You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
At no point during this game were the Wizards denied access to what could have been theirs; the Mavs looked infinitely beatable throughout, and generally refused to erase the doubt in the result despite holding all of the cards. Dallas defended fairly well, had Dirk Nowitzki (24 points, 7-11 FG, four rebounds) a step closer to normalcy, and attempted a whopping 37 free throws. Yet if Washington were, well, a better team than they are, the game could have tilted anywhere along the way. The Mavs won the game, but the Wizards certainly did their part to lose it.
Tyson Chandler (18 points, 5-10 FG, 18 rebounds, eight offensive boards, four turnovers) was again dominant, and forced another team with weak interior defense (though not without shot-blocking, it’s worth noting) to foul him repeatedly on deep catches and offensive rebounds. Chandler has attempted 11+ free throws in three of his last four games, despite playing fewer than 33 minutes in each. Think about that. Chandler is, on some nights, the consistent source of free throws that the Mavs have long needed. Dallas may not be able to dump the ball to him in the low post, but the team’s willingness to find Chandler and the Tyson’s creativity in finding open spots around the rim have created a pretty viable threat.
Brian Cardinal (nine points, 3-8 3FG, four rebounds) started in the spot formerly held by Sasha Pavlovic, and though I’m unsure of just how long a tandem of Cardinal and Dirk Nowitzki can coexist defensively, it worked well enough on Monday night. Then again, I’ve underestimated Cardinal almost every step of the way. I thought of him as a decent three-point shooter, but he’s become the Mavs’ best. He’s hustled at each of his NBA stops, but Cardinal really does do so many of those fabled “little things.” I figured any claims of his defensive adequacy were probably overstated, yet he manages to hold his own. Cardinal’s not a long-time starting option, but for the moment, he’ll do just fine.
Dallas’ ball movement was certainly notable. The Mavs assisted on 27 of their 34 field goal attempts, and Jason Kidd and Jason Terry combined for 19 dimes between them. This was really one of those holistic concepts, though; the ball movement around the perimeter was fantastic, and virtually every Maverick was giving up good shots for better ones. Kidd and Terry were particularly brilliant, but the entire team deserves credit for forcing the Wizards to commit and then exploiting their rotations.
It’s practically heresy to wish the Mavs to be less than they are, but every time Ian Mahinmi (seven points, two rebounds, one block in just eight and a half minutes) hits the court I think of what it might be like if this team were in a different place. Mahinmi isn’t a cornerstone, but his activity level is impressive. Mahinmi’s feel for the game isn’t natural. He’s worked hard to get to where he is now, and it’s unlikely that he’d ever evolve into stable, starting center material. But wouldn’t you love to know for sure? For now, Mahinmi is a better player than the Mavs can find minutes for, but he’s a terrific luxury to have.
The Wizards picked up their fifth team foul with 9:05 remaining in the fourth quarter. Dallas went on to attempt 17 free throws in the frame. Matters a little bit, no?
I wouldn’t say that Dirk is ready to resume business as usual, but this was by far his most comfortable game since his return from injury. Nowitzki took advantage of going to work against Andray Blatche, Rashard Lewis, and Trevor Booker, who provided far less opposition in the post than Nowitzki has seen in recent games. He was able to back his Wizards opponents down, and shot fake his way to the free throw line on several occasions, which is far better than the desperate heaves we’ve seen from Nowitzki in the last week or so. It’s apparent that Dirk wants to recapture his potency, but this was his most legitimate advance toward that end.
Also: this isn’t a pass that Dirk could have made even as recently as two or three seasons ago, and not only because Tyson Chandler is a more capable finisher than Erick Dampier:
In case you didn’t know, Nick Young (6-20 FG) and Andray Blatche (4-17 FG) are remarkably skilled in firing up shots without a moment’s consideration. It’s as if every reasonably well-positioned catch transitions seamlessly into a shot attempt. It’s some kind of credit to them both that they play without doubt, but it’s a bit of a red flag that they play without discretion.
“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.”
The mantra of the Mavs’ off-season was finding more help for Dirk Nowitzki. If you were to evaluate the fulfillment of that goal solely on last night’s performance against the Wizards, I don’t see how the assessment could be anything aside from “huge, embarrassing failure.” But hey, guys, this is the first game of the season. That means we’re grading on a curve, and “huge embarrassing failure” just so happens to round up to “pretty terrible, but I’ll get over it.”
