Dallas Mavericks 96, New Jersey Nets 87

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 11, 2010 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images.

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“If you are out of trouble, watch for danger.”

And for the Mavs’ next trick, they’ll surrender a big early lead to a sub-par team, explode to build a significant lead of their own sometime in the third quarter, and then forfeit that lead to even things out and end everything with a bang.

Don’t get me wrong, it certainly makes for some pretty entertaining basketball. But the script is getting a little predictable by this point, don’tcha think?

We should definitely be celebrating Dallas’ wins; not every victory is going to be pretty, and the fact last night’s game was less than ideal isn’t all that damaging on the basis of a singular game. It’s the same philosophy I’ve embraced about the Mavs’ barely-wins over Minnesota, over Miami, over Charlotte, over Indiana, over New Orleans, over Charlotte, over Sacramento, and over Chicago. Those games weren’t as easy as they could have or should have been, but if you’re evaluating each contest in a vacuum, it’s hard to argue with a positive result.

But the fact that the Mavs’ wins have come by such a slim margin so often, well, you know what it can mean. Maybe Dallas isn’t as dominant as we think. Maybe this team will try this same act against a great team with some momentum in the playoffs — a Denver, a Los Angeles — and validate all of these worries. The Mavs can pull this off against the Nets because they’re a better team and, when focused, their execution level is pretty insane. But every game isn’t going to come against this level of competition, and so the problem isn’t that the Mavs are barely beating the Nets, but that they won’t be able to barely beat other teams using the same practices.

Letting New Jersey score 31 points in the first quarter definitely qualifies as bad practice. Letting the Nets build an 18-point lead by the second quarter definitely qualifies as bad practice. It flies now and the Mavs get the win, and we should be proud of them for that. It’s not easy to bring a hot team back down to Earth (NJ shot .526 from the field in the first half and ended up shooting .410) and it’s certainly not easy to overcome such a glaring deficit on the scoreboard. But keep in mind that these same habits and practices that we’re celebrating now, in the midst of an epic win streak, may be the same habits we’re deriding come playoff time. Despite their winning ways, the Mavs need a change. They need to figure out how to start the game with the concentration level that has become a fourth quarter staple. Dallas makes love to pressure and that’s awesome. But in order to be one of the league’s truly elite teams, they need to make love to the opening six minutes of the game, too. Every game doesn’t have to be a test of wills and endurance; it’s okay to have the starters get some early rest, and let Matt Carroll ride out the endgame.

We know that the Mavs know how to win close games, and that’s incredibly important. But we still haven’t seen this team show that they’re capable of managing a game. They give up too many easy buckets early, they surrender too many leads late, and though it’s almost difficult to flash back to a time where the Mavs were doing anything other than winning, you’d like to see something more.

That’s a lot of negativity for about 18 minutes of bad basketball. But it’s something that needs to be said after a win like this one, even in spite of some of the positives on the Dallas side.

Dirk Nowitzki was not one of them, which makes the win even more surprising. Nowitzki finished with 12 points on 3-of-16 shooting with five turnovers. That’s about as bad as it gets for Dirk. He’ll get points because he’s still worth the attempts (how many times have we seen him shake off an early rut to drop 25?) and because he gets to the free throw line, but I’m not sure that any measure could qualify Nowitzki’s game as a success.

That means the points had to come from somewhere. With Jason Terry out of the lineup, the Mavs turned to Caron Butler (18 points, 7-14 FG). As the focal point of the offense, Butler dropped 10 points in the fourth quarter, and was responsible for 12 of the Mavs’ final 15 points. Caron isn’t prolific or efficient enough offensively to warrant this kind of treatment on a regular basis. That’s why the Mavs have Dirk. But having Butler around to not only attract defensive attention but completely take games over if need be is a luxury that the post-trade Mavs are truly enjoying. Add Jason Terry back into the lineup and this team is just rearing to go offensively. Being able to attack any potential defense from a number of attack points is a huge advantage.

