The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 103, Portland Trailblazers 96

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 29, 2011 under Recaps | 6 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-04-29 at 12.29.04 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas82.0125.653.824.431.611.0
Portland117.147.526.635.78.5

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

  • It’s hard to be too shocked over the Mavs’ Game 6 victory given the way they’ve performed in this series, but relief certainly seems apt at this point. Kindly disregard the “playoff demons” pseudo story; that relief has nothing to do with 2006 or 2007, doesn’t feature the word “finally,” and honestly has nothing to do with anything save for this year’s Mavericks and this year’s Blazers. Brandon Roy’s emergence as a factor in this series was rather unlikely to begin with, but his supernatural effectiveness on his home court did introduce some reason for uncertainty. Dallas’ general reluctance to work through Shawn Marion as much as they should have (particularly when Gerald Wallace was off the floor or matched up with someone else) had the potential to create problems if Jasons Kidd and Terry had coinciding poor performances. Dirk Nowitzki’s slightly low shooting percentages in the majority this series weren’t a problem, per se, but could have been. I saw all of these things — along with an evaporating lead, stints of fantastic team defense followed by lackluster stretches, LaMarcus Aldridge facing up and attacking Brendan Haywood, Gerald Wallace being, frankly, dominant in Game 6 — and wondered if Dallas and Portland weren’t due for a Game 7. Apparently they weren’t. The Mavs got the stops they needed (though they essentially played chicken with Wesley Matthews’ three-point stroke to do so –  it’s not a strategy I’d necessarily recommend), and got huge buckets from Kidd, Terry, Marion, and naturally, Dirk. The stars didn’t align to extend the series, the better team did what was necessary and took the ball out of the hands of Portland’s most capable scorers as much as they could, and things unfolded in the manner the first five games of the series predicted they would. It’s great to be wrong.
  • Nowitzki’s point total had the benefit of some late-game padding, but he was sensationally effective in the first half, and…oddly unneeded for most of the second. Nowitzki didn’t score a single point during the Mavs’ third quarter run, as Kidd played a masterful 12 minutes (four points, 2-3 FG, four assists), Terry scored eight points in just over six minutes, Marion cleaned up where he could, and Chandler finished inside. The franchise centerpiece functioned as an effective decoy, as the Mavs managed to build a 17-point lead without Dirk having to lift a finger on offense. There was some good semi-transition action to facilitate Dallas’ flow, but even their halfcourt play during the third quarter gives reason for optimism in the second round; the Mavs need those multiple points of attack if they’re going to hang with the Lakers.
  • The zone is still looking strong. It didn’t “stop” the Blazers’ offense, but it did generate empty possessions. Portland had a lot of trouble hitting any of their jumpers against the zone, and though Dallas naturally went back to their man-to-man coverage, Portland never could find their rhythm against the zone. The shift to man defense came of the Mavs’ own volition, a fact which shouldn’t be overlooked; Dallas was able to control the game with their choice of defensive strategy.
  • Tyson Chandler (nine points, seven rebounds, one block) and Brendan Haywood (zero points, three offensive boards, four total rebounds) again defended LaMarcus Aldridge effectively in the post. Aldridge eventually established a good offensive rhythm by facing up against the Maverick bigs on the wing, but those jumpers and drives are shots Dallas could — and did — live with. Obviously one would prefer that Chandler and Haywood contest those attempts as best they could, but the fact that Dallas almost completely removed Aldridge from the game as a post-threat was, and is, pretty significant.
  • Gerald Wallace (32 points, 10-17 FG, 12 rebounds, one turnover) played a tremendous game, and I’m curious how Dallas would have fared had Wallace been available in the second quarter. Wallace’s back seized up after his initial run, and he retired to the locker room for the duration of the second frame. He returned, naturally (I’ve never known mortal injury to even deter Wallace), but not before the Mavs had outscored his Blazers 33-16 in the second. Wallace had 16 points and six rebounds in the first quarter, seven points and four rebounds in the third, and 12 points and two rebounds in the fourth. Considering how poorly Nicolas Batum and Rudy Fernandez played and have played in this series, Wallace’s 12-minute unavailability could be seen as a back-breaking moment for Portland. Dallas fully recovered from their early deficit during that crucial second quarter, and established the momentum they carried through the third. Playoff “what ifs” are a futile exercise to a degree, but Wallace’s absence was conspicuous, and his production (not to mention his defense) sorely missed.
  • If you’re of the opinion that J.J. Barea may have played a bit too much, I’d encourage you to reconsider. He did introduce some defensive difficulties at times (the Mavs were forced to double down when Barea was being attacked in the post, for example) but he had productive stints in the second and fourth quarters. Seven points, four rebounds, and four assists without a turnover is pretty solid production in a game of this pace, and the quality of looks he generated — particularly in the second quarter — was impressive. Regardless, I’m sure his minutes will dip a bit as Rodrigue Beaubois is reintegrated into the rotation.
  • Pour one out for Portland — the Blazers are a fine team, a well-run organization, and an opponent worthy of respect. They didn’t quite have the depth nor the defense (What on earth happened to the Blazers’ turnover-inducing ways?) to extend the series, but this was a hell of a way to kick off the playoffs, regardless of the outcome. LaMarcus Aldridge is a legitimate star, and taps into the basic basketball desire for a do-it-all big man. Brandon Roy provided the postseason’s best individual narrative blip, and turned in as dominant of a fourth quarter showing as I’ve seen. Gerald Wallace and Wesley Matthews are the kinds of entertaining, effective, and relentless players that any team would be lucky to have. Andre Miller and Marcus Camby are somehow still criminally underrated, and managed to fly under the radar in this series despite making a genuine impact. It’s been another long, trying season for Portland, but for us basketball fans enjoying from afar, it’s been a treat to watch the franchise-wide resilience. Keep on keepin’ on, BlazerNation.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 93, Portland Trailblazers 82

