Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 20, 2011 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

Jeff Caplan, ESPN Dallas: “In the first three quarters of both games, Nowitzki has scored 29 total points on 10-of-31 shooting and 9-0f-9 from the free throw line. In the fourth quarter, however, Nowitzki’s numbers are mesmerizing: 32 points on 6-of-11 shooting — 1-of-1 from 3-point range — and 19-of-21 from the free throw line. And he’s earning every one of them, pounding his body inside, absorbing contact and finishing strong. ‘This team is going to keep fighting,’ Nowitzki said. ‘I’m going to keep fighting.’”

Jason Quick, The Oregonian: “Brandon Roy has fought through a lot of things in his career, but never has he had to do what he did Tuesday in Dallas during Game 2 of the Trail Blazers’ first-round series. Brandon Roy, the face of the franchise, had to fight off tears. ‘There was a point in the first half, and I was thinking ‘You better not cry,’ Roy said. ‘I mean, serious. I mean, there was a moment where I felt really sorry for myself. Then I was like, nah, you can’t be sorry for yourself. I’m a grown man, but there was a moment there that I felt sorry for myself. Especially when I think I can still help…I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little hurt, or disappointed,’ Roy said. ‘But the biggest thing is to keep moving, to try and keep my spirits up. But it’s tough man. I just…I just always thought I would be treated better. That was a little disappointing for me.’”

Ben Golliver, Eye on Basketball: “Roy has maintained for the last month that his struggles are mental and that his knees feel fine after arthroscopic surgery earlier this season. He’s also talked at length, since before the surgeries, about his need to adjust his game to accomodate his physical changes. There is a clear disconnect for Roy. While his knees feel good that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s the player he once was, nor even a productive player. A lack of swelling or pain doesn’t equal 25 points a night, or 10 points a night. Or, even, a single point on Tuesday night. Playing without pain doesn’t mean he’s playing well. Those two have long gone hand in hand for Roy in the past, but that simply hasn’t been the case for months now. When Roy says his struggles are purely mental, he’s either kidding himself or he hasn’t fully come to terms with his current abilities. Scouts, former players, media observers and fans see a player whose quickness and power off the dribble have disappeared, a player whose ball fake and dribble combinations no longer mesmerize, a player whose lift is gone, a player who has been a defensive liability — slow laterally, slow to rotate, slow to close out — for the entire season, and a player whose confidence is clearly shaken. ”

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 89, Portland Trailblazers 81

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 17, 2011 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-04-17 at 3.25.42 AM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas81.0109.948.537.925.616.0
Portland100.048.511.827.516.0

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • The glory of Dirk Nowitzki’s late-game heroism surely isn’t lost in Dallas, but even those who expect Dirk to save the day on a nightly basis should take a moment to appreciate his impact at its most elemental. The instant recognition of a mismatch. The spin away from a double team. The awkward stumble transformed into a graceful release. Nowitzki may not have been perfect throughout Saturday’s game, but after a lion-hearted 28-point, 10-rebound performance, there should be no question of to whom the game belonged. Even after all of these years, these playoff runs, these brilliant games, and these fantastic, singular moments, Nowitzki’s basket-making, fist-pumping routine in the fourth quarter just never seems to lose its luster. Maverick fans have never felt championship catharsis, but it’s nights like this one that validate the viewing experience; Nowitzki is a giant in this game, and to see him at the height of his powers — as he was during an invaluable 16-point fourth quarter burst — is a distinct pleasure.
  • That said, the Blazers — particularly LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum — did a tremendous job of bothering Nowitzki as much as possible on the offensive end. Their defensive success didn’t quite last, but Nowitzki’s game-saving performance shouldn’t overshadow the fact that Portland pestered Dirk into an uncharacteristic six turnovers, and held him to 7-of-20 shooting from the field. This isn’t the first time Nowitzki has struggled against Portland, and it may not be the last; although Aldridge is no all-world defender, he has a skill set that makes him uniquely capable of taking on the role of Nowitzki’s primary defender. None of that stopped Dirk from dropping 28, but there’s no question that Nowitzki’s battle for efficiency will be ongoing.
  • This is a win to appreciate, but the reasons for concern were quite apparent. Dallas was as fantastic from three-point range (.526) as Portland was horrible (.125), largely because Jason Kidd (24 points, 9-14 FG, 6-10 3FG, four assists, five rebounds) caught fire and Nicolas Batum (14 points, 6-14 FG, 1-7 3FG) now only holds vague memories of what it’s like to be a three-point shooter. The shooting percentages of both players and both teams are likely to equalize, and though it’s not impossible to fathom that Kidd could be a reasonably effective scorer for the span of an entire series, relying on that idea seems like an especially dangerous proposition. Kidd’s scoring production will inevitably wane, and when it does, Dallas will need more than 10 points from Jason Terry and more than six points from Shawn Marion. The unpredictability of the Maverick offense can work in their favor on some occasions (Who would expect this kind of outburst from Kidd?), but not without a caveat of uncertainty; it’s not a matter of which supporting player will assist Dirk on a given night, but if one will at all. There are plenty of capable scorers on Dallas’ roster, but the reason why we applaud Kidd for his 24 points is the opposite of the reason why we applaud Nowitzki for his 28.
  • Additionally, Andre Miller (18 points, 7-13 FG, six assists, four rebounds) and Nicolas Batum had a lot of success in the post against the undersized Maverick guards. Playing Stevenson for nearly 20 minutes helped to hedge the impact of those guard mismatches, but their potential remains. Even if those opportunities result in just a few buckets, the balance in this series is so very delicate; Dallas and Portland both have an opportunity to tip the scales through subtler measures, and to get a handful of easy shot attempts every night could end up making a substantial difference.
  • Dallas still doesn’t have much of a counter for Aldridge other than Nowitzki’s off-setting scoring. Tyson Chandler had his shot, but Aldridge is able to work his way into prime position and bury hooks over Chandler’s outstretched arms. Brendan Haywood is more capable of battling Haywood in the post, but the fact that Aldridge scored over six more points per 36 minutes while Haywood was on the floor this season (per NBA.com’s StatsCube) is no fluke — Haywood is just as incapable of limiting Aldridge as Chandler is. Shawn Marion even got to try his hand in defending Aldridge on the block a few times, but one nice strip doesn’t change the fact that it would be a horrid matchup. The Mavs need to help against Aldridge as much as possible until they get burned, I fear for Dallas’ ability to keep their heads above water once Portland starts hitting their shots from outside.
  • The Mavs attempted 29 free throws in this one, a notable number made even even more so by the game’s low pace. There were only 81 possessions for the night, so Dallas’ 29 free throws convert into a 37.9 free throw rate, an elite mark by league-wide standards, much less by the Mavs’ own. Getting to the line has never been the Dallas’ strong suit, but Nowitzki’s ability to draw fouls turned out to be vital.
  • Gerald Wallace and Brandon Roy — deemed an x-factor and a difference-maker in this series, respectively — were non-entities. Wallace was active, but seemed phased out; his drives lacked resolve, and his activity on the court didn’t translate into any tangible benefit. Four of Wallace’s nine missed field goals were blocked attempts, a fitting tribute to just how oddly ineffective he was in attacking the basket. Roy had one of his rougher nights, the type of hiccup that has become all too common since his latest return from injury. This shouldn’t come as any surprise, nor should it deter us from still seeing Roy as an important player in this series; he may not be productive every game, but Roy has the potential to spark runs, to break the Mavs’ momentum, and to impact the game as either a scorer or a playmaker. As for Wallace, doesn’t a performance like this in a losing effort only reinforce his status as an x-factor?
  • To the Mavs’ credit, they were able to keep their turnovers to a reasonable level. Nowitzki picked up six on his own, but Kidd, Terry, and J.J. Barea only turned the ball over three times combined. Considering just how pesky the Blazers can be in the passing lanes and against ball-handlers (they ranked second in the NBA in opponent’s turnover rate this season), that’s huge.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 15, 2011 under xOther | 3 Comments to Read

