You know the drill. The Difference is a quick-hitting (or in this case, day after) reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
- If there was any doubt: the Dallas Mavericks are now the hottest team in the league. It won’t last forever, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. I’m not sure how much long-term value can be derived from an early season surge, but stepping to the top of the hill –without a key rotation player, mind you –means quite a bit for this team and its fans. It’s a winning streak, but more importantly, it’s hard validation and a thumbs up toward the Dallas mission statement.
- The Utah Jazz are a terrific team, and the fact that the Mavs bested them through a systematic defensive approach is far more important than Dallas’ active streak. The number of consecutive wins continues to grow, but chances to go to work against a quality opponent like the Jazz are far more telling than an n-game trend.
- Dallas’ second-half defense was nothing short of tremendous. The paint was treated as sacred ground, and each layup or Jazzian interior pass was an active defiling of all that the Mavs held dear. Penetrators were swarmed, jumpers were challenged, and Utah’s possessions were attacked at their weakest points. An active zone front made cross-court passes a nightmare. Deron Williams was denied the ball whenever possible. It was a damn near surreal vision of defensive elements sliding into place and combining in ways I wasn’t sure were possible, and the typically smooth Jazz offense looked positively flummoxed.
- Tyson Chandler, brilliant though he may be, sure knows how to take himself out of a game with foolish fouls. Chandler picked up his second whistle at the 8:40-mark of the first quarter with a completely unnecessary shove while setting a screen, a pesky internal mechanism for keeping the Maverick center grounded. He only saw the court for 17 minutes while dodging foul calls and trying to establish his rhythm, but the early hook did Tyson no favors. It almost feels uncomfortable typing this due to how he’s played this season, but Chandler’s influence was negligible.
- Jason Terry (12 points, five assists, five steals, three turnovers) gave the Mavs an early and much-needed spark. Dallas has a habit of going away from Dirk as much as possible in the first quarter (a strategy which makes sense for a number of reasons), and when the supporting cast came out just a bit cold, JET was brought in to dial things up. From the moment he came into the game, Terry was in motion. He started by cutting to the basket for a layup. On his next possession, JET attacked the basket again to draw a foul. Soon after, he grabbed a defensive rebound and fed Jason Kidd for a bucket, only to get a steal and trigger another fast break at next opportunity. JET didn’t keep up that offensive pace for the entire evening, but he was active and effective all night, even if his point total underwhelmed.
- Caron Butler is shooting 42.3% from three so far this season, which is far more comforting than Butler’s career mark (31.5%). Ground control to Major Caron: commencing countdown, engines on. Enjoy your travels through the shooting percentage atmosphere, and for the Mavs’ sake I hope your shot never comes back down.
- At times, I’ve feared that the zone defense may become too reliable a crutch for the Mavs, and their man-to-man defense would struggle as a result. It sure seemed that way in the first half, as Dallas struggled to defend in man sets and saw their defensive effectiveness jump upon implementing the zone. However, the Mavs were fantastic in utilizing both approaches in the second half, which is a testament to the Mavs’ keen defensive awareness and excellent instruction by Rick Carlisle and his staff.
- Brendan Haywood (four points, six rebounds, two blocks) had 28 minutes of burn thanks to Chandler’s foul trouble, but wasn’t all that impressive. His defense was nice, but the Mavss were pretty thoroughly out-rebounded, and that’s Haywood’s domain. Don’t let the raw box score, which says the Mavs were only out-rebounded by six, fool you; this game was incredibly slow, and as far as rebounding rate is concerned, the Jazz fared far better on the glass.
- Deron Williams is incredible when running an offense, but he’s also so strong playing off the ball, too. Is there any other playmaker in the league that moves within the offense without the ball better than Deron?
- Speaking of: an 8.8 offensive rebounding rate? Are you kidding me? The Mavs have been a poor offensive rebounding team all season, but that weak of an offensive rebounding presence is even impressive for them. It takes work to dodge offensive boards so frequently.
- I didn’t really anticipate the possibility of Dirk Nowitzki being even more efficient with his shot than he has in past years, but Dirk’s shooting percentages are just stupid good this season. Nowitzki shot 12-of-18 in this one for 26 points (with each of those 21 makes seemingly more improbable than the last), but that kind of shooting performance isn’t even notable. That’s how fantastic Dirk’s touch has been this year. .619 true shooting percentage. .566 effective field goal percentage. Both career highs. Damn. Just…damn.
- Butler (16 points, 6-12 FG, 2-2 3FG), again, played well overall. See what happens when he’s not forcing the issue in isolation (particularly in a game with so few possessions to be squandered)? This is either a real evolution in Caron’s decision-making or perhaps just a better understanding of his role on the team, but this is where Butler needs to be: helpfully contributing without letting a more intrusive style of play deter the Mavs’ offensive success.