This series is going to be a treat. The Spurs series was an unexpected letdown in terms of competitive value, but Mavs-Nuggets will surely do more than wet your playoff palate.
Photo by Glenn James/NBAE/Getty Images.
The Mavs’ 0-4 record against the Nuggets in the regular season is well-documented, but those games couldn’t possibly mean less. Josh Howard returning from injury (and his renaissance) are akin to a major trade: it significantly changed the way that the Mavs approach the game, the way they execute on both ends, and the way Carlisle manages the rotations. The five games’ worth of Playoff Mavs has been shocking not only in quality of play, but also just how this team has evolved since their regular season dog days. The regular season irrelevancy goes double for the Nuggets. Denver was a good regular season team, good enough to secure the number 2 seed in the West. But the way that the Nuggets completely erased Chris Paul and the Hornets at large was a remarkable feat that the regular season Nuggets just weren’t capable of. At this point, no one can accuse either the Nuggets or the Mavs of not approaching the playoffs with the appropriate level of focus.
These teams match up exquisitely, and provide a bit of yin and yang at every matchup. Chauncey Billups’ function is to set up his teammates as a function of his scoring, while Jason Kidd’s function is to score as a function of getting his teammates going. Dirk Nowitzki and Kenyon Martin will face off at power forward, but couldn’t have more contrasting styles. Josh Howard, a player who broke into the league with his defense and developed more consistent offensive skills, will do his best to stick with Carmelo Anthony, a phenom with a wide offensive range who has only recently begun to groom his defense. And yet, despite these very glaring differences, each of these players provides functionally similar contributions (Billups’ and Kidd’s leadership, Dirk’s offensive impact and Kenyon’s defensive one, and Josh and Carmelo’s versatility). The defensive pieces seem physically able to counter the other team’s offensive weapons, but offensive talent will undoubtedly prevail. Essentially, you’ve got two teams doing very different things and producing the exact same results.
However, both teams have found great success by breaking down iso-heavy play into a team-oriented approach. Finding consistency with the role players is again going to decide a series for the Mavs. J.J. Barea, Brandon Bass, and Ryan Hollins appear to be up to the challenge, but success against the decidedly mortal Spurs may not be indicative of future success. Unfortunately, Denver has a huge leg up with the way their reserves have been executing on defense. The Nuggets won’t be able to enact the same strategies that worked against Chris Paul and the Hornets, but the fact that as a team the Nuggs were able to execute to near-perfection on the defensive end is a bit concerning. Chris Andersen and Anthony Carter are natural defenders off the bench, but even those considered suspect on that end (J.R. Smith, Linas Kleiza) have stepped up their game and helped the Nuggets to thrive on D. If the Nuggets are able to repeat their defensive performance, the impact of players like Barea and Bass could be rendered irrelevant.
But with players like Smith and Kleiza, if you can break their concentration by denying them the instant dividends of stops, you can potentially turn them into defensive liabilities. Dallas will need to work the mismatch game and continue to move the ball if they’re going to have that kind of early success, because despite what skill set and physique will tell you about the Kenyon Martin, he can’t guard Dirk one-on-one. This season, Dirk has averaged 30 points (44% shooting), 11.3 rebounds, and just 1.5 turnovers against Denver. Over their entire careers, Kenyon has been able to “hold” Dirk to 27.8 PPG (48.5% FG) and 10.1 RPG. Martin has become a talented, physical defender that can give a lot of players trouble. I just don’t believe Dirk to be one of them. Dirk has the range to pull him to uncomfortable spots on the perimeter, he has the pet moves to put Martin in foul trouble, and even if Dirk doesn’t have position or an angle, he has the height to shoot over him. Even the league’s best defenders aren’t ideal for guarding just anybody, and Martin is no exception.
The later George Karl realizes that, the better. But the Mavs need to be prepared for the impending defensive pressure. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some of the same double-teaming strategies employed by San Antonio, with the Nuggets betting they can outlast the Mavs’ supporting cast. Dirk’s passing ability will definitely come into play once again, as his ability to find open perimeter shooters and slashers down the lane will greatly affect the flow of the Dallas’ offense. That means that the other players on the floor need to create and work in space and be ready to answer the call. In the last series, that was Josh Howard, J.J. Barea, Erick Dampier, and Brandon Bass. But with Antoine Wright poised for a more prominent role this time around, things could get a little trickier. Wright is indispensible in his ability to spell Josh Howard as a defender for Carmelo Anthony, but his shooting is a bit suspect. His ability to either finish his looks, swing the ball after drawing the rotated defender, or use that space to drive to the basket will be crucial.
Brandon Wade/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT
“Guarding Carmelo Anthony” has been a prominent theme here, and figures to be one throughout the series. He looked completely unstoppable in the regular season, and Carlisle will have his hands full coming up with ways to slow him down. James Singleton is a rugged, physical rebounder and defender, but he lacks the technique and speed to keep up with a player of Anthony’s caliber. Antoine Wright will certainly have a go, but Anthony’s versatility will give him trouble, as well as Wright’s offensive limitations. Enter Josh Howard, the Mavs’ most promising defender at small forward. Howard didn’t have to guard an elite wing last series, but still played very impressive defense with a variety of on and off the ball tactics. And, most importantly, he was very focused and very active, a welcome to contrast to the sometimes lackadaisical Josh we’ve seen in the past. But everything won’t come up roses for Howard. He’s still a little wobbly on that bad ankle, and trying to protect against the drive while predicting Melo’s pull-up jumper won’t help in the least bit. Anthony’s got a killer first step and a vast repertoire, two factors that go heavily in his favor. It’s up to Josh to show that he’s ready for the challenge, and that whether he’s guarding Ime Udoka or Carmelo Anthony, he’s a top-notch defender in this league.
