In what was supposed to be a relatively uneventful trade season for the Mavs, we know two things:
- The Mavs made a move to swap Kris Humphries and Shawne Williams for Eddie Najera, earning some short-term savings, bringing a fan favorite back to Dallas, and picking up a guy with a positive influence in the locker room.
- Before that, the Mavs tried to package Hump, Williams, and Drew Gooden in a salary-clearing deal for Carlos Boozer that would have saved the Jazz $2.5 million initially, an additional $2.6 million if they decided to waive Gooden, and possibly more if the Mavs threw cash compensations into the deal.
Needless to say, the latter would have been a complete game-changer. If the Mavs had the luxury of bringing Boozer off of the bench (and make no mistake, that’s the role that would best serve the team) instead of Gooden, Dallas immediately becomes a contender for the Western Conference crown and the title. Plus, if the Mavs could have picked up Drew Gooden on the flip side after being waived, they would have a dominant rotation of bigs capable of matching any in the league.
But it wasn’t meant to be. Rather than trade out of their luxury tax obligations by ditching Boozer for pennies (or halves of pennies, really) on the dollar, the 9th place Jazz know that right now they need Carlos Boozer. Deron Williams has quietly had a terrific season, but would he be able to fend off the Thunder, Rockets, Hornets, and Grizzlies with Kris Humphries’ production replacing Boozer’s? Hardly. Booz is absolutely crucial to Utah’s playoff hopes, and while I’m sure that on some level Kevin O’Connor would love nothing more than to rid himself of the headache, he’s well aware of his team’s dependency.
So no Boozer, for now, at least. And now that Drew Gooden’s contract has lost its value to teams over the luxury tax (his salary is now guaranteed for the season), hopefully never. As Stein mentions in his piece over at TrueHoop, the Mavs don’t gain much if they agree to swap Josh Howard or Erick Dampier in a deal for Boozer. That said, Stein cites a different line of logic than I would. According to Marc, trading Howard, Dampier, or another core piece for Boozer is troublesome in that there’s no guarantee of Carlos’ return. That’s true. But the real trouble would be what the Mavs would do this season without either one of those players. If they lose Dampier, the vaunted Mavs’ defense falls to pieces, and Damp’s minutes are ceded to a guy marked by his inability to block shots and his irrelevance as a low post defender. If they lose Josh, the perimeter defense suffers, albeit with a bit less of an overall effect on the team’s success on that end than if they were to trade Damp. Trading Josh seems like the more palatable option…but while Boozer would bolster the Mavs’ rotation in the frontcourt, the backcourt would likely be a mess. No Howard means more Terry (who for all his improvements on defense, is a merely average defender) and more Barea (who has really struggled lately and continues to be a defensive liability), which is a pretty lethal blow to the team defense.
Carlos Boozer would be an interesting addition, and the Mavs took a shot. A long shot, admittedly, but Nelson, Cuban, and Carlisle tried to offer the Jazz exactly what they need. That Utah still fancies themselves contenders for the playoffs seems to be the real complication.
- Fish points out that Dirk Nowitzki is among the league leaders in plus/minus, and that is impressive. But even more impressive is that Dirk is among the league leaders in adjusted plus/minus, which keeps teammate quality and opponent quality as a control. Not too shabby at all. (Interestingly enough, Shawn Marion is second on the team in APM for a one-year sample size, although Jason Kidd trumps him in two-year production.)
- And a bonus stat: if you take a look at the players in the league with the highest defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions for an individual player), you’ll find two Mavs in the top four. Coming in at number four is the understated Erick Dampier, who does more for the Mavs’ D than he will ever get credit for. But at number three? Dirk Nowitzki. It’s an imperfect metric, but it does speak to how far Dirk has come since his early days in Dallas.
- All things considered, this is a solid attempt at recreating Dirk’s visage through hair. Yes, I just typed that.
- Jason Kidd has blocked more shots this season than Brad Miller.
- Pops Mensah-Bonsu, one-time Maverick and former fan favorite, finds himself cut from yet another team. A tough break for a good guy, and one with NBA-level talent at that.
- As predicted, the Nets waived Sean Williams today as part of the Hump-Najera swap. Could they go for the twofer and cut Shawne Williams before the stroke of midnight?
- Josh Howard (thigh) is practicing again and Drew Gooden should be active for Wednesday’s game against the Lakers, but Tim Thomas is now among the walking wounded after landing on Gooden’s foot during practice.
- Eric Freeman (who has succeeded Bethlehem Shoals over at The Baseline) on Eddie Najera as journeyman (featuring a quote from Najera originally from Chris Tomasson of FanHouse): “‘That would be the icing on the cake to go to a championship (contender),’ said Najera, speaking by phone from New Jersey, where he had been sent home from the Nets’ road trip. ‘Of course, if this opportunity (to go to Dallas) happens, then I would be really happy. But if it doesn’t, I also would be happy.’ This says less about Najera’s specific feelings about the teams and more about the life of a journeyman. When you’ve moved several times over your career, you learn to find the good in every situation. Maybe that turns playing professional basketball into more of a job than a dream, but it’s also the best way to stay sane.”