But for all of Butler’s fourth quarter contributions, he wasn’t even the Mavs’ leading scorer. That distinction, on this rarest of occasions, goes to Jason Kidd (20 points, 5-8 3FG,  nine assists, four steals). If Kidd hadn’t become such a prolific three-point shooter, it’s entirely possible that the balance of the Kidd-Harris trade would still be tipped in favor of New Jersey. But even the trade’s biggest critics are recanting some of their comments due to Kidd’s inspired play. Play which has benefited greatly from his emergence as a three-point threat. I don’t want to know what dark power Kidd had to consult to add the three ball to his repertoire this late in his career, but as a follower of the team, I’m just immensely thankful that he did.

Just as impactful as Kidd’s scoring was his defense and playmaking. It wasn’t a high-volume assist night, but the Mavs’ resurgence after the dog days of the first quarter is at least in part due to the open looks Kidd generated for his teammates. He could very easily have fed Brendan Haywood in the post, but instead he lobbed it over the head of the defender and led Haywood to the basket. He could have very easily waited to attract the defense before kicking the ball to a cutting Shawn Marion, but his instincts told him not to hesitate. He could have hit Caron Butler a second late as he curled around the screen, but he timed the ball perfectly and gave Butler a wide open jumper. It’s always the little things with Kidd, and the reason he deserves to be a Hall of Famer isn’t because of the 17-assist nights where he runs the break to perfection, but nights like this where he completely controls a game.

Closing thoughts:

  • The name of the game offensively for Dallas was, again, balance. Six Mavs hit double figures in a game with just 91 possessions. Rodrigue Beaubois (16 points, 6-12 FG, three assists, one turnover) wasn’t hitting on his mid-range jumper, but was able to get to the rim at will. Shawn Marion (14 points, 5-10 FG, 13 rebounds, three blocks) notched his second straight double-double, and continues to fill the gaps for the Mavs in every conceivable way. Brendan Haywood double-doubled in his return as well, finishing with 11 points (4-6 FG), 10 rebounds, and two blocks.
  • The Mavs tied the Cavs’ season-high winning streak at 13 games, which means they’ll have a shot at the longest winning streak league-wide when they face the Knicks on Saturday. Dallas beat New York earlier this season by 50 points. I’m just sayin’.
  • The third quarter is where the Mavs really improved defensively. After giving the Nets an assortment of layups and dunks in the first half, the Dallas held New Jersey to 5-of-26 shooting with just four free throw attempts. Devin Harris (21 points, seven assists, six turnovers) and Brook Lopez (10 points, 5-16 FG, six rebounds), who had been the stars of the first half, combined to shoot 1-for-11 in the third. That’s significant defensive improvement
  • The Mavs trapped Devin Harris off of every pick with mixed success. He slipped a few times against the pressure, but for the most part he was able to find an open teammate or at least an outlet to avoid a turnover. What really kept Harris in check was the zone, which has become a staple for the Mavs defensively. Dallas may execute the zone better than any other team in the league, and while it still has weaknesses in giving up offensive rebounds and allowing three-point shooters to fire away (a fact which only Jarvis Hayes was able to take advantage of), it’s become much more than just a situational strategy.
  • Terrence Williams (18 points, 7-12 FG, 13 rebounds, three assists) was everywhere. I’m very impressed with his ability to move without the ball, which I thought could have been a problem coming out of a position in Louisville where he had the ball in his hands an overwhelming amount of the time. But Williams isn’t a point forward anymore, and though he still exhibits some of those playmaking skills that made him an effective college player, he’s clearly capable of playing off the ball as a more traditional wing.
  • Erick Dampier also made his return for the Mavs, but only logged four minutes of playing time. One step closer to a healthy center rotation, and one step closer to improving the defense.
  • Is there anyone in Maverick Nation who isn’t in a constant state of excitement over Rodrigue Beaubois? He’s not perfect and he’s still not playing much point guard, but he’s averaging 18 points on 54.7% shooting with 3.4 assists to just one turnover in March. He’s still responding well to opportunities and playing time, which is one thing for a rookie to do in November and another for them to do in March.
  • Any possession that ends with a Trenton Hassell jump shot is a win for the defense.
  • The Mavs played Kris Humphries on Hump Day and I completely dropped the ball. Sigh.
  • The Nets are a much better team than 7-57. Much better. They don’t have much in the way of depth, but even a quick up and down of the roster reveals a bunch of individual talent capable of doing plenty of good things on a basketball court. It obviously doesn’t come together in any kind of cohesive whole and the rotation members are woefully lacking in experience, but still far better than 7-57.