Personally, I wouldn’t take any chances. The more Josh is able to rest the better, because Anthony can be tired out just like Tony Parker was. If you give Carmelo a variety of looks and coverages to keep him on his toes, he may be worn down enough to be visibly impacted. Equally important is Josh’s offense, which can assist greatly in wearing down Anthony. Provided he’s making Carmelo work around screens and stay in front of him on the way to the basket, Josh can play a huge role in limiting Anthony’s minutes/effectiveness due to foul trouble and fatigue. Of course that’s only the beginning. Antoine Wright and James Singleton need to turn into the Mavs’ own version of the Nuggets’ Dahntay Jones, bullying and pushing on Carmelo every step of the way. That kind of beating can both wear down and test the patience of any player.
Speaking of Dahntay Jones, the Mavs defenders need to be fully aware of what he can (not a lot) and can’t do (quite a bit) offensively. I’m of the opinion that Jones’ defender should bring a strong double on either Chauncey Billups or Carmelo Anthony, forcing Jones to either make a play or make a shot. He doesn’t have much of a midrange touch and is reluctant to camp on the perimeter, which means that the Mavs’ frontline has to simply rotate to protect the basket should Jones opt to drive. Jones isn’t on the floor for his offense, so it’s up to the Mavs to take advantage of that by bothering Denver’s two best offensive options instead of Jones. Even that solution isn’t a cure-all, but the Mavs have to make the best of what they have defensively. It’s going to come down to so much more than K-Mart vs. Dirk or Chauncey vs. Kidd, because those are both going to be group efforts. Team defense is what it takes to stop teams as balanced as the Mavs and the Nuggets, and so the ability of Antoine Wright to stop J.R. Smith, while completely relevant, is really only the beginning of the discussion.
Photo from friends.mavs.com
It’s not that I don’t have great respect for Denver’s defense, but for the Mavs it really is as simple as “Do how we do, baby.” Jason Terry will face some tough defenders in Jones and Anthony Carter, but hopefully it’s nothing he won’t be able to overcome in transition and playing the two man game with Dirk. Essentially, Terry is the one spot where Denver can really take something significant away from a major Maverick producer. If Chauncey “takes away” Kidd’s offensive production, at best he’s taking away a spot-up shooter and bothering Kidd’s dribble. I have too much faith in Kidd’s court vision and ball-handling abilities to fret about that. If the Nuggets play Dirk one-on-one he’ll get his, and if not you’d hope that the role players are able to make up for the scoring with their suddenly easier looks. Howard has off-games, but he also provides a very different kind of player than anything the Nuggets had to face with the Hornets. Though Denver is a very different team than San Antonio, the series comes down to the same basic premise: rely on offensive efficiency while limiting the Nuggets enough to win. The Mavs simply don’t have the personnel to rely on defensive prowess to win, so their ability to execute against Denver’s D will determine their fate.
This series is a very winnable one for the Mavs. They have enough offensive firepower to overcome even the staunch Nuggets’ defense, and they have just enough to limit the Nuggets’ production offensively. Both of those rely on a million other factors, but the Mavs have have the players and the fight in them to advance. That said, I’m picking the Nuggets to win in seven. It’s going to take incredible strategic prowess to eliminate Dirk’s impact, but it would take a damn near miracle to eliminate Carmelo Anthony’s. Historically, he’s had his way with the Mavs, and though Carlisle has been nothing short of excellent thus far, I’m just not sure that the team can totally withstand an attack that centers around Anthony, but is by no means reliant on him. If Anthony (or Billups, or a combination of the two) can exploit the Mavs like Tony Parker was able to, Denver’s role players will finisht the job in a way the Spurs’ never could.
The first round is in the books, and the Spurs are no more (for now). There have been a lot of micro-level observations about the Mavs’ play and their responses to the Spurs’ specific strategies, but it’s about time that we make a good, honest appraisal of where this team is.
The Mavs have some fight in them. In the regular season, the Mavs could gut it out with contenders one night and then blow one against Milwaukee another. But we’ve seen a completely different look from the team in the last five games (well, four of the last five games). Where the old Mavs would roll over and hit the snooze button, the new Mavs leap out of bed fully energized and karate chop the alarm clock in half. They’ve been able to leap gaudy offensive efficiency numbers in a single bound, and their defense has been passable enough to secure wins. Tony Parker and Tim Duncan took their turns going on mini-runs in this series, and the Mavs built on the resilency they showed in the final games of the regular season and fought back. Call it experience, call it better offensive execution, or call it mental fortitude, but when the Mavs get hit they’re hitting back. That’s pretty huge progress from a squad that tended to fold like origami when faced with the slightest coercion a few months ago.
The Mavs are not an elite defensive team, but they’re also not a bad one. They currently rank 8th among playoff teams in defensive efficiency at 102.9, which for comparison’s sake would have ranked 7th in the regular season. They’re notably better than Houston (104.0), one of the best defensive teams in the playoffs. The sample size is hideously small, but there is a pretty big piece of anecdotal evidence that goes in the Mavs’ favor: against the Spurs, the Mavs were able to stop the Spurs from doing what they wanted to do. Poppovich wants to use Tony Parker and Tim Duncan as a mechanism to open up three point shooters, which can kill teams from the corners. Parker and Duncan are obviously still big-time contributors, but San Antonio’s offensive strategy hinges on those shooters. I’d be lying if I said the Mavs completely took away that strategy. Parker’s deep penetration still allowed plenty of open looks. But as the series went on and the team resigned itself to the fact that Tony Parker’s going to be able to get his, the approach shifted. Kidd and Barea began playing the angles, hoping to limit Parker and funnel him into the help rather than stop him. And on the perimeter, Josh Howard, Jason Terry, and even Dirk were locked in place on the shooters, either expecting the kick-out or rotating perfectly. The defensive rotations and shot contesting in Game 5 was some of the best we’ve seen from the Mavs all season. Don’t discount that, especially when this offense only needs a little breathing room to win.
