You can't spell 'best team, duh' without 'beards.' (USA TODAY Sports)
The Dallas Mavericks ripped off a 15-4 run to start the fourth quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers, then watched as their lead dwindled to just three points with less than two minutes left — things seemed to be setting up for exactly the kind of tight late-game situation in which Portland has flourished (they're 18-11 in games where the score's within five points in the final three minutes, according to NBA.com's stat tool) and Dallas has struggled (12-15, same stat) this season. But in the final minute, a wide-open, game-tying 3-point attempt by Wesley Matthews fro the right wing rimmed out — Portland went just 1 for 10 from 3 in the fourth quarter — and on the ensuing Dallas possession, Vince Carter nailed a long jumper from beyond the left elbow to put the Mavs up five with 26.9 seconds remaining, and Dallas held on for a 105-99 home win.
It was Dallas' first win over a playoff-caliber opponent in three weeks and it came on a night where star Dirk Nowitzki wasn't at the top of his game (16 points on 7 for 19 shooting) — if you're a Mavericks fan, you're hoping a victory like that could help spark the largely uninspired 21-28 group to go on a bit of a hot streak. Unless, of course, you'd prefer to see your Mavericks sporting rich, full facial hair. From Brad Townsend at the Dallas Morning News:
While answering questions following Wednesday night’s home victory over Portland, Dirk Nowitzki kept scratching his increasingly scraggly beard.
So Nowitzki was asked: What’s the deal about the beards several Mavericks are sporting? And does Dirk’s wife, Jessica, approve of it?
“Not really,” Nowitzki said in response to the second question.
He said the mostly team-wide beard pact was started about two weeks ago by O.J. Mayo, Dahntay Jones and Vince Carter.
“We said we’re not going to shave until we’re back to .500,” Nowitzki said. “So it’s been rough. There’s been some itching going on. And since we’re still down seven games below .500, that’s a long way to go.”
Yes, they do — 13 of the Mavericks' next 20 games will come against likely playoff teams, including two games each against the Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets, as well as dates with the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Boston Celtics. There could be some tough sledding in the other games, too, as Dallas will host the Los Angeles Lakers and Kyrie Irving's Cleveland Cavaliers, and visit a New Orleans Hornets team that's gone .500 since Eric Gordon in late December.
On the plus side, Dallas gets 11 of those 20 at home, where they're 13-9 on the season, including six of their next seven. If they can run the table at home and grab a road win against either the Hornets or Memphis Grizzlies, they could be level by month's end, giving everybody an opportunity to break out the beard trimmers. Then again, if they go on a run like that — outstripping their previous best work of the season, a 5-1 stretch last month — they might think about keeping the beards. After all, you don't bleep with a winning streak; if they let things take their natural course, they could wind up with some Hardenian, ZZ-Top-esque beards by season's end that put the Los Angeles Clippers' 2011-12 playoff beards to shame.
Of course, considering Dallas is 21-28 for a reason — namely, the league's eighth-worst defense, which has allowed opponents to outscore their middle-of-the-pack offense by 2.5 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com's stat tool — and that the Mavericks have strung together two or more straight wins just three times this season, it's a pretty good bet that Dallas will wind up alternating wins and losses, perhaps cutting down the distance to par but not quite getting there for quite some time. If this means the likes of Dirk and Chris Kaman wind up with wilderness beards, that sounds like a positive; if this means we get to see what it looks like when Rodrigue Beaubois' chin caterpillar grows and spreads across his face, that sounds like a major positive.
In the meantime, Nowitzki and the rest of the Mavs will keep letting 'em grow and hoping some positive mojo will help their heads back above water. And as they do so, they'll maintain good grooming habits — according to Townsend, Dirk said trimming that's allowed, which is good “because it was getting stuck on my shirts and stuff.” You've always, always got to mind the neckbeard. A solid veteran move from a team full of solid veterans.