The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 81, Los Angeles Lakers 101

Posted by Connor Huchton on April 3, 2013 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

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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 Mavericks’ season, for all playoffs-related purposes, ended on Tuesday night, and now we’re left to consider what this lukewarm, odd journey meant.
  • As a Dirk Nowitzki three-pointer failed to reach its intended destination late in the fourth quarter, I realized it would fall to me to essentially eulogize a tumultuous season of Mavericks’ basketball.
  • I thought about O.J. Mayo in the fall, Shawn Marion in the winter, and Dirk Nowitzki in the spring. I thought about the guarded hope of Brandan Wright’s line-drive hook shot, and I thought about the eager play of Bernard James. I thought about the managerial sense of Mike James, and the ever-hopeful exuberance of a Darren Collison drive. I thought about Vince Carter’s return to respect and the journey he and all of us are on, and I thought about the stoic stare of Elton Brand. I thought about all of this, and I sighed and considered all the different reasons that this sum of hope would now amount to nothing in a competitive sense. But a season is not nothing, no matter the result. It’s an emotional journey for those who (perhaps foolishly) choose to invest in its path. That path will lead longtime Mavericks’ fan somewhere unexpected this year – to a place apart from the playoffs. But disappointment does not erase the uniqueness of the journey, and another season and another path awaits in the not-so-distant future.
  • What I will write about tonight is the summation of a grimly typical occurence  - a harsh regression to realistic shooting performances, and a firm departure from the exalted three-point bubble  of glory that’s gracefully covered all of this team’s faults for the last month or so.
  • “In other words: If the jumpers stop falling, the Mavs could be in trouble.”
  • Zach Lowe wrote that sentence less than a week ago, and it’s prescience quickly came to fruition.
  • The Mavericks’ reliance on mid-range success was perhaps the most tenuous aspect of the team’s recent form, and tonight the team failed in that area entirely.
  • The only Maverick who succeeded regularly on offense was Chris Kaman (7-10 FG, 14 points, six rebounds), who turned in one of his better performances of the season.
  • Dirk has always defied defensive hopes with his dominance of the left-sided mid-range game, but that defiance counted for little against a hard-charging Lakers’ defense.
  • He shot and missed all four of his shots from 10-23 feet in that left region, and misses like these always ring loudly with foreboding for even the greatest of mid-range shooters.
  • And like so many nights this season, any hope for a defensive save collapsed after an especially rough second quarter.
  • Earl Clark (7-14 FG, 17 points, 12 rebounds, five blocks), once widely considered a draft bust and NBA failure, played a far more complete and Maverick-destructive game than anyone once would have guessed possible not long ago.
  • But it did happen, as Clark scored from any region possible and defended Dirk with all the aplomb of a young James Worthy.
  • Even more decimating was the play of one Kobe Bryant (8-18 FG, 23 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists).
  • In the absence of Steve Nash, Bryant and the other Laker guards found Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard (10-20 FT) in the post all night, to the tune of a combined 38 points on 25 field goals (and 22 rebounds) from the pair.
  • I’d guess this kind of complete performance is what the overbearing contingency of Lakers’ fans always imagined when this team was first constructed – solid post play, tough interior defense, and a confident Kobe controlling tempo from the perimeter.
  • But such a performance couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Mavericks, who simply appeared unable to generate a significant counter to the Lakers’ play.
  • The cornerstones of these Mavericks, mid-range and three-point shooting, dissipated with the rapidity of a changing wind, and an inability to capitalize at the rim (6-12 FT) closed the door definitively on any sort of courageous final comeback.
  • I have no doubt that the Mavericks, not yet mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, will go on fighting with the heart of a battling, worn down champion, as they have all season. This team does not lack for heart – it simply lacks for well-fitting parts.
  • Along with all the pain and struggle of an uneven season, the 2012-2013 Mavericks heaved forward, one three-pointer at a time, until the proverbial well ran dry and there was nothing left to do but keep fighting against a dooming reality. Playoffs may go, but beards are forever.

