The Difference: Dallas beats Oklahoma City

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 24, 2010 under Recaps | 6 Comments to Read

The Difference is a new feature here at The Two Man Game, in which I’ll provide a bit of instant analysis on games shortly after they occur rather than the following morning. The longer, more detailed recaps will be up as soon as they’re available, but consider these morsels your post-game snack to hold you over until then.

For this feature, I’ll offer one bullet point for each point in the margin of victory. That makes this first installment fairly simple, but fun will be had when the blowouts come. Let’s not have another 50-point win though, eh?

  • Combined 6-of-23 shooting for Jason Terry and Jason Kidd? No big. That field goal percentage deficit ain’t no thang when the Mavs completely dominate their opponent in both free throw rate and offensive rebounding rate. These are not the Mavs we’re used to or even the Mavs that will be around for the season, but it’s still nice to have them drop by for a game every now and again.
  • Tyson Chandler (17 points, 5-9 FG, 18 rebounds): unlikely offensive weapon, skilled defender, rebounding fiend, ruler of men, master of Oklahoma City bigs. If Chandler were the leader of an underground, post-apocalyptic cult, I’d follow him. As far as basketball is concerned, though, he’s only sublime. I guess that will have to do.
  • Turnovers were the cause of the Mavs’ early troubles, but they rounded out their performance nicely by carefully protecting their possessions over the game’s final three quarters. Besides, Dallas couldn’t miss 18 threes if they were turning the ball over so often, now could they?
  • Russell Westbrook had 13 points on 13 shots. Is that good defense? Partially, sure, but Dallas can in no way claim full credit for keeping Westbrook in check. For whatever reason he just wasn’t as assertive as he could have — or should have — been.
  • Caron Butler can’t exactly redeem himself in a single night, but he started on the right path with a simple 6-of-13, 15-point performance. That’s the thing with Butler: he doesn’t have to wow anyone. All he has to do is not induce groans with his shot selection. All he has to do is not head fake his way into a migraine. This kind of moderate scoring and fairly efficient line will do nicely.
  • The Mavs’ transition defense still needs work. It’s not hugely bothersome given the limited number of transition possessions in the average game, but there’s not really a valid excuse for uncontested drives through the middle of a Maverick cluster.
  • I’m typically an advocate of starting Serge Ibaka in Jeff Green’s place, for reasons of fit and talent. Green had a solid outing, even if his defensive efforts were a bit futile. Someone has to guard Dirk Nowitzki, and Green had a tough night defending Nowitzki without fouling. That said, Green had a successful offensive evening from all over the court, as his versatile style tilted toward the scoring column for a night.
  • Jason Kidd had a throwback shooting performance, as he shot 2-of-9 from beyond the arc and 3-of-12 overall. Kidd has plenty of tough shooting nights filled with near-misses, but he put up more than a few knuckleballs in this one.

Dallas Mavericks 88, Detroit Pistons 84

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Recaps | 4 Comments to Read

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The attempt and not the deed confounds us.”
-William Shakespeare

What a confusing game.

There are plenty of definite elements in this particular game on which to focus, but no sensible way to make sense of the entire affair from a holistic standpoint. Dirk is brilliant. Caron Butler is painful to watch most of the time, but occasionally looks like a real contributor. Dallas can execute well in the fourth quarter. The Mavs had trouble against a limited Pistons team. Dallas desperately needs more supplementary scoring. The defense is solid, but the offense has stalled.

So, what exactly is it that we’re supposed to take away from last night’s game? Maybe this is a bit of observation bias, but this game seemed to confirm plenty of what we already knew about the Mavs in still unconvincing fashion. It’s not like this was an overwhelming defensive exhibition, after all, nor was it Caron Butler’s worst effort of the season. It’s just another 48 minutes of data to add to the file, flavored with a Dirk Nowitzki shooting exhibition to taste.

There’s nothing remarkable to be found in these four quarters aside from Nowitzki (42 points, 13-23 FG, 12 rebounds, two blocks). Detroit is uniquely disadvantaged in defending Nowitzki due to their crew of regular bigs: Jason Maxiell is too short to contest Dirk’s face-up jumper, Charlie Villanueva is too easy Charlie Villanuevaed, and Ben Wallace is hardly comfortable guarding a player of Nowitzki’s skill set. I suppose the Pistons could have looked to Tayshaun Prince to defend Nowitzki (manning up Nowitzki with a long, pesky defender is a popular concept with most every other NBA team, but Prince didn’t really guard Dirk at all), but would that switch really have deterred Dirk on a night like this?

Nowitzki wasn’t unconscious, as they say. He was very aware. He was logical and calculating. He picked apart the Pistons’ defense with a deliberate plan of attack. Nowitzki didn’t bank on any miracles, only his usual brilliance in even higher volume. This 42-pointer is nothing for Dirk to write home about, even if he was almost two buckets shy of making half of his team’s field goals and two points short of scoring half of his team’s points.

This game is not to be taken too far beyond face value. Rick Carlisle dubbed the affair a “playoff-style game,” and I’m not inclined to agree. The pace was slow, but you don’t play playoff-style games against the Detroit Pistons. The Mavs’ ability to execute in the half-court against this collection of players doesn’t mean much of anything. They won the day, and every tick in the win column is ultimately important as far as seeding goes, but this win isn’t a feather for anyone’s hat.

