Thermodynamics (n.) – the science concerned with the relations between heat and mechanical energy
It’s nearly the holidays, but we don’t take early vacations here at The Two Man Game.
Nor do the Mavericks, although it might have seemed otherwise after they failed to show up in Toronto last Friday night. A blowout loss to the Raptors jump-started a 1-2 week for the Mavs. But it wasn’t all bad.
Week 8 (@Raptors, @Timberwolves, 76ers)
1) Frontcourt Shooting
The Mavs’ frontcourt — particularly Chris Kaman, Shawn Marion, Elton Brand, and Brandan Wright — had a pleasantly efficient week from the floor. In Toronto, those four Mavs combined to shoot 18-of-32 (56%). The next night in Minnesota, they went 19-of-39 (49%). Back home against Philly, Brand sat out with a groin injury while the other three combined to go 21-of-32 (66%). After having not played meaningful fourth-quarter minutes for several games, Kaman was especially productive in the final frame against Philly, notching eight clutch points on 4-of-5 (80%) shooting. Now, if only the Mavs had another efficient frontcourt scorer, one who might be returning to the lineup soon….
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
With about three minutes left in the game, Dallas rediscovered that which had made them an offensive juggernaut the previous week: attacking the basket. Darren Collison (21 points, 11-12 FTs, 5 assists) is the engine behind the Dirkless offense and when he isn’t probing the lane and Dallas settles for long jumpers late in the shot clock, the offense is borderline unwatchable.
Dallas started the game the same way they’ve finished the last two: giving up four offensive rebounds in the first 8 minutes of playing time. However, the next three plus quarters they only gave up three. Dallas is still -69 on the year in terms of rebounding margin, but tonight it was due to the poor shooting display (36.2%).
A variety of Timberwolves played excellent. For the second straight game a point guard had a big game against Dallas; Luke Ridnour (15 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 steals) helped control the game for Minnesota. Andrei Kirilenko (16 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals) set the tone early and abused Jae Crowder. Nikola Pekovic (20 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists) is such a massive man and to be that skilled offensively is such a rare trait in today’s NBA. Rookie Alexey Shved (16 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks, 9-11 FTs) didn’t shoot the ball well, but as you can see by his stat line, he managed to affect the game in every other possible way. I recommend taking a look at A Wolf Among Wolves for their take on the game as well.
Monday night’s game between the Mavs and the Jazz was a terrific showcase of high quality basketball…until Dallas completely broke down in the fourth quarter. Utah completely dominated the final frame, making those resilient Maverick performances from early in the season seem like a distant memory. In this installment of Moving Pictures, we’ll look at what the Jazz did well and where the Mavs folded.
You can watch the video on Vimeo for a much larger picture, which is in the original widescreen resolution the video was made for.
Note: Apologies on how late this is, but I don’t really feel that it’s dated. YouTube gave me all kinds of trouble on the upload, hence Vimeo.
“The straight line leads to the downfall of humanity.” -Friedensreich Hundertwasser
Last night, the Mavs had the distinct pleasure of being audience to their own implosion. They could only watch helplessly as the Utah Jazz forced turnover after turnover, catapulting themselves into transition and bringing the Maverick attack to a grinding halt. Dallas failed to execute in the half-court on a very basic level for nine minutes of the fourth quarter, which was more than enough time for the Jazz to put on a spectacular display of effort and intensity.
It’s a shame, really. The Mavs had played three quarters of good basketball to that point, and trailed just one point to the Jazz going into the fourth. Dirk Nowitzki had already totaled 26 points and Jason Terry, 18. Dallas had just closed the third quarter with a 7-2 run, and seemed poised to open the final frame with a bang. Not so. The Jazz countered with a quick 6-1 surge of their own, and though the Mavs were able to withstand the forces of gravity momentarily, the downfall was imminent.
This time around, it wasn’t the Mavs’ unwillingness to put the ball in the hands of their best player, but simply their inability; Andrei Kirilenko (13 points, 6-7 FG, eight rebounds, three assists, four steals) played stellar defense on Dirk to close out the game, and he used his speed and length to make even the most routine entry passes an impossible endeavor. Dallas was only able to attempt 14 shots in the quarter to Utah’s 23; the fourth quarter yielded seven turnovers for the Mavs and seven offensive rebounds for the Jazz. The Mavs have had trouble securing defensive rebounds on a few occasions this season, but in no situation all year has their weakness been more glaring. Kirilenko, Paul Millsap (25 points, 10-16 FG, nine rebounds, four blocks), Wesley Matthews (seven points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals, two blocks), and C.J. Miles (17 points, five rebounds) simply outworked the Mavs on the glass, turning what could have been a decent defensive performance into a pretty miserable one. Utah’s first shot was typically a difficult one, but the array of layups and dunks for second chance points gave the Jazz an easy opportunity to put up points.
