All the Difference

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 26, 2011 under Commentary | 20 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-05-26 at 10.50.57 AM

You know the drill. The Difference is, under most normal circumstances, a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin. These are not normal circumstances.

Jason Terry is holding court in the Mavericks’ locker room, just as he always does, but the swath of reporters that typically surrounds him is not a swath. It’s a sea. It feeds endlessly into waves of cameras and recorders. Ian Mahinmi can be seen across the room, clad in only a towel, holding his arms up above it all as he attempts to pass through — literally wading through the gulf that now stands between him and his own locker.

It’s not surprising that such a contingent has flooded around Terry. He’s become a mouthpiece of sorts for the organization, a quotable commodity that has become even more valuable to soundbite-seekers with Mark Cuban uncharacteristically silent. JET’s statements come pre-packaged for journalistic use, with just the right amount of bravado, insight, and clich√©. He’s a talker. This is just what he does. The regulars that follow the team know it, and apparently so do all of the other reporters and cameramen who have seemingly come up through the woodwork. Terry sits, fielding question after question after question, and responding with the punch of a veteran politician. Or maybe just a veteran ballplayer, but with all of the noncommittal responses, who can tell the difference?

Terry, J.J. Barea, and Brendan Haywood comprise the first wave of available Mavs. Barea draws his own sizable crowd of English and Spanish-speaking media, but one media member can be heard telling her cameraman partner to get in position for “Barrera.” Picking apart defenses en route to the NBA Finals may have earned Barea nation-wide respect (or detest, depending on your point of view, I suppose), but it does not, apparently, ensure the correct pronunciation of his name. This might be the first time he’s been called “Barrera,” since being crowned a Western Conference champion, but it’s only a precursor for the frequent pronuncial butcherings to come.

Oddly, Brendan Haywood doesn’t have all that much going on around his locker, despite the fact that he’s perhaps every bit as quotable as Terry. The distinction may lie in the fact that Haywood is more truth-teller than politician; his words draw interest when they’re seen as having the potential to incite conflict, but otherwise, he’s just a back-up center doing what he can to dissect and explain the world around him.

Haywood has been characterized by perceived sulking or brooding over his last season and a half in Dallas, but he’s understandably easy in moments like this one. He talks about wanting to be the back-up center on a team headed to the Finals rather than relishing in a role with more playing time or more touches. He jokes candidly about his words being taken out of their original context prior to Game 5, words which he notes as being more light-hearted than they appeared in text. He’s not just a flagrant fouling machine, but an interesting — if occasionally abrasive, for better and worse — voice within the team. He’s just buried beneath Terry’s charisma, Dirk Nowitzki’s quiet charm, and Jason Kidd’s veneration. Haywood may not always give some writers exactly what they want to hear for their pre-penned stories, but if you ask the right questions and listen closely, Haywood has a lot to offer.

But his smaller scrum naturally drifts into a group waiting for Tyson Chandler — the bigger star, the bigger name, the bigger personality. Haywood waits in his chair to answer the questions of the stragglers, but what may have once belonged to him now belongs to Chandler. Dozens of media members wait around Chandler’s empty locker, chattering amongst themselves in lieu of chatting with Haywood, or DeShawn Stevenson — who stands shirtless at his locker speaking with media members, wearing a scowl of sorts until the word “Finals” lets escape a slight smile — or Brian Cardinal — who dresses in front of his locker undisturbed save one man with no recorder — or Peja Stojakovic — who has a smirk plastered to his face, perhaps making him as one-dimensional in the locker room as he is on the court. The boxing out around the locker of a prominent player isn’t so different from what goes on in the regular season, but it’s all a bit more deliberate; rather than float aimlessly in the vicinity of a particular locker, now the camps are set. Ladders are deployed and cameras are at the ready, all positioned around an empty locker.

Shawn Marion field questions while wearing shades with orange lenses, and talks of the Mavs’ stomachs being “three-fourths full.” Whether he knows it or not, LeBron James is already in and on his mind, even as he goes on to mention that he doesn’t care who Dallas will face in the series to come. Regardless, Marion sees a world in warm tones and unintentionally borrowed analogies.

