Thermodynamics (n.) – the science concerned with the relations between heat and mechanical energy
The Mavs played just two games this week (1-1), so this will be a relatively lean and mean installment of Thermodynamics. Still, there’s plenty to talk about, especially given that both games went down to the wire.
Week 13 (Thunder, @Magic)
1) Bench Play
I’ve broadly labeled this item “Bench Play,” but I’m really talking about two bench players in particular: Vince Carter and Elton Brand. Both guys produced well this week. In Friday’s nationally televised bout with OKC, Carter was the Mavs’ leading scorer and probably their best overall performer. He dropped 29 points and had an effective field-goal percentage (eFG%) of 71. Further, despite handling the ball extensively, he had zero turnovers in 32 minutes of action. In Orlando on Sunday, Carter didn’t shoot well from two-point range, but he had a solid all-around game: 15 points (50 eFG%), six assists, and three blocks. And to the extent you find value in single-game plus-minus numbers, Carter was the Mavs’ plus-minus leader for both games (+10 against OKC, +22 against Orlando).
The other half of this bench duo, Brand, also deserves commendation. It wasn’t a torrid shooting week like he had earlier in January, but Brand made an impact in several phases. He averaged 12 PPG, shot a cumulative 11-of-24 (46%), and chipped in nearly 10 rebounds per game. His 13-rebound performance against OKC was especially needed, as the Thunder (predictably) abused the other, less-athletic Mavs on the boards by grabbing 18 offensive rebounds (five in the fourth quarter and overtime alone).
2) Darren Collison
He didn’t have another 30+ point outburst, but Collison continued to show marked improvement within the Mavs’ system. He’s seemingly fixed many of the problems that plagued him earlier in the year—poor shooting, inexplicable turnovers, and zero court vision, to name a few. In fact, Collison’s all-around game this week was genuinely impressive at times. He averaged 13 PPG, shot a combined 9-of-14 (64%), dished out 7.5 APG, and turned the ball over just once—that’s right, once—per game. He’s also grown more comfortable finishing games. Collison hit the game-clinching three-pointer in Orlando with under a minute left, and indeed showed very little hesitation in putting up the shot. That’s great to see, and hopefully it earns him the opportunity to continue playing in crunch time.
3) Rick Carlisle
Slick Rick is back, and with a vengeance. Carlisle’s tactical acumen was on full display at the end of regulation against OKC. The play he drew up to free OJ Mayo for the game-tying three was absolutely beautiful, and drew Twitter compliments from both LeBron James and Chris Paul. More generally, both Collison (see above) and OJ Mayo have improved tremendously in the past month, undoubtedly in large part thanks to relentless film sessions and tough love from Coach. Carlisle’s also getting more consistent and productive play out of his bench. Dirk’s return has helped, to be sure, but the Mavs’ improvement goes beyond that. They went from losing several games in a row with Dirk to now winning five of six, and Dirk still isn’t shooting well. The Mavs aren’t winning games because Dirk is suddenly playing at an all-star level; they’re winning games because everybody else is playing better than they were a few weeks ago. That’s coaching—at least in significant part. And because of those improvements, the Mavs suddenly look like a fairly likely candidate to snag one of the final West playoff spots.
1) Frontcourt Defense
The Mavs’ defense didn’t hold up this week against opposing front-court players. Orlando’s Glen Davis—who could have been a Mav, had they not inexplicably decided to draft Nick Fazekas instead—notched 24 points on 10-of-16 (63%) shooting, to go with 6 rebounds and 6 assists. Magic center Nikola Vucevic also had a strong performance against the Mavs’ frontcourt, scoring 14 points on 6-of-11 (55%) shooting and pulling down 11 rebounds.
Finally, as I’m sure you’ve heard, Kevin Durant dropped 52 at the AAC last Friday. I’m no expert, but I’m told that’s a lot of basketball points. In fairness, Durant didn’t shoot well—just 13-of-31 (42%). But the Mavs sent him to the line 21 times, which is either a symptom of bad defense, bad officiating, or both. I tend to shy away from blaming officials, especially when players like Durant are involved. It’s a bit presumptuous—and a bit of a cop-out—to blame everything on preferential treatment and imbalanced officiating. Of course players like Durant get the benefit of the doubt from the officials. But Durant also shoots a lot of free throws because, you know, he’s incredibly skilled. And his skills are especially prolific against the Mavs’ personnel; they have one terrific perimeter defender who historically has done very well against Durant (Shawn Marion), but nothing behind him. No paint defense, no shot blocking, and no other elite wing defenders to spell Marion. That’s a tough spot to be in, and it will occasionally lead to 52-point outbursts like the other night.
2) Dirk’s Shooting
On the whole, Dirk’s floor game is on the up. He’s rebounding pretty well, moving pretty well, and defending pretty well. But he’s still not shooting well. He had a brutal 5-of-19 (26%) performance against the Thunder, and followed that up with a less-than-stellar 4-of-11 (36%) performance against the Magic. It is genuinely impressive that the Mavs have won five of six with Dirk still shooting like he’s Dominique Jones (low blow?). Once he gets going, watch out. This may well be a dangerous team.
3) Rick Carlisle (again)
I praised him above, but now it’s time to (briefly) take the gloves off.
Coach’s handling of the PG situation against OKC hurt the Mavs. In fact, it probably cost them the game. I’m not leaving myself any wiggle room on that assertion because, frankly, I don’t feel I need wiggle room. Carlisle should not have played Mike James for the final minute-and-a-half of regulation and the entire overtime period. I explained in detail my thoughts on this issue last week. As for the OKC game this week, there was no discernible reason to play James. Darren Collison was rested (he’d sat for the first six minutes of the fourth quarter), he’d played pretty well on the night, he has more talent than James, he is just as good a defender as James (if not better), and he poses more matchup problems for the Thunder (as evidenced by his 33-point game in OKC just a few weeks ago).
When asked after the game why he went with James down the stretch, Carlisle gave the quintessential coach-speak answer: “coach’s decision.” I don’t consider that an answer at all. Next time Carlisle chooses James to close a tight game against a quality opponent, I hope we hear an objectively quantifiable reason for that decision. And by “objectively quantifiable,” I don’t mean 1-3 shooting—with the two misses coming on atrocious shots—and a bad turnover in a winnable home overtime game. If the purpose of playing a veteran like James is to avoid mental mistakes, that purpose isn’t being served. He’s making more mental mistakes than Collison, but presumably due to his age and “experience,” he gets more slack for those mistakes. Let’s hope that changes moving forward.
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.