You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
Nothing like playing against the Cavaliers’ defense to get the offense going sans Nowitzki, Butler, and Beaubois. Dallas did their part to execute, but there’s no question that playing against a defense without shot-blockers or capable defensive bigs did wonders for the Mavs’ inside game. Lots of productive cutting, driving, and ball movement, which generated good looks both inside and out. The offense was simple, but that’s fine against the Cavs, especially without Anderson Varejao in the lineup. It wasn’t a dominant offensive performance — and those expecting anything of the sort in the Mavs’ current circumstances best be scanned for brain damage — but Dallas held modest advantages in each of the four factors.
The defense was another story. A win is a win is a win is a win, but the back line of the zone was sloppy, and the pick-and-roll coverage was generally a mess. Defensive breakdowns are inevitable, but the frequency of open Cleveland dunks and layups in their half-court offense was pretty depressing. Definitely not one of the Mavs’ finer defensive performances, and I’m not sure injuries provide a valid excuse.
A possible caveat, though: because of Nowitzki and Butler’s injuries, plenty of Mavs are playing out of position in the zone. Those that had been manning the top of the zone are now on the wing in some cases, and while the principles are the same, the execution is different. Even those changes shouldn’t have resulted in so many open looks at the rim, but it’s something to consider.
Butler’s absence ushered Jason Terry (18 points, 8-14 FG, four assists) back into the starting lineup, where Shawn Marion (22 points, 11-16 FG, five rebounds) also stood in for Nowitzki. Kidd-Terry-Stevenson-Marion-Chandler is a very weird offensive lineup, but JET found his jumper at the bottom of his travel bag, DeShawn Stevenson (21 points, 6-13 FG, 5-12 3FG, four assists, three rebounds) was absolutely tremendous from deep but was far more than a spot-up shooter, and Marion moved well in the Mavs’ half-court offense and on the initial and secondary break. Toss in double-digit scoring efforts from Jason Kidd (10 points, 3-13 FG, eight assists, four rebounds, four turnovers) and Tyson Chandler (14 points, 6-6 FG, 14 rebounds, three turnovers), and you have a one-game, completely unsustainable blueprint for makeshift success.
Mavs fans should already be quite aware of Antawn Jamison’s (35 points, 14-22 FG, 3-6 3FG, 10 reobunds) scoring savvy, but games like this one bring Jamison’s creativity around the basket to the forefront, if only for a moment. Jamison has been pegged as a “stretch 4,” but I’m not quite sure why; he’s an interior player with range, not a Rashard Lewis or Troy Murphy-like talent that works from the outside in. Reducing Jamison to a perimeter threat erases the dimensions of the game in which he’s been the most successful, and as he showed against the Mavs, Jamison is still plenty capable of piling up points with an array of flips, hooks, counters, and tips.
Dominique Jones (nine points, 2-10 FG, five rebounds, three assists, two blocks) was recalled from the Legends after Butler’s injury status became grave, and played 21 minutes as a creator/scorer. Rick Carlisle actually ran a decent amount of the offense through Jones, who proved himself a capable drive-and-kick player if nothing else. His vision isn’t transcendent, but Jones is unselfish and capable of making all kinds of passes. Jones still struggles to finish after getting to the rim — odd considering how strong of a finisher he was in college and at Summer League — but that limitation seems nothing more than a temporary hurdle. Jones will be a quality driver/slasher in time, and for now, he’s showing the quickness to get around his man, the vision and willingness to make smart plays, and a veteran knack for drawing contact.
Marion scored 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting in 15 second-half minutes. Those buckets weren’t exactly tide-altering (though the final margin was less than impressive, the Mavs’ offense kept them in control throughout), but valuable nonetheless, particularly with such talented scorers riding the inactive list.
None of us should expect Rick Carlisle’s rotation to be constant given his current personnel, so take the significance of Brendan Haywood’s return to semi-prominence with a grain of salt. Haywood could end up glued to the bench again by midweek, but for now, he’s playing right behind Tyson Chandler once more.
Sneakily absurd performance of the night: Ramon Sessions finished with 19 points (9-13 FG), 12 assists, and seven rebounds. Sessions benefited from the confused Dallas defense on more than a few occasions, and got up for a couple of dunks. Still, the full volume of Sessions’ production escaped me, and the fact that he nearly registered a pretty impressive triple double seems crazy, even if it shouldn’t.