Closing thoughts:

  • Had Caron Butler not had a terrific start to the fourth quarter, I’d be tempted to say that he had no redeeming value in this game whatsoever. That stretch aside, for every solid defensive play he overextended himself on offense, for every sound decision there were a few questionable ones.
  • Something odd about Butler: give him the ball on the wing and nothing — not even light — can escape from his immediate vicinity, but give him the ball on the break, and he actually makes some pretty smart passes.
  • Fouling is still Tyson Chandler’s religion.
  • The Mavs’ turnover woes could be behind them. Over their last three games, Dallas has turned the ball over on just 9.1, 14.3, and 9.7 percent of their possessions.
  • Brendan Haywood’s performance (two points, four rebounds, and two blocks) was far from exemplary, but he was the top Mavs center in this one. Haywood did a nice job of holding down the middle of the zone and contesting shots in the paint, and while he may not deserve praise for simply doing his job, it’s been that kind of season for Haywood.
  • Dallas should probably focus on their transition defense. There were several cases in which the Mavs were in position to defend the break, but ceded lanes and open looks to the Pistons. It seems like the Mavs’ defenders are committing too late or not at all, and the zone defense could be to blame for some of that; rather than use the transition defensive front as an opportunity to let the defense set up after an initial denial, the Mavs may be trying to set up their zone too early.
  • Ian Mahinmi got some second-quarter burn after Chandler and Haywood picked up two fouls apiece. Not much to tell. Mahinmi missed his one post-up attempt (a lefty hook from the middle of the paint), didn’t grab any boards, and played a few minutes of decent zone defense. There aren’t really any available minutes for Mahinmi behind Chandler and Haywood, but I still don’t think playing him alongside either big would be the worst thing in the world. Particularly on nights when Rick Carlisle’s rotation would otherwise turn to Brian Cardinal.
  • It’s not possible to justify or defend J.J. Barea’s (0 points, 0-5 FG, one assist, one turnover) play in a game like this one. If he’s not careful, he could risk being completely squeezed out of the rotation altogether upon Rodrigue Beaubois’ return.
  • It’s not always called, but Brendan Haywood travels in the post a lot.
  • Tayshaun Prince’s (19 points, 9-13 FG, five rebounds) offense really seemed to give Caron Butler trouble. Prince is just so crafty going toward the basket, and his length opened up a number of angles for both layup and pull-up attempts.
  • Dirk Nowitzki had five offensive rebounds, including a game-clinching board with 18.1 seconds remaining. Is this real life?
  • Jason Terry (16 points, 7-17 FG, four assists) was slow to start, but he eventually gave the Mavs — and by the Mavs, I mean Dirk — enough points to squeak out a win. JET had a rough first half (he made just one of his first seven field goal attempts), but his nine points in the game’s final 8:40 were a nice rebound.

The Difference: Chicago Beats Dallas

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 20, 2010 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

The Difference is a new feature here at The Two Man Game, in which I’ll provide a bit of instant analysis on games shortly after they occur rather than the following morning. The longer, more detailed recaps will be up as soon as they’re available, but consider these morsels your post-game snack to hold you over until then.

For this feature, I’ll offer one bullet point for each point in the margin of victory. That makes this first installment fairly simple, but fun will be had when the blowouts come. Let’s not have another 50-point win though, eh?

Chicago Bulls 88, Dallas Mavericks 83

  • Reasons why the Mavericks lost their fourth game of the season: Taj Gibson (17 points, 7-12 FG, 18 rebounds), offensive rebounding (Chicago had a monstrous 44.4 offensive rebounding rate), lack of offensive balance (Dirk Nowitzki had half of the Mavs’ field goals), and divine intervention. I don’t know how else to explain the consistently bizarre occurrences that came during the dwindling seconds of seemingly every shot clock. The Bulls worked hard enough to win, but they had some help.
  • Dirk Nowitzki (36 points, eight rebounds, three assists) made more three-pointers in this game than he had all season. Nowitzki shot 3-of-5 from deep in this game, but was just 2-of-11 on the year otherwise.
  • Tyson Chandler (eight points, 10 rebounds, three blocks) did his job. He’ll never be a consistent scorer for this team, but he may be the Mavs’ second best player regardless. Jason Kidd has had some terrific games this season and Jason Terry’s shooting has largely been fantastic, but Chandler is the only other non-Dirk Mav with consistently stellar performance.
  • Derrick Rose (22 points, six assists, four rebounds, four turnovers) didn’t finish with all that many assists, but the nature of his offense was fundamentally different than it was against the Spurs on Wednesday. Rose was far more patient, and though his teammates still have trouble handling passes and finishing, he’s making the right play. This is how the Bulls get better; their success in games where Rose has astronomically high usage is gilded rather than golden. No one can take those big-scoring-but-ball-dominating nights away from Rose, but they aren’t significant from an evolutionary standpoint.
  • Caron Butler (12 points, 3-of-10 FG, five rebounds) continues to wear out his welcome. I’m honestly curious to see how long Rick Carlisle will put up with this type of performance from Butler. Horrible shot selection, unforced turnovers, boneheaded defensive plays…Caron doesn’t have many redeeming qualities on the floor right now, and I’d say he’s very fortunate that Rodrigue Beaubois isn’t around to sweep up his minutes.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 19, 2010 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

