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Hoop it up all week with SI.com's writers in the NBA Playoffs Blog, a daily journal of NBA commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3:00 PM ET, 6/20/06

Does Cuban help or hurt Mavs?

Posted by Paul Forrester
It appears the NBA and the Mavericks' owner are at war again. After watching his team lose a gut-wrenching Game 5 in Miami when Dwyane Wade converted a pair of free throws with less than two seconds left in overtime following a controversial foul call, Mark Cuban jumped to the floor to confront referee Joe DeRosa before yelling in the direction of commissioner David Stern and other league officials seated in the stands. Cuban further ran afoul of league brass when he unleashed a host of swear words before the press in a postgame interview.

For its part, the league unleashed its own assault on Cuban, hitting the Dallas owner with a $250,000 fine prior to Game 6. Nothing new there; Cuban racked up $1 million in fines in the first two years he owned the team and added another $200,000 earlier in these playoffs when he ventured onto the court –- and again criticized officials -- after Game 1 of the conference semifinals versus the Spurs.

Is this all worth it? Does Cuban's on-again, off-again battle with the league help his team or hurt it? What do you think?
2:54 AM ET, 6/19/06

Wade, not TO call, sunk Mavs

Posted by Chris Mannix
Avery Johnson
Avery Johnson (right) and the Mavs were upset with Bennett Salvatore and the refs, but it wasn't the reason they lost.
Ronald Martinez/NBAE via Getty Images
MIAMI -- Somewhere, probably out in suburban Detroit, there is a reclining chair holding a happy man. Chris Webber is finally off the hook.

It's been 12 years since Webber called the most infamous timeout in NCAA, nay basketball, history when the former Michigan Wolverine halted the championship game against North Carolina with a timeout his team did not possess. Webber's untimely TO resulted in a Michigan technical foul and helped propel the Tar Heels to the national title.

Webber can now breathe easy. The mantle has been passed to Josh Howard.

Whether Howard actually called the timeout is irrelevant. He says he didn't. But the officials say he did (Joey Crawford says he called it twice) and you aren't hearing Mavericks owner Mark Cuban arguing it -- well, not that call anyways. TO or no TO, Howard's gaffe drilled the final nail in Dallas's coffin, as without a time out the Mavericks couldn't advance the ball past halfcourt and Devin Harris's 45-foot prayer at the buzzer never had a chance.

Yet while Howard's misfortune will be the subject of many an instant classic, the truth is Dallas lost for one simple reason: its complete inability to contain Dwyane Wade.

Gilbert Arenas told me last month that in his eyes Wade was "the most Jordan-like" player in the league today. His abilities to stop on a dime, redirect and score was unparalleled. Lawrence Frank compared Wade to Barry Sanders, a comparison based on Wade's ability to bounce off defenders on his way to the basket. I now see exactly what they were talking about.

To understand the beating Wade takes on a nightly basis one must observe him after the game. Watch him limp to the podium to address the media or stand there when he is done while a cart drives him away like a football player who just tore his ACL. Wade is hurting. His knee won't be right until the offseason and we're not even taking into account the myriad bumps and bruises he's not telling us about. Yet there he is on the floor showing more quickness than Harris, more strength than Adrian Griffin and more athleticism than Josh Howard. Watching Griffin cover Wade was probably the most interesting sight. During one inbounds play the normally mild mannered Griffin delivered a stiff forearm to Wade, a reaction to Wade's muscling him around the basket. Wade has gotten under Griffin's skin. That's not easy to do.

No matter what Cuban says, officiating is not the problem (Cuban could be seen shouting into the stands after the game, presumably in the direction of NBA commissioner David Stern; you can bet they weren't making dinner plans for Dallas). Yes, the officials made some bad calls. The timeout was questionable, maybe Wade stepped into the backcourt and I'm not sure on what part of the body Wade got hit on that final possession. But putting the onus on the refs to win games for you is akin to grasping at straws. For every lousy call that goes against Dallas there is one that goes against the Heat. Or are DeSagana Diop and Erick Dampier just massaging Shaquille O'Neal under the basket? Let's not forget it was only two series ago when it was Pat Riley playing the role of Avery Johnson, blistering the officials for what he perceived as unfair treatment towards the Diesel. These things are cyclical; they go both ways.