He politely answers the same question, posed repeatedly with only slightly altered structure. One would think that there are only so many ways to ask Marion about the significance of the Mavs’ experience, but a few tweaked words apparently qualifies as an entirely new question to some. Marion tries his best to make each answer unique, but all of his words begin to bleed together. Even a character like Marion is made a bit repetitive by way of an absurd, redundant media presence.

Marion lifts his glasses as he talks about the Mavs’ belief in themselves, a trust in a system and team that he says has never wavered. He doesn’t stare into space as he dispenses canned confidence, but looks at virtually each media member directly. He wants you to know this. He wants you to know that the Mavs believed, through the regular season and Caron Butler’s injury, through the sprints and slogs, through the first and second rounds that they weren’t supposed to win. The shades will eventually come back down, but Marion’s insistence on that belief does not.

Nothing has changed…in a sense. Dallas believes in their championship hopes as much now as they did on Media Day. Yet to ignore the fundamental difference in the atmosphere both on the floor and within the belly of the American Airlines Center is foolish. There is a discernible difference, even if it exists most obviously in the cosmetics of media prevalence. The players don’t just talk of big games, but have lived them. We all dispense of hypotheticals, because in a most improbable scenario, the Dallas Mavericks are the first team in the NBA Finals. Things aren’t the same. They can’t be, and never will be again. There is a fundamental difference between today and yesterday, between the playoffs and the regular season, between this Mavericks team and the one we saw over 82 games. It may not be drastic, but this is more than just a step in a process for those same Mavs that started the season so full of hope.

Jason Terry still fields questions roughly a half-hour later, and the ocean across the locker room remains. But Dirk dresses quietly — the space around his locker is perhaps the only few feet without a recording device or probing reporter. He prepares for his press conference facing his locker, and more poetically, facing the picture of the Larry O’Brien trophy that hangs within it. Terry, Nowitzki’s locker room neighbor, has the same picture hanging in his, undoubtedly as a reminder of what was nearly theirs, and now what nearly is again.

Haywood remarks about Dirk’s black shirt — “Johnny Cash!” — and then Nowitzki departs to a walk of waves and nods on his way to the interview room, which is naturally full to the brim with even more cameras and recorders and media members. What came from the sea has returned to the sea.

At the stand, Nowitzki rambles a bit, launching into the exhaustive answers that have practically become his trademark. Nowitzki is many things to many people, but after games he is hardly pithy. The hyper-efficient Dirk and the one sitting, leaned back and clutching the mic as he stares through the table and rattles off answers, are somehow one in the same.

With his press conference duties fulfilled, Nowitzki finally escapes…to one more set of media members, though this group speaking his native tongue. Nowitzki and his counterpart walk the halls of the AAC, as Dirk pushes the hair behind his ears. He probably tugged at the upper left side of his imaginary jersey, too, completing the routine for this one last free throw. I imagine it’s hard to keep gait with toes pointed inward and knees bent ever so slightly, but there’s no question that Dirk’s eyes are focused on completing this one final task before he can breathe easy.

Dirk finally makes his way toward the garage, where only he and his police escort will go. His walk is slow, but not heavy; there’s no lightness, but only deliberation. He marches, but somehow does so without the slightest rigidity. As they trail off down the hall, talking and laughing along the way, Nowitzki finally finds respite. In that moment, he offers himself the slightest concession. To this point, nothing in Nowitzki’s actions or words has suggested celebration. He answered questions with the same standard tone, acknowledged fans with the same humility, and even escaped before the presentation of the Western Conference Championship trophy had fully concluded. Yet as he and the officer round the corner into the garage, Nowitzki indulges in a single and final celebratory act: a subtle high five, a prize worthy of a conference champion looking to accomplish so much more.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 93, Portland Trailblazers 82

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

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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!

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.”

