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.
“Enthusiasm is excitement with inspiration, motivation, and a pinch of creativity.“
That’s two huge wins this week, each arguably the greatest of the season. But while the win over L.A. on Wednesday was notable for the quality of the opponent and the in-conference ramifications, this victory goes down as not only the most spectacular Mavs win of the season, but a true candidate for game of the season.
Jason Kidd’s (19 points, 16 rebounds, 17 assists) performance was dominant. It’s rare that we get to see Kidd put on a show of such direct magnificence, but his fingerprints were all over just about every big play Dallas made in the fourth quarter and in overtime. It wasn’t just a perfectly placed feed to Dirk in the post; Kidd flooded the endgame with highlight reel assists, clutch shooting, and incredible work on the glass. The shocking thing: the numbers look good, but it’s possible that the tape looks even better. He was that good.
Then again, the numbers are rather impressive. Not only were Kidd’s box score totals impressive in their own right, but they’re even more so if you dig a bit deeper. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Kidd was responsible for 56 of the Mavs’ 111 total points, and 27 of 34 in the fourth quarter. Nice.
For some historical perspective: only three players in the three-point era have put up a 15-point, 15-rebound, 15-assist game? Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Jason Kidd. Kidd was actually the last to accomplish the feat, as he put up a 21-16-16 game with Dallas in 1996. Tonight’s 19-16-17 game makes Kidd only the second player to do it twice, with Magic being the other. And FYI, Shaquille O’Neal once completed the 15+ trifecta, although by registering over 15 points, 15 rebounds, and 15 blocks. Or more specifically, 24 points, 28 rebounds, and 15 blocks. Not bad, right? (Hat tip to Tyler for hitting the record books.)
This game was quite the roller coaster, with each team going on some pretty significant runs to completely change the outlook of the game. The Mavs started out strong, but the Hawks took the lead behind a 6-0 run. Then Dallas opened up a 16-0 run to close the first quarter behind some hot shooting and great defense. Atlanta rattled off two separate 9-0 runs to pull within striking range in the second, before Dallas closed 7-0 to take back the lead. The Hawks owned the third quarter, outscoring the Mavs 26-15, largely behind the power of a mid-quarter 13-2 run. The Mavs trailed by as many as 15 points in the fourth, but outscored the Hawks 28-13 over the final eight minutes of regulation. And then they went into overtime.
The play of the game has to be Jason Kidd’s incredibly bizarre decision to draw a technical foul…on Hawks head coach Mike Woodson.
Strange to be sure, but it was quite the heady play and something that most players (Kidd included, in most scenarios) would never think to do. If Woodson’s on the court, he’s fair game — especially when the opposing team is pushing the ball in a transition situation. Now, was Woodson on the court? I’ll leave that debate up to you guys. He definitely made an attempt to slide past the sideline to avoid Kidd, but Jason’s path was still blocked (thanks to an extended left arm) by Woodson. Either way, Woodson was assessed a technical foul, and what was a two-point deficit with 1:37 left in regulation was cut in half. The game eventually went into overtime; you shouldn’t need me to tell you how huge that one point was.
There was a near-footnote in yesterday’s game preview about the Hawks’ ability to switch on every pick. In some situations it makes a ton of sense; Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Marvin Williams, Jamal Crawford, and Maurice Evans are all capable, mobile defenders that can cover a variety of positions. But the Mavs’ late-game strategy was a direct exploitation of that philosophy. Dallas ran the two man game with Dirk and whichever guard was matched up with Mike Bibby. Once Bibby was switched onto Dirk, the Mavs isolated him at the top of the key — a move which necessitates an Atlanta double-team. If the double came slowly or not at all, Dirk got a great look from one of his most comfortable spots on the floor. If the double did come (the double man was typically Josh Smith, who was originally matched up with Dirk), Nowitzki quickly passed the ball out to the open guard on the perimeter, who was met with a wide open three or an assist opportunity to the shooter in the corner. It worked like a charm, and the Hawks refused to adjust.
Dirk (37 points, 15-26 FG, nine rebounds, four assists) had a terrific night, and won’t get the credit he deserves because of the way Kidd stole the show. But it was Nowitzki’s shooting that jump-started the Mavs in the first, his play that facilitated the offense in the fourth, and his points that iced the game in overtime. How sick is it that Nowitzki can put up 37 and still not make the headlines? Part of that is Kidd playing at an out-of-this-world level, but it’s also because this is what we expect from Dirk. Maybe not 37 night-in and night-out, but that level of efficiency, and those types of plays. This is a truly phenomenal player that we have the privilege of watching on almost a nightly basis.