Zach Lowe, SI’s The Point Forward: “To call this Dirk Nowitzki’s ”last ride” is obviously dramatic, but the future of this Mavericks team is uncertain. Jason Kidd is 38 and will be a free agent after next season along with Jason Terry. Tyson Chandler, the anchor of Dallas’ semi-revived defense, is a free agent after this season and plays the same position as Brendan Haywood, to whom Dallas has already committed more than $50 million. Caron Butler will be a free agent, Roddy Beaubois’ development has hit a snag, Shawn Marion is declining and Corey Brewer is at the edge of Rick Carlisle’s rotation. In other words: This team badly needs a playoff run now, especially after going out in the first round in three of the last four seasons.”

Jeff Caplan, ESPN Dallas: “The fact is that Nowitzki, 33, is one of the game’s premier playoff performers — one of four players in history to average 25 points and 10 rebounds — yet he is arguably the most underappreciated player in the game because his teams have failed to convert marvelous regular seasons into postseason parades. ‘I can’t really change peoples’ opinions. I’ll try to win it for me and to kind of top it off with the career that I’ve had. That’s why I’m trying to win it,’ Nowitzki said.’I'm not trying to win to shut anybody up. I’m trying to win for myself and this franchise, which really deserves it; for Cuban, who’s been amazing since he bought it, and for all my teammates. And if I don’t, it just wasn’t meant to be. The only thing that I can tell myself is that I left it all out there. Every summer I tried to get better. I play hurt. I play sick. I try to be out there for my teammates and for my team and ultimately win it all.’”

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: “A veteran NBA advanced scout gave us his breakdown of the two teams, and these are teams that he swears bear a striking resemblance to one another in that they have perimeter big men as their offensive anchors and crafty veteran point guards running the show. ‘The Mavericks definitely will play up and down more than any of Rick Carlisle’s teams in Indiana and even Detroit did in the past,’ he said. ‘Rick has definitely loosened the reigns since then. He’s still a guy that has a lot of sets and runs a lot of things. He lets [Jason] Kidd call his own plays and really lets them go. They run a lot more stuff in early offense. His Indiana teams he would slow them down and call plays, but not with this team. He really does let Kidd do his thing. And with [J.J.] Barea out there with Kidd, you have two ball handlers in the game, if the ball comes out to Barea, they’ll get into their transition game just as easily.’”

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The Official Two Man Game Official Dallas Mavericks Versus Portland Trailblazers Official Playoff Preview for the Official 2010-2011 Official NBA Post-Season

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 14, 2011 under Commentary, Previews | 27 Comments to Read

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Dallas’ playoff opponent is finally set in stone. Thanks to a Maverick win and Kobe Bryant’s ongoing crusade to burn the city of Sacramento to the ground, the Mavs will face off with the formidable Portland Trailblazers in the first found of the postseason. Rejoice, and be worried; this matchup is terrific for basketball fans but should be uncomfortable to the Maverick faithful, a conflict of identities for those who appreciate both the game and this particular team. We’re in for a fantastic series, but a hell of an opponent stands between Dallas and the second round.