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
The Mavericks deserve no leniency, no respite from blame. They lost to a bad team. They lost to a bad team missing Jose Calderon, Sonny Weems, Andrea Bargnani, a half-game from Linas Kleiza (who was ejected), and a limited stint from Jerryd Bayless (who injured his ankle, left, returned, re-injured his ankle, and departed for good). They lost at home. They lost a game they should have won unless half of their roster was comatose, and yet they failed to keep pace. This loss doesn’t mark the end of Dallas’ days, nor does it quash the Mavs’ dreams of contention, but it’s a notable demerit that can’t just be written off.
Ed Davis may have been the best player on the court for either team. He notched 17 points (on eight shots), 12 rebounds, three steals, three blocks, and zero turnovers in just 31 minutes, which is a bit more than most anyone expected from the rook against a proven defense. Davis has a nice touch and good instincts, but he had it way too easy. Brian Cardinal’s substantial minutes at the 4 didn’t help, but Shawn Marion really should have (and could have) done a better job in boxing out Davis and keeping him away from the basket.
Marion (12 points, 5-10 FG, five rebounds, three turnovers) and Caron Butler (15 points, 7-16 FG, three rebounds, four turnovers) had decent games, but with the Mavs’ various defensive concessions, that wasn’t enough. If Dallas had put together a superior defensive showing, a win would have been reasonable even with an average offensive performance sans Dirk. Instead, Jason Terry was the only Maverick with a plus offensive performance, and the team sputtered to a mark of 90.5 points scored per 100 possessions. Yuck.
Dallas was plagued with unproductive passing and frequent ball-handling errors. On average, the Mavs commit a turnover on 13.8% of their possessions. They forked it over on 20.2% of their possessions last night, in part because of over-dribbling and over-passing that took the place of substantive playmaking. Dallas has an excellent creator in Jason Kidd (seven points, 3-11 FG, six rebounds, four assists, three turnovers), but he did little to set up his teammates with quality looks, and when he did, they were unable to connect. Not all of the Mavs’ failures were due to execution — they missed a number of quality three-point looks in the fourth quarter, for example — but turning the ball over so frequently stalled Dallas’ offense and triggered Toronto’s fast break.
The three-point shooting finally came back to earth. Dallas made just five of their 22 attempts from beyond the arc, good (probably the wrong word choice) for 22.7%. The starters didn’t make a single three, and Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson, and Butler combined to go 0-for-7 from distance.
Nowitzki misses very few games due to injury, but on those rare occasions where he does sit, the folks watching at home are usually gifted with Dirk’s on-air broadcast stylings. Nowitzki joined Mark Followill, Bob Ortegel, and Jeff “Skin” wade for over half of the third quarter last night, and didn’t disappoint. He took shots at Brian Cardinal and Jason Kidd for their age (the latter of which he said was 58 years old), gave a lengthy defense of his game-night sartorial choice, offered some intelligent commentary, exploded after Tyson Chandler slammed home a Kidd alley-oop, and yelled “Got ‘em!” after Linas Kleiza was ejected. Followill described Dirk’s on-air showing as an “A+ performance” during Nowitzki’s sign-off, to which Dirk fittingly responded: “Yes, it has.”
Where have you gone, Tyson Chandler? Maverick nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Brendan Haywood (two points, two rebounds, one block) was predictably lethargic, but Chandler (three points, six rebounds, three turnovers), too, had a bit of an off night. He may be the second best Mav on his better days, but this was certainly not one of them. Ian Mahinmi was the most impressive big to man the middle for Dallas, and he didn’t exactly have a huge night; two points, one rebound, and two blocks for Ian.
As poorly as Dallas played, they still had a winnable game sitting in their lap for most of the fourth quarter. The Mavs rushed shots. They turned the ball over some more, just for kicks. They surrendered open looks to Leandro Barbosa (12 points, 5-12 FG, two stealsk) and DeMar DeRozan (16 points, 7-13 FG). They just flubbed any chance at serious competition over the final minutes. Needless to say, Dallas needs to be better. These losses happen, but the Mavs need to be better.
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 reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
The Mavs are a much better team than the Timberwolves, which unfortunately doesn’t make for compelling theater. There’s not much of a story for anyone to push in Dallas doing what’s expected of them; the Mavs kept their turnovers down, they didn’t make it easy for the Wolves by sending them to the line, and they blanketed a team that’s already limited offensively in so many ways. This is the way things are supposed to be in lesser teams, and while that may not impress the NBA world at large, I supposed there’s something of note in the Mavs handily putting away the opponents that aren’t on their level. Golf clap for an expected win, a pat on the back for seven straight victories, and let’s move right along.
