The Difference: Memphis Grizzlies 96, Dallas Mavericks 85

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 1, 2012 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

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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.

  • Dirk Nowitzki left this game early in the second quarter with what appears to be a minor injury to his lower back (all indications point to Nowitzki being available on Friday), and from there things went pretty much as expected. Dallas can get by without Dirk on the floor for stretches — a few minutes here, a few minutes there — but runs into a huge, huge problem when teams are able to tweak their approach toward the Mavs’ teetering, Dirk-less offense. Nowitzki is such a prolific and efficient shot creator that the offense can operate according to plan just by having him available, but remove him as a factor and opponents quickly realize how putting pressure on Jason Terry can make the Mavs squirm.
  • Plus: Memphis is a team that understands how to operate without their best player in the lineup. Dallas is not, if only because their construction is fundamentally different. It’s not that Zach Randolph isn’t important; he’s every bit as significant, just not as pivotal.
  • As mentioned above, Terry (18 points, 7-15 FG, five assists) — and to a lesser extent, Rodrigue Beaubois (16 points, 7-16 FG, three assists, four turnovers) — had the unenviable task of trying to keep the offense afloat. He did what he could, but it doesn’t take much digging into the tape to determine that JET isn’t the kind of player who can function as the primary creator of an offense. He still managed to hit some tough shots and did a good job of trying to get to the rim, but every step he took was shaded by a Grizzly, and Memphis’ guards did a terrific job of funneling him into help. Beaubois wasn’t quite as successful, particularly once the Grizzlies’ defense locked down in the second half. Beaubois was forced to be the Mavs’ primary reset option, but ultimately wasn’t much of a threat out of the pick and roll. The timing and vision just wasn’t there for Beaubois to actually hit the roll man, and the Grizzlies deserve a lot of credit for cutting off passing lanes, hedging on those screens, and forcing Beaubois to retreat.

  • Tony Allen layups are such an incredible journey.
  • I think the last two games have demonstrated perfectly what Vince Carter’s (nine points, 4-9 FG, three turnovers) role on this team really is. He’ll occasionally explode for a big night now and again, but there’s a reason why Carter has thrived so much this season as a spot-up shooter. He may not be in the Peja Stojakovic mold of spot-up-or-bust, but Carter is a sturdy complement and nothing more. He can work in the post on occasion and can initiate the pick-and-roll in a pinch, but he’s largely an emergency release for defenses that overload on the strong side. Carter’s a tremendous asset to have in the context of a healthy Mavs team, but the less Dallas has to lean on him, the better he’ll perform. That’s not some indictment of Carter’s personality — it’s merely the reality of having a 35-year-old wing scorer.
  • Dallas’ defense wasn’t particularly problematic, but I wonder if the zone shouldn’t be a more consistent weapon against a team like Memphis. Rudy Gay (18 points, 8-19 FG, seven rebounds) and O.J. Mayo (seven points, 3-10 FG) are the only consistent three-point threats on the roster, and though defensive rebounding could still be an issue, I appreciate the potential of what the zone might do against a team of the Grizzlies’ particular makeup. As long as the Mavs could keep an eye on Mayo and Gay, the zone could be employed on a larger scale in a matchup as beneficial as this one.
  • From a narrative perspective, it’s astounding how far Mike Conley (20 points, 7-12 FG, 10 assists, four steals) has come in a little more than a year. Conley’s extension was justifiably criticized based on his production up to that point, but the Grizzlies appear to have made the correct bet on the basis of their point guard’s potential. Conley isn’t on a rapid upward ascent, but he’s substantially improved over the last two seasons, to the point where there isn’t even a remote counterargument as far as his contract extension is concerned. He keeps the offense churning, he generally does a good job of appropriating shots, and he’s a quick, pesky perimeter defender. I’m a fan, and based on what he’s done in the last season and change, I’m not sure how anyone wouldn’t be.
  • Shawn Marion (seven points, 3-11 FG, eight rebounds, four turnovers) has made just 29 percent of his field goals over his last three games (11-of-38 from the field). Commence fatigue-related worrying.
  • A thought: I wonder if Brendan Haywood’s (10 points, 5-8 FG, four rebounds) newfound ability to catch and finish on the move has hedged against Ian Mahinmi’s utility. As much as we compare the games of Mahinmi and Brandan Wright, Dallas’ center rotation was always a bit unique because of Haywood’s limited minutes. Now that Haywood is providing a bit more scoring and doing some damage on the offensive glass, what exactly is the purpose of reducing his minutes? Haywood is by far the Mavs’ best defensive option at center, and now that he’s producing a fair bit on offense, there isn’t all that much reason to take him off the floor early.
  • Don’t forget that in addition to Dirk’s absence, the Mavs were also missing Delonte West and Lamar Odom. Those lost rotation players create compounding problems for Dallas, as the Mavs were not only missing a star player and his backup (which isn’t unlike what Memphis has had to deal with in the injuries to Randolph and Darrell Arthur), but also the kind of savvy ball-handler who could help to offset those losses. West likely wasn’t going to transform this game, but I have a hard time believing that the offense would have struggled quite so much in the second half had there been a more reliable shot creator to share the court with Terry.
  • An addendum to that thought: When Nowitzki is out, Jason Kidd (eight points, 3-8 FG, three assists) is essentially useless. Nowitzki covers for so many of Kidd’s offensive limitations with the attention he draws, and without that defensive tilt, Kidd has so little room to engineer the offense. He’s still a valuable player in the Mavs’ read offense, but at this age he’s become far too flawed to operate efficiently without the fringe benefits of sharing the court with a superstar.
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  • Andrew

    For the past few years you have praised Kidd continuously.  This season, you harp on him almost every game.  Has his game really depreciated that much?

  • Matt Hulme

    I'd say so. Watching that game last night post-Dirk (mainly the second half) was a test of my endurance and a perfect example of what it'd be like to be a Bobcats fan. *Shudders.*

    Alone, Terry is still just a scorer, and always will be (until he deteriorates and can no longer get separation on his fade-aways), regardless of who he's on the court with, but for once, his diminished ball-handling efficiencies weren't as prevalent, as he made mostly smart and unforced decisions with the ball, similar (a term used loosely) to his years as our shooting-point guard post-Nash. (One reflects upon those seasons with trepidation and an optimistically-driven memory.)

    As for Kidd, Rob I completely agree with you. He looked every bit his age the other night, and we can only hope and pray this team is healthy come April, May, and beyond. But let's win tonight, and stop giving away games against far inferior opposition. Please.