“Safety is something that happens between your ears, not something you hold in your hands.”
See, it doesn’t have to be so difficult.
The Timberwolves have inexplicably matched up quite well with the Mavericks this season, taking one of their two prior meetings this season (in Dallas, no less) and nearly taking another despite not having Al Jefferson in the lineup. That’s more than a bit odd considering each team’s relative standing, particularly the fact that despite the fact that Minny has twice the wins of the New Jersey Nets, they could very well be the worst team in the league. The Wolves’ talent is far less balanced and cohesive than what the Nets have to work with, and though Jefferson and Kevin Love are terrific players, their individual brilliance is often diminished by the odd collection of talent David Kahn has assembled.
In short: the Wolves aren’t very good. The Mavs will inevitably struggle against some inferior teams. That doesn’t mean that Minnesota should be capable of challenging Dallas on a regular basis, particularly because on paper, the Wolves don’t seem to have any clear match-up advantages ripe for exploitation. Jefferson and Love against the Mavs’ bigs isn’t exactly Dwyane Wade v. Adrian Griffin.
So in a fit of irony, the one occasion in which Minnesota would appear to have a clear advantage (with the absence of Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood due to injury) comes on the same night as the Mavs’ first double-digit win since February 19th and the Mavs’ most convincing win against the Wolves (hey, small victories are still victories, right?) this season.
For once, Dallas wasn’t battling Minnesota to the game’s final seconds. Not that Jefferson (36 points, 15-21 FG, 13 rebounds) didn’t fight the good fight, but Love (six points, 1-7 FG, six rebounds, three turnovers) could do little more than rebound in his 12 minutes on the floor…which was a pretty poor showing from both Love (despite the prodigious rebounding rate) and Kurt Rambis. Darko Milicic played more minutes. Sasha Pavlovic played more minutes. Ryan Hollins played over double the minutes. I don’t care how badly Kevin Love is playing, there really isn’t an excuse to run that kind of rotation barring Love snapping his femur in half. No one on the Timberwolves (save Al) is good enough to displace Love, which tells me one of two things:
- Kurt Rambis has gone completely batty.
- Kurt Rambis has visions of ping pong balls dancing in his head.
At this point, neither would surprise me.
But Jefferson went wild, the Wolves put up 112 points. Not bad, except that in such a fast-paced game, the Mavs put up a whopping 125 on 50% shooting. Without anything resembling a traditional center (Dirk and Eddie Najera filled in at the 5 for the Mavs), the Mavs pushed the ball with abandon…and still only turned the ball over eight times. That’s Jason Kidd (12 points, 10 assists, three turnovers, three steals) doing his job and doing it well. That’s J.J. Barea (nine points, nine assists, two turnovers) and Rodrigue Beaubois (11 points, five rebounds, four assists) taking care of the ball and not trying to do too much. That’s just tremendous efficiency in the passing game for the Mavs’ guards, and the team-wide ball protection (Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, and Caron Butler, the Mavs’ leaders in FGAs, combined for just one turnover) was just phenomenal. Dallas played reasonable defense considering the circumstances, but they earned the W on the offensive end last night.
That’s where Shawn Marion (29 points, 14 rebounds, three steals) had an unexpected explosion. Dirk Nowitzki (24 points, 8-15 FG, six rebounds, three assists) picked up his second foul just a minute and a half into the game. That would seem incredibly troublesome, especially when considering that Jason Terry is still out recovering from surgery. But Marion and Caron Butler (23 points, 9-19 FG, three rebounds, three assists) keyed a tide-turning 19-2 run for Dallas that flipped an eight-point deficit and then some and secured a lead that the Mavs would never relinquish. Hot starts have been pivotal for the Wolves in their last two games against the Mavs, and the first five minutes were no different. But once Marion, Caron, and surprisingly, Jason Kidd started piling on the points, it was all downhill from there.
You’ve heard me say it a dozen times about just as many spectacular performances this season: don’t expect it every night. Marion is capable of scoring in volume if given the chance, and he can do more with the ball than he’s been able to this season (include hit the mid-range J, which he wasn’t as reluctant to pull the trigger on yesterday), but that’s not his role on this team. Nowitzki, Terry, and Butler are going to get the shots. Marion knows that, and he’s comfortable with it. But don’t think for a second that he didn’t like showing off for a night, and don’t think for a second that he didn’t enjoy every one of those 25 field goal attempts.
- Aren’t the Mavs on a winning streak or something?
- The reason the Mavs were able to hold down the fort defensively without Haywood or Damp: the zone defense. It absolutely killed the Wolves, who lack consistent outside shooting (they finished 4-of-22 from behind the arc). Once Dallas decided to zone up, the Wolves became tentative, they took bad shots, and the turned the ball over. A ton. But they also finished with 15 offensive rebounds, which is about what you’d expect given the lineup and the defensive scheme. Any strategy change comes with a give and a take, and while the Mavs took away plenty of opportunities by zoning up, they also gave quite a few back.
- Ramon Sessions (11 points, 5-5 FG, two assists, two turnovers) gets an absurd number of crazy and ones against Dallas. What’s more: they’re usually on fouled runners and jumpers. These are shots with some decent range where Sessions absorbs a bit of contact and finishes over Kidd, Barea, or Beaubois some eight or 10 feet from the basket.
- Beaubois had another highlight reel block, although one of the foul-ish variety. Jonny Flynn had what looked to be a breakaway dunk to close the first half, but Roddy stopped him at the cup by swatting the ball and plenty of Flynn’s hand. No blood, no foul, right?
- I was very impressed with Jefferson’s passing. Not a big assist night for him, and he’s not a big assist player, really. But both of his dimes came off perfect, no-look dishes to backdoor cutters. That’s about as sexy as it gets for passing bigs.
- Tough luck: J.J. Barea rolled his ankle in the game’s closing minutes, and he could end up missing some time. He was able to limp off the court, but he looked to be in quite a bit of pain.
- Matt Carroll (four points, 1-2 FG)saw seven and a half minutes of actual playing time, and connected on a shot to boot. Great for him, and it would certainly be nice if, in Tim Thomas’ absence, Carroll could crack the rotation once in awhile.
- Ryan Hollins is always hyped up, and particularly so when he plays against Dallas. That energy helped him to a near double-double with 13 points and nine rebounds, but his tight winding was also the impetus that caused him to hit two Mavs, DeShawn Stevenson and Dirk Nowitzki, in the face. He’s a bit out of control to say the least, and while his smack on DeShawn’s cheek wasn’t even whistled as a foul (though Stevenson was assessed a technical for yelling at a referee about it), the swipe that connected with Dirk’s noggin earned Hollins a flagrant two and an automatic ejection.
- Caron Butler is showing the range. He had made exactly one three in his first nine games with the Mavs, but three in each of the last two games (on an average of five attempts per). Najera got in the act as well, and he’s hit four out of his nine attempts in the last two contests.