You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
- I won’t fully subscribe to the hyperbole and say that Ian Mahinmi (19 points, 6-6 FG, five rebounds, two blocks) was the best Maverick on the floor on Friday, but he was likely the most active and — at the very least — the most surprisingly effective. Mahinmi did some solid work on the defensive glass, but he impressed most in his cuts to the rim off of pick-and-roll sequences and as a weak side counter to double teams in the post. It was a blast to see Mahinmi provide a legitimate offensive impact, but let’s not go overboard: Mahinmi was only so effective because of the Raptors’ inability to cover for their own defensive overloading.
- The Mavs managed an efficient offense without offensive flow, effective shooting, or superior ball control. Offensive rebounding was the crutch early (Dallas grabbed an offensive board on 45.5 percent of their misses in the first quarter), and frequent free throw shooting carried them throughout. The shooting finally came around, but only after the Mavericks amassed 37 free-throw attempts in a 90-possession game.
- Andrea Bargnani (30 points, 11-18 FG, seven rebounds) didn’t look new and improved — he just looked improved. Subtle changes in approach translated into a highly productive and efficient outing for Bargs, as virtually all of the Mavs’ big men struggled to defend him on the perimeter. His pick-and-pop game with Jose Calderon was deadly; Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd both managed to look a step slow in their efforts to defend it, resulting in a disappointing number of wide-open jumpers. Bargnani capitalized, and used his pick-and-roll success as a launchpad for a terrific all-around shooting performance.
- Jason Terry (17 points, 5-10 FG, 2-6 3FG, three assists) scoffs at your feeble attempts to defend his pull-up jumper, and rolls his eyes at your attempted comeback runs. JET was JET, and I believe that’s all I need to say about that.
- But another JET-related topic I should say something about: Terry has fantastic pick-and-roll chemistry with Mahinmi, as the two ran a series of high (and I do mean high; Terry’s initial action often occurred beyond the three-point line) pick-and-rolls that created open opportunities for either Mahinmi or one of the Mavs’ perimeter shooters. That’s the second straight game with frequent connections between the two, and could be the preliminary signs of a fun, unexpected pairing a la J.J. Barea and Brandon Bass.
- Jason Kidd (nine points, six assists, seven rebounds) has never looked older than when Jose Calderon is repeatedly out-hustling him for fast break buckets. Kidd did some decent offensive work from the perimeter, but the defensive pendulum — in which Kidd is alternatingly brilliant and lacking — swung the wrong way on Friday.
- Dirk Nowitzki again took a seat with just a few minutes remaining in the game, and the verdict still in doubt. If Nowitzki resting in crunch time doesn’t convince you of his lack of game conditioning at present, I don’t know what possibly could. (Otherwise, Nowitzki played a pretty decent, conservative game. Producing 18 points on 16 shots is nice, but nicer was the way Dirk dealt with the Raptors’ double teams — he patiently worked for open shots, and used his height to manufacture passing angles to teammates darting into the paint of spotting up outside.
- Rodrigue Beaubois (seven points, three steals) got a fantastic opportunity to close the game, and rewarded Rick Carlisle’s confidence with some terrific effort and effective decision making. None of his plays were particularly awe-inspiring, but Beaubois made some understated judgment calls that he simply didn’t make in his first two NBA seasons. He didn’t force the entry pass. He didn’t take the ill-advised pull-up. He simply blocked the passing lane rather than overplay it. Beaubois is picking up the little things, and looking much sharper. That may not be the same as a monstrous game he put up against the Warriors two years ago, but in an offense where discretion means everything, it’s a reassuring sign.
- It’s hard to put up 20 points quietly, but Leandro Barbosa snuck his way to 2-0 with just 15 shots. It wasn’t anything too flashy; Barbosa simply used his burst speed to gain a single step on his defender in his drives to the rim, was clever with his cuts, and hit some tough threes. A nice scoring night for a cog that doesn’t always fit in Toronto’s offense so seamlessly.
- Vince Carter hit double-digit scoring, keyed a crucial go-ahead run, moved the ball, and didn’t make many defensive mistakes — all a day removed from hitting a should-have-been game-winner against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Carter looks comfortable out there, and joins Delonte West among the newly acquired players to acclimate themselves to the Mavs’ offense. Lamar Odom hasn’t made that jump just yet, but Dallas promises to be a fairly ridiculous offensive team when he inevitably comes around. Odom deserves the adjustment time he’s publicly requested, so cut the man some slack — even on his particularly poor days.
- Jose Calderon (11 points, 4-8 FG, seven assists, two turnovers) won’t grab a lot of attention with his play, but I’m always impressed with the stability he provides an offense. He doesn’t actively make his teammates all that much better, but Calderon certainly has a calming effect on a disjointed roster, and manages to make plays out of what — at times — seems like chaos.
- Remember Sean Williams? Mahinmi filled the Mavs’ hustle big quota so well that Williams didn’t see a single second of playing time. Dallas may not have their center rotation set in stone at the moment (or ever), but Mahinmi, Williams, and Brandan Wright give Rick Carlisle options and a bit of a shotgun effect. Each may not be good on a given night, but the odds of one of the three clicking is pretty solid.
- Brendan Haywood hit his season high in rebounding (nine) by way of dominance on the offensive glass (five in just 19 minutes), but his rotations in the pick-and-roll looked slow on first watch. It’s tough to assign too much blame without a look back on the tape, but at minimum Nowitzki and Haywood share responsibility for Bargnani’s open jumpers. It hasn’t been a good season thus far for Haywood, but on Friday he was very clearly upstaged. I cling to the notion that his day is coming; Haywood won’t have a breakout performance, but I think he’ll slowly slink back to his defensive par, even if that’s something short of the Tyson Chandler standard.