  • Your sizable news du jour: Dallas may be among several teams interested in acquiring Carmelo Anthony without the guarantee of a contract extension, according to’s Marc Stein. It’s indicated that the deal would likely have to include at least three parties, so you can close up the Trade Machine for now unless you want to get really zany.
  • Rick Carlisle isn’t too high on his team these days. From Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News: “Asked to take his team’s pulse at the 10-game mark, [Carlisle's] assessment was frank: “I think it sucks.” And with that, it became clear that the Mavericks have plenty of work in front of them. Carlisle must again re-configure playing rotations with Butler back in the lineup. Beaubois, when he returns, will force another adjustment. The defense has been commendable much of the time, but when it’s been bad – like that third quarter, when the Hornets shot 72 percent and forced seven Mavericks turnovers – it’s been terrible. ‘We’ve got to get tougher,” Carlisle said. “I’m not into looking back. I’m into what’s going on right now and what’s going on tomorrow and the next day. You can’t get in situations where we get distracted by officials’ calls. This is a game about aggression and poise. You have to have the right amount of both.’”
  • Caron Butler seems pretty convinced that he’ll be a long-term starter.
  • From Marc Stein for ESPN Dallas: “In just the latest indication that the purportedly deep supporting cast repeatedly promised going into the season isn’t delivering, Dallas is being outscored by 23.1 points per 48 minutes with Nowitzki off the floor through 10 games. The Mavericks, by contrast, are outscoring the opposition by 13.8 points per 48 minutes when Nowitzki is on the floor.” Yikes.
  • The Legends lost their season opener last night to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, 115-123. I didn’t have a chance to catch the game myself, but from what I understand there wasn’t all that much defense played by either team. Antonio Daniels finished with 19 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, and three steals. Sean Williams added 15 points, five rebounds, and five blocks. Kelvin Lewis chipped in 18 points (on 19 shots, but he did score 12 in the first quarter alone) and six assists. Justin Dentmon led the Legends in scoring with 21 points off the bench, but he turned the ball over four times.
  • Speaking of the Legends, Rashad McCants is set to join the team soon, per Donnie Nelson, and will start pretty much immediately. Glad to be putting that episode to rest.

Dallas Mavericks 98, New Orleans Hornets 95

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 16, 2010 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

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Comfort was allowed to come to them rare, welcome, unsought: a gift like joy.
-Ursula K. LeGuin

Jason Terry curled around a screen. He streaked by his teammate and his defender. He rose. He fired. With the gradual click of grinding gears, the Mavericks’ universe balanced itself. With each give goes a take, with each reaction an equal and opposite reaction.

Statistically speaking, Dallas’ defense is the strength on which they’ve built their season, but it’s the improvements in the offense that give just as much reason for hope. Jason Kidd won’t score 16 points every game, but other than that, Dallas didn’t do anything out of character. Dirk Nowitzki faced up and hit over his defenders. Jason Terry found the ball when plays needed to be made, and had a fantastic second half to balance a crummy first one. Other than that, Kidd knocked down spot-up attempts, J.J. Barea got to the rim a few times with mixed results, and Tyson Chandler finished a few inside. There’s nothing to see here, other than Dallas’ offense executing against one of the best defenses in the league, doing nothing apart from what they do on a nightly basis.

The Mavs have been haunted in the past by their predictability, but this is one case in which familiarity offers sure comfort. Opponents should know that Dirk and JET are central to the Mavs’ offense, but Rick Carlisle and his staff have done a great job of freeing up both players in a variety of ways. This year, it’s been Dallas that meticulously picks apart opposing defenses with smart cuts, well-planned picks, and expert shooting. From a taglined perspective, it’s still Nowitzki and Terry, but their ability to get open consistently and execute against defenses like Boston and New Orleans is promising.

Of course, what happens to that offensive balance and flow when Caron Butler is reintroduced to the lineup is still a concern. Wednesday’s rematch with the Hornets could end up being an interesting case study on Caron’s impact, for better or worse.

As I mentioned in The Difference, Dallas’ second-half defense on Chris Paul (or on pick-and-rolls in general) should be commended. It’s not just the decision to put Tyson Chandler on David West, which turned out to be a fantastic strategic call, but the execution against the pick-and-roll by the team defense was top-notch. It was Chandler, it was Barea, it was Terry, Kidd, Nowitzki, Marion…every Maverick on the floor was rotating well, and the chosen concession was to give three-pointers for Willie Green, Peja Stojakovic, and occasionally Trevor Ariza. Those players get a pat on the head for hitting their open shots, but that was an excellent choice considering the alternatives. Paul was corralled, West was smothered. The ball was put in the hands of New Orleans’ lesser talents, and that’s something Dallas can live with, even if Green decided to be an above-average NBA player for a night.

Well-planned, and well-played, Mavs. Now do it all again on Wednesday.

