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Dallas Mavericks' Season Slipping Away and Friday NBA Takeaways

Josh Martin@@JoshMartinNBANBA Lead WriterApril 25, 2015

Matthew Emmons/USA Today

Chandler Parsons' bad knee sealed his fate for the season after Game 1 of the 2015 NBA playoffs. Rajon Rondo's bad back and poor performance all but ended his time with the Dallas Mavericks after Game 2.

Now, Dallas' postseason goose is all but cooked after a Game 3 in which the team's porous defense was once again an unmistakeable culprit against the Houston Rockets.

The Mavs surrendered a whopping 42 points in the first quarter—a season high for the Rockets—en route to a 130-128 barn-burning defeat. Monta Ellis had a clean look at a 20-footer to tie the score with the clock winding down. But his shot clanked off the right of the iron, leaving the home team with a steep 3-0 series deficit out of which no NBA team has ever climbed.

To be sure, Dallas did plenty of positive work in between that poor start and unfortunate finish. Ellis, for one, poured in a playoff career-high 34 points, including 12 in that back-and-forth opening frame. Trouble is, the Mississippi native was only marginally effective against James Harden, who torched the Mavs for 42 points (a playoff career high of his own) and nine assists.

Dirk Nowitzki matched Ellis' contributions to Dallas' tally with 34 points of his own. He helped fuel a second-quarter run that gave the Mavs their biggest lead of the game (13 points) with 1:07 left in the half and calmly sank a trio of free throws after drawing a foul on Harden with 33 seconds to play.

But Nowitzki gave it all back (and then some) on the other end. The giant German, while never known as a stopper, was practically statuesque on defense. His lack of mobility left more than a few caroms free for the Rockets, who racked up 17 offensive rebounds and piled up 28 second-chance points as a result. Dwight Howard was particularly prolific in that regard, nabbing 11 of his playoff career-high 26 rebounds off his teammates' misses.

Earl K. Sneed @EarlKSneed

Dirk: "This ranks up there with the toughest playoff losses I've had in my long playoff career. This definitely is up there." #DALvsHOU

See a pattern here? The Mavs had no trouble scoring, especially without Rondo around to butt heads with head coach Rick Carlisle, but offered even less resistance themselves.

It doesn't matter that Al-Farouq Aminu tallied 15 points and shot 5-of-6 from the charity stripe. Nor can J.J. Barea's 11 points and nine assists in relief of Raymond Felton and Devin Harris offer any more than cold comfort to Dallas.

Not when Josh Smith and Corey Brewer combined for 33 points of their own off Houston's bench.

For every punch the Mavs dished out, the Rockets countered with just a bit more vim and vigor. For every Hack-a-Howard or Hack-apela (i.e. intentional foul of Clint Capela), Houston's bigs answered with surprising points at the line. For every Mav that had a playoff career high, there were two Rockets doing the same.s

If Dallas is to avoid a clean sweep at the hands of its Texas triangle tormentor, it'll have to start the conversation rather than answer back—which comes down to better defense.

That means marking Harden more effectively, getting physical with Houston's scoring machine rather than obsessing over keeping him off the stripe. That means more contests of interior shots by Tyson Chandler, as opposed to the feeble swipes and fouls to which he so often (and so puzzlingly) resorted. That means Nowitzki finding a way to free at least one of his feet from the concrete in which they seemed to be stuck.

Apr 24, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) shoots late in the fourth quarter while getting fouled by Dallas Mavericks center Tyson Chandler (6) in game three of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center. T
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

And, as a team, that means paying more mind to boxing out, rotating out to shooters and walling off the paint.

Easier said than done, of course. Amid the smoldering wreckage of the Mavs defense, the Rockets have discovered a steady offensive rhythm. They've scored at least 111 points in each of their three outings against Dallas in these playoffs.

To be sure, that's nothing new for the Mavs. They allowed at least that many points in 15 games during the regular season.

This isn't a novel problem for Dallas. Its substandard defense is a feature, not a bug. Otherwise, Carlisle, as clever a tactician as there is in the NBA today, probably would've ironed it out by now.

He and his Mavs won't have much choice but to search for new solutions in Game 4 at American Airlines Center on Sunday. It's either win or go home—or, in Dallas' case, stay home, where Parsons and Rondo are already waiting.