For perhaps the first time all season, both Mavs centers were clicking. Tyson Chandler set the season-high in rebounding for Dallas this season with 18 boards, and added nine points (2-3 FG) for the hell of it. Brendan Haywood (seven points, 10 rebounds) was forced to sub for Chandler early thanks to a few unfortunate whistles, and though Haywood had a few decisions worthy of a good head scratch (at the 3:43 mark in the first, he abandoned his box out to chase a block against the already covered Kevin Love, and in doing so allowed Darko Milicic to slam home an uncontested put-back), he did a fine job in his 21 minutes.
There’s an interesting difference in the way we do and should evaluate the shooting of Jason Terry and Caron Butler. JET had a nice showing, but also drained a pair of step-back three-pointers that would have induced eye rolls had they come off of Butler’s fingers. It’s not just because Terry is a better shooter — which he certainly is — but that we know that Terry knows better. JET moves brilliantly without the ball. He seeks spot-up opportunities or smart pull-ups out of the pick-and-roll. He isn’t one to attempt doomed iso possessions repetitively, as he’ll willingly give up the ball because he understands that if open, it will find him. Essentially, those attempts, whether made or missed, are atypical rather than part of a depressing pattern.
To his credit, Butler had a nice night. He only contributed 10 points, but did so on eight shots while only committing two turnovers. It’s also worth noting that both of those turnovers came while trying to attack the basket, which sure beats the alternative.
DeShawn Stevenson had a surprisingly versatile third quarter. He hit a three, drew a shooting foul, attacked the basket, and threw two lobs to Tyson Chandler. One of those lobs resulted in Michael Beasley fouling Chandler, and the other went a little something like this:
Dallas actually shot better from three-point range (41.7%) than they did from two-point range (41.3%). Shawn Marion had gone 1-for-10 from three so far this season, but made two of his four attempts in this one. J.J. Barea is still struggling from distance (1-4 3FG), but still boosted his humbling three-point shooting percentage to 16.7%.
Jason Terry shot 50% from the field for the first time in seven games. Welcome back, JET.
Shawn Marion (16 points, eight rebounds) continues to thrive, though this night was a bit more inefficient than usual. He still had 16 points on 14 shots, but completed just 35.7% of his field goal attepts. One thing I’m loving about Marion this season: he’s far more decisive than he was last year. There’s no hesitation in his moves, and no attempt to turn each catch into some kind of dribbling diagnostic. He catches and goes, getting right by slower defenders like Kevin Love and catching some of his quicker opponents off-guard with his first step. It makes a world of difference.
Jason Kidd shot 2-of-11 from the field. He had four assists to just three turnovers. He shot 20% from three-point range, and contributed only five points. So naturally, because he’s Jason Kidd, he had a +14 raw plus/minus.
Terry is so good at tight-roping the baseline after foregoing a look from the corner. He doesn’t have the passing savvy to thread the needle to a cutter, but he regularly attacks that baseline to either find Dirk spotting up on the opposite wing or a three-point shooter open at the top of the key. On a related note: JET notched seven assists and just one turnover.
Brian Cardinal hit a pair of three-pointers in the third quarter, the second of which sparked this celebration from Dirk Nowitzki:
Cardinal is already referred to as “The Custodian” and “The Janitor.” Is Dirk adding “The Truck Driver” to the list? “The Train Conductor?”
The down side to Dominique Jones’ D-League assignment? His absence in games like this one. I’m not sure how much garbage time minutes really facilitate his development, but it’s a nice blowout draw to see him out there even in a game that’s already been decided.
Dirk Nowitzki finished with 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting, and the Mavs win by 14. Even with the Wolves in the building, that’s a nice touch.
Aside from Wesley Johnson (2-3 FG) and Kosta Koufos (1-1 FG), every Timberwolves player hit less than half of their field goal attempts.
Over the last few games, Rick Carlisle has unveiled an interesting choice for go-to offense to commence each game: a set designed to open up Tyson Chandler for an elbow jumper.
The primary play action itself is nothing new, but the result itself is worth noting. There are obviously multiple options available to the Mavs in this particular continuity set, but the one they’ve ended up settling for — a mid-range jumper from the floor’s least likely shooting candidate — is worth noting.
By my count, the Mavs have run the set to open the game on at least three occasions in the past two weeks, and Chandler’s shot is smoother than one might think. He hasn’t made all of his looks, but the visual image of Chandler popping a set shot from the elbow is far cleaner than the concept itself.
