Despite a strong defensive performance, the Mavericks failed to leave the United Center with their second straight win. And uncharacteristic late-game mistakes would ultimately cost the Mavs, writes Earl K. Sneed.
CHICAGO — While news circulated throughout the day about a potential roster shakeup, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle tried to keep his team focused on the matter at hand.
The Mavericks headed into Chicago on the second night of a back-to-back hoping to build momentum after claiming a much-needed 109-100 home win over the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers Wednesday night to end a six-game losing streak.
Meanwhile, reports surfaced that the Mavericks could be in the mix for sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic after he was waived earlier in the day by the Toronto Raptors. Those very same reports alleged that Mavericks big man Alexis Ajinca could be headed out of Dallas via a trade to Toronto.
Carlisle attempted to set the record straight in his pre-game address to the media.
“Peja Stojakovic has been waived, and we’re one of many teams that have great interest in him,” Carlisle explained. ”And so, we’ll see what happens with that. Ajinca is not here tonight, because he is inactive. We’ve sent him back to the hotel, because there is a possibility that he will be traded.”
Carlisle added: “Nothing has happened yet, and I’m not sure anything is gonna happen tonight or any time in the immediate future. But there is that possibility.”
With matters on hold at least coming into Thursday night’s nationally-televised showdown, the Mavericks turned their attention to a short-handed Bulls squad which would be playing without power forward Carlos Boozer (sprained left ankle) and center Joakim Noah (thumb surgery). The Mavericks also stepped into the United Center hoping to avenge an 88-83 home loss to the Bulls on Nov. 19.
But even without two of their top stars, the tough-nosed Bulls (29-14) still had a chance behind the play of mid-season MVP candidate Derrick Rose. And in a tightly-contested game for four quarters, Rose’s Bulls team found a way to gut out an 82-77 victory while late-game miscues derailed the Mavericks (27-15) from avoiding a sweep in the season series.
“For us, we had it right where we wanted it, after an emotional tough game last night,” point guard Jason Kidd said after the loss. “We thought that if we came down the stretch in a one-possession game, it was to our advantage on the road. And we just couldn’t knock down the shot at the end.”
“Things weren't clicking down the stretch,” center Tyson Chandler added. “Normally, when we get in a game that’s close down the stretch we pull those out, because we execute so well … It was a tough one tonight, but I thought we fought well.”
For the second straight game Carlisle went with a starting lineup of Kidd, swingmen DeShawn Stevenson and Sasha Pavlovic, Dirk Nowitzki at the 4 and Chandler. And after falling behind 10-4 out of the gate, the Mavericks stormed back to escape the first quarter with a 20-19 edge behind Stevenson’s perimeter shooting.
But offense was at a premium early in the second quarter, as both squads struggled to produce points. And after his 17 points and 18 rebounds in the first meeting between the two squads, Taj Gibson found himself in foul trouble while covering Nowitzki inside. Still, the Bulls headed into the break on an 11-2 run capped by Rose’s 3-pointer in the final seconds of the first half to open up a 44-35 lead.
Neither team found the bottom of the net with regularity in the first two quarters, as Chicago’s 41 percent shooting bettered Dallas’ 30 percent. Meanwhile, Nowitzki did his best to keep his team close with 10 first-half points. But Chicago’s 26-21 rebounding edge and 11 points scored off nine Dallas turnovers contributed to the Bulls’ advantage at the midway point.
Using a 15-4 spurt sparked by Stevenson to start the third quarter, the Mavericks came back out of the locker room strong and seized a small lead.
“I love the way we came out in the third. We really battled defensively, got stops and really clawed our way back into the game,” Carlisle said. “Our offense in the third was much better because we were getting stops.”
And although Rose certainly tried, Chandler and backup center Brendan Haywood provided a strong defensive presence to keep the attacking cat-quick guard from taking over. The Mavs then headed into the fourth period with a 60-56 lead.
But after Rose did his part to keep the Bulls in the game, C.J. Watson took over that responsibility while draining two 3-pointers to put Chicago in front. Meanwhile, the Mavericks unraveled, falling behind by five while the Bulls were the faster team to every loose ball down the stretch.
Down three, Kidd looked to make a play off a defensive stop, but his outlet pass sailed over the head of sixth man Jason Terry with 2:54 left on the clock.
“We’re a little rust on our end-of-game situations,” Terry admitted. “Our timing is a little off, and even last night we didn’t close the game the way we would have wanted to offensively … We got stops, we just didn’t execute the way we wanted to offensively.”