- Mark and Sebastian over at NetsAreScorching are getting to know Kris Humphries a little better, thanks to a little help from yours truly. Venture over and see if there’s anything I missed, and feel free to leave your own thoughts on Hump’s game in the comments at NAS.
- Najera on the trade (via Mark Francescutti at the DMN): “I think I’m the type of player that can perform on winning teams,” Najera told New Jersey media members. “Obviously, right now, [the Nets] need playmakers and I’m not that type of guy. We need one-on-one guys and I’m not that type of guy…I’m the guy that’s going to keep his mouth shut, have a good attitude and always come to work when he’s healthy and try to help win ball games.”
- M. Haubs of The Painted Area on the Mavs’ team rebounding: “Slightly surprised the Mavs are not a better rebounding team currently. Have a great collection of rebounders on the roster, especially above-average rebounders at perimeter positons (Marion, Kidd, Howard). Granted, Howard has been dinged up, but still think Dallas should be better on the boards. Can’t ask much more from the center positon, where Dampier and Drew Gooden have been pounding the glass this season. Coach Carlisle needs to find a way to get some better rebounding efforts outside the 5-spot. Kidd is playing the same amount minutes as last year (35.6), but averaging one less rpg than last year. Not to mention, Shawn Marion is having the worst rebounding year of his career. Also, Dirk has slowly seen his reb. production decline over the last few years. Suffice to say, Dallas has been underachieving on the boards thus far, but the raw talent is there to improve internally.”
Photo by AP.
Box Score — Play-By-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“How long should you try? Until.“
- I don’t know how you could possibly look over the last decade of Mavericks basketball and not find Mavs-Spurs as the epic, enduring narrative. The Mavs have had plenty of individual heartbreaks, but no other opponent has provided the shear number of intriguing contests, in the playoffs and otherwise. There are almost too many good games between the two, and last night was no exception.
- The defensive key against San Antonio is to take away the threes from the wing and the corner. When healthy, Tim Duncan (31 points, 12-19 FG, 12 rebounds, five assists) is going to get his, just as he did against Erick Dampier and Drew Gooden. But if the Mavs can prevent Tony Parker from walking to the rim and put some pressure on the Spurs’ shooters, they’re infinitely beatable. San Antonio outscored Dallas 26-19 in the third quarter behind 3-4 shooting from beyond the arc. But in the fourth quarter, when the Mavs’ offense exploded for for 42 and held the Spurs to just 23, the Spurs shot just 1-5. It’s no coincidence.
- On that note, Jason Kidd may be one of the best close-out artists in the league. He’s not a threat to block many shots, but he does a great job closing out on shooters without fouling and without sacrificing his defensive position. Somehow, Kidd is still in the picture even after a mad scramble to the perimeter, and it’s those subtle defensive maneuvers that make Jason a completely underrated defender at this stage of his career.
- Rodrigue Beaubois actually got some burn in the third quarter opposite Tony Parker. It took Roddy a few possessions to get in his groove defensively, but he did a great job of preventing TP from getting where he wanted and needed to go. Also some great pick-and-roll coverage by Roddy and the Maverick bigs over that stretch, which is kind of important against a combination like Duncan-Parker. Beaubois also showed some intermediate touch, nailing a midrange jumper and a floater in the lane.
- Jason Terry (21 points, 7-13 FG, eight assists, two steals) had an absolutely incredible game, and showed shades of villainy. One of the things I’ve never understood about the Mavs-Spurs rivalry is complete hatred of Jason Terry on the San Antonio side of the fence, but last night brought some clarity. After diving for a loose ball but losing it to George Hill, JET stuck out his leg to trip Hill for both utilitarian and vindictive reasons. Then, for good measure, he stood up to jaw with Hill before the two had to be separated. Terry hits big shots, isn’t shy about celebrating, and jaws with the best of them. Part of being good is being hated, and Terry is certainly that.
- Drew Gooden’s greatest asset as a Mav is his offensive rebounding (he had four last night). The scoring is nice, obviously, but Drew needs to continue to put in work on the offensive glass and get the Mavs more and more scoring opportunities. It’s the perfect way for Dallas to compensate for their low number of forced turnovers, which has long been a Maverick weakness (though they’re currently 17th in the league in opponent’s turnover percentage, which isn’t terrible).
- Oh, and by the way, the Mavs completely demolished the Spurs in the fourth quarter behind huge performances from JET, Dirk (26 points, 10-28 FG, five rebounds), and oddly enough, Erick Dampier (14 points, 6-6 FG, five boards). Terry (11, four assists), Nowitzki (16, two blocks), and Dampier (eight) combined for 35 of the Mavs’ 42 fourth quarter points, and dismantled the San Antonio D with a barrage of clutch threes (Dirk, JET, and yes, Damp) and back-breaking buckets. Tremendous quarter and game for those three, who put nails in the coffin, possession by possession.
Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.
Box Score — Play-By-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“Motivation will almost always beat mere talent.” (Ed. note: But it’s nice to have a bit of both, isn’t it?)
