Rumor Mongering: Let Go

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 12, 2011 under Commentary, Rumors | 3 Comments to Read

The memory of Devin Harris as a Dallas Maverick currently floats between two worlds. It’s not as vivid as a yesterday’s events; Harris’ Maverick tenure is lacking in that fresh, day-old texture. At the same time, his time as a Mav hasn’t been bathed in nostalgia’s glow. His seasons in Dallas were good days, but they weren’t the good ol’ days.

That — among other things — makes the prospect of a Harris return to Dallas a bit strange. Such an acquisition couldn’t rightfully be painted as the return of an old friend any more than it could be a celebration of his return from a business day trip. Harris has been gone long enough to remove him from Mavs fans’ immediate consciousness (the KIDD VS. HARRIS dynamic has completely evaporated), and yet time hasn’t been able to scrub clean their familiarity with his weaknesses as a player.

It’s probably a bit silly to talk about Harris possibly returning to Dallas at all. It’s a bit of a long-shot, to say the least, and can only occur if the following conditions are met:

If the Nuggets successfuly execute a Carmelo Anthony trade,

and if that trade also involves the Nets (most likely as a landing point for Anthony),

and if Devin Harris is part of the trade package (which he doesn’t have to be),

and if Harris is sent to Denver, or a similarly positioned team which has little use for him,

and if the Mavs decide they’re legitimately interested in Harris,

and if they can grab him for a reasonable cost,

then Harris may be a Maverick again.

Certainly improbable, but once those dominoes start falling, who knows where they’ll stop. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Mavs looked to Harris — rather than Stephen Jackson or even Andre Iguodala — as a possible wing scorer, and though the idea of playing Harris alongside another point guard seems odd, it could be crazy enough to work.

Of course, by “to work” I mean “to hedge the loss of Caron Butler’s supplementary scoring.” I’m not sure how much acquiring Harris would really boost Dallas’ stock (and of course, the impact of his possible acquisition would depend heavily on the cost), but he could score efficiently at the least (he’s still one of the better foul-drawing point guards in the league), and I’m convinced he could share the court with Jason Kidd in certain situations.

I’ll reserve a more detailed analysis for a later date in an alternate universe when, if, and only when/if the Mavs actually acquire Harris, but here’s my initial thinking on the subject of him meshing with Dallas’ current backcourt.

Harris has played alongside Jason Terry before, and the two proved to be an effective offensive and defensive duo. JET wasn’t exactly a plus defender in those days (not that he’s much more than passable now), but Harris’ solid on-ball defense against quicker perimeter threats allowed Terry to defend the lesser of an opponent’s evils.It worked, at least well enough to propel the Mavs to the Finals in 2006 and to the league’s best record in 2007.

Seeing how Harris might work with Kidd would be the more interesting facet of a potential integration process. Harris is accustomed to running an offense and needs the ball in his hands. He has a decent mid-range game, but he doesn’t work all that well to get open (or at least to get open and into scoring position) without the ball, and isn’t much of a catch-and-shoot player. For a minute, it seemed as though his three-point shooting might come around, but Harris has never been a legitimate threat from beyond the arc, and this season he’s shooting just 30.8% from distance. He’s no proxy for Terry or Rodrigue Beaubois, but he’s also not the passer that Kidd is. That makes Harris a poor fit for some fantasy Dallas starting lineup, as letting him run the offense would negate Kidd’s playmaking, but playing him off the ball would make him an inefficient jump-shooter.

There is another intriguing possibility, though: what if Harris’ use as “a wing scorer” put the ball in his hands during most of his time on the court, and enabled him to run the second unit in lieu of J.J. Barea? The Mavs have hopes that Beaubois will grow more comfortable as a point guard sooner rather than later, but Barea is the initiator off the bench until that responsibility is ripped from his hands. Harris is talented and productive enough to do so instantly should he actually become a Mav. Dallas has struggled to score without Dirk Nowitzki on the floor, and the moments when Terry or Caron Butler acted as only productive on-court scorer acted as a breeding ground for opponents’ momentum. The Mavs may be a deep team, but only in the sense that they have many players which can achieve similar ends. Anchoring an offense is not one of those ends. The Lakers have Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, and the Spurs have the Manu Ginobili-Tony Parker-Tim Duncan triumvirate. Dallas doesn’t have a scorer that can run the show when Nowitzki is out of the game, but Harris could potentially take on that responsibility. He’s not an all-world scorer, but Harris’ stop-and-go drives provide him with a consistent avenue for efficient scoring.

