Mavericks remake themselves (again) around Dirk Nowitzki, and this time it might work

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Vince Carter made the clutch shot. Monta Ellis led them down the stretch. Samuel Dalembert was the steady hand.

Who are these Dallas Mavericks?

Dallas nearly completely turned over its roster since its 2011 championship – only Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion remain – but the Mavericks have finally found the veterans capable of delivering their first playoff series win since then.

With Carter’s game-winning 3-pointer clinching a 109-108 Game 3 win, Dallas took a 2-1 series lead over the No. 1 seeded San Antonio Spurs. Unlike the NBA’s other potential 1-8 upset, this series isn’t just about whether the top seed blows it. At 49-33, the Mavericks are the one of the best No. 8 seeds ever.*

*Behind only the 2009-10 Oklahoma City Thunder and 2007-08 Denver Nuggets, both of whom went 50-32

Dallas wasn’t re-built conventionally. The Mavericks haven’t hit on a first-round pick since 2004 (Devin Harris). Instead, they’ve mined the scrap heap for veteran reclamation projects to accentuate Nowitzki’s unique skills – an uneven process that has resulted in more misses than hits. Rudy Fernandez, Lamar Odom, Delonte West, Darren Collison, Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, O.J. Mayo, Eddy Curry, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Troy Murphy, Derek Fisher, Mike James and Dahntay Jones have all come and gone.

But the veterans who remain are getting it done.

Carter, who led nine teams in scoring, has re-invented himself as a sixth man. He’s no longer tasked with dominating the ball, spotting up more often for 3s. His defense became surprisingly effective in Dallas, remaining decent as he’s aged. And he’s still capable of performing new tricks:

Ellis signed with the Mavericks as an uncontrollable and inefficient shooter, but Rick Carlisle has tamed Ellis’ wildness by better-positioning the shooting guard in the Mavericks’ offense. In the fourth quarter yesterday, Ellis shot 5-for-5 to score 12 points and lead the Mavericks back from a five-point deficit with two minutes remaining.

Dalembert, whose maddening punctuality has remained an issue in Dallas, got it together in the Mavericks’ biggest game of the season. With 13 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks, Dalembert provided effective defense in a game where both offenses dominated. Dallas allowed 106.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the court yesterday and 125.2 with him off it.

And then there’s Jose Calderon, the other addition to the Mavericks’ starting lineup. He threw the inbound pass to Carter and is doing what he always does – making pinpoint passes, shooting efficiently in limited volume and playing matador defense. He’s not a reclamation project. Dallas just recognized his skills when offering him a four-year, $29 million contract last summer. The Mavericks have also recognized his shortcomings, using Marion to guard Tony Parker and allowing Calderon to hide off the ball.

Will all that give Dallas the first-round upset? It would help if Nowitzki, who scored 18 points yesterday after posting 11 and 16 in Games 1 and 2, did a little more, but even that might not be enough.

As good as the Mavericks are – they would have been the No. 3 seed in the East – the game gap between them and the Spurs (62-20) in winning percentage is about as close to the average 1-8 gap as the smallest one.*

*Tie, Los Angeles Lakers (57-25) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (50-32) in 2010 and Los Angeles Lakers (57-25) vs.Denver Nuggets (50-32) in 2008

Gregg Popovich is still searching for ways to match up with Dallas, using 22 lineups in Game 3. San Antonio certainly isn’t done.

But after a couple years of relatively wayward years, getting swept by the Thunder in 2012 and missing the playoffs in 2013, neither are the Mavericks.

Jeopardy uses “crying Jordan” meme for question

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You know a meme has jumped the shark when it appears on Jeopardy. (Also, the phrase “jump the shark” has jumped the shark.)

The “crying Jordan” meme reached that level this week when Alex Trebek asked a question about it.

This in no way means we should stop using the crying Jordan meme — even if it bothers MJ himself, and it does — because it’s still funny.

Charles Barkley on new schedule: “These poor babies can’t play back-to-back games”

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Training camp hasn’t even opened yet, but Charles Barkley is already in midseason “get off my lawn” form.

Barkley — the man who can’t stand jump shooting teams, or analytics, or LeBron James asking for better players, or your newfangled technology — went off on another tedious rant at an SMU event Wednesday, this time about the NBA’s decision to start the season a little earlier and have fewer back-to-backs and eliminate four-games-in-five-nights.

Ugh. Like a lot of former players — and a lot of non-athletes, for that matter — Barkley is convinced his peak as a player coincided with the greatest era of basketball ever. Things were never better than the way they did it in his day.

Which means facts — like pointing to the studies that show players both are less likely to be injured and play better and more efficiently when rested — don’t matter. Barkley did it, so players now should have to do it. Who cares if all these packed in games can shorten their careers?

Then again, maybe a few days off would have helped Barkley in the second half of his career.

B.J. Armstrong, former Jordan-era Bull turned agent, told me last year that if teams and players knew in his day what they know now about rest and injury, you would have seen stars like MJ rest. Over time we learn more information, and the smart people and organizations adjust.

Barkley will make far more headlines over the course of the season, he gets paid to be brash, say whatever pops into head, and be generally draw attention to himself. It makes him entertaining, and that’s what Inside the NBA is about. But I will defer to Steve Kerr’s comments from last playoffs on all these old “get off my lawn” players.

“The game gets worse as time goes on. Players are less talented than they used to be. The guys in the 50s would’ve destroyed everybody. It’s weird how human evolution goes in reverse in sports. Players get weaker, smaller, less skilled. I don’t know. I can’t explain it.”

For a couple grand, Warriors fans can have Larry O’Brien Trophy visit their suite

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There’s so much money floating around the Bay Area right now thanks to another tech boom, this price almost seems low.

If you have a suite for the Golden State Warriors home games this season — and those are pretty much sold out, the Warriors draw big from the Silicon Valley crowd — you can have the NBA championship Larry O’Brien Trophy visit your suite. All for just a couple grand. From Gilbert Lee, via ESPN’s Darren Rovell.

The best part is it includes champagne… do you get to spray each other with it as you hold up the trophy? Now that would be perfect (goggles included, of course).

Have an issue with this? Why? To the victor goes the spoils. The Warriors may be able to sell this package for years.

Sixers new “Spirit of 76” court is fire

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First, the Sixers nailed the Nike “statement” jersey.

Now, they have announced a new “Spirit of 76” promotion, with seven tribute nights this season honoring the history of the franchise and of the Philadelphia area (and there is plenty of history to honor).

The best part — the “Spirit of 76” court with the bell logo.

Here is the promo vid

I just hope the Sixers team can live up to all the hype.