Paul Millsap was especially brutal, and his influence was more far-reaching than just the offensive boards. Millsap showed a bit of range in knocking down mid-range jumpers, which made him a perfect lineup substitution for the injured Carlos Boozer. And although Millsap proved to be plenty capable of knocking down the open jumper when spotting up, he didn’t let it distract from his inside game. This is a man that makes his living down low, and though he showed the kind of shooting ability any team would want from their power forward, he has no delusions about what his role is on the court.
But Millsap was countered by the brilliance of Dirk Nowitzki (28 points, 11-16 FG, eight rebounds), who dominated the first three quarters. But Dirk didn’t attempt a single shot in the fourth, due to his own ability to seal off his man, some poor passing from the perimeter, and Kirilenko’s relentless defense. If Nowitzki gets the touches he needs in the fourth, it’s likely we’d be looking at a very different result. But the Jazz have seen that play out once before, and were determined to disrupt the flow of the Mavs’ offense by denying Dirk. It’s hard to argue with that theoretical logic, and based on the result, it’s hard to argue with Utah’s actualization of that logic.
January was a rough month for the Mavs, and they certainly haven’t kicked off February in style. But Rick Carlisle’s strengths as a coach lie in his ability to adjust and adapt, which should be reason enough to hold onto hope going forward. We’ve seen how well the Mavericks are capable of playing on both ends of the court, and though the last few games have been rough, the Mavs aren’t all that far from putting together complete wins.
Rodrigue Beaubois challenged a Paul Millsap layup attempt in the first quarter, and went down hard. He was able to walk off the court, and was warming up with the team at halftime, but he did not return. He’s listed as day-to-day with a bruised back, and could play as early as Wednesday.
Jason Terry (19 points, eight assists, four steals) looks so much more comfortable as a starter than he did as a reserve. He’s giving the Mavs a huge spark offensively right now, and the contrast between his play now and earlier in the season is astounding. Enduring cold stretches is just part of being a shooter, but it looks like things are finally warming up for Terry and, in turn, the Dallas offense.
A great battle between the point guards, as Jason Kidd (11 points, nine assists, two steals, two turnovers) and Deron Williams (18 points, 15 assists, seven rebounds, two steals, four turnovers) both turned in impressive nights. Williams was obviously the better of the two last night, as he is on just about every other night. I can’t say enough about Deron’s game…it’s nearing the point where the difference between him and Chris Paul is a matter of preference rather than performance.
Utah’s big fourth quarter run, keyed by their offensive rebounding, was actually achieved by going small. Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews, C.J. Miles, Andrei Kirilenko, and Paul Millsap found a way to dominate the Mavs’ starters (but with Gooden rather than Dampier) on the glass, which doesn’t bode well. Rebounds are supposed to be the concession when teams go small, but the Jazz found a way to turn it into a strength.
Eddie Najera is finally getting a little bit of garbage time burn. He’s played a total of four minutes between last night’s game and Saturday night’s. He’s also attempted two shots and made both, showing his shooting touch from the corner in making a three and a long two. He’s not exactly making the splash that Humphries is in Jersey, but the deal was never intended to bring in matching basketball talent.
Josh Howard played just 11 minutes, and shot 1-4 from the field with two turnovers. Somebody change the “Josh Howard Doomsday Clock” to ten minutes ’til.
It’s a sign of the times…or so I’ve heard. Both Steve Nash and Jason Kidd won’t be playing in this year’s All-Star game, a slightly more official changing of the guard. Is that really the case? If Kidd were still in New Jersey, in a situation where the ball is in his hands more often and he’s fighting Rajon Rondo and Mo Williams for a spot on the team rather than Brandon Roy and Chauncey Billups, is there any doubt that he’d be considered one of the favorites? Kidd may be a shadow of his former self and a step slower, but he’s still quite a point guard and probably All-Star caliber when the offense is truly going through him. And what of Nash? Supposing D’Antoni was still spending his working days with the Suns, wouldn’t the ‘Seven Seconds or Less’-inspired Nash be primed for All-Star candidacy? There’s no doubt that Chris Paul has stolen the point guard show, and some of the other young poing guards out there are pretty incredible. But the old-timers are out there to remind us that more often than not, All-Star berths are decided by circumstance.
The battle for the starting shooting guard appears to be over, with a battle-weary Antoine Wright standing above the metaphorical corpses of Gerald Green, Devean George, J.J. Barea, and, depending on how you look at it, Jason Terry. From Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: ” “He’s done the things we need him to do,” Carlisle said. “He brings us some solid defense. Offensively, he can do some playmaking from the position. He continues to shoot the ball better…This is sort of what we had projected. Earlier, it didn’t quite go like it has. He’s done well.” Wright has battled back this season from a strained left groin injury and even stayed in the lineup through the four-game losing streak earlier this month. It seems the coaches have settled on him as the starter until Wright gives them a reason for a change. So far, he hasn’t.”
A great quote of Jason Terry from the same Sefko article: “We don’t want to peak too early, which, obviously, we haven’t done.” If the Heat taught the Mavs anything in 2006, isn’t it that a team that sometimes struggles in the regular season can still be dangerous if they’re playing their best basketball at the right time?
