“Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens.“
What exactly do you make of a team doing everything it’s supposed to do? In most cases, a veteran team with 54 wins and (at least) the 3rd seed in a fiercely competitive conference needs not the satisfaction of an April win over the Clippers. This Dallas team is technically in such a position, but they’re hardly the playoff ideal; they haven’t been on a month-long tear, the defense isn’t as proven as you’d like, and there are still questions as to how the Mavs’ center duo will perform against a conference full of capable bigs.
Still, it’s impossible to deny how positively dominant the Mavs have been in their last three games, in which Dallas has demolished a trio of inferior opponents and nearly secured the no. 2 seed in the process. They don’t have a month’s worth of momentum on their side, but the way the Mavs have been able to establish early leads with their starters, maintain the advantage using the reserves, and limit the minutes of the central figures gives plenty of reason for optimism. There’s no question that this team has the talent to rain fire through April, May, and June, it’s just a matter of talent maximization and execution. Neither has been in question for the last week, and the Mavs’ +18.3 point differential over their last four games (+22.3 over their last three) signifies the seriousness of Dallas’ preparation and play. This team is ready to roll.
It certainly didn’t help the Clips’ cause that Baron Davis and Eric Gordon missed the game along with the long-sidelined Blake Griffin. The former are starters for a reason, with Baron acting as resident superstar (though he hardly performed at that level this season) and Gordon a solid supplemental scorer. Instead, the Mavs faced off against the delightfully average stylings of Steve Blake (who actually had a decent night with nine points, 13 assists, and three turnovers), and the useful but wonderfully limited Rasual Butler (10 points, 4-15 FG, three rebounds, three assists). Mavs-Clippers isn’t a particularly fair match-up even when L.A. is functioning at full strength (sans Griffin), but to deny the Clips two of their more productive players while playing against a would-be contender honing in on the playoffs is just cruel.
Dirk Nowitzki (25 points, 9-13 FG, 3-3 3FG, eight rebounds, three assists) was almost mythical in his level of efficiency; his points nearly doubled his shot attempts (13), he scored more than a point a minute (1.11 ppm if we’re being precise), and he finished with just one turnover. Even more impressive was that only one of his nine made field goals (and of his 13 attempts, for that matter) came within fifteen feet of the basket: a converted layup at the 4:09 mark in the first quarter. Come one, come all, to the Dirkus Circus, the greatest show on Earth.
Shawn Marion (21 points, 9-12 FG) returned after three games on the sideline, and his strained oblique didn’t hinder him in the slightest. Marion’s ability to run the break was a big reason why the Mavs were able to sprint out to a lead almost immediately, and the Clips were never quite able to recover from the sucker punch of the opening minutes. It’s tough to properly gauge Marion’s defensive ability in a game like this one, but his movement on the whole didn’t seem slow or hesitant.
It’s easy to like where the Mavs are right now, and Wednesday’s game against the Spurs should at the very least provide an interesting test. Should Dallas win against San Antonio, the two teams would be locked into their respective positions and would meet in the first round. That should create a pretty odd dynamic for Wednesday night, in which Gregg Popovich, ever the gamesman, could conceivably choose to rest his veterans in an attempt to fold to the Mavs (San Antonio would likely find Dallas to be a better match-up than Utah). Even if Pop chooses to play Duncan, Ginobili, Parker, and co., both teams would be trying to win the game without tipping their hand too far; the truly effective stratagems would need to be saved for the playoff series, which could leave the Mavs’ final regular season game as a battle of sheer talent and will rather than the precise execution of a more complicated game plan.
- DeShawn Stevenson could very well have earned a playoff role after his performance in the last few games. His defense against opposing scorers (O.J. Mayo, Tyreke Evans) has been commendable, and last night he balanced his defensive success by looking damn good on his jump shot (11 points, 4-7 FG, 3-4 3FG). Marion will still be the Mavs’ go-to defender for tougher perimeter threats, but having another solid wing defender coming off the bench is quite a luxury. If Stevenson works out as a decent 2-guard alternative, the Mavs would have an absolute glut of talent and versatility at the position, with Caron Butler, Jason Terry, Stevenson, and Rodrigue Beaubois all capable of producing at the off-guard.
- The Mavs had 37 assists on 45 made field goals, with 22 of those assists coming into the first half. The ball movement was crisp on the break but equally impressive in the half-court, where the Mavs’ point guard trio of Jason Kidd (12 points, 12 assists, four turnovers), J.J. Barea (two points, seven assists, zero turnovers), and Rodrigue Beaubois (11 points, five assists, six rebounds, zero turnovers) easily established the momentum to break the struggling Clippers.
- Also worth noting: the Mavs interior passing was rather terrific. L.A. ranks third in the league in blocks per game, and the Dallas bigs turned that strength into a weakness. With a slight hesitation and a well-timed pass, the Clips’ help defenders were soaring into the air to block nonexistent shots while various Mavericks exploited the soft underbelly of the Clipper defense. Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood finished with three assists apiece.
- Rodrigue Beaubois filled in for Caron Butler (strained hip flexor, mostly a precautionary rest) in the starting lineup and had an excellent game. He connected with Kidd on his trademark alley-oop and by the end of the first quarter, Beaubois already had nine points (4-5 FG), four assists, three rebounds, and two steals.
- Minutes distribution: Dirk – 23, Kidd – 29, Marion – 26, Terry – 21. Love it.
- DeAndre Jordan (10 points, 13 rebounds) finished with a nice stat line, but the bulk of that production came after the game had already been decided. That doesn’t discount everything he able to accomplish, but it certainly hurts his case that his most effective stretches came against the Mavs’ reserves or after Dallas was already in cruise control. He also looked pretty lost defensively against Dirk Nowitzki, though he can hardly be blamed for that; Dirk isn’t a typical match-up for Jordan, and Nowitzki is a tough cover for even the most accomplished defenders in the league. I’m still very high on DeAndre, though, and I’m very anxious to see what kind of player he’ll become in five years. He and Blake Griffin have the talent to make up a pretty special PF-C tandem.
- via @mavstats: “#Mavs finish with 27 road wins, most in NBA this season and tied for 3rd most in team history”
- Six points for Matt Carroll! Boomshakalaka!
- Programming note: I’m not sure why I stopped offering game-by-game four factors data, but those tables will be included in the recaps just as they were earlier in the season. Enjoy.