A Hole Deep in the Heart of Texas: Dallas Mavericks 102, Milwaukee Bucks 76

This game began ominously.

Vince Carter sails to the basket for a dunk as Milwaukee Bucks' Brandon Jennings, Stephen Jackson and Jon Leuer look on. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Vince Carter got the ball on the left wing, gave Carlos Delfino a hard fake to the left, then drove right for a huge slam.

But as bad as that looked, before you could wrap your head around the old man swooping unscathed to the rim, Drew Gooden returned the favor. He pump-faked Dirk Nowitzki at the top of the key, dribbled past the free throw line and took off for an even more impressive dunk.

The teams traded baskets, including a pair of three-pointers by Brandon Jennings and Shawn Marion, and it wasn’t until the second Carter dunk (right) that things started to sour.

Right around that time, the Mavs announcing crew had this exchange about rookie Jon Leuer trying to guard Dirk Nowitzki.

Skip Wade:  That has the feel of one of those nature films, where the baby has left the nest and is about to get annihilated.

Mark Followill:  Like when a sea turtle is trying to make its way from the beach to the water?

Skip Wade:  It’s not going to work out well.

Derek Harper:  I was just going to say, “He’s never going to make it”. 

It was the right analogy for the wrong situation. (To wit, Nowitzki threw up an airball three-point attempt on the next possession.)  To be sure, Nowitzki outperformed nonfactor Leuer (13 mins, 2 points), but the comparison fit the entire Bucks team more aptly than it did than the power forward matchup.

Here were the Bucks, fresh off a pair of wins, optimistic that they could win the games they play at home (4-0) and those too with their star player (4-2).  Then, just as they were about to take the court against the NBA champs, the ginormous injury vulture swooped in and plucked Andrew Bogut from their lineup.  Their season, once full of promise, now climbs on, with hope scarce and peril plenty.

Shortly before the game, Bogut failed a concussion test.  He was tested after falling and hitting the back of his head in the Bucks’ previous game against Spurs. It is not known when he will be able to return.

For his part, Bogut tweeted his reaction quite simply.

The Bucks went on to do what they have done all season on the road without Bogut.  They start with a promising scoring burst, with an offense that looks miles ahead of the output it produced last season.  They match it with sloppy defense, allowing the opponent to stay right with them, until the next points drought leaves them facing a steep challenge.

Drew Gooden, in particular, is a nice scorer with a crafty inside-out game.  Of all the Bucks, he has the best chance to lean/push/strip/battle with opposing centers on a nightly basis.  The problem is, he’s just not long enough to be the help defender that Bogut is.  And as much as the starters miss Bogut, the bench may miss Gooden even more.

Last night, the Mavs shot 61% in the first quarter and 53% in the second.  Down by a bucket, the Bucks inserted Tobias Harris and Larry Sanders late in the first quarter; by the time they left — less than five minutes later — the Mavs had a 14-point lead.

Then the Bucks had their typical third-quarter collapse.  In first five minutes of the second half, they shot 0-4 from the field.  Worse, they only shot four attempts because turnovers by Delfino, Gooden, Jackson, Delfino (ugh, again), and Sanders helped the Mavericks stretch a 15-point halftime lead into a 27-point rout.  From there, it was a glorified exhibition for the scrubs who played a pretty even game against the Mavs bench.

The highlights were few for the Bucks.  Notable performers did include Shaun Livingston, who scored 15 points on 6/8 shooting.  Livingston also served as a calming influence on the youngsters in the meaningless fourth quarter.  (His impact, though, didn’t quite extend to a scoreless Darington Hobson, who chucked up 7 greedy-looking shots in the Bucks 13-point fourth quarter.)

The other nice showing came from Brandon Jennings, who scored 19 points on another well-chosen 12 shots.  His turnaround from last year is starting to feel more like a trend than a quirky streak.  It’s a glimmer of optimism in an otherwise gloomy January.

Until Monday’s day game against the Philadelphia 76ers, keep the hope alive.

Tags: Andrew Bogut Dallas Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki Drew Gooden Jason Terry Jon Leuer Vince Carter

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