The Mavericks are a better team than the Blazers by virtually every objective measure; win percentage, efficiency differential, point differential, Pythagorean win percentage, and the simple rating system all favor Dallas. In terms of their season-long numbers, the Mavs have outperformed the Blazers on both ends of the court, and enjoy all of the statistical trimmings that come with that superior level of performance. However, the fact that Dallas is a better team only matters tangentially. Playoff series’ are so much more dependent on the ways in which teams succeed than just how successful those teams are, a fact surely not lost on Mavs fans. This outcome of this series won’t be determined by determining the better team, but merely the more effective one given this specific matchup.

Dallas and Portland faced off four times during the regular season, but reading too much into the outcome of those four contests can be a bit misleading; the Blazers thoroughly dominated their latest game against the Mavs, for example, but Tyson Chandler’s absence hardly makes it a representative sample. The same can be said of the exclusion of Dirk Nowitzki and Brandon Roy in previous games, the mid-season acquisition of Gerald Wallace, and the unavailability of Caron Butler — we have four games’ worth of competition between the two teams, but little to speak of in the way of legitimate macro-level assessment.

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So instead, the most prudent way to predict the performance of both teams is to look at smaller factors which could potentially turn the series. In my eyes, Portland creates particular problems for Dallas through their combination of versatile forwards and sizable guards. LaMarcus Aldridge — who averaged 27.8 points on 51% shooting against Dallas this season — is a huge part of the problem, and acts as a catalyst of sorts for the Blazers to exploit the Mavs on a number of levels. Regardless of whether Marcus Camby is on the floor, Rick Carlisle has largely opted to defend Aldridge with either Tyson Chandler or Brendan Haywood. Carlisle’s decision is understandable; putting Dirk Nowitzki on Aldridge wouldn’t present any kind of advantage (and needlessly puts Dirk at risk for foul trouble), and Shawn Marion doesn’t have the size to contend with Aldridge in the post. That leaves Chandler and Haywood as the most logical defensive options, as both are long enough to contest Aldridge’s shot and strong enough to fight him for position down low. Neither has been tremendously successful in stopping Aldridge in the post thus far this season, but they provide the best theoretical counters considering the Mavs’ lack of alternatives.

If that potential mismatch in Portland’s favor isn’t enough, more problems start to arise when we weigh Aldridge’s other abilities. Not only is Portland’s new frontman skilled in operating from either block, but he’s a credible mid-range shooter and a constant threat to slip toward the basket for a lob. Aldridge’s combination of size, range, and mobility makes him an incredibly difficult cover, and with Dallas’ assumed defensive configuration, his ability to put up points is only the first of several concerns introduced by his very presence. Defensive rebounding is also a legitimate issue, as Aldridge is able to pull one of the Mavs’ strongest rebounders away from the basket by stepping out to the perimeter. That not only limits the rebounding impact of Chandler and Haywood while Aldridge is on the court, but opens up more opportunities for the Blazers — one of the strongest offensive rebounding teams in the league — to attack the glass. Dallas is normally strong on the defensive glass, but it’s no coincidence that some of their worst rebounding performances of the season have come against Portland (the Blazers grabbed more than 27.9 percent of available offensive boards in three of the four games, with the only outlier being the quasi-blowout in the most recent game).

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Even more problematic is what that same range does for Dallas’ defensive spacing. Every successful defensive scheme relies on bigs who are able to rotate from across the court and contest shots around the rim, but Aldridge’s ability to knock down an open 18-footer makes it far more difficult for Chandler or Haywood to leave him and rotate into the paint. Without consistent help on the back line (Nowitzki tries, but Dirks will be Dirks), the Mavs’ perimeter defenders are in trouble; one misstep could lead to an uncontested layup or a trip to the free throw line, and Jason Terry, J.J. Barea, and Rodrigue Beaubois certainly commit their share of defensive blunders. Plus, Aldridge’s ability to space the floor opens up the opportunity for the Blazer guards to set up against their undersized opponents on the block. Brandon Roy and Andre Miller are skilled post-up threats capable of both scoring and making plays, and together with Wesley Matthews and Rudy Fernandez, the Blazer guard corps towers over the Mavs’ backcourt.

Portland not only has that specific size advantage, but has shown in their last two games against Dallas that they fully intend to exploit it. Ultimately, the Mavs are put in a position in which fielding any of their crucial but diminutive guards — the aforementioned Terry, Barea, and Beaubois — invites an easy post-up opportunity for either Roy or Miller. The three-guard lineup is even more vulnerable, further limiting Carlisle’s rotational options. Terry and Barea will play, but we could be left pondering ways to keep them off the floor, particularly if either player fails to produce on offense.

