The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 104, Portland Trailblazers 106

Posted by Kirk Henderson on January 30, 2013 under Previews | Read the First Comment


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.

  • Luck matters a lot more than we’d like to admit in close games. After all, perhaps Dallas would not have been in this game late in the fourth without a desperation Darren Collison bank three, two missed free throws from Nic Batum, or a ridiculous high, arching pass from Shawn Marion which led to a Dirk Nowitzki three pointer. Of course, that the Mavericks let a 21 point lead evaporate in 13 minutes during the third and fourth quarters is baffling. As is the fact that they gave up 15 offensive rebounds. Then, there’s also the small-ball late game line up Carlisle has opted with in close games (Collison, O.J. Mayo, Vince Carter, Dirk, and Shawn Marion) that just does not work. This was the line up with 1:15 left in the fourth with the Mavs up 101-96. Turnovers (four in the final two minutes, three alone from Mayo) due to terrible recognition and an inability to stop Portland’s offense saw Portland score nine points in 71 seconds to tie the game with four seconds remaining. The ensuing offensive foul call on Mayo was just bad luck; a high speed play that was simply called incorrectly due to human error. But a team this far gone from the playoff hunt needs luck, and the Mavericks have lost far too many close games this season. We can’t write them off just yet, but that time may be drawing near.
  • Chris Kaman is out indefinitely with a concussion. While we here at the Two Man Game wish him a speedy recovery, we’ve found out over the last few years that concussions can often be challenging to both diagnose and recover from. Over the last three weeks our parent blog, ESPN’s Truehoop, has published a series of articles about head injuries under the title “Working Bodies”. The first entry is an overview of head injuries and basketball, the second is Brian Scalabrine’s concussion tale, which prompted other players to share their concussion stories for the third entry. All are worth checking out.

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


Judging Happy

Posted by David Hopkins on January 29, 2013 under Commentary | 3 Comments to Read


“I am displeased, Morg. You have destroyed one of my creations. Such an act is my decision, not yours. You have overstepped your bounds.” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds

I’m not usually one to quote Spurs coach Greg Popovich, but I love his response to David Aldridge during a sideline interview. Coach, how happy were you with the shot selection? Popovich quipped, “Happy? Happy? ‘Happy’ is not a word we think about in the game. Think of something different. Happy? I don’t know how to judge happy.”

Popovich makes a good point. How do you “judge happy?” Is it one of Hollinger’s advanced statistics that I haven’t heard of yet? But sports analysts do treat “happy” like a stat. We measure “ happy” and consider its weight and effect on the game.

I’ve found myself wondering if Chris Kaman is happy right now—according to this report from ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, not very. I contemplate how his unhappiness will affect the team. Will his “lack of happy” cause him to get traded? Does Rick Carlisle even care about Kaman’s happiness? The correct answer is probably not, and nor should he care. The Mavs are trying to win games, not maintain the happiest franchise in professional basketball. (Tangent: Which franchise do you think is the happiest right now? My guess is the Clippers. They seem like a happy bunch.)

We get so worried about “ not happy,” because we associate it with players not performing to their potential. Unhappy players become a nuisance in the locker room. Unhappy players start fights, get coaches fired, and leave the franchise in a lurch. Unhappy players look like Lamar Odom in a Mavs uniform. No one wants that.

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 110, Phoenix Suns 95

Posted by Connor Huchton on January 28, 2013 under Recaps | Be the First to Comment


Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGame 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.