Wright here, Wright now

Posted by David Hopkins on April 2, 2013 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

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“Greetings, men of Earth, I have been awaiting you.” — Galactus, Devourer of Worlds

Let’s start with a philosophical question: What’s the most important position on the court? Like all philosophical questions, it’s more of a thought experiment than something to directly answer—similar to “if a tree falls in a forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Obviously, in regards to the “most important position,” the answer is that it depends. It depends on the players the team has, the type of offense and defense the team runs, and the opponents they face. The discussion is more significant than the conclusion, because it reveals fundamental thoughts on how basketball operates as a team sport. I would suggest that the debate narrows down to the positions of point guard and center. The point guard is often the “floor general,” the person who controls the ball up the court, and sets the offense. The point guard has his hands on the ball, facilitating, more than any other player. The center is closest to the basket. In theory, he has the high percentage shot. He is also the defensive anchor, the last resistance for anyone driving to the basket. His very presence can alter the offense’s decision on whether or not to dare any closer to the rim.

This season for the Mavs, the point guard and center positions have been the most inconsistent and continually in flux.

At point guard, the departure of Jason Kidd may have hurt the Mavs more than they are willing to admit. Then there was the mysterious departure of Delonte West. Darren Collison hasn’t been able to make his case as the starting point guard or even deserving more minutes when coming off the bench. He has had moments of offensive production. But for someone so fast, he hasn’t been able to move particular well—especially on defense. I shudder every time I see Collison attempt a full-court press against another point guard. As he backpedals, playing his opponent close, I can count down the seconds, 5… 4… 3… 2… until a foul is called against Collison. To fill in the gaps of Collison’s gaffs, the Mavs have used Derek Fischer, Dominique Jones, Rodrigue Beaubois, and finally settled on Mike James. James, while not a perfect or even long-term fix, has surpassed expectations. Collison may eventually grow into his role as a starting point guard, but I’ll leave that discussion for another time.

At center, the Mavs have four players all vying for the same spot: Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, Bernard James, and Brandan Wright. Each of them have, at times, disappointed. Bernard James, although older than Brandan Wright, is a rookie. He’s the only one who gets a pass. Anything James can produce this season is a boon for the team. However, Brand, Kaman, and Wright are all free agents next season, and they need to be evaluated with more scrutiny.

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Escaping the Basement

Posted by Brian Rubaie on March 7, 2013 under Commentary | 3 Comments to Read

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Playing basketball in the NBA’s Southwest Division is not for the faint of heart. The division is less than a decade old, born in 2004 after the dissolution of the Midwest division, but has successfully produced three NBA champions in the nine seasons since, and accounted for half of the Western Conference playoff field on four separate occasions.

This season marks the first time Dallas has posted a losing (4-7) record within the division, one of countless other unsettling and unusual occurrences. Fans struggling to cope with the new reality hope this season represents an anomaly, a rare transition year providing an opportunity for hungry and promising free agents to earn a spot on next season’s squad, a unit which aims to return to the top of the division standings with a healthy Dirk Nowitzki and the expansive cap room necessary to facilitate a big-ticket free agent signing.

That outlook is far too rosy. While the 2013-2014 Mavericks will possess a former MVP, a great coach and the hope of a big addition, their division opponents will be equal to any challenge they’ve previously encountered. Other divisional foes have only improved in recent years and show no signs of letting up. Dallas, meanwhile, will confront several obstacles that make a return to the top half of the division much more difficult to foresee.

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The Rundown, Volume XV

Posted by Bryan Gutierrez on February 25, 2013 under Commentary, Recaps | Read the First Comment

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The Rundown is back. Every Monday (unless there’s a better feature to run with), The Rundown will chronicle the week that was for the Mavericks, as well as let you know what is coming up for the boys in blue, with a unique spin. Simply put, it is your Monday catch-up on all things with the Dallas Mavericks.

