The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 99, Sacramento Kings 60

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 15, 2012 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

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You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • Back-to-back games against the struggling Milwaukee Bucks and the perpetually befuddled Sacramento Kings weren’t going to test the Mavs’ competitive fiber, but they did end testing the Mavs’ limits. In two straight games, we got to see exactly what kind of dominance this Mavericks team is capable of, and though the level of competition gives these two huge wins a certain disclaimer, demolishing lesser teams does have a decent correlation with long-term success. More importantly: after being on the receiving end of a couple of routs to begin the season, Dallas is finally making legitimate strides in their efforts to create balance.
  • It’s fantastic and reassuring and all kinds of confusing that the Mavs are able to be this good with Dirk Nowitzki averaging just 12.5 points in the last two games. Some of that is a function of playing time (particularly because of the Mavs’ tendency to work through Nowitzki late in close games), but the marginal nature of Nowitzki’s involvement has been apparent irrelevant of his production. Dirk’s still doing work, he’s just doing substantially less than he did at any point last season.
  • Congratulations to the Kings, who now have the honor of posting the lowest point total for any Maverick opponent in a half, the lowest point total in a half in Kings franchise history, the lowest point total for a Maverick opponent in a game, the fewest field goals made by a Maverick opponent, the lowest single-game field goal percentage in Kings franchise history, and the lowest single-game field goal percentage mark for any Maverick opponent overall. Gold stars all around.

  • It’s hard to glean too much about Rick Carlisle’s rotational adjustments considering how quickly this game got out of hand, but it was interesting that Yi Jianlian saw playing time mid-way through the third quarter. Dallas was certainly up enough to empty the bench in the third, but Yi got some surprising reps with the Mavs’ regulars in the midst of a dead game walking. He didn’t show us much, but his performance is less significant than the fact that Carlisle threw him into that mix at all.
  • He also did this (mind the ridiculous music and slow-motion replay):

  • Carter had another great scoring night: 16 points on eight shots in just 27 minutes. He’s been comfortable in his role for a few weeks now, but we’re just now starting to see the full extent of Carter’s production once he’s fully settled in. Signing VC to an affordable, short-term deal made a lot of sense for the Mavs, and that small investment is already bearing fruit. Ah, the sweet nectar of bench scoring.
  • Dallas technically only registered 17 fast break points, but the Mavs created a ton of good looks by working the secondary break. Sacramento’s defense in general was a bit of a disaster, and by attacking the Kings while they were in a transitional stage of particular weakness, the Mavs were able to spring for layups and threes galore.
  • Mavs fans have already started bellowing a phonetic “YEEEEEEEEEE,” following any of the newest Mav’s pedestrian accomplishments. The sound is less similar to the Geico pig than it looks on digital paper.
  • Dallas had runs of 16-4 and 6-0 in the fourth quarter, while the Kings were unable to put together any kind of meaningful spurt to make this game closer or make my job easier. That wire-to-wire control is pretty impressive, even if my wrists — which are now enjoying full-on carpal tunnel — can’t fully appreciate it.
  • Brandan Wright again put in some quality work. His 1-for-6 shooting is a bit misleading, too; Wright’s three offensive boards created more opportunities for him to score, and if I’m not mistaken, resulted in three misses to sandbag his shooting percentage. Still love his activity on both ends, and don’t much mind the Mavs leaning on him for center minutes here and there. He’s certainly played well enough to warrant whatever spot minutes can be had behind Brendan Haywood and Ian Mahinmi.
  • Sorry, Sean Williams. I know you don’t love the D-League, but Wright is making any meaningful playing time in the NBA a virtual impossibility for you in the near future. It’s a bummer, but the nature of the Mavs’ prospect shotgunning was destined to leave someone or another without much of an opportunity.
  • The Kings played without Chuck Hayes, who is still on the mend with a dislocated shoulder. Hayes would probably not have scored 39 points, but his defense could have at least made Sacramento’s performance a bit more enjoyable, or potentially offered Sacramento the most microscopic of silver linings. Alas, the Chuckwagon rests.
  • Vince Carter, smashing a clock in brilliant defiance:

  • Not pictured in that video (sadly): Dirk Nowitzki and Delonte West revving it up from the bench. I can dig it.
  • It was pretty entertaining to watch Jason Kidd blitz Tyreke Evans on his trademark spin. As Evans dribbled right, everyone on the floor knew he was going to spin left into some open space. It’s simply what Evans does to combat his lack of proper left-hand moves, and his powerful spin in that direction was as inevitable as the shot attempt that would eventually follow. But rather than merely play positional defense geared toward that inevitability, Kidd attacked Evans mid-spin, capitalizing on the temporary lapse in ball security. As enjoyable as it is to see Kidd find a cutter at the perfect time or throw a lob at the exact height necessary, watching him go to work on the defensive end like this is its own special reward.
  • Related: Considering that Evans had topped 26 points in four of his previous five games, I was very curious to see how Dallas would grapple with his size and strength. Kidd is a nice matchup for Evans, but considering that this was his first game in 10 days, I wasn’t sure if he’d be up for the task of battling one of the league’s more physically imposing guards. He clearly was, and so were the rest of the Maverick guards. Evans finished with just three points and committed four turnovers, turning a potentially problematic defensive assignment into a further extension of Dallas’ defensive dominance.
  • Dallas did a phenomenal job of protecting the basket, though the Kings were officially credited with 32 points in the paint. That total is propped up by the drives the Kings made late in the fourth quarter against the Mavs’ deep reserves, and part of it is inflated by the impressive plays made over or around a strong defensive front. If the Mavs are able to turn a seemingly wide open drive for Marcus Thornton into a double-clutch reverse, as they did twice in the third quarter? That’s certainly a good thing. If they’re ready and well-positioned to cap Jimmer Fredette’s shot as he ventures into the paint, only to get burned by a perfect cut from Jason Thompson? That they can live with, even if it’s not their preference. Dallas’ defenders seemed to always be where they needed to be, and though that didn’t always stop Sacramento from getting a bucket, it was a nice demonstration of the Mavs’ rotational improvement.
  • Brendan Haywood committed the most obvious four-step travel in the history of basketball. Let this bullet double as a reminder that dishing the ball to Haywood on the break (or on the move in general) is a pretty horrible idea.
  • The Mavs scored just 20 points (and were actually outscored by the Kings) in the third frame, but the quality shot creation never ceased. Though some of Dallas’ attempts in the third didn’t come as a result of aggressive ball movement, they still found their share of open looks and merely failed to connect. But think about that: the Mavs even played well offensively during their worst stretch of the game.
  • The Kings’ trade of Omri Casspi for J.J. Hickson is looking like the rare deal in which fans of both teams feel that their team lost. Casspi looks like he’s legitimately regressed a bit since his solid rookie campaign, and Hickson has always struck me as a perpetual underwhelmer. The rebounding has been nice, but I’m not sure Hickson is a good fit next to Cousins for the long-term, nor am I sure that he’s even all that valuable as a player. He seems — not based on this game, assuredly — like a very replaceable cog to these eyes.
  • JET’s offense is looking very smooth right now. He started out the year by electing to take some very difficult shots; off the dribble, Terry often opted for contested jumpers with the Mavs’ offense otherwise in disarray. Now that the team as a whole is capable of playing more coherently, Terry’s shot selection has returned to normal, and his jumper has been true.
  • Dallas kept their heavy-minute players on the floor a bit longer in this game than they did on Friday night, but even the team-leader in minutes (Jason Kidd) logged just 29 minutes. Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Lamar Odom, and Jason Terry all played around 22 minutes, putting Dallas in great position to build on their five-game win streak with fresh legs and all kinds of momentum. They’ll need it, too; the Mavs have dates in the coming week with both Los Angeles teams and the surprisingly competitive Utah Jazz, all on the road.
  • John Salmons is not a very good basketball player in any sense, but he was statistically the most productive King (eight points, 3-7 FG, seven rebounds, three assists) on Saturday night. There’s not much prestige to be had in being the least bad player in a horrid team performance, but it makes me wonder: is Salmons’ game so phased out with basketball logic that it makes him completely immutable? He’s had a couple of particularly rough games this season, but otherwise, Salmons has fallen within a very consistent range, regardless of opponent. It’s almost as if no one can stop John Salmons…from scoring about seven points on 36-percent shooting. That’s true mostly because no one has to or really wants to, but I prefer to think of him as operating in an adjacent plane where the things he does with the ball actually make sense.
  • Probably the best YouTube single-game highlight reel I’ve ever seen:

  • Another dominant game, another terrific three-point shooting performance by the Mavericks (7-16; .438). I’m not going to claim any kind of specific causality, but it’s certainly not a coincidence. Making shots is always important, and making shots from beyond the arc is particularly so because of the built-in boost in efficiency. Let’s see if that strong shooting holds against some stiffer competition in the coming week.
  • Sacramento scored 15 points or fewer in the first, second, and fourth quarters. Sacramento’s regularly iffy shot selection wasn’t solely to blame, either; Dallas played some really impressive strong side defense, capitalizing on Sacramento’s passing reluctance by shading toward the ball handler with extra defenders. Based on the result of the game and the Kings’ ratio of assists to turnovers (10:15), I’ll let you guess how that worked out.
  • I miss the days — even as recently as early this season — when the Kings were fun. That December 26th win over the Lakers seems really distant at the moment, due to both games like this one and the mess that transpired with Paul Westphal. There are some really fun pieces on the roster and an overall capacity to at least put together an intriguing — if not all that effective — basketball product, but it’s hard to even make out that hazy vision with the way the team is currently operating.
  • Dallas Mavericks bench 68, Sacramento Kings 60. Killer.
  • Nice symmetry by Tyreke Evans, J.J. Hickson, and Jimmer Fredette, who all went 1-for-8 from the field on Saturday. That kind of coordination is never easy, so I thought it important that these three knew how much we all appreciate their efforts.
  • Haywood isn’t likely to get all that much credit for a two-point, five-rebound performance, but I liked his — and Mahinmi’s — defense both in the post and in help coverage. The Maverick bigs were key to the hedge-heavy strategy that kept the Kings’ scorers at bay, and the team defense never really relented. “Motivation” is a word often used in NBA circles, but at no time is it more relevant than during a demolition like this one; those on the losing team often struggle to fight for a cause already lost, and those on the winning team usually lose interest once their beaten opponents stop twitching and give in to motionlessness. Dallas never really let up on Saturday night, though, and they were able to put together a tremendously effective defensive performance on the basis of effective rotations, good pressure from these two bigs, and the active hands of their perimeter defenders.
  • To their collective credit, the Mavs didn’t let up at all on offense, either. At points they worked their way into a three-point-happy comfort zone, but for the most part they were pushing the break, moving in their half-court offense, and fighting on the glass. It didn’t matter if they were up five or 25, and that level effort must bring a smirk to Carlisle’s face.
  • Don’t worry, guys: Travis Outlaw put up his requisite airball at the 4:12 mark in the second quarter. All is right with the world.
  • Lamar Odom telegraphs, Ian Mahinmi picks and rolls, and the Mavericks rejoice:

  • In the second quarter, JET threw a nifty no-look pass to Mahinmi as he cut toward the basket. The play didn’t quite work out, but these kinds of feeds are indicative of how much trust Mahinmi’s strong play has earned; he’s no longer profiting solely from overextended defenses that leave him unguarded, but providing teammates with an active target. Mahinmi has shown he can make catches and finish anywhere in the general vicinity of the rim, and his teammates have responded with a resounding confidence.
  • Rookie second rounder Isaiah Thomas — king of the below-the-rim YouTube highlight reel — had put together a nice mini-stretch prior to coming to Dallas: 16.5 points (47.6% from the field, 40.0% from three), and 5.5 assists over two games with only 25 minutes a night. As the only altruistic shot creator on the roster, Thomas’ suddenly effective play did offer some hope for the Kings’ offense; he wasn’t going to leap over so many capable scorers for a spot in the starting lineup, but having a more capable distributor on the court — even as a reserve — would only help Sacramento’s offensive flow. Thomas struggled in Dallas, though, and nixed his momentum with a disappointing two-point, two-turnover performance in just 10 minutes. He’ll bounce back, undoubtedly, I just hope — for both his and the Kings’ sake — that his letdown game doesn’t prevent him from logging consistent playing time.
  • Kudos to Shawn Marion, DeMarcus Cousins, and Jason Thompson, who were each able to grab four offensive rebounds in limited playing time. Impressive stuff.
  • It deserves repeated mention: the Kings settle way too easily on offense, likely as a result of their complete lack of offensive structure. Without the open looks generated by proven sets, a reliable playmaker, or even open spacing, Sacramento’s players talk themselves into bad jumper after bad jumper. That’s a shame considering the offensive talent on the roster, but isn’t likely to change without some trades to sort out the lineup clutter. Some of these problems are still linked to the ghost of Paul Westphal, but the blame can’t rest on his apparitional shoulders forever (Or at all? Let’s not get into the supernatural specifics.). Right this ship, Keith Smart. It’s going to take time and it won’t be pretty in the interim, but it’s a very clear necessity at this point.
  • Apropos of nothing, something, or maybe that last bullet point: Sacramento posted an effective field goal percentage of 26.7 percent.
  • The Mavs’ scored 99 points total, but their highest scorer put up just 21, and only one other player scored more than 15 points on the night. Saying that Dallas is balanced is hardly breaking new ground, but wins like this remind us of Dallas’ scoring socialism on the most straightforward level possible.
  • Guest


    It will suck losing Ian Mahinmi next season to RFA