Josh Howard is back. We all had our fingers crossed that throwback Josh wasn’t a mirage, and we lucked out. Frankly, he deserves a post all to himself, and he’s going to get one. But for now, it’s worth noting that there are four players that are legitimate stars on this team, even if the stat sheet isn’t in their favor every night.
The bench seems deeper than ever, and the mob is ready to contribute in a big way. J.J. Barea was pegged as a potential X-factor for the Spurs series, but Brandon Bass’ and Ryan Hollins’ contributions were nearly as valuable. The ability to throw a variety of defensive looks at Tim Duncan to keep him on his toes while also having a safety net for Erick Dampier’s foul trouble was indispensible. James Singleton has been lost in the shuffle of Josh Howard’s return, but he could be a piece of the puzzle to defend Carmelo Anthony (supposing Denver guts out another win). The success of Barea and Bass make stopping the offense that much more difficult, and they’ve eased the burden on the big guns by playing smart, gutsy basketball. Plus, Antoine Wright was a non-factor in the last series, but he’ll be an important defensive piece in a series against either the Nuggets or Hornets. At various points throughout the season, I’ve worried that a bench consisting of Barea, Hollins, Bass, and Singleton was akin to loading up your pistol with peanuts when you ran out of bullets. Not only did they each prove me wrong individually, but on the whole this bench is stronger than I’ve given them credit for.
Blocking out a star won’t stop its light from shining through. The bench was so successful in part because of all the attention Dirk and JET received. The Spurs were clearly ready to let Kidd, Josh, and the rest of the bunch decide the fate of this series, but those open shots and clear drives don’t happen unless Terry is getting trapped on the wing or Dirk is doubled at the free throw line. Both of their shot attempts were down, but their floor presence was unmistakable. Dirk showed off his much-improved passing game, and both he and Terry patiently waited out the defense. Yet even with both shooting significantly fewer shots, the Mavs’ offense looked unstoppable at times. The ball is moving to the open man, the turnover rate is as impressive as ever, and Dirk and JET are still making their mark despite their point totals. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still openly weep when Dirk goes for 50, but every time he makes a bullet pass to a cutter, an adorable little angel puppy gets its wings. Aww.
Quick announcement right off the bat: Graydon and I will be back today with another live chat at 1 PM CST, so drop by here or 48 Minutes of Hell with your questions and comments about Game 4 or the series.
Bethlehem Shoals of the Sporting Blog: “The Spurs have turned into a total enigma over this series with the Mavs. For the team whose strategy over the past decade has involved a healthy dose of consistency and professionalism, this isn’t a good thing. You’d think that bringing the series back home might give them a chance to swing the momentum and maybe start to dig their way out a 3-1 hole. But teams don’t just casually dig their way out of 3-1 holes. Especially not ones as all over the place as these Spurs. Between Manu’s absence and Duncan not really looking himself, maybe it’s best to let them bow out gracefully, and applaud the Mavs for something between an upset and a lucky draw.”
Something that isn’t mentioned much but deserves a headline: Antoine Wright has been contributing in a variety of ways all season long, and hasn’t griped once over his role with the team or his place in (or removal from) the starting lineup. JET’s been lauded for his unselfishness and willingness to come off the bench, but Wright has endured just as much, if not more. In spite of all the lineup changes, alterations in the rotation, and seemingly random drops in minutes, Wright has kept his head and his play up.
Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com: “If Pop decides to single-cover Jet with Roger Mason, as he did early in G4, I think Jet will break out of his slump. The Mavs believe that, too.” Objections? Fingers crossed that Pop sticks to his latest strategy of choice.
I know it’s just athletes talking to the media, but how can you read quotes from the Spurs and not get that unmistakably professional vibe? (And more here.)
David Moore of the Dallas Morning News: “Gush all you want about J.J. Barea. Focus on what Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry have been unable to do. Not nearly enough has been said about what Howard has done. The small forward has been the lone, consistent offensive force for the Mavericks in this series. He’s made the Spurs pay for their stubborn attachment to Nowitzki and Terry. San Antonio has thrown double-teams at Howard along the way, but he’s been able to slip through the defensive cracks to average 19.2 points. His 25 points in the team’s Game 1 victory help set the tone of this series.”
Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: “Outside of the Spurs’ All-Star twosome, no Spurs’ player is averaging more than eight points this postseason. Game 4 was the low-water mark: Parker set a career playoff high with 43 points, Duncan tap-danced with a triple-double — and the Spurs still couldn’t outscore the Mavs. Parker was 18 of 29 from the field, Duncan was 7 of 13. The rest of the team was 6 of 28. ‘Tony and Tim had a huge night, and a lot of us didn’t step up to help out,’ swingman Ime Udoka said. ‘We all felt we let the team down.’ Duncan says there will be no change of plan heading into Game 5 on Tuesday at the AT&T Center. The Spurs can only hope for a change of luck.”
David Moore of the Dallas Morning News: “Parker is playing in a different stratosphere. Those are Carlisle’s words, not mine. The Mavericks must throw everything at him in Game 3. Traps. Zones. Blitz him from different spots the moment he puts the ball on the floor. ‘We know how great he is,’ Carlisle said. ‘We’re going to have to be a lot better with our team defense. I don’t know if anybody ever stops a guy like Parker. He’s so good and so fast. But we’re going to have to do better on him.’ The coaching staff rarely consults me on these matters. OK, never is a better word to use than rarely. But here’s my suggestion. Open the game in a zone and start Jason Terry. The zone impedes Parker’s great straight-line speed. The pick-and-roll between Parker and Tim Duncan is also a little easier to defend out of the zone. Terry’s value is on offense. The Mavericks must attack Parker on defense. They can’t allow him to catch his breath against Jason Kidd or Antoine Wright. Parker would open on Kidd, not Terry. But the Mavericks can force Parker to switch off the pick-and-roll and bounce him off a few Dampier screens, something they have a better chance of doing with Terry than Wright.” I couldn’t agree more. The Mavs need a kick in the pants offensively and defensively, and the combination of the zone and the JET cover both fronts. Eventually, the Mavs will need to show some accountability with their man defense, but hopefully the zone can slow Parker to a mortal point total.
Graydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell, in response to my thoughts about Dirk’s mini-slump: “…Dirk Nowitzki is not Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, or even Chris Paul. My reaction has never been, ‘he’ll get his points; let’s shut down everyone else.’ I believe we can control the scope of the damage he causes. In order to do so the intensity of our defensive effort needs to be more than sophisticated; it needs to be ceaseless.” I hope we can say the same of the Mavs’ defense of Tony Parker.
Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News continues in a similar vein: “Guarding Nowitzki is not a one-man job. The Spurs have found success in crowding him on the catch, with players as disparate as Bonner and Bruce Bowen, then running other defenders at him on the dribble. The object is to coax Nowitzki to try tough jumpers from the perimeter or, better yet, give up the ball. Even then, the Spurs acknowledge there is only so much a defense can do against a 7-footer with 3-point range. ‘All we can do is make it difficult,’ Bonner said. ‘You can’t completely shut him down. You can only make him work for what he gets.’ The tactic of using a small army to hector Nowitzki isn’t exactly a reinvention of basketball strategy. The Mavericks deal with this close to 82 times a season. What is novel, in this series, is where some of the double-teams are coming from. The Spurs have been particularly aggressive in doubling Nowitzki at the high post, sometimes bringing an extra defender from under the basket. ‘I’ve never seen anybody do that,’ Nowitzki said.”
Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News: “The Mavericks, after reviewing the film of Game 2, know they didn’t have the pep in that game to keep pace with the Spurs. And as well as the Spurs played, it may not have mattered. San Antonio was outstanding. But whether or not the Spurs repeat that execution and effort, the Mavericks know they must upgrade theirs. ‘When we rebound, we’re in the game,’ Kidd said. ‘It doesn’t mean we’re going to win every game, but when you’re not rebounding – giving those guys second opportunities – they’re going to kill you. You could tell they were ready to play from the start and we were a little relaxed. We’ve got to get back to being aggressive.’”
Kevin Sherrington of the Dallas Morning News: “Bottom line: These guys know Erick Dampier. They play basketball with him. And he is not the mouth that roared Monday. ‘Nobody’s trying to hurt anybody, and Damp certainly doesn’t have the reputation of being a dirty player,’ Nowitzki said, leading him to conjure an example of a dirty player, which he provided, unprovoked. ‘They got one,’ he said of the Spurs. ‘We don’t.’…Meanwhile, the Mavs must play out of character a little bit. They must at least attempt to look tough. Get in someone’s way, for heaven’s sake. Maybe even make a Spur pay for taking advantage of their good nature. The Mavs just can’t afford to announce their intentions beforehand, no matter how much fun it was to read about it.”
The Morning News has Q&A’s with Mark Cuban and Team President Terdema Ussery. Both are wonderful reminders that regardless of you think of the Mavs as a team, they really are a top-notch franchise. Cuban claims to have only made a profit in two seasons of his ownership, and yet the interviews are littered with talk of winning over profit, constant improvement of the fan experience, and building/maintaining the organization’s image.
Kate Hairopoulos of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “Trying to get Dirk Nowitzki on track, point guard Jason Kidd said he won’t go out of his way to get him the ball. ‘I look for him less,’ Kidd said. ‘We’re not going to force it to him. There are other guys on the floor who can score. Work him into the game. He’s a veteran. He understands what he has to do.’ Nowitzki admitted having trouble with the high-post double-teams — with the Spurs essentially leaving the basket to help guard him — which he said he hasn’t seen before with the Spurs. He’s averaging just 16.5 points against San Antonio. ‘For a 7-footer, who’s non-athletic, it’s pretty hard to beat a double-team,’ he said. ‘I just have to take what’s there. … I think I’m going to have a few opportunities. But when I have them, I have to make sure I make the best out of them.’”
Erick Dampier, via Jean-Jacques Taylor: “Parker got into the teeth of our defense and caused problems,” he said. “Every time he drives the lane, we have to put him on his back. The first foul has to tell him he;s in for a long night…My first foul Thursday night is going to put him on his back. I guarantee it.” Take that to mean whatever you’d like, but at least it means that somebody is taking this personally. I’m usually a fan of slightly more subtle approaches than blatantly saying you’re going to go after somebody, but if it gets Damp going I won’t complain.
Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com: “No offense to Antoine Wright, but there is increasingly no real full-time role for him in this series. He started the game at the 2-guard and was asked to guard Parker. … got his jock (and two fouls) handed to him and grabbed a seat. He was called upon again in the fourth quarter – the Mavs were down 20 but had first-line personnel on the floor in what was maybe an attempt by Carlisle to re-assert the notion that Dallas and San Antonio are actually evenly-matched clubs – and AW did lots of nothing again.”
It’s worth noting that Dirk jammed the thumb on his non-shooting hand pretty well. No word yet on if the team expects the soreness to linger or if it’s anything serious, but I’ll keep you posted.
David Moore of the Dallas Morning News: Terry has declared that if the Spurs insist on turning him and Nowitzki into decoys that the Mavericks can still be successful. He needs to rethink that stance after Game 2. Below average nights by Nowitzki and Terry to open the series didn’t doom the Mavericks because Josh Howard made the Spurs pay with 25 points and the bench came up big. Counting on Howard is one thing. But role players can’t be expected to step up night in and night out. That’s not their role.”
Elie Seckbach talks with J.J. Barea, Shawne Williams, Brandon Bass, James Singleton, and other Mavericks. Based on the fact that Williams and even DeSagana Diop are in some of the footage, it has to be a bit old. Still has some good stuff in there, though.
Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News: “‘This was pretty much a must-win for them,’ said Jason Terry, who had 16 points. ‘Give them credit. Now it’s the same way for us going home.’ Terry dismissed any notion that the Mavericks’ mental state might be dented with the lopsided loss. ‘Whether it’s by one or 30, it’s just one game,’ he said.”
Joey Whelan of SLAM Online wrote that “Ultimately this night wasn’t about what Dallas didn’t do, but what San Antonion did do.” I wouldn’t be too sure. I mean, defense was something that the Mavs definitely didn’t do, and though a few stops wouldn’t have turned a 21-point deficit to mush without some offensive help, the Mavs didn’t do plenty, and that means a lot.
Graydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell: “I wasn’t sure I wanted Popovich to switch Bowen onto J.J. Barea. Yes, Barea played well in the first game. But Bowen did a good job ensuring Terry’s presence wasn’t felt. I was concerned the moment we moved Bowen onto Barea, Terry would make us pay. Pop did not share my hesitancy and confidently sicked Bowen on Barea. Popovich’s quick reaction time paid dividends: Barea scored 5 points on 2-8 shooting while Terry (16 points, 6-15 shooting) had a decent but by no means spectacular night. No longer scrutinized by Bowen’s relentless gaze, Terry was able to take almost twice as many shot attempts as game one. But the Spur’s defense had JET under control at all times. I wonder whether Pop plans on continuing to use Bowen against Barea or whether he was just using Bruce to cool the dimunitive Maverick’s hot little hand before he gained too much confidence.”
Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie rightfully worries about the defense: “…Dallas? I don’t know if they can turn these defensive issues around. This isn’t to say Dallas still isn’t my favorite to beat San Antonio, or even the Nuggets/Hornets in the next round. This team is that good enough offensively to make it to the final two. But with that personnel, I just don’t see a whole lot of improvement. Sure, the Spurs can miss more shots as the series heads to Dallas, I fully expect that the team’s offensive efficiency can and will go down quite a bit, but there will always be a chance at a game like Game 2. It doesn’t help that the Spurs had perfect, unfettered vision from beginning to end.”
Joey from Straight Bangin’ sometimes writes about basketball, but always writes in a way you can’t help but admire. His post is largely appreciating the Spurs as a team, a franchise, and an entity, but it does paint quite a picture of the current Mavs: “After years of manic tinkering, reactive decisions, and impulsive risks, always trying to be at the leading edge of the industry, Dallas came into this season relative staid, somewhat forgotten, and widely dismissed. Many people thought the Mavs would fail to make the playoffs, and it was generally accepted that the team was this almost grotesque amalgamation of mismatched parts, the ruins of all those hurried decisions and ever changing new directions…The Mavericks, instead, have coalesced, and now play with this assured calm. And don’t mistake calm as a synonym for plodding or boring. It’s not a stylistic designation; it’s one of identity. Suddenly, Dallas just seems to get what it is, and more importantly, it likes itself. I’d imagine that being marginalized was a key component in this odd renaissance of collective self-esteem. The Mavs are much more a team than they have been in the past. Far from a series of players colliding as each seeks out an identity, and far from a group in the throes of constant upheaval, Dallas is actually content to be what it is…Suddenly, Dallas is very much like San Antonio in this regard. And as such, I am suffering this bizarre sort of Stockholm Syndrome. I should hate the Mavericks for stealing away my moments with Pop and Timmy, yet I secretly love Dallas thanks to the identity metamorphosis.”
An appraisal from Graydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell: “For the time being, I have few recommendations to give. The theories behind the decisions we made on both ends of the ball remain sound; our difficulties lie in the execution. The most glaring failure was our interior defense: If we limit their points in the paint, we will quickly regain control of the series.” The Spurs seems to agree, and the Mavs hope to stay a step ahead.
Tom Ziller of The Sporting Blog: “For years, analysts have been racing each other pronounce the correct time of death for the Spurs. In the process, they have all been wrong. Pardon me, after watching S.A. dominate the Mavs for more than a half before submitting to incredibly hot shooting, for having a little patience with a team that has proved its power time and time again.” We’d all be wise to heed Ziller’s advice. This series is far from over.
Tim MacMahon does a wonderful job breaking down the stints of each defender on Tony Parker. The good news: J.J. Barea. You knew that already. The bad news? Antoine Wright had some serious problems staying in front of Parker, and figures to be a relative non-factor in defending TP. Don’t worry, Antoine, we have need for you in other places.
The Mavs are oozing confidence right now. Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News: “The Mavericks played the second half Saturday like they knew they were the superior team and were supposed to cart a W off the AT&T Center court. There was no tentativeness.’We knew we could come out here and get the win,” J.J. Barea said. “I’m not going to lie – it was a good feeling. But we still know we’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got to beat them three more times. It’s not an easy task. We’ve got to keep our heads and not get too excited.’”
Jakedfw of Mavs Moneyball drops some truth bombs, and they are awfully startling: “The Mavs defense stunk. Sure, the Mavs played some great defense during stretches of the game, but that can’t hide the fact that we gave up nearly 100 points in a game played at a snail’s pace. To put this game in perspective, the Mavs had a defensive efficiency of 119.8. This is very similar to the defensive efficiency they had in the Utah game on February 5, which was actually a slightly better 118.6. The result of that game where the Mavs played better defense? Well, you may remember it—the Mavs lost by 28, 115-87. And this, in a nutshell, is the scary part of the Mavs this post-season: Their offense has become so spectacularly good that they can play worse defense than in a game they lost by 28 earlier in the season and still win.”
Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News: “Watching Josh Howard torch the Spurs in the first game of the Dallas Mavericks’ postseason Saturday, a few onlookers might have thought they were seeing a story involving renewed dedication, or healing, or obstacles overcome, or even redemption. The problem is Howard thinks all of that is baloney. Told Sunday that teammate Jason Terry complimented the way he’s been able to focus recently, Howard said, ‘Same focus I’ve had since I’ve been in the NBA.’ Asked if his 25-point performance in the Mavericks’ Game 1 victory was a sign that his injured ankle is finally feeling better, Howard said, ‘No, it’s the same.’ When someone mentions the turbulence of his past year — one in which trouble popped up everywhere from talk radio to YouTube — Howard asked, ‘What have I been through?’ And as for the idea that he’s somehow using this postseason as a way to show how determined he is? ‘I was determined last year,’ Howard said, ‘and (expletive) got blown out of proportion.’” Regardless of where you stand or stood in regard to Howard’s recent past, he’s been turning lots of heads lately. I’ll raise my glass to the prospect of him turning a few more.
I’m not sure I agree with Jean-Jacques Taylor of the Dallas Morning News when he seems to indicate that bench play has been a strength all season long. I won’t argue that JET has been incredible. But lest we forget, the bench presented huge problems early in the season. Who was going to compensate for Josh Howard’s injury? Who was going to provide scoring on the second unit besides Terry? Barea and Bass had effective stretches, but there were dark times. The reserves have emerged in a big way of late, but let’s not fool ourselves by saying that the bench has been a strength the entire season.
Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie: “…you’ve got to admit, there are some troubling signs for the Spurs. For all the talk about the Spurs supposedly falling way off defensively during the regular season, let’s get real, this team was fifth in the NBA in defensive efficiency. Now, that’s down from third last season and second in the NBA when they won it all back in 2007, but that’s still a pretty stout year overall. And especially considering Duncan’s ineffectiveness on that end down the stretch, and so many of Manu Ginobili’s minutes being replaced by the hard working but ultimately step-slow Michael Finley. About 130 points per 100 possessions? With Dirk Nowitzki sitting most of the first half? At home? No, the Mavs couldn’t guard the Spurs at times, but they’re supposed to be average defensively. San Antonio’s issues on that end are a lot more troubling.” Dwyer is absolutely right, though. The Spurs are a step down defensively based on their own ridiculous measuring stick, but this is still an elite team on that end of the ball. And yet Dallas was able to put together a remarkably efficient game in spite of a sandbag of a first quarter. If the Mavs lose this series, it’s doubtful that the blame will lie on the offense. Rather, Michael Finley, Bruce Bowen, and Roger Mason will be standing in the corners, bloody daggers in hand.
Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com: “Well, after JJB’s sweet turn on Saturday (13 points, seven in the final quarter), the Spurs have a decision to make. Bowen on JJB? Then who covers Jet?Parker on JJB? Then how does Tony ever get a blow? Alter the rotation to include young Hill and or old Jacques Vaughn on JJB? Playoff series are all about game-to-game adjustments, and I’m sure Pop will come up with … something. But I’m not sure why he wasn’t able to ‘come up with something’ going into G1. Didn’t he already know JJB was capable of this?” Well, Pop? What up?
Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm: “The best thing about [Barea] on Parker was that Parker would burn him, and Barea would go right back to work. That’s a big thing to do against the Spurs. They’re effective against everything, but if one thing works 8 out of 10 times, then you look stupid 2 of the 10, you should still do it. Barea risked Parker going to the rack and breaking his ankles to not give him the first step of his explosion.”
Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News relays a question that has never, ever, ever been asked before: “Was Mavericks point guard J.J. Barea the chicken, and center Erick Dampier the egg in Game 1, and which came first?”
And some of them even happen to watch the Mavs. That’s why I went through the trouble of reaching out to Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com and Zac Crain of D Magazine’s sports blog, Inside Corner, to get their opinions on a variety of topics anchored around the upcoming Mavs-Spurs throwdown. Without further ado:
——————– Rob Mahoney: The Mavs draw San Antonio in the first round. Good thing or a bad thing? Would you have preferred the Mavs get a shot at Denver or Houston? Or was San Antonio the team at the center of your dartboard down the final stretch of games?
Zac Crain, Inside Corner: The two teams I targeted about a month ago were Portland and San Antonio. Portland: partially (and we’re talking, like, 5 percent) because they weren’t playoff-tested, but mostly because the Mavs had played them extremely well all season. San Antonio: because they’re the Spurs and the Mavs are the Mavs. Dallas isn’t the same team that beat ‘em in 7 in 2006, but the ghost of that squad is still there, and for that reason, you throw out the regular season records and expect them to fight it out all the way. SA is the one team in the league that still thinks of the Mavs in pre-2007 terms. (For the most part.)
I didn’t want Denver (the Mavs just don’t match up that well) and Houston, well, I think it would have been an interesting series, but I would have given Dallas less of puncher’s chance than they have against the Spurs. All that said, I am a bit worried about the fan base’s overly enthusiastic reception to the Spurs series. Not saying don’t be optimistic. I’m saying: cautiously optimistic.
Mike Fisher, DallasBasketball.com: I agree with Popovich (generally a wise move with it comes to basketball if not hirsute styling) on this one. And I’ll quote Jason Garrett circa mid-1990’s, too: “I do not concern myself with those things that are beyond my control.’’
I did consider Houston to be the most wobbly of those three teams. But. … combine the big brains of Pop and Redball and, basically, it’s a waste of time to worry about such things – unless, I guess, you are Avery Johnson’s 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks skipping blindly off the side of the Golden Gate Bridge.
RM: Which match-up, besides Dirk v. Bonner, presents the greatest advantage for the Mavs? And likewise, which match-up is the most advantageous for the Spurs?
I’m not sure the Mavs really have a singular mano-a-mano matchup that deserves to be ranked anywhere near the aforementioned. Sorry. As I noted in an analysis piece on Wednesday, Josh Howard is so frequently touted as an “X-Factor’’ that now even J-Ho himself is calling himself that. But an “X-Factor’’ seems to be, by definition, something of an “unknown,’’ a “surprise,’’ a “what-if.’’