I don’t think Harris would be crazy about coming off the bench, but a role behind Ki — I’m going to pause for a minute. It’s amazing just how much ado can come from nothing. Devin Harris isn’t a Maverick, and odds are that he’ll never be one again.

If there’s a point to any of this aside from indulging whimsy, it’s to open up your mind. Harris is a point guard. Kidd is a point guard. Yet they’re still very different players who could succeed in very different situations. The Mavs lost Caron Butler, but their means for improving shouldn’t be limited to those of similar body types to Caron or even similar skill sets. If Donnie Nelson, Rick Carlisle, and Mark Cuban deem Iguodala or Jackson the most suitable replacement available, then power to them. But it would be foolish to disregard Harris on the grounds of position or stature alone, and if trading for him provides the best path toward improvement, the Mavs would be wise to at least trot down it to take a peak around the bend.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 84, Portland Trailblazers 81

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 5, 2011 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR

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

  • Based on the final score, you should immediately be able to tell two things about last night’s game: neither team was particularly proficient offensively with their stars sidelined by injury, and the pace was insanely slow. I wouldn’t expect a game between Portland (the league’s slowest team) and Dallas (the league’s eighth slowest team) to break out into a foot race, but this particular game progressed even more slowly than it first appeared. 80 possessions? That’s an insanely — and impressively, really — low pace number for a game, even by the Blazers’ standards. Both teams worked and worked and worked for good looks, but they rarely came. That didn’t make for the prettiest of contests, but it’s good to see teams at least attempt to replace execution with effort. Dallas’ offense isn’t going to operate normally without Dirk Nowitzki or Caron Butler (much less Rodrigue Beaubois) steering possessions along, and the same is true for Portland’s sets without Brandon Roy. Neither team is currently equipped for dominance, but they fought for rebounds and control throughout. It wasn’t the most aesthetically brilliant game you’ll see this season (or probably even that night; the Knicks and Spurs had a fun no-defense affair in NYC), but it’s easily appreciated for what it was.
  • DeShawn Stevenson (18 points, 4-9 3FG, three rebounds, two assists) and Tyson Chandler (14 points, 7-9 FG, 13 rebounds) are the unexpected offensive heroes of the Mavs’ latest successes. Stevenson was again money from three-point range, but his willingness to surrender his footing in order to drive or step in still surprises me. In a fully-functioning Mavs offense, Stevenson is a spot-up shooter and little else, but in a pinch, he can handle the ball a bit, make smart, well-timed passes, and draw fouls. Chandler’s production wasn’t anything we haven’t seen before, just an impressive effort on the offensive glass (where Tyson grabbed six of his 13 boards) and a continued excellence in filling open space around the rim. Chandler doesn’t float or wander, he’s always moving with an intent to do something. That may not be a part of the scouting report on TC, but it’s a notable aspect of his game that some bigs would be wise to emulate.
  • Defensive rebounding was very nearly a back-breaker. The Mavs must be better in boxing out shooters and other offensive players. Portland only barely topped Dallas in offensive rebounding percentage, but Marcus Camby (five offensive boards), LaMarcus Aldridge (three), Nicolas Batum (three), and even Andre Miller (two) scored second and third and fourth opportunities for their team, maximizing each trip down the floor. Had Wes Matthews or the Portland reserves played just a bit better, Dallas would have been nudged out in the fourth. Instead, the Mavs got just enough defensive rebounds to take the lead and Jason Terry scored 12 points (on 5-8 FG) to go along with two assists and two rebounds in the fourth quarter to secure it. The Mavs should take a win any way they can get it at the moment, but one would expect the rebounding on the defensive end to be just a bit better, no?

