secure permission to speak with Portland coach Mo Cheeks and wound up settling for Randy Ayers, who wasn't even one of the Sixers' top five choices.

    <center>O'Brien</center>
    O'Brien
    This time Billy King pounced on one of the best available candidates before the coaching carousel started spinning at top speed. Toronto is the only other team at present with an official opening, and the Raptors are determined to hire a general manager first.

    Golden State remains on the verge of firing Eric Musselman, Boston is not going to retain John Carroll and there are other playoff coaches (Denver's Jeff Bzdelik, Sacramento's Rick Adelman, Nelson) facing varying degrees of peril.

    By hiring O'Brien now, King avoids potential competition with some of those teams and gives O'Brien five full months to forge some sort of understanding with Allen Iverson.

  • Pretty good night for Carroll, actually. His loud protests almost certainly helped get Ron Artest suspended for one game ... and for three quarters the Celtics looked like they might actually capitalize on Artest's absence to stun the Pacers ... and with O'Brien landing a new job, Carroll probably has an assistant's job waiting in Philly after these playoffs, when Boston's Danny Ainge is expected to hire Paul Westphal or another former teammate as his new coach.

  • If Detroit, Miami and Minnesota win Wednesday night, road teams will be 0-16 in these playoffs. And Stephon Marbury will have a chance to end his own personal drought before anyone wins a road game -- the next second-half basket Marbury scores against New Jersey will be his first in the Tunnel Series.

  • Jermaine O'Neal is on our All-Interview Team, and his comments in Peter May's column Tuesday were heartfelt as usual, but the sentiment here is that JO is being a bit harsh with his anti-NBA TV stance. This is actually a decent time to be on NBA TV, because they're (supposedly) offering a free preview on most satellite cable systems through May 5. Just don't blame us if you don't have it.

    Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

    Marc Stein | email

    Senior Writer, ESPN.com
    • Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
    • Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
    • Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics
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