The Mavericks are a good enough team that on most nights in the regular season, they can get away with only playing one half of good basketball. That said, it’s not a very good habit to get into. It’s one thing to drop a stinker of a first quarter (slow starts have become a bonafide trend) against Detroit, but the game in L.A. proved that good teams with capitalize on Dallas’ generosity. And considering it’s that caliber of team that the Mavs hope to be and to beat, their primary goal from now until April should be to play games with consistent effort and make starting strong a point of emphasis.
But hey, a win is a win is a win. The Mavs did rally back from a 14-point deficit. They did hold Ben Gordon to just nine points (4-11 FG, four turnovers). They did experience a complete revival from Jason Terry (26 points, 11-19 FG, five assists, zero turnovers), who looked like himself for the first time in a long while. And in the second half they turned up the offense, scoring 62 points (22 of 40 from the field) over the game’s final 24. All things considered, it was a sold win, even if the Mavs decided to handicap themselves with an awful first quarter performance.
Drew Gooden (10 points, 4-16 FG, 18 rebounds, two steals and a block) did a nice job filling in for Erick Dampier, even if his career-high nine offensive rebounds were only fueled by Gooden’s frequent misses at the rim. Drew simply couldn’t convert his tips in the first half, as each bat of the ball found just the wrong part of the rim to roll off of. His defense was well short of spectacular, but I still appreciate the overall effort.
Still, the Mavs have a serious problem defending the rim without Erick Dampier. There’s just no help coming from the weak side to prevent easy layups and dunks (or at the very least, to take a hard foul). Therein lies Damp’s real defensive value. His shot blocking numbers are impressive, but he alters shots and changes the decision-making of opponents’ offenses simply by being in the game. He’s much more of a defensive threat than Gooden, as evidenced by the parade to the rim in Los Angeles and Rodney Stuckey’s (15 points, 7-15 FG, six assists) frequent, uncontested trips deep into the paint. It’s a real detriment to the team defense to have Dampier on the bench, and though it wasn’t the difference between a win and a loss last night, it very well could be on others. Get well soon, Damp.
Overall, not the best win in the world, but another night where the Mavs were able to take advantage of the differential in talent. The Pistons roster is rather middling in that regard, and though Rip Hamilton, Ben Gordon, Tayshaun Prince, etc. are solid players, there just wasn’t enough to counter Terry’s explosions, ‘the usual’ from Dirk (22 points, 9-20 FG, 21 rebounds, four assists, three turnovers), and contributions from a talented group of veterans. Whereas Detroit has to lean heavily on Ben Wallace, Jonas Jerebko (who will have a long, successful career in this league), and Chris Wilcox, the Mavs have the benefit of looking down the rotation and seeing shiny, happy people like Shawn Marion (18 points, 5-7 FG, seven rebounds), Josh Howard (12 points, 5-10 FG, three rebounds, two assists), and Drew Gooden. So even if the bigger names on the Pistons can keep pace with the Mavs’ offensive stars, they’re still likely to face a deficit when it comes to the rest of the rotation. Even though Rick Carlisle isn’t playing a ten man rotation anymore, this Mavs team is deep.
- Rodney Stuckey was absolutely, positively wide open on an attempt for a game-tying three with two seconds remaining…but missed long. It was hardly by design (Rick Carlisle cited probable miscommunication post-game), but Stuck is a 17% three-point shooter on the season, and hasn’t made one since November 25th. Obviously you’d prefer to avoid defensive breakdowns with the game on the line, but Dallas picked the right guy to leave open.
- A pretty disappointing game for J.J. Barea (zero points, 0-4 FG, four assists). I know I was singing a different tune just a week ago, but it may be time for Barea to retire to the bench in favor of Howard.
- The most impressive thing about JET’s performance was, to me, that he refused to dominate the ball. In the past, Terry has been as guilty of this as anyone with a hot hand; the natural reaction of players shooting and scoring well is to keep the ball, force shots, and make more mistakes. It’s just the flip side to having an aggressive scoring mentality.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night undoubtedly goes to Jason Terry. Welcome back JET. You can read my thoughts on Jason Terry’s game and his return to prominence in today’s Daily Dime.
- Basketbawful: “About the only positive the Mavs could take away from [the loss to the Lakers] was that they didn’t slip on a banana peel and fall face first into a cream pie.”
- Kobe Bryant’s motivation for killing the Mavs? “Payback for what the Cowboys did to my Eagles.” (via AP) Makes you wonder how much the Mavs will lose by when the Cowboys beat the Eagles next week.
- Also from the AP recap, a classic Phil Jackson morsel: “Yes, you can expect this every night.”
- Dexter Fishmore, of the excellent Lakers’ blog, Silver Screen and Roll: “As the cliché goes, this counts for only one win, but still: what a win. The offense was far and away better than it’s been at any time this season. The Mavs were playing out the string on an eight-day road trip and were missing defensive stalwart Erick Dampier, but all the mitigating factors you can think of can’t diminish tonight’s tour de force. The Lakers made 66% of their two-point attempts, 58% of their threes and 81% of their free throws. With everyone locked in – each Laker who played shot at least 50% from the field – the Dallas defense never had a prayer.”