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 108, Minnesota Timberwolves 105

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 8, 2011 under Recaps | 4 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas96.0112.552.423.829.315.6
Minnesota109.450.618.233.316.7

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 Minnesota Timberwolves made it clear early in this game that they came to play, but as has been the case with that team so many times this season, even their most honorable intentions culminated in a chaotic mess. Kevin Love (23 points, 7-14 FG, 17 rebounds, five assists) had another exemplary game, but most everything else for Minnesota was just a shade below what was needed; Michael Beasley turned the ball over too often, Darko Milicic was a non-factor on the glass, Luke Ridnour’s shooting was off, and Brian Cardinal — Dallas’ best three-point shooter this season — wasn’t given the respect he deserves on the perimeter. Those developments aren’t damning on their own, but collectively they collapsed an otherwise commendable effort from the Wolves. The Mavs got away with a game they likely should have lost, but there was certainly an element of predictability here: the team of stable vets out-executed a crew that has made a routine out of fourth quarter implosions.
  • Dirk Nowitzki (25 points, 7-12 FG, 10-10 FT, six rebounds), Jason Terry (11 points, 3-11 FG, four assists, four turnovers), and J.J. Barea (eight points, 3-7 FG, five assists) combined for 25 points in the final frame, which matched Minnesota’s total scoring output for the quarter. Otherwise though, the Maverick offense hardly went according to plan. If not for Cardinal’s flurry of three-point makes and Jason Kidd’s (13 points, 4-8 FG, nine assists, four steals) play, Dallas would have faced a considerable deficit going into the fourth — and likely failed in their efforts to salvage the game. This team misses Tyson Chandler, and if that wasn’t made clear by some of the uncontested buckets surrendered around the rim, it should be obvious in the way the Mavs’ offensive efficiency dips in his absence. There are a lot of places to point the finger — the team as a whole for not getting Nowitzki more touches, Terry and Shawn Marion (nine points, 10 rebounds, four assists) for failing to convert their opportunities, etc. — but there’s a profound difference between the influence of Chandler and Brendan Haywood (eight points, 10 rebounds, three turnovers) on the Mavs’ offensive flow. Haywood had a very solid game, but even if the quantifiable elements of his performance are respectable, they don’t come paired with Chandler’s knack for creating open looks for his teammates via screens and hard rolls to the rim.
  • Corey Brewer has yet to have the kind of performance that will win over Mavs fans, but he did play pretty effective defense on Michael Beasley during some of his six minutes of action, and threw in this fantastic two-way sequence:
  • That said, it was Marion who acted as the Mavs’ defensive stopper on Beasley during the second half, not Brewer. Beas dropped nine points on eight shots in the first quarter as he victimized both Nowitzki and Peja Stojakovic, but Marion blanketed Beasley in the second half, when the Wolves forward shot just 3-of-12 from the field.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 113, New York Knicks 97

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 3, 2011 under Recaps | 4 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas97.0116.556.521.425.615.5
New York100.045.519.310.28.2