Doc, It’s Only a Scratch

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 4, 2011 under Commentary, News | 5 Comments to Read

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The Mavericks and their fans are no strangers to torment. Between the collapse/shenanigans of the 2006 Finals and the epic 2007 upset at the hands of the world-beating (or at least Maverick-beating) Warriors, this team has endured plenty. Still, Maverick nation is about to confront a startlingly new brand of disappointment: the letdown of mid-season injury.

For most of this decade, the Mavs have lived in a bubble, immune to the dings, strains, and breaks that befall so many other NBA franchises. They have no Greg Oden or Yao Ming, no Tracy McGrady or even Grant Hill. They’ve had Dirk Nowitzki, a picture of health throughout his NBA career, Jason Terry, an iron man in his own right, and a pretty ridiculous run of luck even among “injury-prone” players. The closest thing Dallas has encountered to a catastrophic injury was Josh Howard’s bum ankle, but even that ailment occurred after Howard had regressed and begun to drift out of favor.

Rodrigue Beaubois’ broken foot was a bummer, but there’s never been any particular gloom or finality in his injury, even as we all await his return. Beaubois will come back, he’ll resume his career, and he’ll most likely make an impact for the Mavs this season. It’s a simple story with an upbeat ending, something which Caron Butler isn’t lucky enough to have. Butler will have season-ending surgery to repair his ruptured right patellar tendon, bringing his year — which was on an impressive upward trajectory — to a grinding halt. Butler had been improving. He had grown comfortable playing off of Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki rather than creating for himself, and though he still flirted with the occasional long two-pointer in isolation, those weren’t his main squeeze any longer. Butler was catching on the move, attacking the rim, and spotting up. Gone were the days of a million jab steps, and the boost in Caron’s efficiency was anything but coincidental.

Now take all of Caron’s progress and toss it. It’s of little import now. I haven’t the faintest clue if Butler has any future in Dallas whatsoever, but he’s certainly without one for this season. His next few months are effectively blank, filled with rehab and rest, “just trying to stay positive,” and “supporting [his] teammates.” It’s not fair, but it never is. The only difference between today and yesterday is that on this particular day — this once in a decade day, apparently — it’s the Mavs facing the business end of the fates’ pointy stick. It had to happen sometime, so take relief in the notion that it could certainly be worse; what if it were Butler returning sometime this week and Nowitzki out for the long haul?

It’s a damn shame that the Mavs are at least temporarily retired from the ranks of the contenders, if they ever truly reached that point at all. They have a chance to climb back, but for now the criteria for the re-ascent is too conditional, too possible without being probable. Dallas is still good. Quite good, even. But until proven otherwise, they’re an honorable mention. It’s odd to think that Butler, who was once regarded as a Howard-like nuisance in the Mavs’ offense, has become this vital, but that’s the case. He’s far from an elite player (in fact by most measures, he’s merely average), but in the context of this particular team he means quite a bit. Not enough for Dallas to free fall and pull a quick trigger on a trade, but enough to put them a safe step below the likes of San Antonio.

The Mavs have been long overdue for a substantial injury, and now one has derailed the team despite all promise. Happy New Year.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 104, Cleveland Cavaliers 95

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 3, 2011 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR

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

  • Nothing like playing against the Cavaliers’ defense to get the offense going sans Nowitzki, Butler, and Beaubois. Dallas did their part to execute, but there’s no question that playing against a defense without shot-blockers or capable defensive bigs did wonders for the Mavs’ inside game. Lots of productive cutting, driving, and ball movement, which generated good looks both inside and out. The offense was simple, but that’s fine against the Cavs, especially without Anderson Varejao in the lineup. It wasn’t a dominant offensive performance — and those expecting anything of the sort in the Mavs’ current circumstances best be scanned for brain damage — but Dallas held modest advantages in each of the four factors.
  • The defense was another story. A win is a win is a win is a win, but the back line of the zone was sloppy, and the pick-and-roll coverage was generally a mess. Defensive breakdowns are inevitable, but the frequency of open Cleveland dunks and layups in their half-court offense was pretty depressing. Definitely not one of the Mavs’ finer defensive performances, and I’m not sure injuries provide a valid excuse.
  • A possible caveat, though: because of Nowitzki and Butler’s injuries, plenty of Mavs are playing out of position in the zone. Those that had been manning the top of the zone are now on the wing in some cases, and while the principles are the same, the execution is different. Even those changes shouldn’t have resulted in so many open looks at the rim, but it’s something to consider.
  • Butler’s absence ushered Jason Terry (18 points, 8-14 FG, four assists) back into the starting lineup, where Shawn Marion (22 points, 11-16 FG, five rebounds) also stood in for Nowitzki. Kidd-Terry-Stevenson-Marion-Chandler is a very weird offensive lineup, but JET found his jumper at the bottom of his travel bag, DeShawn Stevenson (21 points, 6-13 FG, 5-12 3FG, four assists, three rebounds) was absolutely tremendous from deep but was far more than a spot-up shooter, and Marion moved well in the Mavs’ half-court offense and on the initial and secondary break. Toss in double-digit scoring efforts from Jason Kidd (10 points, 3-13 FG, eight assists, four rebounds, four turnovers) and Tyson Chandler (14 points, 6-6 FG, 14 rebounds, three turnovers), and you have a one-game, completely unsustainable blueprint for makeshift success.
  • Mavs fans should already be quite aware of Antawn Jamison’s (35 points, 14-22 FG, 3-6 3FG, 10 reobunds) scoring savvy, but games like this one bring Jamison’s creativity around the basket to the forefront, if only for a moment. Jamison has been pegged as a “stretch 4,” but I’m not quite sure why; he’s an interior player with range, not a Rashard Lewis or Troy Murphy-like talent that works from the outside in. Reducing Jamison to a perimeter threat erases the dimensions of the game in which he’s been the most successful, and as he showed against the Mavs, Jamison is still plenty capable of piling up points with an array of flips, hooks, counters, and tips.
  • Dominique Jones (nine points, 2-10 FG, five rebounds, three assists, two blocks) was recalled from the Legends after Butler’s injury status became grave, and played 21 minutes as a creator/scorer. Rick Carlisle actually ran a decent amount of the offense through Jones, who proved himself a capable drive-and-kick player if nothing else. His vision isn’t transcendent, but Jones is unselfish and capable of making all kinds of passes. Jones still struggles to finish after getting to the rim — odd considering how strong of a finisher he was in college and at Summer League — but that limitation seems nothing more than a temporary hurdle. Jones will be a quality driver/slasher in time, and for now, he’s showing the quickness to get around his man, the vision and willingness to make smart plays, and a veteran knack for drawing contact.
  • Marion scored 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting in 15 second-half minutes. Those buckets weren’t exactly tide-altering (though the final margin was less than impressive, the Mavs’ offense kept them in control throughout), but valuable nonetheless, particularly with such talented scorers riding the inactive list.
  • None of us should expect Rick Carlisle’s rotation to be constant given his current personnel, so take the significance of Brendan Haywood’s return to semi-prominence with a grain of salt. Haywood could end up glued to the bench again by midweek, but for now, he’s playing right behind Tyson Chandler once more.
  • Sneakily absurd performance of the night: Ramon Sessions finished with 19 points (9-13 FG), 12 assists, and seven rebounds. Sessions benefited from the confused Dallas defense on more than a few occasions, and got up for a couple of dunks. Still, the full volume of Sessions’ production escaped me, and the fact that he nearly registered a pretty impressive triple double seems crazy, even if it shouldn’t.

The Difference: San Antonio Spurs 99, Dallas Mavericks 93

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

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Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
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

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TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR

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 theĀ  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.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 103, Oklahoma City Thunder 93

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 28, 2010 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Oklahoma City100.045.723.517.811.8

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.

