The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 95, Miami Heat 110

Posted by Kirk Henderson on December 21, 2012 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

CollapsedBarn

Box Score — Play-by-Play — Shot Chart — Game Flow

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

  • This one was over at halftime. It was really, really over in the third quarter when the Miami lead ballooned to 36. The final score isn’t really indicative of the game at all because, with a brief exception in the second quarter when the Mavs third unit made a run, Miami controlled the entire game.
  • Though Dallas probably would have lost this game anyway, the Mavs missed an obscene number of shots at the rim. Though seemingly everyone missed a point blank attempt or two, Darren Collison’s three first half bricks at the rim stick out more than anything else.
  • Aaron McGuire over at Gothic Ginobli pegged this proclivity better than anyone else about a month ago: “He can get to the rim relatively easily, and he can get an open shot there without going through too much trouble. Having speed is useful that way. The problem — and the thing that differentiates him from other NBA speedsters like Tony Parker or Ty Lawson — is that he’s simply so bad at finishing (regardless of the duress he’s under) that his speed advantage impacts his game marginally at best and uselessly at worst. And, as stated, he balks at running a traditional set-play offense — he regularly dribbles himself into oblivion, ending the play far away from the screen that’s been set for him.”
  • This is the second national TV game in a row where O.J. Mayo (eight points, 3-for-14 shooting) has failed to live up to his newly acquired reputation. In Boston, he turned the ball over a season high nine times but was able to put up points, whereas tonight he failed to make a positive contribution to the game and in most circumstances hurt the team more than he helped it. The Heat successfully blitzed Mayo on all high pick and rolls, making him slow just a bit and clogging the Dallas offense. Mayo clearly became frustrated offensively as he began forcing shots, most of which were not even close. Later in the game he was able to have some success attacking the bucket, but it seemed his earlier mistakes were on his mind as he often made strange passing attempts or shot the ball minus the typical Mayo confidence we’ve become accustomed to.
  • The offensive struggle from Mayo is something that will happen from time to time; he’s clearly still learning and developing. It’s the defensive aspect to Mayo’s performance tonight that was really maddening. While no one can expect him to do much against Lebron James after a switch other than hope he miss and box out, Mayo got abused repeatedly by Dwyane Wade. Mayo bit on pump fakes from Wade three or four times in the third quarter alone, a few of which were from beyond the arc. He let Wade take an defensive rebound from him for a put back. Mayo must have more focus on the defensive end if he hopes to be a leader of the Dallas Mavericks.
  • To pick on Mayo alone wouldn’t be fair; at halftime Mayo, Chris Kaman, and Vince Carter were shooting a combined 15%. Kaman in particular was dreadful, with eight points and two rebounds, while also managing a team worst -27 while on the floor. I’m not sure who is more to blame here, Kaman for his incredibly poor shot selection or Carlisle for continuing to play him when the speed of the game was much higher than Kaman could deal with. I fully expected Kaman to attempt to establish himself on the block at some point and he settled for either a jump shot or fade away on most of his attempts. Really poor effort on his part.
  • Dallas has now lost eight games by double digits. Dallas has lost seven of those games by 15 or more points.
  • A brief rally from Dallas in the second quarter came from possibily the most unlikely five man group in Texas. Dominique Jones, Roddy Beaubois, Jae Crowder, Vince Carter, and Bernard James played with enthusiasm and, more importantly, effectiveness. Two second round rookies, a pair of end-of-bench role players, and Vince Carter nearly stole the momentum from the defending world champions.
  • The best Maverick, far and away, was Bernard “Sarge” James, putting up 12 points, nine rebounds, and three blocks. Five of his rebounds were offensive as he relentlessly went after the physically weaker Miami big men. He rolls to the basket much better than he did earlier in the season and catches the ball very, very well. But defensively he has established himself as a true specialist. A second quarter block of Battier that lead to a Dominique Jones lay in displayed some unique timing. The TNT crew realized later in the game that James plays similarly to Joel Anthony, which is a reasonable comparison. James will probably never be a starter, but has played well virtually every time he has been given minutes.
  • Dominique Jones had a career high in assists with seven, five of them coming in the first half. Miami managed to close down a lot of the lanes he used in the first half, both passing and penetration. Still, nice to see him be effective, though I cringe when he shoots or tries a driving  lay in because he simply cannot finish with consistency.
  • Lebron James (24 points, nine rebounds, five assists) was brilliant in every facet of the game. His 13 first quarter points on 6-of-7 shooting made the game look unfair. Compared to the 2011 finals, James seems comfortable and confident doing whatever he wants with the ball. Defensively he’s a nightmare, covering ground laterally at a speed that defies common understanding.
  • Along that same vein, Miami is playing ideal position-less basketball. The main cog is James, but watching Wade, Bosh, and guys like Chalmers, Battier, Haslem, and Anthony, the Heat can guard any line up. Offensively they have different players like Mike Miller and Ray Allen who exploit the opportunities presented to Miami by simply knocking down open shots.
  • It’s disappointing Brandan Wright was injured tonight with a sprained ankle. Seeing him in a fast paced game where defensive help was a necessity could have made the game more interesting. Miami doesn’t expend energy crashing the offensive glass that often, so Wright’s main issue would have been hidden. But there’s always next game as Dallas plays Miami again in less than two weeks.
  • Seeing who Dirk nudges out of the rotation will be worth watching. Obviously, it’s great that he’ll be back soon, but with none of the Maverick big men playing well consistently (or in the cases of Wright and James, not seeing minutes consistently), who Carlisle opts to go with will be worth analyzing. The theory was Dirk and Kaman would see action together, with Brand being the main release valve. But with Kaman rebounding so poorly it’s hard to see that pair working out well for any significant stretch.
  • When looking at win loss records and including tonight’s game, the Mavs play the league’s 4th best team (Miami), 5th best team (Memphis), 6th best team (San Antonio) and the league’s best team (Oklahoma City) in a seven day span. That’s followed up by a match up versus the underwhelming but very talented Denver Nuggets, another game against the Spurs, a trip to the nations capitol, and then another meeting with the Miami Heat. Easily the most brutal stretch of games in the entire Dallas schedule.

