Whether you’re at the end of your coffee, your day, your week or even your rope, welcome to Whitt’s End 06.05.31…
*Most Valuable Player. This time of year every NBA arena has its preferred candidate to endorse, the guy who gets serenaded with a bouquet of “M-V-P!” chants when he steps to the free-throw line.
LeBron James. Kawhi Leonard. Nikola Jokic. Russell Westbrook. Joel Embiid. Giannis Antetokounmpo. Even the Knicks’ Julius Randle got the royal treatment from the Madison Square Garden crazies.
But if the award is truly given to the most valuable player, it should go to the Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic. Why? Because he is simply more valuable to his team than any other player to any other team.
Without him, the Mavs are in the NBA Lottery.
With him, the Mavs lead the Los Angeles Clippers, 3-2, heading into Friday night’s Game 6 at American Airlines Center.
The case for Luka’s MVP candidacy can be made merely with Game 5. With Doncic on the floor for 43 minutes, the Mavs made 35 shots. He scored or assisted 31 of them. Without him in the game, they scored four points in five minutes.
Luka’s 31 of 37 (84 percent) is the highest percentage of a team’s field goals/assists by any player in NBA postseason history.
READ MORE: Can Luka Keep Up 'GOAT' Pace?
You can argue that there are better players than Luka. (Maybe.) But there are no more valuable players.
*Credit, where credit is due. Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith absorbs criticism crunches here and elsewhere. For his self-aggrandizing “Swipe” celebration. For his tangible decline in performance and, some say, at times, effort.
But I can say nary a negative syllable about his character, nor his contribution to DFW. A Woodrow Wilson senior was one of six North Texas student-athletes who received a $10,000 scholarship and a day on the practice field from Smith.
*While you’ve been consumed by late-night Mavs’ drama, the Texas Rangers have – not unexpectedly – flat-lined.
Thursday’s 11-6 loss in Colorado completed a hideous 0-9 road trip and extended their road losing streak to a stunning 15. When they were last in Arlington on May 23 they punctuated a scintillating weekend sweep of the Houston Astros with a walk-off win. By the time they return Friday night they’re dead in the water, 22-36 with little hope of sniffing .500 until Opening Day 2022.
Since Mother’s Day they are 4-18. And it may get worse on the road before it gets better.
They are the sixth team in the last 50 years and first since 1985 to have a six single-season road losing streak of at least 15 games. Their next seven on the road: Los Angeles Dodgers, Astros and Oakland A’s. The Rangers haven’t won a road games since May 6.
Again, not surprising. These are the anticipated growing pains for a young team molding for 2023 and beyond. Painful, nonetheless. I tuned in to Tuesday night’s loss in Denver and they gave up a run when a ground-ball out caromed off the second-base umpire’s leg for an infield single.
When it rains, it absolutely pours.
*May I suggest an alarm clock? Perhaps another cup of coffee? A little pre-game whoopie to get the blood flowing? Something. Anything. Because the Rangers haven’t scored a first-inning run in an almost unfathomable 17 consecutive games. And the way I remember it, the Cowboys failed to score a touchdown on any of their 16 opening drives last season.
Now, if the Mavs lay a goose egg in their first 12 minutes of a playoff game we’ll really have ourselves a crisis.
*Another sign that “normal” is just around the corner: The State Fair of Texas will open for business-as-usual Sept. 24. No way to socially distance in a cramped midway saturated with fried food and sweaty humans. Happily in the Fall of 2021, there is no need to do so. Big Tex says get your tickets here.
*NBA teams that win Game 5 of a 2-2 series go on to advance 87 percent of the time. The Mavs are 6-0 all-time in such circumstances. Regardless of math and history and momentum, this series is still legitimately losable.
*You know how we grudgingly see another $40 siphoned out of our checking accounts by the North Texas Toll Authority and steam, “We long ago paid for those roads!”? Well, it’s about to get steamier.
Beginning in July, DFW drivers will pay a penny more to drive on toll roads, from 19 cents per mile to 20. The NTTA is counting on you to shrug and say “what’s one penny?”, but a 30-mile drive to work that costs $5.70 in this month will bump up to $6 next month.
Worse: There was a rate hike as recently as 2019.
Double-worse: The NTTA says the increase will be used to pay for $2 billion in improvements over the next five years.
Cool, so not another increase until 2026. Pinkie swear?
*The two best young players in the NBA are literally leaving different footprints. Doncic has mastered taking two giant, slow Euro steps to get himself to the rim. The Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young, meanwhile, takes fast, small stutter steps to get him into the lane where he slays defenses with 10-foot floaters.
Different strokes for different folks.
*We – including me – underestimate the danger of ladders. That’s right, ladders. I’ve heard three stories recently about Texas men being seriously injured, even dying, after a fall. According to the World Health Organization, the U.S. leads the world in ladder deaths. Each year there are 165,000 emergency-room visits for ladder injuries and approximately 300 deaths. By comparison, only about five Americans per year die from venomous snake bites.
While we have an irrational fear of snakes, we carelessly climb ladders. Be careful up there, everybody.
