Thermodynamics (n.) – the science concerned with the relations between heat and mechanical energy
An undefeated week. 3-0. Say it aloud, because we’ve had little occasion to celebrate such things this season.
Okay, so admittedly, it was a weak schedule (the Mavs’ three opponents this week have a combined record of 77-115), and two of the games went down to the wire. But let’s keep in mind that we’re talking about the 2012-2013 Mavs, not the Mavs of yesteryear. For this squad, it’s no small feat to win three straight road games against any three NBA teams. And given that this team’s playoff hopes are slim, I for one plan to enjoy the small victories here and there for the remainder of the season.
Week 20 (@Pistons, @Timberwolves, @Bucks)
When the Mavs refused to move Vince Carter at the trade deadline, several observers questioned that decision, and perhaps rightfully so. But since then, Carter has made the Mavs’ front office look very prescient. He’s firmly cemented himself as either the Mavs’ second or third-best all-around player (depending on where you would put him relative to Shawn Marion), and he’s done so with excellent efficiency and irreplaceable leadership. This week, Carter averaged exactly 15.0 points per game, shot 18-of-31 (58%) from the field cumulatively, and pulled down 6.3 rebounds per game. That’s terrific, but it hardly tells the full story. Carter’s tenacity and willingness to take (and make) big shots was on full display this week. If you were one of the lucky few who watched the Mavs-Bucks game on NBA League pass with Milwaukee’s broadcast crew, you had the pleasure (as I did) of listening to them bemoan Carter’s bevy of clutch shots late in the fourth quarter. In net points per 100 possessions, three of the Mavs’ four most productive lineups on the season include Carter. Carter now carries a player-efficiency rating (PER) of 17.7, the third-highest on the Mavs. Guess which Mav ranks number one by that metric?
2) Brandan Wright
…it’s this guy. With a PER of 21.3, Wright tops the Mavs’ charts by a considerable margin (Dirk Nowitzki is second at 18.2), and his play this week showed exactly why a composite box score statistic like PER views him so favorably. Wright was immensely efficient, averaging 12.0 points per game on cumulative 16-of-24 (67%) shooting. He also rebounded better than he has for most of the season (7.0 per game), and he twice blocked three shots in a single game. Of course, Wright’s not without his flaws. If he were a complete player with the same level of offensive efficiency, he’d be making a lot more than $992,000 in salary this season. But for what he is (and for how much he makes), Wright is an excellent asset and a highly efficient contributor.
3) Ball Movement and Security
The Mavs did an excellent job this week of moving the ball without coughing it up — a rare development in this trying season. Team-wide, they tallied the following assist-turnover ratios: 29-12 against the Pistons, 27-12 against the Timberwolves, and 23-9 against the Bucks. If the Mavs had achieved similar numbers in just 4-5 earlier games instead of tragically turning the ball over at every opportunity, they would be well into the playoff hunt.
Yet here we are, praising the exception rather than the norm. The Mavs’ backcourt was particularly impressive this week when moving the ball; OJ Mayo totaled 13 assists and just three turnovers; Darren Collison tallied 19 assists to just five turnovers; even Mike James, bless his soul, even managed to drop 13 dimes while only coughing the ball up five times. More of that, please.
1) Holding Leads
This isn’t a new problem, and this week wasn’t even the worst instance of it, but boy do the Mavs’ have a difficult time maintaining big leads. They were up 15 in Detroit with just under 10 minutes to play, and not only did the Pistons wipe away that deficit, they actually briefly took the lead on a Khris Middleton three with two and a half minutes remaining. The Mavs held a big lead in Minnesota against a badly depleted Timberwolves team, but two nights later in Milwaukee, the same problem reared its head. The Bucks trimmed a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit down to a measly five point margin after the Mavs stopped guarding both the three-point line (enter JJ Redick and Mike Dunleavy) and the rim (Larry Sanders). Fortunately, the Mavs avoided replicating their last implosion against the Bucks and closed out the game. Nevertheless, it’s consistently unnerving to watch a team that can’t get out of its own way.
2) Backup PGs
Now that Mike James has been moved into the starting lineup, at least the backup point-guard spot won’t be so damn irritating, right? Wrong. Problems abound this week. Darren Collison, despite his effectiveness moving the ball, shot poorly and looked tentative at times. The situation with Rodrigue Beaubois, meanwhile, continues to perplex; at this point, I thought it was pretty safe to say he’d be playing only spot and garbage minutes for the rest of the season. Lo and behold, Rick Carlisle suddenly plays Beaubois for 14 minutes (nearly as many as Collison) in a competitive game at Milwaukee, and Beaubois actually played pretty well (seven points, 3-of-6 shooting, three dimes). So let’s just get things straight: the starting point guard is the least talented, oldest, and most physically limited of the three; the backup point guard is supposedly well-suited for that role (according to Carlisle himself), but he’s not well-suited enough to avoid ceding minutes on occasion to the third-string point guard, who may actually be the most purely talented (but also the most disappointing) of the three. Oh, and the other-other third-string point guard was released this week, in favor of a D-League semi-standout? Got it. At least we’re all clear on what’s going on here.
One other time this season, the Mavs had an undefeated week, and I honored their efforts by including just two cold items. I’ll do the same right now. It wasn’t a perfect week in all phases, but let’s enjoy this while we can. The Mavs are in San Antonio tonight, and regardless of which Spurs actually suit up, it’s fairly unlikely the Mavs’ winning streak will continue.
Cheers to 3-0 and a playoff dream that isn’t quite dead.
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.