Carlisle may adjust by redistributing minutes, but Corey Brewer and DeShawn Stevenson seem to be his only alternatives, and I’m not sure either is likely to actually play significant minutes. In a way, this is all an extension from last year’s playoffs: Terry is almost certain to be an on-court mainstay, and even more certain to be on the court to close games — even when his replacement makes intuitive sense. Last year, it was Beaubois, who ripped up the court in Game 6 against the Spurs before grabbing a seat prematurely, who could have replaced JET. This season, if Terry isn’t on his offensive game, it may make more sense for him to sit for defensive reasons. He isn’t uniquely responsible for Dallas’ potential defensive troubles, but he’s the undersized guard most likely to log the most playing time. The decision to slash the minutes of a player like JET is an immensely difficult one, and it may not even be the correct one. But those guard matchups could end up doing a lot of damage, and one can only hope that Carlisle has some counter — either in scheme or personnel — up his sleeve.

darts

For their part, the Mavs don’t have a unique matchup advantage other than the fact that they employ Dirk Nowitzki, and that as a team they have the ability to hit shots of all kinds with consistency. That last fact should be especially evident against Portland’s relatively poor shooting defense; for all their defensive versatility and long-armed wings, the Blazers rank 22nd in effective field goal percentage allowed. Dirk Nowitzki will have his work cut out for him grappling with Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum (among others), but I nonetheless anticipate him having an MVP-type series. There’s only so much a defender can do. Wallace and Batum are sure to put in good work on D, but Nowitzki is that efficient, that prolific, that deadly. Expect consistently excellent work from the block, the wing, and the elbow, as Dirk turns in more typically stellar postseason numbers.

Dallas’ perimeter shooters should also be in for a field day. According to Synergy Sports Technology, the Blazers rank 25th in the league in their defense of spot-up jumpers on a per possession basis, while the Maverick shooters rank sixth in their points scored per spot-up possession. This is where being a “jumpshooting team” comes in handy; spot-up jumpshots are a substantial part — 22.7 percent — of the Dallas offense, and happen to be one of Portland’s greatest defensive weaknesses. Let there be a turkey in every pot and a kick-out for every shooter — it’s gonna be a feast from the outside.

To hone in a bit: Portland ranks in the bottom 10 in three-point shooting defense — a big reason why both their points per spot up possession allowed and their opponents’ effective field goal percentage are so high. The Mavs have four consistent perimeter marksmen (Terry, Stevenson, Brian Cardinal, Peja Stojakovic) outside of Nowitzki, and any who sees the floor should find open looks with some regularity. The problem is how many of those shooters will actually see notable time; Stevenson could end up starting, but he’d been out of the rotation for a while before his unearthing on Wednesday. His role is uncertain, to say the least. Cardinal could be left off the playoff roster altogether if Rick Carlisle elects to bring Brewer along for the postseason, and even if Cardinal does make the playoff roster, Dallas rarely plays him and Nowitzki at the same time, which would limit his potential application.

Regardless, Terry, Stojakovic, Jason Kidd, and J.J. Barea should have room to fire from outside. They may not always convert (particularly in the case of the latter two), but those openings are nonetheless an important part of Dallas’ advantage. The opportunities will be there, so it’s on the usually efficient Mavs to hit their shots.

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Dallas shouldn’t have too much of a problem scoring, but they may have some issues in setting up a fluid offense. As counter-intuitive as that sounds, consider this: the Blazers are as good as any team in the league at creating turnovers, but as noted above, they don’t contest shots well at all. One shouldn’t expect some freewheeling Maverick attack, but once the ball gets to Nowitzki or Marion in the post (where they can either score or execute a basic kick-out), to a shooter off a curl via a Kidd assist, or to Terry or Barea to run the pick-and-roll, all should be right with the world. The problem is in the intermediary, those moments between the first and second options in a set where Kidd tries to thread an overly ambitious pass, Terry attempts to create off the dribble in vain, or a non-ball-handler ends up uncomfortably holding the rock as the shot clock dwindles. If the Mavs establish their play actions and work through them without trying to do too much, they shouldn’t have much of a problem on the offensive end at all. If they panic or rush rather than work through their options patiently, then Wallace, Miller, Matthews, and Fernandez will furiously swarm the ball like leather-eating piranhas.

With that in mind, this series feels like a shootout. Portland isn’t a particularly sound defensive team, and Dallas’ defense doesn’t seem poised to be particularly effective based on the matchup and their recent performance. The point totals may not soar due to neither team being a true fast-breaking outfit, but this is a series of offensive prowess unless the Mavs can prove otherwise. One defensive scheme isn’t enough, either; Nate McMillan is a smart, flexible coach, and he’ll have his players adapt to any single counter the Mavs utilize. Dallas will need multiple responses to both Aldridge and the Blazer guards, and somehow not neglect Wallace and Batum in the process. It’s doable, but difficult.

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Which is why I regretfully predict that the Blazers will win in seven games. It’s not an easy call; these Mavs are skilled and can theoretically execute on both ends. I just think Portland’s mismatches will prove a bit too problematic. I think Jason Kidd won’t be quite as effective as the Mavs need him to be. I think Dirk Nowitzki and LaMarcus Aldridge will both be tremendous, and the rest of both teams will be left to tip the balance. I think the Blazers can hide Brandon Roy too easily on defense, which lets him stay on the court long enough to cause a problem. I think Wallace and Batum may only hinder Nowitzki, but they’re capable of significantly limiting Marion. I think that there is a distinct possibility that the Mavs win this series, but there are just too many concerns to consider it the most likely outcome.

The Mavs are the better team in this series. Sometimes that just isn’t enough.

Here’s to hoping I’m wrong.