J.J. Barea also deserves a bit of praise, despite the fact that he didn’t contribute much in terms of scoring. But Barea’s presence on the court skewed the match-ups in favor of the Mavs, as Rick Carlisle leaned heavily on the three-guard lineup. Kidd, Barea, Terry, Nowitzki, and Haywood played the games final 13:22. Barea only had four points on 2-of-5 shooting over that span, but he had three assists to just one turnover (despite Jason Kidd having seven assists in the same stretch) and played wonderful defense on Joe Johnson. Yes, I said J.J. Barea on Joe Johnson.
Barea on Johnson is very, very far from an ideal match-up, and would never be Carlisle’s first choice in normal man-to-man situations. But when he decided to close the fourth quarter using the zone, Rick was clearly willing to embrace the possibility that J.J. would be exploited defensively (something we saw Golden State do against Barea in the zone earlier in the season). To his credit, Barea not only contested Joe Johnson’s shot attempts without fouling, but bodied him up and made Johnson’s life quite difficult. Joe had zero points in the fourth quarter and in overtime, despite scoring 27 in the first three quarters.
The zone was effective on pretty much every front, though. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Atlanta shot just 1-for-9 from the field against Dallas’ zone. That might have something to do with how effectively Dallas played to finish regulation.
More great all-around play from Brendan Haywood (11 points, 5-6 FG, 11 rebounds, four assists, three blocks), who can pretty much do no wrong at this point. Haywood had five offensive rebounds to boot, and made two huge buckets during the Mavs’ comeback rally. At this point, he can essentially do no wrong.
Josh Smith’s line also goes down in the “Incredibly awesome, but completely obscured by Jason Kidd” category: 18 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, seven steals. Crazy good.
In the battle of Sixth Man of the Year candidates (not quite the same as an MVP match-up, eh?), Jason Terry scored 17 points on 50% shooting with six assists and Jamal Crawford scored 18 points on 31.3% shooting with four assists. The two are certainly comparable, and though Crawford is having a nice season in the perfect role for his ability and skill set, the numbers between the two are strikingly similar.
Shawn Marion’s first quarter deserves mention, mostly because he went 5-for-5 in the frame and was finishing with some serious authority. The Mavs were great in transition throughout the game, and Marion’s ability to convert layups and throw down some huge dunks was a big part of that.
That’s six wins in a row, which is the Mavs’ longest winning streak of the season and the longest active streak in the NBA. Boosh.
The Atlanta Hawks are one of the most watchable teams in the league not because of one must-watch player (a la LeBron or Wade), but precisely because they don’t have such a player. They’re a quality team on the verge of true contention (and share that standing with the Mavs, in some regard), and they’ve done so with a team-wide embrace of on-court versatility. Mike Bibby may be penciled in as the point guard, but I’m not sure he’s a point guard. Joe Johnson may be penciled in as the shooting guard, but I’m not sure he’s the shooting guard (although the guy certainly does love to shoot). Josh Smith may be penciled in as the power forward, but I’m not entirely unconvinced that Smith isn’t a futuristic warrior from the year 2183 to prove to us how futile the notion of gravity really is. The personnel in Atlanta allows for such a system to thrive, and the best Hawks team of all time is not a product of individual dominance, but of incredible parity:
With just about every competitive squad in the league, you can isolate a player that stands at the heart of everything the team hopes to accomplish. More often than not, that player is simply the team’s most talented (Chris Paul, LeBron James, Brandon Roy), but in some cases, it’s a secondary star who compensates for shear production with massive on-court influence (Chauncey Billups, Brandon Jennings, one of the Boston Celtics).
Or, in slightly less frequent and more bizarre circumstances, a team is left with no focus at all, depending on a balance of power, production, and personality to turn what could be a tornado into a whirling dervish neatly dressed in a tuxedo and a bow tie. The Atlanta Hawks are a team without a singular focus, without an anchor. That type of situation could be a cause of trouble for any number of rosters throughout the league, but somehow, someway, Atlanta makes parity look easy.
You can read my full piece on the Hawks here at HP.
Dirk Nowitzki’s exclusion was not one of them. His selection was never even debatable. But the Western Conference reserves will be Chris Paul, Brandon Roy, Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, Pau Gasol, Deron Williams, and and Zach Randolph. Great picks all the way down the line, and particular kudos to the coaches for picking this crop over Denver’s Chauncey Billups. Billups is a fine player, but this just isn’t his year. Plus, I think there’s a very legitimate argument to be made for Tyreke Evans over Chauncey, anyway…but we’ll save that for another day.
In the East, the reserves will be Rajon Rondo, Joe Johnson, Chris Bosh, Gerald Wallace, Al Horford, Paul Pierce, and Derrick Rose. In related news, it really, really sucks to be David Lee right now. He’s doing just about everything humanly possible (ahem, offensively), and still can’t catch a break. Pierce is having an off-year, but his selection was more or less assumed. I just wish we could see Lee and Josh Smith in the game, but no such luck.