  • The Mavericks’ win on Sunday night could be described as a story of beginnings and endings (and that’s how I’ll describe it).
  • The starting unit began the game well, on the heels of precise ball movement and an active Shawn Marion (9-19 FG, 18 points, nine rebounds, five assists), and finished equally adeptly, as Dirk Nowitzki (7-14 FG, 18 points, seven rebounds) closed out the fourth quarter with the scoring precision of, well, Dirk Nowitzki.
  • Bernard James (1-2 FG, two points, three rebounds, 11 minutes) started the game at center for the Mavericks and performed well enough, though James’ 11 minutes may be indicative of the move’s dual purpose as a means of motivating Chris Kaman (2-4 FG, six points, five rebounds, two turnovers, 11 minutes). Neither James or Kaman served as part of the best pairing with Dirk, however.
  • That distinction lies with Elton Brand (6-10 FG, 12 points, three rebounds, 17 minutes), as it has much of the time in recent weeks.
  • I’d be remiss to write any further without mentioning that Dirk passed Allen Iverson for 18th all-time on the NBA’s scoring list. Well done, Dirk.
  • And hopefully his ascension towards further tiers of that list continues.
  • Though their numbers weren’t gaudy, the Mavericks’ guards deserve credit for a job admirably done. O.J. Mayo (4-9 FG, eight points, six assists), Darren Collison (3-7, eight points, five assists), Dahntay Jones (4-5 FG, 11 points), Vince Carter (5-8 FG, 2-3 3PT, 15 points, four rebounds, three assists, three steals), and Rodrigue Beaubois (3-7 FG, eight points, three assists, three rebounds) collectively played quite well, and their overall decision-making radiated excellency.
  • That excellent decision-making propelled the Mavericks to 26 assists and only 13 turnovers, good for an aesthetically pleasing 2:1 ratio.
  • All 13 active Mavericks earned playing time, which in this case was indicative of a comfortable win.
  • Another key to the Mavericks’ victory was how well they spaced the floor.
  • Guards were able to make post passes into feasibly-sized windows, and areas of the floor were often carefully sectioned off for the sake of Shawn Marion, Dirk, or cutting guards (Mayo, Beaubois, etc.) on their way to the basket.
  • That element of movement and spacing is absolutely crucial for a team that’s been frequently mired in offensive stagnancy.
  • Four Mavericks’ centers played significant minutes tonight, which give some insight into the current revolving door of Mavericks’ center minutes.
  • Brandan Wright (1-3 FG, four points, three rebounds, three assists) was the fourth center used tonight. He first saw minutes in the fourth quarter and helped spark a momentous run with keen passes near the basket and an important finish.
  • Wright was also the only Maverick to make less than 42% of his shots, another mark of a thoroughly efficient offensive performance.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 107, San Antonio Spurs 113

Posted by Kirk Henderson on January 25, 2013 under Recaps | Read the First Comment


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.

  • If one was to look at the final score without knowing anything about the game, it appears to be a real improvement from earlier Mavs-Spurs match ups. It was not. That the Mavericks whittled a 26 point Spurs lead to four is nice, but that they were down 26 at all is cause for alarm. With Tim Duncan out, Gregg Popovich not coaching, and Manu Ginobli only playing eight minutes, Dallas should have been able to stay with the Spurs. Instead, team defense was atrocious and the offense stagnant for most of the game.
  • I’m starting to get concerned about Dirk Nowitzki’s role. While he had 14 shot attempts against the Spurs, he often goes very long stretches of time without an attempt. Dirk took one shot to start the second quarter, then didn’t shoot again until just over a minute left in the period. While he was on the bench for some of that 10 minute stretch, I believe Dirk should be the focal point for consistent stretches as opposed to short outbursts. He is making a concerted effort to get his teammates involved, as evidenced by his four assists in the first quarter. But outside of the other starters and Chris Kaman, I don’t like Dirk passing up a shot to feed Mike James on the baseline as he did with 6:45 left in the fourth.
  • Dallas could not find an effective pick and roll coverage against Tony Parker (23 points, 10 assists) or Gary Neal (18 points, six assists). Carlisle attempted to trap the ball handler with Kaman in first half, which resulted in DeJuan Blair (22 points on 10 of 13 shooting) going off as the roll man. Both ball handlers were easily able to pass around any trap attempt.  In the second half, Carlisle elected to have Darren Collison (who still seems shocked every time he runs into a screen) trail Parker over the top of screens and Parker responded by hitting a variety of really tough shots.
  • Well would you look at that, a Roddy Beaubois (19 points on 6 of 8 shooting, and five free throws) sighting! He scored more points against the Spurs than he did the entire month of December (15). It’d be a boost for Dallas if they could somehow get some burn from Roddy. He’s incredibly athletic and instinctual, and his play can change the pace for a Dallas team that can be athletically challenged, particularly in the half court.
  • Someone needs to have an intervention for Jae Crowder and his shot selection. Every single shot he attempted was 17 feet or farther from the rim. In the first quarter he pulled up to take an uncontested jumper on a fast break when he had a clear attempt at the rim. He tried to make up for this in the second period by attacking the rim on a fast break, only to commit a turnover by running over Manu Ginobli. Later in the quarter he stole the ball from Tiago Splitter after a rebound and decided to shoot a three while at least two of his teammates were not yet past half court. In the fourth, when Dallas was making a fast and furious run, Crowder shot a contested 17 footer from the baseline that caused Jeff Van Gundy to question whether Crowder understands his role on the team.  He missed every single shot until a prayer three fell when the game was out of reach. Jae needs to spend a little more time modeling his game after Shawn Marion and a little less emulating Josh Howard.
  • If Dallas hopes to make the playoffs, losing games against short handed teams is no longer an option. Currently, eleventh in the West, Dallas still has an outside chance to make the playoffs. Portland and Minnesota are stumbling and the Lakers manage to keep lowering the bar. If the Mavericks take care of business and either Utah or Houston stumble down the stretch, the eight seed is still in reach. Some luck will be involved, but in order for that to be a factor, Dallas has to close out these winnable games.