I had a chance to ask Chandler about the set after the Mavs’ win over the Heat on Saturday. “Well, I don’t wanna give away our scout,” Chandler said. He grinned widely. “But we can throw it out there every now and then until I make some guys into believers.” Judging by the laugh Chandler let out during his response, he may have to turn himself into a believer, too.
It’s not a complicated set, but here’s a look at the play to free up Chandler:
The sequence begins with a sub-free throw line pick by DeShawn Stevenson, which allows Dirk Nowitzki to set up from the left elbow. Jason Kidd dribbles upcourt on the right side of the floor, and stops at the three-point line.
Kidd feeds the now-open Dirk Nowitzki, and Stevenson fades into the left corner. Meanwhile, on the right wing, Tyson Chandler sets a baseline screen for Caron Butler, who cuts from the corner opposite Stevenson to the left block.
But all of this is just foreplay. After the right side of the floor is cleared, Kidd sets a down-screen for Tyson Chandler, who cuts toward the right elbow. Nowitzki hits him with the pass, Chandler faces up and…well, clang in this particular video example.
“Comfort was allowed to come to them rare, welcome, unsought: a gift like joy.””
-Ursula K. LeGuin
Jason Terry curled around a screen. He streaked by his teammate and his defender. He rose. He fired. With the gradual click of grinding gears, the Mavericks’ universe balanced itself. With each give goes a take, with each reaction an equal and opposite reaction.
Statistically speaking, Dallas’ defense is the strength on which they’ve built their season, but it’s the improvements in the offense that give just as much reason for hope. Jason Kidd won’t score 16 points every game, but other than that, Dallas didn’t do anything out of character. Dirk Nowitzki faced up and hit over his defenders. Jason Terry found the ball when plays needed to be made, and had a fantastic second half to balance a crummy first one. Other than that, Kidd knocked down spot-up attempts, J.J. Barea got to the rim a few times with mixed results, and Tyson Chandler finished a few inside. There’s nothing to see here, other than Dallas’ offense executing against one of the best defenses in the league, doing nothing apart from what they do on a nightly basis.
The Mavs have been haunted in the past by their predictability, but this is one case in which familiarity offers sure comfort. Opponents should know that Dirk and JET are central to the Mavs’ offense, but Rick Carlisle and his staff have done a great job of freeing up both players in a variety of ways. This year, it’s been Dallas that meticulously picks apart opposing defenses with smart cuts, well-planned picks, and expert shooting. From a taglined perspective, it’s still Nowitzki and Terry, but their ability to get open consistently and execute against defenses like Boston and New Orleans is promising.
Of course, what happens to that offensive balance and flow when Caron Butler is reintroduced to the lineup is still a concern. Wednesday’s rematch with the Hornets could end up being an interesting case study on Caron’s impact, for better or worse.
As I mentioned in The Difference, Dallas’ second-half defense on Chris Paul (or on pick-and-rolls in general) should be commended. It’s not just the decision to put Tyson Chandler on David West, which turned out to be a fantastic strategic call, but the execution against the pick-and-roll by the team defense was top-notch. It was Chandler, it was Barea, it was Terry, Kidd, Nowitzki, Marion…every Maverick on the floor was rotating well, and the chosen concession was to give three-pointers for Willie Green, Peja Stojakovic, and occasionally Trevor Ariza. Those players get a pat on the head for hitting their open shots, but that was an excellent choice considering the alternatives. Paul was corralled, West was smothered. The ball was put in the hands of New Orleans’ lesser talents, and that’s something Dallas can live with, even if Green decided to be an above-average NBA player for a night.
Well-planned, and well-played, Mavs. Now do it all again on Wednesday.
The Hornets lost, and it doesn’t really matter. I’m sure they’d prefer to still be undefeated, but New Orleans is a damn good basketball team.
I could watch Tyson Chandler hedge on pick-and-rolls all day.
This wasn’t Shawn Marion’s game. His five turnovers were killer, and to make matters worse, he wasn’t all that successful defensively. Marion can easily get lost on a night like this one, in which the opponent has no clear scoring option on the wing. Marion isn’t the type of defender the Mavs want chasing Peja Stojakovic down the baseline. He’s the type of defender you want to blanket a superstar wing scoring in isolation. Matchups like these negate Marion’s strengths, and though he did some good things on the court, the circumstances didn’t exactly help him along.
Jason Terry deserves much more credit than he received in this recap, but rest assured, more is coming on JET’s performance. The same goes for Dallas’ fourth-quarter defense.
