If the Mavericks are really being stingy with Tyson Chandler I suppose that could be taken as a sign the new CBA is having some effect. The Mavericks are like the Knicks and Lakers in how they have spent, historically, but they are not at all like those teams in how they earn, and have lost mighty amounts of money as a result. A stiff luxury tax could, in theory, hurt Cuban more than anyone — as he’s one of the owners already feeling the most financial pain.
It’s true — Dallas has historically been a big-spending team, but without the revenue streams that make franchises like the Lakers and Knicks so insanely profitable. Mark Cuban is likely to be one of the first influenced by the new luxury tax as a result, and we may see the implications of that deterrence sooner rather than later.
But if the Mavericks fail to re-sign Tyson Chandler this summer, it will have little to do with the tax or the new collective bargaining agreement. The Mavericks will likely pay the luxury tax this season, but at a dollar-for-dollar rate with a lower overall payroll than last season (largely due to Caron Butler’s salary being off the books), Cuban would get a bit of a financial break relative to his team’s title campaign even if he and Donnie Nelson chose to keep Chandler around. The Mavs’ defensive centerpiece could be had for a sizable financial investment and only a par-for-the-course luxury tax penalty, if only Cuban willed it so.
The lockout hasn’t even reached its official end, and yet all eyes are fixed on the summer of 2012. Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, and Deron Williams have dominated media outlets with their rumored gravity toward various teams and markets, and though basketball fans are likely queasy already from the trade rumor overload, the hype is legitimate. Those three superstars are hugely impactful players, and while the NBA world would be a better place without the rumor mill’s nonstop churning, to ignore teams’ awareness of next year’s free agent class would be naive. Franchises around the league are working hard to be in a position to take part in the free agent fun, and the Mavs are no exception.
In a surprise development on the first day that NBA teams and agents could start talking about new contracts, Tyson Chandler came away convinced that his time with the Dallas Mavericks is coming to an end.
“I really think I’m going to be on a new team come training camp,” Chandler told ESPN.com in a telephone interview Wednesday night. “I’m really taking a hard look at all of my options, trying to see what best suits me.”
…Chandler maintains that staying in Dallas has always been his first choice, but he expressed disappointment that the communication between the sides was minimal from the end of the NBA Finals in mid-June and the June 30 deadline for extensions. On Wednesday, when teams and agents were allowed to commence free-agent negotiations, NBA front office sources listed New Jersey, Golden State, Houston and Toronto as the teams chasing Chandler hardest.
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin…except this time, only kind of, and not really.
Deron Williams is one of the best point guards in the league, and his absence for the Jazz — as he currently resides in trade limbo and will soon make his debut for the New Jersey Nets — significantly changed the way this game progressed and the way we should view it. If Utah had their complete roster (with Devin Harris and Derrick Favors) to work with, the Mavs would have faced significantly more resistance. However, a team with Earl Watson running the show is just a bit different than one with Williams or Harris at the helm. The Jazz had been pretty inconsistent this season with their team more or less intact, but to take away their best player and starting point guard — while Utah transitions into life after Jerry Sloan, no less — remove some of this win’s significance.
Still, a game is a game, and there is some insight to be gleaned from 48 minutes against any team out there. Dallas had some trouble early on offense (primarily due to their eight turnovers in the frame, which were more their own doing than Utah’s), but really cranked up their production as the game went on. It’s the balance of this team that continues to surprise me; again, the Mavs had an impressive number (seven) of double-digit scorers to complement Dirk Nowitzki’s 23 points on 15 shots. The starters played well enough to keep their minutes down, and the reserves were rewarded with some extra playing time. High fives all around.
The temptation to read too far into wins like this one is always present, and should put an asterisk on any conclusions you or I try to draw from this particular game. That said, I can’t help but wonder if the Mavs have finally found an offensive formula that really works. They don’t have that second star on-par with a Pau Gasol or a Paul Pierce, but by adding Rodrigue Beaubois (10 points, 4-6 FG, four assists) and Peja Stojakovic (18 points, 7-9 FG, 4-5 3FG) to the rotation while benefiting from more impressive contributions from J.J. Barea (13 points, 5-8 FG, five assists), Dallas has created an interesting scoring framework. I’m not sure all of Dallas’ scorers can be contained on a nightly basis, and though it’s not entirely necessary for opponents to systematically seek and destroy every scoring threat on the floor, there’s comfort in knowing that the Mavs will have most teams beat in scoring depth.