  • First, the relevant information that transcends the scope of this game: Dirk Nowitzki left the game around the nine-minute mark in the second quarter after landing just a bit awkwardly on one of his trademark jumpers. There were no defenders in Dirk’s immediate vicinity, no flailing limbs to throw Nowitzki off balance or planted feet to disturb his footing. He just landed, winced, and left the game. The injury didn’t appear serious, but it very well could be. We’ll know more when Nowitzki gets an MRI later today.
  • Even after losing Nowitzki for the night, Dallas did a great job of keeping pace with a Thunder team that was anxious to attack in transition. Kevin Durant (28 points on 21 shots, five rebounds, four assists, five turnovers, two steals, and two blocks) was his typically fantastic self, but the Mavs rallied to keep pace while going on some very effective defensive runs. The fourth quarter belonged to Dallas; the Maverick zone held the Thunder to just 12 points in the frame, as Durant and co. shot just 4-of-18 from the field for the quarter while turning the ball over five times. The zone is probably more effective with Shawn Marion and Caron Butler on the wings in place of Nowitzki anyway, and Dallas went into full lockdown mode in a game-turning fourth quarter. In most cases, I’m quick to dismiss the overvaluation of the fourth (over any other quarter, anyway), but in this case there was an observable change in momentum in addition to a literal turn on the scoreboard. After 36 minutes played, the Mavs were down two, and after a dominant defensive performance, they won the day by 10. Influential enough for me.
  • When playing zone, Dallas seems to have found the perfect balance of ball pressure and reactive defense. They force opponents into tough shots by restricting access to the paint and allowing opponents to kill themselves with outside shots, but have a knack for attacking a ball-handler at just the right moment, or completely swarming a passer with limited vision at the perfect moment. The Mavs’ match-up zone looks like a legitimate long-term weapon, and though the playoffs provide a completely different preparation dynamic, zoning up seems to confuse the hell out of regular season opponents.
  • Interestingly enough, the Thunder started off the game with a little zone of their own. Unlike earlier zones that the Mavs have seen this season, they didn’t seem too affected by it. Progress!
  • The Mavs are still killing it from the three-point line. DeShawn Stevenson and Butler combined to shoot 6-of-9 from beyond the arc, and the team as a whole shot 47.8% from distance. OKC shot a decent enough 35.3% from the three, but the discrepancy in percentage and attempts helped the Mavs almost double the Thunder’s three-point makes.
  • Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Jason Terry struggled through the first three quarters — both with Nowitzki in the lineup and without him — but came alive in the fourth. JET shot 5-of-8 and made his only three-pointer of the night in the fourth, which was home to 11 of Terry’s 13 points. This isn’t a terribly positive habit to fall into, but it’s nice to know that Terry isn’t so affected by a shooting slump as to miss a chance to soak up the bright lights.
  • Jason Kidd (10 points, nine rebounds, 10 assists, four steals, two turnovers) surged appropriately. With Nowitzki out of the lineup, the offense relies even more heavily on ball movement and spacing, which provides Kidd a perfect stage to showcase his showrunning talents. Kidd excels when given the pieces to run a balanced offense, and though the Mavs are unquestionably a lesser offensive team without Nowitzki, Kidd is a tremendous asset to have on a team with limited shot creation that could help Dallas keep their collective head above water if Dirk is forced to miss a little time.
  • Terry’s defensive improvements are pretty subtle, but continue to impress me. As is usually the case on the defensive end, it’s all about the little things: stopping a Russell Westbrook fast break by attacking his dribble, closing out just a tad more quickly…I’m sure proper defensive effort is a big part of it, but Terry nonetheless deserves credit for figuring out how to boost his all-around effectiveness.
  • Alexis Ajinca found some minutes in Nowitzki’s absence, and looked alright. Interesting to have a player with his height and length on the wing in the zone alongside Brendan Haywood or Tyson Chandler. Also: Ajinca hit a three-pointer, the first in his NBA career.
  • Marion and Butler are crucial offensive contributors even under normal circumstances, but for the duo to add 41 points on just 37 shots is certainly notable. That’s more Marion than Butler, but Caron had a solid all-around night.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 105, Orlando Magic 99

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 22, 2010 under Recaps | 7 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot Chart — GameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR

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.