Kirk is a member of the Two Man Game family. Follow him on twitter @KirkSeriousFace for ranting about Dallas basketball, TV, movies, video games, and his dog.

The Difference: Miami Heat 106, Dallas Mavericks 85

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 30, 2012 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

Screen Shot 2012-03-30 at 3.13.49 AM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas93.091.448.116.715.415.2
Miami114.051.933.832.412.4

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 margin of this game exploded in a hurry; Dallas trailed by just seven points with about four and a half minutes remaining, but a combination of Miami’s starters and deep reserves finished the night on a 16-2 run. This loss — the second “blowout” by the hand of the Heat this season — certainly looks bad on face, the final verdict and sheer number of bullets in this post are incredibly misleading. The Mavs certainly had their second-half difficulties, but their late-game petering isn’t of monumental concern. They’ll be healthier, they’ll play better, and most importantly, they’ll largely keep these kinds of winnable games within reach. The fact that something not at all dissimilar happened at the tail end of the Mavs’ loss to the Spurs last week does offer the slightest reason for pause, but there’s no reason to believe that Dallas’ latest fourth-quarter troubles are suggestive of any legitimate trend.
  • Odd though it may seem, this still appears to be a specific matchup that the Mavericks are capable of winning — even if they would be considered extreme underdogs in a single-game event or a presumptuously hypothetical seven-game series. I highly doubt that we’ll have to weigh Dallas’ playoff odds against any Eastern Conference opponents this season, but it’s easy to see this game going very differently if only for a stronger second half from Dirk Nowitzki (25 points, 9-19 FG, six rebounds, three assist, three turnovers). It’s certainly not a good sign that the Mavs are struggling so much on the offensive end, but so long as we’re basking in hypotheticals, I don’t think the on-paper Mavericks would necessarily be doomed.
  • Miami won this game by plugging away; their second half possessions were interwoven sequences of driving and passing from every angle imaginable, pressuring the defense repeatedly until it gave way at a particularly vulnerable point. LeBron James (19 points, 8-16 FG, nine rebounds, five assists) and Dwyane Wade (16 points, 5-11 FG, five assists, three rebounds) deserve a lot of credit for their refusal to settle, and the entire offense followed the lead of their shot creation. Those who somehow doubt Miami’s half-court potency need only to watch tape from this game; James and Wade were creating shots in a consistent stream, and Dallas’ defense was stretched to its limits.