In general I don’t like to delight in the injuries of others. It’s tacky. But it should still be of interest to Mavs fans that Utah’s Andrei Kirilenko will undergo ankle surgery today, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. Carlos Boozer still has yet to return, and Kirilenko is definitely an important piece for Utah. The Jazz have already faced pretty considerable adversity this season because of injury, but AK does a lot of good things on the court on both ends. It certainly doesn’t make their games any easier, and it could be a break for the other teams in the Western playoff race.
In case you didn’t notice, there was no Grapevine yesterday. Apparently there are only so many synonyms for “embarassment,” “blow-out,” and “complete and utter destruction.” Pity. Oh well, let’s kick it.
The Mavs offense isn’t exactly the bell of the ball, but the D is definitely the girl who tears her dress, spills punch all over herself, and breaks a heel when she tries to leave, crying. That’s probably putting it mildly. Via Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News, Dirk harps on the Mavs’ defensive deficiencies: ” “You name it. Pick-and-roll. One-on-one containment. Transition. Rebounding. Rebounding actually is OK. But it’s all over the place. We got some work to do.” “
The same Sefko article has a lot of quotes from around the team concerning the Mavs “making their run” in the Western Conference race. It could just be a strange coincidental slip of several tongues, or possibly the way the quotes are framed, but it all oozes a bit of arrogance. If everything is going well, this team is capable of playing at a much higher level than they’re playing now. But the problem is that they are absolutely clueless as to how they’re going to harness that power. It’s as if they’ve unearthed a safe filled with precious goods, and plan on calling the locksmith in the morning and being done with it. But unless Darrell Armstrong is going to single handedly make the fringe Mavs into good perimeter shooters, turn Josh Howard into a premier defender, keep Dampier motivated game-in and game-out, and significantly change the way the Mavs play team defense on almost every possession, I’d say it’s easier said than done. We’re not biding our time. “Waiting too long” to make a run isn’t an issue; we should be worried about making a run at all.
Randy Hill of FOX Sports ends up rehashing tired, false maxims, including the famous angles of “Dirk as a playoff failure” and “Kidd as a fast-breaking dependent.” Nevermind the fact that Dirk has averaged 25.4 points and 11.1 rebounds for his career (that’s a 24 PER, holmes) or that Kidd’s New Jersey teams played at andante. Still, his negativity concerning the short-term future of the franchise is surely something he shares with some Mavs fans: “Where do they go from here? Or, better yet, how can they be more efficient in hiring players? Well, upgrading the talent level will be tricky. Dallas has almost $69 million already committed to next year’s payroll, with Josh Howard, Jason Terry and Erick Dampier signed up to make around $10 million each. Superstar salaries for less than superstar players may make Cuban seem generous when the contracts are signed, but with those employees joining Dirk to win at a .568 clip, it makes for a weak financial case. Good luck trading one of those cats for anything or anyone of value or consequence.”
Jeff Caplan of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has some interesting numbers on the Mavs’ shooting from distance: “It’s no secret the Mavs need help with the 3-ball. Entering Tuesday’s games, they ranked seventh in the league in 3-pointers attempted per game (20.5), but just 25th in percentage made (33.7). Dallas shot better on the last road trip, three times hitting for 40 percent or better from behind the arc as it went 2-for-2. Jason Kidd, oddly the team’s most consistent long-ball threat this season, made 11 of the team’s 25 3-pointers on the four-game trip, accounting for 44 percent of the Mavs’ makes.”
Sports Illustrated‘s Jack McCallum, Chris Mannix, and Steve Aschburner all pick the Mavs to miss the playoffs. But I tend to agree with Ian Thomsen: “We can talk all we want about all of the different reasons one or another team will fail, but injuries and trades will define the race. Utah has been hurting all season, and for the moment I’m thinking the Jazz without Carlos Boozer are the most likely outsiders among the contenders.”
It hasn’t gotten much play, but Andrei Kirilenko could miss significant time if his ankle doesn’t improve “over the next two or three days.“ He’s not a starter, but he’s arguably been Utah’s second most important player to date. Couple his status with Carlos Boozer’s ambiguous return, and you could have a team that’s waiting, waiting, waiting, and shown the door come April.
Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com breaks down Josh Howard’s monopoly on the first possession of the game. He’s taking a lot of the Mavs’ first shots, and the stats aren’t pretty. That said, Fish does offer a disclaimer that should entice a “Mmhmm,” among those familiar with the Dallas offense: “If the five guys on the floor are Dirk and Josh, and then, say,Kidd, Wright/George and Damp. … maybe Josh Howard SHOULD be taking two or three of the first five or six shots.”
Fish urges readers to look at the data and analyze for themselves, and that’s a good idea. Check it out.
Oh no. Please, don’t let it be true. OH DEAR LORD DON’T LET IT BE TRUE. My words of advice to Mark Cuban (who confirmed a potential exploratory interest to Tim MacMahon of The Dallas Morning News Blog): just think the situation through before you do anything rash, like sign Marbury. And then, if you still think signing Marbury would be a good idea, still don’t do it. It’s for the best.