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: Dallas Mavericks 111, Orlando Magic 105

Posted by Kirk Henderson on January 20, 2013 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

Rabbit in Hat

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.

  • Continuing a theme from the previous edition of The Difference, mental miscues made this game unnecessarily close. With just under three minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Mavericks leading 104 to 96, Vince Carter blocked Aaron Afflalo. The ensuing fast break possession saw O.J. Mayo try to force a pass to Elton Brand on the baseline which resulted in a turnover. During the ensuing TV timeout, Carlisle was… unhappy to say the least. Later, after Darren Collison’s back breaking corner three with 31 seconds left, the Magic drew up an in-bounds play for J.J. Redick. Miscommunication between Collison and Mayo resulted in Redick getting left wide open to drill the three which brought the Magic within two. These two mistakes didn’t cost Dallas the game, but they are the kind of mistakes a team cannot make if they hope to sneak into the playoffs.
  • For the longest time, the Oklahoma City Thunder would start games with a post up of Kendrick Perkins, who was usually their last offensive option on the floor. This season Dallas has insisted on doing something similar with Chris Kaman (13 points, 8 rebounds) by getting him the ball early and often. While Kaman is a much better offensive player than Perkins, it really bogs the Dallas offensive down when he’s the focal point. Kaman attempted six shots in the first seven minutes of play, making two of them. In related news, Dallas only scored eight points in those seven minutes.
  • Nice to see Darren Collison (11 points, nine assists) get a chance to play in crunch time against the Magic. After two close games where Carlisle subbed him in favor of Mike James down the stretch, Collison remained in the game late and knocked down the aforementioned corner three with under a minute left.
  • To date, my favorite front court line up has been Vince Carter-Dirk Nowitzki-Elton Brand. Carter’s ability to stretch the defense is usually huge. However, against the Magic the Marion-Nowitzki-Brand line up produced some excellent offensive basketball. In the second quarter, a Marion-Nowitzki pick and roll with Marion as the ball handler caused havoc for the Magic defense. With Brand sitting at the free throw line, Dirk rolled to the baseline after setting a screen and caught the Marion pass. The defense sagged in anticipation of his move and Dirk simply passed to the open Brand for a jumper. On another possession, Dirk slipped the screen he set for Marion, bringing his defender and Brand’s with him to the baseline. Marion whipped a pass to the wide open Brand for another jumper.
  • All of the Maverick guards could learn a thing or two about off ball movement from J.J. Redick (18 points, 4 assists). Since he’s a bit limited athletically in comparison to other NBA guards, he uses well timed cuts and textbook understanding of screens to get open. In the second quarter, he ran his man through two perimeter screens which freed him for a wide open baseline jumper.
  • The chemistry between Shawn Marion (20 points, 10 rebounds) and Vince Carter (15 points, six assists) is fun to watch. Though they don’t share the court that often, usually in the first quarter when Marion slides over to power forward for a few minutes, there’s often exciting basketball when they get to play together. The Maverick’s 99th and 100th points came from a Carter-Marion alley oop lay up. Marion spun and released off of Aaron Afflalo and Carter placed the ball where only Marion could catch it.

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.

Ambiguous Architecture

Posted by Ian Levy on January 17, 2013 under Commentary | 6 Comments to Read

Solid Foundation?

For the first time in awhile, things are looking up in Dallas. Dirk Nowitzki is healthy, and the Mavericks are on a four game win streak. In their wins over Sacramento, Memphis, Minnesota and Houston, Dallas put up points at the scorching rate of 112.4 points per 100 possessions. This is a tremendous bump for what has been the 18th most efficient offense in the league this year and, at just 100.9 points per 100 possessions, the least efficient Mavericks’ offense of the past 13 seasons.

Offensive firepower of great variety has been the defining characteristic of Mavericks’ basketball for more than a decade, so watching the team struggle so mightily this season has been somewhat disconcerting. The absence of Dirk Nowitzki has certainly made things difficult, but the problems have been so systemic it’s hard to lay them all at the feet of one giant German. Across the entire season the Mavericks have wilted in each of the offensive Four Factors. They rank 8th in the league TO%, but 13th in eFG%, 16th in FTA Rate and 27th in ORB%.