Read more of this article »

A Beautiful Construction

Posted by Ian Levy on June 15, 2011 under Commentary | 5 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-06-15 at 2.30.32 PM

Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and a part of The Two Man Game family. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

Even with two days to process the end of the NBA Finals, I’m still in amazement. I’m amazed at what happened and how it happened. Most of all, I’m amazed at the composure displayed by the Mavericks’ throughout the series. At no point did they allow the circumstances to change what they intended to do or how they intended to do it. Inserting J.J. Barea into the starting lineup was not a rash decision or a frantic pushing of buttons. It was a calculated move that changed nothing except when certain player combinations were utilized. In a moment of weakness, I told my wife before Game 6 that I thought Dirk Nowitzki would need to score 40 for the Mavericks to win. Even after all I had watched the Mavericks accomplish this season, by constantly moving the ball until an open shot materialized, I still felt that at some point said formula would fizzle out, that it wouldn’t be enough to push them to their ultimate goal. The Mavericks were able to win, because for several stretches, Dirk Nowitzki was clearly the best player on the floor, and accomplished it without dominating the ball. I kept waiting for the “Dirk needs to touch the ball on every possession” offense, but it never happened. The Mavericks’ attack never wavered from their template, and they consistently got the job done.

Equal to my amazement at what the Mavericks were able to accomplish, has been my frustration at how the series is being described by many in the media. I was particularly infuriated by a post-game discussion between Magic Johnson and Mike Wilbon; both described the Mavericks’ victory as 10 players beating 3. Even as a Mavericks’ fan, I find that characterization incredibly offensive. In the most literal sense, this was a case of 11 beating 10, the actual number of players used by each team. To describe the Heat as a three-man team is unbelievably demeaning to the efforts of their entire roster. It’s true that their team is constructed so that the majority of their offensive production will come from LeBron, Wade and Bosh. It’s true that the Mavericks received greater contributions from a larger variety of players. But there is more — much more — to the Miami Heat than just those three players. Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem both had strong performances across the Finals. The Mavericks victory was an example of one team beating another. Every player, on both teams, had a hand in pushing their team to the NBA Finals.

The thing I think is most important to understand, is that this is true, independent of the outcome. Even if Miami had won the series, it still would have been a case of one team beating another, not a case of three star players overwhelming a patchwork arrangement of very good players. The Heat and the Mavericks were each built in different ways, but they are both teams, with five players on the floor at a time and seven reserves on the bench. The Mavericks’ victory is a victory for their players, organization and fans, not a victory for a template of roster assembly. They won because, for six games, they were the better team; not that their methods or motivations were more pure or virtuous.

Before the Finals started I wrote that this series represented a chance at redemption for several Mavericks players, ones who had no personal involvement with the letdown in 2006. Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion and Peja Stojakovic each achieved a goal they’ve been chasing for years. I hope that this championship was made sweeter for each by the way the playoffs unfolded and the title was earned. A championship on a player’s resume is often viewed as tainted if it was won in mercenary style by an aging veteran. Kidd, Marion and Stojakovic each earned their jewelry; they didn’t sign with a team only to provide vocal support from the end of the bench. They may have had to change teams (in some cases several times) to win their first championship, but they didn’t tag along or catch a ride on anyone’s coattails. The Mavericks simply aren’t in the Finals, let along raising the Larry O’Brien Trophy, without the contributions of those three.

Most of my contributions to The Two Man Game this seen have been statistical in focus and flavor. I’ll leave you with a few statistical nuggets to chew on over the summer.

