Thermodynamics (n.) – the science concerned with the relations between heat and mechanical energy
You wouldn’t know it from the game results (L, W, L, W, L), but the Mavs played at a fairly consistent level for the entire week (at least until the fourth quarter of the final game against Brooklyn). After being wildly inconsistent for most the season, the Mavs seem to have finally leveled out and settled into a groove.
So, if the Mavs were so consistent, why 2-3? Why alternating wins and losses? Well, that’s just the thing — the Mavs’ “consistent” level of play sits pretty much right in the middle of the league. Their season-long ceiling (as opposed to their single-game ceiling, which is largely a function of variance) sits right around the 50th percentile. By playing consistently over several games, then, the Mavs make it very easy to see exactly where they sit in the league pecking order. They’ll beat bad teams regularly (Cleveland); they’ll beat decent teams sometimes (Atlanta); they’ll lose to decent teams sometimes (Brooklyn); and they’ll lose to elite teams almost always (San Antonio and Oklahoma City).
Hence, the week that was.
Week 21 (@Spurs, Cavs, Thunder, @Hawks, Nets)
1) Brandan Wright
Wright’s offensive game is so fluid and efficient, it’s hard to imagine that he could barely get off the bench earlier in the year. Here’s how Wright’s key numbers shook out this week: 10.4 points per game, 24-of-43 (56%) shooting, 6.2 rebounds per game, and 1.0 blocks per game. It’s much more difficult to quantatively measure individual defense, but I thought Wright showed his continued improvement in that area. He’s got a long way to go, but his footwork in the defensive post has improved since November, and he’s being more judicious with his weakside defense (i.e., not wildly jumping around trying to block every single shot instead of boxing out). Wright earned numerous accolades during college while playing in the highly competitive ACC, and it’s easy to see why. His raw talent is undeniable. With hard work and on-point coaching (and I have no reason to suspect both won’t occur), his ceiling is fairly high.
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Box Score — Play-by-Play — Shot Chart — Game Flow
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
- Dirk Nowitzki (16 points on 8 of 10 shooting) has 10.3 shot attempts over his last three games. He’s shooting 23 for 31 over that period. Dallas is 1-2 in those games. What else is there to say?
- Dallas fans and Mark Cuban got a great view of the player they missed out on signing this off-season in Deron Williams (31 points, six assists). After a 2 for 7 first half, he responded shooting 11 of 18 in the second, lighting any Dallas guard on fire who came near him. He’s been slowed by a combination of ankle injuries, weight gain, and hubris, but since getting his mind and body right over the All-Star Break, he’s looked exactly like a player worth a $100 million dollar contract. Dallas missed out in a huge way by being unable to sign the former Colony High School player.
- After outscoring the Nets by 10 in the first quarter, Brooklyn out-scored Dallas by 27 points over the next 36 minutes of basketball.
- I lied. We need to talk about Dirk not getting the ball more. That his first shot didn’t come until the 6:35 mark in the first quarter is one thing, as the Mavericks actually played really solid offensive basketball. But when Dirk didn’t even touch the ball in the third quarter as Deron Williams and Brook Lopez shot 11 for 12 for 26 points in the quarter, alarms have to go off on the Dallas bench.
- In the 16 games since the All Star break, Dirk Nowitzki is shooting 51% from the field, 49% from 3 point range, and 96% from the line.
- On the one hand, it’s nice that Rick Carlisle has faith in his team to run his system over set plays. The offense is essentially a read and react system based out of pick and rolls. On the other hand, why Carlisle would allow Chris Kaman and Mike James to get into a pick and roll duel with Brook Lopez and Deron Williams at the start of both halves is beyond understanding. Neither player is efficient and neither player is going to be a Dallas Maverick next year.
- Brook Lopez seems to relish playing the Dallas Mavericks. His offensive display was amazing, scoring 38 points on 22 shots and doing so in a variety of ways. He opened the game running a series of strong pick and rolls. He built on that by punishing Chris Kaman with some back down post moves. Lopez then went to a bit of a dribble drive game, taking full advantage of any Dallas defender, using both hands to get to the rim.
- It’s frustrating that Elton Brand (four points, five rebounds) is playing his most ineffective basketball in months over the last six games, right as Dallas needs him to be his best. Brand has been a phenomenal addition to Dallas this year and I hope the front office finds a way to keep him beyond this one season.
