Thermodynamics (n.) – the science concerned with the relations between heat and mechanical energy
I’ll keep this intro short and sweet because we’re already a day behind schedule. [Ed. Note: Because we’re publishing a day behind, this column will include stats from last night’s Golden State game even though we normally use a Thursday-Wednesday game week.]
The Mavs went 1-3 this week. They played well at times, but it wasn’t enough to keep them from dropping even further out of the playoff race. Let’s break it down.
Week 14 (Spurs, Suns, @Blazers, @Warriors)
1) Dirk’s Shooting
Last week, I commented that Dirk’s all-around game had been fairly productive (although I regret commenting positively on his defense after seeing how poorly he guarded the Spurs and Blazers this week). Of course, all-around game aside, he hasn’t been shooting well. That changed somewhat this week. For the first time since his return from knee surgery on December 22, Dirk’s shooting percentages are trending upward. He shot a combined 24-of-49 (49%) in three games this week, not including the Golden State game in which he was sidelined with an adductor injury. In past seasons, 49% from Dirk wouldn’t be anything particularly impressive, but with his season average sitting at a lowly 43%, this week’s improvement is a pretty big deal. And going beyond the numbers, Dirk had more lift in his jump this week. He looked significantly more comfortable transferring energy from his lower body into the shot. Shooters of Dirk’s caliber rely so heavily on muscle memory and literally hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of career repetitions, it’s not surprising that he’s needed time to adjust to his post-surgery body. Hopefully this adductor strain won’t keep him out long — now that he’s getting into a rhythm, it’s time for the Mavs to start riding their workhorse. Unless they want to tank, that is….
2) Ball Movement
Entering this week, the Mavs as a team averaged 22.2 assists per game, placing them squarely in the middle of the league. They exceeded that average in three of their four games this week — 26 assists against Phoenix, a whopping 31 at Portland, and 25 at Golden State. On the strength of their ball movement, the Mavs had five players score in double figures in three of their four games. Were it not for incredibly poor defensive efforts against the Spurs and in the second half against the Blazers, the Mavs’ improved team offense could have been more apparent in the win-loss column. But alas, it’s a two-way game, and unless you have a very particular set of personnel (which the Mavs don’t), trying to out-offense everybody isn’t a recipe for sustained success.
3) The PG Rotation
The PGs themselves weren’t really hot at all, but Rick Carlisle’s management of the position was leaps and bounds ahead of the previous few weeks. After Roddy Beaubois gave 16 quality minutes against the Spurs and led the Mavs with 19 points, Carlisle seemed to finally settle on a PG rotation: Collison starts and plays most of the game, Beaubois is the backup and plays anywhere from 10-25 minutes, and Mike James comes in only to spell Beaubois or in garbage time. And guess what? That’s exactly what the rotation should be. None of the Mavs’ point guards are great, but Collison is clearly the best of the three, and Beaubois is certainly more talented (and has vastly more upside) than Journeyman James. Bravo, Coach, for coming to your senses and doing the right thing.
1) Frontcourt Matchups
As has been the case at various points this season, opposing frontcourt players had their way with the Mavs this week. Start with the Spurs’ DeJuan Blair, who’d been on the fringe of their rotation all season and played extensively against the Mavs only because Tim Duncan was out with an injury. So how’d he do? A season-high 22 points on 10-of-13 (77%) shooting. Naturally. How about the Blazers’ J.J. Hickson? 26 points on 9-of-13 (69%) shooting and 15 rebounds. Of course. Frontcourt mate LaMarcus Aldridge? 29 points, 12-of-20 (60%) shooting, 13 rebounds, and yet another buzzer-beating game-winner. No surprise there. And I haven’t even gotten to the Golden State game — David Lee had 15 points and 20 rebounds, which I hear is a fairly decent line. In short, the Mavs lost three games this week, and you could argue that these frontcourt matchups were the primary culprit each time.
2) Closing Games
Sound familiar? The Mavs’ gut-wrenching inability to finish once again reared its ugly head. They trailed the whole way against the Spurs, but after making the game competitive in the fourth quarter (with plenty of time to win), they fell apart on defense and allowed Tony Parker to seal the game with repeated, effortless drives into the lane. Against Portland, the Mavs found new and innovative ways to lose a basketball game. For nearly the entire fourth quarter, they couldn’t secure a defensive rebound. After clutch shooting put them up by seven points late, they turned the ball over three times in a row and allowed Portland to put the game back in doubt. Then, they did something you’ll rarely see in the NBA — they allowed an opposing player (Aldridge) to score five points in less than five seconds, including the game-winner. The Golden State loss wasn’t quite as absurd, but it was hardly clutch. Missed free throws in the final minute? Check. Bad fouls in the final minute? Check. Awful turnover in the final minute? Check. Thrilling times for any blue-blooded MFFL, to be sure.
3) The Playoff Race
Every win and loss counts the same in the standings, but this week’s loss in Portland was an especially crushing blow to the Mavs’ faint playoff hopes. For one, it’s a game they should have won; they had a sizable lead in the third quarter, a seven-point lead with under two minutes left, and a three-point lead with 11 seconds left. For another, the Blazers are one of the teams competing with the Mavs for the last couple playoff spots, so losing to them hurts doubly. Finally, as tough as it is to play in the Rose Garden, the Blazers were actually one of the Mavs’ weakest opponents for the rest of the year. Their remaining schedule includes the Thunder twice, the Lakers twice, the Nuggets twice, the Grizzlies twice, the Nets twice, the Celtics, the Jazz, and the Spurs. With so many tough games remaining and so little margin of error, the Mavs really could have used a win against the middling Blazers (full disclosure: I know I just listed the even-more-middling Lakers as a “tough” opponent, but this is solely because of their raw talent and my continuing assumption that they’ll end the season better than they started it). Because the Mavs couldn’t capture that elusive win in the Rose City, the playoff climb is now even steeper.
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.