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 26, 2011 under Recaps | 6 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-04-26 at 12.14.32 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas83.0112.042.933.341.714.5
Portland98.845.918.923.714.5

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

  • Let this game be known henceforth as the “Oh, the Mavs have Tyson Chandler” Game. TC has been a crucial part of this team all season, and his heralded work on the defensive only constitutes part of his success. This was the full Chandler experience, something unfelt and unseen in the first four games of this series due to foul trouble, a lack of emphasis on establishing Chandler as an offensive option, and TC’s own offensive complacency. Rick Carlisle and the Mavs coaching staff clearly identified that problem and sought to correct it, as Dallas consciously made an effort to get the ball to Chandler early and often. From there, Chandler built on his touches with one of the finest offensive rebounding performances I’ve ever seen, and the most prolific in Maverick playoff history. He was single-handedly responsible for Dallas’ monstrous 41.7 offensive rebounding rate, and demonstrated a complete mastery of the tap-out; every board that Chandler couldn’t claim outright was tipped, pushed, or swatted in the direction of a teammate. On Monday night he was able to secure the board or redirect it to a teammate 13 times in an 83-possession game, which sounds impossible but apparently isn’t. Just insanely effective board work from Chandler on top of great scoring (14 points on four shots) and fantastic post defense.
  • About that defense: Chandler and Brendan Haywood both did a tremendous job of limiting LaMarcus Aldridge in the post, marking the third game in a row that the tandem was able to hold Aldridge to under 43 percent shooting from the field. Aldridge’s point totals have dropped in each game of the series so far: from 27 to 24 to 20 to 18 to most recently, just 12. I wouldn’t expect Aldridge’s scoring production to get any lower than his Game 5 total, but the Mavs’ defensive improvement in that matchup has been remarkable, particularly when considering just how prolific Aldridge was in the first two games of this series and against Dallas in the regular season. Halting Aldridge isn’t always enough, but it’s a valuable foundation for building up the team defense on the whole.
  • Aside from Andre Miller’s mind-boggling drives to the rim and Gerald Wallace’s uncontested opportunities in transition, the Blazers really didn’t have much offensive success at all. Aldridge was, as noted above, limited by terrific defense. Brandon Roy wasn’t given the same free rein to drive and kick that he was in Game 4. Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, and Rudy Fernandez had their opportunities limited against both the Mavs’ oppressive zone and swarming man-to-man configurations. There was little rhythm to anything Portland did on the offensive end, and Dallas refused to bail them out with purposeless fouls and free trips to the free throw line. 98.8 points per 100 possessions is a fantastic defensive mark, and the Mavs rightfully earned it with their effort and execution. This is the kind of performance that renews faith — not only in the fact that Dallas can win another game in this series and advance to the second round, but that they’re capable of competing beyond the ending of this series.
  • Jason Kidd scored four points, but as is usually the case, it didn’t matter. His 14 assists and seven rebounds more than made up for any perceived scoring deficit, and made those three-point-heavy outings to start the series seem like a thing of the past. I’m sure the Mavs are pleased that the offense need not rely so heavily on Kidd for scoring; team-wide scoring balance is just more fun, and having so many players producing efficiently gives Dallas much greater operational latitude. Plus, while those scoring outbursts from Kidd were quite helpful in the Mavs’ early-series cause, Kidd also had a tendency to chase shots. Even veterans are vulnerable to heat checks, and Kidd was attempting two or three rushed attempts a game in an attempt to hold on to whatever jumpshooting magic had enchanted him. Those heat checks are gone — as are most of Kidd’s shots — because the Maverick offense has returned to a more natural state, and is functioning as efficiently as ever.
  • Dirk Nowitzki didn’t allow Portland to double team him. He was incredibly decisive, and on the catch, almost immediately committed to a full-on drive towards the rim or a pull up jumper. There’s a certain elegance to Nowitzki’s slow-motion game; the way he measures up defenders, ball fakes into open space, spins, and counters is an artful dance. Yet when Nowitzki takes this more direct, aggressive approach, he sacrifices a bit of the artfulness in his game in order to maximize production. It’s a shame, but a necessary shame; Dallas needs wins and they need Nowitzki to be highly effective, and attacking the defense before it has a chance to double is a terrific way to achieve both ends.
  • I’m still shocked at how little of an impact the size of the Blazer guards has had on the series overall. Those matchups have been problematic for moments, but they’re clearly not go-to options; as much as Miller, Roy, Matthews, and Batum would love to pick on J.J. Barea in the post, Portland just hasn’t gone to that strategy with any frequency. Part of the reason is that Jason Terry has done a fantastic job of fronting, contesting the entry pass, and even bothering shots in the post. He’s been a passable post defender, which is all Dallas really needs him to be; with JET removed as a defensive liability down low and Beaubois still having yet to play a game in this series, Barea is the only clear matchup disadvantage in post-up guard play. Throw in the time that Barea spends guarding Rudy Fernandez (who doesn’t have the frame nor the proficiency to operate from the block), and it’s a bit more difficult for the Blazer guards to post up the Mavs than many — including myself — anticipated.
  • I still don’t understand why the Blazers have been so willing to switch and muddle their matchups. Dallas — particularly due to Jason Kidd’s patience — works diligently to exploit mismatches, and Dirk Nowitzki’s versatility makes those efforts especially worthwhile. Those switches don’t appear to be by design, but it’s certainly curious that they happen so frequently.
  • A really smart, effective game from JET. His three-point stroke was a bit errant (1-of-5 from that range), but he scored 20 points on 18 shots, made smart passes, found open space, and played defense. This wasn’t Terry as Fourth Quarter Hero, but simply Terry doing exactly what his team need him to do in an efficient manner. Jumpers from the short corner don’t make the highlight reel, but you have to appreciate these kinds of performances from JET.
  • Dallas didn’t solve their turnover problems, but they did eliminate Portland’s marginal (a word used as literally as possible) advantage. The offense “improved” by virtue of the defense; the Blazers and Mavs posted identical 14.5 turnover rates, negating any disadvantage that Dallas’ giveaways once held.
  • J.J. Barea had one of his better games of the series, despite scoring just four points on 2-of-6 shooting and picking up a single assist and a turnover to match. It’s just been that kind of series for Barea.
  • Much ado has already been made of a hard screen that Brian Cardinal set on Patty Mills in the closing moments of the game, with the verdict already set in stone. It’s a non-issue, honestly. Cardinal appears to have gotten in a bit of a cheap shot, sure, but Mills was also guilty of that same zeal in his full-court press. Plus, as is usually the case with the biggest hits on screens, the problem is largely one of communication; Mills wasn’t hit so much as blindsided, and the fact that Cardinal put a little more into it than was necessary is really secondary to the fact that no one told Mills he was about to get creamed. Cardinal’s pick was hardly out of line in the grand scheme of things, even though that fact matters little; the Blazers were already frustrated, and it’s understandable that they (and their fans) are looking for a rallying cry after a loss like this one. Now they have it. Remember the hard pick that no one bothered to tell Patty Mills about! Never forget the injustice of a halfcourt screen!

