[Game-specific advanced stats forthcoming.]
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
- The steam coming from Rick Carlisle’s ears in the opening minutes may have dissipated by night’s end, but in-game improvement isn’t reason enough to like Dallas’ transition defense. The Kings have the benefit of having three ball-handlers capable of pushing the break, but they were only able to generate easy points on in transition because the Mavs’ effort was decidedly lacking. Things will have to be more consistent against an opponent like Oklahoma City or San Antonio, and fortunately Dallas has some time to remedy their lead feet.
- That said, when the Mavs actually forced the Kings to execute against a set defense in a half-court setting, things went predictably well. The bigs rotated effectively, none of Sacramento’s three talented perimeter players were allowed to really explode, and although the overall defense wasn’t anything spectacular, I suppose these Mavs might settle for “good enough,” at this juncture.
- With Lamar Odom erased from Maverick existence, we saw the three components of his piecemeal replacement: an extra dose of Shawn Marion, a dash of Yi Jianlian, and a bit of a different look for Brandan Wright. Wright and Ian Mahinmi have played together sparingly this season, but it seems as though that combination may be a fair bit more common from here on out — if the initial returns are worth much of anything, Wright’s energy should be a valuable resource, even at the cost of spacing. Either way, it seems an appropriate time for Brian Cardinal to be placed firmly behind glass in case of emergencies; the Custodian managed to finally hit a few three-pointers in March, but that 21-percent mark from long-range should still leave Carlisle wary. Cardinal isn’t long removed from being a decent reserve, but his most useful NBA skill — his three-point shooting, particularly from the corners — has either rapidly decayed or temporarily escaped him. I’m not sure the Mavs are really in a position to find out for sure, but they may yet if Carlisle elects to keep their in-game mascot in the rotation going forward.
- Yi put up eight points on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting from the field in the second quarter alone — somebody seems to have rediscovered their mid-range touch. Yi may get a handful of minutes a night regardless of whether he’s ready to produce or not, but on this occasion he was certainly up to the task; he may not be as electrifying as Wright, but Yi contributed on both ends of the court without making many mistakes. Even for a mere eight and a half minutes, that’s worth something.
- Jason Kidd (seven points, seven assists, six rebounds, four turnovers) made his return to the lineup, and contributed in the across-the-board fashion characteristic of his career, while also maintaining the zero-sum game that has come to define much of his season. Kidd can still be a hugely important piece of this Maverick team, but he has a problematic tendency to eclipse his good plays with bad ones. There’s little point in expecting anything else; Kidd seems to be set in his ways for the year, and although there’s always the possibility of a quick, timely reversal, I wouldn’t advise anyone to hold their breath.
- These games when the Mavs win without Dirk Nowitzki (15 points, 4-14 FG, eight rebounds) being Dirk Nowitzki are precious. It’s hard to pinpoint anything that Sacramento did to specifically knock Dirk off of his rhythm, but perhaps the early miscues and turnovers left Nowitzki a bit shell-shocked. He never seemed to establish himself in his favorite spaces on the floor, and the looks that he did get were often rushed. Obligatory credit to the Kings for doing, well, whatever it was that they did, but Nowitzki just seemed to be off of his game in a very general sense, and Dallas was lucky to rally in spite of his struggles.
- The path to victory in light of that development was — as it was often last season — balanced scoring; 10 different Mavericks scored seven or more points (Rodrigue Beaubois tied Nowitzki with a team-high 15 points), and although none convincingly stepped up to be a legitimate, standalone second option (or on this particular night, a first option), so many tried their hand at supplemental scoring that a positive verdict was achieved by true committee. The result was something between an assembly line and having too many cooks in the kitchen, as an offense based on varied and widespread contributions attacked a vulnerable Kings D from myriad angles without caving in on itself. Good — if unsustainable — times.
- Shawn Marion (10 points, 5-11 FG, 14 rebounds, eight OREBs) may not have had a high-scoring night befitting of his matchup advantage, but he put forth an exemplary showing on the offensive glass. Even as his athleticism continues to decline, I suspect offensive rebounding will always be a crucial part of Marion’s production; timing, instincts, and length don’t tend to fade, and although his vertical will continue to shrink from here on out, he’s still likely to worm his way into rebounding position, and maneuver just so to create a tip-in opportunity.
- I’ve made frequent mention of Wright’s defensive limitations in this space, but Carlisle has to be immensely pleased with his performance on Monday night. The high activity level and blocked shots have become a staple for Wright this season, but this particular outing brought a noticeable attention to detail — or at the very least, positioning and rotation in a way that made it difficult for the Kings to exploit the weak side.* Although, in the sake of temporarily conceding one weakness for another: as athletic and long as Wright is, it’s a shame he isn’t a better rebounder. Some of that will come with experience and strength, but that so much energy alone hasn’t produced more impressive rebound totals is a bit curious. (*Necessary footnote: DeMarcus Cousins is an absolute monster, and while his rotational defense was on-point, he couldn’t well stop Cousins from flexing said inner monstrosity. Few defenders can, mind you, but it should be noted nonetheless.)
- Delonte West (13 points, 5-10 FG, two steals) stayed in the starting lineup even with Kidd’s return, in a move that does wonders for the general shape of the rotation. Not only does West’s inclusion in the starting five ease some of the defensive burden on Marion, but it also shifts Vince Carter (seven points, seven rebounds, five assists) to the bench, where he’s both allowed to be a more focal member of the offense and needed to spell Marion. Odom’s absence will likely push Marion to back up Nowitzki even more than usual, thereby making Carter’s return to the bench a completely understandable rotational remedy.