“Success is never final; failure is never fatal.”
If I didn’t know better, I’d suspect that the Mavs were simply fated to lose last night. It was an event eons in the making, and as all the planets aligned and all of the matter in the cosmos was just so. And then, through a nearly infinite number of events all happening in perfect sequence, the Mavs’ weaknesses were brought forth in four dimensions for all the world to see.
But I do know better, if only a little bit, which is why I can tell you this: even though the Mavs failed in multiple basketball dimensions last night, their coincidence was nearing on aberration. It was almost comical how many of their flaws the Mavs chose to expose, and though the final margin was not only delightfully close but decidedly winnable, there likely does not exist a light that illuminates last night’s offensive performance as anything deserving of praise.
There were bright spots, sure. But first let’s dwell on exactly what ails the Mavs. For one, the Maverick offense remains overly dependent on the scoring of Dirk Nowitzki. To his credit, Dirk came through (27 points on 10 of 13 shooting, albeit with six turnovers), despite the lingering pain and discomfort that goes along with ramming your elbow full speed into Carl Landry’s mouth. It was enough to keep Dirk out of the game entirely on Sunday, but Dirk’s jumper looked clean and healthy against the Blazers. The turnovers are certainly unusual, but given the rest of the team’s struggles on offense and the extra attention afforded to Nowitzki as a result, the true wonder is that it wasn’t any worse. Dirk has had to carry the Mavs on plenty of nights during his career, but rarely has a Dallas outfit looked so terribly hollow on offense.
J.J. Barea (22 points, 9-16 FG, five assists, two turnovers) was again indispensable, if only because the rest of the team combined to shot a woeful 23.5% (12-51 FG) from the field. Shawn Marion (0 points, 0-7 FG, six rebounds, two turnovers) had quite possibly his worst offensive game as a Maverick, almost to prove a point: Marion’s offense is a supplementary piece, a table setting to make that steak dinner more enjoyable without lending anything at all to its creation. He’s not going to carry the load, that much we know. He’s really in Dallas for his defense, after all, and his offensive contributions are meant to keep opposing defenses honest and take advantage of easy opportunities. Shawn was able to achieve none of the above, as his runners and layups alike all met rim in the most unfriendly of ways.
And Jason Terry (eight points, 2-13 FG, four assists, one turnover)? His struggles continue to destroy the Maverick offense from within. So much of the offense is predicated on Dirk and Terry exploiting mismatches, be it through the pick and roll or forcing switches through other means. They’re supposed to be the Mavs’ best offensive options, but so far, only Dirk is playing the part. JET is in the middle of an absolutely brutal shooting slump, which leaves him with little on-court purpose aside from playing the part of the decoy. There are other options that can defend, pass, and rebound better than Terry, and frankly, several of them could shoot better than him right now, too. Without his scoring, JET’s role on the team (and as a primary in the rotation) becomes debatable, and though I honestly believe Terry’s struggles to be a freak occurrence rather than a flaw in approach, someone needs to figure out how to curtail this drop-off and fast. It may not be the difference between a win and a loss every night, but it’s not far off.
Josh Howard (eight points, two rebounds, one assist) was a bit of a non-factor in a game that could’ve used one, and Drew Gooden (five points, 2-7 FG, six rebounds) reminded us all that missing shots within ten feet of the basket is a fine art. The depth that had buoyed Dallas against Cleveland was nowhere to be found, as an entire team’s worth of offense was was made the sole responsibility of a certain seven foot star and a pint-sized role player. There was no balance there, no versatility there, and on a night where nothing is going right, that really, really hurts.