And “what-if’s’’ don’t qualify as advantages I’m willing to bet on.
Zac Crain, Inside Corner: I’ll start with the second question: Tony Parker vs. anyone they throw at him. I just don’t see them really shutting him down in the slightest. An Antoine-then J.J.-then Kidd rotation might work against Deron Williams or Chris Paul, because those guys can pass and are willing to. Parker just wants to get to the hoop. As for the Mavs: I think Josh could go off against Finley. And they don’t really have a stopper coming off the bench. Big IF here: IF Josh’s ankle doesn’t give out.
RM: Which non-JET Mavs bench player has the biggest impact on this series?
Zac Crain, Inside Corner: J.J. Barea, for the same reasons the Spurs had so much trouble with Devin Harris: he’s quick, an aggressive penetrator, and a creative finisher. I think there is at least one game where he is the next day’s headline. Dark horse: Brandon Bass, because he’s the most athletic big man on both sides, and the Spurs are a bit creaky up front.
Mike Fisher, DallasBasketball.com: I say it’s whichever Mav big man Carlisle decides to pull out of his “Be-Ready’’ Bag. Erick Dampier will get the first (and second, and third) crack at Duncan. But somebody else is going to get 20 minutes at center. Will Bass and Hollins tag-team him like they did Yao on Wednesday? Isn’t Singleton long, athletic, frustrating and just enough of a perimeter threat to trouble Timmy? Is it time to pull the Dirk-as-center idea out of year-long mothballs?
Whatever the Mavs do here will be a fateful decision – one way or the other.
RM: What will give the Mavs the most trouble in this series? (You can go with players, strategies, a certain element that the Spurs excel at, etc.)
Mike Fisher, DallasBasketball.com: Enduring the pain of employing a “Let-Parker-Do-His-Damage’’ philosophy.
It kinda worked against CP3, who is the same sort of uncontrollable waterbug as Parker is. And heck, Kidd, Wright, JJB, whomever. … they aren’t going to actually stop offensive-minded rabbit PGs. So keep Parker from creating inside, keep a lid on his more controllable teammates, and grimace as Parker goes for 30-plus in three or four or five of the upcoming games.
And hope it ain’t enough.
Zac Crain, Inside Corner: Two things, one of which I mentioned before. They can’t stop Parker. And I’m not positive a “let TP get his” game plan helps much, because they don’t really rely on his setting up his teammates. Two: the corner three, which the Spurs have turned into an art form, and which the Mavs have never especially defended well.
“9X50’’ is the little T-shirt-worthy equation we coined at DB.com to celebrate what the Mavs have done with playoff appearances and 50-win seasons. The only team in Dallas’ class in those two categories? The Spurs, of course.
9X50. A celebration. For both franchises. For a couple more weeks, anyway.
Mike Fisher, DallasBasketball.com: The Mavs’ logic? “As good as we are at home, all we have to do is steal one in San Antonio!’’
The Spurs’ logic? “As good as WE are, period, we don’t have to STEAL anything!’’
I’m a journalist — I’ve got the Press Pass in the band of my fedora and everything — but I’m also a fan. (I’d also like to note that I’m a bitch, I’m a lover, I’m a child, I’m a mother, I’m a sinner, I’m a saint). The fan satisfaction I’d get from Dallas winning would be matched by the journalist satisfaction I’d get from correctly predicting the upset.
Mavs in seven.
A big thanks to Zac and Fish for playing along, and be sure to check out their other work at DallasBasketball.com and Inside Corner. And don’t worry, you’ll get plenty of my thoughts on the series soon enough.
From Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News: “‘What’s important is that we’re jelling at the right time,’ said Wright, adding that Sunday’s win over Phoenix ‘was a big game for us to see where we are mentally…I don’t know too many teams that want to see the Mavericks right now. They can say what they want, but we’re a dangerous team.’ Perhaps. But moving up a rung or two on the playoff ladder would do more to get everybody’s attention than talking about it. ‘With the way our schedule is set up, this is a great test to see if we can make any noise,” Jason Kidd said. “We’ll be battle-tested.’” I wouldn’t be so sure, Antoine. A lot of teams want a piece of Portland, but when faced with the prospects of playing Portland or playing Dallas, who do you think the Lakers would pick? The Mavs have definitely been impressive, but those of us with long memories know that can’t last forever. Let’s just hope that this time around it lasts much longer, and is demonstrative of some real progress.
Todd McKean lists the Mavs among the best teams to never win a championship on TrueHoop.
It’s possible that Manu Ginobili’s injury won’t impact the Mavs whatsoever, unless Dallas can break through to the second round. But it’s still huge news, and still game-changing to those of us looking at a basketball scene that isn’t exclusive to Dallas. Check out the takes of Graydon Gordian and Tim Varner at 48 Minutes of Hell, and Matt Moore at Hardwood Paroxysm.
This was one of those posts that sat in my browser as a tab all day long, and when I finally got around to really reading and appreciating it, I was sorry that it had taken me so long.