Another interesting wrinkle to that idea is that it makes the Mavs much more difficult to scheme against. The San Antonio Spurs, for example, teched specifically against Jason Kidd and Jason Terry in last year’s playoffs. Their plan worked to great effect; the offense stalled when the pressure increased on Kidd, and San Antonio ensured that Terry wouldn’t provide Nowitzki with the scoring complement he so sorely needed. However, the Spurs looked positively puzzled when trying to defend Beaubois, and Caron Butler was able to explode for a few big scoring nights. Teams can try to take away certain elements of the Maverick offense, but if any team invests too heavily in trying to stop any player aside from Dirk, Rick Carlisle can call an audible and shift the offensive flow.
Interesting note: Dallas shot 50% from the field or better in every quarter, and 57.9% from the field overall. That total is a season high.
Stojakovic is a much better fit with this team than I imagined he would be. Considering his age and injuries, I expected Stojakovic to be a relatively stationary element of the offense; he seemed destined to be tethered to a corner and spot up ad infinitum. But what’s impressed me most has been Stojakovic’s movement. He’s not content to rely on others to create shots for him — he actively looks to create new passing angles and new open zones from the floor. His release is much quicker than that of, say, DeShawn Stevenson, and thus he’s a much better catch-and-shoot option than Stevenson when he’s running around screens or coming off a curl cut. Stojakovic is more than just a spot-up option, and his movement in the offense adds a pretty interesting dimension to this team.
You’ll have to forgive me: the trade deadline beckons, and this installment of The Difference will have to be cut well short of its point-differential quota. Just imagine there are 12 more bullet points here, each a tribute to one of Brendan Haywood’s 12 on Wednesday. The guy is playing his best basketball of the season, and instilling new confidence in the non-starting end of the Mavs’ D5 rotation. Tyson Chandler, a motivated Brendan Haywood, and Ian Mahinmi — it doesn’t get much better than that.
There’s probably something distressing to be written about the way the Dallas allowed Utah to stay in this game after a torrential first quarter, but frankly, the entertainment value of tonight’s affair was far too high to warrant such a negative initial reaction. The Mavs flat-lined at times between the first and the fourth, but Dirk Nowitzki (31 points, 10-12 FG, 3-4 3FG, 15 rebounds, four assists) and Deron Williams’ (34 points, 12-22 FG, six assists) collective brilliance, both teams’ alternating spells of dominant basketball, and hell, the sheer number of and-ones made for a phenomenal watch. Not a game of the year candidate or even the most significant win during the Mavs’ incredible streak, but just a great show from start to finish.
Nowitzki deserves all of the bullet points I could ever write for him and then some. He was assertive when he needed to be, deferred when the time was right, and again erased the line between volume and efficiency. No player should be able to do what Dirk does, but he pours in the points without putting the offense on tilt, and dominates wholly and completely. The cherry on top is this bit from Andrew Tobolowsky (@andytobo): “Dirk [is] 18-22 for 52 [points in the] last two games. Try that, Kobe. Also, whoever, I guess.”
The first five minutes of the first quarter were possibly the most efficient stretch of Maverick basketball — or possibly any basketball — I’ve ever seen. Not only did the Mavs make eight of their first nine field goal attempts en route to an early 21-2 lead, but five of those eight field goals were three-pointers. That’s a rate of 210 points per 100 possessions, and somehow even more impressively (!), Dallas managed an effective field goal percentage of 116.7% over that stretch. That’s not a miscalculation. The Mavs’ shooting was impossibly good.
Dallas’ bench was awful. The starters (with the possible exception of Jason Kidd, who had not one, but two airballed three-pointers) played magnificently, but aside from successful fourth-quarter stints by Jason Terry and Brendan Haywood, the reserves’ presence on the court was a disaster. The bench combined to shoot 8-for-27 from the field, grab just seven boards, and turn the ball over seven times. Yuck.
Oddly enough, the Jazz’s third-quarter zone seemed to give the Mavs a bit of trouble. You’d think that if any team in the league knew how to attack a zone it would be Dallas, and yet the Mavs could only stumble their way through offensive possessions.
The Mavs fell for Deron Williams’ pump fake time and time again, and Williams did a tremendous job of finishing after contact. What’s more: I don’t blame Kidd, Terry, Stevenson, and the like for biting on Williams’ fakes. He’s that good, and for significant chunks of this game, he was the only productive member of the Jazz. Williams poured it in, and while he wasn’t as efficient as Nowitzki, he gave the Mavs no choice but to respect every potential attempt. Leaving your feet is never sound defensive strategy, but it’s hard to blame the Mavs’ defenders for trying to make a play against such an effective scorer.