The Mavericks need to regroup. They need to go home, get some rest and go back to the drawing board because as effective as their five-pronged defense is against O'Neal, their defense against Wade has been porous. A consistent game plan must be improvised. It's the only way the Dallas can save their season.
2:30 AM ET, 6/19/06

Note to Mavs: Stop the whining

Posted by Kelly Dwyer
Avery Johnson
Avery Johnson had plenty of issues with Bennett Salvatore in Game 6.
Victor Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images
If you'll indulge me, I do believe it imperative that we run down some undeniable truths before we'd get to the heart of this post. Dig:

The NBA didn't force Dallas coach Avery Johnson into guarding Dwyane Wade with a single player for most of the game.

The NBA didn't force the Mavericks into missing three of four free throws in overtime.

The NBA didn't force Josh Howard into calling a bone-headed timeout in overtime, denying the Mavericks their chance to inbound the ball into any one of their potent scorers with a few seconds left in the game.

(Or, if you believe Avery Johnson ...)

The NBA didn't force Josh Howard into motioning a "time out" signal towards referee Joe DeRosa (as he walked towards the bench, mind you), when a simple "we want a time out after the second free throw" would suffice.

The NBA didn't force Jason Terry into dribbling towards the defensive traffic, after passing up on an open 20-footer, with three seconds left in regulation.

The NBA didn't force Josh Howard (43 percent from deep during the regular season) and Dirk Nowitzki (41 percent) into shooting 0-for-7 from behind the arc in Game 5.

The game isn't fixed. The NBA office, the NBA referees, and its players aren't in on some league-wide secret that force series into running for six or seven games. The game's referees (since the league's inception) give its starts the benefit of the doubt on foul calls -- something about having to make huge decisions involving eyesight, knowledge, and tooting whistles all within a quarter of a second -- but there is no unseemly element at work here.

If the Dallas Mavericks had taken care of business, and put the Heat away when they had the chance, then we wouldn't be discussing the unfortunate call made towards the end of tonight's Game 5. In case you missed it, Dwyane Wade essentially took on each of the Mavericks in the game's final seconds, losing Jason Terry on his way to the basket, crossing over both Devin Harris and Josh Howard before floating up a desperate miss with 1.9 seconds left.

Problem was, referee Bennett Salvatore (owner of one of the quickest ticky-tack whistles in the game), called a foul on Dirk Nowitzki. Nowizki didn't foul him. Devin Harris, who was caught on the right of Wade as he went towards the rim, didn't foul him either. Dwyane Wade wasn't fouled, it was a horrible call, he still stuck both gimmies and the Heat won. Stinks horribly, and I'm sure most impartial NBA fans wanted Wade to miss one so either team could have a chance at a taint-less win in a second overtime, but that's what happens when a team like Dallas (a better team, as most observers would point out) doesn't take the necessary steps toward putting the home team away in crunch time.

So I'm initiating the beg process tout bloody suite: stop the whining before it starts. Appreciate that one referee made a mistake in a game where the refs got a lot wrong, and a lot right (just like the Heat and Mavericks, really). Cut with the conspiracy crap (recall that the Spurs and Pistons have been in the Finals five times combined since 1999), and look forward to Game 6 -- which, as was promised for Game 5, should be a hellacious battle. The Heat are desperate not to have to play a Game 7 on the road, and the Mavs are desperate to keep their season alive.

For a second, let's look back at Game 5:

Why the Heat won: Dwyane Wade, again, would not let his team lose. He continually drove to the hoop against defenders that were either smaller or slower than him, took the contact, and got to the line. In the fourth quarter, he carried his team, overcoming a tiring Miami defense on the other end and a successful Hack-a-Shaq strategy for Dallas. 43 points, three steals, four assists and four rebounds for Dwyane, who only turned the ball over three times in 50 minutes tonight. Also, no matter what happens from here on out, the MVP argument is over. Win or lose, we're looking at the modern-day Jerry West -- only with more potential rings, we hope.

