1. Time For the Mavs To Take Out The Brooms?
DALLAS -- They aren't quite dreaming about that NBA Finals rematch with Miami just yet. They know better.
The view from where the long-tormented Mavs do sit is as tantalizing as it could possibly be in early May, after they took the Los Angeles Lakers to finishing school yet again and moved to the brink of brooming the Kobe-and-Phil ring factory into extinction.
Give them that much.
Nowitzki outdueling Kobe Bryant in crunch time again? Phil Jackson declaring that the other team's closer was "great?" All in front of the largest crowd in American Airlines Center history ... in a town that suddenly seems to have bought back into the home team?
It all happened on a surreal Friday night that had an undeniably end-of-the-line feel for the Lakers, who slinked away with a 98-92 defeat in this must-win Game 3 and now need a victory here Sunday afternoon just to prevent the Mavericks from sweeping the outgoing Jackson into retirement.
Which would be the first sweep stamped onto a peerless coaching resume dotted with 11 championship rings.
"Dirk Nowitzki made it happen," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said, marveling at the latest evidence to suggest that his franchise player -- with Nowitzki supplying 32 points, nine boards and another night of matchup torment for the two-time reigning champs -- is up there with any series-changer you want to name when he's getting good help.
Carlisle continued: "Just about everything that happened down the stretch was a direct result of him either scoring the ball or making a play to get somebody a shot."
The day began with Bryant pulling Jackson aside and actually trying to sell his coach on the Zen-inspired idea that their 2-0 deficit after dropping the first two games at home -- and the resulting degree of difficulty they were facing -- was "kind of the way your last season should be." The evening ended with Bryant, almost chuckling at himself at the interview podium, insisting that he still thinks "we're gonna win this series" ... but acknowledging that he "might be sick in the head."
Yet what stuck with you, more than any of the words, was the image of Bryant walking off the floor alone, strides ahead of any other Laker, after he airballed a futile, running, one-handed 3 at the final buzzer. What appeared to be the sort of vintage winning blueprint on the road that Bryant has capped off countless times in the past proved to be another mirage like L.A.'s 16-point lead in Game 1, leaving the Lakers clinging to the fantasy that they can be first of the 99 teams in NBA history to go down 3-0 in a series and then come back with four straight wins.
Even without the suspended Ron Artest, the Lakers largely did what they wanted for 3 ½ quarters, guarding and switching way harder than they ever did at Staples Center and punishing Dallas inside for a staggering 56-20 disparity in points in the paint, largely through Andrew Bynum (21 points and 10 boards) and Lamar Odom (18 points).
But the Lakers stopped going inside to Bynum and couldn't close when they had to. Jason Terry (23 points) finished strong, Peja Stojakovic went into the wayback machine for 11 fourth-quarter points and Dallas started getting stops, clearly inspired by Jason Kidd's relentless hounding of his close buddy Bryant, who finished with a mere 17 points after early foul trouble. In one decisive stretch, Dallas scored on 11 of 13 possessions.
So what initially appeared to be a perfect setup for Bryant to put it away, Black Mamba-style, instead became Nowitzki's latest opportunity to remind the NBA universe who ranks as Europe's best-ever hoops export. While Pau Gasol continued to descend into a funk that at one point prompted an irate Jackson to give him a little pop in the chest while berating Gasol during a timeout, Nowitzki capped his own nostalgic performance -- just the second time all season that the one-time strictly long-range gunslinger pumped in four 3s -- by rattling in a momentum-seizing hook shot with his left hand with 1:23 to go.
"I've never seen Dirk this focused," Mavs guard J.J. Barea said.
Said Nowitzki: "I kind of had to do something. ... I had to improvise. It was a little lucky, but I'll take it."
He's doing it to the Lakers again and again, no matter what the coverages are, zapping all the suspense from a series that was supposed to be so tasty.
Remember all that back-and-forth jousting we were supposed to be getting between Jackson and Mark Cuban? Life in Mavsland has gotten so prosperous, ever since Dallas squandered that 23-point lead in Portland in Game 4, that Cuban continues to say almost nothing, determined to keep the focus on the guys defying all the recent unhappy playoff history around here.
The same Charles Barkley who actually picked Dallas to win this series made the compelling case on local radio Friday that Game 3 was somehow a rare must-win for both teams, bearing in mind the Mavs' littany of postseason collapses and disappointments starting with the 2-0 lead in the 2006 NBA Finals that didn't hold up. According to the Barkley Theory, Dallas would instantly be flooded with implosion fears if Kobe and Co. could cut the deficit down to 2-1.
Yet Nowitzki insisted -- yet again -- that the Mavs' DNA changed after the Game 4 debacle in the last round, saying: "I think we came together after that fourth quarter in Portland."