  • DeShawn Stevenson was absolutely lights out in the Finals, making 13 of 23, or 56.6% of his three-pointers. Who could have possible seen that coming? Oh, that’s right. I did.
  • Brendan Haywood’s injury opened up a hole in the Mavericks’ frontcourt rotation — a hole that was filled admirably by Brian Cardinal. He gave Dallas 30.3 minutes in the series, over which they outscored the Heat 71-68.
  • Tyson Chandler has received plenty of well-deserved praise for his efforts in the Finals. His performance, particularly on the offensive glass, was remarkable. When he was out of the game Dallas rebounded just 18.6% of their own misses. When Chandler was on the floor that number jumped to 27.0%.
  • One of John Hollinger’s Finals recaps mentioned that one of the reasons the Mavericks pursued Rick Carlisle was that statistical studies showed he had a tendency to give the most minutes to the most effective lineups. Seems like an obvious idea, perhaps one someone should have shared with Jim O’Brien. I wanted to see if that held true for the Finals. The easiest way to do this was to a run a correlation between the Net Rating for each unit and the number of minutes they played together. However, this creates some sample size problems for units that only played together briefly. To weight the totals I just multiplied the Net Rating for each unit by the minutes played, then ran a correlation between that total and the minutes played. The Mavericks had a 0.692 correlation between the effectiveness of the unit and their minutes played. For the Heat it was a -0.177. Saying Carlisle managed his rotations well is a huge understatement.

On a personal note, it’s been a pleasure to write about the Dallas Mavericks this season at The Two Man Game. I’m a Pacers’ fan at heart, and adopting the Mavericks with Rob’s invitation to start contributing here, felt strangely unnatural. However, watching a team on a nightly basis gives you an appreciation and attachment that can be gained no other way. I’m thrilled for the Mavericks organization. They earned everything they’ve accomplished this season, and it was a joy to watch. I’m also thrilled for Mavericks’ fans, a group of which I am proud to be a part of.

The Difference: Miami Heat 88, Dallas Mavericks 86

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 6, 2011 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

Screen shot 2011-06-06 at 11.26.43 AM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas83.0103.645.731.430.816.9
Miami106.048.715.423.112.0

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

  • Don’t call it a miraculous comeback. All Dallas did was play, and though they spotted Miami points here and there, it’s not as if they were horrid — even at their worst. The difference between the bumbling Mavs and those blazing the comeback trail was actually fairly thin; hitting the defensive glass and taking care of the ball was all it took for Dallas to give themselves a chance in this game, and so it will be for the remainder of the series. Miami is a great team, but they’re not the only great team in this year’s NBA Finals. Provided that Dallas stays away from their bad habits, we should be heading for at least a few more amazing, highly competitive games with singular displays of greatness and brilliant collective execution. The micro and macro battles between Dallas’ offense and Miami’s defense have been absolutely phenomenal, but the other end of the court deserves its due; the Mavs have played some terrific team defense in their efforts to limit LeBron James, and though Dwyane Wade hasn’t been hindered in the same way (as evidenced by the fact that he had a monster game on Sunday night), slowing the MVP enough to create a balanced series is a significant accomplishment. Dallas — specifically Tyson Chandler, Shawn Marion, and Dirk Nowitzki (yes, Dirk Nowitzki) — has played some incredible defense to halt Miami’s high pick-and-rolls in the same way that the Heat defense has halted theirs, and though that side of the court doesn’t come with the same loaded result of an elite offense facing off against an elite defense, both teams have created a reasonable facsimile. Maybe Dallas isn’t elite on D and perhaps Miami’s limitations prevent them from being a truly elite offensive team, but both teams have played at such a high level in this series that those designations are meaningless. All we have is the here and the now, and both Dallas and Miami are playing terrific basketball in an incredible series.
  • Figuring out why the Mavericks lost this game requires an analysis that exceeds the limitations of a single bullet point, so with the acknowledgment that my task here is somewhat futile, I’ll offer a bite-sized element that nonetheless factored prominently into the outcome of Game 3: Dirk’s defensive rebounding. Nowitzki’s extraordinary shot-making, Wade’s magnificence, and Chris Bosh’s heroics will take center stage, but this game wouldn’t have been what it was if not for Nowitzki making a deliberate, concentrated effort to clean the defensive glass beginning mid-way through the second quarter. The Heat were still able to grab their share of offensive boards, but thanks to Nowitzki’s efforts to secure contested rebounds — and Chandler’s relentless drive to collect offensive boards — the Mavs were able to win the rebounding rate battle. It’s one of the influences on the game that will be undoubtedly overlooked because it doesn’t support the cause of the victor or explain the shortcomings of the loser, but Nowitzki’s rebounding work was one of many reasons why Game 3 was so enjoyable and competitive.

Regression to the Mean

Posted by Ian Levy on June 5, 2011 under Commentary | 4 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-06-05 at 8.39.34 AM

Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and a part of The Two Man Game family. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

Shame on me.