David Moore of the Dallas Morning News: “Donnie Nelson, the club’s president of basketball operations, is at the NCAA regional in Kansas City. Keith Grant, the team’s assistant general manager, traveled with the team to Atlanta for Thursday’s game, then left for the Miami regional. The Mavericks have scouts at the six other sites as well. ‘This is a good time for Donnie and myself to see a lot of guys in one setting,’ Grant said. ‘We haven’t been out like the scouts have. It’s good for us to see a few more teams in one spot.’” Glad to see the scouts going to work. This draft pick is an incredibly important one in the context of where the Mavs go from here, and it’s crucial that the Mavs make the most out of their selection or somehow manufacture it (along with other assets) to bring back a contributing piece. Despite the fact that this draft class is pretty weak at the top in my opinion (news of the world crumbling at Blake Griffin’s feet appear overstated), there are good players ripe for the picking if you play your cards right. The Mavs are currently pencilled in for pick #20; NBADraft.net has them picking Wake Forest’s James Johnson, and DraftExpress has them picking Jonny Flynn out of Syracuse in their respective mock drafts. Personally, I’ve got my eye on Flynn, DeJuan Blair, Darren Collison, Ty Lawson, and Tyreke Evans. Some of those could be hopeful, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com with an unexpected focus for the Mavs’ potential success in the coming stretch: “One other reason JJB must be counted on this week (whether he comes off the bench behind Jason Terry or not) are this week’s matchups. Golden State comes in here Wednesday, and JJB can on paper match up a bit with Monte Ellis. Denver comes in here on Friday and JJB’s quicks will be helpful against Chauncey. I’m not sure I’m predicting a big week for JJB. What I’m predicting is that Dallas could sure use a big week from him.”
Jason Terry is a wise man. So wise, in fact, that he understands the value in rest, and more importantly, an off-day during a competitive playoff race (via David Moore of the Dallas Morning News): “‘This win is huge,’ Terry said. ‘This keeps Phoenix off our heels. Now we get four days to rest up and let the other teams beat up on each other.’”
“Too late is tomorrow’s life; live for today.”
First of all, I apologize for just how late/non-existent everything has been around here this week. My spring break has been excellent, but visiting family and friends back home leaves me barely enough time to watch the games, much less keep up with these duties. Everything should be back to normal on Monday. Better than that, actually, as I’m hoping to develop a more regular schedule for recaps/grapevine/previews/etc. Thanks for bearing with me in the meantime.
Despite the fact that the Mavs won by a small margin to an inferior team yet again, this was a quality win. It’s easy to look at the Pacers and the final differential and deem it a moral loss, but that wouldn’t be doing justice to everything that went right in this game. The Mavs won on the road without Erick Dampier and Josh Howard. They won with a colder-than-ice shooting performance from Dirk Nowitzki in the 2nd half. And they won without Jason Terry or anyone else turning in a truly superhuman performance. Instead, the Mavs won with guts and resolve alone. The Pacers continued to have prayer (Jarrett Jack’s three to beat the shot clock) after prayer (Danny Granger’s bank-in jumper while double teamed at the shot clock buzzer) after prayer (T.J. Ford’s unlikely fadeaway three pointer with Wright in his face) answered, and the Mavs always had an answer. And get this: their answer wasn’t always on the offensive end. How about that?
Is it a terrific honor to play good defense against the Pacers, a team that plays forgettable, uninspired defense themselves and lacks a truly potent offensive? No. But, for these Mavs, any strong defensive performance is more significant, if for no other reason than you don’t know if it’s a trend or an aberration. Are the Mavs a bad defensive team that turns in a few good-to-great defensive games? Or are they a good defensive team that still fights through confusion and effort issues 70 (now 71) games into the season? One of those seems to be the more conclusive, and certainly supported more fully by game data, but anecdotally it could go either way.
Jason Kidd had one of those games that makes you thankful he’s a Maverick. He controlled the second half; he first jump-started the Mavs’ second-half offense by rebounding and igniting the fast break, and he followed up his own success by being ominpresent and omnipotent in the most crucial stretches of the fourth quarter. A steal there, a deflection there, a rushed short or pass everywhere. He guarded everyone from Jarrett Jack to Danny Granger, and he really wreaked havoc out there. Antoine Wright will rightfully claim most of the credit for limiting Granger, but no conversation of the Mavs’ defense would be complete without mention of Kidd’s exploits.
Jason Terry was effective but not overwhelming, scoring 17 points on 6-13 shooting to go with 4 assists and 3 steals. He actually started the game in place of J.J. Barea in place of Josh Howard, proof that after the loss to Atlanta the Mavs meant business. It was a perfectly understandable move by Carlisle; Barea had hit double-digits in scoring just once in his six starts, and though his playmaking has generally been fine, a starting shooting guard probably shouldn’t be shooting around 38% from the field in his starts. J.J.’s response was 7 points and 6 assists on 50% shooting, and, most importantly, 0 turnovers. Singleton (who had a double-double with 10 points and 11 boards) and Bass did their part in providing energy off the bench. It wasn’t always beautiful, but their efforts were commendable.
Gerald Green made an appearance early in the 2nd quarter, and immediately hit a baseline jumper and converted an alley-oop layup. But it wasn’t all quite that easy, and it never really is with Green; he missed his next three attempts and still looks homeless at times in the Mavs’ sets going both ways. Though, in his defense, the lineup he was put on the floor with (Kidd, Barea, Bass, and Singleton) is hardly the Mavs’ most potent offensively, and everyone seemed to be looking to get the ball to Green. I wasn’t displeased with his shot selection, but the results were less than spectacular.
Dirk’s poor shooting was as much a product of an ill-timed cold streak as it was the Pacers’ D. Brandon Rush and Danny Granger refused to surrender an inch when guarding him, Troy Murphy refused to bite on Dirk’s pump fakes, and Jeff Foster gave him a lot of trouble by stripping the ball at the waist. But that didn’t stop him from making two of the biggets shots of the game in the last minute and a half, including this one:
Incredible. Kudos to Jason Terry as well, for hitting a huge three with under a minute remaining that should have been the dagger. I don’t know what supernatural force T.J. Ford was in contact with or what he bartered in exchange for that make, but that is some sort of intervention, divine or otherwise.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Jason Kidd. 10 points (3-8 FG, 2-3 3FG), 9 rebounds, and 5 assists hardly makes me scream from the rooftops, but the way in which he converted most of those rebounds into immediate offensive sequences kept the Mavs in this thing and helped them build a small lead in the third. In a game that was eventually won by 2 points, I’m thankful for all the little things he did.