The Difference: Portland Trailblazers 104, Dallas Mavericks 96

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 4, 2011 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas88.0109.155.027.115.214.8
Portland118.256.828.812.512.5

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • First things first: this game was neither as close as the final score suggests, nor is it the end of the world. It’s one game in a season, albeit a slightly troubling one given the Mavs’ current slope. If Dallas was exhausted after a nine-day, six-game road trip (a doozie even by standards of the typically rigorous NBA regular season schedule), they sure looked it. Maybe their effort — irrelevant of scheduling — just wasn’t there. Maybe this was just “one of those games.” All we know is that the Mavs didn’t have it in them to play 48 minutes of coherent basketball, and that is never a good thing. Assume whatever you’d like about these Mavs and their effort level, but the best they could do in Sunday’s game was tread water.
  • Dirk Nowitzki’s (16 points, 5-12 FG, five rebounds) impact was suppressed, Jason Terry (four points, 1-6 FG) was absolutely bottled, and Jason Kidd (0-6 FG, four assists, two turnovers) was utterly useless in orchestrating the offense. Yet in the game’s final balance, it was still Dallas’ D that caused the biggest problems. The ease with which the Blazers were able to cut to the rim and the brutal effectiveness of basic drive-and-kick action are far more troubling than any Maverick player failing to make shots. Everything looked easy for the Blazers, and while that’s a testament to the talented, productive crew on Portland’s roster, it also helps when uncontested drives to the rim, frequent trips to the foul line, and open three-pointers are common results of simple play execution.
  • On a related note: If the Mavs had a fatal flaw in Sunday’s game, it was their transition defense. Not only did Dallas’ defenders not pick up the ball-handler early enough in each transition sequence, but the lack of effort in getting back on defense overall was startling. I don’t think Gerald Wallace (19 points, 8-10 FG, eight rebounds, three assists, three steals, three turnovers) minded much, but the Mavs’ reluctance to defend the transition game without even the slightest competence should keep Rick Carlisle up at night.
  • Of all of Portland’s killer runs, the most painful had to be a back-breaking 7-0 sprint just after the Mavs had scored eight straight to cut their deficit to 13 with six minutes remaining. Climbing out of a 13-point hole in six minutes is improbable, sure, but the Blazers made it impossible with a swift response that put the game completely out of reach.
  • Shawn Marion (19 points, 8-11 FG, five rebounds) was terrific. He slid into open space, created lanes to receive passes, and generated quality attempts. He seemed to be clicking on a level that the rest of the Mavs simply couldn’t access, in large part due to an energy that far exceeded that of any of his teammates. Shawn Marion was the best Maverick on the floor on Sunday, and while that’s terrific in its own way, in this case the gulf between Marion and his teammates was created by both parties.
  • Brendan Haywood (five points, 11 rebounds, three offensive boards) was able to play strong individual defense on LaMarcus Aldridge (18 points, 9-17 FG, eight rebounds), who has become something of a terror for the Mavs and the league at large. No Mav — including Haywood — rotated well in order to establish a successful team concept on defense, but if nothing else, we know that Haywood can provide the length and size necessary to curtail Aldridge’s production should these teams meet in a playoff series. Tyson Chandler sat this one out to nurse a minor back injury, but Haywood showed well in his stead by sticking Aldridge and picking up a ton of boards.
  • Rodrigue Beaubois (18 points, 6-12 FG, four assists, two turnovers) is in an odd position. For the relevant minutes he played in last night’s game (read: before garbage time), I thought Beaubois played well on the offensive end. Picked up too many fouls on D by playing as young players so often do (biting on pump fakes, hand-checking Brandon Roy, etc.), but he did well as a shot-creator with the ball in his hands. The only problem was that both Beaubois and his teammates missed some very makeable shots. Missed opportunities have a way of making a stat line go sour, and though Beaubois was able to throw up nine points in a hurry with the game more or less decided, I think some will still — wrongfully — see this game as further proof of some alleged unreliability. I don’t buy it, and frankly, I don’t buy a lot of the oddly negative evaluations of Beaubois’ play this season. More on that later.
  • J.J. Barea (12 points, 5-10 FG, three assists, two turnovers) did a terrific job of giving the Mavs a scoring punch in limited minutes, but there’s also a reason that his raw plus-minus was a -1 for the night in spite of his offensive production. Barea is perhaps most emblematic of the specific problems that this Portland team causes from a matchup perspective; between Andre Miller, Wesley Matthews, Brandon Roy, and Rudy Fernandez, the Mavs’ backcourt is undersized at almost every turn. To make matters worse: Miller, Matthews, and Roy understand how to exploit their size advantage on drives and down on the block, which puts a pretty unique pressure on the Mavs’ defense when Dallas trots out smaller lineups. There is no Blazer regular whom Barea can reasonably be expected to defend, and yet Dallas still needs him on the court for his dribble penetration. Should be interesting to see what happens with the Blazer guards should these teams meet in a playoff series.