You know the drill. The Difference is a quick-hitting (or in this case, day after) reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
If there was any doubt: the Dallas Mavericks are now the hottest team in the league. It won’t last forever, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. I’m not sure how much long-term value can be derived from an early season surge, but stepping to the top of the hill –without a key rotation player, mind you –means quite a bit for this team and its fans. It’s a winning streak, but more importantly, it’s hard validation and a thumbs up toward the Dallas mission statement.
The Utah Jazz are a terrific team, and the fact that the Mavs bested them through a systematic defensive approach is far more important than Dallas’ active streak. The number of consecutive wins continues to grow, but chances to go to work against a quality opponent like the Jazz are far more telling than an n-game trend.
Dallas’ second-half defense was nothing short of tremendous. The paint was treated as sacred ground, and each layup or Jazzian interior pass was an active defiling of all that the Mavs held dear. Penetrators were swarmed, jumpers were challenged, and Utah’s possessions were attacked at their weakest points. An active zone front made cross-court passes a nightmare. Deron Williams was denied the ball whenever possible. It was a damn near surreal vision of defensive elements sliding into place and combining in ways I wasn’t sure were possible, and the typically smooth Jazz offense looked positively flummoxed.
Tyson Chandler, brilliant though he may be, sure knows how to take himself out of a game with foolish fouls. Chandler picked up his second whistle at the 8:40-mark of the first quarter with a completely unnecessary shove while setting a screen, a pesky internal mechanism for keeping the Maverick center grounded. He only saw the court for 17 minutes while dodging foul calls and trying to establish his rhythm, but the early hook did Tyson no favors. It almost feels uncomfortable typing this due to how he’s played this season, but Chandler’s influence was negligible.
Jason Terry (12 points, five assists, five steals, three turnovers) gave the Mavs an early and much-needed spark. Dallas has a habit of going away from Dirk as much as possible in the first quarter (a strategy which makes sense for a number of reasons), and when the supporting cast came out just a bit cold, JET was brought in to dial things up. From the moment he came into the game, Terry was in motion. He started by cutting to the basket for a layup. On his next possession, JET attacked the basket again to draw a foul. Soon after, he grabbed a defensive rebound and fed Jason Kidd for a bucket, only to get a steal and trigger another fast break at next opportunity. JET didn’t keep up that offensive pace for the entire evening, but he was active and effective all night, even if his point total underwhelmed.
Caron Butler is shooting 42.3% from three so far this season, which is far more comforting than Butler’s career mark (31.5%). Ground control to Major Caron: commencing countdown, engines on. Enjoy your travels through the shooting percentage atmosphere, and for the Mavs’ sake I hope your shot never comes back down.
At times, I’ve feared that the zone defense may become too reliable a crutch for the Mavs, and their man-to-man defense would struggle as a result. It sure seemed that way in the first half, as Dallas struggled to defend in man sets and saw their defensive effectiveness jump upon implementing the zone. However, the Mavs were fantastic in utilizing both approaches in the second half, which is a testament to the Mavs’ keen defensive awareness and excellent instruction by Rick Carlisle and his staff.
Brendan Haywood (four points, six rebounds, two blocks) had 28 minutes of burn thanks to Chandler’s foul trouble, but wasn’t all that impressive. His defense was nice, but the Mavss were pretty thoroughly out-rebounded, and that’s Haywood’s domain. Don’t let the raw box score, which says the Mavs were only out-rebounded by six, fool you; this game was incredibly slow, and as far as rebounding rate is concerned, the Jazz fared far better on the glass.
Deron Williams is incredible when running an offense, but he’s also so strong playing off the ball, too. Is there any other playmaker in the league that moves within the offense without the ball better than Deron?
Speaking of: an 8.8 offensive rebounding rate? Are you kidding me? The Mavs have been a poor offensive rebounding team all season, but that weak of an offensive rebounding presence is even impressive for them. It takes work to dodge offensive boards so frequently.
I didn’t really anticipate the possibility of Dirk Nowitzki being even more efficient with his shot than he has in past years, but Dirk’s shooting percentages are just stupid good this season. Nowitzki shot 12-of-18 in this one for 26 points (with each of those 21 makes seemingly more improbable than the last), but that kind of shooting performance isn’t even notable. That’s how fantastic Dirk’s touch has been this year. .619 true shooting percentage. .566 effective field goal percentage. Both career highs. Damn. Just…damn.
