The Difference: Los Angeles Lakers 112, Dallas Mavericks 108

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 15, 2012 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

Screen Shot 2012-04-15 at 7.12.29 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot Chart — Game Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas95.0113.753.417.014.06.0
Los Angeles117.948.929.029.46.3

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 was a game that deserved to go into overtime, and unlike far too many extra-period affairs of the post-lockout season, actually behooved its audience to. Dallas may have bogged itself down into isolating Dirk Nowitzki (24 points, 9-28 FG, 3-8 3FG, 14 rebounds) at times in an effort to get him going, but for the most part the Mavericks’ ball movement was quite good; Jason Terry (21 points, 8-15 FG, 5-6 3FG, four assists) and Delonte West (20 points, 9-15 FG) both did wonderful work as shot creators, and the entire offense was built on and benefited from the virtues of the extra pass. Sadly, execution doesn’t always lead to elite efficiency; try as the Mavs might to work the ball around and make the right plays, Nowitzki’s shooting struggles and the Lakers’ ability to apply defensive pressure in all the right places kept this a wide-open game. Meanwhile, the Lakers sans Kobe were in a position to exploit the necessity of the Mavs’ over-helping; only Brendan Haywood had the hope of checking Andrew Bynum without a double team, a fact which essentially required that each of Ian Mahinmi and Brandan Wright’s minutes be plagued with openings on the weak side. It wasn’t the fault of Jason Kidd (who was often caught cheating off of his man to help on Bynum), or even Wright. It’s merely the reality of this rotation, and if these two teams meet in a potential first-round series, it’s a reality the Mavericks will have to confront on more specific terms. (One related thought: A potential factor that could oddly make the Lakers’ swing passing more manageable from a Maverick perspective? Kobe Bryant. Players so brilliant rarely make decisions as oddly short-sighted as those Bryant makes with regularity. He may think three moves ahead of his defender in the post, but basketball chess games last a bit longer than three moves.)
  • There’s no use in demanding perfection of any team at this stage in the season, particularly one that has seen as much in-season variance as these Mavericks. That said, is it enough to be pleased with strong effort and decent execution against an opponent missing a star? I was going to say that this game sums up Dallas’ season nicely, but perhaps that response does so even more aptly.

  • Haywood hurt the Mavs offensively with his mere presence on the floor down the stretch, but he was absolutely essential in holding Bynum to reasonable marks. Despite having the potential to be an every-game Maverick killer, Bynum finished with 23 points on 24 shots — decent numbers made completely manageable by their contextual inefficiency. Defending low-post players with an insufficient rotation of bigs requires smoke, mirrors, and roving help, but thanks to Haywood’s initial front (which is almost completely predicated on walking the fine line between what is legal and illegal as a post defender), the Mavs stood a fighting chance. They had golden opportunities to win this game and perhaps should have, but only because Haywood’s defense had earned Dallas enough ground to stand on.
  • Nowitzki shot incredibly poorly from the field (a tip of the cap to Pau Gasol, who again played Dirk about as well as he possibly could), and Shawn Marion didn’t contribute as much in the scoring column as he should or could have. That said, both were tremendous rebounders in a game where Dallas needed as much rebounding help as possible. For Marion, that’s merely an extension of the recent status quo; Marion has now grabbed double-digit boards in each of the last five games, and his work on the defensive glass in this one gave the Mavericks a chance to preserve their in-game lives. Nowitzki’s 14 boards — many of which were heavily contested — provided a welcome departure from what had been a string of underwhelming rebounding performances of late, epitomized by his recent one-board outing against the Golden State Warriors. If either Wright or Mahinmi are to be any considerable part of the Mavs’ playoff plans (hint: they are), consistent rebounding from Nowitzki and Marion will be absolutely essential. Mahinmi can run a pick and roll effectively and Wright has been a wonderful boost off the bench, but neither player is much of a rebounder in terms of technique or performance. Marion has done a great job of picking up some of the slack, but now it’s time that Nowitzki join the party — lest Dallas walk into every game with a bit of a rebounding disadvantage.
  • Pragmatism

    I really don't know what to think of the Mavs these days. They are utterly infuriating for their fans to watch. Any sliver of momentum, whether in-game or in-season, is immediately accompanied by the inevitable crash back to mediocre reality. I retain hope that extra days of rest will benefit them in the playoffs, but this team has just never flashed any sign of being elite. Today, the rebounding was great and the defense generally played well (the Lakers really have made a habit of making difficult shots against us), but Dirk was absolutely terrible. And their difficulty in close games is also extremely concerning — it feels like there are as many blown leads this year as there were comebacks last year. Maybe, one day, the Mavericks will be great again. 