Closing thoughts:

  • The Hornets lost, and it doesn’t really matter. I’m sure they’d prefer to still be undefeated, but New Orleans is a damn good basketball team.
  • I could watch Tyson Chandler hedge on pick-and-rolls all day.
  • This wasn’t Shawn Marion’s game. His five turnovers were killer, and to make matters worse, he wasn’t all that successful defensively. Marion can easily get lost on a night like this one, in which the opponent has no clear scoring option on the wing. Marion isn’t the type of defender the Mavs want chasing Peja Stojakovic down the baseline. He’s the type of defender you want to blanket a superstar wing scoring in isolation. Matchups like these negate Marion’s strengths, and though he did some good things on the court, the circumstances didn’t exactly help him along.
  • Jason Terry deserves much more credit than he received in this recap, but rest assured, more is coming on JET’s performance. The same goes for Dallas’ fourth-quarter defense.
  • I’m not sure there’s a more infuriating player to defend in the NBA than Chris Paul. He’s sickeningly good, and that makes the task of D-ing him up a tough one in itself. But factor in the fouls he draws both in the half-court offense and in transition by exaggerating contact, and it’s a miracle that anyone guarding Paul can keep their head. Paul Pierce and Chauncey Billups are just as crafty with their manipulations of perception, but neither combines CP’s blend of top-level production and infuriating extracurricular activity.
  • Jason Terry’s defense really is much improved this season. Not only is he covering better in general, but it seems as though he’s somehow improved his anticipation in the passing lanes. Maybe JET is just more selective with his more blatant steal attempts, but he can really disrupt ball movement on the perimeter.
  • Brendan Haywood. Yeesh.
  • Dallas has actually run plays designed to get Shawn Marion mid-range jumpers this season, and they’re working. My guess is that they’re sets frequently used by the starting lineup to free up Caron for a jumper at the free throw line extended, and Marion is benefiting from sliding into Butler’s role. Regardless, Marion is making them, and he’s 3-of-3 in such sequences by my highly unofficial count.
  • The zone will give up threes, but opponents would be smart to put their most prolific three-point shooter on Dirk Nowitzki’s side of the zone. Dirk got burned a few times in this one by corner shooters, and given his responsibilities to collapse in the lane and his relatively slow recovery speed, I’d say that Nowitzki’s corner (usually the right one) is one of the zone’s more vulnerable points.
  • This was just a wildly entertaining game. If you didn’t have a chance to watch it, I highly recommend tracking down the game via League Pass Broadband, etc. The fourth quarter alone was one of the more entertaining frames in any NBA game this season.
  • J.J. Barea finished with three shot attempts at the rim, five rebounds, four assists, and no turnovers. I’d say he’s settled in nicely after his early struggles, wouldn’t you?
  • DeShawn Stevenson and Brian Cardinal finished with two threes apiece. I don’t buy into the “Cardinal doing the little things” rhetoric on most occasions, but I can definitely understand using him as a stopgap when he’s hitting his open shots.
  • Something needs to be said about Dirk Nowitzki’s passing. Dirk hit a game-tying three-pointer with a little more than three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but he gave up a three in transition — a Nowitzki favorite — so that Kidd could get an even better look in the corner. Then, within the final minute, Dirk set up Terry out of the two man game for an open jumper. Nowitzki would love nothing more than to have taken a shot in both situations, but he deferred, and it paid off.

Soon and Too Soon

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 15, 2010 under Commentary, Rumors | 2 Comments to Read

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Caron Butler’s season has been itchy and uncomfortable. Before missing the last two games with a troublesome back, Butler was shooting plenty, but accomplishing little. His problem isn’t inconsistency, but a far more worrisome inefficiency; Butler still fancies himself a premier offensive talent, but his shooting percentages are more emblematic of a reserve chucker. Flip Murray would tell Butler to take it down a notch. Corey Brewer would scoff at Caron’s stat lines.

Butler is still putting up a few points for the Mavs (he’s averaging 14.7 per game this season), but doing so while shooting 39.1% from the field isn’t exactly kosher.  There’s no question that Butler’s offensive performance thus far has been unacceptable, and if the current trends — both in Caron’s inefficiency and his insistence to play a central offensive role — continue, serious changes will need to be made. I’ve never been sold on Butler as a clear-cut starter over Shawn Marion to begin with, both of their egos be damned. Rick Carlisle has shown that he’s not afraid to make rotation changes based on his own sense of direction, and if his compass points toward Marion even slightly, he shouldn’t hesitate to mix up the lineups. Starting jobs are an inanely sensitive thing in the NBA, but Caron’s feelings are removed from the foreground if he ceases to produce at a level worthy of his starting distinction.

Butler needs to bounce back in a big way. His starting job depends on it. And, in a sense, his future as a Maverick depends on it.

As’s Marc Stein indicated in the Weekend Dime, Butler isn’t exactly rooted in Dallas. The Mavs’ desire to ship up their offense combined with Butler’s imminently dealable expiring contract make for an interesting combination, and if an attractive deal comes along at any point before the trade deadline, I think it’s a safe bet to assume that Butler will be dangled on the line, sweetened with DeShawn Stevenson’s expiring deal and the promise of a few draft picks. Tyson Chandler was once in the same boat, but in eight games, he’s made himself invaluable. At this point, Butler isn’t even all that valuable. He’s been below average even from a scoring standpoint, and has legitimately hurt the Mavs in his minutes on the floor. Dallas would be crazy to deal Chandler, but if they managed to trade Butler for a useful player? That’s just good business.