I’m not sure there’s a more infuriating player to defend in the NBA than Chris Paul. He’s sickeningly good, and that makes the task of D-ing him up a tough one in itself. But factor in the fouls he draws both in the half-court offense and in transition by exaggerating contact, and it’s a miracle that anyone guarding Paul can keep their head. Paul Pierce and Chauncey Billups are just as crafty with their manipulations of perception, but neither combines CP’s blend of top-level production and infuriating extracurricular activity.
Jason Terry’s defense really is much improved this season. Not only is he covering better in general, but it seems as though he’s somehow improved his anticipation in the passing lanes. Maybe JET is just more selective with his more blatant steal attempts, but he can really disrupt ball movement on the perimeter.
Brendan Haywood. Yeesh.
Dallas has actually run plays designed to get Shawn Marion mid-range jumpers this season, and they’re working. My guess is that they’re sets frequently used by the starting lineup to free up Caron for a jumper at the free throw line extended, and Marion is benefiting from sliding into Butler’s role. Regardless, Marion is making them, and he’s 3-of-3 in such sequences by my highly unofficial count.
The zone will give up threes, but opponents would be smart to put their most prolific three-point shooter on Dirk Nowitzki’s side of the zone. Dirk got burned a few times in this one by corner shooters, and given his responsibilities to collapse in the lane and his relatively slow recovery speed, I’d say that Nowitzki’s corner (usually the right one) is one of the zone’s more vulnerable points.
This was just a wildly entertaining game. If you didn’t have a chance to watch it, I highly recommend tracking down the game via League Pass Broadband, etc. The fourth quarter alone was one of the more entertaining frames in any NBA game this season.
J.J. Barea finished with three shot attempts at the rim, five rebounds, four assists, and no turnovers. I’d say he’s settled in nicely after his early struggles, wouldn’t you?
DeShawn Stevenson and Brian Cardinal finished with two threes apiece. I don’t buy into the “Cardinal doing the little things” rhetoric on most occasions, but I can definitely understand using him as a stopgap when he’s hitting his open shots.
Something needs to be said about Dirk Nowitzki’s passing. Dirk hit a game-tying three-pointer with a little more than three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but he gave up a three in transition — a Nowitzki favorite — so that Kidd could get an even better look in the corner. Then, within the final minute, Dirk set up Terry out of the two man game for an open jumper. Nowitzki would love nothing more than to have taken a shot in both situations, but he deferred, and it paid off.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
“The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.”
-Oliver Wendell Holmes
The average Mavericks game could be rewritten as a labor of Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk has the distinction of being the franchise’s one true constant, which has burdened him with an unfortunate weight: in the past, Dallas could only go as far as Nowitzki was able to take them. Other players chipped in when they could, but none — even a certain messianic French combo guard — proved to be the steady hand by which Nowitzki and the Mavs could depend. As a result, victories often came as a function of Nowitzki’s scoring alone. If he could put up enough points to counterbalance his teammates’ struggles and the Mavs’ spotty defense, Dallas notched a win. If not, then getting out with a W became a bit tricky.
This was not an average Mavericks game, and, if the first seven contests are any indication, this may not be an average Mavericks season. There’s still entirely too much basketball to be played for any team to make any kind of statement with their play, but Dallas is proving that they may be an interesting team, even if no one should be ready to label them a contending one.
The Grizzlies are in no way a golden barometer, but the fact that the Mavs put away this game so easily should offer some reassurance. Quality of opponent is obviously important, but Dallas’ execution, regardless of who the schedule put in front of them on this particular night, is paramount. Last night, the Mavericks were without Caron Butler, and thanks to a minor ankle sprain, were temporarily without Dirk Nowitzki. Jason Terry (25 points, 11-16 FG, four assists, three steals) didn’t blink, and I’m not sure he has all season. Every curl JET made was rewarded with a perfect pass, and Terry finished almost every opportunity with a smooth jumper, for the sake of aesthetic consistency if nothing else. From start to finish the Mavs’ offensive sequences were fluid and effective. Dallas totaled 30 assists — including 12 from Jason Kidd — on 46 field goals, and little more could be asked of the Mavs’ non-Dirk offense.
Shawn Marion’s night actually looked a bit reminiscent of his pre-Nash Phoenix days. Marion worked toward the front of the rim both as a driver and slasher, and he spun his way into layups and runners galore. He doesn’t have the softest touch, but Marion (20 points, 10-15 FG, seven rebounds, two blocks) worked hard to get good looks at close range and capitalized at a fairly high rate. Marion’s movements won’t soon be listed as textbook examples of athletic fluidity, but there’s a definite flow to his game when he gets into one of these zones. Shawn’s offense can turn stagnant when he relies too heavily on that fading hook shot, but his intermediate game is strong enough to work as a regularly featured element of the offense.