There are far worse things than losing your home opener, and the Mavs’ offensive struggles against the Wizards should not be construed of anything more than a one game aberration. We know that this offense works, and we know that these players are more capable than they’ve shown. Jason Terry is simply better than 4-15 FG, and Shawn Marion is definitely more impressive than his largely invisible offensive performance. Jason Kidd and J.J. Barea should be held responsible for the rest of the crew, as the shots need to come easier for the Maverick bigs. None of that happened, and Dirk was left to his own devices. He didn’t disappoint (34 points on an atypical 10-25 FG, 12-13 FT, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks ), but it was far from enough to stave off a shockingly effective Gilbert Arenas (29 points on 10-21 FG, 9 assists), empowered by the surprise contributions of Randy Foye (19 points on 8-14 FG) and Andray Blatche (20 points on 8-14 FG, 7 rebounds). Dirk isn’t a bad guy to back, even in a one on three shoot out, but the Maverick guards were only slightly more effective perimeter defenders than, say, a chair.
The Mavs were clearly confused by the pick and roll, as Arenas and Brendan Haywood abused the Mavs for almost the entirety of the first half. Haywood responded with three thunderous first quarter dunks, resulting in a giant metaphorical wagging finger in the general direction of Erick Dampier. Damp knows better and the rest of the Mavs know better; if Dampier was too busy preventing Arenas from taking a quick jumper, someone else (ANYBODY else) should have stepped up to prevent Haywood from waltzing down the lane, untouched. That kind of defense is just unacceptable…unless, of course, you’re playing in the regular season opener and shaking off an inch-thick coat of rust.
Gilbert deserves more praise than the cursory treatment I’ve already given him. Considering everything he’s been through physically and mentally, he was a revelation. He fully compensated for the absence of Antawn Jamison with a deadly pull-up jumper, and Gil’s forays into the paint emanated both creativity and resolve. Plus, Arenas had a way of answering every would-be Maverick run with a huge play of some kind, either with a dagger of his own or a perfectly placed pass. Maybe he wasn’t yelling “HIBACHI!”, but Gilbert Arenas was back in almost every other sense. As a basketball fan, that excites me. As a Mavs fan, not so much.
There were a few bright spots to help mask a pretty disappointing effort. For one, J.J. Barea was a key reason the game didn’t get out of hand sooner. He dominated the second quarter, creating scoring opportunities off the dribble against an opposing team clearly unable to combat his speed and craftiness. Also, the Mavs were set on getting to the basket to start the game. The result was 23 first half free throw attempts, which is just an ungodly amount for the Mavs.
But if you absolutely must take away something from the Mavs’ flub against the Wizards, take this down and circle it: The Mavs were just…off. Dirk Nowitzki hit an unexpected dry spell in the first half, when he shot just 3-12 from the field. Jason Terry’s jumper went half-way down on more than a few occasions. Erick Dampier and Drew Gooden were just slightly out of position to receive an entry pass or challenge a shot. The team defense, the rebounding, and just about everything else was a step slow and a bit flat…and yet the Mavs were still within a stone’s throw of winning this game. Had Foye and Blatche not channeled their inner demi-gods, we could very well be celebrating one in the win column. The Mavs still have a lot of work to do, but they also have nothing but time.
The only Mavericks to post a positive +/- were Quinton Ross and Kris Humphries.
It wasn’t a great day for the newcomers. Shawn Marion biffed a dunk attempt and horribly airballed a corner three. Drew Gooden airballed a midrange jumper, and found most of his attempts ended up clanging off the rim.
Marion’s night wasn’t nearly as miserable as Gooden’s, though. Shawn was able to post up Caron Butler in on the block, and easily converted a few flip shots turning over his left shoulder.
In the second quarter, the Mavs surrendered three consecutive and ones to the Wizards, courtesy of Blatche and Fabricio Oberto. Yeah, that sucked.
DeShawn Stevenson had no place being on the floor. His three point stroke was miserable, and he could not stay in front of Jason Terry.
Rather than the expected small ball lineup, the Mavs fielded a unit of Barea, Terry, Kidd, Marion and Dirk with mixed results.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Dirk Nowitzki,who was unquestionably the best Maverick on the floor. Not only was Dirk the offense’s only net positive, but he was also aggressive on the defensive end, competing for rebounds and blocking a few shots. We even saw glimpses of a few new toys, as Dirk busted out his running hook (it was very short) and a hesitation move off the dribble that froze Brendan Haywood where he stood. A great all around night for Dirk, who managed to salvage a poor start with a fine second half performance and a parade to the free throw line.