- Brook Lopez and Reggie Evans combined for 33 rebounds. The Dallas Maverick team pulled down 34.
- This was the first game in some time where Dallas fans witnessed the limitations of Brandan Wright (nine points, on 4 of 5 shooting). Wright actually had a fairly nice stat line, given his limited playing time. But the Nets took full advantage of Wright’s slight frame, punishing him in one on one defense and on rebounding opportunities. Wright has improved dramatically over the last third of the season, particularly in help defense and rebounding, but occasionally teams with strong post players will take advantage of the fact that he weighs 210 pounds soaking wet.
- With Jae Crowder hitting yet another corner three against the Nets, this shot is a potential weapon for the Mavericks moving forward. Though the sample size is a bit small, Crowder has hit 50 percent of his corner threes this season, as opposed to a mere 28% anywhere above the break. Crowder had a reputation of being a stretch four in college, but the distance of the NBA three has proven a bit too much for him this season. Interestingly, all of his corner threes this season have been assisted.
- TMG’s own Bryan Gutierrez tweets that Carlisle doesn’t buy into the notion of Dirk not getting shots being an issue during these two recent losses. However, ESPN’s Marc Stein tweeted during the game that tonight he saw a top 5 on court anger moment from Dirk as he came to the bench during the fourth quarter. Something has to give.
- There was an odd appearance in the first quarter of the rare 5-4 pick and roll. Kaman caught the ball on the right elbow and Dirk decided to set a screen for him in the middle of the free throw line. Dirk slipped the pick and Kaman fed him for a lay up, which Dirk missed, only to grab his own rebound and score.
- Some rare playing time for Anthony Morrow (six points on 3 of 6 shooting). Looking oddly like the ghost of Jason Terry, Morrow played well on offense, hitting two tough shots and stealing an inbound pass for a third quarter ending lay up. Defensively, he seemed lost, as Joe Johnson got warmed up in the second with Morrow attempting to stick with him.
- The shooting of Mike James by the quarter: 2 of 5, 0 of 1, 1 of 4, and 1 of 5 for a total of 4 of 14 for the game. He hits one shot and it seems to give him the confidence to keep shooting. When these shots come within the flow of the offense, as his fourth quarter corner three did, it boosts the Dallas offense, almost serving as a bonus. But when he hunts for his own shot, as he did through out the game, it actively hurts the Dallas offense.
- Matt Moore of CBS Sports writes an interesting look into the death of the post entry pass as a NBA player skill. Given the Dallas woes to consistently get the ball to Dirk, it feels very timely.
- After a strong 23 point win against the Timberwolves on March 10th, the Mavericks have gone 3-3 over their next six. With only 14 games remaining, the Mavs are now 3.5 games back from the eighth seed. However, they’re also too far ahead in the total league standing to benefit any from losing games for draft lotto positioning. Dallas currently stands in no man’s land.
Kirk is a member of the Two Man Game family. Follow him on Twitter @KirkSeriousFace for ranting about Dallas basketball, TV, movies, video games, and his dog.
Box Score — Play-by-Play — Shot Chart — Game Flow
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
- It almost seems unfair to distill a loss like this down to a simple explanation, but bare with me: The Mavs played poorly, and the Nets played less poorly. There was no collapse; Dallas’ execution was a bit spotty, and the offensive sequences that did go as planned too often ended with a botched open look. Brendan Haywood played decent but flawed defense, as he too frequently surrendered deep post position or a baseline lane to a focused Brook Lopez. Dirk Nowitzki was efficient, but not dominant. Jason Kidd generally did not play well. The Mavs made big plays to put themselves in a position to win, but stellar defense by Kris Humphries and DeShawn Stevenson prevented Dallas from making the biggest one. Vince Carter was a complete non-factor, and with Delonte West and Lamar Odom already out of the lineup, that absent production was killer. Neither Jason Terry nor Rodrigue Beaubois could provide dependable, consistent offense, if only because the former missed open shots and the latter was a pinch too aggressive. The defense had occasional breakdowns, but for the most part was simply inept by half. All of these things happened, and none of it really matters. Every game matters in a sense, but the holistic outcome of this particular outing is simply nullified against the weight of the entire season. It’s a one-point loss against a crummy team, and a counter swing of the pendulum that typically brings the Mavs their greatest successes. It’s worth a moment’s consideration, surely, but this isn’t at all a game — nor a result — worth dwelling on. (That said, one specific factor is becoming an all too frequent issue. As Marion has been tasked with guarding the opponent’s best player virtually regardless of any positional considerations, his offensive efficiency has hit rock bottom. The man willingly admits that defending the likes of Deron Williams [and Chris Paul, and Ty Lawson, and Ricky Rubio, and...] takes a lot out of him, and yet Carlisle continues to look to Marion for defensive strength even as his offense takes a corresponding hit. Marion is a two-way player, but extending him so far in one direction necessarily pulls him away from the other.)
Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images.
Box Score — Play-By-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“If you are out of trouble, watch for danger.”
And for the Mavs’ next trick, they’ll surrender a big early lead to a sub-par team, explode to build a significant lead of their own sometime in the third quarter, and then forfeit that lead to even things out and end everything with a bang.
Don’t get me wrong, it certainly makes for some pretty entertaining basketball. But the script is getting a little predictable by this point, don’tcha think?
We should definitely be celebrating Dallas’ wins; not every victory is going to be pretty, and the fact last night’s game was less than ideal isn’t all that damaging on the basis of a singular game. It’s the same philosophy I’ve embraced about the Mavs’ barely-wins over Minnesota, over Miami, over Charlotte, over Indiana, over New Orleans, over Charlotte, over Sacramento, and over Chicago. Those games weren’t as easy as they could have or should have been, but if you’re evaluating each contest in a vacuum, it’s hard to argue with a positive result.
But the fact that the Mavs’ wins have come by such a slim margin so often, well, you know what it can mean. Maybe Dallas isn’t as dominant as we think. Maybe this team will try this same act against a great team with some momentum in the playoffs — a Denver, a Los Angeles — and validate all of these worries. The Mavs can pull this off against the Nets because they’re a better team and, when focused, their execution level is pretty insane. But every game isn’t going to come against this level of competition, and so the problem isn’t that the Mavs are barely beating the Nets, but that they won’t be able to barely beat other teams using the same practices.
Letting New Jersey score 31 points in the first quarter definitely qualifies as bad practice. Letting the Nets build an 18-point lead by the second quarter definitely qualifies as bad practice. It flies now and the Mavs get the win, and we should be proud of them for that. It’s not easy to bring a hot team back down to Earth (NJ shot .526 from the field in the first half and ended up shooting .410) and it’s certainly not easy to overcome such a glaring deficit on the scoreboard. But keep in mind that these same habits and practices that we’re celebrating now, in the midst of an epic win streak, may be the same habits we’re deriding come playoff time. Despite their winning ways, the Mavs need a change. They need to figure out how to start the game with the concentration level that has become a fourth quarter staple. Dallas makes love to pressure and that’s awesome. But in order to be one of the league’s truly elite teams, they need to make love to the opening six minutes of the game, too. Every game doesn’t have to be a test of wills and endurance; it’s okay to have the starters get some early rest, and let Matt Carroll ride out the endgame.
We know that the Mavs know how to win close games, and that’s incredibly important. But we still haven’t seen this team show that they’re capable of managing a game. They give up too many easy buckets early, they surrender too many leads late, and though it’s almost difficult to flash back to a time where the Mavs were doing anything other than winning, you’d like to see something more.
That’s a lot of negativity for about 18 minutes of bad basketball. But it’s something that needs to be said after a win like this one, even in spite of some of the positives on the Dallas side.
Dirk Nowitzki was not one of them, which makes the win even more surprising. Nowitzki finished with 12 points on 3-of-16 shooting with five turnovers. That’s about as bad as it gets for Dirk. He’ll get points because he’s still worth the attempts (how many times have we seen him shake off an early rut to drop 25?) and because he gets to the free throw line, but I’m not sure that any measure could qualify Nowitzki’s game as a success.