There should also be little question that as of today, DeShawn Stevenson (11 points, 3-5 3FG, four rebounds) deserves to be a starter. Dominique Jones’ potential combination of scoring (or at least what should be scoring, if he can figure out how to make his layups) and playmaking is intriguing, but Stevenson offers a more immediate utility. Playing Jones major minutes would require a patience that’s not necessary with Stevenson. DeShawn has made 5-of-10 from deep in his last two games, which lifts him from the “offensive liability” category. The Mavs now have their wing defender/designated corner man, and though it’s conceivable Stevenson could be marginalized upon Rodrigue Beaubois’ return from injury, for now he’s a welcome addition to the lineup.
Dallas didn’t win the game on the strength of their offense alone, though. Tyson Chandler (11 points, eight rebounds, one block) and Brendan Haywood (six points, eight rebounds, one block) did a superb job of protecting the basket. Memphis shot just 59.1% on their attempts around the basket. The league average on such shots is 61.2%, and yet Dallas was able to best that mark despite giving up some free layups to Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. With such strength inside, the Mavs were able to defend well in both man-to-man and zone coverages. The perimeter rotations weren’t always as crisp as they could be, but overall, it was a nice defensive outing.
The zone, in particular, seemed to really bog down the Grizzlies’ movement in the second half. Memphis had a hard time exploiting any of the zone’s weaknesses, and attempted several cross-court passes that were easily deflected or picked off. The Mavs need to be confident enough in their man defense to rely on it full-time with the zone used as a complement. Dallas has been using Jason Terry and J.J. Barea on the floor a bit together in the past two games, which leaves the Mavs a bit undersized up front. It’s no coincidence that Dallas zoned up with that lineup. Terry and Barea are easily taken advantage of if asked to defend a bigger player on the way to the rim or if consistently put in pick-and-roll situations. The easiest way to counter both is to remove them as options. A combination of JET and J.J. doesn’t make for a terrifying zone front, but it could be the most practical way to hide Barea defensively.
Rick Carlisle is figuring these things out. The Mavs are getting the ball where it needs to go (in sets and otherwise), and they’re tweaking their defense to better account for their own personnel and their opponents’ production. It’s an on-going process, but you have to appreciate where the Mavs seem to be headed.
With the defense clicking, Jason Terry shooting the lights out, Jason Kidd running the offense adroitly, and Tyson Chandler making a considerable impact on both ends, the Mavericks are looking more and more like a team they were never supposed to be. There’s no point in lauding the team too much today, but Dallas’ success this far has been no fluke. These are replicable efforts, the Mavs just have to, y’know, replicate them.
For a night, the Mavericks’ turnover woes vanished. Dallas had just a 11.1 turnover rate, which brought their TOR for the season down to 16.1. Dallas had five turnovers through three quarters, and committed the majority of their other five turnovers while coasting out the game behind a double-digit lead.
Something a bit odd: Tyson Chandler, a career .603 free throw shooter, is currently leading the Mavs in free throw percentage (.909). He’s also third on the team in free throws attempted (22, or 3.1 per game), so there’s no foul play with the sample size.
Dallas can in no way take complete credit for this victory. The Grizzlies played some pretty miserable defense and their inability to defend the paint was startling. Not that O.J. Mayo (four points, 1-8 FG, three assists, two turnovers), Marc Gasol (10 points, five rebounds) and company didn’t fall apart offensively, too. Not the finest showing for the Grizz.
Dirk’s ankle sprain isn’t a cause for too much concern, but he did look a bit hesitant to go into the low post after returning in the second half. Can’t blame him.
Brian Cardinal played, and I’m not sure why. Nowitzki’s injury opened up some available minutes at power forward, but honestly I’d rather see a game of Ian Mahinmi — who played some decent defense in his four-minute stint — than Cardinal. Mahinmi is at least a plus rebounder, but Cardinal has been ineffective for nearly every minute he’s been in a Maverick uniform.
This was undoubtedly Brendan Haywood’s best game of the season, and yet he still put up some disappointing statistical totals. Still, his offensive activity was notable, and he was fighting hard for rebounds. Carlisle will take that, especially with Tyson Chandler playing well enough to account for the top of the center rotation.
J.J. Barea (10 points, seven assists, five rebounds, one turnover) was vital. He was terrific. He was everything that anyone that watches or runs this team could reasonably expect him to be. Barea has nights where he tries to force his own offense or becomes a defensive liability, but in yesterday’s game he was neither. He did an excellent job of setting up the half-court offense along with Jason Terry, and he ran the break well as both a distributor and a finisher.