  • Matt Hulme

    Call this eulogy-of-a-comment premature if you'd like. I hope you're right.

    As an absolute diehard fan (amongst the many that frequent TTMG), I can seemingly find an excuse or solution to any buzz saw the Mavs run into head-first. But, as a realist, I can also see the folly of so many of these “smoke and mirror” defenses, and the gamble that is the offense's do-or-die reliance on Dirk's shot.

    I can also see the writing on the wall. And it hurts. Because as much as I want to believe that -especially after last season's conclusion- the Mavericks are simply going through the motions and will be geared for another deep run come playoff time, I simply cannot ignore the fact anymore that this team just isn't that good.

    Even in the pre-championship years, I had more hope than I do now. 2004-2007 were of course the golden years, and each season seemed to hold the strong possibility of a championship birth. (I do so nostalgically miss those endlessly entertaining Spurs/Mavs/Suns years.)

    2008-2010, while darker years, still held a certain glimmer to them, albiet much of that hope resided in knowing the caliber of Dirk's game in the prime of a first-ballot HoF career. But even still, I always had hope. Call me crazy, but Dirk (and to an extent, JET) always kept me at the edge of my seat, hoping, wishing, praying, and inevitably devastated.

    And now that they've won, and we've all tasted that moment, it's hard to imagine not getting back there again. But with each passing game, it becomes easier to imagine it not being this season.

    This is not to say I'm writing them off; my fandom wouldn't allow such treason. But with this knowledge of this team's limitations, I do hope that unlike in previous seasons of falling short, this year's end will hurt a little less. …But I know it won't.

  • Andrew

    Despite the pessimists–I think a starting lineup of Kidd-West-Marion-Dirk-Haywood with Terry and Beaubois coming off the bench, not to mention two young, athletic bigs, is a pretty damn good team. 

    • Matt Hulme

      I'm not a pessimist. I'm a realist. And yes, the Mavs are a pretty damn good team. But great? Don't kid yourself. That doesn't mean this team can't make a deep playoff run, but it does mean we could temper expectations following last season's championship.

      This team, even more so than last year, relies so heavily on Dirk on offense and Shawn Marion on defense. Yes, there are playmakers and shooters on both sides of the ball for this team, but compared to last year, this team has less quality outside shooting (meaning less reliable open wingmen for Dirk to kick it out to on the collapse), they were never able to find a steady replacement for JJ Barea's pick and roll offense with Nowitzki, and the defensive rotations, while still strong, lack the diversity and range that so deeply anchored last year's squad.

      Look, I love D-West, Haywood is a very solid center on defense, and Terry seems to have rediscovered his stroke just in time, but let's not KIDD (bad pun) ourselves into thinking this team has the same front line or the depth of last season.

      Is this team capable of making a deep run? Of course; with Dirk (and JET) it's always possible. But is it likely? No. And that's the reality, not pessimism.

  • Pragmatism

    I totally agree with you, Matt. It's been said many times (most prominently by Cuban) that the “regular season doesn't matter” this year After watching this season, that couldn't be more inaccurate. Sure, ultimately the team with the best regular season record may not win the title or adapt as well to “playoff-style” basketball, but having at least some stretches of dominance and momentum during a regular season is so important for establishing an identity. The only game this entire year where I felt the Mavs were really “jelling” and dominating was the one against Denver several weeks ago. Ball movement was great, Dirk was on fire, and it was a solid win in a tough road environment. 

    Even more depressing to me is the fact that, beyond this year, it seems like the Mavs are sacrificing wins for financial flexibility in the chase to acquire Deron Williams and Dwight Howard. If Williams does indeed sign with the Mavs this summer, there is strong speculation that Cuban will fill our roster with low-priced talent and minimum deals like he did this year. While I personally think we've acquired some pretty good pieces (like Delonte West & Brandan Wright), it also has worked to our detriment and caused players to think too much about free agency (cough, Jason Terry). And then while all of this is going on, Dirk Nowitzki will be getting steadily older.

    It's really an extremely tough situation, and I wouldn't want to be Cuban and Donnie Nelson to have to navigate it. Other teams with old stars, like the Lakers and Spurs, either a) have an established core that can compete for the next several seasons or b) have already upgraded by building inexpensive depth and adapting their style of play. The Mavs have done neither of those things and now are starting to suffer for it.