- Andy Kamenetzky, of the newish Land O’ Lakers Blog (part of ESPN LA), and formerly of the LA Times: “Jason Terry, Josh Howard, and Drew Gooden make the Mavs bench as potentially explosive as a David Hasselhoff at an open bar, breathing on a lit match. In the meantime, the Lakers’ bench has been largely unreliable. But, as the saying goes, that’s why games aren’t conducted on paper. Terry scored just 10 points and turned the ball over twice. Howard fared worse, his 2-11 effort cultivating just seven points. As I noted, he’s struggled on back-to-backs during this injury-plagued season, but some credit has to go the Laker D (outstanding all night). Whether by Andrew Bynum at the rim or Sasha Vujacic in space, Howard was harassed into misery. For his part, Gooden started in place of an inactive Erick Dampier, but judging by the abuse endured from Bynum on both sides of the ball, I don’t think it would have mattered when he checked in.”
- A bit of a silver lining: Josh Howard’s health appears to be improving. Josh insists he’s “almost back to [his] old self,” which is wonderful news. Keep rehabbing, Josh. Your team definitely needs you.
- Another tiny positive: Dirk Nowitzki tied Derek Harper for the second-most games played in franchise history, and will likely become the franchise leader next month.
- Rick Carlisle on the disheartening loss (via Earl K. Sneed): “Just an embarrassing effort…We all own it, so I don’t know how else to put it. They played great and we played terrible. You know, it was atypical of the year we’ve had so far, but it’s very disappointing…It’s the first time all year we really didn’t put up the kind of fight we really needed to. That’s disappointing…It’s on all of us, coaches, players, everybody. It’s very disappointing.”
- Erick Dampier missed last night’s game with a left knee effusion, which is basically an buildup of abnormal fluids in the knee. You can read more about joint effusion here if you’re curious.
Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images.
Box Score — Play-By-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“Life, death and rebirth are inevitable.”
So yeah. That happened.
Last night’s contest was an oh so pleasant reminder that the NBA will break you. There are simply too many games, too many hungry opponents, and too many talented players out there for a team to go through the season without being thoroughly humbled. Luckily for the Mavs, they have 82 (82+, if you count preseason) tries to get this thing right before the playoffs begin, and they’ll likely need every one of the remaining contests to tune up.
I think it’s safe to say that losing by 35 points to the Lakers is an aberration. Los Angeles is undoubtedly the class of the West and one of the best squads in the league, but to be so completely and utterly embarrassed requires a very special level of futility. So special a level that we haven’t seen anything close from the Mavs all season, and hopefully won’t again. This game was absolutely a statement for the Lakers, but the Mavs have the benefit of moving on, trying to forget, and preparing for next week’s rematch.
The Mavs just weren’t ready for the Lakers, physically or mentally. They failed to play their game, L.A.’s game, or anything resembling any type of game. And as such, they allowed the Lakers to post 137.9 points/100 possessions, which is beyond gaudy. The Lakers’ effective field goal percentage was a blistering 72%. Dallas’ offensive impotence in the first quarter gave the game an air of desperation from the very beginning, and every defensive gamble (I’ve never seen the Mavs make so many attempts at steals in the backcourt) and quick three-point attempt only added fuel to L.A.’s fire. They didn’t need Ron Artest (despite the remarkable season he’s had thus far), and they didn’t even need Pau Gasol (ditto), really. Andrew Bynum (19 points, 8-8 FG, four assists) went to work on the low block against the undersized Mavs (get well soon, Damp), Kobe Bryant (15 points, eight assists, four turnovers) and Lamar Odom (15 points, 15 rebounds, six assists) facilitated the offense to perfection, and the full cast and crew of Lakers’ role players took turns pummeling the nonexistent Maverick defense. Jordan Farmar (24 points, 6-8 3FG) had a marvelous game, and laughed in the face of the Mavs’ zone defense.
But what choice did Dallas have? With Bynum in full effect on the block, the Mavs had to adjust, and with Erick Dampier out of the lineup, they had few options. So the Lakers dumped it inside, and Bynum went to work. When the Mavs came with help, he kicked it out. It was sequence after sequence of brutal simplicity. The Mavs have the talent to theoretically hang with almost any team in the league, but without Erick Dampier in the middle, they looked absolutely hopeless. L.A. outsized and outclassed the Dallas last night, and there is absolutely no getting around that.
One can only hope that the next time these teams meet (which is the 13th, by the way), the Mavs perform at a respectable level. Hopefully the Lakers won’t be allowed to waltz down the lane for uncontested dunks and layups. Hopefully the Mavs will be able to make a damn jumpshot to save their lives, or at least execute some semblance of an offensive game plan. Hopefully the Mavs can show a little heart and a little pride, and prove that they deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the Lakers. Hopefully all of these things will happen because we know that the Mavs are capable of them. Dallas is better than this. The defense is better than this. And hopefully nine days from now, they can prove it.
