They say some good can be gleaned out of even the most painful calamities.
For the Mavericks, having the Michigan connection of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. show up the way they did in the agonizing 153-149 overtime loss to Houston late Friday night was one small glimmer of good news.
It couldn’t overshadow the fact that some things never change – even when the whole world has changed.
More than four months in between games, the Mavericks still fell into the same bad habit of not being able to execute when games are on the line in the final minutes. They fell to 14-22 in what the NBA deems to be “clutch” games, those within five points at some point in the final five minutes.
That’s a .389 winning percentage.
For reference, the six teams above them in the Western Conference all are above .500 in clutch games – well above. The Clippers are the worst at 17-12 (.586 win percentage).
Other nerdy statistics can go deeper into the shortcomings in the final minutes of tight games. But any way you slice it, the Mavericks have to get better in that area.
For a team built around young stars with no NBA playoff experience, the only way to do that is go through the growing pains and learn from the mistakes and frustrations.
In that regard, Hardaway and Burke possibly can help, starting Sunday against Phoenix (8 p.m. tip). They certainly did on Friday against the Rockets.
The pair won a championship with the Michigan Wolverines in college. They have played together in New York and in the last 25 games of the 2018-19 season after the Kristaps Porzingis trade.
They have usually paired well together and Friday was no different. They piled up 55 points between them, including 31 off the bench by Burke, which caught virtually everybody by surprise.
Hardaway, who has been a starter most of the season, said he was glad to be reunited with his old friend, who signed with the Mavericks in July as a replacement player for Willie Cauley-Stein.
“That was the Michigan difference,” Hardaway said. “We’re happy to have him back. This is a perfect scenario for him.
“He’s a guy who gets buckets – a bucket-getter. And a playground type of basketball player. When you need someone to come off the bench and have that spark in situations like this, that’s a great person to have on your team. And he played phenomenal.”
The only down side, coach Rick Carlisle said, was fatigue.
“He obviously got tired there in the second half, so we got him out,” Carlisle said. “Right now, it’s about who’s ready to play and who can help us. He was terrific and he gave us a lot of juice the whole game.”
Not quite the whole game. Burke sat out the final 10:05 of regulation. He had only been through a couple of practices and one scrimmage since arriving in Orlando. So Carlisle and the training staff were watching him closely.
“I think some of the guys were wondering the same thing,” Burke said of why he sat out until the final 2:19 of overtime. “I just got here. I know coach has a lineup at the end of the game that he trusts. Things change. You never know. Going forward, it could be Seth (Curry), it could be me out there. It depends on who has it going at that particular moment.”
There were other factors. While Burke was on the bench, the group that was in the game kept the lead at or near double figures. It still was 138-131 with 45 seconds left after Maxi Kleber’s 3-pointer.
Then everything fell to pieces.
“I think he just let them roll, which I’m fine with,” Burke said of not playing down the stretch of regulation. “Whoever is out there has to be ready to produce. I was if my number was called. I understand that coaches are going to make decisions and everyone has to be OK with that and be ready to produce.”
Obviously, nobody’s expecting Burke to toss in 31 points in 30 minutes every night. He hit 8-of-10 3-pointers and he dished out six assists, too.
But what Burke did is give a glimpse that he can help fill the void left by injuries to Jalen Brunson and Courtney Lee.
That, at least, was a sliver of positivity on an otherwise gloomy night.