The Mavs don’t typically get to the rim with such regularity, and that aspect of the game won’t necessarily carry over into Dallas’ future efforts. However, the discipline that the Mavs showed in their half-court offense was impressive nonetheless. There doesn’t need to be some kind of offensive revolution for this team to be successful. They just have to be a little better. Marion and Terry need to continue to make smart cuts. Nowitzki should keep looking for backdoor opportunities. Chandler should look for lob openings every chance he gets. A subtle offensive improvement coupled with a legitimate defensive stride could be all Dallas needs to really force their way into legitimate standing.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: Jason Terry. JET was asked to carry the offense when Nowitzki went down at the 3:31 mark of the second quarter, and he responded by scoring seven of the Mavs’ nine points in the frame. Dallas will continue to search for stability in their supplementary scoring, but I’m more and more convinced that such a search should conclude with JET being given even more offensive responsibility. Caron Butler may still be an interesting piece, but his scoring approach pales in comparison to Terry’s far more efficient style.
“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.”
Defense is predicated on calculated risk, and when properly executed, this is what those risks look like. Lots of long two-pointers (Boston shot 31 shots between 16-23 feet and made just 12 of them). Rotations that expose the defense temporarily, but are balanced by a strong presence at the rim. A huge, potentially game-winning shot, put in Rajon Rondo’s hands some 24 feet from the basket. Even the best defense can’t stop everything, but if a team focuses on what’s important and cedes the rest, they can debilitate opposing offenses enough to win games like this one.
The Mavs weren’t flawless in their execution, but we focus primarily on the defense, this is precisely what the Mavs should hope to achieve on a nightly basis. If all goes according to plan, this defensive performance — though fine on its own merits — should be completely unremarkable. This needs to be the regular for Dallas. This needs to be a trademark. This needs to be the schoolwork proudly displayed on the fridge for a day until a new assignment takes its place, rather than some mantle piece riddled with dust. The Mavs have the potential to be this good defensively if they execute properly, and on this night they did just that.
The Mavs also have the potential to rival the league’s elite if they execute properly on offense as well, yet on this night they did anything but. Dallas committed 19 turnovers in a 91-possession game, which might be borderline impressive if it weren’t so maddening. The Mavs can’t expect to win these kinds of games with regularity if their turnover rate is hovering around last night’s mark of 20.9. Dallas’ hot shooting this season has managed to balance out their turnovers, but the shots won’t always fall. This team can’t always hang its hat on high-percentage shot-making, even if they’re working to create more high-percentage looks than ever. The turnovers need to come down, even if it’s hard to peg any specific reasons for the unexpected bump. As I mentioned yesterday, the symptoms are obvious, but if anyone has a proper diagnosis for these sudden turnover concerns, I’m all ears.
Luckily, Dirk Nowitzki (25 points, 9-16 FG, seven rebounds, four turnovers) was relentless in his drives to the rim, Jason Terry (17 points, 5-11 FG, four assists) was patient and fought for open looks in the half-court offense, and Tyson Chandler (12 points, 5-5 FG, 13 rebounds, two blocks, zero turnovers) introduced the alley-oop as an item of cultural relevance in the Dallas metro area, and J.J. Barea (12 points, 4-7 FG, three assists, three turnovers) scored just enough, even if he overstepped his bounds a bit.
The Celtics have a number of excuses/justifications if they choose to play those cards. Maybe they were looking ahead to a game against the Miami Heat. Maybe they were physically or mentally exhausted in playing the second night of a back-to-back. Regardless, Dallas was the superior squad last night. They executed more effectively, shot more efficiently, hustled more consistently, and attacked more strategically. The Mavs were ready for this game, and they earned a win. That’s important. That’s what you can take away to keep in your back pocket. Whatever goes on in Boston’s camp is their problem, but Dallas came in with a well-constructed plan and enacted it properly.
Tyson Chandler was fantastic. Nowitzki’s offense was obviously instrumental, but Chandler (Gold Star spoiler alert) was obviously the Mavs’ most effective player. He didn’t create any of his offense on his own, but by relying on his teammates to feed him the ball at the proper moments, Chandler was always in the right spot offensively. He finished each of his opportunities, and demanded that the Celtics’ defense account for him, praise that hasn’t been applicable to a Mavericks’ center, well, ever. On defense, Chandler didn’t re-write the rules of help defense, but he recited them from memory to perfection. He stepped up and challenged any Celtic who dared attack the basket, and even recovered fully to challenge his own man at the basket in some cases. He never stopped. Chandler clearly understands that a defensive possession is only finished after his team secures the rebound, and he worked tirelessly to challenge as many shots and potential shots as possible before concluding each and every possession. Books aren’t written about those who do exactly what they’re supposed to, but for his efforts on this night alone, I vote Chandler worthy of a memoir.