It’s still January, and though the Mavs’ point differential may be wrecked beyond repair, there’s no reason to panic over a game that is clearly an outlier in terms of effort and performance. Kudos to L.A. for the whoopin’, but the Mavs were a no-show.
Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images.
Box Score — Play-by-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“A really great talent finds its happiness in execution.”
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
- Last night, the Mavs treated the basketball court as a place of business. They were ruthless and relentless in their offense (pushing the ball upcourt against the Kings’ weak transition defense is almost cruel), and smart and decisive with their defense. The final margin is ultimately pretty deceptive, as Dallas was thoroughly dominant in the second half…with the exception of the final, irrelevant three minutes, in which the Kings rattled off an 11-0 run. But this was a very effective game in terms of gameplanning and execution, and though wins over the Kings aren’t typically hung on the refrigerator, this one was nice.
- Tyreke Evans (14 points, 6-18 FG, 5 rebounds, six assists) is a beast, and the focal point of Sacramento’s offense. As such, the Mavs employed a lot of zone and help schemes specifically designed to counter Evans’ driving ability. It certainly worked, as ‘Reke wasn’t given any space to charge down the lane and was forced into taking a lot of contested runners and long jumpers. That’s a successful night of taking away the other team’s primary offensive option, even if the Kings aren’t considered an elite offensive team (though it’s worth noting that they are a respectable 13th in the league in offensive efficiency).
- The Maverick defense also did an excellent job of forcing turnovers during critical runs in the second and third quarters. Most were forced either directly (the Mavs had 11 steals to the Kings’ 16 turnovers) or indirectly (quick rotations, aggressive on-ball defense) by the Mavs, which is a defensive area in which Dallas typically struggles. The Mavs have done an excellent job this year of keeping their opponents’ efficiency, shooting percentages, and free throw attempts down, but they’ve never quite figured out how to bump up their opponents’ respective turnover rates. The Kings’ turnover numbers (both raw and rate) on the night are not all that impressive for Dallas, but over a two quarter stretch, the Mavs were very effective in both forcing turnovers and capitalizing on them.
- I’m not sure what kind of rehabilitation program Jason Kidd (14 points, 6-7 FG, 2-2 3FG, seven assists, three steals) has done for his layups, but it’s working. The man who seemed utterly incapable of making a shot attempt at the rim is suddenly wowing with his ability to finish, as evidenced by his flashy layup attempt with around four minutes remaining in the second quarter (video hopefully forthcoming).
- Another disappointing game from Erick Dampier (two points, four rebounds, two turnovers), who was unable to match the energy of Jason Thompson (15 points, 7-15 FG, 10 rebounds. Enter Drew Gooden (eight points, 10 rebounds, two steals, two blocks). Drew wasn’t a compromise defensively like he has been in some games this season, and he was the game’s most dominant rebounder (his one-game total rebounding rate was 22.8, which more than doubled every other Maverick). The center position has been a bit of a give-and-take for the Mavs of late, which may be for the best; Dallas is best served having one effective center on a nightly basis rather than having both show up some nights and neither show up on others. Obviously it’s preferable that both Dampier and Gooden find ways to contribute effectively, but for now I’ll take Gooden as an insurance policy.
- Dirk (25 points, 8-18 FG, seven rebounds) looked to regain a bit of his shooting form after missing a few early jumpshots. Credit Nowitzki getting to the rim and to the line, as nine of Dirk’s first 11 points came on dunks, layups, and free throws.
- I like the Kings’ Donte Greene more than most, and I’m convinced he can be a legit NBA scorer on a consistent basis. But after watching Greene cover Dirk for stretches (and guard Kobe Bryant late in recent games between the Kings and Lakers, both of which ended tragically), I can’t help but think that Paul Westphal overestimates Greene’s current defensive abilities or has even fewer options than we realize. Greene has the potential to be an extremely versatile defender (he’s 6’11” and has started for the Kings at shooting guard), but man-up on Dirk? On Kobe? Really?
- A completely nondescript night from Shawn Marion (six points, five rebounds, a block). Games like these are tough for Marion because the Kings don’t have an obvious wing threat (at least not currently; Kevin Martin remains on the shelf), which limits what Marion can do for the Mavs on the defensive end. And considering how well J.J. Barea (17 points, 7-13 FG, three assists, four turnovers) and Josh Howard (16 points, 6-13 FG, three rebounds, three assists) were playing, Marion was squeezed out and played just 27 minutes.
- Now, some of you might read that above bullet point about the Kings’ wings, and scratch your head. Omri Casspi (22 points, 7-16 FG, 4-6 3FG, 11 rebounds, four assists) was absolutely swell, and positionally he should be matched up directly against Shawn Marion. But the Mavs opted to neutralize Evans rather than worry about the Kings’ three-point shooters. Casspi exploited that fact even if the rest of the Kings didn’t (without Casspi, the Kings shot just 2-14 from beyond the arc). It’s the risk you take when trying to stop a team’s most dominant offensive player, and though Omri played quite well, the Mavs can live with that.
Advanced box score data from HoopData.com.
Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images.