I left the establishment where I was watching Game 2, just after Dwyane Wade hit a three pointer to put the Heat up by 15 with 7:13 left in the 4th Quarter. I had to follow one of the greatest comebacks in NBA history on the radio as I drove home. Although I didn’t get to see it live, there’s something to be said for great sports moments on the radio. Receiving auditory input only somehow seems to heighten the tension…Yeah, I’m not buying it either. I’m an idiot. If you’re too disgusted to keep reading, I completely understand.

Depending on the media outlet, the Mavericks’ Game 2 victory was either an epic comeback, or an epic collapse. I really do appreciate those who are covering it accurately as both. The Mavericks’ scored the points they needed to close the gap, the Heat couldn’t extend or even protect their lead. The Mavericks raised their game on both sides of the ball, a feat that happily coincided with the Heat easing off the throttle. Most of the attention on the Heat following Game 2 has been focused on their failure to score down the stretch; an offense that had been steaming ahead smoothly, suddenly came off the rails. Here are the results of each offensive possession by the Heat over the last 7:13:

  • Dwyane Wade misses 24-foot three point jumper
  • Mario Chalmers misses 25-foot three point jumper
  • LeBron James misses driving layup
  • Chris Bosh misses 21-foot jumper
  • LeBron James makes 2 free throws
  • LeBron James misses 16-foot jumper
  • Chris Bosh out of bounds lost ball turnover
  • Udonis Haslem misses 15-foot jumper
  • LeBron James misses 26-foot three point jumper
    Dwyane Wade offensive rebound
    LeBron James misses 25-foot three point jumper
    Udonis Haslem offensive rebound
    Udonis Haslem bad pass (Jason Terry steals)
  • Dwyane Wade misses 24-foot three point jumper
  • Mario Chalmers makes 24-foot three point jumper (LeBron James assists)
  • Dwyane Wade misses 28-foot three point jumper

Obviously, anyone complaining about the Heat’s shot selection and lack of interior attempts over that stretch has a point. By my count, there were two turnovers, two free throws, a layup attempt, three long two-point attempts, and seven three-point attempts. The last two three-point attempts can probably be excused as one was a wide-open game tying try and the other a heave at the buzzer, but even when taking away those two attempts, the Mavericks’ defense deserves credit and the Heat offense deserves criticism for their respective performances over that spread.

However, while I can’t condone the Heat’s shot selection, I can — in part — understand it. Up to that point, the Heat were shooting 40.4% on three-pointers for the series. Wade and LeBron,who were responsible for five of those six missed three-pointers, had shot spectacularly well from beyond the arc. James had made six of his 10 three-point attempts for the series, and Wade had made four of eight. In case you don’t have a calculator handy, that’s 55.6% shooting on three-pointers from a pair that combined to shoot 32.0% during the regular season.

The Heat should take some heat for their shot selection, but they were missing shots that had been going in for the previous 88 minutes of Finals game time. Part of rooting on Wade and LeBron is living with some ill-advised jumpshots. If you’ll pardon a second pun dropped in this single paragraph: they are the kings of the heat check. They make outlandish shots better than just about anyone, but they’re still rely heavily on outlandish shots and sometimes they don’t go in. Luckily for the Mavericks, Wade and LeBron chose an inopportune time to regress to the mean.

A few other points which seem to have been glossed over in the national discussion:

  • I’m giving myself half a pat on the back today. I went out on a limb in my series preview, saying DeShawn Stevenson should play much better and had an opportunity to have a large impact in the series. The large impact hasn’t quite materialized but Stevenson has been very effective, playing tough defense, grabbing 5 rebounds in just over 36 minutes, and knocking down five of eight threes.
  • As great as Nowitzki’s scoring bursts were down the stretch, he helped put his team in position to steal a win by killing himself on the glass. In Game 1 the Heat had an Offensive Rebound Rate of 34.8%. In Game 2, Dallas held the Heat to an ORR of 16.7%. Much of that credit goes to Nowitzki, who grabbed 9 defensive rebounds in the second half.