Ramblin’ Rose

Posted by Ian Levy on April 25, 2011 under Commentary | 4 Comments to Read

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Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and a part of The Two Man Game family. He’ll be bringing his intelligent brand of — mostly quantitative — analysis here on a weekly basis. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

After Games 1 and 2, we met two lineups, The Grays and The Longs, and identified the utilization of each as an example of the approach the Mavericks and Blazers were bringing to this series. The part played by each unit changed dramatically over Games 3 and 4, again revealing a lot about the status of each team.

The Longs have essentially disappeared from Portland’s rotation, playing less than a minute together over the past two games. Nate McMillan obviously has some player combinations he likes better. He might want to take a look at these numbers, because despite taking both games in Portland, most of what he’s been trying hasn’t worked very well. The table below shows the five-man units Portland has used for at least three minutes over the past three games.

LineupMinutesPoss. ForPoss. OppPts. ForPts. OppORtg.DRtg.Net
Miller - Matthews - Wallace - Aldridge - Camby53.1791909698105.5108.9-3.4
Fernandez - Roy - Batum - Wallace - Aldridge15.6528273341117.9151.9-34.0
Miller - Matthews - Batum - Wallace - Aldridge19.103233263981.3118.2-36.9
Miller - Roy - Matthews - Wallace - Aldridge11.6322203218145.590.0+55.5
Miller - Matthews - Batum - Aldridge - Camby9.8016172025125.0147.1-22.1
Fernandez - Roy - Matthews - Batum - Aldridge5.2289108125.088.9+36.1
Fernandez - Roy - Batum - Wallace - Camby3.06655550.0100.0-50.0

Over that stretch, only one lineup has consistently hurt the Mavericks. It’s the Andre Miller – Brandon Roy – Wesley Matthews – Gerald Wallace – LaMarcus Aldridge combination, which has outscored the Mavericks by 14 points across 11 minutes. Interestingly enough, this lineup only played 2 minutes and 48 seconds together during the Blazers fourth quarter comeback on Saturday.