The eFG% is especially troubling. Making shots is what Mavericks do, and under Rick Carlisle in particular, the team has shown a razor-sharp focus on the craft of creating quality open looks. This season however, their miraculous ability to manipulate and manufacture open space has largely fizzled. As dark as things have been, some fragrant Four-Factor-blossoms bloomed in their three most recent wins. They posted an eFG% of just 45.3% against Sacramento but pushed the bounds of offensive efficiency with just nine turnovers and 35 free throw attempts. Against Memphis and Minnesota, Dallas scorched the nets with eFG%s of 55.6% and 66.3% respectively. Against Houston, shooting was again a problem but 10 turnovers and 43 free throw attempts did the job. Those eFG% numbers are exciting to type; they feel like a thick, down sleeping bag with the potential to fend off the long winter weeks still to come. But I’m not sure they are truly a reflection of problems solved.

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Eye on the Market

Posted by Brian Rubaie on January 16, 2013 under Commentary, Roster Moves | Read the First Comment

Screen Shot 2013-01-16 at 12.53.29 PM

Changes are coming to the Mavericks roster. Contrary to the suggestion made by Bill Simmons on NBA Countdown that the Mavericks would catch “lottery-itis” and shelve Dirk, owner Mark Cuban has made it clear that he isn’t content to embrace a year without a trip to the playoffs. “There’s a one hundred percent chance that we’re going to try to do something,” Cuban told Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News. Soon after, Cuban told Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas that the Mavericks are “letting everybody know that the ‘Bank of Cuban’ is open.”  Some caveats, such as the unwillingness to deal Dirk or “to do a trade just to do a trade,” were explicit, while others, such as retaining O.J. Mayo, are widely assumed. Those assurances aside, the future of Dallas is as unclear as it has been in recent memory. Cuban, blessed with extra salary cap space and a treasure trove of expiring contracts, will confront two inter-related questions: when to act and who to target.

There is pressure on Cuban to act quickly. The fan base is in disarray as it watches a team defending a 12-season playoff streak slip towards the bottom of the Western Conference. Dallas is still five games behind the eighth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, even after winning three straight, and the playoff window is shrinking quickly as the February 21st trade deadline looms. Aside from making the playoffs, Dallas wants to maximize every moment of Dirk’s last few productive years and demonstrate progress to potential free agents over the summer. Cuban also wants to quickly capitalize on the desire of other teams to avoid the costly repercussions of the luxury tax.

While the case for acting quickly has merit, Cuban would be wise to be patient and wait until the summer to make any big moves. The playoff streak is a mark of pride but it’s isn’t worth sacrificing operating room over the summer to impossibly chase. It is also of little comfort to fans when the season ends: streak or no streak, sneaking into the playoffs and being swept by Oklahoma City last year felt little better than the prospect of missing the playoffs this season. Meanwhile, a big signing could easily reverse those feelings and reignite disaffected ticket-holders. Cuban is wise to capitalize on the upcoming luxury tax but the looming hike won’t exert significant pressure on other owners to act until summer arrives. Dallas would avoid further mid-season roster turnover and find a significantly stronger group of available free agents if it waits patiently.

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 113, Minnesota Timberwolves 98

Posted by Kirk Henderson on January 15, 2013 under Recaps | Read the First Comment


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 is the second straight opponent the Mavericks have beaten on the second night of a back-to-back. The tired legs of the Minnesota Timberwolves were evident from their shooting (41%), and as the game wore on, the Wolves simply couldn’t keep up with the constant pressure of the Mavericks both offensively and defensively (Dallas forced 15 turnovers). However, the poor shooting created lots of offensive rebounds for the league’s best rebounding team, which was the main reason this game was relatively close in the fourth quarter.
  • Of course, a great way to combat giving up 20 offensive rebounds is to shoot nearly 60% from the field as Dallas did.
  • The ball moves faster via pass than through the dribble, which enabled the Mavericks to keep the Wolves’ defense off-balance all night long with crisp ball movement to the tune of 33 assists on 46 made field goals.
  • The offense of Elton Brand (20 points on 10-for-13 shooting) is no longer hesitant. After posting a shooting percentage in the high 30′s for October and November due to his shot often falling short, Brand has been incredibly consistent. Looking at his shot location against the Wolves, one finds that nearly all of Brand’s makes came from his sweet spots at the 10-to-18 foot mark. Coincidentally, over the 10 previous games, Brand has shot 73% from this range.
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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 104, Memphis Grizzlies 83

Posted by Kirk Henderson on January 13, 2013 under Recaps | Read the First Comment


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.