Butler (16 points, 6-12 FG, 2-2 3FG), again, played well overall. See what happens when he’s not forcing the issue in isolation (particularly in a game with so few possessions to be squandered)? This is either a real evolution in Caron’s decision-making or perhaps just a better understanding of his role on the team, but this is where Butler needs to be: helpfully contributing without letting a more intrusive style of play deter the Mavs’ offensive success.
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.”
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?
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?
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.
This year’s MVP Award is about as open-and-shut as it gets. It’s not so much a ‘race’ as it is an ordaining, with LeBron James securing the second of what should be many MVP honors with another absolutely dominant season. Other names are thrown around to artificially generate some conversation where there should be none, and as something of a consolation prize to every NBA superstar not named LeBron.
As far as individual accolades go, that’s what these guys have to play for: second place, runner-up, honorable mention. James has reached such a stellar level of individual production that claiming to be his equal is as foolish as it is false, and thus the highest individual honor another player can receive is simply to have a place at his table.
That’s essentially what the MVP “conversation” has devolved to this season, and in the name of giving Dirk Nowitzki his due among the next tier of stars, I’ll simply point you toward Dirk’s body of work this season.
Nowitzki is truly elite. His numbers compare favorably to even the best in the league. However, while the metrics are fairly kind to Dirk, there is yet another divide that exists between Nowitzki and some of his contemporaries. At the absolute pinnacle of the game is James, who should start clearing out a shelf or six in his trophy case. On the second tier are Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, and Kevin Durant, three spectacular talents that are somehow only getting better. Below them sits Nowitzki, as well as Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, and Deron Williams, as well as a few other stars that either aren’t performing quite up to their usual levels of excellence or haven’t experienced enough team success to be considered viable MVP candidates.
Dirk lies at the impressive intersection of those criteria, and his individual ability to impact a basketball game is obviously directly related to the Mavs’ 54-win mark. He is Dallas’ unquestioned offensive anchor, and though Jason Kidd also has a profound influence on how Dallas operates on that end, this is Dirk’s show. His ability to operate out of the high post is unmatched, and he’s a far more accomplished low post scorer than many are willing to admit. He’s ultimately a more productive player than Nash (which is partially attributable to their different roles), both more productive and more efficient than Williams, and posted a better overall season than Bryant.
I would argue that Nowitzki warrants prime placement on MVP ballots among that third group of stars. I’ve always interpreted the MVP as an award for the player with the most outstanding season, and with that as the basis for selection, I fail to see how you could choose any other third tier candidate. It’s not that Nash, Williams, or Bryant are inherently flawed choices; each is having a fine season and is near the top of their profession. Dirk has just been a bit better this year.
Steve Nash is an absolute wizard when it comes to running an offense, and he’s one of the most efficient shooters in the game. But he’s also one of the league’s worst defenders (not an exaggeration) and most of Nash’s edge in scoring efficiency can be chalked up to his notably low usage. Once that’s accounted for, Steve’s alarming turnover rate (21.3%!) starts to hedge his offensive value, if only a bit. Nowitzki, on the other hand, is positively stingy in his protection of the ball; Dirk’s turnover rate is about a third of Nash’s, despite a significantly higher usage rate. I think it would be difficult to argue that Nash was more productive this season on offense than Nowitzki to begin with, but Dirk’s added scoring volume, defensive edge (Nowitzki may not be great, but he’s still far better than Nash), and rebounding push him well over the top.
The nature of Dirk’s comparison to Deron Williams is quite similar, though with a few exceptions: Nash is a far more efficient scorer than Deron and a slightly more prolific passer, but Williams is a significantly better defender and less prone to turn the ball over. The net result of a comparison between Dirk and Deron is thus more of the same: Nowitzki’s impressive combination of high volume and high efficiency (despite his high usage) just makes too convincing of a case.
As for Kobe Bryant, I’m going to put this in a way that’s sure to inspire some reactionary commenters: where is it exactly that Kobe is supposed to have the advantage over Dirk? Bryant’s points per minute edge over Nowitzki is negligible. Kobe doesn’t get to the free throw line more often, he too turns the ball over more than Nowitzki, and faces a sizable deficit in shooting percentage (despite having superior teammates, a legendary offensive system, and a masterful coach). He creates for his teammates more often than Dirk does, but not to a particularly dominant degree (23.8 assist rate vs. 12.8). The only significant advantage that Bryant has over Nowitzki is his defense, but he also has a few things working against him:
The Lakers are struggling badly, and team leaders — like Bryant — are held accountable for those struggles. There’s no excuse for L.A. not to put fear in the hearts of men, and yet they only seem particularly intimidating on paper. Los Angeles is still the favorite to win the West, as they should be, but the fact that their conference supremacy is even slightly in question is a blemish.