The Blazers’ 20-point advantage in that quarter was built mostly by two other lineups. The Rudy Fernandez – Roy – Nicolas Batum – Wallace – Aldridge configuration was +7 over the first 6:28 of the 4th. The Roy – Matthews – Batum – Wallace – Aldridge lineup was +8 over a one-minute, 43-second span towards the end of the quarter. However, those two lineups have played another 18 minutes together across the rest of the series, in which they were outscored by Dallas by 13 points. The Blazers didn’t run away with the fourth quarter because they stumbled into an effective new lineup. Rather, a method they had tried previously began to click. For one quarter, Brandon Roy turned into Jerry West and Jason Terry turned into Darrick Martin, triggering a sudden change in the performance of a familiar lineup.

That the Blazers were able to come away with two wins at home will obscure the fact that they still aren’t playing very well. If we take away Brandon Roy’s magical fourth quarter in Game 4, we find that the Mavericks outscored the Blazers by 13 points over 7 quarters of play. The Blazers are still left with just one lineup that has been successful over a significant stretch in more than one game.

The table bel0w shows the same lineup information for the Mavericks, covering the last three games.

LineupMinutesPoss. ForPoss. OppPoints ForPoints OppORtg.DRtg.Net
Kidd - Stevenson - Marion - Nowitzki - Chandler26.134241413797.690.2+7.4
Kidd - Terry - Marion - Nowitzki - Chandler17.0630323645120.0140.6-20.6
Barea - Terry - Stojakavic - Nowitzki - Haywood18.3031314739151.6125.8+25.8
Barea - Terry - Stojakavic - Marion - Haywood9.7518191814100.073.7+26.3
Kidd - Terry - Stojakavic - Nowitzki - Chandler11.0021193119147.6100.0+47.6
Kidd - Terry - Marion - Nowitzki - Haywood9.0017141913111.892.9+18.9
Kidd - Terry - Stojakavic - Marion - Haywood7.551313101276.992.3-15.4
Kidd - Barea - Terry - Nowitzki - Haywood7.201212158125.066.7+58.3
Kidd - Barea - Stojakavic - Nowitzki - Haywood4.37891113137.5144.4-6.9
Kidd - Terry - Stojakavic - Marion - Chandler4.598771187.5157.1-69.6
Barea - Terry - Marion - Nowitzki - Chandler5.2391031133.3110.0-76.7

The Grays (the Jason Kidd – Jason Terry – Shawn Marion – Dirk Nowitzki – Tyson Chandler lineup we identified as a key factor in Game 1) have been ineffective to say the least, being outscored by nine points over a span of a little more than 17 minutes. This is one of the player combinations Rick Carlisle relies on in crunch time, which makes it unsurprising that Dallas has struggled late in games (the Mavericks have been outscored by 22 over the last two fourth quarters).

That ineffectiveness shouldn’t be a huge concern for the Mavericks. Most of their negative differential comes from a roughly five-minute stretch in the fourth quarter of Game 4, when they were outscored by 13 points due to Roy’s hot hand and their own failures to execute on offense. Over that stretch, Roy scored 12 points and assisted on two other baskets, while the Mavericks couldn’t create a single shot attempt for Nowitzki, turned the ball over twice, and attempted five long jumpshots.

Roy’s explosion has changed the series, but that doesn’t mean it’s a permanent course correction. The Mavericks have still been the better team for most of the four games, narrative intrigue be damned. Additionally, his performance could have some unintended side-effects. When Roy was producing less, his role in the Blazers’ offense was defined. Tonight, Nate McMillan will have to decide how much to let what happened in Game 4 change the way the Blazers attack the Mavericks. This could potentially be good news for Dallas; Roy seems unlikely to produce at the same level, but will probably see more minutes and use more possessions. He’s has been a shell of his former self for all but the most recent 15 minutes of this season. He was largely the difference the Blazers were able to even the series, but those 15 minutes are not a large enough sample size to convince me he’s ready to pull that off two more times.

I realize I’m looking at two tough losses with rose-colored glasses; I can’t help it. After two close losses in Portland, everywhere I look I see roses.

Epic, Episodic

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

We’re two days removed from Brandon Roy’s storming of the Bastille, and everything since still seems like an epilogue. The lack of actual game action is the most obvious reason why; with nothing more recent to obscure the memory, Roy’s Game 4 ascendancy is the last vivid element to drive the Mavs-Blazers narrative. Dallas frittered away a 23-point lead, and the players and coaches are reminded of it with every bit of glowing admiration for Roy, every SportsCenter hit, and every feature headline — as they damn well should be. The Mavs ceded to Roy the right to be the defining story of Game 4 and the entire series, and in doing so, cast themselves in a role that has been foreign given their position over the last four seasons.

