Thermodynamics (n.) – the science concerned with the relations between heat and mechanical energy
The winless warriors strike again. The Mavs just completed another week in which they consistently played hard but failed to win a single game. If you’re still watching each game in full, good on you. You’re a true fan (or a masochist).
Let’s dive into the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Mavs’ week.
Week 11 (Hornets, @Jazz, @Clippers)
1) Elton Brand
Brand turned in a nicely productive week. He averaged 10.3 points per game (PPG)— well above his season average of 6.9 PPG— and shot a cumulative 14-of-23 (61%) from the floor. He was particularly effective from mid-range, going 6-of-7 (88%) on shots from over 15 feet. Most importantly, Brand exercised prudent shot selection and played within the flow of the Mavs’ offense — of his 14 field goals this week, 12 were assisted (86%). This last point explains in large part why Brand shot so well; Brand was consistently in a position this week to receive the ball after dribble penetration and ball movement had scattered the opposing defense, and when that happens, he has the ability to be a very effective mid-range shooter.
Moving forward, I’d like to see two more things from Brand. First, I’d like to see him rebound more consistently. He averaged 5.3 rebounds per game (RPG) this week, which was bolstered largely by his 20-minute, nine-rebound performance in Utah. He did not rebound very well in the other two games, as evidenced by his DReb numbers: 13.5% against the Hornets, 9.6% against the Clippers, per Hoopdata. A big man of Brand’s height, frame, and skill should be closer to 20.0%, if not even higher. The second thing I’d like to see from Brand is mostly out of his control: I want to see him play more. I think he should start at center (moving Chris Kaman to a bench role) and play 28-30 MPG. The Mavs’ defense is considerably more effective when Brand plays with Dirk (once we have a bigger sample size, I believe the on-court/off-court stats will bear this out). Considering how poor the Mavs’ defense has been for most of the year, this one minor adjustment could make a noticeable difference.
2) Darren Collison
He didn’t quite match last week, but Collison continued to show immense improvement from November and early December. He played a well-rounded game against the Hornets, scoring 12 points on 5-of-7 (71%) shooting, dishing out five assists, and grabbing five boards. The low point of his week came in Utah, where he scored 11 points on just 3-of-8 (38%) shooting and didn’t make an impact on the glass or as a facilitator. Against the Clippers last night, Collison made up for that lackluster showing; he was the Mavs’ best player, scoring 22 points on 9-of-15 (60%) shooting to go with six dimes and four boards. His performance included a dominant second quarter in which he scored 15 points, repeatedly drove to the cup at ease, and got the Mavs back into a game that looked to be (predictably) swinging the Clippers’ way.
3) The Pressure to Win
The Mavs have lost four in a row and 10 of their last 11. They’re 10 games below .500 (13-23) for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. They’re 14 games back in the Southwest Division and seven games out of the last playoff spot (that’s right—seven whole games from even sniffing the playoffs). In short, these guys need a win. They need it for the standings, they need it for momentum, they need it for morale. With a lottery spot looking more and more likely, it’d be nice to see them win just so Dirk doesn’t continue to look like he’s about to stab himself in the face with a spork.
1) Handling the Trap
I don’t have access to the right statistics to confirm this point objectively, so I’m just going to tell you what I see. The Mavs — especially the Mavs’ guards — are lost when it comes to handling traps against their pick and roll. This deficiency is particularly apparent during fourth quarters, when teams tend to be more aggressive in defending the perimeter (especially in very tight games like the Mavs had this week). Of the Mavs’ last three opponents, the Clippers used this trapping strategy to particular effectiveness; once the Mavs went up 75-65 late in the third, L.A. became much more aggressive on defense and began pressing the ball handler at half court and trapping hard on pick and rolls. It completely threw the Mavs out of rhythm. This is one of the many reasons why the Mavs have had so many problems with fourth-quarter turnovers. When the opponent cranks up its defense and starts using what should be a very exploitable trapping strategy, the Mavs have no idea how to exploit it. They panic, lose their rhythm, and start throwing the ball around the gym. No bueno.
2) Guard Matchups
Here are three sets of stats I’d like you to read:
(a) 25 points, 11-of-18 (61%) shooting, nine assists, seven rebounds
(b) 27 points, 8-of-14 (57%) shooting, five assists, six rebounds, two blocks
(c) 19 points, 8-of-13 (62%) shooting, 16 assists, five rebounds, two steals.
Got that? Ok, and now for the big reveal: those are the stat lines of Greivis Vasquez, Gordon Hayward (who is really more of a guard-forward) and Chris Paul, respectively, from their games against the Mavs this week. I know I don’t need to tell you this, but that’s a big problem. Sure, Paul is an elite player who will drop 19/16 from time to time. Fine. Let’s concede that and leave him out of this discussion. Even still, the Mavs don’t have enough margin of error to let the other two guys—though admittedly talented players–have those types of games when the Mavs are absolutely desperate for wins. It can’t happen. When you need a home win against the lowly Hornets, you can’t let Vasquez score 12 points in three minutes to vaporize your fourth-quarter lead. When you hold the frenetic Jazz in relative check on the boards and in the paint, you can’t afford to let Hayward ice you repeatedly from all over the court. But that’s exactly what the Mavs did. Thus, a winless week.
3) Crunch Time
The best thing about this week was that the Mavs were highly competitive in all three games. But the worst thing about this week was the flip-side of that coin: because all three games were competitive and close down the stretch, the Mavs were thrice able to showcase their abysmal crunch-time execution. Leading the Hornets 88-87 with under a minute to go, the Mavs gave up a layup to Jason Smith (yeah — exactly) and then missed a free throw. After taking a three-point lead with two minutes left in overtime, they allowed Eric Gorden to end the game on a personal 8-2 run (including the winning three-point play with 4.7 seconds left). A few days later in Utah, the Mavs choked away an 82-74 fourth-quarter lead with careless turnovers, bad shots, and undisciplined defense; the Jazz ended the game on a 26-12 run. And it was pretty much the same thing last night against the Clippers. The Mavs led 75-65 at one point, but a fourth quarter filled with unforced errors — including two horrific rebounding lapses by Vince Carter checking Caron Butler in the final minute — transformed what would have been the Mavs’ best win of the season into yet another loss. Thing is, the Mavs aren’t a terrible team. They have some talented players, they have a proven coach, and they are competing consistently with good teams. But they just can’t win close games. They find ways to lose, even when they should win. That’s exactly what bad teams do. And unfortunately, a bad team is precisely what the Mavs are — at least for now.
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.