Clutch play, typically regarded as a Bryant strength, is actually advantage: Dirk. And this is one of Kobe’s most impressive clutch seasons ever.
Efficiency matters. It really, really does. Basketball isn’t so much a game of how much you score but how you go about doing it, and the fact that Nowitzki can nearly match Bryant’s scoring production by using less of his teams possessions means quite a bit.
Just take a little glance up at the chart that’s posted above. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Even looking at the metrics where defense is accounted for (adjusted +/-, win shares, wins above replacement player), Bryant claims no advantage. His biggest victory among those four measures is a +0.6 edge in APM, while Dirk’s win shares are notably higher and his PER marginally higher.
It’s likely that if you consider Bryant to be an All-NBA defender, he makes your hypothetical MVP ballot. I don’t. He’s a good defender and a great one when he’s interested, but the Lakers’ troubles this season didn’t exclude Kobe and they weren’t solely restricted to the offensive end of the floor. The lack of focus and effort applied to Bryant as well. I’m sure part of that was natural letdown, part of it frustration, part of it having Ron Artest around to lock down on the perimeter, and plenty of it injury. All understandable, but they don’t reconcile the drop-off even if they do excuse it.
If you ask me who is the better player between the two, I’ll tell you it’s Kobe. If you ask me which of the two has had a better season, I’ll tell you it’s Dirk. The MVP rewards a player for having the most outstanding season, not necessarily for being the best player. That’s why things like games missed due to injury and consistency aren’t just arbitrary criteria. They legitimately matter because the award goes to the player with the greatest performance rather than the greatest potential to perform.
That player is LeBron James. But a few pegs down is Dirk Nowitzki, and he’s not too bad, either.
For kicks, my MVP ballot, if you haven’t discerned it already:
Monday night’s game between the Mavs and the Jazz was a terrific showcase of high quality basketball…until Dallas completely broke down in the fourth quarter. Utah completely dominated the final frame, making those resilient Maverick performances from early in the season seem like a distant memory. In this installment of Moving Pictures, we’ll look at what the Jazz did well and where the Mavs folded.
You can watch the video on Vimeo for a much larger picture, which is in the original widescreen resolution the video was made for.
Note: Apologies on how late this is, but I don’t really feel that it’s dated. YouTube gave me all kinds of trouble on the upload, hence Vimeo.
“The straight line leads to the downfall of humanity.” -Friedensreich Hundertwasser
Last night, the Mavs had the distinct pleasure of being audience to their own implosion. They could only watch helplessly as the Utah Jazz forced turnover after turnover, catapulting themselves into transition and bringing the Maverick attack to a grinding halt. Dallas failed to execute in the half-court on a very basic level for nine minutes of the fourth quarter, which was more than enough time for the Jazz to put on a spectacular display of effort and intensity.
It’s a shame, really. The Mavs had played three quarters of good basketball to that point, and trailed just one point to the Jazz going into the fourth. Dirk Nowitzki had already totaled 26 points and Jason Terry, 18. Dallas had just closed the third quarter with a 7-2 run, and seemed poised to open the final frame with a bang. Not so. The Jazz countered with a quick 6-1 surge of their own, and though the Mavs were able to withstand the forces of gravity momentarily, the downfall was imminent.
This time around, it wasn’t the Mavs’ unwillingness to put the ball in the hands of their best player, but simply their inability; Andrei Kirilenko (13 points, 6-7 FG, eight rebounds, three assists, four steals) played stellar defense on Dirk to close out the game, and he used his speed and length to make even the most routine entry passes an impossible endeavor. Dallas was only able to attempt 14 shots in the quarter to Utah’s 23; the fourth quarter yielded seven turnovers for the Mavs and seven offensive rebounds for the Jazz. The Mavs have had trouble securing defensive rebounds on a few occasions this season, but in no situation all year has their weakness been more glaring. Kirilenko, Paul Millsap (25 points, 10-16 FG, nine rebounds, four blocks), Wesley Matthews (seven points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals, two blocks), and C.J. Miles (17 points, five rebounds) simply outworked the Mavs on the glass, turning what could have been a decent defensive performance into a pretty miserable one. Utah’s first shot was typically a difficult one, but the array of layups and dunks for second chance points gave the Jazz an easy opportunity to put up points.