*After all their finagling and dealing and commitment to get tougher, the Mavs are beating the Clippers with essentially the same players that last year lost to the Clippers. Jalen Brunson and Dwight Powell are healthy and available, and that helps. But the trades to bring in Josh Richardson for his junkyard defense and J.J. Redick for his clutch perimeter shooting are producing negligible results.
Richardson has 28 points in the entire series, while Redick has yet to play and Nicolo Melli (part of the same trade) has yet to score.
For Seth Curry, James Johnson, Wes Iwundu and a second-round draft pick, the Mavs are getting essentially zero help in beating the Clippers.
*Not a 'stinger,' a 'stunner' CowboysSI.com recently reported that a source close to Tyron Smith said his 2020 season-ending neck surgery was "a blessing in disguise.''
Now Tyron himself - almost back to 100 percent and working at OTAs at The Star - is opening up about what we were reporting.
"Honestly feeling great, finally got the neck fixed, and I think that kind of connected to everything with the back," Smith said. "I'm glad I finally got it fixed after all these years."
Ahh. There's the point: We've been told that Tyron, through a plague of back and neck injuries since 2016, has been instructed before to get the surgery ... but that he put it off, constantly ...
Because he didn't want to miss time.
"It just was about being smart about it, and if I want to keep playing longer, I'd have to get the surgery," said Tyron, who missed 14 games in a lost 2020. "And I do want to keep playing as long as I can. So it was a good thing to get the surgery done, so I don't have to worry about that anymore."
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Smith said "it drove me crazy'' to miss. But now, the "blessing in disguise'' being that by fall 2020 he had little choice but to undergo the procedure, he says his "strength is back, and probably better than it was, since I've just been sitting here working out.'' And we're told he's added more flexibility work to his program.
And for 2021? Amazingly, the future Hall-of-Famer thinks he has "something to prove.''
"I always say this every year, but it's true,'' Smith said. "I'm still not at the point where I want to be. Every year it's like I'm still trying to prove to everybody that I can still play and still be the best at my job. For me, it's always that mindset. There's always something to prove."
A stronger, healthier, more motivated Tyron Smith?
Look out, NFL.
*Mental health is at the forefront of sports after women’s No. 2-ranked tennis player and the world’s highest-paid female athlete Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open, in part, because she refused to take part in pre- and post-match interview sessions with the media.
This gets tricky, because we don’t want to expose and exacerbate depression or mental health issues via exposure to journalists or TV interviewers. But, at the same time, being accessible and amenable is part of the job requirements.
I know the media was a favorite, albeit unwarranted, target of the previous Presidential administration, but it’s the free and fair media that goes a long way toward paying players’ “salaries.” The attention. The coverage. The publicity. And, yes, the interviews. When Osaka wore different masks at last year’s U.S. Open to bring attention to racial discrimination and social injustice, she loved and used the media attention to disperse her message. Let’s be honest, without the media’s coverage of her on and off the court, she wouldn’t be the highest-paid female athlete in sports, now would she?
If Osaka’s mental health prevents her from fulfilling the obligations of her job, then she can always find another career away from the spotlight.
Harsh, yes. True, yes.
Being an elite, high-profile, high-paid professional athlete isn’t for everyone.
*In this five-game series, Luka has missed 20 free throws. Perspective? During his team’s 21-game postseason run to the 2011 title, Dirk Nowitzki missed only 11 (176 of 187, 94 percent).
*Pleasantly surprised by Mark Cuban’s low profile during the playoffs. Whether a product of his maturity or intelligence or fear of distractions and/or fines, him remaining hands-off invisible is refreshing.
*When I repeated mistakes (which was often) as a kid, Dad always offered his sage advice: “If you keep on doing what you’ve been doing, you’re going to keep on getting what you’ve been getting.”
Kudos to Mavs coach Rick Carlisle for drastically altering what wasn’t working.
He went big with Boban Marjanovic. He threw in some zone. He tried Powell. He double-teamed Kawhi. Some of the ploys worked better than others, but they combined to change the tenor of the series – which had been trending downward in the wake of consecutive comprehensive losses in Games 3 and 4. Boban was a minus-9 in 20 minutes in Game 5. Still, consider him starting a success.
*Not sure I’m a fan of Rangers catcher Jonah Heim’s one-knee crouch/setup. I think it’s supposed to garner more called strikes, but the stark reality is that he’s been a part of 13 wild pitches since May 1. Seems like an absurdly high amount. For my money, he also has a bad habit of lazily laying his mitt on the ground during the pitcher’s wind-up.
What happened to giving the pitcher a clear and consistent target?
*I’ll never understand the rush to be first. It’s embedded in some folks’ DNA, but fortunately I skipped that gene. First to get in line in the grocery store checkout aisle. First to get on an airplane. First in some fantasy automobile race that forces you to cut off others in traffic. First through the doors on Black Friday. I’m obviously keen to being fast when it comes to reporting and content, but more so on being right.