It would be ridiculous to wrap Butler’s year in just six games. He still has plenty of time to salvage his shooting marks, his usage rate, and his performance in general. Butler can still make sense of his role in the Mavs’ system, and use his talents toward more positive ends. That change just needs to come sooner rather than later, lest Butler’s itchy performance demands to be scratched.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 11, 2010 under xOther | 2 Comments to Read

  • John Schuhmann of, on which teams could challenge the Lakers this season: “In the East, you have the same three contenders as you had going in: Boston, Miami and Orlando. In the West, I really like what I’ve seen from Dallas. Defensively, I think they’ve taken a step forward with Tyson Chandler replacing Erick Dampier. If their offense can come around, they’ll be a stronger foe than we thought the Lakers would have in their conference.”
  • Mavs’ Summer Leaguer DeShawn Sims started the season in Greece, but now he may be headed to the D-League.
  • Chris Mannix of “Bottom line, to get out of this Groundhog Day-like loop, Dallas needs to make a change beyond what it’s already done. Since February 2008, the Mavs have acquired Kidd, Marion, Butler, Haywood, DeShawn Stevenson and Chandler to revamp their roster. Mark Cuban committed $80 million to Nowitzki last summer and signed Kidd to a three-year, $25 million extension in 2009 because Kidd, even at 37, is still better than most point guards in the league. Cuban didn’t sit on the sideline when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were being courted. He just didn’t have enough to get them. But to avoid history repeating itself again, the Mavericks may need to take even more risks. They have movable assets like Butler ($10.5 million expiring contract) and Stevenson ($4.2 million expiring contract). James, Wade and Bosh are no longer available, but there could be a few potential difference-makers who are.” Mannix goes on to suggest Gilbert Arenas and Andre Iguodala as possible trade returns for Caron Butler. One of those suggestions is tremendous and would be quite helpful, and the other could end up crippling the franchise for a decade. I’m not sure we’re at the stage where Butler has to go or the Mavs have to make a move just yet, but if that day comes, here’s to hoping the Mavs stay away from the guillotine.
  • Skeets and Tas debate the merits of the Mavs’ success on the latest episode of The Basketball Jones.
  • It was rumored at one point that Greg Ostertag may be trying to make a comeback (or start his coaching career) with the Texas Legends, but no longer. According to Marc Stein, Ostertag will stay retired for now, citing “family reasons.” Bummer.
  • Why doesn’t Erick Dampier have a job?
  • Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas: “His 84 field-goal attempts rank third on the team, just 12 shots behind Jason Terry — in one less game – who has made 20 more shots. Marion has made three fewer baskets on 25 fewer attempts. Jason Kidd is the only rotation player shooting a lower percentage (34.7), but Kidd has put half as many attempts and isn’t needed to score in bulk as is Butler. But, that doesn’t mean Marion is the more logical choice to start. Marion has handled the move to the bench with grace and a team-first attitude when at least some outsiders viewed it with trepidation. There’s no reason to stir things up by asking Butler to now come off the bench, a move he probably wouldn’t welcome. During an chat prior to the start of training camp, Butler was asked if the team had plans to bring him off the bench. Butler stated that he’s not at a point in his career where that move makes sense. Plus, the Mavs want Butler on the floor and performing well, not only to accomplish team goals, but to elevate Butler’s value in the case his $10.8-million expiring contract can be flipped in a beneficial trade.”
  • A list of the best NBA players making less than $3 million this year, featuring Al Thornton, Matt Barnes, Taj Gibson…and not Rodrigue Beaubois. I try not to harp on list exclusions, but this one speaks to just how far out of the NBA consciousness a foot injury puts you.

Dallas Mavericks 106, Memphis Grizzlies 91

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

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The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.
-Oliver Wendell Holmes

The average Mavericks game could be rewritten as a labor of Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk has the distinction of being the franchise’s one true constant, which has burdened him with an unfortunate weight: in the past, Dallas could only go as far as Nowitzki was able to take them. Other players chipped in when they could, but none — even a certain messianic French combo guard — proved to be the steady hand by which Nowitzki and the Mavs could depend. As a result, victories often came as a function of Nowitzki’s scoring alone. If he could put up enough points to counterbalance his teammates’ struggles and the Mavs’ spotty defense, Dallas notched a win. If not, then getting out with a W became a bit tricky.

This was not an average Mavericks game, and, if the first seven contests are any indication, this may not be an average Mavericks season. There’s still entirely too much basketball to be played for any team to make any kind of statement with their play, but Dallas is proving that they may be an interesting team, even if no one should be ready to label them a contending one.

The Grizzlies are in no way a golden barometer, but the fact that the Mavs put away this game so easily should offer some reassurance. Quality of opponent is obviously important, but Dallas’ execution, regardless of who the schedule put in front of them on this particular night, is paramount. Last night, the Mavericks were without Caron Butler, and thanks to a minor ankle sprain, were temporarily without Dirk Nowitzki. Jason Terry (25 points, 11-16 FG, four assists, three steals) didn’t blink, and I’m not sure he has all season. Every curl JET made was rewarded with a perfect pass, and Terry finished almost every opportunity with a smooth jumper, for the sake of aesthetic consistency if nothing else. From start to finish the Mavs’ offensive sequences were fluid and effective. Dallas totaled 30 assists — including 12 from Jason Kidd — on 46 field goals, and little more could be asked of the Mavs’ non-Dirk offense.

