Thermodynamics (n.) – the science concerned with the relations between heat and mechanical energy
This week’s installment of Thermodynamics won’t be quite as negative as last week’s. For one, the Mavs actually won a game (emphasis on “a”), going 1-4 on the week. For another, they played fairly well in two of their four losses, both of which came against NBA finalists from last season.
But enough of those generalities. Let’s talk details.
Week 10 (@Thunder, Nuggets, Spurs, @Wizards, @Heat)
1) Darren Collison
This one is easy. Collison had his best week as a Maverick, showing confidence we haven’t seen since the first games of the season. Squaring off against his former UCLA backcourt mate Russell Westbrook, Collison started his week by going 13-of-22 (59%) for 32 points in Oklahoma City. The highlight of his night—and probably the entire NBA week—came at the end of regulation when he nailed a ridiculous, game-tying three. If that’s not enough to convince, here’s more proof that Collison lit it up: when Westbrook was asked about Collison’s performance after the game (a Thunder win, mind you), Westbrook immediately cut off his postgame interview and cussed on his way out of the locker room (credit: AP). As a sidenote, if you’re on a tight budget, I recommend you avoid purchasing Westbrook’s newest book, How to Cope with Minor Frustrations Like An Actual Adult.
Collison used his terrific performance in Oklahoma City as a springboard for a solid week. In all, he shot 35-of-68 (51%), scored 17.2 PPG, and dished out 5.2 APG. These numbers represent a marked improvement from Collison’s previous several weeks. With OJ Mayo’s recent regression — which most Mavs fans expected — Collison’s uptick has been a welcome sight. Now that he’s firmly installed as the Mavs’ starting PG, perhaps these performances will become the norm.
2) Chris Kaman’s Rebounding
Kaman averages 6.4 rebounds per game — not nearly enough from your seven-foot starting center. This week, however, his average was a respectable 8.4 RPG. That’s hardly an eye-popping number, and you’d like it to be even higher, but Kaman’s improvement this week is significant for a couple reasons. First, as we know, the Mavs have been a poor rebounding team all season. They rank 21st in the NBA in total rebounds per game (this number isn’t deflated by pace — the Mavs play the fourth highest pace in the league), 30th in opponent’s rebounds per game, 27th in OReb %, and 25th in opponent’s OReb %. If Kaman can consistently grab even one or two additional rebounds per game from the five spot, he can singlehandedly improve some of these numbers. Second, Kaman seems to be rebounding at a higher rate when on the court with Dirk Nowitzki. Last night against the Heat, for instance, Kaman pulled down three rebounds in less than two minutes after Dirk entered the game in the first quarter. He pulled down another two rebounds in quick succession after Nowitzki entered near the end of the second. Admittedly, that evidence is somewhat anecdotal. But if Kaman actually is a better rebounder with Dirk on the court, that’s yet another reason why Dirk’s return will benefit the Mavs.
It didn’t translate to the win-loss column, but the Mavs played significantly better basketball this week than the past several. They gave last year’s NBA finalists a run for their money, taking both to overtime on the road (more on this below). They turned a 40-point blowout loss to the Spurs last week into a “mere” 25-point blowout loss to those same Spurs this week. And actually, those numbers don’t tell the full story—last week’s game in San Antonio wasn’t as close as the margin indicated (if you can believe that), and this week’s game was closer than the margin indicated. The Mavs’ sole truly disappointing effort this week came against the Nuggets at home. Setting that game aside (if you’ll indulge me), the improvement this week was clear. It’s unfortunate that the Mavs and their fans have been reduced to finding improvement in a 1-4 week, but to borrow one of my least favorite cliches: it is what it is.
For all the Mavs’ improvement this week, here’s one area where they didn’t improve: winning in overtime. After Collison’s miracle shot forced an extra frame in Oklahoma City, the Mavs promptly folded. They were outscored 13-7, shot 3-of-8 (38%), and allowed the Thunder to shoot 6-of-10 (60%). In Miami last night, the Mavs forced overtime when Dirk hit a tough fadeaway in the paint with three seconds left in regulation. But again, the Mavs couldn’t carry that momentum forward. The Heat started overtime on a 7-0 run and cruised to an easy 10-point victory. The Mavs are now 0-6 in overtime this season and have lost their last nine overtime games. If it happens one more time, the Mavs will tie the all-time NBA record for consecutive overtime losses. Hey, at least they’re setting records.
2) Mayo on the Rock
The Mavs have had stark turnover issues in recent weeks, with no one more responsible than OJ Mayo. That unfortunate trend continued this week, as Mayo averaged 4.0 turnovers per game. He had a turnover near the end of regulation both in Oklahoma City and Miami, each time with the Mavs nursing a small lead. The one in Oklahoma City was especially brutal, as Mayo unnecessarily went behind his back with the dribble and careened the ball off Dirk’s foot. On the bright side, Mayo didn’t commit a single turnover against the Wizards, yet handled the ball enough to dish out five assists. Baby steps.
3) Old Rivalries
From 2003 until about 2010, the Mavs-Spurs rivalry was the best in the NBA. Since the 2006 Finals, the twice-a-year Mavs-Heat matchup has carried a lot of bad blood, which only intensified after June 12, 2011. And ever since the Thunder grew into an elite NBA team, the Mavs have had a healthy rivalry with their neighbors to the north (if only due to physical proximity and Oklahoma’s glaring inferiority complex with anything Texas). But lately, those rivalry flames have dwindled to a mere flicker. The Mavs’ decline into mediocrity has taken them out of the elite tier, where the three teams above still live. This week, we saw the results of that decline: the Mavs went 0-3 against their old rivals (with another loss to the Spurs late last week). Until the Mavs move back into the NBA’s upper echelon, these games won’t have the same intensity they used to. So pop in your 2006 Playoffs DVD and watch DeSagana Diop wreck Tim Duncan during overtime of game 7 in San Antonio. Just make sure to hit STOP before Game 3 of the Finals starts.
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.