The beautiful aspect of this compressed NBA schedule is that there's always tomorrow -- literally.
Sunday's tough loss at Madison Square Garden blurs into Monday's home game against the Boston Celtics, which officially marks the halfway point of this 66-game sprint. The Mavs sit at 20-12 after the 104-97 loss to Jeremy Lin's New York Knicks. It was Dallas' first loss since Feb. 4, snapping a six-game win streak that started after a three-game skid and heading into a brutally tough nine-game stretch.
At 6-1 and with just the Celtics and a Wednesday home date against the Los Angeles Lakers left in the stretch, the Mavs feel good about the progress they've made despite the Big Apple hiccup.
"Tough one, tough one," said Dirk Nowitzki, whose 34 points were 20 more than the next highest-scoring Mavs player (Shawn Marion, 14). "We would have loved to have run the table, obviously, to the All-Star break. But, it's a tough loss and in the NBA there's always the next night. Boston is playing tonight (96-81 losers at Detroit) as well, so they're going to be on a back-to-back, which is good. In the NBA you've got to forget, have a short memory and come back tomorrow and leave it all out there."
T'he Mavs have reached the halfway point in pretty good position, all things considered. Tyson Chandler's 14 points and rebounds reminded a little of what's missing, but Dallas has held steady despite Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and now Delonte West missing games, and with Lamar Odom badly sounderperforming.
Before this nine-game stretch started, Jason Terry, who also missed the two games prior to Sunday's loss, said this stint will be looked upon later in the season as a turning point. It's not over, but Terry said he has a pretty good idea why the Mavs have had success.
"We’ve been able to identify roles and with that, guys have accepted them and went and tried to play their role out as best as possible and I think that’s what’s lead to a lot the success," Terry said. "That was the case last year and it’s the same way this season. We looked at the stretch of games that we had and we had to take care of business at home and obviously we’re not finished yet, but obviously we’ve gotten off to a great start."
Here's three things to ponder as Game No. 33 quickly approaches:
1. Catastrophic turnovers: This is a term coach Rick Carlisle likes to use and the perfect illustration of the term was Lamar Odom's gaffe in the final 10 seconds of the third quarter. Hounded in the backcourt, Odom lost his balance, tried to make a pass to the middle of the court, but threw it right to Jeremy Lin, who dunked it to bring the Knicks within 75-72. Dallas, which has slipped to 11th in the NBA in turnovers-per-game at 14.2, coughed it up 19 times in Sunday's loss, moving the Mavs to 1-3 on the season when they commit at least 19 turnovers.
2. Lamar Odom, anyone?: Carlisle will go out of his way to praise Odom's efforts at the slightest sign of positive movement, but during the two-game road trip, it was hard to even notice the 6-foot-10 forward. In 47 combined minutes, Odom tallied seven points, nine rebounds and seven assists and one free throw attempt. He made 3-of-11 field goals (giving him more turnovers -- four -- than buckets -- and was 1-of-6 from beyond the arc. A Queens native, it figured if Odom was going to put something together the Garden would be as good a spot as any. Instead he fell flat with two points on 1-of-6 shooting, plus the catastrophic turnover mentioned above.
3. Red-hot Dirk: The man is on fire. After a 2-of-11 start in the first half of the game in Philadelphia, Nowitzki is 19-of-31 from the field over the next six quarters. He wrapped up the road trip having scored 66 points on 21-of-42 shooting overall, 6-of-9 from beyond the arc and 14-of-15 from the free throw line. He probably would have liked to have hit a couple more shots during Sunday's fatal fourth quarter, when he was 2-of-6.