Thermodynamics (n.) – the science concerned with the relations between heat and mechanical energy
It’s nearly the holidays, but we don’t take early vacations here at The Two Man Game.
Nor do the Mavericks, although it might have seemed otherwise after they failed to show up in Toronto last Friday night. A blowout loss to the Raptors jump-started a 1-2 week for the Mavs. But it wasn’t all bad.
Week 8 (@Raptors, @Timberwolves, 76ers)
1) Frontcourt Shooting
The Mavs’ frontcourt — particularly Chris Kaman, Shawn Marion, Elton Brand, and Brandan Wright — had a pleasantly efficient week from the floor. In Toronto, those four Mavs combined to shoot 18-of-32 (56%). The next night in Minnesota, they went 19-of-39 (49%). Back home against Philly, Brand sat out with a groin injury while the other three combined to go 21-of-32 (66%). After having not played meaningful fourth-quarter minutes for several games, Kaman was especially productive in the final frame against Philly, notching eight clutch points on 4-of-5 (80%) shooting. Now, if only the Mavs had another efficient frontcourt scorer, one who might be returning to the lineup soon….
2) The Glass Matrix
With one glorious exception, I’ve spent pretty much this entire season railing on the Mavs’ dismal rebounding. Low-hanging fruit, I know. When a team is so overmatched at one phase of the game, we tend to pay special attention to individual performances cutting against that trend (e.g., “Nobody on this team can shoot worth a damn except Dirk.”). This week, when it came to the Mavs’ pervasive rebounding issues, Shawn Marion was that guy. Marion hit the glass hard and with purpose. He pulled down 13 boards in Toronto, 10 in Minnesota, and nine against Philly. In all three games, Marion was the Mavs’ team leader in rebounding. His season-long DReb % isn’t terrific (20.9%), but Marion’s efforts on the glass are sorely needed.
3) Dirk’s Disposition
It’s been a tough road back for Dirk Nowitzki. After undergoing knee surgery on October 19, Dirk was expected to miss six weeks. Lingering swelling delayed his rehab schedule, and now Dirk has already missed eight weeks and counting. But we may finally be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel — yesterday, Dirk participated in a full practice for the first time since his surgery. He reportedly hopes to be back on the court sometime soon after Christmas, and let’s hope he’s right; as discussed below, the Mavs have a gauntlet to run over these next six games. They will face almost all of the best teams in the league between now and January 1. The more Dirk can contribute during that stretch (if at all), the better. Unless you’re the kind of person who supports tanking the season, I suppose.
1) Frontcourt Defense
For as well as the Mavs’ frontcourt played on offense this week, they gave most of it back on the other end. Opposing forwards and centers dominated the Mavs over these last seven days; The Raptors’ Linas Kleiza dropped 20 points on the Mavs, going 7-of-13 (54%) from the field; Timberwolves frontcourt members Nikola Pekovic, Andrei Kirilenko, and Derrick Williams combined for 51 points on 19-of-40 (48%) shooting; Dorell Wright, the 76ers’ smooth-shooting stretch forward, dropped 25 points and shot 7-of-13 (54%) from downtown; Wright’s frontcourt mate Spencer Hawes added another 18 points on 5-of-7 (71%) shooting. The defensive problems don’t fall to any one person, but Chris Kaman has openly admitted that his defense needs improvement, and Brandan Wright’s issues on the defensive end have been well documented. This is still a fairly new roster finding its way, so perhaps the defensive communication will improve moving forward. That remains to be seen.
2) Second Quarters
In all three games this week, the Mavs started fairly well. But each time, the Mavs followed up a strong first quarter with a mediocre (to downright dismal) second quarter. The Mavs led 25-24 after one in Toronto, only to be outscored 30-16 in the second frame. They never recovered. It was the same story the next night in Minnesota — a 19-point swing in the second quarter turned a 32-22 Mavs lead into a 54-45 halftime deficit. Things weren’t quite so bad back at home against Philly, but the Mavs did allow the 76ers to find their groove a bit during a 29-all second quarter (the Mavs had been up 28-23 after one). This is one of those trends that doesn’t necessarily carry any significance, especially on a three-game sample size. But it’s something to keep an eye on, especially if it happens a few more times in the next several games.
3) The Set-Up (for 2013)
Going 1-2 over a three-game stretch in the NBA isn’t always an awful thing. It’s not even necessarily an awful thing when one of those losses is to the bottom-feeding Toronto Raptors. But here’s the real problem with how the Mavs performed this week: the schedule is about to get insanely difficult. Between now and the year’s end, the Mavs will face the Heat, Grizzlies, Spurs (twice), Thunder, and Nuggets. That’s five of the top eight teams in the NBA, with a combined record of .704, including the reigning NBA champions and the reigning West champions. Three of those six games are on the road, in arenas where the home team very rarely loses. In other words, there’s a more-than-negligible chance the Mavs will be 13-18—or maybe even worse—to start the new year. That’s not quite a playoff death knell, but it’s close. Because of weeks like this past one, the Mavs didn’t take full advantage of their soft early-season schedule. Now, they’ll have to make up for it against a murderer’s row of NBA elites. If they don’t, it may be curtains on the Mavs’ chances for the big dance.
Travis Wimberly lives in Austin, Texas and writes about the Dallas Mavericks on Al Gore’s Internet™. Travis enjoys shenanigans, claptrap, and frivolity. Follow Travis on Twitter @TravisRW.