The Difference: Portland Trailblazers 104, Dallas Mavericks 101

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 16, 2011 under Recaps | 4 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas82.0123.266.417.924.018.3
Portland126.850.621.235.78.5

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • Losing a game like this one is undoubtedly rough on the Mavs, but we’re fortunate enough to be on the side of the fence for which losses don’t mean everything. Take a minute to appreciate just how spectacular of a contest this was. I know some would be happier with winning ugly, but there’s something to be said about the aesthetic worth of beautiful basketball. This was a wonderfully executed game by both teams, as Portland matched Dallas’ consistent machinations with flurries of highlight reel plays, and the two clubs combined for 49 assists. Those only interested in win-loss outcomes won’t see this game for what it really is, but this really was a remarkably entertaining 48 minutes.
  • Those looking to blame the Mavs’ defense for this loss aren’t entirely correct. The Blazers did score at a rate of 126.8 points per 100 possessions, which is a less than spectacular mark. However, they also posted just a 50.6% effective field goal percentage, which hovers right around the league average. Dallas actually did well in contesting and challenging shots, but broke down in other areas; defensive rebounding was a clear issue, and the Mavs’ frequent turnovers fueled the Blazers’ offense and put them in a position of advantage. Portland picked up 15 boards in an 82-possession game, and their offensive rebounding rate for this game outpaced the season average for the league’s most prolific rebounding teams. Dallas did the same with their rush of turnovers, as their 15 giveaways in such a slow game put them a step above/below the rest of the league. Dallas still orchestrated beautifully when those passes connected, but there should be little doubt that their aggressiveness in forcing play action ended up being part of their downfall. It would have been great if LaMarcus Aldridge (30 points, 13-25 FG, eight assists) and Brandon Roy (21 points, 9-17 FG) didn’t have such productive offensive games, but its not as if either player was really defended all that poorly. It’s surely not a landmark defensive showing for Dallas, but not quite a spectacular failure, either.
  • There were a handful of incredibly productive offensive players for Dallas — from Dirk Nowitzki and his 28 points on 14 shots, to Jason Kidd and his 14 assists, to Shawn Marion’s sweet cuts to the bucket for 18 — but Rodrigue Beaubois (16 points, 6-8 FG, 4-6 3FG, four assists) impressed me most. He looked incredibly comfortable finding his teammates, which should excite everyone who sees Beaubois as the future initiator of the Maverick offense. Beaubois made the kinds of passes you’d expect of a player who had spent an entire season developing chemistry with his teammates, not a second-year guard who spent most of the season on the shelf and is prone to questionable passing decisions. Plus, this was one of the finest defensive performances of Beaubois’ career, as he completely shackled Andre Miller (eight points, 2-9 FG, four assists). Beaubois got caught in the air once on a pump fake, but other than that minor slip-up, his D was incredible. I shouldn’t need to remind anyone that Miller is capable of giving the Mavs fits, and having a starter capable of defending him allowed Dallas to avoid all kinds of inconvenient cross-matching and lineup shuffling.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 84, Portland Trailblazers 81

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 5, 2011 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

Screen shot 2011-01-05 at 12.42.42 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas80.0105.048.113.027.310.0
Portland101.344.313.929.216.3

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • Based on the final score, you should immediately be able to tell two things about last night’s game: neither team was particularly proficient offensively with their stars sidelined by injury, and the pace was insanely slow. I wouldn’t expect a game between Portland (the league’s slowest team) and Dallas (the league’s eighth slowest team) to break out into a foot race, but this particular game progressed even more slowly than it first appeared. 80 possessions? That’s an insanely — and impressively, really — low pace number for a game, even by the Blazers’ standards. Both teams worked and worked and worked for good looks, but they rarely came. That didn’t make for the prettiest of contests, but it’s good to see teams at least attempt to replace execution with effort. Dallas’ offense isn’t going to operate normally without Dirk Nowitzki or Caron Butler (much less Rodrigue Beaubois) steering possessions along, and the same is true for Portland’s sets without Brandon Roy. Neither team is currently equipped for dominance, but they fought for rebounds and control throughout. It wasn’t the most aesthetically brilliant game you’ll see this season (or probably even that night; the Knicks and Spurs had a fun no-defense affair in NYC), but it’s easily appreciated for what it was.
  • DeShawn Stevenson (18 points, 4-9 3FG, three rebounds, two assists) and Tyson Chandler (14 points, 7-9 FG, 13 rebounds) are the unexpected offensive heroes of the Mavs’ latest successes. Stevenson was again money from three-point range, but his willingness to surrender his footing in order to drive or step in still surprises me. In a fully-functioning Mavs offense, Stevenson is a spot-up shooter and little else, but in a pinch, he can handle the ball a bit, make smart, well-timed passes, and draw fouls. Chandler’s production wasn’t anything we haven’t seen before, just an impressive effort on the offensive glass (where Tyson grabbed six of his 13 boards) and a continued excellence in filling open space around the rim. Chandler doesn’t float or wander, he’s always moving with an intent to do something. That may not be a part of the scouting report on TC, but it’s a notable aspect of his game that some bigs would be wise to emulate.
  • Defensive rebounding was very nearly a back-breaker. The Mavs must be better in boxing out shooters and other offensive players. Portland only barely topped Dallas in offensive rebounding percentage, but Marcus Camby (five offensive boards), LaMarcus Aldridge (three), Nicolas Batum (three), and even Andre Miller (two) scored second and third and fourth opportunities for their team, maximizing each trip down the floor. Had Wes Matthews or the Portland reserves played just a bit better, Dallas would have been nudged out in the fourth. Instead, the Mavs got just enough defensive rebounds to take the lead and Jason Terry scored 12 points (on 5-8 FG) to go along with two assists and two rebounds in the fourth quarter to secure it. The Mavs should take a win any way they can get it at the moment, but one would expect the rebounding on the defensive end to be just a bit better, no?

