Marion’s leaping ability seems significantly more impressive this season than last. I don’t know if lingering injuries were the cause, but he’s been throwing down some impressive jams of late.
Also, a programming note: apologies for the lack of a recap treatment from the Hawks game; had some cable issues. Recaps return tonight for those of you craving bulleted posts. For those still looking to relive the Mavs’ latest win, I highly recommend you check out Bret LaGree’s recap over at Hoopinion.
Not all teams are created equal, nor are they created equally. Though franchises look to emulate successful models or mimic particular elements of other teams’ strategies they find to be palatable, the construction of each and every roster in the N.B.A. is a unique process. So few team centerpieces fit into a convenient mold, which makes building around them a challenge specific to their strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies.
So the effects of removing such a centerpiece -– whether due to injury, suspension, or some other misfortune -– differ greatly depending on the particulars of the team’s construction. Take Kobe Bryant out of the lineup for a night, for example, and the Lakers may still be competent due to the empowerment of the triangle offense. Certain systems are more accommodating to personnel losses than others, and the players surrounding a superstar differ in their ability to carry on during times of star-less turmoil.
Typically, teams that fail without one of their top players suffer from a lack of diversification in a particular skill. When one player is required to dominate a certain dimension of the team’s play, they become far more valuable than merely the extent of their abilities. Dwight Howard is Orlando’s only competent rebounder/interior defender, Steve Nash is Phoenix’s only truly productive, playmaker, and as was made painfully apparent last night, Dirk Nowitzki is Dallas’ one true source of shot creation.
Over at the New York Times’ Off the Dribble blog, I wrote a bit on the structure of the Mavs’ offense, and why — as we saw last night — losing Dirk Nowitzki for any given period of time does greater damage to the Dallas offense than the Lakers losing Kobe Bryant, for example. The Mavs beat out the Thunder with their defense, but on those nights where the D isn’t rotating as it should, the Mavs have to have Nowitzki.
This is hardly the first time that Jason Kidd has fought hard for a rebound before making magic on the break, but for some reason this sequence seemed especially worthy of highlight. Point guards don’t often do this. Basketball players don’t often do this. It’s hard to say “enjoy it while you can” without a sense of fatalism, but, well, enjoy it while you can, Mavs fans. Kidd won’t be around forever.
You know the drill. The Difference is a quick-hitting (or in this case, day after) reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
The lead rose and fell, but this one went pretty much according to script; there was a bit of a hiccup in the second act, but that’s just the way these things go. Every team makes a run, and the Nets made theirs, trimming what was once a 21-point lead for the Mavs into a measly five-point difference. That much is expected, but the fourth quarter response is where the Mavs put their signature on this thing. Dallas’ late-game performance may not seem all that special after 11 straight wins cooked up with the same recipe, but the Mavs are managing to win games convincingly even if they don’t put them away all that early.
Want more proof that all went according to plan? Dallas shot well from the field, kept their opponent’s eFG% down, kept their turnovers to a reasonable level, but took a hit on the offensive glass. Sound familiar?
Dallas’ 31 assists was a season high, and the ball movement was as good as the box score makes it look. J.J. Barea (six points, 13 assists) was fantastic in finding his teammates for open buckets all over the court, and he was aided by a lax New Jersey defense and some proficient shot-making. Jason Kidd added eight assists of his own, and together, Barea and Kidd successfully out-assisted the entire Nets’ squad. It’s also worth noting that I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Mavs find so many open men directly under the basket for uncontested dunks. Smart cutting, sure, but all high fives and subsequent pats on the back should be forwarded to the New Jersey Nets’ locker room.
Shawn Marion (18 points, 8-10 FG, six rebounds, four steals, three turnovers) played some tremendous ball. He was cutting hard to the rim on offense, making quick moves off the dribble, and running the break intuitively. There are nights when it all looks so easy for Marion, and this one certainly qualifies. That’s part of the danger in undervaluing Marion; his style makes some pretty difficult plays look far simpler than they are, and yet here he is, as one of the Mavs’ top contributors. Dallas didn’t have to lean on Dirk Nowitzki much at all, and Marion was a big reason for that.
Not that Dirk (21 points, 8-10 FG, 10 rebounds, two turnovers) didn’t do his part. Nowitzki just hung around and drew some defensive attention. Then, every once in awhile, he’d drop a jumper here, a jumper there. Eighty-percent shooting. No big deal.
Dallas did a much better job of looking for Brendan Haywood (nine points, eight rebounds, one block) around the basket than they do on a typical night. Haywood played well. It’s hard to dissect the causality there, but we know that the Mavs’ big man had more touches and was more active on both ends, a welcome surprise given his play against Golden State on Tuesday.
Devin Harris injured his left shoulder on an impressive defensive sequence in the first quarter, and sat most of the game with what was diagnosed as a left shoulder sprain. Don’t think for a second that this win would have been quite as straightforward had Harris been present.
Caron Butler (15 points, 7-11 FG, four rebounds, four assists, three turnovers) is routinely grilled (in this space, among others) for each of his inefficient outings, and it’s with that spirit in mind that I offer him some due praise. The Mavs’ offense was largely propelled by their small forwards throughout most of the game, and while neither Marion nor Butler were creating in isolation per se, it was their movement in the half-court offense and lane-running on the break that put them in position to succeed. A lot of credit still goes to Barea and Kidd for finding their teammates, but every assist needs a finish, and Butler was more than happy to provide a few. He’s not efficient every night, but Butler seems to be settling in. In the last seven games, Butler has made 46 of his 88 field goal attempts (52.3% FG). Think that might at least warrant a golf clap?
Fouling is still Tyson Chandler’s religion.
Speaking of, here’s something I never would have predicted for Chandler, given his status as team savior: Rick Carlisle actually sat TC as much as possible late in the game, instead using Ian Mahinmi for nine minutes. Mahinmi could have played more, too, if not for a few bad fouls, though overall his minutes on the floor were very productive. I’m not sure there’s much playing time to be had on a nightly basis behind Chandler and Haywood, but Mahinmi deserves playing time somewhere.
I’m very impressed with Jason Terry’s (15 points, 7-16 FG, two assists, two steals) driving this season. JET doesn’t attack the basket as much as some of the league’s more dynamic guards, but he does have a nice floater and can draw contact well. All of that disappeared when Terry was made a non-factor in last year’s playoffs, and here’s to hoping that his driving instincts don’t again disappear when faced with staunch defense.
On a similarly pro-JET note: Rick Carlisle is absolutely right in his assessment of Terry’s improved defense. JET still has his defensive weaknesses, but his effort is unquestionable. You could make a highlight reel of him closing out on the perimeter, and in this game in particular, Terry chased Anthony Morrow — one of the deadliest shooters in the league — off of the three-point line, which forced Morrow into a long two-pointer. The three is one of basketball’s most efficient shots, and the long two it’s least efficient. You do the math.
Kris Humphries’ revenge: 16 points, 13 rebounds. Wouldn’t mind having Hump around, but Dallas still wouldn’t be able to give him the minutes he deserves. Also, consider this: Humphries was moved for Eduard Najera, who became part of the trade package that eventually snagged Tyson Chandler. Thanks for that, Hump. The ladies of D/FW still miss you.
“The Mavs really have their stuff together and they understand that we’re the x-factor. They’re keeping us quiet until the playoffs where we will be unveiled.”
-Steve Novak, on his and Brian Cardinal’s importance to the team in this mini interview for the Mavs’ Facebook page.