Why the Mavericks lost: Given chance after chance to put the game away in the second half and overtime, they continually clanged shots that would have given them a small buffer to work with. Dirk Nowitzki made an ultra-clutch shot at the end of overtime, but he also gave Dallas their only free throw miss in regulation, and missed several gimmies during the course of the Mavs loss. If Dirk has anywhere near the sort of game he continually gave his team against Memphis, San Antonio, and Phoenix - then the Mavs win in regulation by nine. 20 points and 8 rebounds, over 49 minutes, is not going to win you a championship.

Why the Heat can be confident: Dwyane Wade.

Why the Mavs can't fret: Two games to win, with two games at a building where they've won 41 times on the year.

Trading fours

-- The Mavericks were +12 points in the first half with Marquis Daniels (13 minutes, five points, four assists) in the game. He played dominant defense on Wade, with Dwyane's only made basket coming when Marquis forced him out of bounds, went out to collapse on an open Gary Payton, and Wade snuck back in bounds to gather a pass and dunk it. Daniels' all-around play helped the Mavs take over the game in the second quarter ... and where did he go? When Daniels came in for a couple of token third quarter minutes, Adrian Griffin continued to try and stop Wade, and it was then that Dwyane started to turn it on.

I don't understand it. Daniels lorded over Wade defensively in their one matchup during the regular season, he wouldn't let him make a shot in the first half tonight (their first real pairing since last December, covering five other games), and Avery Johnson continues to call Devin Harris and Adrian Griffin's number when it comes to trying to stop the guy who is now averaging 34.4 points per game during the Finals.

Avery can whine all he wants about Jerry Stackhouse's suspension, the horrid last call tonight, or miscommunication regarding that final timeout - but he's the one who has consistently gone away from his best defensive option on Miami's best player. In a coaching career that has seen him do nearly everything right, this is one wrong thing that could cost him the NBA championship.

-- In the day between Games 5 and 6, try to peel past the pointless pro wrestling-type blather (i.e., the Dallas owner staring down the NBA commissioner from mid-court, class with a capital ugh), the angry message board missives, and the nonsense from the talking heads.

Remember that the Mavericks arrived in Miami with five games to win two, and in turn, their first championship. A week later, they have two games to win those two - after having made precious few successful adjustments along the way. They still have as good a chance as any to win this thing, but the Mavs and Mavs alone are to blame for their goose egg down in Florida.
11:35 PM ET, 6/17/06

Averyspeak: Johnson sounds off

Posted by Kelly Dwyer
Avery Johnson
Avery Johnson had much to say about Jerry Stackhouse's Game 6 suspension.
AP
We usually tend to agree with just about everything Dallas coach Avery Johnson says, we like the way he looks when he says it, and can't often get enough of the way he says. He's the Little General, y'know, and we're usually up for some marchin'.

But the press conference he gave on Saturday afternoon was a bit much. The media availability session was short on insight, and devolved into the sort of moan-fests we'd usually expect from message board or radio chat show gasbags (or, ahem, certain owners). Most of Avery's anger stemmed from the curious suspension of Dallas guard Jerry Stackhouse, after the league office ruled his Game 4 foul on Shaquille O'Neal -- initially called as a Flagrant 1 foul -- was instead a Flagrant 2, and worthy of a suspension.

As you'll read, most of the media's questions (presented in italics) seem rather innocuous. It's Avery (bolded) that veers off track. Our comments are littered about.

Have you been able to transmit your anger to your players, to get them a little more angry, upset?

We've taken a look at where we are right now, and we just hadn't played our style of basketball. We haven't been as proactive as we'd like to be offensively and defensively, and we don't like losing the rebounding game. We'll have another opportunity to go back and do it tomorrow.

He's right on. The Dallas guards haven't put the defensive onus on the Heat guards in Miami. Jason Terry scored 18 points in Game 4, but he and Devin Harris were largely non-entities.

Avery you've had a little while to mull over the Stackhouse decision, can you just talk about your reaction to that now? And what do you guys have to do to make up for his loss [Sunday] night?

