Thermodynamics (n.) – the science concerned with the relations between heat and mechanical energy
You wouldn’t know it from the game results (L, W, L, W, L), but the Mavs played at a fairly consistent level for the entire week (at least until the fourth quarter of the final game against Brooklyn). After being wildly inconsistent for most the season, the Mavs seem to have finally leveled out and settled into a groove.
So, if the Mavs were so consistent, why 2-3? Why alternating wins and losses? Well, that’s just the thing — the Mavs’ “consistent” level of play sits pretty much right in the middle of the league. Their season-long ceiling (as opposed to their single-game ceiling, which is largely a function of variance) sits right around the 50th percentile. By playing consistently over several games, then, the Mavs make it very easy to see exactly where they sit in the league pecking order. They’ll beat bad teams regularly (Cleveland); they’ll beat decent teams sometimes (Atlanta); they’ll lose to decent teams sometimes (Brooklyn); and they’ll lose to elite teams almost always (San Antonio and Oklahoma City).
Hence, the week that was.
Week 21 (@Spurs, Cavs, Thunder, @Hawks, Nets)
1) Brandan Wright
Wright’s offensive game is so fluid and efficient, it’s hard to imagine that he could barely get off the bench earlier in the year. Here’s how Wright’s key numbers shook out this week: 10.4 points per game, 24-of-43 (56%) shooting, 6.2 rebounds per game, and 1.0 blocks per game. It’s much more difficult to quantatively measure individual defense, but I thought Wright showed his continued improvement in that area. He’s got a long way to go, but his footwork in the defensive post has improved since November, and he’s being more judicious with his weakside defense (i.e., not wildly jumping around trying to block every single shot instead of boxing out). Wright earned numerous accolades during college while playing in the highly competitive ACC, and it’s easy to see why. His raw talent is undeniable. With hard work and on-point coaching (and I have no reason to suspect both won’t occur), his ceiling is fairly high.
2) Offensive Efficiency
The Mavs’ offensive rating for the season is 105.7, good for 15th in the league. This week, they exceeded that number in three of their five games, topping out with a 132.5 in Atlanta. In the two games where they didn’t exceed their average — San Antonio and Clevevland — they weren’t that far off (99.8 and 101.3, respectively). Even in those two games, they were fairly efficient, shooting 45% on the road in San Antonio and 50% against Cleveland (although, admittedly, they did turn the ball over 16 times against Cleveland). The Mavs’ offensive efficiency this week was spearheaded by Brandan Wright, discussed above, and Dirk Nowitzki, who shot 23-of-31 (74%). If those total shot numbers for Dirk sound low, it’s because they absolutely are. But more on that later.
Like all professional sports, the NBA is a results-oriented league. Wins are the only currency worth their weight. With that in mind, I’m bit reluctant to compliment the Mavs’ effort after a 2-3 week. So I’ll phrase this as delicately as I can: I was disappointed with this week’s results, but I wasn’t disappointed with the effort. The Mavs nearly beat the West’s best team in San Antonio (though without Tony Parker). They once again hung tough with the vastly more talented Thunder. They decimated a pretty good Hawks team in Atlanta, and they competed for most of the game against a Nets team sporting a vastly higher payroll and presumably vastly greater talent (though I’m not so sure). Now, I do have some qualms with certain individual efforts — I won’t name names, Mike James — but on the whole, I thought the Mavs played with heart this week. Good for them, I suppose. But then again, maybe not.
1) Frontcourt Defense
The Mavs squared off against several very good frontcourt opponents this week, and things didn’t go too well. The ageless Tim Duncan had a vintage night in San Antonio, dropping 28 points on 12-of-20 (60%) shooting and securing 19 rebounds in the process. Without Shawn Marion checking him (and to be honest, it may not have mattered either way), Kevin Durant had 31 points on 10-of-19 (53%) shooting to go with nine boards. Between Al Horford, Josh Smith, Anthon Tolliver, and Ivan Johnson, the Hawks’ frontcourt also had a very efficient offensive night against the Mavs; those four players combined to shoot 19-of-34 (56%) despite an overall losing effort by Atlanta. Finally, there was the Nets’ Brook Lopez, who for the second straight year posted his season-high in scoring against Dallas. He dropped 38 points on a ridiculous 15-of-22 (68%) shooting, and scored with ease on an array of dunks, pick-and-roll layups, and baseline jumpers. Lopez has terrific offensive talent, and he made every Mavs defender assigned to him look absolutely silly.
2) Interstate-35 Rivalries
This week, the Mavs continued their run of futility against two of their three I-35 rivals. (Who’s the third, you ask? Why, it’s JJ Barea’s Minnesota Timberwolves!) After a truly incredible run against the Spurs in the mid-to-late part of the last decade, the Mavs have now lost five in a row and nine of eleven against the silver and black (and that’s not including their 2010 first-round playoff loss). In addition, since dispatching the Thunder in five games during the 2011 Western Conference Finals, the Mavs have lost to them 10 straight times, including a sweep in the first round of the 2012 playoffs. Granted, most of those losses to the Thunder have been close and competitive, but the numbers don’t lie. Of course, it’s especially disheartening as a Mavs fan, but I think the league at large loses out when the Mavs aren’t good enough to legitimately compete with these two rivals.
3) Point-Guard Fundamentals
The Mavs’ point guards did certain things fairly well this week. Here, I’m lodging a grievance with one thing in particular: the ability to consistently get the ball to the Mavs’ best scorers. As noted above, Dirk Nowitzki finished the week on an incredible shooting tear, yet had very few opportunities to actually put up shots. Now, there were times where Dirk could have been more aggressive in demanding the ball, but on the whole, the fault lies elsewhere. Darren Collison and Mike James are both woefully inept at hitting Dirk in his preferred spots. As others have already pointed out, James has a fascinating habit of electing to take bad jump shots in lieu of passing to Dirk, even when Dirk is wide open and in optimal position. And really, the problem doesn’t even end with Dirk’s touches. A large part of OJ Mayo’s struggles this year have stemmed from the Mavs’ need for him to handle the ball excessively, which again draws back to the same underlying problem. If the Mavs had point guards with credible fundamentals, they could get Mayo the ball at the appropriate times (as with Dirk) and allow him to focus exclusively on scoring. And you could probably say the same of several other Mavs scorers. Anybody miss Jason Kidd? Just kidding — I already know you do.
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.