Dallas Mavericks v Phoenix Suns

O.J. Mayo helps Mavericks bounce back to hand Suns fifth straight loss


PHOENIX — Dallas barely showed up for their game against the Clippers on Wednesday, falling behind by double-digits early and then never really competing while the second half turned into nothing more than extended garbage time.

Things began similarly in Phoenix on Thursday, with the Suns getting out to an 11-1 lead in the game’s first three minutes. But whether due to the level of competition or due to finding an inner will to fight, Dallas came back strong to build a 15-point lead of its own, before ultimately hanging on for a much-needed 97-94 victory.

“We played one of our strongest-willed games of the year,” Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle said afterward. “Difficult situation, coming off the back-to-back and a rough one [Wednesday night], but everybody really played with a lot of heart and a lot of guts.”

Dallas got a big offensive game out of O.J. Mayo, who finished with 23 points, five rebounds, and five assists in 40 minutes of action. Mayo turned the ball over six times, so his night was far from perfect. But with the game tied at 87 with 34 seconds left, he hit what was effectively the game-winner — a tough 21-foot jumper over Sebastian Telfair, who was right there defending and in pretty good position.

Mayo said that his previous ventures into the lane made him look for space to take the jumper in this situation.

“I was trying to get into an area where I could just elevate over Bassy, who’s a good defender with his hands and feet,” he said. “I went [into the lane] one time and got a charge, another time I got my shot altered by [Markieff Morris]. So I just wanted to get into an open area around the foul line so I could elevate over him.”

Goran Dragic had a chance to tie on the following possession, and got right to the rim after getting past Mayo, but couldn’t convert the left-handed layup. It was fouls and free throws the rest of the way, and former Sun Vince Carter made four of those free throws to help seal it.

“I live for those moments,” Carter said. “I would’ve been mad if I missed ’em. Believe me.”

The Suns fought hard themselves to get back into this one and even have a chance near the end, considering the brutal 23-4 run they endured to open the second half — one that lasted over eight minutes, and turned their four-point lead into a deficit of 15.

It’s been the pattern in Phoenix all season, where the Suns have fallen behind by double-digits in eight of their nine home games, and have come back to at least tie the game every single time. The excitement created by the wild swings on this night was likely enough to send fans home feeling satisfied — or at least, the folks behind the money-back guarantee promotion that was in effect for this one would certainly hope so.

Phoenix got a nice performance from Markieff Morris, who grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds. And Luis Scola worked his tail off all night long, defending and taking charges while knocking down six of his 10 shots in 24 minutes. But with Michael Beasley continuing his inconsistent play, and Marcin Gortat being similarly ineffective offensively, Phoenix doesn’t have a lot of other places to look for reliable sources of production.

This was a physical contest, with plenty of players getting dinged up along the way. Chris Kaman left with an ankle sprain, Shawn  Marion went down with a groin strain, Jermaine O’Neal left after getting poked in the eye, and P.J. Tucker suffered a sprained MCL.

Dallas won the battle of attrition, and Carlisle couldn’t have been more pleased afterward. Though he did promise the team would continue to work on its deficiencies, while using an interesting analogy in the process.

“We’re going to keep working to eliminate mistakes,” Carlisle said. “We still missed blockouts, we still turn it over. Sometimes we make hard work out of sex. And it’s tough in this league when you do that, when you shoot yourself in the foot. But we’ve got good guys, and they really stuck together tonight, and it was big for us.”

James Harden: “I am the best player in the league. I believe that.”

James Harden, Stephen Curry
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James Harden was the MVP last season — if you ask his fellow NBA players.

The traditional award (based on a media vote) went to Stephen Curry (in the closest vote in four years), and that was the right call (in my mind). But from the time it happened Harden did not buy it. And he still doesn’t buy it. In the least — and he’s using that as fuel for this season. That’s what he told Fran Blinebury over at NBA.com.

“I am the best player in the league. I believe that,” he said. “I thought I was last year, too.”

Well, it’s a more realistic claim than Paul George’s.

“But that award means most valuable to your team. We finished second in the West, which nobody thought we were going to do at the beginning of the year even when everybody was healthy. We were near the top in having the most injuries. We won our division in a division where every single team made the playoffs.

“There’s so many factors. I led the league in total points scored, minutes played. Like I said, I’m not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player. That stays with me.”

That’s very Kobe Bryant of you to turn that into fuel. Defining the MVP Award is an annual discussion that nobody agrees on.

I could get into how Harden was the old-school, traditional stats MVP, how that ignores how Steve Kerr used Curry, and how that opened up the Warriors’ offense to championship levels. Curry put up numbers, but he was also the distraction, the bright star that Kerr used to open up looks for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and others. Curry’s strength was not just what he did with the ball in his hands, but his gravity to draw defenders even when he didn’t. Did the Warriors stay healthier than the Rockets? No doubt. Should Curry be penalized for that?

It’s simple for Harden — if he can put up those numbers again, if he can be the fulcrum of a top offense, he will be in the discussion for MVP again. And, if he can lead the Rockets beyond the conference finals, nobody will talk about that MVP snub anyway.