The week was highlighted with trade rumors, determining if Dirk Nowitzki’s basketball game was dead and actual basketball. As usual, it was an up and down week for the Mavericks. The final game before the Rundown, against the Los Angeles Lakers, might prove to be the moment where people might need to find nails for the 2012-13 coffin for Dallas. There’s still time for them and they’re not mathematically out of the picture, but that loss against the Lakers will hurt in a big way. Let’s take a look at the week for that was for Dallas.

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 104, New Orleans Hornets 100

Posted by Connor Huchton on February 23, 2013 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

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Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

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 Mavericks have failed consistently when trailing in close contests this season, which made the Mavericks last-minute triumph on Friday night feel particularly rewarding. Mike James (2-4 FG, 1-2 3PT, five points) and Vince Carter (7-13 FG, 5-7 3PT, 22 points, nine rebounds) nailed consecutive essential threes in the final minute, the latter of which secured the Mavericks’ win.
  • Vince Carter’s three served as a nice reminder of why the Mavericks appeared so reluctant to trade Carter as the deadline neared. He’s been frankly great in comparison to expectations this season, through an amalgam of three-point skill, defensive improvement, and solid rebounding. Few players fulfill their roles as well as him, and never was that more true than in the final momentous seconds of a badly needed win.
  • Dirk Nowitzki (10-17 FG, 2-3 3PT, 25 points, seven rebounds, four assists) controlled the game offensively from the mid-range areas, namely on the right side, and continued his trend of looking progressively more comfortable serving as the Mavericks’ primary focal point on any given possession. The spacing Dirk creates just by finding a jumper rhythm early on is absolutely vital to the Mavericks three-point shooting and scoring efforts (Dallas was 8-20 from three tonight).
  • A couple of other thoughts: Bernard James (2-2 FG, four points, six rebounds, seven blocks) played an aesthetically pleasing and effective game tonight. He finished well, rebounded very well, and defended tenaciously. Seven blocks in 15 minutes is pretty impressive, no matter how you view it. I also want to mention how well the Mavericks passed tonight: 26 assists to 12 turnovers, a ratio I’d partially assign to Dirk’s presence and partially to the measure of perimeter spacing the Hornets allowed, which the Mavericks seized strongly.

Asset Management

Posted by Bryan Gutierrez on February 14, 2013 under Commentary | 5 Comments to Read

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The trade deadline is always an interesting time for the Dallas Mavericks. Mark Cuban has always said two things when it comes to that time of the year: the team will always be opportunistic and don’t believe what you hear or read when it comes to them. The team is at a crossroads. The chances of making the playoffs are slim and the team has to do what they can to ensure they don’t waste any more time off of Dirk Nowitzki’s career. The deadline on the 21st is one way they can help build for the futre. How do the Mavericks assess things as the trade deadline approaches? Let’s look at the assets and what could be out there.