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

  • Not every game goes according to the script, but this one went just right. The team that plays good defense played good defense, and the team that regularly fails to rotate and exposes a hollow interior did so splendidly. Most teams — even those at the bottom of the rankings in defensive efficiency — don’t give up quite as many wide open looks as the Knicks do. It’s just part of a run-of-the-mill Knick game these days. Part of their charm, I suppose. They certainly have their games where they really dig in defensively, but on the whole this is what you get with New York post-Felton’s drop-off. They’re good, but push the right buttons on D and they’re imminently beatable.
  • Dallas went to work on the offensive glass, grabbing 25.6% of the available boards on that end. Typically these things even out for Dallas; they’re a poor defensive rebounding team, and even on their better offensive rebounding nights, allow their opponents to break even on the glass. Not so on Wednesday, as New York posted a lowly 10.2 offensive rebounding percentage.
  • If you look at the offensive rebounding distribution, you’ll find that while Tyson Chandler had three offensive boards, you’ll find that the rest of the Mavs stepped up to grab a board here and there: DeShawn Stevenson had two, and Jason Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki, J.J. Barea, Jason Terry, and Shawn Marion each grabbed an offensive rebound of their own. This is a bit misleading; Tyson Chandler was a tap-out machine on the offensive end, and had the opportunity to swat a mess of loose balls toward open teammates. Credit to the rest of the Mavs for hustling and not giving up on those opportunities, but it was Chandler that really created them.
  • Dirk Nowitzki finished with 29 points and 11 rebounds, but his 10-of-16 shooting is the far more notable mark. One would expect Dirk to capitalize on a cast of undersized defenders, but that’s a level of efficiency we really haven’t seen out of Nowitzki since he rushed back from injury. There should be no mistaken declarations that Nowitzki is “BACK!”, but he’s inching closer, looking more and more himself by the day.
  • Brian Cardinal again started for Dallas, and made but a single field goal in his 10 minutes of play. Not terrific, but this wasn’t his game; Cardinal isn’t on the team so he can hustle up and down the court to keep pace with New York. Cardinal was replaced to start the second half, and that turned out to be a pretty smooth move by Rick Carlisle.
  • Shawne Williams blocked one of Dirk Nowitzki’s jumpers solely for the irony.
  • I’m pretty sure Brendan Haywood airballed a baseline hook from the low right block. Foul or deflection aside, I’m not even sure how that happens.
  • Barea (22 points, 7-12 FG, 3-4 3FG, three rebounds, three assists, three turnovers) was a monster. This is the second 3-of-4 shooting night Barea has had from beyond the arc in about a week, but it’s his ability to get deep into the paint and generate points that keys his value. The Mavs’ defense acted as a catalyst for their periodic runs, but Barea was just as influential. He energized and produced like none of his teammates could, and is as much a reason why Dallas won as anyone else.
  • One more note about Barea: even on his lesser nights, Barea forces the action. Cardinal is a fairly passive offensive player; he doesn’t put pressure on the defense in any meaningful way, and tries to limit his defensive assignment rather than hound them. Barea drives and explores the paint, and on defense he tries to draw offensive fouls constantly. That means something, and in this particular game, it meant quite a bit.
  • Wilson Chandler’s absence was a pretty big deal. Amar’e Stoudemire (21 points, 10-20 FG, five rebounds, four assists) and Danilo Gallinari (27 points, 7-14 FG, six rebounds) were the only Knicks who could score with any frequency, and Chandler can create a bit for himself and bank on spot-up/slashing opportunities. Toney Douglas did what he could to act as a stopgap, but the trickle down from Chandler’s absence was pretty damning.
  • Felton’s (11 points, 9-14 FG, nine assists) fall back to Earth is as much his fault as it is the basketball gods’. He takes some really horrible shot attempts, and though that habit was bearable when he was making a ton of those questionable jumpers early in the season, his tendency to launch long, pull-up twos has bitten these team quite a few times in recent weeks.
  • The lulls in the Mavs’ offense were of their own fault. Believe it or not, there is comfort in that; when given the choice between a team like the Knicks halting the Mavs in their sets or Dallas simply blustering their execution, I think most would prefer the means that allows the Mavs to maintain their agency.
  • What more could I possibly add about Tyson Chandler (15 points, 6-9 FG, 11 rebounds)? He’s become this season’s constant. He’s been fantastic over the last seven games in particular, during which he’s been exactly the kind of crutch the team has needed him to be.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 102, Washington Wizards 92

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 1, 2011 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas88.0115.954.235.229.515.9
Washington104.542.422.127.58.0

