(Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)
Earl K. Sneed reports from Atlanta as the Dallas Mavericks concluded the regular season on a sour note, setting themselves up for a first-round playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Recap: Mavericks 89 at Hawks 106
ATLANTA — The 66-game sprint back to the postseason in defense of the first NBA championship in franchise history was certainly an up-and-down journey for the Dallas Mavericks.
Thursday night, with the team in Atlanta for its regular-season finale, that journey took a detour in the direction of the postseason as the Mavericks looked to conclude play against the Hawks before continuing on the road against either Oklahoma City or the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs.
With a watchful eye on the Denver Nuggets’ road matchup in Minnesota going on at the same time, the Mavericks stepped into Philips Arena not knowing which squad would be their first-round series matchup, needing a win and a Denver loss to move up to the sixth seed in the Western Conference standings with a series against the Lakers looming or otherwise traveling north on Interstate 35 to meet up with the Thunder in Oklahoma City.
Meanwhile, the Hawks looked to stop a trend after dropping three straight to the Mavs, trying to secure home-court advantage over the Boston Celtics in their upcoming series.
And after a four-day layoff in between games following a 93-83 loss in Chicago, the Mavericks attempted to bring an end to their three-game road losing streak, doing so without the services of point guard Jason Kidd again as he sat out his second straight game to rest up for the playoffs.
But instead of entering the playoffs on a high note, the Mavericks (36-30) would suffer their second straight loss, setting up a rematch of last season’s conference finals series against the Thunder after a 106-89 defeat.
“I mean, 66 games kind of flew by,” Mavs leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki said after the loss. “It’s been a crazy ride — a lot of games, a lot of traveling. So, I think everybody’s happy that the regular season is over. For the first time, really, we’re healthy and J-Kidd feels good. So, we’ll see if we can let it all hang out there and we’ll see how far we can ride it.”
After surrendering an early 13-0 Hawks run, the Mavericks would find themselves behind the eight ball quickly in the opening quarter. Soon after, the Mavs would find themselves down as much as 23 before facing a 38-21 deficit after giving up the most points they’ve allowed in the first quarter this season.
“I thought the first quarter was horrible and then after that it was better,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said of the effort in the early going. “Our energy was poor, they made shots and we didn’t respond well. We gave up close to 70 percent shooting, which is gonna get you in a hole every time. We did better after that, but it was a bad start.”
Emotions would get the better of the Mavericks in the second period as Nowitzki was assessed a technical foul call for arguing with officials. Meanwhile, the Hawks (40-26) continued to hold a commanding advantage, taking a 60-44 lead into the halftime intermission despite Nowitzki’s 11 first-half points.
“It was another tough one. I think we just started the game off slow. And when we get in the playoffs, we can’t start off in a hole. We did it in Chicago and we did it again tonight. We were just fighting an uphill battle all night long. Gotta get a better start and gotta get J-Kidd out there to kind of get everything started,” Nowitzki admitted.
Led by 27 combined points from the duo of Josh Smith and Joe Johnson on 12-of-16 shooting, the Hawks outshot the Mavs through two quarters, 56.5 percent to 38.6 percent. The Mavs also struggled to just four fast-break points compared to Atlanta’s 12 transitions points through the first 24 minutes of play.
After letting the game come to him in the first half, Nowitzki began the third period with a 3-pointer to open up the scoring. But with Smith matching Nowitzki score for score, the Mavs wouldn’t get any closer than 11 down.
And while Denver headed into the final period with a 93-69 lead in Minnesota, the Mavs simultaneously entered the final quarter down 86-72.
Things wouldn’t get better for the Mavs in the final period with the Hawks looking to pull away. It then didn’t take long for Carlisle to pull his main contributors, finishing the bulk of the fourth with all reserves while Nowitzki and sixth man Jason Terry rested on the bench.
Playing just 26 minutes, Nowitzki finished the game leading the Mavs with 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Rodrigue Beaubois added 13 points in place of Kidd and Terry pitched in 11 points, five rebounds and five assists off the bench.
Smith led six Hawks in double figures with 23 points on 10-of-14 from the floor, grabbing nine boards and dishing out seven assists to boot. The Hawks also outshot the Mavs on the night, 52.9 percent to 42.3 percent, in addition to a 41-40 rebounding advantage and 50-38 edge in points in the paint.
“After tonight, it would be a stretch to say that we’re playing our best,” Carlisle admitted, “’cause clearly with the way we played the first quarter and we don’t have Kidd out there and other things. But at this point, we have to move forward and we have to get ready for Saturday. … We don’t have a lot of prep time, and so we have to flush this one very quickly and get ready to key in on the things we’re gonna have to do to be successful in this series.”
The Mavs will now begin the playoffs on the road, after a 13-20 mark away from Dallas this season. Falling in both preseason contests against the Thunder this season, the defending champions also lost the season series to the second-seeded Oklahoma City squad 3-1.
The Mavericks travel to Oklahoma City for Game 1 of the series on Saturday, with the game airing nationally on ESPN and locally on TXA 21 at 8:30 p.m. CT.
“It’s time to play basketball and we’re ready,” Terry said while looking ahead. “This is what you play for, to win another championship. Obviously, it starts with Game 1 ... in a tough environment. Oklahoma is a tough place to play, but we match up very well with them. They’re playing very well, so it’s gonna be tough, but I think we’re up to the task.”
“Well, they’re a great team,” Carlisle said of his team’s first-round opponent. “They’re a great young team. We’re a veteran team. We know the kind of capabilities that they have as a team and we know what we have to do to play at our level. And so, it’s a great matchup. There’s geographic interest, because the two teams are close together, and we had a really intense series with them last year. So, it’s a tough matchup, but we’re looking forward to it.”
The Mavs-Thunder first-round series schedule is as follows:
Game 1: Mavericks at Thunder; Saturday April 28 at 8:30 p.m. CT on ESPN/TXA 21
Game 2: Mavericks at Thunder; Monday April 30 at 8:30 p.m. CT on TNT/TXA 21
Game 3: Thunder at Mavericks; Thursday May 3 at 8:30 p.m. CT on TNT/TXA 21
Game 4: Thunder at Mavericks; Saturday May 5 at 6:30 p.m. CT on TNT/TXA 21
Game 5: Mavericks at Thunder; Monday May 7 TBA
Game 6: Thunder at Mavericks; Thursday May 10 TBA
Game 7: Mavericks at Thunder; Saturday May 12 TBA