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 123, Sacramento Kings 100

Posted by Connor Huchton on under Recaps | Read the First Comment

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

  • “Where would the Mavericks be without Vince Carter?” is not a question I thought I’d be asking myself in February, but here we are.
  • Carter (9-15 FG, 6-9 3PT, 26 points, five rebounds) carried the day (or night) for the Mavericks by knocking down five three-pointers in the third quarter against an ever-floundering Kings’ defense.
  • Carter is now bordering on 40% for the season from three, which places him just behind O.J. Mayo (3-11 FG, 0-7 3PT, 10 points, three steals, three turnovers) on the Mavericks’ three-point shooting ladder.
  • On nights when Mayo’s jumper isn’t falling, having Carter as an outside threat is vital to the offensive effectiveness of Dallas.
  • Not many people liken the basketball style and production of Vince Carter to that of Larry Bird, but Carter has now scored more points than the famed Celtic.
  • (Tonight, he passed Bird for 29th on the all-time scoring list.)
  • Two other players carried the weight for Dallas: Darren Collison (7-12 FG, 18 points, nine assists) and Dirk Nowitzki (6-9 FG, 17 points, eight rebounds, six assists, three steals).
  • Collison looked sharp in transition play and did a good job of finding Carter open on the wing in the second half.
  • He also made four of five attempts at the basket, reinforcing the idea that if Collison is going to succeed in the Mavericks’ system, it will be by exploiting spacing advantages (often via Dirk) to the tune of reaching the rim and finishing artfully.
  • Tonight, he did that, and the rest of his game followed suit.
  • As for Dirk, this game provided great encouragement.
  • This was the second consecutive game where Dirk looked much like his old (or in this case, younger) self.
  • He spaced the floor well, made open jumpers, and took long strides to the rim when overplayed by a defender.
  • Those are the Dirk tenets to success, and their implementation resulted in both scoring and passing improvements.
  • Dirk’s passing has become more important to his game with age, and when he’s scoring at will in conjunction with those passes, his ability to assist evolves into a more potent threat.
  • I’ve also been very pleased with how Bernard James (2-3 FG, five points, six rebounds, 16 minutes) has played in his recent starts.
  • He’s paired quite well with Dirk on both ends, taken shots only when needed, and rebounded with decent aplomb.
  • He still struggles with foul trouble a little too easily (he recorded four fouls tonight), but the rest of his skills progress nicely with each game.
  • Comparing how the Mavericks and Kings controlled the ball tells the story of the game fairly well: 27 assists and 12 turnovers for the Mavericks; 17 assists and 18 turnovers for the Kings.
  • Jae Crowder’s (4-7 FG, 3-6 3PT, 11 points) solid play in a fairly brief 16-minute stint served as a pleasant surprise.
  • Crowder’s minutes have dwindled in quantity and consistency during recent weeks, so it’s nice to see him seize an opportunity like this.
  • Every time I watch the Kings, most of the team appears all-too-passive when it comes to guarding the perimeter. That passivity seems like a fixable problem, but it could be the product of an overarching personnel issue (only James Johnson strikes me as an above-average perimeter defender, and he spends much of his time guarding power forwards).
  • With the All-Star Break upon us, it’s a good time to look forward. The Mavericks will likely have to win about 20 of their remaining 30 games to compete for a playoff spot. I’m hopeful that the 8th seed is still possible, but the Mavericks will need to become a far better road team than they have been thus far this season (15-10 at home, 8-19 away) to achieve such a chance.

Rarefied Air

Posted by Brian Rubaie on February 13, 2013 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

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In a season rife with inconsistency, disappointment has been the lone constant for the 2012-2013 Dallas Mavericks.  Dallas is experiencing its least successful season of 21st century. The losses have taken a frustrating toll on devoted fans, players and coaches alike.

No one seems more bothered by the team’s performance than Rick Carlisle, who rarely allows himself the pleasure of celebrating or accepting credit for victories but often makes it a point to take personal responsibility when losses mount. The accountability Carlisle displays speaks well to his character but is also misleading. As much as Dallas has struggled, Carlisle has masterfully captained a ship that could’ve easily sunk long ago.

That point was strongly reinforced in Carlisle’s 500th victory one week ago against the Portland Trailblazers. The fans and players awarded Carlisle a standing ovation, an act which Carlisle predictably greeted with the same modesty he’s displayed throughout. Dubbed the “Baller of the Week” by our own Bryan Gutierrez in this week’s Rundown, Carlisle remarked that “It’s meaningful, but I’m not into those kinds of things. … One relief I have is I think after tomorrow I won’t have to hear about it again for a while, so that’s good.”

Carlisle doesn’t want the attention, but his achievement marks the season’s single most impressive feat in Dallas. With few other causes for celebration, win number 500 provides an appropriate moment for basketball fans to pause and appreciate this great coach’s work. One week later, the magnitude of the event, and the thought of all the work that it took to achieve it, is still a challenge to fully appreciate.