Well I guess I've expressed my disappointment, and I don't know -- what am I supposed to do? Everybody's so amazed that I disagree with the decision. I mean, what the -- what am I supposed to do? Go out and have a parade? Have a party? Because the league comes down with a certain ruling, what are we supposed to do as coaches? Say "Amen?"

Totally agree, and we appreciate your candor. It's heaps better than the usual, "I'd say more, but don't want the league to take my money, hardy-har-har" tripe we usually hear. But notice how he doesn't even touch the second question? Stack's not going to be around for Game 5, so how's about dealing with reality for a second? A-men.

I disagreed with the ruling, all right? I don't think it's consistent with what we've seen in the playoffs.

Agree and disagree. During the first round of these here playoffs, James Posey lowered his shoulder and rammed into a driving Kirk Hinrich when he could have wrapped him up using both long arms and quick feet. The league dumped Posey for a game. Your situation was less severe, and while I don't agree with the league's ruling, I can't blame them for the decision they made. At the end of the day, a Miami Heat player went up for a breakaway dunk, and Avery's player went out of his way to stop him from shooting -- rather than block his shot. As a result, the Heat player went sprawling to the floor. Stack probably didn't mean to dump Shaquille O'Neal on his butt, I'm sure he wanted nothing to do with what actually happened (if only for the idea of waking a slumbering giant), but it's what happened, and the league has to react.

Put it this way -- Dwyane Wade wanted nothing to do with creating the potential for a four-point play in Game 2 when he decided to leave his feet and try to block Stackhouse's 3-pointer. But he did want to stop the shot, he did make contact, and the officials had to react. Stackhouse did not want to send O'Neal to the ground in Game 4, but he did try to stop him from shooting, he did make contact, and the officials (both on the court and in Manhattan) have to react. It's part of the game, and the frustration, of guarding Shaq. You're taught to wrap your body around him in order to stop him from dunking on three guys, and that's exactly what Stackhouse tried here. But the angle was wrong, Shaq was sent to the floor, and the league had to keep with the pattern they set in late April.

But I want there to be a level of consistency. There's too much inconsistency. That's my opinion, based on what I see.

If you're hinting at the fact that Shaq nearly eviscerated Stackhouse's nose in Game 1, then I can empathize. But it's my opinion, based on what I saw, that Shaq went to stop a shot, and inadvertently pulverized Stackhouse. Nothing finable or suspension-worthy. Stack never wanted to block Shaq's shot, he knew he wouldn't have a chance at an on-ball stuff, so he decided to try and wrap him up. He failed, miserably, and the result is an iffy suspension.

Just be consistent. Whether it's Player A that commits a flagrant foul, or Player B on this team that commits a flagrant foul. Or Player A, that displaces, or re-routes ... just make it consistent, and let the players decide the game.

Right with you here, I just disagree about the lack of consistency in this instance. In Game 1, Shaq went to block Stack's shot. In Game 4, Stack went to stop Shaq's shot. Two different goals.

Coach, without Jerry [Sunday] night, who do you anticipate taking those shots?

We've been adjusting all year.

Yes.

We've been injured all year.

Tell it.

We've had more players suspended in the playoffs than any team, right?

Right. The Los Angeles Clippers also lead each of the playoff teams in field goal percentage differential (+.056). I own four pair of knockoff Roy Orbison-type sunglasses. Want any more pointless statistics?

Anybody else had three guys suspended? Who else? Who else? So we've made a concerted effort from the day I took this job, never to complain.

You're right. Nobody's complaining here. We're just ... talking.

I think people have taken this as a weakness.

Odd. The league wants to over-suspend the Mavs because they never complain? You do know that Mark Cuban owns your team, right Avery?

I've always said, in my mind, there are certain things I don't want to do as a coach. So we've been injured, we've had guys suspended, but we don't complain. All we want to do is play ball. But it's hard when there's a level of inconsistency.

I agree. Inconsistency is killing this team. Stackhouse shot 6 of 11 in Game 2, and has shot 7 of 27 since.