That means the points had to come from somewhere. With Jason Terry out of the lineup, the Mavs turned to Caron Butler (18 points, 7-14 FG). As the focal point of the offense, Butler dropped 10 points in the fourth quarter, and was responsible for 12 of the Mavs’ final 15 points. Caron isn’t prolific or efficient enough offensively to warrant this kind of treatment on a regular basis. That’s why the Mavs have Dirk. But having Butler around to not only attract defensive attention but completely take games over if need be is a luxury that the post-trade Mavs are truly enjoying. Add Jason Terry back into the lineup and this team is just rearing to go offensively. Being able to attack any potential defense from a number of attack points is a huge advantage.
But for all of Butler’s fourth quarter contributions, he wasn’t even the Mavs’ leading scorer. That distinction, on this rarest of occasions, goes to Jason Kidd (20 points, 5-8 3FG, nine assists, four steals). If Kidd hadn’t become such a prolific three-point shooter, it’s entirely possible that the balance of the Kidd-Harris trade would still be tipped in favor of New Jersey. But even the trade’s biggest critics are recanting some of their comments due to Kidd’s inspired play. Play which has benefited greatly from his emergence as a three-point threat. I don’t want to know what dark power Kidd had to consult to add the three ball to his repertoire this late in his career, but as a follower of the team, I’m just immensely thankful that he did.
Just as impactful as Kidd’s scoring was his defense and playmaking. It wasn’t a high-volume assist night, but the Mavs’ resurgence after the dog days of the first quarter is at least in part due to the open looks Kidd generated for his teammates. He could very easily have fed Brendan Haywood in the post, but instead he lobbed it over the head of the defender and led Haywood to the basket. He could have very easily waited to attract the defense before kicking the ball to a cutting Shawn Marion, but his instincts told him not to hesitate. He could have hit Caron Butler a second late as he curled around the screen, but he timed the ball perfectly and gave Butler a wide open jumper. It’s always the little things with Kidd, and the reason he deserves to be a Hall of Famer isn’t because of the 17-assist nights where he runs the break to perfection, but nights like this where he completely controls a game.
- The name of the game offensively for Dallas was, again, balance. Six Mavs hit double figures in a game with just 91 possessions. Rodrigue Beaubois (16 points, 6-12 FG, three assists, one turnover) wasn’t hitting on his mid-range jumper, but was able to get to the rim at will. Shawn Marion (14 points, 5-10 FG, 13 rebounds, three blocks) notched his second straight double-double, and continues to fill the gaps for the Mavs in every conceivable way. Brendan Haywood double-doubled in his return as well, finishing with 11 points (4-6 FG), 10 rebounds, and two blocks.
- The Mavs tied the Cavs’ season-high winning streak at 13 games, which means they’ll have a shot at the longest winning streak league-wide when they face the Knicks on Saturday. Dallas beat New York earlier this season by 50 points. I’m just sayin’.
- The third quarter is where the Mavs really improved defensively. After giving the Nets an assortment of layups and dunks in the first half, the Dallas held New Jersey to 5-of-26 shooting with just four free throw attempts. Devin Harris (21 points, seven assists, six turnovers) and Brook Lopez (10 points, 5-16 FG, six rebounds), who had been the stars of the first half, combined to shoot 1-for-11 in the third. That’s significant defensive improvement
- The Mavs trapped Devin Harris off of every pick with mixed success. He slipped a few times against the pressure, but for the most part he was able to find an open teammate or at least an outlet to avoid a turnover. What really kept Harris in check was the zone, which has become a staple for the Mavs defensively. Dallas may execute the zone better than any other team in the league, and while it still has weaknesses in giving up offensive rebounds and allowing three-point shooters to fire away (a fact which only Jarvis Hayes was able to take advantage of), it’s become much more than just a situational strategy.
- Terrence Williams (18 points, 7-12 FG, 13 rebounds, three assists) was everywhere. I’m very impressed with his ability to move without the ball, which I thought could have been a problem coming out of a position in Louisville where he had the ball in his hands an overwhelming amount of the time. But Williams isn’t a point forward anymore, and though he still exhibits some of those playmaking skills that made him an effective college player, he’s clearly capable of playing off the ball as a more traditional wing.
- Erick Dampier also made his return for the Mavs, but only logged four minutes of playing time. One step closer to a healthy center rotation, and one step closer to improving the defense.