As of right now, your Dallas Mavericks are the bad guys. I’ve made mention in the past (and particularly over the last two seasons) of Dallas’ potential for villainy, but this new role is something completely different; the Mavs may have been villainous by stealing emotional wins on the road or breaking opponents’ streaks, but at the moment they’re adversaries of a fundamentally shallower characterization. Against all odds, the Blazers — led by a talented, upright individual on his way to redemption following an Act 2 strife — overcame an incredible deficit over a superior team. There were reaction shots. Framed images of the scoreboard’s clock, ticking closer and closer to zero. Slow motion clips of Roy’s crossovers, drives, and jumpers underneath goosebump-inducing melodies. Game 4 was a contest of great cinematic importance, and if Roy and the Blazers were celebrating their amazing moment in the spotlight, the Mavs were necessarily the team in black, taken down by their own hubris in the face of Roy’s virtue.

Luckily, playoff series’ are so rarely defined by a single narrative arc. There are shifts abound, as the various characters involved each impact the matchup in their own way. Roy was magnificent down the stretch on Saturday, but could very well revert to being unexceptional tonight. He could fade into the background — or stick out sorely in the foreground with an inefficient, high-usage outing — and return the series to its earlier dynamic. Roy’s Game 4 performance is a necessary part of the series canon (and may endure regardless of the eventual victor), but Dallas isn’t doomed to be the capable team that fumbled away a big lead and an even bigger opportunity against a heart-warming story; now that the latest episode is complete, the Mavs have an opportunity to move on. Roy smiled and the credits rolled, and tonight’s game brings an opportunity to begin anew.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 22, 2011 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

Kevin Pelton, Basketball Prospectus: “[Nate] McMillan also changed his finishing lineup. While [Brandon] Roy got back on the court when the Blazers needed more shooters and ballhandlers to close out the game, Portland played with its starting lineup most of the stretch run, putting more size and rebounding on the floor. I’m not sure there was a verdict on that decision, as the teams played even during the stretch the Blazers used their starters. Over the course of the season, however, Portland has been much more effective with Aldridge at center and Wallace at power forward in a smaller, quicker unit. Looking ahead to Saturday’s Game Four, the Mavericks can feel good that they had a chance to steal a game in which the Blazers rode their crowd to an early lead. Dallas can also point to missed opportunities at the line, where they shot just 56.5 percent (13 of 23), including an atypical 4-of-7 effort from Nowitzki. Nonetheless, if Roy has found a way to contribute for Portland in this favorable matchup, that might prove the most crucial takeaway of all.”

Ben Golliver, Blazersedge: “Portland’s initial push came courtesy of Matthews, who practically refused to talk about his individual play after leading Portland with 25 points on 8-12 shooting. Thankfully, LaMarcus Aldridge was there to do it for him. ‘I think every game [this series] the team that’s won it has had someone play really, really well,’ Aldridge said. ‘Tonight it was Wesley.’ There’s been so much to like about Aldridge’s maturation this season but that quote is near the top. Aldridge, Matthews and everyone else with a pulse in the Rose Garden knows that the bulk of the headlines are going to Brandon Roy, who finished with 16 crucial points off the bench to help push Portland over the hump. But it was Matthews’ hot shooting that got Portland up early. 16 points in the first quarter. 22 points in the first half. Good shot selection (even including the heat checks, which you know are coming). Solid defense throughout the game on top of it. That Aldridge would single out Matthews with praise — despite his own success on the night and the mountain of questions about Roy — is a moment that will endure. Credit where credit is due. Recognition and rewards for those who have earned it.”

Tim MacMahon (and Ben Rogers), ESPN Dallas: “An object thrown from the Rose Garden stands hit Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban in the face during Thursday night’s Game 3 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. The incident occurred midway through the fourth quarter after Cuban had been interacting with the fans in the section behind the Mavericks’ bench. Cuban was not injured. ‘I don’t know what it was, but something hit me in the face,’ said Cuban, who encouraged fans to boo him more by putting his hand by his ear. Extra security was assigned to the area behind the Mavericks’ bench for the remainder of the game. There were no other issues.”

Read more of this article »

The Difference: Portland Trailblazers 97, Dallas Mavericks 92

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Recaps | Be the First to Comment

Screen shot 2011-04-22 at 5.40.56 AM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas85.0108.258.119.118.918.8
Portland114.153.322.718.910.6