Avery, [Friday] on that interview that you gave the radio station, you went a step further with the inconsistency, saying players get more special treatment than others --

That's a historical thing in our league. That's nothing new. We've all been around the NBA. That's the way it is.

No complaints.

But you mentioned Shaq, in particular, and also your owner mentioned that in comments [Friday] that they're not calling things on him.

Really and truly, I never want to cry about it.

Nobody wants to cry about it. We just want to comp- ... er, talk about it.

I never like using players' names. You guys look back and look at the first play of the game. Their player, Player A, just came over and pounded Dirk. I wasn't crying about a flagrant foul, all right? It was an elbow to Dirk's head. We weren't complaining about a flagrant foul, because we don't complain about flagrant fouls, all right? But we make the same attempt, and then my player gets suspended. And now, because I'm supposed to be a religious man, I'm supposed to come in here today and have a prayer meeting.

The way Avery tells it, if Mark Cuban were a licensed reverend, the Mavs would be fielding an NBDL team right now.

At 2-2, in this format, would you rather have Game 5 at home or the last two at home?

We don't complain about the format.

He didn't ask if you wanted to complain about it. He wanted to know which format you'd prefer.

We've worked all year to get to this point; we've all talked about getting to the Finals and winning a championship. Just give ourselves a chance. We knew if we made it to this point we would be playing against the Heat, we'd be playing against Detroit, or we'd be playing against Team A -- we knew we'd be playing against a great team. All we want to do is be able to come out and play the game, and just ... no preferential treatment. Just play. Just be consistent. Let the players determine who is going to win. That's it. That's all I ever want.

Somehow, Jerry Stackhouse must be involved. The dude's omnipresent.

Avery, [Alonzo Mourning] was just lamenting out there the fact that you can't play the same sort of physical style you used to be able to play -

Oh, you can't?

(Hilarious. Seriously. Anyone with NBA TV needs to seek this part of the conference out and look at Avery's face).

You want me to give you an example? I'll give you a couple. For instance, Kevin McHale closelining Kurt Rambis -- now he'd be out for the rest of the playoffs. Bill Laimbeer and Robert Parish both probably wouldn't have played any of that [1988] series. Hakeem and Ewing in Houston in the NBA Finals would have fouled out of every one of those games. I mean, the league has purposely tried to change the tenor of the way they play, and that's what 'Zo was saying too. How frustrating is it as a coach -- I mean the hard foul has always been in the game of basketball, making the player think twice about going to the basket -- how difficult is it as a coach to adjust your mindset to rules that are clearly different?

That's something we've talked about all year. Us trying to change the way we play "Maverick Basketball." All right? We teach hard fouls. We do not teach flagrant fouls. We teach hard, clean, fouls -- and that's a big part of our game? Have I seen it from our team as much as I want to? No. But when we attempt to make a play on an individual and then get suspended, that's pretty disappointing. But now we can't disagree with the hierarchy -- that's a no-no, so what are we supposed to do?

Well, you could take what comes to you when your backup shooting guard tries to stop Player A from taking a shot, and accidentally knocks Player A down.

The reason why this series is 2-2, first of all, is because Miami has come out and won two games on their home court, and they deserved to win.

Spot on.

We've never taken that M.O. of blaming other situations when we lose.

Unless we lose on Sunday.

We've given credit to our opponents all year. So let's give the Heat some credit for tying up the series 2-2. But, again, why we're here today, is because one of my players has been suspended. And I'm frustrated with the ruling and disappointed with the ruling.

But Avery, they're not changing the ruling. You won't see Stack until Game 6, so why not end the public carps and try and prepare your players for that reality? It's extremely unlikely that the league will be forced into making another tough decision like they had to do with the Stackhouse ruling, so it's not as if your points are going to win Stu Jackson over for the "next time." That "next time" probably won't happen until 2006-07, so why not try and put it past you (in public, at least) and work on what could go right in Game 5?

Again, we like the candor, but we don't necessarily think it's the best thing for his team. Avery has every right to be ticked off at this, admittedly strange, overruling from the league office. But this is hardly the way to react, especially in a public forum. Next time, go with the parade.
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