- Is there anyone in Maverick Nation who isn’t in a constant state of excitement over Rodrigue Beaubois? He’s not perfect and he’s still not playing much point guard, but he’s averaging 18 points on 54.7% shooting with 3.4 assists to just one turnover in March. He’s still responding well to opportunities and playing time, which is one thing for a rookie to do in November and another for them to do in March.
- Any possession that ends with a Trenton Hassell jump shot is a win for the defense.
- The Mavs played Kris Humphries on Hump Day and I completely dropped the ball. Sigh.
- The Nets are a much better team than 7-57. Much better. They don’t have much in the way of depth, but even a quick up and down of the roster reveals a bunch of individual talent capable of doing plenty of good things on a basketball court. It obviously doesn’t come together in any kind of cohesive whole and the rotation members are woefully lacking in experience, but still far better than 7-57.
Any and every Mavs-Nets game presents an obvious platform to re-examine the Kidd-Harris trade. I get that. But what it shouldn’t present is a trade framework in which one team must win and the other must lose. That’s not what any trade is about, much less the exchange of a high profile, Hall of Fame point guard and a young up and coming star.
The fact that New Jersey is, at the moment, drowning in a sea of futility, is more or less irrelevant. Devin Harris is no longer a Mav, and while I still wish him the best and like to watch him succeed (as well as tons of other likable players on that Nets roster), it’s not really Dallas’ problem anymore. Rather than point out the fact that Jason Kidd is playing better basketball than Devin Harris is this season, can’t we just praise Kidd for rebounding, shooting, and passing the ball like age doesn’t mean a damn thing? Rather than point out the Mavs’ far superior record to the Nets (which was a given, in my mind), can’t we simply appreciate the Mavs’ early successes, both offensively and defensively? The conflict between the Mavs and Nets is so artificial that it’s ridiculous, as the only source of contention seems to be the anxiety of the fan base here in Dallas.
The Kidd-Harris trade was not about making New Jersey a bad team, and it shouldn’t matter much from a Mavs-centric perspective that they are. The intrigue of a historically bad start is understandable for fans of the league and the game, but it doesn’t for one second change the value Dallas received in the deal. As of this very second, the trade is probably a win for Dallas. Kidd is playing truly inspired basketball, and he’s been a crucial part of the Mavs’ current roll. There’s simply no way that the offense functions so smoothly with the ball in Harris’ hands, even if his presence does create match-up problems and provide additional scoring. That isn’t a slight against Devin, just the acknowledgment that Kidd is a different kind of point guard whose talents make more sense in the context of this Maverick team.
The Nets didn’t sign on the dotted line with the intention of getting better today, or even tomorrow. That much is certain when you trade a point guard of Kidd’s caliber for a younger, developing talent and a pair of first round picks. One of those picks has already borne fruit in the form of Ryan Anderson. While that may not seem like much, Stan Van Gundy has made the claim that Anderson’s involvement in the Vince Carter trade was required for the swap to come to pass. That trade not only brought in Courtney Lee, a solid shooting guard with a future as a role player at the very least, but also gave the Nets all kinds of cap flexibility going forward. So the Kidd deal not only brought in the point guard of the future, but cleared cap space, brought in additional young talent that complements the core, and still adds the unknown benefit of a 2010 first rounder. To me, that’s not a loss for the Nets, regardless of what their record looks like.
We’re talking about basketball, and the natural inclination is to treat any team interaction as a contest. But to deem one team a winner does not make the other a loser. Though the jury seems to be changing its verdict on the Mavs’ side of the deal (and the new contract he signed this summer, for that matter), that doesn’t change the fact that the Nets desperately needed to reload and restructure their team. And for what it’s worth, they’ve assembled a strong group of young pieces. Harris remains one of the best young point guards in the NBA. Courtney Lee, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and Terrence Williams provide the Nets with all kinds of options at the wing offensively (Lee’s 3-point shooting, CDR’s mid-range game, Williams’ slashing and ball-handling abilities), and plenty of weapons defensively. Brook Lopez looks has already figured out what it takes to be a NBA center, even if he didn’t show it against the Mavs. And Yi Jianlian…well, he’ll always have that magical workout against the chairs. I know things in Jersey are dour right now, but with new ownership, a big move on the way, plenty of young talent, and tons of cap space, this team is doing the rebuilding thing right.