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

  • Frustration is a natural precipitate of playoff basketball; combining two competitive entities in elemental form creates not only an expected solution, but a necessary, balancing byproduct. The glow of a win must stand against its opposite, so as Portland goes one way in victory, Dallas goes another. The Mavs are frustrated. Rick Carlisle is frustrated. You’re probably frustrated. There are plenty of reasons to be after Game 3, with the lost potential of a commanding 3-0 series lead perhaps chief among them. Many will point to questionable officiating (with a certain video replay call made in error as only the most obvious example). Others, perhaps, to lost opportunities at the free throw line. Yet the most frustrating aspect of all was a return to normalcy for both teams in the turnover column. Dallas ranked 21st in the league in turnover rate this season, while Portland ranked second in opponent’s turnover rate. That combination seemed highly reactive from the start, and yet the turnover battle was hardly an important part of the series narrative prior to Thursday’s game. Then Jason Kidd turned the ball over three times in the first quarter, reestablishing the season-long Maverick tradition of surrendering possessions midstream. Dallas posted a turnover rate of 18.8, their highest of the series and significantly more damaging than Portland’s 10.6 mark. Every reckless move fed the possibility of a Maverick loss, ultimately leaving the whole evening plump with the potential for disappointment. It’s just one loss, but it’s one loss that could have effectively ended the Blazers had the Mavs not participated in their own temporary demise.
  • As unfortunate as this loss was, those numerous frustrations aren’t guaranteed to persist; this one lost opportunity is no reason for legitimate despondency, considering how well Dallas played even in defeat. The Mavs can find solace in the fact that they generally worked their way into favorable shots, even after Jason Kidd (eight points, 3-9 FG, three assists, six rebounds, five turnovers) and Peja Stojakovic (seven points, 3-7 FG, three rebounds) returned to earth. Dirk Nowitzki (25 points, 10-21 FG, nine rebounds) was able to shoot a decent percentage from the field for the first time all series. Portland’s offensive rebounding was held to a reasonable level. Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum contributed during a crucial fourth quarter run, but were largely unproductive on offense. Even with the loss, there’s a lot to work with and plenty to look forward to in Game 4.
  • For a night, Jason Terry (27 points, 10-13 FG, 5-7 3FG, seven assists) walked on air. JET had played productive minutes in both Games 1 and 2, but his performance in Game 3 stands among the best by any player in this series thus far. Terry was the Mavs’ one consistent source of points, and he expertly used his defensive draw to set up teammates for easy scores. Just productive, heady play from a big-time playoff performer. Terry was able to fuel Maverick runs and keep the team afloat when the offense struggled, and while it’s a damn shame that Dallas couldn’t take full advantage of JET’s excellence, it was a treat to see Terry in optimal form.
  • Fittingly, JET was balanced by his positional counterparts; Wesley Matthews (25 points, 8-12 FG, 4-6 3FG, three assists) and Brandon Roy (16 points, 6-10 FG, four assists) were both fantastic for the Blazers, and together accounted for over half of Portland’s points. Roy will draw the primarily of the attention, as he transformed from self-pitying distraction to valuable contributor almost overnight. However, Matthews’ combination of three-point range, driving ability, and aggressive defense offers the greater long-term concern. Roy may have had a profound impact on this particular game, but he’s not at a point where he can be trusted to do the same on Saturday, much less for the rest of the series. Matthews, on the other hand, stays relatively constant in his effort, even if not his production. He can be a difference-maker with his hustle and defense alone, and when he’s dropping 25 on efficient shooting as well, he presents a rather substantial problem.
  • The Mavs’ defense was stifled by the Blazers’ impressive shot-making (as was the case with the Blazers’ D and the Mavs’ shot-making as well), but Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler did incredible individual defensive work against LaMarcus Aldridge. LMA still managed to get his, and several of his buckets were quite timely. That said, a few big baskets don’t erase Aldridge’s less efficient overall line; he may have scored a bit and even kept Chandler off the court by putting him in foul trouble, but his presence was significantly less taxing on the Dallas defense than it has been in games past. 30 minutes of Haywood typically isn’t conducive to effective play, but he filled in for Chandler admirably.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

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

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

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

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

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 101, Portland Trailblazers 89

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-04-20 at 12.39.53 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas81.0124.753.925.025.07.4
Portland109.953.827.320.614.8