The Difference: Miami Heat 92, Dallas Mavericks 84

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 1, 2011 under Recaps | 6 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-06-01 at 1.25.16 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas84.0100.044.037.316.713.1
Miami109.545.623.834.811.9

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

  • To those struggling to find the fine line between the acknowledgment of Miami’s excellence and the hope provided in the Dallas’ missed opportunities, I empathize. Game 1 has to be viewed in terms of all that the Heat accomplished, but I can’t shed the thought of Dirk Nowitzki’s missed layups, J.J. Barea’s botched runners, Jason Terry’s poor decisions. Credit Miami’s D for their impressive contests — and even for the impact of their potential contests, which clearly had Barea shaking in his boots — but the Mavs can play much better…as long as the Heat defense doesn’t improve yet. We knew this would be a competitive series, but I’m not sure anyone quite expected such an odd start. To credit the Mavs’ offensive failures or the Heat’s defensive successes would be a terrible oversimplification, and yet somewhere in that relationship is the dynamic that could decide the series.
  • The Dallas zone had its moments, I suppose, but its start to the series was anything but exemplary. Mario Chalmers was able to burn the Mavs with a pair of wide open threes from the corners, but it was the play of Chris Bosh that made things particularly painful for Dallas when in their zone coverage. Bosh finished with five offensive boards in capitalizing on the displacement of the Mavs’ defenders, and his passing from the high post provided a terribly effective counter to the Mavs’ zone look. Rick Carlisle didn’t seem too distressed about the zone’s performance, so I’m curious as to what he saw in Dallas’ Game 1 zone execution that we didn’t; how much zone the Mavs run in Game 2 should provide a more authentic appraisal than anything Carlisle said postgame.
  • Udonis Haslem and the Heat’s double teamers did a credible job defending Dirk Nowitzki (27 points, 7-18 FG, eight rebounds) by playing passing lanes and limiting Dirk’s attempts. In terms of challenging, the Heat defenders can only do so much; Haslem and Joel Anthony just don’t have the height or length to really alter Nowitzki’s shot, which leaves their means of defending him a bit more reliant on prevention. Anthony couldn’t quite pull that off, but Haslem — with help from Mike Miller and others — was able to put enough pressure on Nowitzki to make him pass out of doubles and rush through many of his possessions against single coverage. Nowitzki needs to get settled in, but Erik Spoelstra is too good of a coach to maintain a static approach against Dirk; he may see the same basic defensive look in Game 2, but the specifics of its implementations (the timing of the double, etc.) will likely change. Nowitzki was able to adjust and attack, but he may have to start that process all over again in Game 2.
  • Shawn Marion and DeShawn Stevenson were able to have some success in man-to-man coverage against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but then the Mavs shifted into zone, the zone failed, and the final product was flawed man-to-man execution that allowed the Heat do do as they willed. James and Wade didn’t have their most aggressive driving games, but they were certainly assertive scorers; the two stars combined to shoot 6-of-9 from three-point range, and several of those attempts came against pretty good defense. The prospect of defending Wade and James is always predicated on concession in some form. Teams often cede long jumpers — both twos and threes — to both James and Wade in the hopes that it lures two of the league’s best creators off the dribble into taking decidedly less efficient shots and stalling their team’s offense in the process. That’s still a semi-effective strategy against Wade (particularly due to his poor shooting from three-point range), but James has somehow become even more unguardable by hitting threes with consistency. Defending against either player is a miserable assignment, defending against both at the same time is just brutal, and defending against both at the same time when they’re hitting 67 percent of their three-point attempts is something I’m not sure the basketball world is — or will ever be — quite ready for.
  • Nowitzki tore a tendon in his left hand (or on his middle finger, to be more precise) while trying to strip the ball from Bosh on a drive. Had the tear been in his right hand, we’d be looking at a series ender; Dallas needs Dirk producing at an elite level to compete in this series, and a legitimate injury to his shooting hand would be a painful blow. However, the fact that Dirk injured his left hand isn’t exactly irrelevant, consider how crucial his handle and driving ability are to his overall game. It’s no secret that Nowitzki prefers to drive left, and considering how many driving lanes he had in Game 1, a limitation on his handle and finishing ability strikes me as rather significant.
  • Mike Bibby played 14 minutes, which was probably 14 minutes too long. Mario Chalmers wasn’t perfect, but he was far more productive than Bibby, and the Heat’s no-PG lineups even better than those involving Chalmers. I doubt there will be much of a change in Spoelstra’s rotation at this point in the playoffs, so Dallas needs to take advantage of the time that Bibby sees on a nightly basis.
  • James actually defended JET to close the game, a matchup that, while stifling and impressively creative, opens up an interesting opportunity. Marion had a fantastic offensive game, but could have been even more involved in the fourth quarter offense by going to work against Miller in the post. Any time that Marion can shed James, he’ll have an offensive advantage on the low block, and while he was able to create from the post a few times throughout the game, I think Marion can be used as an instigator of change. If Marion can be efficient enough in the post against Miller, Spoelstra could be forced to give up on assigning LeBron to chase JET and disrupt the Mavs’ two-man game, which would ultimately open up one effective offense by way of another.
  • Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood aren’t deserving of scapegoat status, but they have to be better on the glass. Their job (of anchoring the defense, challenging the shots of stretch bigs like Bosh and Haslem, and still hitting the boards) isn’t ideal, but it’s the task placed in front of them. I don’t see how the Mavs win this series without Chandler and Haywood pulling off something of a minor miracle in that regard. Best of luck to ‘em.