  • What a blast. Two very capable offenses went to work, and while the defensive effort wasn’t necessarily lacking on either side, they just couldn’t keep pace with either team’s offensive execution. It wasn’t always the prettiest ball, but there’s an obvious appeal to a game where both teams light it up from the outside. 23 total three-pointers between the Mavs and Magic, who combined to shoot 41.8% from deep. Caron Butler (4-6 3FG), in particular, continues to impress with his range. Butler has only been even remotely successful from behind the three-point line in two of previous nine NBA seasons. This year, Caron is hitting an impressive 40.4% of his threes, his career-high by a wide margin. I want to believe that this is legitimate improvement. I want to believe that we’re beyond the warning period for flukes, and that Caron, the corner gunner, is here to stay. So why is it still so hard to believe that Butler could have settled into a Kidd-like comfort zone from the perimeter?
  • Dwight Howard (26 points, 23 rebounds, three steals, two blocks) was fantastic. The Mavs’ bigs, to both their credit and discredit, did a great job of contesting Howard’s shots without fouling, but Dwight showed off a nice array of moves with both hands to score over and around them. Howard shot just four free throws all night (and made all four!), but his 11-of-19 mark from the field kept him — and the Magic — efficient. Howard was effective on defense as always, even if his impact was negated a bit by the Mavs’ hot shooting from the outside. His presence was probably most felt when he was on the bench. As soon as Howard caught a breather, Tyson Chandler (16 points, 7-7 FG, four rebounds) went on a rampage. Orlando is aching for a proper backup center now that Marcin Gortat is a Sun, and Chandler took full advantage of that weakness in the rotation.
  • On a related note: Butler seems to have rounded a legitimate corner in his possession usage. He still gets caught pump-faking and jab-stepping into infinity on a possession or two, but 20 points on 14 shots? With just one turnover? This is the dream. This is the sidekick the Mavs have been looking for, and as is the case with his three-point shooting, all Dallas can hope for is a little sustenance.
  • Jason Kidd (13 points, 12 assists, six rebounds) had one of his best games in awhile. He wasn’t the best Maverick on the floor, but had a total impact in a way he hasn’t in some time. It’s nice to have the complete Kidd back, hitting threes, setting up his teammates, fighting for rebounds, and scrambling for defensive advantage.
  • Of note: Hedo Turkoglu’s defense on Dirk Nowitzki (17 points, 4-13 FG, eight rebounds, five assists) was surprisingly successful. Maybe Stan Van Gundy really does bring out the best in Turkoglu’s game. There was just something extra in his effort against Nowitzki that we haven’t seen from Turkoglu in Phoenix or Toronto. He looked right at home in a Magic uniform again, and though he did damage to both teams on the offensive end, his D on Dirk shouldn’t be discounted. Golf clap for the man.
  • Not much separated the Mavs and Magic in this one. Dallas was a bit hotter from outside, had a bit more scoring versatility, and got to the free throw line just a tad more often. Orlando was within striking distance, and Jason Richardson (10 points, 4-13 FG, five rebounds) made things interesting late after Hedo Turkoglu’s (nine points, 2-11 FG, eight assists, four turnovers) hilarious attempts to take over the game failed miserably. I wouldn’t say this game was quite as balanced as yesterday’s match-up with Miami, but it was competitive to say the least.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 98, Miami Heat 96

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 21, 2010 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR

You know the drill. The Difference is a quick-hitting (or in this case, day after) reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • I will say this about Dallas: they seem totally unaffected by win streaks. The Mavs aren’t daunted by opponents on a roll, nor did they look truly empowered when they were riding a double-digit streak of their own. This team just plays, and the quiet dignity of their execution feels ostensibly different from prior seasons. Dallas has long gone about their business through the regular season, but this is something else. It’s not necessarily measurable, just an observation, and likely one tainted by the Mavs’ recent success. Still, I feel there’s some merit to it, if not in every game than certainly in this one. Miami’s 12-game streak is dead, and your Dallas Mavericks were the ones who buried it. Alive. And watched the soil squirm and struggle while cackling. What can I say? Jason Terry is an evil, evil man.
  • Dallas got the necessary stops, to close the game, but this was a nice combined offensive and defensive effort. Dallas wasn’t playing up to their potential on either end, but neither was Miami. Good teams tend to take each other out of their rhythm a bit, and it seemed like both squads managed to disrupt the opposing club’s rhythm just enough to prevent either team from really taking off. The Mavs went on an early run thanks to some hot shooting, the Heat countered with a sudden burst of scoring, and the two clubs jockeyed for position through the rest of the game. Dirk Nowitzki (26 points, 8-21 FG, nine rebounds) carried the load early, but his shots started coming up short about midway through the third quarter. Shawn Marion (seven points, 13 rebounds) demonstrated how a player can impact a game with essentially defense and rebounding alone. JET dropped 19 points in the fourth quarter alone, which makes for pretty good times. I could go on all day. Caron Butler quietly put up 13 points on nine shots while playing excellent defense on LeBron James for stretches. Tyson Chandler could have been better, but altered shots and finished well. Credit for this win runs deep through the roster, and while it may not be the most significant win of the season, it’s a nice badge to have.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 103, Portland Trailblazers 98

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 16, 2010 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR

You know the drill. The Difference is a quick-hitting (or in this case, day after) reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • Dallas really made an effort to lose this game in the second half, but Dirk Nowitzki (21 points, 7-14 FG, five rebounds, three assists, three steals, two blocks, three turnovers) was having none of it. 12 fourth-quarter points for Dirk, including all four of the Mavs’ field goals in the game’s last two minutes. Nothing fancy, unless you still think a seven-footer shooting fading/leaning turnaround jumpers from all over the court is somehow unusual.
  • Just days after Andrew Bogut scored 21 points on 12 shots while grabbing 14 rebounds against the Mavs, LaMarcus Aldridge put up 35 points (14-26 FG) and notched 10 boards against Tyson Chandler, Dirk Nowitzki, and Brendan Haywood. Not to oversimplify things, but this seems to be a bit of a problem. Aldridge was quite impressive. He’s made a career out of thriving both inside and out, but Aldridge completed a variety of athletic plays that were remarkable even for a player with his talent and pedigree. Among them: this emphatic put-back (video courtesy of Ben Golliver of Blazersedge).
  • Nowitzki brought his usual heroics, but Caron Butler (23 points, 10-19 FG, seven rebounds, four assists) was surprisingly the Mavs’ most consistent scorer. Butler pump-faked away some possessions in his usual fashion, but for the most part, Caron drove and chose his shots wisely, working his way into a rhythm before outright carrying the Mavs in the third quarter. Dallas’ offense wasn’t exactly reliable, and Butler’s 11 points during a pretty volatile time were basketball godsend for the Mavs. I don’t know what got into Caron Butler, but this Caron should be no stranger to the AAC.
  • The Mavs still can’t hold onto a lead, but I always wonder if that should really merit legitimate concern. It sounds damning; after all, if good teams are marked by their high point differentials and the Mavs can’t seem to protect their sizable leads, it doesn’t exactly speak to high quality. That said — and I hope to say this without advocating some kind of “any win is a good win” evaluative framework — there’s still some merit to this kind of execution, even if it isn’t consistent throughout the game. It’s not a perfect win, but I’m not sure it’s worthy of an asterisk, either.
  • The first quarter was a pretty depressing basketball exhibition. On a national broadcast, the Mavs scored at a rate of just 80 points per 100 possessions (a mark which qualifies as mind-numbingly awful) in the game’s first 12 minutes, and the Blazers followed along by scoring at a rate of 75 points per 100 possessions (a mark which skips through the mind-numbing stage and goes straight for the excruciating pain). Portland registered an effective field goal percentage of 28%. The Mavs allowed the Blazers to grab 33.3% of their misses for offensive boards. Not exactly a worthy basketball showcase, but luckily they game took an upward turn over the final three quarters.