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

  • At no point during this game were the Wizards denied access to what could have been theirs; the Mavs looked infinitely beatable throughout, and generally refused to erase the doubt in the result despite holding all of the cards. Dallas defended fairly well, had Dirk Nowitzki (24 points, 7-11 FG, four rebounds) a step closer to normalcy, and attempted a whopping 37 free throws. Yet if Washington were, well, a better team than they are, the game could have tilted anywhere along the way. The Mavs won the game, but the Wizards certainly did their part to lose it.
  • Tyson Chandler (18 points, 5-10 FG, 18 rebounds, eight offensive boards, four turnovers) was again dominant, and forced another team with weak interior defense (though not without shot-blocking, it’s worth noting) to foul him repeatedly on deep catches and offensive rebounds. Chandler has attempted 11+ free throws in three of his last four games, despite playing fewer than 33 minutes in each. Think about that. Chandler is, on some nights, the consistent source of free throws that the Mavs have long needed. Dallas may not be able to dump the ball to him in the low post, but the team’s willingness to find Chandler and the Tyson’s creativity in finding open spots around the rim have created a pretty viable threat.
  • Brian Cardinal (nine points, 3-8 3FG, four rebounds) started in the spot formerly held by Sasha Pavlovic, and though I’m unsure of just how long a tandem of Cardinal and Dirk Nowitzki can coexist defensively, it worked well enough on Monday night. Then again, I’ve underestimated Cardinal almost every step of the way. I thought of him as a decent three-point shooter, but he’s become the Mavs’ best. He’s hustled at each of his NBA stops, but Cardinal really does do so many of those fabled “little things.” I figured any claims of his defensive adequacy were probably overstated, yet he manages to hold his own. Cardinal’s not a long-time starting option, but for the moment, he’ll do just fine.
  • Dallas’ ball movement was certainly notable. The Mavs assisted on 27 of their 34 field goal attempts, and Jason Kidd and Jason Terry combined for 19 dimes between them. This was really one of those holistic concepts, though; the ball movement around the perimeter was fantastic, and virtually every Maverick was giving up good shots for better ones. Kidd and Terry were particularly brilliant, but the entire team deserves credit for forcing the Wizards to commit and then exploiting their rotations.
  • It’s practically heresy to wish the Mavs to be less than they are, but every time Ian Mahinmi (seven points, two rebounds, one block in just eight and a half minutes) hits the court I think of what it might be like if this team were in a different place. Mahinmi isn’t a cornerstone, but his activity level is impressive. Mahinmi’s feel for the game isn’t natural. He’s worked hard to get to where he is now, and it’s unlikely that he’d ever evolve into stable, starting center material. But wouldn’t you love to know for sure? For now, Mahinmi is a better player than the Mavs can find minutes for, but he’s a terrific luxury to have.
  • Also, this:

  • The Wizards picked up their fifth team foul with 9:05 remaining in the fourth quarter. Dallas went on to attempt 17 free throws in the frame. Matters a little bit, no?
  • I wouldn’t say that Dirk is ready to resume business as usual, but this was by far his most comfortable game since his return from injury. Nowitzki took advantage of going to work against Andray Blatche, Rashard Lewis, and Trevor Booker, who provided far less opposition in the post than Nowitzki has seen in recent games. He was able to back his Wizards opponents down, and shot fake his way to the free throw line on several occasions, which is far better than the desperate heaves we’ve seen from Nowitzki in the last week or so. It’s apparent that Dirk wants to recapture his potency, but this was his most legitimate advance toward that end.
  • Also: this isn’t a pass that Dirk could have made even as recently as two or three seasons ago, and not only because Tyson Chandler is a more capable finisher than Erick Dampier:

  • In case you didn’t know, Nick Young (6-20 FG) and Andray Blatche (4-17 FG) are remarkably skilled in firing up shots without a moment’s consideration. It’s as if every reasonably well-positioned catch transitions seamlessly into a shot attempt. It’s some kind of credit to them both that they play without doubt, but it’s a bit of a red flag that they play without discretion.

The Difference: San Antonio Spurs 99, Dallas Mavericks 93

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 31, 2010 under Recaps | 9 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2010-12-31 at 12.39.37 AM

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas92.0101.148.815.98.510.9
San Antonio107.653.323.718.415.2

