The Difference: Minnesota Timberwolves 99, Dallas Mavericks 82

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 1, 2012 under Recaps | 4 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2012-01-01 at 9.15.13 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot Chart — GameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas94.087.242.222.114.018.1
Minnesota105.348.220.037.017.0

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

  • This is just the way of the season’s early going, apparently. The Mavericks more closely resemble themselves for a few games, but then dissolve completely on offense against a pretty poor defense just a few days later. We knew to expect struggles. We knew it would take time for the new Mavs to work their way into the system, and time for the old Mavs to work their way into game shape. But now we also know to expect complete inconsistency, as there are no assurances at all of which Maverick team will show up on a particular night. In this one? A team that scores 87.2 points per 100 possessions, and will wither away even against the most questionable defenses.
  • Dallas managed a brief return to normalcy with a fourth quarter combination of the zone defense and Dirk Nowitzki (21 points, 9-20 FG, four rebounds) attacking from all angles, but a timeout gave Rick Adelman a precious opportunity to calm down a jumpy young team. Ricky Rubio (14 points, 2-3 3FG, seven assists, four turnovers) drew the attention of defenders and hit spot-up shooters in the corners and bigs rolling to the rim, attacking the Mavs’ zone at two particular points of weakness. Kevin Love (25 points, 9-16 FG, 5-8 3FG, 17 rebounds) took over from there, and the Wolves finished the game on an uncontested 15-point spurt that left several minutes on the clock but no doubt in the game’s result. This year’s Timberwolves are every bit as entertaining as the manic team that ran up and down the court last season, but this year they’ve traded the unintentional comedy of a Michael Beasley-driven offense for a more sensible, balanced attack driven by pace and Rubio’s guile. It may not result in a playoff berth, but Minnesota is more than capable of “stealing” a game like this one against a supposedly superior team.