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

  • This was just a pristine performance by the Mavericks. Dallas performed well in virtually every area — they drained their shots, curbed their early defensive troubles, kept their turnovers way down for the second straight game, kept a scoring balance that allowed for some fantastic offensive synergy, hit the glass, and got to the line frequently. It’s hard for such a holistically excellent performance to inspire anything but optimism; most of the worries that survived the Mavs’ Game 1 win were surely vanquished in their Game 2 explosion. So much still depends on the accuracy of Dallas’ perimeter shooters, but let that be a concern for another day. On Tuesday, the Mavs feasted, and for the moment that’s all that matters.
  • LaMarcus Aldridge is playing Dirk Nowitzki (33 points, 9-22 FG, seven rebounds, four assists) well on the defensive end, and it hasn’t meant a damn thing. He stays grounded, contests shots, and generally tries not to commit on any of Nowitzki’s fakes. Yet Dirk was able to attack both Aldridge and a slew of other defenders by spinning into the lane and setting up on the low right block, both of which paid off in free throw attempts and close-range looks. At this stage, I’m not even sure how Aldridge could possibly defend Nowitzki more effectively — the effort is there, and his D is fundamentally sound, though perhaps too aggressive in spots. If the Blazers are less physical with Dirk, they’ll concede more easy jumpers. If they throw more double teams at him, he’ll simply find Jason Kidd, Peja Stojakovic, or Jason Terry spotting up on the perimeter. Aldridge is doing his best to make Nowitzki’s looks as difficult as possible, and yet Dirk still finished Game 2 with 33 points on 22 shots while only recording a single turnover. There are some forces in this world which are just not meant to be stopped or deterred.
  • Jason Kidd (18 points, 7-11 FG, 3-6 3FG, eight assists, four rebounds) reprised his role as unexpected three-point marksman, and even made a layup just for the hell of it. Again: it’s not important that Kidd, specifically, produce like this on offense every night out, but it is important that someone does. If not Kidd then Terry, and if not Terry then Shawn Marion, etc. For now, it’s simply great to see Kidd performing at an elite level in the playoffs, something he’s never done in his Maverick career. Fresh legs are only the half of it; Kidd is flat-out playing better ball than he did for large stretches of the regular season, and his scoring has added a fantastic new dimension to the Maverick offense. Expectations based on Kidd’s late-season performance, fatigue, and age be damned — Kidd has been a pillar for Dallas in the playoffs thus far.
  • The Mavs’ lack of turnovers against a team as (typically) defensively active as the Blazers is a huge story. Dallas didn’t turn the ball over a single time in the second half, which is about as rare as it sounds; according to NBA.com’s StatsCube, Dallas is just the second team to pull off a no-TO second half in playoff history. For them to do so against the second best team in the NBA in opponent’s turnover percentage is flat-out ridiculous. The Mavs ball-handlers are settling into their offense really well, but Nowitzki is also doing a great job of passing out of double teams.
  • Peja Stojakovic (21 points, 8-13 FG, 5-10 3FG, five rebounds) validated his acquisition with a single game, and the playoffs are just getting started. At the time of Stojakovic’s signing, I was admittedly skeptical of what he could offer; Sasha Pavlovic was converting 43.8 percent of his threes for the Mavs while riding out 10-day contracts, and his defensive pedigree made him a more appealing role player option in my mind. Yet it’s hard to imagine Pavlovic would have been able to pull off the kind of performance Stojakovic did last night, even if the Blazers are a bit slow to get their hands in the faces of perimeter shooters; the former simply isn’t as proficient in coming off of curls for catch-and-shoot opportunities, nor was Pavlovic well-suited to fire under duress on those occasions that Portland did close out hard on the three-point shot. Not that the comparison between the two players even matters at this point — the important thing is that Stojakovic is earning his keep and his playing time, and on Tuesday his shooting gave Dallas a huge lift.
  • Those who had incredulously discussed (read: mocked, doubted) Gerald Wallace’s status as a series x-factor after Game 1 can kindly bite their tongues. Wallace was a demon in the open court, which should be no surprise; the man has turned the fast break leak-out into an art form over the course of his career, while somehow maintaining solid defensive rebounding numbers. Don’t be fooled into thinking that Wallace’s only utility came in the open court, though. Crash also established his hard-cutting style in the Blazers’ half-court offense, and found his teammates for easy scores. Obviously Wallace wasn’t the difference-maker in Game 2, but he certainly made a difference. If Portland is going to rebound at home in Games 3 and 4, he’ll likely be a critical part of their formula.
  • The odd thing for the Blazers: none of their players had an especially poor game. Aldridge was dominant for stretches and less so for some, but still efficient. Andre Miller hit a few jumpers and got to the rim off the dribble while running the offense effectively. Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews hit their shots. Wallace chipped in with his dynamic slashing. Yet none of it was enough; Portland was relatively efficient in its shooting, but surrendered modest advantages to Dallas on the offensive glass and in the turnover margin without gaining any offensive ground. With the way the Mavs were scoring, those kinds of extra opportunities were enough to create a substantial buffer between the two teams, a painful threshold constructed by the combination of minor differences. It can be hard for some to understand why their teams lose in occasions like these, and the result is typically some recycled sound bite about toughness or closing games. The Blazers lost because across the board they just weren’t as good as the Mavs. The difference in performance between the two teams wasn’t huge, but it was significant.
  • J.J. Barea: 2-of-7 shooting, two turnovers, but several critical drives to the hoop in the fourth quarter. Barea correctly identified the Blazer overplays on the Nowitzki pick-and-roll, and attacked the rim fearlessly against a stilted defense. Great recognition, and an excellent job of finishing the play or drawing a foul. Plus, Barea — and the Maverick guards on the whole — defended the post well. The Blazer guards’ post-up play was a non-story in Game 2, even after that element of Portland’s offense had found some success in limited Game 1 application. Kudos to J.J. for his work on both ends.
  • Jason Terry still hasn’t made much of an impact on this series, but he’s also not acting as a detriment. For the second game in a row, Terry contributed 10 points without using too many possessions, didn’t turn the ball over, and offered some offensive spacing. Considering the lack of scoring Dallas is getting from Shawn Marion and Tyson Chandler, those 10 points are a tremendous help. It’s not an issue of shot selection, either; JET took good attempts on Tuesday, but his looks just couldn’t find the net. It’s just a matter of time.
  • Nate McMillan made the mistake of overplaying Brandon Roy down the stretch in Game 1, but perhaps the pendulum swung a bit too far the other way in Game 2. Roy logged just eight minutes of playing time as a deep reserve, and went scoreless in his time on the court. Patty Mills even managed to log four minutes of playing time, at least some of which could have gone to Roy. It’s an odd, depressing situation to say the least; Roy is battling his own physical limitations and trying to deal mentally with the transition from star to role player, and neither fight seems to be going particularly well. Regardless, Roy remains painfully oblivious to his shortcomings, and that doesn’t bode well for his status with the team nor his future as a productive player. I haven’t the faintest idea of what the rest of Roy’s career holds, but here’s to hoping he finds balance going forward, even if all of us in Dallas wouldn’t mind him remaining a non-factor for the remainder of the series.
  • Credit to the Maverick bigs for their work on the offensive glass: Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood combined for eight offensive rebounds, which was more than the Blazers had as an entire team. If not for those offensive boards, Chandler’s impact on that end would be negligible, though his presence is certainly more accommodating to the offense than Haywood’s. To Chandler’s credit, he did defend Aldridge in the post relatively successfully, particularly in the fourth quarter. Those defensive stands on the block were huge, and if Chandler can provide a similar defensive front against Aldridge in the games going forward, Dallas should have no problem dealing with whatever else Portland throws their way.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 18, 2011 under xOther | 2 Comments to Read