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 would be unfair to lump the weight of a loss on one player in any game, but Jason Terry (eight points, 3-16 FG, four assists) makes the idea awfully tempting. Last I checked, JET was supposedly the Mavs’ most efficient non-Dirk scorer, and yet his shooting stroke was lost but never found. There were no late-game heroics (aside from a pair of three-pointers swished after the game had been decided) from Terry, only well-intended attempts each flawed in their own special way. He drove to draw fouls rather than score. He took a three from a good foot-and-a-half behind the three-point line, just for kicks. He pulled up and pulled up and pulled up in the hope that something would go down. Whatever pixie dust JET has benefited from in the past seems to have disappeared over the last two games, so if anyone knows a good supplier of magically enchanted performance-enhancing goods or potions, Terry might be interested.
  • The Mavs’ defense wasn’t sterling, but it was surely competent. In man and zone alike, Dallas put forth a strong defensive effort, and though the execution was hardly pitch-perfect at every turn, the Mavs did about as well as one could ask — while throwing two deep bench players into the regular rotation — against San Antonio’s impressive offensive front. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili combined to shoot 10-of-27 from the field, and though Ginobili’s three-pointers were pretty crucial, I think the Mavs can live with that shooting mark.
  • If one Maverick lived up to expectation and then some, it was Caron Butler (30 points, 10-21 FG, ). The oft-maligned wing was an efficient scoring machine, and the one stable aspect of the Mavs’ offense all game long. Jason Kidd started off hot but faded fast, Jason Terry sputtered throughout, and Caron worked his way into good attempts. The Mavs’ offense isn’t sustainable without Dirk, but Caron did his part to keep the team afloat. Toss in plus performances by Tyson Chandler, Brian Cardinal, and Alexis Ajinca (who leapfrogged Brendan Haywood in the rotation, if only for this game), and the Mavs almost stole a win. They competed, but their offensive limitations combined with Terry’s struggles were too much to overcome. (Also: the Spurs switched every 1-4 pick-and-roll, pitting George Hill and Tony Parker up against Shawn Marion in the post. The Mavs found some success going to that match-up, but they never attacked it. Why?)
  • All hail the vaunted zone. It broke down at times (as any D is ought to do), but the match-up zone again keyed substantial runs for the Mavs that helped them overcome the Spurs 14-point first-half lead. It continues to amaze me how seamlessly Dallas can transition from zone to man and back again, as if each didn’t require a distinct mentality and its own approach.
  • Three-point shooting seems a popular theme, but it’s not as if the Spurs were the only team hitting their looks from beyond the arc. Gary Neal hit a dizzying 5-of-8 threes en route to 21, but Cardinal hit all three of his attempts, and Jason Kidd nailed 2-of-5 from deep. It’s a point of separation in a close game, but even the Spurs’ blistering shooting was countered. Plus, if we’re looking to long-range shooting as a distinction between the Mavs and the Spurs, then offensive rebounding should surely be taken into account; San Antonio bested Dallas by nearly 10% in offensive rebounding rate.
  • Jason Kidd (12 points, 5-15 FG, 10 rebounds, 13 assists) notched a triple-double, which deserves note. Like much of the Mavs’ efforts though, it was a bit empty. Dallas never felt like they were ready to actually win the game, instead seemingly content to have fought hard and ceded in the final act. It’s a commendable loss if such a thing exists, but I’ll be damned if there didn’t seem to be a bit of destiny involved. Caron Butler may not have gotten the memo, but Dallas wasn’t scripted to be the plucky underdog.

The Difference: Toronto Raptors 84, Dallas Mavericks 76

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 29, 2010 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2010-12-29 at 10.10.00 AM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas84.090.544.712.025.620.2
Toronto100.049.323.229.420.2

