Thermodynamics (n.) – the science concerned with the relations between heat and mechanical energy
Another week of the Mavs’ season is in the books, and it’s yet another 2-1, not-really-sure-how-I’m-supposed-to-feel week. To be sure, the Mavs played very well for much of the week. They beat a quality Golden State team handily, and they put away a miserable Sacramento team for the third time this season (boy, when you’re struggling for wins, it sure is nice to play the Kings repeatedly).
On the other hand, the Mavs’ game with the Hawks was a big step backward. They played pretty much the entire game uphill, and when they finally had a chance to close it out, they (read: OJ Mayo) repeatedly shot themselves in the foot. The end result: what easily could have been an excellent 3-0 week instead was yet another wasted opportunity to gain serious ground in the standings.
Week 16 (Warriors, Hawks, Kings)
1) Dirk’s Moves
Did you see it? If my eyes don’t deceive me, Dirk started to look a lot more like Dirk this week. His weekly numbers were fairly strong overall: 15.3 points per game, 17-of-35 (49%) cumulative shooting, and seven rebounds per game. But what really caught my attention was how he moved very purposefully, both on and off the ball, particularly in the Mavs’ latter two games. Last night against Sacramento, Dirk looked like the superstar of old. He created shots for himself; he got to his spots and broke down the defense; he created open looks for his teammates (six assists). It’s been so long since Dirk’s been physically capable of playing that way that I’d almost forgotten what it looked like. Almost. The Mavs may be in too deep a hole to salvage this season, but even if so, Dirk’s viability as an impact player and offensive creator are an integral part of whatever the Mavs’ future plans may be.
2) Free Throws (Making & Taking)
Statistically, the Mavs had their best week of the entire season at the free throw line. To start, they got to the line in spades. On the season, Dallas averages just over 22 free throw attempts per game, which puts them in the bottom half of the league. This week, though, they averaged 28 attempts per game, which would be the best in the league if extended over the course of an entire season (the Lakers are currently first at 27.2 attempts per game). If you’re thinking a soft defensive schedule was the culprit here — well, you’re mostly right. The Mavs shot most of their free throws this week against two of their three opponents, Golden State and Sacramento, who are both among the five worst teams in the league at keeping their opponents off the line (Dallas, incidentally, is the second-worst team in that area). Against the Hawks, who are the second-best team in the league at preventing free throws, the Mavs didn’t fare nearly as well (just 20 attempts). Still, the week-long numbers look great, and that’s really what we do here at Thermodynamics.
The second part of this equation is that the Mavs shot very well from the foul-line this week: 69-of-84 (82%) as a team. That is a cut above their season average of 79.7%, which already had the Mavs at third-best in the league. Perhaps most interestingly, the Mavs team numbers were that strong despite Dirk missing about 20% of his own foul shots this week, including three misses against Golden State alone. Although this is likely to change at some point, Dirk has actually been supplanted by Darren Collison as the team’s best free throw shooter—Collison sits at 90% for the year, fourth-best in the entire NBA among players who have shot at least 100 free throws.
I’ve talked about individual assist-turnover ratios at several points throughout the season, but the Mavs’ team-wide numbers in this area have rarely been remarkable enough to merit comment. This week, however, the numbers look quite strong. In all three games, the Mavs had better than a 2-to-1 assist-turnover ratio: 25-10 against Golden State, 25-11 against Atlanta, and 27-12 against Sacramento. On an individual level, 2-1 isn’t especially terrific; in fact, it’s about what you want as a minimum threshold, with the ideal ratio being closer to 3-1 or even 4-1. But as a team, staying above 2-1 for several games in a row is a very positive trend — especially for a team like the Mavs that’s had trouble moving the ball without turning it over. Painting in broad strokes, these numbers are indicative of an offense that’s growing more comfortable, particularly with regard to spacing, well-timed cuts, and accurate entry passes.
1) Team Rebounding
Ah, yes — “team rebounding” is back on the cold list. You knew it wouldn’t stay out of here for long, didn’t you? Despite the Mavs’ fairly successful 2-1 week, they rebounded poorly enough that they could have easily lost all three games if not for stellar performances in other areas. Golden State won the rebounding battle 52-44, pulling down an unacceptable 17 offensive boards in the process. The Mavs limited the Hawks on the offensive glass fairly well, but still lost the overall margin 48-37 (if you were so inclined, you could blame that margin on the Mavs’ shooting so poorly, thus giving the Hawks more rebounding opportunities). The Mavs did outrebound the Kings 51-44, but I still wasn’t particularly impressed with their positioning and tenacity. There were a few instances in which multiple Mavs didn’t go up for the ball, instead allowing a more aggressive Kings player to crash the glass with impunity. We can talk pet peeves, and I’m sure we all have different ones, but for my money, few things are more frustrating.
2) The Center Rotation
Truth be told, the Mavs barely have a center rotation right now. Chris Kaman remains out with a concussion. Bernard James, as much as I like him, didn’t contribute much from the starting spot this week, despite having more-than-negligible playing time. And I’m not really sure who to call the Mavs’ third center. Sometimes it’s Elton Brand. Sometimes, I guess, it’s Brandan Wright (although he rebounds so poorly, I shudder at the thought of calling him a center). In any event, the Mavs aren’t getting any consistent production out of this position. Given that two of the Mavs’ biggest problems are rebounding and defending the paint, you could say that’s a problem.
“A-B-C. A-Always. B-Be. C-Closing. Always be closing.”
The Mavs played two terrific games this week, but they didn’t mind their A-B-C’s. Check the link above. It’s not “sometimes” be closing. It’s not “mostly” be closing. Always be closing. As they have so often this season, the Mavs failed to follow this edict. They let an important, winnable game against the Hawks slip away, and it happened because they couldn’t close the deal. They got 98% of the way there, but couldn’t punch it across the finish line. With the playoff race so precarious, that’s just not good enough.
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.