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on August 18, 2010 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

  • Kurt Helin, my fellow ProBasketballTalk-er, had a chance to interview Caron Butler. Here are Butler’s thoughts regarding what the Mavs’ areas for improvement in the coming year: “Controlling the glass, focusing on defense. Because we can score with the best of them. We have a great player, we have a Hall of Fame point guard and whole bunch of other guys that want to get it done and are willing to sacrifice whatever to win. We’ve just got to put it all together and we will.” Butler also noted that he’s been working with the needs-no-introduction Tim Grover.
  • Kevin Arnovitz has a great interview with Texas Legends’ coach Nancy Lieberman, who is getting serious mileage out of her catchphrase (which you may remember from my interview with Lieberman earlier this summer): “Making the irregular regular.” Here’s Lieberman on her voice as a coach, and what the voice will mean to men who haven’t had all that many female basketball mentors: “I think the end message will be similar, but the methods and how they get the information could be different. I’m excited about it because I’m not going to be in practice f-bombing people. That won’t be me. I’ll be firm and I’ll be fair. We won’t tell people what to do. We’ll explain what we’d like them to do. We’ll show them what we want to do. Then, they’ll do it. I will work their tails off. Trust me. I’m not as nice as I’m faking it on this conversation. I will work them really hard, but I’ll love them on the other side. And they need to know they’re loved and cared for. But that doesn’t mean you can walk over me, through me. That won’t happen. But look, I’m going to kill my guys so I might as well be nice to them. I have high expectations. I haven’t made it in a man’s world for 35 years by being soft, scared or insecure.”
  • Mike Krzyzewski on Tyson Chandler’s play for Team USA, via Chris Tomasson of FanHouse: “Tyson has been outstanding. We have a relationship from the 2007 qualifying team (and in 2008 when Chandler came close to making the Olympic team) … He doesn’t need the ball. He’s stronger. I bet he’s at least probably 15 pounds heavier and stronger than he was in 2007. He feels healthy.”
  • Have $25 burning a hole in your wallet? Then do I have the deal for you. (H/T: Scott Schroeder)
  • Josh Howard, infused with Devean George’s trade veto power.
  • Caron Butler thinks the Heat could make it to 73 wins. The Bulls’ sacred 72-win mark is seemingly unbeatable, but next year’s Miami Heat have definite advantages those Bulls were never afforded. The ’95-’96 Bulls are certainly one of the best teams to ever lace them up, but is Caron wrong? Isn’t the combination of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade — with Chris Bosh and a hell of a supporting cast — enough to at least bring the Heat into the discussion?
  • Andre Miller and Chauncey Billups are two big, strong point guards that have made the most of their size by posting up smaller opposing guards. The Mavs have dabbled with using Jason Kidd in a similar capacity, but he just doesn’t have the scoring chops for it. Regardless, Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook breaks down what it is that makes Miller and Billups so effective in the post.
  • Kelly Dwyer is ranking the top 30 players in each of the five conventional positions, beginning with point guards. You can see the first installment (30-21) here, and the second (20-11) here. Jason Kidd comes in at #12, which may seem a bit harsh, but consider the 11 PGs likely to top Kidd in Dwyer’s rankings (in no particular order): Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Jameer Nelson (already confirmed as #11), Rajon Rondo, Chauncey Billups, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Devin Harris, Tony Parker, and Tyreke Evans. Of those 11, which would you pick Kidd to best in the coming season?
  • Jeff Fox of Hoops Manifesto takes a stab at listing the top 10 Mavericks of all-time.
  • Rodrigue Beaubois’ surgery was successful.
  • From Caron Butler’s blog on HoopsHype: “Aside from the Tyson Chandler trade, my team has had a pretty quiet offseason. I’m not surprised. We had a great roster already. The management looked at the team and thought change wasn’t needed.” Well…that’s certainly one interpretation of the summer’s events.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 4, 2010 under xOther | 3 Comments to Read

  • Ladies and gentlemen, the ever-quotable Dirk Nowitzki, in reference to Andre Miller’s 52-point night and Monta Ellis’ 46-point night: “That’s what we do. We get guys contract extensions.”
  • I’m thrilled that guys like Coby Karl and Anthony Tolliver are being called up from the D-League, but they’re not exactly reppin’. Josh Howard went to work against Karl in the post time and time again with plenty of success, and neither Tolliver nor Karl could contribute much of anything in terms of points last night.
  • The attendance goal for the All-Star Game: 100,000.
  • Jeff “Skin” Wade can’t help but wonder if Rodrigue Beaubois is already actualizing a bit of his potential as a defensive difference-maker: “After the game Rick Carlisle mentioned that Rodrigue Beaubois is already developing into one of their better on-the-ball defenders out on the perimeter. There’s a need to have him on the floor because of the athleticism he brings to an older team, but with virtually all of his minutes outside of the New York game that Jason Kidd missed coming at the off-guard, he’d be eating into minutes where the Mavs have guys like Jason Terry and Josh Howard who need to be on the floor…Against the Warriors, he received all of the available backup point guard minutes in the second half. I’m fascinated to know what the plan had been had he not gotten hurt against Utah. As the Mavericks try to find ways to keep opposing guards from enjoying career nights against them, will Roddy B at point guard be a factor for his defensive spark as much as the potential for him to get some offense going coming off the bench?”
  • Everything is A-OK with Dirk’s thumb.
  • SLAM’s Holly MacKenzie checked in from Toronto with an important announcement from last night’s Nets-Raptors game: “It was fun to see former Raptor Kris Humphries have a double-double off of the bench. It was not fun having two women scream his name every single time he was even remotely near the Nets bench.” Miss you, buddy.
  • Del Harris wants to return to work the Frisco-Dallas connection, though it’s not official as of yet whether or not he’ll slide right back in as GM in Frisco.
  • Chad Ford (Insider) names Josh Howard as one of the 20 players most likely to be moved by the deadline. Here’s his blurb on Josh: “Howard, at age 29, is having the worst season of his career and has struggled to play alongside Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion. But other teams have interest because his contract has a team option for next year, which means a team can acquire him now and decide this summer whether to keep him as player, hold on to him as a 2011 expiring contract or decline the option and take the savings right away. The Raptors and Kings have been rumored to have the most interest.” Just as a note of interest, Caron Butler is listed at #4, Andre Iguodala #5, Kevin Martin #12, and Chris Bosh at #15.
  • Dirk will participate in the “Shooting Stars” competition representing…well, the state of Texas. With no WNBA team in sight, “Team Texas” will borrow Nowitzki, San Antonio’s Becky Hammond, and former Rocket Kenny Smith.