Shawn Marion’s night actually looked a bit reminiscent of his pre-Nash Phoenix days. Marion worked toward the front of the rim both as a driver and slasher, and he spun his way into layups and runners galore. He doesn’t have the softest touch, but Marion (20 points, 10-15 FG, seven rebounds, two blocks) worked hard to get good looks at close range and capitalized at a fairly high rate. Marion’s movements won’t soon be listed as textbook examples of athletic fluidity, but there’s a definite flow to his game when he gets into one of these zones. Shawn’s offense can turn stagnant when he relies too heavily on that fading hook shot, but his intermediate game is strong enough to work as a regularly featured element of the offense.

There should also be little question that as of today, DeShawn Stevenson (11 points, 3-5 3FG, four rebounds) deserves to be a starter. Dominique Jones’ potential combination of scoring (or at least what should be scoring, if he can figure out how to make his layups) and playmaking is intriguing, but Stevenson offers a more immediate utility. Playing Jones major minutes would require a patience that’s not necessary with Stevenson. DeShawn has made 5-of-10 from deep in his last two games, which lifts him from the “offensive liability” category. The Mavs now have their wing defender/designated corner man, and though it’s conceivable Stevenson could be marginalized upon Rodrigue Beaubois’ return from injury, for now he’s a welcome addition to the lineup.

Dallas didn’t win the game on the strength of their offense alone, though. Tyson Chandler (11 points, eight rebounds, one block) and Brendan Haywood (six points, eight rebounds, one block) did a superb job of protecting the basket. Memphis shot just 59.1% on their attempts around the basket. The league average on such shots is 61.2%, and yet Dallas was able to best that mark despite giving up some free layups to Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. With such strength inside, the Mavs were able to defend well in both man-to-man and zone coverages. The perimeter rotations weren’t always as crisp as they could be, but overall, it was a nice defensive outing.

The zone, in particular, seemed to really bog down the Grizzlies’ movement in the second half. Memphis had a hard time exploiting any of the zone’s weaknesses, and attempted several cross-court passes that were easily deflected or picked off. The Mavs need to be confident enough in their man defense to rely on it full-time with the zone used as a complement. Dallas has been using Jason Terry and J.J. Barea on the floor a bit together in the past two games, which leaves the Mavs a bit undersized up front. It’s no coincidence that Dallas zoned up with that lineup. Terry and Barea are easily taken advantage of if asked to defend a bigger player on the way to the rim or if consistently put in pick-and-roll situations. The easiest way to counter both is to remove them as options. A combination of JET and J.J. doesn’t make for a terrifying zone front, but it could be the most practical way to hide Barea defensively.

Rick Carlisle is figuring these things out. The Mavs are getting the ball where it needs to go (in sets and otherwise), and they’re tweaking their defense to better account for their own personnel and their opponents’ production. It’s an on-going process, but you have to appreciate where the Mavs seem to be headed.

With the defense clicking, Jason Terry shooting the lights out, Jason Kidd running the offense adroitly, and Tyson Chandler making a considerable impact on both ends, the Mavericks are looking more and more like a team they were never supposed to be. There’s no point in lauding the team too much today, but Dallas’ success this far has been no fluke. These are replicable efforts, the Mavs just have to, y’know, replicate them.

Closing thoughts:

  • For a night, the Mavericks’ turnover woes vanished. Dallas had just a 11.1 turnover rate, which brought their TOR for the season down to 16.1. Dallas had five turnovers through three quarters, and committed the majority of their other five turnovers while coasting out the game behind a double-digit lead.
  • Something a bit odd: Tyson Chandler, a career .603 free throw shooter, is currently leading the Mavs in free throw percentage (.909). He’s also third on the team in free throws attempted (22, or 3.1 per game), so there’s no foul play with the sample size.
  • Dallas can in no way take complete credit for this victory. The Grizzlies played some pretty miserable defense and their inability to defend the paint was startling. Not that O.J. Mayo (four points, 1-8 FG, three assists, two turnovers), Marc Gasol (10 points, five rebounds) and company didn’t fall apart offensively, too. Not the finest showing for the Grizz.
  • Dirk’s ankle sprain isn’t a cause for too much concern, but he did look a bit hesitant to go into the low post after returning in the second half. Can’t blame him.
  • Brian Cardinal played, and I’m not sure why. Nowitzki’s injury opened up some available minutes at power forward, but honestly I’d rather see a game of Ian Mahinmi — who played some decent defense in his four-minute stint — than Cardinal. Mahinmi is at least a plus rebounder, but Cardinal has been ineffective for nearly every minute he’s been in a Maverick uniform.
  • This was undoubtedly Brendan Haywood’s best game of the season, and yet he still put up some disappointing statistical totals. Still, his offensive activity was notable, and he was fighting hard for rebounds. Carlisle will take that, especially with Tyson Chandler playing well enough to account for the top of the center rotation.
  • J.J. Barea (10 points, seven assists, five rebounds, one turnover) was vital. He was terrific. He was everything that anyone that watches or runs this team could reasonably expect him to be. Barea has nights where he tries to force his own offense or becomes a defensive liability, but in yesterday’s game he was neither. He did an excellent job of setting up the half-court offense along with Jason Terry, and he ran the break well as both a distributor and a finisher.
  • The Mavs don’t typically get to the rim with such regularity, and that aspect of the game won’t necessarily carry over into Dallas’ future efforts. However, the discipline that the Mavs showed in their half-court offense was impressive nonetheless. There doesn’t need to be some kind of offensive revolution for this team to be successful. They just have to be a little better. Marion and Terry need to continue to make smart cuts. Nowitzki should keep looking for backdoor opportunities. Chandler should look for lob openings every chance he gets. A subtle offensive improvement coupled with a legitimate defensive stride could be all Dallas needs to really force their way into legitimate standing.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: Jason Terry. JET was asked to carry the offense when Nowitzki went down at the 3:31 mark of the second quarter, and he responded by scoring seven of the Mavs’ nine points in the frame. Dallas will continue to search for stability in their supplementary scoring, but I’m more and more convinced that such a search should conclude with JET being given even more offensive responsibility. Caron Butler may still be an interesting piece, but his scoring approach pales in comparison to Terry’s far more efficient style.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 9, 2010 under xOther | Read the First Comment