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 deserve no leniency, no respite from blame. They lost to a bad team. They lost to a bad team missing Jose Calderon, Sonny Weems, Andrea Bargnani, a half-game from Linas Kleiza (who was ejected), and a limited stint from Jerryd Bayless (who injured his ankle, left, returned, re-injured his ankle, and departed for good). They lost at home. They lost a game they should have won unless half of their roster was comatose, and yet they failed to keep pace. This loss doesn’t mark the end of Dallas’ days, nor does it quash the Mavs’ dreams of contention, but it’s a notable demerit that can’t just be written off.
  • Ed Davis may have been the best player on the court for either team. He notched 17 points (on eight shots), 12 rebounds, three steals, three blocks, and zero turnovers in just 31 minutes, which is a bit more than most anyone expected from the rook against a proven defense. Davis has a nice touch and good instincts, but he had it way too easy. Brian Cardinal’s substantial minutes at the 4 didn’t help, but Shawn Marion really should have (and could have) done a better job in boxing out Davis and keeping him away from the basket.
  • Marion (12 points, 5-10 FG, five rebounds, three turnovers) and Caron Butler (15 points, 7-16 FG, three rebounds, four turnovers) had decent games, but with the Mavs’ various defensive concessions, that wasn’t enough. If Dallas had put together a superior defensive showing, a win would have been reasonable even with an average offensive performance sans Dirk. Instead, Jason Terry was the only Maverick with a plus offensive performance, and the team sputtered to a mark of 90.5 points scored per 100 possessions. Yuck.
  • Dallas was plagued with unproductive passing and frequent ball-handling errors. On average, the Mavs commit a turnover on 13.8% of their possessions. They forked it over on 20.2% of their possessions last night, in part because of over-dribbling and over-passing that took the place of substantive playmaking. Dallas has an excellent creator in Jason Kidd (seven points, 3-11 FG, six rebounds, four assists, three turnovers), but he did little to set up his teammates with quality looks, and when he did, they were unable to connect. Not all of the Mavs’ failures were due to execution — they missed a number of quality three-point looks in the¬† fourth quarter, for example — but turning the ball over so frequently stalled Dallas’ offense and triggered Toronto’s fast break.
  • The three-point shooting finally came back to earth. Dallas made just five of their 22 attempts from beyond the arc, good (probably the wrong word choice) for 22.7%. The starters didn’t make a single three, and Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson, and Butler combined to go 0-for-7 from distance.
  • Nowitzki misses very few games due to injury, but on those rare occasions where he does sit, the folks watching at home are usually gifted with Dirk’s on-air broadcast stylings. Nowitzki joined Mark Followill, Bob Ortegel, and Jeff “Skin” wade for over half of the third quarter last night, and didn’t disappoint. He took shots at Brian Cardinal and Jason Kidd for their age (the latter of which he said was 58 years old), gave a lengthy defense of his game-night sartorial choice, offered some intelligent commentary, exploded after Tyson Chandler slammed home a Kidd alley-oop, and yelled “Got ‘em!” after Linas Kleiza was ejected. Followill described Dirk’s on-air showing as an “A+ performance” during Nowitzki’s sign-off, to which Dirk fittingly responded: “Yes, it has.”
  • Where have you gone, Tyson Chandler? Maverick nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Brendan Haywood (two points, two rebounds, one block) was predictably lethargic, but Chandler (three points, six rebounds, three turnovers), too, had a bit of an off night. He may be the second best Mav on his better days, but this was certainly not one of them. Ian Mahinmi was the most impressive big to man the middle for Dallas, and he didn’t exactly have a huge night; two points, one rebound, and two blocks for Ian.
  • As poorly as Dallas played, they still had a winnable game sitting in their lap for most of the fourth quarter. The Mavs rushed shots. They turned the ball over some more, just for kicks. They surrendered open looks to Leandro Barbosa (12 points, 5-12 FG, two stealsk) and DeMar DeRozan (16 points, 7-13 FG). They just flubbed any chance at serious competition over the final minutes. Needless to say, Dallas needs to be better. These losses happen, but the Mavs need to be better.

Secret Weapons

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 7, 2010 under xOther | 3 Comments to Read

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“The Mavs really have their stuff together and they understand that we’re the x-factor. They’re keeping us quiet until the playoffs where we will be unveiled.”
-Steve Novak, on his and Brian Cardinal’s importance to the team in this mini interview for the Mavs’ Facebook page.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 100, Minnesota Timberwolves 86

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 2, 2010 under Recaps | 4 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2010-12-01 at 11.12.48 PM

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot Chart — GameFlow

    TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
    Dallas97.0103.147.120.723.914.4
    Minnesota88.741.522.022.017.5