  • Love’s emergence as a three-point shooter is hardly a current event, but I’m still impressed with the transformation that range has had on his overall offensive game. Considering that Love still doesn’t quite have the ability to succeed as a face-up or back-down player on the block, the three-point line has finally given Love the offensive stability he needs to advance his offensive game. Even more impressive: he floats out to the perimeter and rolls out on pick-and-rolls, and yet he still has the fifth best offensive rebounding rate in the entire league.
  • The zone works exceptionally well as a change-of-pace tactic, and is a great tool to take teams out of their offensive rhythm. But I wonder if the Mavs are too eager to rely on it for long stretches when its best implementation might be to sporadically shift back and forth between zone and man. Dallas is clearly comfortable — even with some of the newer players on the court — playing the zone, and uses man-to-man principles as the overall default. But why does that have to be the case? Why couldn’t they shift back and forth between the two styles more freely as a way of disrupting an opponent’s rhythm on a whim and keeping dangerous opponents completely off balance?
  • Aside from keying Dallas’ only bit of efficient fourth-quarter offense, Nowitzki played poorly. We can talk all day about how awkward this team looks overall in terms of its ball movement or lack of defensive synergy, but this year’s Mavs don’t stand to win many games in which Dirk isn’t rolling.
  • Dallas started the game by working the ball in to Brendan Haywood (six points, four rebounds, three blocks, two turnovers), but Rick Carlisle ended up playing him just 15 minutes. I’m not sure he should be shifted out of the starting lineup, but if Ian Mahinmi’s (six points, four rebounds, one block, one turnover) court time continues to exceed Haywood’s, we should probably start to adjust the rhetoric in our descriptions of the Mavs’ center rotation. Haywood is a part, as is Mahinmi, as is some combination of Nowitzki/Odom. But beyond that starter’s designation, I’m not sure any one of those three is more important than the others, or notably more likely to log the most court time on a game-by-game basis.
  • Playing against fast-breaking teams always opens the floor for an interesting philosophical discussion: should the team in question run with their opponents or provide resistance with a half-court game? Dallas largely opted for the former strategy, as the Mavs’ guards looked to push the ball up court quickly on long rebounds and turnovers, and while I don’t think that cost them the game by any means, it may have contributed to the breakdown of the half-court offense. Dallas just didn’t have much of a rhythm, and when they desperately needed points to counter Minnesota’s late-game run, their lack of an established offense came back to bite them. It was one factor among many, sure, but still one worth considering.
  • Any precedent the Mavs had established for success on the boards was wiped clean, as the Wolves more than doubled the Mavs’ offensive rebounding rate and won the rebounding battle overall 54-35. Love alone grabbed 14 boards, and while that kind of total isn’t all that rare for a rebounder if Love’s caliber, it’s kind of depressing that his solo mark exceeds the combined totals of Nowitzki, Haywood, and Mahinmi.
  • Delonte West (13 points, 6-9 FG, two assists) is looking great in the pick-and-roll. Those lefty finishes will mean even more when they’re burying opponents rather than keeping the Mavs afloat.
  • Wesley Johnson may be Minnesota’s starting shooting guard de jure, but the Wolves certainly play plenty of dual-point guard lineups. That’s pretty much a necessity when Adelman opts to play Luke Ridnour (11 points, 5-9 FG, three assists) for so many minutes, as both Rubio — who has been very impressive in his first handful of NBA games — and J.J. Barea (eight points, 4-11 FG, three assists) are among the Wolves’ top bench players. It isn’t a glaring problem considering Minnesota’s overall defensive callousness, but they’ll likely need to field more complete lineups once they’re ready to really trudge forward. No big in the meantime, but just something to keep in mind. (Related: Wayne Ellington is pretty bad at basketball.)
  • I’m not sure how ready I am to embrace a world in which Brian Cardinal plays 12 minutes. He got a few bonus minutes at the end thanks to Carlisle’s early fold, but he’s nonetheless a deep bench player logging entirely too much court time. Having another shooter on the floor is great. But having to rely on Cardinal with a team this deep is a little peculiar.
  • By my count, Dallas’ wing players — Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, and Jason Terry — picked up a combined four fouls on illegal screens. Turnovers are frustrating, but senseless turnovers are lethal.
  • Lamar Odom had been taking entirely too many forced three-point attempts, but stuck to more reasonable attempts on Sunday night. He still attempted four three-point shots overall, but they were open shots in rhythm with the exception of one shot rushed by the third-quarter buzzer. Odom still isn’t the multi-faceted weapon Dallas had in mind when they swept him out of L.A. in the middle of the night, but for now we can settle for some shooting discretion.
  • It’s baffling to me that the NBA talent evaluation complex once deemed Anthony Tolliver unworthy of a roster spot.
  • Vince Carter (six points, 1-7 FG, two turnovers) had a rough night, but anyone could appreciate his work on the glass. He was ultimately only credited with two rebounds, but in his 20 minutes on the floor, Carter was right in the thick of the rebounding huddle, getting tips, tap-outs, and generally making work difficult for the Wolves players under the rim. It didn’t mean much in the long run and didn’t stop Dallas from getting massacred on the glass, but at least someone was putting forth a respectable effort to collect rebounds.
  • Anthony Randolph shot 1-of-6 from the field, had two monster blocks, committed three turnovers, and grabbed four rebounds in only 17 minutes. At this point, the safe bet is on Randolph never quite figuring out how to take control of his talents or fully understand his role on the court — if not based on his completely erratic play to date, then solely on the notion that fate cruelly taps some players with the responsibility of wowing us with the hypothetical while drudging through the day-to-day.
  • Bonus points: with 52 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Odom pulled off the rare drawn charge/blocked shot combo on Randolph. I’m still not quite sure how both of those things are possible to execute at the same time, but it was a flying mess of gangly limbs, actualized defensive potential, and epitomical disappointment.
  • Thetruth

    no sean williams but 12 mins of cardinal. and cardinal and nowitzki in at the same time is ridiculous. maybe the big loss was casey and not chandler.

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  • John Kimberly

    Heh, epitomical disappointment indeed.