  • When Dallas managed to start the game by making three of their first 12 shots, I assumed it was going to be another long and painful game. Sometimes, though, being a nattering nabob of negatism means relishing a suprising win — as was the case on Saturday night  when the Mavericks turned on the offense and build up a thirty point lead by the end of the third against a team that’s won more than 70% of it’s games prior to tonight’s win.
  • Granted, playing the second night of a back-to-back clearly challenged the Grizzlies. After a tough overtime win against the Spurs, Memphis looked exhausted early and it showed in the box score as they simply weren’t able to hit a shot, finishing the game shooting 38% from the field.
  • Tonight was a tale of two Kamans. In the first quarter alone, Kaman managed to get up seven shots in around six minutes, only making three in the process. His early shots were rushed and it showed as he wasn’t able to convert a few easy looks right around the rim. He did, however, manage five rebounds in the period.
  • Third quarter Kaman came out playing like a man on a mission, scoring eight points in four minutes in a variety of ways. He started with a back-down hook shot, followed with a 15-foot jumper, then followed by a crafty up-and-under finish near the rim, and finally a pick-and-roll lay-in created off a pass from Darren Collison.
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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 93, Los Angeles Clippers 99

Posted by Kirk Henderson on January 10, 2013 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read


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.

  • At halftime, Dallas had four more offensive rebounds than the Clippers, gathering eight to the Clipper’s four. In the third quarter alone, the Mavericks gave up eight, and three more in the final quarter. Two of those three came on one possession for the Clippers with around a minute left and the Clippers up 97-93. Caron Butler moved Carter underneath the rim and took the rebound away from he and Dirk Nowitzki for the first rebound. For the second, Butler got the rebound because Carter made no effort to box him out. Carter’s been a solid rebounder this year, but this sequence is indicative of the Maverick inability to close games.
  • With 2:19 left in the third quarter, Dallas held a 75-65 lead. At the 10:42 mark in the fourth, the Clippers had tied the game 76-76. Then, by the 6:45 mark in the fourth the Clippers had taken a 90-83 lead. In just over seven and a half minutes, the Clippers managed a seventeen point swing on a 25 to eight run.
  • This loss is maddening, mainly because for most of the game, Dallas did all the right things against the Clippers. They packed the paint to prevent any “Lob City” style dunks. The defense forced Blake Griffin (15 points, 13 rebounds) into a number of tough shots and also into committing six turnovers. Darren Collison (22 points, six assists) punished LA’s lackadaisical attempt at transition defense. And this is all with Dirk, Mayo, and Kaman shooting a combined 15 of 40 from the field. But when Chris Paul (19 points, 16 assists) decided to assert himself when Dallas went up by 10 in the third, the feeling of the game changed immediately.
  • The shot select of Chris Kaman (nine points, four rebounds) is frustrating to watch. He took twelve shots tonight, including seven jumpers of the 12 to 17 foot variety. He hit two of those jumpers. He’s at his best when he attacks the rim through his crafty post play. For some reason, he has the green light to shoot far too many mid-range or fade away jump shots and it’s really doing the team a disservice. Kaman has such good moves, but doesn’t use them nearly enough.
  • Carlisle’s in a rough spot with his crunch time line ups. In the final minutes tonight he finally went with the Dirk-Brand combination I’ve been hoping for, with Collison, Mayo, and Carter rounding out the starting five. The trouble spot in particular is the small forward position. On the one hand, Marion gives Dallas superb defense, excellent movement without the ball, and a certain “je ne sais quoi”. On the other hand, Carter brings outside shooting, pick and roll ball handling, and the ability to take and make tough shots. Tonight, Carlisle opted to go with Carter. It did not work out.
  • To a certain degree, Dallas fans (myself included) have been spoiled by great point guard play for a long time. Jason Kidd, the great Steve Nash, followed by the solid Devin Harris, then Jason Kidd again. Darren Collison has had his ups and downs but one thing he’s not fantastic at is pin point passing. In the second quarter, he threw a truly aweful ally-oop pass to Shawn Marion who was wide open and was unable to catch and convert due to the low quality of the pass. I hate to pick nits in a game where Collison was really excellent, but in games that come down to detail execution, the little things can really add up.

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.