“We had some turnovers, which for a veteran ball club that doesn’t happen,” Kidd added.
But after another defensive stand the Mavericks went to Nowitzki, whose elbow jumper made it just a one-point game. Rose came right back, however, draining a stepback jumper to put the Bulls back ahead by three with 55.0 ticks left.
Still, the Mavericks had their chances late. But after an intercepted Shawn Marion pass and missed 3-pointer by Terry in the final minute, the Mavericks ran out of opportunities. And after Marion almost forced a turnover with 5.5 second left, Kyle Korver finished the Mavericks off with a 2-for-2 trip at the foul line.
“When it came down to it, it was a game where we needed two more stops and scores and we weren’t able to do that,” Carlisle said.
Although the Bulls finished with just one scorer in double figures, led by Rose’s game-high 26 points on 9-of-28 shooting, adding seven rebounds and nine assists as well, the home team claimed the win even as the Dallas defense forced Chicago to shoot just 37 percent on the night. That’s because the Mavericks hit on just 36 percent at the other end of the court.
“We can’t shoot the same as they did. I don’t care how much defense you play, at some point you’ve got to put the ball in the basket. And collectively as a team we didn’t do that tonight,” Terry said. “Derrick Rose is their team, I don’t care who else they’ve got on their roster. You see he took 28 shots tonight, we made it tough on him. But key guys made some big plays. Watson hit a couple of threes. Kurt Thomas was huge for them tonight … But we take this one on the chin. Good win for them.”
“I felt like we never really had clean looks out there, but this is still a game we have to have,” Nowitzki added. “I think in November or December there’s no way we lose this game. Sometimes when it rains, it pours. Very disappointed we lost, especially since they only had one guy in double figures. That’s not a good sign, so that’s definitely a game we’ve got to have.”
Nowitzki’s team-high 19 points came on just 6-for-16 shooting. Stevenson, Terry and Chandler all posted 12 points a piece. And Chandler also recorded his eighth double-double of the season, snatching down 12 rebounds as well.
But as was the case in the first game between the two squads, when the Bulls finished the night with a 54-39 rebounding advantage, Chicago once again controlled the boards. This time the battle on the glass finished with the Bulls holding a 51-41 edge, including a 17-8 advantage in offensive boards.
“It’s a reason why they’re able to get so many offensive rebounds,” Chandler explained. “Derrick Rose puts so much pressure on you coming to the basket. A lot of times he draws the next big, which frees their big up. He tosses it up and they’re able to put it in. As you can see, we kept them to a good field-goal percentage. But when you’re exerting that energy chasing him, trying to block his shot and all that, it frees guys up. And they were freed up tonight.”
The Bulls also finished with 13 points off the Mavericks’ 15 turnovers, with Dallas scoring just eight points off Chicago’s 14 giveaways. And unfortunately for the Mavericks, they totaled just two fast-break points on the night.
“I feel like our defense was solid, holding them to 37 percent, but we never really got our running game going, partly because we were on a back-to-back and we never really got anything going. Usually when we hold a team to 37 percent shooting, we should get at least 10 or 12 fast-break points, but that never happened. They got back well and we never ran the way we want to … They made it hard on us, and we didn’t make enough shots to win,” Nowitzki said.
The Mavericks will try to get back on track when they head into New Jersey for a second meeting against former coach Avery Johnson and the Nets Saturday night. When the Nets (11-31) came into Dallas on Dec. 9, the Mavericks ran away with a 102-89 home win. The Mavs will try to duplicate that effort the second go-round.
“You learn from (Thursday night’s loss) and you move on. New Jersey is a must-win for us,” Terry said.
After beginning the season with an 11-1 road record, the Mavericks have gone just 1-6 away from Big D since.
“We’ve got to try to get a better record on the road. We were doing well when the season first started, but now we’ve been giving up some games,” Kidd added. “So, we’ve got to find a way to win in New Jersey on Saturday, but it’s not gonna be easy.”
Note: The Mavericks head into New Jersey Saturday night looking to sweep the season series with the Nets, in a matchup that will tip off at 6 p.m. CT. The game will air locally on Fox Sports Southwest.
The team then returns to Dallas to face Rookie of the Year favorite Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers Tuesday night. The Clippers-Mavericks showdown will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting the American Airlines Center box office, logging on to Mavs.com or by calling 214-747-MAVS (6287).
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