Thermodynamics (n.) – the science concerned with the relations between heat and mechanical energy
The Mavs’ level of play this week was all over the map. From game to game, quarter to quarter, and even timeout to timeout, the Mavs showcased the level of frightening inconsistency we’ve seen pretty much all year. Really, the week was a perfectly framed microcosm of the basic “hot/cold” concept behind this weekly Thermodynamics column. They were hot. Then they were cold. Then they were hot again — unless they were still cold.
Fortunately, all of that makes it especially easy to write this week’s installment.
Week 19 (@Nets, @Rockets, Rockets)
1) OJ Mayo
In the early part of this season, Mayo had pretty much camped out a permanent spot on this “hot” list. Since late December, though, I’ve had exceedingly few occasions to applaud him for a solid week’s worth of games. This week, he finally played consistently enough to earn this spot. He was far from perfect, but you could credibly argue that he had the best week of any Mav. He scored 17 points on 6-of-12 (50%) shooting in Brooklyn, including 3-of-4 (75%) from deep. One of those threes came late in the fourth quarter amidst a big Nets rally, and effectively stemmed the tide long enough for the Mavs to hold on for an impressive road win. Mayo’s performance a few nights later in Houston was a mixed bag; he was terrific offensively, netting 18 points on 6-of-9 (67%) shooting to go with four assists and a steal, but he was a huge part of the Mavs’ pathetically woeful defensive effort. Call that game a wash. A few nights later in Dallas, Mayo played much better against the Rockets — so well, in fact, that Rick Carlisle called it Mayo’s best game of the year. That may be a bit of rhetoric, but it’s not preposterous. Mayo contributed just 13 points in the Rockets rematch, but he was absolutely stellar otherwise: six rebounds, 12 assists, and zero turnovers. Mayo consistently made the right play and was singlehandedly responsible for creating a significant portion of the Mavs’ offense. Especially considering his lackluster performance in recent weeks prior, Mayo shined rather brightly this week.
2) Vince Carter
Since week one, I’ve complained about Carter’s tendency to take low-percentage shots too eagerly. That complaint hasn’t dissipated entirely, but otherwise, Carter hasn’t done anything but consistently impress. This week was more of the same. He averaged 16.0 points per game, shot a cumulative 16-of-29 (55%) from the field, contributed 5.0 rebounds per game from his swingman spot, and generally brought a dose of much-needed energy and charisma each time he stepped on the court. But perhaps of greatest importance: Carter was consistently a stabilizing presence. He hit big shots in Brooklyn with the Nets threatening; he hit more big shots in Dallas on Wednesday night when the Rockets and James Harden were repeatedly on the cusp of snatching the game late. To the extent you value consistency and predictability (and I very much do), Carter’s contributions this week were incredibly valuable. With Carter, you know what you’re going to get. That’s more than we can say about most of his teammates.
3) Bouncing Back
The Mavs’ two wins this week both came on the heels of disappointing (and downright embarrassing) losses. After their comical meltdown in Memphis last Wednesday—which I wrote about in last week’s column — they flew to Brooklyn and somewhat handily beat a quality Nets team sporting the league’s second-highest payroll. You could argue the Nets really aren’t that good of a team (and personally — at least for now — I think you’d be 100% right), but nonetheless, road victories against winning teams are nothing to scoff at. The Mavs also bounced back from their deplorable loss in Houston by closing out a tight game against that same Rockets team a few nights later in Dallas. By doing so, they notched a 3-1 series win over the Rockets and potentially a playoff tiebreaker (although admittedly, the Mavs are unlikely to be in position to take advantage of that tiebreaker).
1) Team Rebounding
The Mavs lost the rebounding battle in all three games this week, and for the most part, they were hardly competitive in that area. Brooklyn won the rebounding margin 44-31, primarily on the backs of Reggie Evans (11 boards) and Brook Lopez (nine). Houston had a 45-32 rebounding margin in Houston, and then a 40-33 margin a few nights later in Dallas. The last figure is the most disappointing — the Rockets are only the 12th best rebounding team in the league, and coming off a blowout loss, you probably would have expected the Mavs to play with enough fire at home to win the glass. Of course, benching Chris Kaman in favor of the rebounding-deficient Brandan Wright had something to do with that (although I’m generally in favor of that move for various reasons).
2) Foul-line Disparities
Opponents shot 35 more free throws than the Mavs this week. The primary culprit? The elusive and clever James Harden, who shot nine free throws in Houston, just one fewer than the Mavs’ entire starting lineup. A few nights later in Dallas, Harden went to the line 16 times — more than the entire Mavs team (14 attempts). This isn’t an officiating problem (although Harden certainly has the ability to make nearly everything look like a foul). The problems are the same as they’ve been all year: weak perimeter defense, bad help-side defense, and frequently poor defensive communication on pick-and-rolls. These are areas the Mavs’ 2011 championship team excelled in. If you have the stomach for it, watch some film of that title team right before or after watching one of the Mavs’ remaining games this season. You will surely be struck by how much less effective the Mavs are at working around opponents’ screens, particularly from the elbow and the top of the key.
3) The Rotation
It’s hard to believe, but it’s nearly mid-March, and the Mavs still don’t really have a set rotation. Chris Kaman started two games this week and then didn’t play a second in the third. Mike James, over the course of the past month, has gone from third-string bench-warming PG to starter. The last step of that progression came this week, when Rick Carlisle moved Darren Collison to the bench and gave him less playing time than James. On the one hand, this isn’t a team primed for a playoff run, so there’s nothing wrong with experimenting with the lineup. On the other hand, there is incredibly little benefit in experimenting with older players like Mike James. James cannot possibly be a part of the future of this roster, even if the Mavs make the inexplicable decision to bring him back for one more year. The goal at this point, assuming the playoffs are out of reach, should be to see what the Mavs have in their younger players. The longer the Mavs hold onto hope of some miracle playoff run, the more they delay making necessary in-game evaluations of their younger talent. Roddy Beaubois, Anthony Morrow (once healthy)…I’m looking at you.
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.