“All good things arrive unto them that wait – and don’t die in the meantime.”
If it wasn’t crystal clear that easy baskets are the Mavs’ best friend, take note. Write it in red, underline it, and trace over it over and over again until it makes an etching in the rest of your notepad, the desk below it, the foundation of the building you’re in, and the molten core of the planet Earth. Dallas may not need a ton of transition buckets to win games, but the Mavs’ running game plays enough of a role that it can be the demonstrative difference between a dominant win and a nail-biter.
Not to lean too heavily on the “tale of two halves” platitude, but…well, it was a tale of two halves. The game’s first 24 minutes was about as dominant as Maverick basketball gets. The defense was creating turnovers (which as we well know, is not usually a strength) to ignite the break in the second quarter, and some great ball movement (23 of the Mavs’ 31 assists came in the first half) and fast breaking opportunities allowed the Mavs to put up 69 points in two quarters. Dallas led New Orleans by 19 at halftime, had created clear separation thanks to some explosive offense, and seemed set for a second-half snoozer with some late-game rest for Jason Kidd (13 points, nine assists, five rebounds, seven turnovers) and Dirk Nowitzki (36 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, no turnovers).
Not so. Jeff Bower had the Hornets making some serious defensive adjustments in the second half, and the Mavs’ pass-happy ways that had led to so many easy buckets in the first half turned on them completely. Jason Kidd had five turnovers in the third quarter alone, and though Darren Collison did a nice job of pressuring the ball, the real credit goes to an assortment of Hornets playing the passing lanes and picking off Kidd’s would-be assists. The game slowed down and the Mavs broke down, giving Collison (a career high 35 points, three assists, five turnovers) and Marcus Thornton (21 points, five rebounds) ample opportunity to carve into Dallas’ early lead. Both took full advantage as the Mavs’ defense focused on stopping David West, and on that front they were wholly successful; West with just 10 points on 20% shooting with four turnovers, though with eight rebounds and six assists.
The Mavs’ biggest problems weren’t on the defensive end, though I’d hardly call New Orleans’ 106.4 points per 100 possessions any kind of success. The primary troubles came with the Mavs inability to execute in half-court sets, though it was largely due to Dallas swinging for home runs rather than the steady single. Jason Kidd in particular wasn’t settling the Mavs into the offense, and a sequence of passes by Kidd and Terry compounded with a few missed jumpers keyed a 10-0 third quarter run for the Hornets. It’s hard to get too upset considering the Mavs were ultimately just trying to do too much, and especially because when they badly needed buckets late in the fourth quarter, they isolated Dirk Nowitzki and let him go to work. The results in those situations typically speak for themselves, and this was no exception. James Posey may have, at some point, been the prototypical defender for Dirk: skilled, hard-working, smart, athletic, long. But Nowitzki dropped 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting in the fourth, which was enough to give the Mavs a late surge and a sure victory.
- Caron Butler (19 points, five rebounds, four steals) isn’t known for his defense, despite his reputation as a tough player. But his steal with 51 seconds remaining of the game was crucial to preserving the Mavs’ lead…even if Brendan Haywood’s subsequent uncalled offensive basket interference should have turned the tide.
- I understand the need for bench depth, but the more minutes and shot attempts the Hornets give to Morris Peterson instead of Marcus Thornton, the worse they’ll be. There was a time where Mo Pete was a solid option as a shooting guard, and though he’s never been a gold standard for the position, he was more than capable of being a quality shooter and scorer for a good team. No longer, as each jump shot is more a shot in the dark, and all of his insubstantial production comes at a direct cost to a younger, better player that could stand to play even more. It’s not an issue right now, with Chris Paul out and Darren Collison logging major minutes in his place. But I worry that with the priority on Collison’s development as a point guard prospect (for either a 6th man role or to use as trade bait), Chris Paul’s return to the lineup will inevitably cut into Thornton’s production/opportunities just because of some ridiculous notion that Mo Pete deserves his due.
- Brendan Haywood may have played his worst game as a Maverick on Sunday night…and he had 12 points, nine rebounds (five offensive), two blocks, two steals, and no turnovers. Makes you wonder if Carlisle, Nelson, and Cuban are happy with the trade returns on Josh Howard.
- J.J. Barea didn’t have a high-scoring night, but he ran the offense to perfection for the entirety of the second quarter. He had eight assists and just one turnover in the frame, and for how brilliant Rodrigue Beaubois has been at times this season, I’m not sure he’s had a sustained performance that could fully match how J.J. fueled the team’s surge in the second quarter. The few Barea supporters left in MavsLand: here is your 12-minute long piece of video evidence.
- Caron Butler is looking more and more comfortable in the offense. He’s hitting his jumpers from his comfort zones along the baseline, and though he’s not quite a force in attacking the basket, he’s remaining assertive.
- Eddie Najera is starting to worry me a little bit. He’s not in the game for long enough stretches to make any kind of significant negative impact (and part of the drop-off is negated by his hustle), but I can’t wait to see how this rotation functions with Dampier back in the mix.