Box Score — Play-By-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you’ve got a problem. Everything else is inconvenience.”
I’m going to miss these Mavs-Rockets games. No opponent has been a more compelling foil for the Mavs all season. In the first two games, the Mavs flipped the script on huge second quarter runs, turning the game’s momentum on a dime and completely demoralizing the Rox. In the last two, Dallas and Houston have battled for 48 minutes (or more) only to see the Rockets edge out the Mavs by way of just a few more successful possessions. All four contests were particularly noteworthy for a variety of reasons, regardless of whether the final margin was three or 31.
As far as losses go, I don’t see anything revolutionary or catastrophic about the Mavs’ final L of 2009. Dirk Nowitzki (11 points, 3-12 FG, seven rebounds, three turnovers) had a pretty terrible offensive game, and though the rest of the Mavs provided ample support (including 46 bench points), Dallas simply couldn’t overcome such a woeful shooting night from the undisputed leader. Dirk didn’t have to make every shot for the Mavs to stay competitive, but he couldn’t make any shot when the game was very much up for grabs. A few long misses on Dirk jumpers segued perfectly into Houston’s transition offense, which exposed the Mavs’ real troubles. Though the Mavs would often stop or stall the Rockets’ primary break, there was entirely too much damage done on the secondary offensive wave. Trailing three point shooters and late cutters put significant pressure on the defense, and though the trailers and cutters themselves didn’t always convert opportunities into points, they did force the Mavs to scramble in order to compensate. It was a non-issue when the Mavs were playing small ball (Kidd-Terry-Howard-Marion-Gooden), because that lineup switched on every screen and rotated onto every shooter. But with a more traditional lineup, the Mavs were often out of position to contest the Rockets’ threes or their entry passes.
In a game where Dirk’s offense isn’t clicking, that makes all the difference. Add in a poor performance on the defensive glass, and the shortcomings compound into a loss. Not exactly a perfect storm, but the Mavs’ woes on the defensive end were notable enough that the Rockets were able to seal the game late on a pair of 3-pointers from Aaron Brooks (who was sensational; 30 points, 6-12 3FG, four rebounds, four assists) and Shane Battier (11 points, eight rebounds, five assists). It’s never a good thing to see an opposing player go off like that, particularly one in the mold of previous Maverick-killers. But Brooks had one of those nights, and the bizarre decision from Rick Carlisle to shift to the zone defense only made matters worse for the Mavs on the perimeter. There are essentially three things which break down the zone defense: long-range shooters, mid-range shooters that can make smart passes, and offensive rebounds. The Rockets boast plenty of the former, the second is practically Luis Scola’s epithet, and Houston is 8th in the league in offensive rebounding rate. Brooks’ quickness and activity creates a certain illusion, but using a zone defense against the Rockets plays right into their hand. That team is simply too smart and too skilled in all the right ways for a zone to work, and it gave Houston a boost when the Mavs had them on the ropes.
But that decision wasn’t symptomatic of some greater fault that lies within Rick Carlisle, just as the Mavs’ sub-par defense wasn’t symptomatic of anything other than the realities of an 82 game season. There will be nights where some things don’t quite come together and there will be nights where nothing comes together. The key is to make sense of them and deal with them accordingly, understand what went wrong, and move on. There is entirely too much going on in the regular season to get bent out of shape over a three point loss to the Rockets that very nearly went into overtime. Last night’s game wasn’t the ideal way to usher in the new year, but 2010 is here and the Mavs face the Lakers on Sunday. Hit the film room, gents.
- Shawn Marion (16 points, 8-12 FG, nine rebounds, a steal and a block) and Jason Terry (20 points, 7-12 FG, four assists, two steals) were excellent. Marion started the game brilliantly and Terry more or less closed it, with both taking advantage of Houston’s lack of shot-blocking inside. Marion went to work with his usual runners and post-ups, but he also had great success simply cutting to the open spot around the rim for easy finishes. Plus, Marion showed his defensive versatility in his ability to defend both Trevor Ariza and Carl Landry. Terry used perimeter picks and his pure speed to drive around his defender, resulting in six of JET’s 12 attempts coming at the rim. Terry was legitimately looking to finish his layups, rather than driving into the lane simply as a means of getting to the free throw line. It showed, as JET converted five of his six attempts deep into the paint.
Jason Terry's FGA Breakdown
|At Rim||<10 ft.||10-15 ft.||16-23 ft.||Threes
|12-31-09 vs. HOU||6.0||0.0||2.0||1.0||3.0
- A rough night for J.J. Barea (four points, 1-6 FG, four rebounds, three assists), which makes sense considering I spent yesterday singing his praises. Sheesh, you try to do a guy a favor…
- Neither Dirk Nowitzki, nor Jason Terry, nor Josh Howard, nor J.J. Barea scored in the first quarter. The Mavs trailed 17-24 at the end of the frame.