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Pocket Pair

Posted by Ian Levy on January 31, 2013 under Commentary | 10 Comments to Read

051:365 Magic Pair!

This has been an incredibly turbulent season for the Mavericks from a player personnel standpoint. They faced their first 27 games without Dirk Nowtizki, and with just five other returning players on the roster. An NBA roster has 15 slots, but the Mavericks have already used 19 different players this season, not including Delonte West — with whom the Mavericks parted ways before the season began. Each week it seems there is a new addition to be welcomed to the fold, bringing with them the warm tidings of hope.

Since he took over in Dallas, Rick Carlisle has proved repeatedly that managing personnel is one of his greatest coaching strengths. He has been innovative and progressive in managing his lineups and always seems to pull the most from each of his players. This season however, putting the pieces together has been a constant challenge. No matter how he arranges them, they don’t seem to fit together quite as uniformly as they have in the past, and the image never becomes totally clear. I’m personally of the opinion that it’s because these pieces don’t all come from the same puzzle, and that no matter what five-man unit Carlisle runs out onto the floor, some part of it will be a hasty Spackle job trying to hold back the rising tide of flood waters. However, I thought it might be interesting to look at the different lineup foundations he’s tried by examining his success (and lack thereof) with various two-man combinations.

The visualization below lets you look at all the different two-man combinations the Mavericks have used for at least 100 minutes this season. Unfortunately, to create all the combinations I had to place several players on both axes, which can make for a slightly confusing view. The size of each square represents the number of minutes that pairing played. The color represents that pairing’s Net Rating, or point differential per 100 possessions. If you hover over any of the squares you can also see that combination’s Offensive Rating and Defensive Rating. The filters below let you include or eliminate pairings based on any of those variables.

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The three least efficient areas to shoot from are inside the paint (but not in the restricted area), from mid-range and straight ahead three-pointers. Altogether, 63.7% of this lineup’s shot attempts come from those three areas. Going back to my shot-selection metric from two weeks ago, the shot selection of this lineup gives them an XPPS of 0.988, where the league average is 1.047. They feature above-average mid-range shooters, but are using that weapon to a fault. Above-average ability isn’t manifesting in above-average success, and their Actual Points Per Shot is an even lower 0.936. From an outsider’s perspective, this group seems like they may be fundamentally incompatible offensively, even with Nowitzki’s eventual improvement taken into account.

Although you never like to see anyone injured, Kaman’s concussion offers the possibility for an interesting experiment. Kaman has had a solid individual season putting up 18.8 points per 36 minutes, the second highest of his career, on a TS% of 53.3, his highest since 2008-2009. However, his rebound percentage is the lowest since his rookie season and the Mavericks have generally struggled when he’s on the floor. Dallas’ defense is 3.6 points worse per 100 possessions with Kaman in the mix, a margin that’s ultimately not all that surprising. However, the Mavs’ offense is also 2.9 points worse per 100 possessions with Kaman involved. Turning back to the visualization above, we see that Kaman is featured in 12 different pairings, only two of which have outscored the opposition. Those two — with Brandan Wright and with Jae Crowder — have played a combined 343 minutes, 44 of which are overlapped.

Much of Carlisle’s rotation work this season has felt like tinkering around the edges. As long as they’ve been healthy, the foundational pieces of Kaman, Nowitzki, Mayo and Marion have been largely cemented in place. With Kaman out, Carlisle will be forced to manipulate his foundation, and there is an opportunity for Brandan Wright and Bernard James to find their way back into the regular rotation in a significant way. Both Wright and James have been featured in several successful (albeit scarcely used) pairings, and I can’t help but feel that they are under-utilized assets. Neither player is comfortable away from the basket on offense and each would give the Mavericks a very different look than with Brand or Kaman alongside Nowitzki. When we talk about spacing issues we are usually referring to a team with a lack of outside shooters, allowing the defense to clog the paint. In this case I think the Mavericks can actually improve their spacing by removing overly-willing outside shooters; the insertion of James or Wright will force the defense to expand their focus and defend more of the floor, more vigorously.