"That's Why They Brought Me Here"

Speaking of answers, the Washington Wizards had plenty of Truth to throw back at the Toronto Raptors on Friday. Paul Pierce scored 11 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, including a pair of backbreaking threes, to help the Wizards secure a 106-99 Game 3 win at the Verizon Center and a 3-0 lead in their first-round series against the team from the North.

"That's why they brought me here," Pierce shouted after hitting the 27-foot bomb that extended Washington's lead to six with 16 seconds to play. "That's why they brought me here," Pierce repeated to ESPN's J.A. Adande in his postgame interview.

Pierce might still be muttering those same six words to himself. Who could blame him if he were? After all, his imprint on this game and these Wizards went well beyond his efficient shooting night (5-of-9 from the field, 4-of-7 from three, 4-of-4 at the line).

Otto Porter, Pierce's understudy, had his moments of truthiness. The Georgetown product hit a pair of fourth-quarter triples of his own and assisted on another of Pierce's daggers. On the other end, Porter played a starring role in holding DeMar DeRozan to a modest 12 points on 3-of-18 shooting after the Raptors' swingman racked up 20 points in the opening frame—a Toronto playoff record for a single quarter.

Drew Gooden played with a smidgen of Pierce's swagger, as well. The newly reformed "stretch 4" chipped in as many triples as blocks (three) in 18 minutes off the bench.

Apr 24, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce (34) and Wizards guard John Wall (2) celebrate after their game against the Toronto Raptors in game three of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Verizon Center. The Wizards won 1
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The rest of the Wizards might not have needed a shot of Pierce's moxie, but they played as though they'd gotten one anyway. John Wall followed up his historic 26-point, 17-assist outing in Game 2 with another 19 points and 15 dimes while badgering Kyle Lowry into another poor shooting night (5-of-22 from the field). Marcin Gortat ate up Jonas Valanciunas for breakfast, lunch, dinner and fourthmeal, to the tune of 24 points (on 11-of-15 shooting), 13 boards, five assists and four blocks.

The Raptors could certainly use some of whatever Pierce is providing the Wizards with these days. Their defense has shown up about as frequently and with as much impact as has their frontcourt, which is to say, not much at all.

Normally, Lowry would be the one to give Toronto what Pierce has offered Washington. But Lowry has been banged up all series and looked as hobbled and ill as ever in Game 3.

Wherever the Raptors can draw defensive life from on their roster, they'd better do so in a hurry. If nothing else, Toronto might want to put a body on Pierce, who torched the Raptors for 20 points in Game 1.

Because, if there's anything we've learned about the Raptors so far, it's that they have a hard time dealing with Pierce. Or, to put it another way (h/t CBS Sports)...

CBS Sports @CBSSports

@CBSSports AGAIN http://t.co/E6mHQS6n4M

Kawhi Leonard, Spurs Stomp Clippers in Defensive Masterclass

On Friday, Kawhi Leonard accepted his Defensive Player of the Year award. Then, he earned it all over again—and then some.

Leonard was nothing short of sensational in the San Antonio Spurs' 100-73 thrashing of the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead in their first-round series. The fourth-year wing out of San Diego State mauled L.A.'s defense for 32 points on 13-of-18 shooting. No two came more emphatically or impressively than on this jaw-dropping connection with fellow Spurs swingman Danny Green:

On the other end, Leonard used his long arms and massive mitts to snag three steals, swat two shots and help hold Blake Griffin and Chris Paul to a combined 9-of-26 shooting.

Leonard wasn't alone in his defensive excellence. After all, it takes more than one man to hold an opponent to playoff franchise worsts for points, field-goal percentage and margin of defeat, even if that opponent is the historically haunted Clippers, as SportsCenter on Twitter noted:

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

Rough night for Clippers: • 73 Pts (franchise playoff low) • 34% FG (franchise playoff low) • 27-point loss (worst in team playoff history)

What's more amazing, though, is that the Spurs were good enough on the defensive end that they hardly needed anything out of their Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili (h/t CBS Sports NBA):

CBS Sports NBA @CBSSportsNBA

Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili combined for 12 points. The Spurs still won by 27.

Of course, Leonard's offensive explosion had plenty to do with that, the same way his excellence has had everything to do with San Antonio's revival as a perennial title contender since his arrival in the fall of 2011. 

And to think, at 23 years old, Leonard already keeps close company with Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players in NBA history to be a DPOY and a Finals MVP. A second consecutive title would draw Leonard even closer to those legends, with plenty of his own tale yet to be told.

Josh Martin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.

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