  • Jason Terry, doing his best Michael Caine (via Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News): “We endured.”
  • Zach Lowe wrote a fantastic piece on Tyson Chandler and the Mavs’ defense for The Point Forward (SI’s NBA blog). I’m going to quote it liberally, but follow through and read the piece in its entirety: “[At] the 3:45 mark of the second quarter, when Paul Pierce appeared to have Caron Butler beat on a drive along the left baseline. Chandler, who was guarding KG on the right baseline, took a big slide-step into the paint and deterred the drive without giving Pierce an easy passing lane to KG. Pierce pulled up for a contested mid-range shot and missed. That type of shot — a contested, mid-range shot — has been the basis of Dallas’ stinginess so far. Only five teams are allowing opponents to take more shots from the “floater” region between the rim and 10 feet out, and none are holding teams to a lower percentage on those shots than Dallas (33 percent). Boston was 5-of-18 from that range Monday.”
  • Could this be why Caron Butler has been so ineffective?
  • Paul Pierce on Rajon Rondo’s decision to take what could have been a game-winning three in the final seconds of last night’s game (via Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe): “He’s wide open. He was open two or three seconds before he even took it. We were begging him to shoot it. Hey, we’ll take that, a wide-open look. Rondo, he’s showed he can make those shots, especially under pressure situations. I take it. I told him after the game, I’ll take that shot.”
  • Two fantastic points from’s John Schuhmann: Jason Kidd’s presence may make the 1-3 switch easier on the Mavs than any other team in the league, and Rajon Rondo has attempted just five three-pointers this season, all of which have come with the clock winding down.
  • A stray thought forgotten from the recap: the Mavs did an excellent job of completely eradicating the threat of Rajon Rondo’s scoring.
  • Dirk Nowitzki nails the irrelevance of Terry’s starting status (via Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas): “His role, starting or not, is not going to change much. We want him to score. We need him to score and we need him to be aggressive.”
  • A thought that teams should play more zone on endgame out-of-bounds plays, in part because of one particularly successful Mavericks play.
  • Again, wayward Celtics fans: don’t blame the refs.
  • The first installment of John Hollinger’s Power Rankings has emerged. Be angry, if you’re the kind of person who likes to rage against the Mavs’ statistically inferior start.
  • Del Harris is now doing radio broadcast work — in Spanish!
  • Not to get snooty, but isn’t Mark Cuban bigger than an “Owner:” headline?

Dallas Mavericks 89, Boston Celtics 87

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

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A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.
-William Shedd

Defense is predicated on calculated risk, and when properly executed, this is what those risks look like. Lots of long two-pointers (Boston shot 31 shots between 16-23 feet and made just 12 of them). Rotations that expose the defense temporarily, but are balanced by a strong presence at the rim. A huge, potentially game-winning shot, put in Rajon Rondo’s hands some 24 feet from the basket. Even the best defense can’t stop everything, but if a team focuses on what’s important and cedes the rest, they can debilitate opposing offenses enough to win games like this one.

The Mavs weren’t flawless in their execution, but we focus primarily on the defense, this is precisely what the Mavs should hope to achieve on a nightly basis. If all goes according to plan, this defensive performance — though fine on its own merits — should be completely unremarkable. This needs to be the regular for Dallas. This needs to be a trademark. This needs to be the schoolwork proudly displayed on the fridge for a day until a new assignment takes its place, rather than some mantle piece riddled with dust. The Mavs have the potential to be this good defensively if they execute properly, and on this night they did just that.

The Mavs also have the potential to rival the league’s elite if they execute properly on offense as well, yet on this night they did anything but. Dallas committed 19 turnovers in a 91-possession game, which might be borderline impressive if it weren’t so maddening. The Mavs can’t expect to win these kinds of games with regularity if their turnover rate is hovering around last night’s mark of 20.9. Dallas’ hot shooting this season has managed to balance out their turnovers, but the shots won’t always fall. This team can’t always hang its hat on high-percentage shot-making, even if they’re working to create more high-percentage looks than ever. The turnovers need to come down, even if it’s hard to peg any specific reasons for the unexpected bump. As I mentioned yesterday, the symptoms are obvious, but if anyone has a proper diagnosis for these sudden turnover concerns, I’m all ears.