I Bite My Thumb at Thee

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 30, 2011 under Commentary | 2 Comments to Read

Beckley Mason, whose prolific writing can be matched only by his equally prolific hoops game, was kind enough to have me drop by HoopSpeak for a “gentleman’s debate on these impending NBA Finals:

Rob: Well, the only forecasters who are hideously wrong are those who expect a lopsided series in either direction. Something has to give when elite offense and elite defense collide, but the matchup dynamics of this series speak to a hard-fought six-or-seven-gamer. I’m waffling in my prediction of the verdict at the moment — the only outcome that seems as likely as the Heat winning in seven is the Mavs winning seven, or six, or losing in six, or what have you — which is really only indicative of the slightest of margins that separates the performance of these two fantastic teams.

Dallas will have a lot to contend with; their problems go beyond LeBron and Wade diving into the paint, as the offensive complications Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, and Mike Miller provide could end up deciding the series. Miami has a lot of focused firepower in their best five-man lineup, and the aforementioned defensive prowess to boot.

But the Mavs didn’t come this far by way of luck or some trickery. Dirk Nowitzki is, as you may have heard, that good. Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, and Jason Kidd provide the framework for an incredibly versatile and prolific offense. I’m still not convinced that the Mavs will win the series, but I fail to see why they can’t. Dirk is as unguardable as any player in the Finals, and provided that Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood can manage some way to negotiate their responsibilities as both on-ball defenders against stretch bigs like Bosh and Haslem and as perfectly vertical monoliths protecting the rim from the James/Wade barrage, I’m not seeing what makes the Heat anything resembling an overwhelming favorite.

Be sure to check out the full dialogue over at HoopSpeak, and look for the OFFICIAL Two Man Game Finals preview tomorrow.

Scene Stealing

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 27, 2011 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

Over at The New York Times’ Off the Dribble blog, I took a closer look at three “minor” matchups that could make a significant difference in shaping the Finals. Take a peek:

J.J. Barea vs. Joel Anthony/Udonis Haslem/Chris Bosh

Miami has amazing elasticity in defending the high screen-and-roll; bigs like Anthony, Haslem, and Bosh are so mobile and so active that they’re able to hedge and recover quickly, so much so that according to Synergy Sports Technology, the Heat held the Bulls to a crippling 0.27 points per possession on pick-and-rolls in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and have held opponents to just .70 points per possession on pick-and-rolls in the playoffs overall. Derrick Rose was thwarted in his attempts to use his pet screens at the top of the key, and the Heat defense limited the league’s most valuable player to an inefficient and ineffective offensive series thanks to their mobility up front.

Those bigs are likely to be assets in the Finals as well, as J.J. Barea -– the Mavericks’ lightning quick backup point guard -– has diced every defense he’s seen in these playoffs by milking high screen-and-roll action for all it’s worth.

Yet before we immediately assume that the Heat will handcuff Barea, consider this: Dirk Nowitzki is Barea’s most common pick-and-roll partner, and he’s a deadlier threat in space than any of the screening bigs Miami has contended with so far. Recovering quickly may not be enough; the combination of Barea’s quickness (and cleverness) and Nowitzki’s ability to score from anywhere on the floor could still open up all kinds of opportunities, and it’s up to the vaunted Heat defense to close off those options.

