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.
I sang praises of Dirk’s broadcasting abilities in my recap of last night’s game, but honestly, it’s better if you just watch for yourself:
And that’s just the greatest hits. Check out the Mavs’ video channel for Dirk’s entire stay on Fox Sports Southwest, broken up into 14 brilliant installments.
Hat tip to Skeets.
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.
- Mark Cuban’s sage concern, expressed prior to the Mavs’ loss last night (via Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News): “Some parts of what we do have gotten better (during the streak). I think we’ve let up a couple times instead of really focusing on what it takes to be a championship team. We try to say this is what it takes to win this game. That’s my biggest concern with this team. We try to win games instead of focusing on executing for 48 minutes so that we’re championship caliber. That’s just my concern.”
- Sebastian Pruiti broke down the Mavs’ final play from last night’s game over at NBA Playbook. It would have been tough to overcome a four-point deficit with less than 11 seconds remaining regardless, but Dallas didn’t do themselves any favors by botching the play. The primary culprit looks to be Jason Terry, though it can be tough to tell without the clipboard in hand.
- Rick Carlisle’s evaluation of last night’s game (via Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas): “They kicked our ass. I don’t know any simpler way to say it.”
- Jeremy Schmidt of Bucksketball: “When things looked their bleakest during the game, it was usually because Dirk Nowitzki was doing something awesome. Dirk scored 30 points on 12 of 24 shooting (3-6 3FG 3-3 FT) and it looked for a second like he was about to take the Bucks back in a time machine. His impossible looking fadeaway jumper beat the Bucks in overtime last season and he had an even better look to tie the game with :11 to go in regulation this season, but failed to convert on the 8-footer. The defense was there, but Dirk was shooting over and around every Buck all night. This time though, all he had left was a blank. For once.”
- Frank Madden of BrewHoop gave praise to Keyon Dooling, the sadly forgotten man from my recap. Damn the limits of my own self-imposed bullet format. “We easily could have gone with the more efficient CD-R here, but I’ll give the nod to Dooling, whose 16 points (4/10 fg, 3/4 threes, 4/4 ft), four assists, and no turnovers included a number of big plays that helped the Bucks stick around and eventually put the game away. His three with less than two seconds remaining in the first half kept the Bucks within nine at the break, and he followed it up by drawing a transition foul on Dirk near the third quarter horn to boot. When Nowitzki got a tech for bickering he turned it into a three point play that gave the Bucks the lead, and he later sealed it with two free throws that provided the final margin.
- Statistically speaking, the Mavs had only a 0.3% chance of successfully executing their late 12-game winning streak. Never tell them the odds.
- Apparently, the Mavs are set to win the title. Good to know.
- Andrew Unterberger is on a quest to visit every NBA arena in 60 days, and has been keeping record of his journey at The Basketball Jones. He caught the fantastic Mavs-Jazz game in Dallas this past weekend, and this bit might resonate with those who have been lucky enough to catch Mavs games at the AAC this season: “‘Do they talk up defense as much at other stadiums?’ Mat asked me at some point during the third quarter. No, not really — the AAC called out its fans to get the ‘DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE!’ chant going just about every time the Mavs trotted back on their heels downcourt, even though no one but a group of young girls in attendance seemed to pay it any mind until the fourth quarter. You gotta use that sh*t in moderation, Mavs PA guy.”
- Here’s how the $100,000 Mark Cuban gave to the city of Dallas is being used.
- Dominique Jones is a little dinged up.
- Is the intentional fouling of Brendan Haywood (a.k.a. Hack-a-Haywood) a legitimate concern? I see it as probably being a situational problem, but find it hard to believe that this is a strategy we see all too often. The combination of coaching strategy and opportunity make this a situational tactic at best, and while it may be unfortunate every now and again, it’s no epidemic.
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.
Video via the Mavs’ in-house entertainment, circa the good ol’ days.
- Zach Lowe names his award candidates with a quarter of the season in the books over at SI’s The Point Forward, and the Mavericks are well-represented.
- Tyson Chandler on Jason Kidd (via Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News): ““J-Kidd, he surprises me all the time. He keeps digging into that tank and pulling out tricks. One night he’s making every single pass. (In Utah), he’s making every single three. (Against Sacramento), he’s making every single defensive play. The guy’s amazing.”
- Dirk casts his vote for the Mavs’ MVP.
- Sam Amick profiled Tyson Chandler for NBA FanHouse, and hit on some of the familiar themes of Chandler’s season: his tremendous defensive impact, his recovery from injury, his time with Team USA, and his leadership.
- Speaking of Chandler, he may end up missing tonight’s game with a stomach bug.
- Anthony Tolliver, currently of the Minnesota Timberwolves and formerly a D-League staple, threw some praise and took a bit of a shot at current Texas Legend Rashad McCants (via Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune): “I knew he could score, but…He’s amazing, really, really good. It kind of lets you know if you’re super talented and don’t do the right things, you still won’t be in this league. You have to be a professional.”
- An idea, courtesy of Noam Schiller of Both Teams Played Hard: Should Tyson Chandler be considered for the league’s Most Improved Player award? That likely depends on your interpretation of the meaning of the award, but if we’re going strictly by a difference in production between this year and last year, Chandler has to be up there. Then again, by that same logic, so does Blake Griffin.
- John Schuhmann of NBA.com used a simple — very simple — measure to look at the Most Improved Player race, and Chandler’s name also came up. Also, among the “Most Regressed” players? Brendan Haywood. Burn.
- Hey, remember that Jeremy Lin guy?
- Fantastic diagrams illustrating the diversity of the league’s top assist men, including the Mavs’ own Jason Kidd.
- tcat75 of Mavs Moneyball went back through the Mavs’ win over the Utah Jazz and classified every defensive possession by the top of D (man or zone) that Dallas played for comparative purposes. The final verdict: Dallas forced a ton of turnovers in a relatively small number of possessions while in the zone, but completely suffocated the Jazz while playing man-to-man.
- See how the Dallas bench measures up in terms of cost, minutes used, and production.
- It looks like Dominique Jones will continue to play for the Legends, and this is a great, great thing. This is a crucial part of the system, and exactly the kind of thing Dallas needs to use their affiliate for.
- Shawne Williams has made 10 of his first 12 three-pointers as a member of the Knicks. What?
“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.