The people who drove five hours to north Dallas last week just to be first to try Dave’s Hot Chicken are a special blend of kooky. Off the top of your head, you can name 10 drive-through chicken restaurants. You’re telling me this Nashville-style place is five hours better than, oh, say the Popeye’s chicken place you clamored to be first to in 2020?
*Fitting and deserving that the Rangers will give away 14,000 Shin-Soo Choo bobbleheads Saturday night. He played seven seasons in Arlington. Was an All-Star. In 2018 he reached base in a franchise-record 52 consecutive games. But what I’ll remember Choo for – even more than lead-off homers – is him getting hit by pitches. He’s the Rangers’ all-time leader with 71.
Plus, wouldn’t that make an intriguing bobblehead pose?
*I just want to walk a mile in Snoop Dogg’s shoes, er sandals. The iconic rapper stars in the omnipresent TV ad where he strolls on a beach handing out cold beer to random “friends.” Cool thing is he has a bucket of three beers, gifts two or three, and magically still has three beers in the bucket. Bottomless beer! If I had three wishes, that might be one of them.
Of course, I’d also spend one wish on having bottomless wishes.
*As dominant as Luka was in Game 5, this column was this close – a Nicolas Batum-layup-close – to being littered with “Doncic craters down the stretch.”
After scoring 40 points in the first three quarters, in the fourth he missed six of his seven shots, didn’t score in the final 5:30 and his bad-pass turnover with 18 seconds remaining led to the Clippers’ fast break that almost capped an improbable rally from 10 points down in the final two minutes. Whew!
*What in the name of government “by the people” are we doing?! There was a bill – thankfully voted down – in the Texas legislature last month that would have made mail-in voting more difficult, banned early voting on Sunday mornings and prohibited local elections officials from sending absentee ballot applications to anyone who did not requested one. If you want to live in an America that creates more – instead of less – hurdles to cast a vote, then we probably shouldn’t invite each other to the next backyard barbecue.
*For the first time in their playoff history, the Mavs in Game 5 had only two players score 10-plus points (Doncic’s 42 and 20 by Tim Hardaway Jr.).
*I always listen to music when penning these weekly thoughts. Dependent upon mood, of course. Some days it’s classical Ravel. One week it’ll be dark and brooding Nine Inch Nails. One time it was meditative 528hz binaural beats.
Today? Ravi Shankar and his funky sitar.
*For the bulk of this series the Mavs have been the better team. In four of the five games they’ve led by 10-plus points.
*Someone who should spent the rest of their life in prison: William Roy Stone Jr. The former FBI agent who worked in the Dallas field office is accused of swindling a Granbury woman out of $800,000 by convincing her she was on “secret probation” for fabricated drug crimes. The victim had recently inherited money from a deceased grandmother, and Stone exploited her to pay for his travel expenses, houses and cars. He faces 178 years and, if convicted, should serve every single one of them.
*At least the Rangers are making history. Reliever Brett Martin has delivered two walk-off wild pitches in the last three weeks. Texas has never done that – via walk or balk or passed ball, etc. – twice in an entire season.
*Where we’re at: Dallas police responded to an “active shooter” call at NorthPark Center this week after people in the mall heard loud “bangs” and began scrambling for exits.
Turns out it was a kid, banging his skateboard on the floor of the food court.
*Does Boban really need a nickname? Isn’t “Boban” unique enough? “Bobi” seems superfluous, like we’re trying a little too hard to be cute.
*Food. Wine. Buffalo Trace bourbon. A little barkeep battle inside a quaint Dallas Bed & Breakfast. What's not to love? Join me for Fish House Punch: June 9, 5 p.m. Be there or be square. Tickets.
*No one – and I mean no one – expected the Mavs to be 3-0 at Staples Center and 0-2 at AAC in this series. It’s that zany, entertaining unpredictability that so draws us to sports. It’s the best reality show on TV. And it always will be. You think you know what will happen in Game 6 and beyond. But, admit it, you have no clue. That’s why you’ll watch.
*Dallas’ Pride Parade is headed in the wrong direction. Once a colorful, organic celebration that gleefully spilled down Cedar Springs through Oak Lawn, it’s recently accepted corporate overlords who have moved the event to Fair Park and – this year – have abandoned the actual parade for a series of variety acts. I’m a long, strong supporter of Dallas’ gay community, but this shadow of the original funfest is a hard pass.
*RANGERS RISK: We all think the Texas Rangers are going to be putrid this season. Our lil’ roundtable revealed predicted win totals of anywhere between 61 and 78, but no one thinks .500 is plausible. Let’s put our money where our mouth is. I’m going to bet a virtual $100 against the Rangers every game this season and, after six months and 162 games, see where I wind up. I’ll keep a running tab right there each Friday and come September I’ll (wink) disperse my profits to my most loyal readers. RECORD: 22-36 TOTAL: +$216.
*This Weekend? Friday is for Mavs-Clippers. Saturday is for a little tennis. Sunday is for visiting family down in JoCoMoFo and more Mavs, either Game 7 at Clippers or Game 1 at Jazz. As always, don’t be a stranger.