- Drew Gooden (10 points, eight rebounds, a steal and a block) could very well be on his way another roll, as he completely outplayed Erick Dampier (three points, five rebounds, a steal and a block). Damp had previously had some success against the Rox (8.7 points, 13.0 rebounds, 2.3 blocks in the first three games against Houston), but could only manage to stay on the floor for about 17 minutes last night. That said, it wasn’t a very productive night from the center position as a whole. Dampier really struggled offensively (0-3 at the rim), and though Gooden contributed on that end, he struggled defensively.
- Shane Battier reacted pretty dramatically to an out of bounds call (and to his credit, he was pushed in the back by Dirk) with 44 seconds remaining, and he was assessed a technical foul with the Rockets ahead by four. That’s a pretty huge call late in the game, and though the Mavs weren’t able to capitalize on it (though Jason Kidd had a good look at a game-tying 3-pointer), I’m still a bit surprised it was even called.
- It’s odd that the Mavs had a pretty significant advantage in terms of free throw rate, but still coughed up the game. Especially considering that Dirk only got to the line for four attempts, which is a bit more than half of his season average.
- Carl Landry (15 points, including nine of the Rockets’ final 15) and Luis Scola (12 points, 6-12 FG, 13 rebounds) did their jobs. Nothing to see here, just a couple of pros getting done what needs to get done. Move along, sir, move along.
Shot distribution data courtesy of HoopData.com.
Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images.
Box Score — Play-By-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“Change is the only constant.”
Everything has changed.
The Mavs were once destined to rely on Dirk to conquer their demons, and in doing so, doomed themselves against more talented foes. But Dirk shot 6 of 15 from the field against the Nuggets last night, and was anything but the Mavs’ offensive centerpiece. He was more a fancy napkin or a nice tablecloth, an appropriate setting and a suitable distraction from the true forces at work. His offensive efforts were largely complementary, and though Nowitzki managed to drop a dagger of a three-pointer with just 50 seconds remaining, he was ultimately but a part of the Maverick machine. Dallas has had its fair share of struggles in making their offense a team affair, but they’ve had seven double-digit scorers in each of the last two games. Nowitzki’s shot attempts have remained down, the rest of the offense has picked up, and for perhaps the first time all season we have reason to believe that the Maverick offense is ‘getting it.’
The Mavs were once fated to be a step slow on the perimeter, and the league’s elite wings licked their chops at the opportunity to tear up the Dallas D. But add Carmelo Anthony (16 points, 5-19 FG, 12 rebounds) as the latest to fall under the constant pressure of the Maverick defense, a mighty juggernaut that has bested the likes of Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, and Kevin Durant. To call this defensive outfit “for real” is a tad understated and a few months too late, and all the credit in the world for that goes to Shawn Marion and Josh Howard. The two drew the primary defensive responsibilities of covering Anthony, and though the Maverick plan of attack featured frequent and early double teams, it was Marion and Howard’s execution on and individual level that kept Melo’s shooting percentage so dreadfully low. Anthony absolutely torched the Mavs (who at the time depended heavily on the defensive skills of Antoine Wright) in last year’s playoffs, but the addition of Shawn Marion and a healthy Josh Howard proved to be a world of difference. This is the defensive tandem that will largely determine the outcome of games against the Western elite, and they added another line to their already impressive resume with the way they shackled Carmelo Anthony.
The Mavs were slated to be soft inside, as perennial punchline Erick Dampier and non-center Drew Gooden formed the entirety of Dallas’ center rotation. But Dampier nearly notched a double-double (10 points, nine rebounds) in just 21 minutes, and Gooden (19 points, 8-8 FG, 10 rebounds) was completely and utterly dominant against Nene, Chris Andersen, and the Denver bigs. The Nuggets seemed to only have a fleeting interest in playing solid defense, and Dampier and Gooden positioned themselves to best exploit Denver’s lackadaisical attitude. Damp was able to capitalize on the Nuggets’ D in a way he had failed to do in last year’s playoffs, and Gooden showed what is perhaps his most valuable skill as a Maverick: interior shot creation. Creating shots is a crucial part of any offense’s success, and part of the reason why the Mavs have struggled this season is the inability of players (outside of Dirk Nowitzki) to create good shot attempts for themselves. Gooden is certainly capable of that, as his array of hook shots and finishes around the basket demonstrated beautifully. And to drop a cherry on top, Gooden and Damp were instrumental in the Mavs’ shot-challenging and defensive rebounding (to the tune of a 22.6 and 33.2 defensive rebounding rate, respectively). Damp and Drew were nothing if not tough on the interior, and they moved earth, expectation, and Nuggets in search of rebounds and scoring opportunities.
Though supposedly aged and wise, the Mavs were foretold as a team that would inevitably falter in the face of adversity. Not only have the Mavericks completely flipped that theory on its head with their performance in clutch situations this season, but against the Nuggets they played with the poise of a contender while closing out yet another strong opponent. Denver was visibly distracted by the overly and overtly physical play, but Dallas simply executed their sets, got their stops, and scored just enough to keep the Nuggs at bay. It wasn’t the prettiest finale (late turnovers, blown free throws, and missed opportunities can put a blemish on even the most beautiful of wins), but the Mavs pulled together enough scoring and rebounding to secure a victory.