DeShawn Stevenson started in place of Jason Terry, as Rick Carlisle opted to redistribute the Mavs’ strongest scorers. He answered by hitting a pair of three-pointers and chasing Ray Allen around for 14 minutes, and that’s an unquestionable success. I’m not sure it makes a world of difference to have Terry starting or coming off the bench, as both designations can be balanced by his usage in particular lineups. However, if Stevenson can hit reliably from distance and put in that kind of defensive effort nightly, I’d have no problem with him assuming the starting job until Rodrigue Beaubois’ return.
Caron Butler knows that the season has started, right?
The Mavericks have absolutely no respect for Rajon Rondo’s jumper. So much so that J.J. Barea once forgot that Nate Robinson had subbed in for Rondo, and gave up a wide open three-pointer without even pretending to contest.
I’m not sure who this Brendan Haywood is, but I wouldn’t mind seeing the old one come back. Haywood had a nice contested slam and grabbed a few boards, but he had a lot of trouble defending Kevin Garnett, Semih Erden, and Glen Davis. I know the matchup wasn’t favorable; Haywood would have been far more useful had we seen more of either O’Neal, but Jermaine played limited minutes and Shaquille sat this one out. I understand that puts Haywood in an awkward position, but he has to do better. He has to provide better help, he can’t let Erden beat him to rebounds, and he can’t give up points on the low block so easily. There’s no problem being patient with Haywood given what he’s capable of, but if this is par for the season’s course, Mark Cuban is going to have plenty of sleepless nights, holding his wallet close.
Even after all of the barking and strutting, I still love watching Kevin Garnett play. As long as he milks that pump fake and turnaround jumper, it doesn’t much matter to me what he’s said or done. Garnett — the player — is still terrific in my book, even if Dirk gave him serious trouble with his drives. Also: KG is so brutally effective from the high post against the zone. He backs down a shoots jumpers over JET, while having the passing savvy to abuse any double-teamer that comes his way.
If you think this game was in any way decided by officiating, stop. The free throw discrepancy was that large for a reason, and the Mavs’ aggressive third quarter mentality was a big part of that reason.
Hail Jason Terry, who in his infinite wisdom, opted to foul Ray Allen with 1.5 seconds left in the game. The Celtics had collected an offensive rebound after Rajon Rondo’s three-point miss, and the Dallas defense was in slight disarray. The Mavs had a foul to give, and Terry took it while he could. Not only is that a smart move irrelevant of the result, but the fact that Dallas was able to completely smother the ensuing inbound pass and force Garnett into a contested turnaround from the far corner…well, you can’t ask for much more. Pitch-perfect execution in all regards by Dallas down the stretch, and a great judgment call by Terry.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: Tyson Chandler. I wouldn’t hang the Mavs’ hat on this iteration of Chandler showing up for every game, but Mavs fans should be thankful he was so effective last night.
Michael Lee of the Washington Post: “But shortly before pregame introductions, Arenas was dribbling near half court when Dallas Mavericks point guard Jason Kidd walked up to embrace him. Shortly thereafter, Jason Terry wrapped his arms around Arenas, followed by former Wizards teammates DeShawn Stevenson, Brendan Haywood and finally Caron Butler, with Haywood needling Arenas for his unkempt beard. Arenas couldn’t help but smile. But asked after the game about what his emotions were, Arenas said, ‘I lost all feeling a long time ago.’”
Tom Ziller, in typical Ziller fashion, illustrating the difference between Rick Carlisle and Avery Johnson in amazing visual form. There’s a lot going on with Ziller’s diagrams, but feast your eyes. I’m not sure that the diagram tells us anything we didn’t know before (a point emphasized by Mark Cuban in the source material on which Ziller riffs), but they’re worth your time nonetheless.
Rick Carlisle on the “battle” for starting center honors (via Eddie Sefko): “I don’t see it as a battle. I see those guys as being a team. Brendan’s going to be the starter – for now. And Tyson’s going to give us energy and athleticism and he brings an exuberance to the game that’s really going to help us. It’s a tandem that we really like and we expect big things from them and they’re going to have to produce for us.”