Paul Millsap was especially brutal, and his influence was more far-reaching than just the offensive boards. Millsap showed a bit of range in knocking down mid-range jumpers, which made him a perfect lineup substitution for the injured Carlos Boozer. And although Millsap proved to be plenty capable of knocking down the open jumper when spotting up, he didn’t let it distract from his inside game. This is a man that makes his living down low, and though he showed the kind of shooting ability any team would want from their power forward, he has no delusions about what his role is on the court.
But Millsap was countered by the brilliance of Dirk Nowitzki (28 points, 11-16 FG, eight rebounds), who dominated the first three quarters. But Dirk didn’t attempt a single shot in the fourth, due to his own ability to seal off his man, some poor passing from the perimeter, and Kirilenko’s relentless defense. If Nowitzki gets the touches he needs in the fourth, it’s likely we’d be looking at a very different result. But the Jazz have seen that play out once before, and were determined to disrupt the flow of the Mavs’ offense by denying Dirk. It’s hard to argue with that theoretical logic, and based on the result, it’s hard to argue with Utah’s actualization of that logic.
January was a rough month for the Mavs, and they certainly haven’t kicked off February in style. But Rick Carlisle’s strengths as a coach lie in his ability to adjust and adapt, which should be reason enough to hold onto hope going forward. We’ve seen how well the Mavericks are capable of playing on both ends of the court, and though the last few games have been rough, the Mavs aren’t all that far from putting together complete wins.
Rodrigue Beaubois challenged a Paul Millsap layup attempt in the first quarter, and went down hard. He was able to walk off the court, and was warming up with the team at halftime, but he did not return. He’s listed as day-to-day with a bruised back, and could play as early as Wednesday.
Jason Terry (19 points, eight assists, four steals) looks so much more comfortable as a starter than he did as a reserve. He’s giving the Mavs a huge spark offensively right now, and the contrast between his play now and earlier in the season is astounding. Enduring cold stretches is just part of being a shooter, but it looks like things are finally warming up for Terry and, in turn, the Dallas offense.
A great battle between the point guards, as Jason Kidd (11 points, nine assists, two steals, two turnovers) and Deron Williams (18 points, 15 assists, seven rebounds, two steals, four turnovers) both turned in impressive nights. Williams was obviously the better of the two last night, as he is on just about every other night. I can’t say enough about Deron’s game…it’s nearing the point where the difference between him and Chris Paul is a matter of preference rather than performance.
Utah’s big fourth quarter run, keyed by their offensive rebounding, was actually achieved by going small. Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews, C.J. Miles, Andrei Kirilenko, and Paul Millsap found a way to dominate the Mavs’ starters (but with Gooden rather than Dampier) on the glass, which doesn’t bode well. Rebounds are supposed to be the concession when teams go small, but the Jazz found a way to turn it into a strength.
Eddie Najera is finally getting a little bit of garbage time burn. He’s played a total of four minutes between last night’s game and Saturday night’s. He’s also attempted two shots and made both, showing his shooting touch from the corner in making a three and a long two. He’s not exactly making the splash that Humphries is in Jersey, but the deal was never intended to bring in matching basketball talent.
Josh Howard played just 11 minutes, and shot 1-4 from the field with two turnovers. Somebody change the “Josh Howard Doomsday Clock” to ten minutes ’til.
Dirk Nowitzki’s exclusion was not one of them. His selection was never even debatable. But the Western Conference reserves will be Chris Paul, Brandon Roy, Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, Pau Gasol, Deron Williams, and and Zach Randolph. Great picks all the way down the line, and particular kudos to the coaches for picking this crop over Denver’s Chauncey Billups. Billups is a fine player, but this just isn’t his year. Plus, I think there’s a very legitimate argument to be made for Tyreke Evans over Chauncey, anyway…but we’ll save that for another day.
In the East, the reserves will be Rajon Rondo, Joe Johnson, Chris Bosh, Gerald Wallace, Al Horford, Paul Pierce, and Derrick Rose. In related news, it really, really sucks to be David Lee right now. He’s doing just about everything humanly possible (ahem, offensively), and still can’t catch a break. Pierce is having an off-year, but his selection was more or less assumed. I just wish we could see Lee and Josh Smith in the game, but no such luck.