And while you may notice that most of my criticisms dwell on one of the court rather than the other, make note that it’s no coincidence: the Mavs’ defense this year has been terrific, and for perhaps the first time in franchise history, it’s been the offense that has struggled to keep pace. LaMarcus Aldridge (19 points, 9-16 FG, 12 rebounds) was very effective from just about everywhere on the floor, but many of his baskets were simply a case of ‘Good D, Better O.’ That’s the kind of thing you have to live with in the NBA, as the world’s premier scorers are simply waiting for an opportunity to light your team up. If 19 points in 45 minutes from Aldridge is the brunt of that, then give yourselves a round of applause and call it a defensive victory. Brandon Roy may have scored 23, but he only shot 36.8%. And even then, the Mavs needn’t be upset by holding Roy to a mortal scoring output, especially considering the lockdown they did on the rest of Portland’s role players (the rest of the Blazers shot just 36.3% from the field).
But it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to hold the Blazers to 93.4 points per 100 possessions (a full 12 points below their season average), because every Maverick offensive weakness wanted its chance in the spotlight and got its wish:
- The Mavs continue to struggle at home, where they can neither close out teams convincingly nor create mid-game separation.
- They still rely far too much on the big gun, as Dirk’s expected to not only put the Mavs in a position to win, but make every big shot when everything is on the line.
- Option B continues to struggle to score, and in his frustration, JET blew the Mavs’ final attempt to tie the game with eight seconds remaining by forcing up a difficult, contested layup. The Mavs still had timeouts.
- The Mavs’ typical contributors could not finish around the rim. Marion’s troubles may have been more pronounced, but Gooden blew plenty of opportunities near the basket against power forwards masquerading as centers. I guess that may not mean much when juxtaposed next to power-forward-masquerading-as-center Drew Gooden, but ideally it would.
- The offense was stagnant. With everyone’s confidence wrecked, Dallas devolved into a group of stand-still jump shooters, and while the midrange game may still be the weapon of choice for the Mavs, those shots need to come off open looks created by cuts, picks, and passes.
But if you’ll allow me that single bit of optimism that I never thought I’d have: the Mavs had a chance to win this one. A Dirk Nowitzki jumper went in and out with 38 seconds remaining, and what was perhaps a bit of bad judgment from Jason Terry is all that stood in the way of the defense securing yet another win. Dirk and Barea were essentially the only two parts of the offense that didn’t buckle, and still the Mavs were within a breath of forcing overtime. Who knows where the game goes from there, but it’s nice to know that in spite of all the reasons to be disappointed with the Mavs’ performances this season, their defense always seems to be a positive. It regularly puts them in a position to win games if it doesn’t win them outright. Though I still get headaches from watching the offense, it’s that kind of silver lining that can make a tough loss a bit more digestible.
- Mega bummer for the Blazers, who have likely lost Joel Przybilla for the season. Portland is a fun team and a model organization, and it’s just terrible that sometimes, bad things happen to good franchises. After all they’ve been through with Greg Oden, the Blazers certainly don’t deserve it. But here we are, and we’ll have to see where Kevin Pritchard is willing to take this roster to accommodate its need for big men in 2009-2010.
- The Cavaliers and the Blazers both seemed content to leave J.J. Barea open at the 3-point line, mostly as a way of combating his speed. It’s a strategic compromise, and my only hope is that J.J. can continue to improve his shooting stroke and capitalize like he did last night (3 of 4 from beyond the arc).
- The Mavs scored 14 points in the first quarter and 33 points in the first half. Both were their lowest such totals all season long.
- There was a pretty strange sequence in the third quarter, as Juwan Howard committed a flagrant foul on J.J. Barea…but Barea sunk the basket. As a result, he was afforded two chances to make one free throw, which effectively gave the Mavs a three-point play and control of the ball.
- I really shorted the Blazers their due in this recap, but they deserve plenty of credit. They played some nice D against the Mavs, and came up with just enough to win in spite of losing Przybilla. It’s understandably a big win for Portland given the circumstances, and deservedly so.
- The Mavs actually led after three thanks to a 32-point third quarter, but forked over the lead behind a 16-point fourth quarter effort. Yuck.
- Dirk wore a giant pad on his elbow to protect his favorite new scar. It didn’t seem to hinder his shot much at all.