Luckily, Dirk Nowitzki (25 points, 9-16 FG, seven rebounds, four turnovers) was relentless in his drives to the rim, Jason Terry (17 points, 5-11 FG, four assists) was patient and fought for open looks in the half-court offense, and Tyson Chandler (12 points, 5-5 FG, 13 rebounds, two blocks, zero turnovers) introduced the alley-oop as an item of cultural relevance in the Dallas metro area, and J.J. Barea (12 points, 4-7 FG, three assists, three turnovers) scored just enough, even if he overstepped his bounds a bit.

The Celtics have a number of excuses/justifications if they choose to play those cards. Maybe they were looking ahead to a game against the Miami Heat. Maybe they were physically or mentally exhausted in playing the second night of a back-to-back. Regardless, Dallas was the superior squad last night. They executed more effectively, shot more efficiently, hustled more consistently, and attacked more strategically. The Mavs were ready for this game, and they earned a win. That’s important. That’s what you can take away to keep in your back pocket. Whatever goes on in Boston’s camp is their problem, but Dallas came in with a well-constructed plan and enacted it properly.

Closing thoughts:

  • Tyson Chandler was fantastic. Nowitzki’s offense was obviously instrumental, but Chandler (Gold Star spoiler alert) was obviously the Mavs’ most effective player. He didn’t create any of his offense on his own, but by relying on his teammates to feed him the ball at the proper moments, Chandler was always in the right spot offensively. He finished each of his opportunities, and demanded that the Celtics’ defense account for him, praise that hasn’t been applicable to a Mavericks’ center, well, ever. On defense, Chandler didn’t re-write the rules of help defense, but he recited them from memory to perfection. He stepped up and challenged any Celtic who dared attack the basket, and even recovered fully to challenge his own man at the basket in some cases. He never stopped. Chandler clearly understands that a defensive possession is only finished after his team secures the rebound, and he worked tirelessly to challenge as many shots and potential shots as possible before concluding each and every possession. Books aren’t written about those who do exactly what they’re supposed to, but for his efforts on this night alone, I vote Chandler worthy of a memoir.
  • DeShawn Stevenson started in place of Jason Terry, as Rick Carlisle opted to redistribute the Mavs’ strongest scorers. He answered by hitting a pair of three-pointers and chasing Ray Allen around for 14 minutes, and that’s an unquestionable success. I’m not sure it makes a world of difference to have Terry starting or coming off the bench, as both designations can be balanced by his usage in particular lineups. However, if Stevenson can hit reliably from distance and put in that kind of defensive effort nightly, I’d have no problem with him assuming the starting job until Rodrigue Beaubois’ return.
  • Caron Butler knows that the season has started, right?
  • The Mavericks have absolutely no respect for Rajon Rondo’s jumper. So much so that J.J. Barea once forgot that Nate Robinson had subbed in for Rondo, and gave up a wide open three-pointer without even pretending to contest.
  • I’m not sure who this Brendan Haywood is, but I wouldn’t mind seeing the old one come back. Haywood had a nice contested slam and grabbed a few boards, but he had a lot of trouble defending Kevin Garnett, Semih Erden, and Glen Davis. I know the matchup wasn’t favorable; Haywood would have been far more useful had we seen more of either O’Neal, but Jermaine played limited minutes and Shaquille sat this one out. I understand that puts Haywood in an awkward position, but he has to do better. He has to provide better help, he can’t let Erden beat him to rebounds, and he can’t give up points on the low block so easily. There’s no problem being patient with Haywood given what he’s capable of, but if this is par for the season’s course, Mark Cuban is going to have plenty of sleepless nights, holding his wallet close.
  • Even after all of the barking and strutting, I still love watching Kevin Garnett play. As long as he milks that pump fake and turnaround jumper, it doesn’t much matter to me what he’s said or done. Garnett — the player — is still terrific in my book, even if Dirk gave him serious trouble with his drives. Also: KG is so brutally effective from the high post against the zone. He backs down a shoots jumpers over JET, while having the passing savvy to abuse any double-teamer that comes his way.
  • If you think this game was in any way decided by officiating, stop. The free throw discrepancy was that large for a reason, and the Mavs’ aggressive third quarter mentality was a big part of that reason.
  • Hail Jason Terry, who in his infinite wisdom, opted to foul Ray Allen with 1.5 seconds left in the game. The Celtics had collected an offensive rebound after Rajon Rondo’s three-point miss, and the Dallas defense was in slight disarray. The Mavs had a foul to give, and Terry took it while he could. Not only is that a smart move irrelevant of the result, but the fact that Dallas was able to completely smother the ensuing inbound pass and force Garnett into a contested turnaround from the far corner…well, you can’t ask for much more. Pitch-perfect execution in all regards by Dallas down the stretch, and a great judgment call by Terry.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: Tyson Chandler. I wouldn’t hang the Mavs’ hat on this iteration of Chandler showing up for every game, but Mavs fans should be thankful he was so effective last night.