Head on over to Off the Dribble to check out the other highlighted matchups.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

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

  • John Schuhmann of NBA.com, 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 SI.com: “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 ESPNDallas.com 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.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on August 18, 2010 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

  • Kurt Helin, my fellow ProBasketballTalk-er, had a chance to interview Caron Butler. Here are Butler’s thoughts regarding what the Mavs’ areas for improvement in the coming year: “Controlling the glass, focusing on defense. Because we can score with the best of them. We have a great player, we have a Hall of Fame point guard and whole bunch of other guys that want to get it done and are willing to sacrifice whatever to win. We’ve just got to put it all together and we will.” Butler also noted that he’s been working with the needs-no-introduction Tim Grover.
  • Kevin Arnovitz has a great interview with Texas Legends’ coach Nancy Lieberman, who is getting serious mileage out of her catchphrase (which you may remember from my interview with Lieberman earlier this summer): “Making the irregular regular.” Here’s Lieberman on her voice as a coach, and what the voice will mean to men who haven’t had all that many female basketball mentors: “I think the end message will be similar, but the methods and how they get the information could be different. I’m excited about it because I’m not going to be in practice f-bombing people. That won’t be me. I’ll be firm and I’ll be fair. We won’t tell people what to do. We’ll explain what we’d like them to do. We’ll show them what we want to do. Then, they’ll do it. I will work their tails off. Trust me. I’m not as nice as I’m faking it on this conversation. I will work them really hard, but I’ll love them on the other side. And they need to know they’re loved and cared for. But that doesn’t mean you can walk over me, through me. That won’t happen. But look, I’m going to kill my guys so I might as well be nice to them. I have high expectations. I haven’t made it in a man’s world for 35 years by being soft, scared or insecure.”
  • Mike Krzyzewski on Tyson Chandler’s play for Team USA, via Chris Tomasson of FanHouse: “Tyson has been outstanding. We have a relationship from the 2007 qualifying team (and in 2008 when Chandler came close to making the Olympic team) … He doesn’t need the ball. He’s stronger. I bet he’s at least probably 15 pounds heavier and stronger than he was in 2007. He feels healthy.”
  • Have $25 burning a hole in your wallet? Then do I have the deal for you. (H/T: Scott Schroeder)
  • Josh Howard, infused with Devean George’s trade veto power.
  • Caron Butler thinks the Heat could make it to 73 wins. The Bulls’ sacred 72-win mark is seemingly unbeatable, but next year’s Miami Heat have definite advantages those Bulls were never afforded. The ’95-’96 Bulls are certainly one of the best teams to ever lace them up, but is Caron wrong? Isn’t the combination of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade — with Chris Bosh and a hell of a supporting cast — enough to at least bring the Heat into the discussion?
  • Andre Miller and Chauncey Billups are two big, strong point guards that have made the most of their size by posting up smaller opposing guards. The Mavs have dabbled with using Jason Kidd in a similar capacity, but he just doesn’t have the scoring chops for it. Regardless, Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook breaks down what it is that makes Miller and Billups so effective in the post.
  • Kelly Dwyer is ranking the top 30 players in each of the five conventional positions, beginning with point guards. You can see the first installment (30-21) here, and the second (20-11) here. Jason Kidd comes in at #12, which may seem a bit harsh, but consider the 11 PGs likely to top Kidd in Dwyer’s rankings (in no particular order): Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Jameer Nelson (already confirmed as #11), Rajon Rondo, Chauncey Billups, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Devin Harris, Tony Parker, and Tyreke Evans. Of those 11, which would you pick Kidd to best in the coming season?
  • Jeff Fox of Hoops Manifesto takes a stab at listing the top 10 Mavericks of all-time.
  • Rodrigue Beaubois’ surgery was successful.
  • From Caron Butler’s blog on HoopsHype: “Aside from the Tyson Chandler trade, my team has had a pretty quiet offseason. I’m not surprised. We had a great roster already. The management looked at the team and thought change wasn’t needed.” Well…that’s certainly one interpretation of the summer’s events.