The visualization also makes it seem that there could be potential benefits in increased roles for Vince Carter and Jae Crowder. Carter has done tremendous work in keeping the second-unit offense afloat, but maybe it’s time to let him work long more court time with Nowitzki. His ability to work inside and out, particularly as a post-up threat, seems like it could also alleviate some of the one-dimensional reliance on the mid-range jumpshot. It would be a difficult pill to swallow, but perhaps Mayo would be better off swapping places with Carter. Moving to the bench might feel like a step backwards for Mayo and could have significant impacts on team chemistry, but at this point the Mavs’ current rotation isn’t doing much for the team’s present or future.

In addition to his work for The Two Man Game, Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, and a contributor to Indy CornrowsHardwood Paroxysm, HoopChalk and ProBasketballDraft. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 110, Phoenix Suns 95

Posted by Connor Huchton on January 28, 2013 under Recaps | Be the First to Comment

Sunrise

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

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 Mavericks’ win on Sunday night could be described as a story of beginnings and endings (and that’s how I’ll describe it).
  • The starting unit began the game well, on the heels of precise ball movement and an active Shawn Marion (9-19 FG, 18 points, nine rebounds, five assists), and finished equally adeptly, as Dirk Nowitzki (7-14 FG, 18 points, seven rebounds) closed out the fourth quarter with the scoring precision of, well, Dirk Nowitzki.
  • Bernard James (1-2 FG, two points, three rebounds, 11 minutes) started the game at center for the Mavericks and performed well enough, though James’ 11 minutes may be indicative of the move’s dual purpose as a means of motivating Chris Kaman (2-4 FG, six points, five rebounds, two turnovers, 11 minutes). Neither James or Kaman served as part of the best pairing with Dirk, however.
  • That distinction lies with Elton Brand (6-10 FG, 12 points, three rebounds, 17 minutes), as it has much of the time in recent weeks.
  • I’d be remiss to write any further without mentioning that Dirk passed Allen Iverson for 18th all-time on the NBA’s scoring list. Well done, Dirk.
  • And hopefully his ascension towards further tiers of that list continues.
  • Though their numbers weren’t gaudy, the Mavericks’ guards deserve credit for a job admirably done. O.J. Mayo (4-9 FG, eight points, six assists), Darren Collison (3-7, eight points, five assists), Dahntay Jones (4-5 FG, 11 points), Vince Carter (5-8 FG, 2-3 3PT, 15 points, four rebounds, three assists, three steals), and Rodrigue Beaubois (3-7 FG, eight points, three assists, three rebounds) collectively played quite well, and their overall decision-making radiated excellency.
  • That excellent decision-making propelled the Mavericks to 26 assists and only 13 turnovers, good for an aesthetically pleasing 2:1 ratio.
  • All 13 active Mavericks earned playing time, which in this case was indicative of a comfortable win.
  • Another key to the Mavericks’ victory was how well they spaced the floor.
  • Guards were able to make post passes into feasibly-sized windows, and areas of the floor were often carefully sectioned off for the sake of Shawn Marion, Dirk, or cutting guards (Mayo, Beaubois, etc.) on their way to the basket.
  • That element of movement and spacing is absolutely crucial for a team that’s been frequently mired in offensive stagnancy.
  • Four Mavericks’ centers played significant minutes tonight, which give some insight into the current revolving door of Mavericks’ center minutes.
  • Brandan Wright (1-3 FG, four points, three rebounds, three assists) was the fourth center used tonight. He first saw minutes in the fourth quarter and helped spark a momentous run with keen passes near the basket and an important finish.
  • Wright was also the only Maverick to make less than 42% of his shots, another mark of a thoroughly efficient offensive performance.