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

  • The Mavs are a much better team than the Timberwolves, which unfortunately doesn’t make for compelling theater. There’s not much of a story for anyone to push in Dallas doing what’s expected of them; the Mavs kept their turnovers down, they didn’t make it easy for the Wolves by sending them to the line, and they blanketed a team that’s already limited offensively in so many ways. This is the way things are supposed to be in lesser teams, and while that may not impress the NBA world at large, I supposed there’s something of note in the Mavs handily putting away the opponents that aren’t on their level. Golf clap for an expected win, a pat on the back for seven straight victories, and let’s move right along.
  • For perhaps the first time all season, both Mavs centers were clicking. Tyson Chandler set the season-high in rebounding for Dallas this season with 18 boards, and added nine points (2-3 FG) for the hell of it. Brendan Haywood (seven points, 10 rebounds) was forced to sub for Chandler early thanks to a few unfortunate whistles, and though Haywood had a few decisions worthy of a good head scratch (at the 3:43 mark in the first, he abandoned his box out to chase a block against the already covered Kevin Love, and in doing so allowed Darko Milicic to slam home an uncontested put-back), he did a fine job in his 21 minutes.
  • There’s an interesting difference in the way we do and should evaluate the shooting of Jason Terry and Caron Butler. JET had a nice showing, but also drained a pair of step-back three-pointers that would have induced eye rolls had they come off of Butler’s fingers. It’s not just because Terry is a better shooter — which he certainly is — but that we know that Terry knows better. JET moves brilliantly without the ball. He seeks spot-up opportunities or smart pull-ups out of the pick-and-roll. He isn’t one to attempt doomed iso possessions repetitively, as he’ll willingly give up the ball because he understands that if open, it will find him. Essentially, those attempts, whether made or missed, are atypical rather than part of a depressing pattern.
  • To his credit, Butler had a nice night. He only contributed 10 points, but did so on eight shots while only committing two turnovers. It’s also worth noting that both of those turnovers came while trying to attack the basket, which sure beats the alternative.
  • DeShawn Stevenson had a surprisingly versatile third quarter. He hit a three, drew a shooting foul, attacked the basket, and threw two lobs to Tyson Chandler. One of those lobs resulted in Michael Beasley fouling Chandler, and the other went a little something like this:
  • Dallas actually shot better from three-point range (41.7%) than they did from two-point range (41.3%). Shawn Marion had gone 1-for-10 from three so far this season, but made two of his four attempts in this one. J.J. Barea is still struggling from distance (1-4 3FG), but still boosted his humbling three-point shooting percentage to 16.7%.
  • Jason Terry shot 50% from the field for the first time in seven games. Welcome back, JET.
  • Shawn Marion (16 points, eight rebounds) continues to thrive, though this night was a bit more inefficient than usual. He still had 16 points on 14 shots, but completed just 35.7% of his field goal attepts. One thing I’m loving about Marion this season: he’s far more decisive than he was last year. There’s no hesitation in his moves, and no attempt to turn each catch into some kind of dribbling diagnostic. He catches and goes, getting right by slower defenders like Kevin Love and catching some of his quicker opponents off-guard with his first step. It makes a world of difference.
  • Jason Kidd shot 2-of-11 from the field. He had four assists to just three turnovers. He shot 20% from three-point range, and contributed only five points. So naturally, because he’s Jason Kidd, he had a +14 raw plus/minus.
  • Terry is so good at tight-roping the baseline after foregoing a look from the corner. He doesn’t have the passing savvy to thread the needle to a cutter, but he regularly attacks that baseline to either find Dirk spotting up on the opposite wing or a three-point shooter open at the top of the key. On a related note: JET notched seven assists and just one turnover.
  • Brian Cardinal hit a pair of three-pointers in the third quarter, the second of which sparked this celebration from Dirk Nowitzki:

    Cardinal is already referred to as “The Custodian” and “The Janitor.” Is Dirk adding “The Truck Driver” to the list? “The Train Conductor?”

  • The down side to Dominique Jones’ D-League assignment? His absence in games like this one. I’m not sure how much garbage time minutes really facilitate his development, but it’s a nice blowout draw to see him out there even in a game that’s already been decided.
  • Dirk Nowitzki finished with 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting, and the Mavs win by 14. Even with the Wolves in the building, that’s a nice touch.
  • Aside from Wesley Johnson (2-3 FG) and Kosta Koufos (1-1 FG), every Timberwolves player hit less than half of their field goal attempts.