Kelly Dwyer, Ball Don’t Lie: “You’ve got to love the way the playoffs move every dial back to zero. Sure, the Trail Blazers might be the deeper team in this series. They might be more talented, and they might match up in a way that could have the Mavs ending their season five or six games from now, but … make it happen, cap’ain. Go ahead and take all those well-researched “should bes,” and turn them into a win, Portland. Because while we were right to point out how much this series seems to tilt in Portland’s favor, the Blazers still had to go out and guard Dirk Nowitzki…It hurts to see Dallas more than double you up from the line, but [Nate] McMillan has to be happy with the fact that his team played the Mavericks to a near stand-off despite a middling, 100 points per 100 possessions performance. Dallas was at home, and needed Jason Kidd to hit six three-pointers to pull away. Dallas will no doubt improve upon this game, but there’s only so much improving you can do on Jason Kidd hitting six of 10 treys. And best for McMillan? Portland will improve by leaps and bounds from here on out. Or, they ‘should’ improve. It’s still on paper for Portland, at this point.”

Ben Golliver, Eye on Basketball: “The most head-scratching coaching decision of this game — and arguably of Portland’s season — came when Nate McMillan opted to play guard Brandon Roy the entire fourth quarter instead of starting guard Wesley Matthews, fellow reserve Rudy Fernandez or center Marcus Camby. Just once in the last month has Roy played more than 26 minutes — a recent home win over the Lakers — and nothing about his recent play suggests he should be playing the crunch time minutes in this series…What’s even more confusing, though, is that McMillan has almost always turned to Matthews late in games recently when the Blazers have held the lead late. Portland led 72-66 with less than six minutes to go, the perfect situation to swap Roy for Matthews to slam the door shut. Not only is Matthews a superior defender, he’s also a superior outside shooter (Matthews has shot 40.7% from deep this season while Roy has shot 33.3%). As a team, Portland shot 2-16 from deep on the night , including 1-7 in the final quarter. While Matthews struggled early with turnovers, he certainly has shown this season that he deserves more than 19 minutes and three shots. Even if McMillan decided Matthews simply didn’t have it going in the pressure-packed situation that is Game 1, he had other options. Rudy Fernandez, although not a true impact player on Saturday, had six points, two rebounds and one assist in 18 minutes. If not Fernandez, then going back to a larger lineup — with Marcus Camby in the middle — would have been another option. While that would likely have led to easier double teams and more congestion for LaMarcus Aldridge — who was excellent on the evening, finishing with 27 points and six boards — Camby, who 18 rebounds in 29 minutes, would have been a difference-maker on the boards late, as Dallas center Tyson Chandler’s four fourth-quarter rebounds were huge in extending Dallas possessions and ending Portland possessions. Really, this was about Anybody But Roy. He finished 1-7 on the evening for two points and played exactly how recent history suggested he would play: flat, over-thinking and not in tune with a flowing offensive team concept. What’s more, it was a departure from the usual rotation necessitating an adjustment from all of his teammates late in the game.”

Bradford Doolittle, Basketball Prospectus: “The Blazers got plenty of mileage from LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored 27 points in 40:39 despite foul trouble. In fact, the Blazers’ bigs had a big night, as Marcus Camby grabbed 18 rebounds in 29:02 and handed out five assists. However, Camby was absent down the stretch, getting just 1:16 in the final period while Nowitzki went to town. For that matter, Wesley Matthews, one of Portland’s crunch performers this season, played just 25 seconds in the final period. Meanwhile, the ghost acting the part of Brandon Roy played all but one second of the fourth quarter. Roy went scoreless in the period and scored just two points on 1-of-7 shooting in 26:22 for the game. If you’re scratching your head on that one, join the club.”

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 89, Portland Trailblazers 81

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

Screen shot 2011-04-17 at 3.25.42 AM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

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

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

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