It's getting harder to argue when the Mavs are A) 5-0 since, B) on the verge of sweeping a dynastic coach and superstar who happen to be chasing their second three-peat and C) filling up the building with an overflow crowd of 21,156.
An overflow crowd that uncharacteristically embraced the opportunity to wear the free blue T-shirts folded over their chairs -- "The Time Is Now" t-shirts adorned with a championship trophy -- and belted out lusty chants of "Beat L.A., Beat L.A." to fuel Dallas' big finish.
It's still too soon for Dallasites to talk about anything but the conference finals ... and maybe even that's premature when you hearken back to the Mavs' 2003 first-round series with Portland that went seven after they took a 3-0 lead.
But it's getting late for Jackson earlier than anyone would have dared to suggest when this series started not even a week ago. The Lakers, remember, hired him in the summer of 1999 to teach Kobe and Shaquille O'Neal how to win, right after L.A. was swept by San Antonio in the Fabulous Forum's final season.
Could it be that Jackson also leaves the Lakers for good on a broom?
"They were better finishing the games out than we were [so far]," Jackson said, "so that's a big disappointment to us."
2. Hawks' Home No-Show Par For The Course
ATLANTA -- They say bad habits from the regular season carry over, and apparently that's true. For instance, just because it's the playoffs doesn't mean the Atlanta Hawks have stopped mailing in games.
In a season full of baffling home blowouts, the Hawks added another to the list in a 99-82 loss to the Chicago Bulls in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. It was the eighth time this season Atlanta lost at Philips Arena by 15 points or more, falling behind almost immediately as Derrick Rose eviscerated them for 44 points. The Bulls lead the best-of-seven series 2-1 heading into Game 4 on Sunday.
While Rose's brilliance meant Atlanta was unlikely to win this game no matter what they did, the Hawks felt the lopsided nature of the defeat was more a result of apathy than execution or X's and O's. Few in the audience disagreed.
The turning point? How about the 49-second mark. Hawks coach Larry Drew called as early a timeout as you'll ever see after two easy baskets gave the Bulls a 4-0 lead. What set him off was an easy transition lay-up for Rose after a defensive board, a bucket that opened the floodgates on his career-high performance.
3. Daily Dime Live
Zach Harper, TrueHoop Network bloggers and fans gave their in-game opinions on all topics throughout Friday's slate of NBA playoff talk in Daily Dime Live.
4. Extreme Behavior
Los Angeles Lakers: A seven-point lead with 5:05 left in the fourth quarter with the season basically on the line, the Lakers weren't able to hold off the Mavericks in a Game 3 loss on the road.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"You don't want to ever give a champion life, so hopefully we can have the same effort and the same crowd and a great game on Sunday."
-- Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki on trying to close out the Lakers in Game 4.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Rose Gets His Groove Back
ATLANTA -- Joakim Noah is a man of many interests. He's a rebounding machine, a fashion icon (or disaster, depending on your taste), and a multilingual citizen of the world.
He's also an expert on Derrick Martell Rose.
Noah could do a dissertation on Rose's game, and he's always the No. 1 guy for a rah-rah Rose quote. So, just what did Noah think when Rose started Friday's game on a blistering pace?
"I knew it was going to be ugly," Noah said. "Because he doesn't do anything out of the ordinary for him, you know. That's what he does. So it's fun to watch. It's fun to watch because those are his shots."
The heavily pro-Bulls crowd was chanting "MVP" all night as Rose took control of the series with a career-high 44 points in the Chicago Bulls' 99-82 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.• See Greenberg's full story
7. Trying To Keep Up
8. All It Took Was 49 Seconds
ATLANTA -- There was evidence throughout the crime scene at Philips Arena on Friday night that this was by far the Chicago Bulls' most lethal 48 minutes of basketball this postseason.
But they clearly didn't need 48 minutes to prove their point.
That only took 48 seconds. Well, make that 49.
In two swarming, relentless, efficient possessions to open Game 3 against the Atlanta Hawks, the Bulls got a wide-open baseline jumper from Luol Deng. Then came a defensive stand that resulted in Derrick Rose snagging a rebound to ignite his own one-man fast break.
Then came Rose's finish at the rim to put Chicago ahead 4-0.
And then, essentially, came the towel.
"When I called that first timeout, 49 seconds into the game, I saw the [Bulls] energy level," Hawks coach Larry Drew said two hours later. "I knew we were in trouble. I saw right then and there that my team didn't make the commitment. To be honest, that was very discouraging. Not even a minute into the game, to have a lack of effort & there was something wrong."• See Wallace's full story
9. A First For Jackson
The Mavericks defeated the Lakers by a score of 98-92 to take a commanding 3-0 lead in their conference semifinals series on Friday night. This is the first time in his career as a head coach that Phil Jackson has lost the first three games of a postseason series. Jackson has appeared in 65 playoff series as a head coach.