Hold Steady

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 1, 2010 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

Saturday’s game offered us a glimpse into an alternate dimension; it’s a freakish world where pass-first point guards can bend the laws of space and time with their drives to the basket, and recreate the laws of the game based on their every whim. Hence, y’know, the perfectly competent but hardly explosive Andre Miller dropping 52 points against what’s supposed to be a top-notch defensive squad.

The Mavs haven’t been performing well defensively of late, and Miller is simply the latest to take advantage. But here’s the bizarre thing: the Mavs didn’t defend Andre Miller well, but despite the incredible manner in which the Blazers put points on the board, the Mavs weren’t overwhelmingly miserable on defense.

There’s no excuse for what Andre Miller was able to do with Jason Kidd. Miller doesn’t have notable quickness or shooting ability, and Kidd’s knack for bothering ball-handlers should have helped his cause. But no Maverick guard — not Kidd, not J.J., not JET — had any hope of slowing Miller. The stars aligned and Andre Miller was resolved to destroy.

But Miller aside, the defense was surprisingly competent. I realize that omitting 52 points from the scoreboard is asking a bit much, but all I ask is that this not be considered a complete defensive breakdown. Even Miller was forced into plenty of tough shots, and though the Mavs did anything but stop him, I don’t consider the game to necessarily be a team-wide defensive failure. Miller’s explosion represents something far more singular. Though the Mavs had a hard time getting stops against Andre Miller on Saturday night, they actually did get their fair share of stops against the Portland Trailblazers.

Miller’s shot volume (31 FGAs for the night, plus eight FTAs) for the night was pretty incredible. And his efficiency (22 of those 31 FGAs were makes) with that volume had a lot to do with the Blazers shooting 53.5% for the evening. But the rest of the Blazers shot just 43.6% from the field, which is more than passable. Andre Miller was able to do something completely fantastic, but that doesn’t mean that the Mavs weren’t playing effective defense in other areas. Obviously, the on-ball defense of Kidd and Barea, in particular, needs work. Erick Dampier’s bum knee didn’t help him protect the basket. And Rick Carlisle’s too little, too late decision to switch Shawn Marion onto Andre Miller in overtime was absurdly tardy. But in between, the Mavs forced the Blazers into plenty of bad shots, a handful of turnovers, and a few shot clock violations. Portland’s journey to 114 was hardly a parade, and though the final defensive numbers for the Mavs (111.8 points/100 possessions, 55.2% eFG allowed, opponent turnover rate of just 11.8) are decidedly subpar, I feel like this really is a case where the stats and the headlines don’t tell the whole story.

Having an opponent explode for 52 points is, from a defensive standpoint, unacceptable for a team like the Mavs. That alone is reason enough to worry about the defense. But don’t overstate the significance of Miller’s performance. Now, if you’d like to point out that the Mavs have allowed 117.5 points per 100 possessions over the last three games as evidence of a defensive fall-off, that starts to look like the beginnings of a bonafide trend.

But it’s possible you’d be wrong. Recall to the first game of that three-game stretch, a 108-107 Mavs’ win over the Bucks. Here’s what Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie had to say following the “shootout”:

This is not a case of reputation taking precedence over play, both the Mavericks and Bucks got after it defensively. They are very good defensive teams that just happened to come through with a pair of knockout efforts offensively, in what made for the best game of the night.

Dallas just screens and screens and doesn’t stop moving, even if it isn’t running all that much. Milwaukee still loves that screen and roll start, but once penetration is achieved the Bucks keep defenses on its heels by spreading the floor and always looking for that baseline three-pointer.

The result was a fantastic game.

You have to evaluate defenses based on results. I get that. But to ask a solid defensive team to perform at a high level every night is ludicrous. Some nights an opponent will waltz into the arena and make everything look easy, regardless of the defensive presence. It’s the kind of thing we’ve seen Dirk do to opponents time and time again, regardless of the prestige of an opposing team defense or individual defender.

The Mavs’ defense is far from perfect, which is a given considering this weekend’s events. But the flaws are hardly as deep-seeded or significant as one might think. The Mavs are still playing with effort and intensity on D (with a few exceptions), even if there are significant errors in their execution. Over the course of the regular season, it’s important that a playoff team do two things: demonstrate that they’re capable of playing quality defense and maintain a high level of effort, even if not execution. Teams can tweak and tech against particular opponents in a seven game series, but if the issues are motivational? Well, that’s a bit more complex. Come April, I’d much rather that the Mavs’ greatest defensive hurdles be in the film room than in their own heads.

Advanced box score values from HoopData.