In The Cheap Seats
Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

May 23, 2005 - To compete with the elite teams in the Western Conference, the Dallas Mavericks have to get better. Or do they just have to get smarter?

The Mavericks have not played like a smart team for several years, and the closing minutes of Friday night's frustrating loss in Game 6 of the conference semifinals to the Phoenix Suns was the spoiled cherry on top.

The loss wasn't about playoff pressure or getting beat by a better team. It was about players needing to go back to the third grade to learn how to add.

Lesson No. 1 - When leading by three points with less than 10 seconds to play, you always guard against the other team shooting a 3-pointer.

Example - Jason Terry inexplicably goes for a driving fake by Phoenix guard Steve Nash instead of holding his ground and making Nash shoot over him with seven seconds to play in regulation. Terry, who looked like Wile E. Coyote trying to continue to run after he's stepped off the cliff, was all the way to the free throw line while Nash was loading up the game-tying trey.

Lesson No. 2 - When you call a time out, the clock stops.

Example - Nash's 3-pointer swishes through the net with 5.7 seconds remaining in the game. Instead of calling their final time out, the Mavericks push the ball up court and have Jerry Stackhouse take a hurried 3-pointer that missed.

Lesson No. 3 - Five minus three equals two.

Example - Once in overtime, the Suns had three starters on the bench - Amare Stoudemire and Jim Jackson had fouled out, while Joe Jackson never suited up due to an injury. With the Suns' nonexistent bench, the Mavericks only to really worry about two players on the Phoenix team - Nash and Shawn Marion, who both were left wide open to hit 3-pointers.

Those are three prime examples of the Mavericks' brain-dead play. But, the problem goes deeper than that.

Even with 10 coaches and a roster full of veteran players, Dallas never figured out how to defend the game's most basic play - the pick and roll. And, they didn't take advantage of Nash's poor defensive play because their point guards (namely Terry) seldom drove to the bucket in the series' first five games.

Anyone who has followed the Mavs in recent years knows how Nash has been lit up by the opposing guards in the playoffs: Mike Bibby, Tony Parker, Mike Bibby, Steve Kerr, Mike Bibby. Yet, the Mavs let Nash off the hook defensively instead of reeling him in.

Even without the Mavericks' miscues late in Game 6, the Suns may have won the series. Nash may have hit the tying three even with someone right in his face, and just because the Mavs call a time out, there's no guarantee they would hit a game-winning shot.

But, you can't hand a team a victory in the playoffs and not expect to pay the consequences.

The Mavericks can get better in a lot of ways. Getting smarter should be job No. 1.

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