Everything has changed.
- It simply has to be noted that Chauncey Billups missed the game due to injury. He changes the outlook and execution level of this Denver team, and though Carmelo Anthony has elevated his game over the last season or so, he operates much more comfortably with the safety net that Billups provides. When the Mavs really brought the heat against Melo, the rest of the Nuggets were left to sort out the mayhem. That’s the kind of situation in which Billups thrives, whereas his replacements, rookie Ty Lawson or the limited Anthony Carter, falter.
- Arron Afflalo was a nice pick-up for the Nuggets, even if his jumpshot was absolutely erratic last night; he nailed a few of his early looks before throwing up some bricks in the fourth quarter. But as someone who has watched plenty of Nuggets this year, let me simply say that he makes sense as a defensive stopper/offensive contributor when Chauncey Billups is in the game and the Nuggets are on their game. He’s a contributor to the system, and that’s all you should expect from your role players.
- It was a good night for the Shawn Marion hook shot, as the Mavs looked to engage Carmelo Anthony both offensively and defensively. The game plan was obvious: wear him out on both ends and frustrate him with constant pressure and movement. It worked beautifully, and Marion’s work in the low post against Anthony was a carefully executed part of that plan.
- With Carmelo Anthony in and out of the game with foul trouble (he played just 31 minutes on the night), the Maverick defense turned its full attention to J.R. Smith. Rick Carlisle clearly had the utmost respect for Smith’s offensive game, and he wasn’t shy about throwing additional defensive pressure J.R.’s way. The results were often even better than they were against Anthony, as the flustered Smith committed offensive fouls (including one near-flagrant by introducing his elbow to Jason Terry’s head) and jacked up ill-advised three-pointers. In Billups’ absence, Smith is supposed to fill in with ball-handling and scoring, and instead, he stalled the flow of the Denver offense when met with the Mavs’ defensive pressure.
- Again, Shawn Marion was not on the floor to finish the game. That said, the lineup of Kidd-Terry-Howard-Nowitzki-Gooden was entirely deserving and successful.
- DNP-CDs for Tim Thomas and Quinton Ross. Defending Carmelo Anthony was one of the more obvious reasons for adding a player of Ross’ defensive caliber, and though I was thrilled with the Mavs’ coverage of Anthony last night, I’m a bit disappointed that we didn’t get to see Q give it a try. Maybe next time.
- J.J. Barea (13 points, 6-10 FG, four assists) continues to excel in his starting role. Say what you will about the aesthetic of the starting lineup (a 6’0” shooting guard? Wha-wha-what?), but he’s adding a ton offensively while he’s on the floor. The defense may be another story, but for the moment, his time on the floor is certainly a net positive (he was a +4 on the night).
- Dirk Nowitzki really was a virtual non-factor on offense, but he continued to influence the game through his rebounding. As far as defensive efforts go, Dirk’s night was merely so-so, but Nowitzki pulled in tough, contested rebounds at crucial times to help put this thing away.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Drew Gooden, whose perfect night from the field and tough interior D were highlights of the Mavs’ win. Dallas simply doesn’t get the job done without Gooden’s tangible and intangible contributions. This was perhaps Drew’s finest game in a Maverick uniform (his effort against Tim Duncan and San Antonio stands out as a potential equal, in my mind), and as such he gets the gold sticker bling.
Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images.
Box Score — Play-By-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“Success is not a place at which one arrives but rather the spirit with which one undertakes and continues the journey.”
*A quick programming note. From now on, the four factors values will be precise, empirical calculations rather than estimations. The calculated values are courtesy of HoopData.com‘s more detailed box scores, which will also be linked (when available) as the game box score.
- While this afternoon’s game was night a contest of great statistical achievement on the defensive end (the Mavs’ defensive efficiency on the night was 11.4 points/100 possessions lower than their season average), something must be said about the Mavs’ ability to limit Zach Randolph after his early domination. A tandem of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol is not one that’s easy to counter, due to their high/low post interchangeability and the combination of strength and touch. Both players can show a little range and can certainly get things done on the low block, and though Gasol had merely a productive first half, Randolph was off the charts. Zeebo had 19 points in the first quarter and five early in the second, but over the game’s final 33:40, Randolph managed to score just six points. While it only slowed the Grizzlies enough for the Mavs to scrape out a lead, it took away Memphis’ most dominant offensive weapon at the time. That kind of thing completely changes the flow of the game, and the nine point deficit at the time was reversed into a five point positive margin.
- Shawn Marion (10 points, seven rebounds) bounced back from his worst game of the season by playing a very productive 25 minutes. That said, his minutes didn’t necessarily come easy, as Rudy Gay (22 points on 22 shots, 10 rebounds) simply could not be denied. Marion had good defensive positioning time and time again, made a little contact to push Gay away from his shot of choice, and yet Rudy would lean or elevate before finishing possession after possession with a make. What’s a bit odd is that Marion left the game with 3:27 left in the third quarter and never returned, despite throwing down a pair of dunks and creating extra possessions with his hustle.
- A lot of the Mavs’ early defensive sequences ended tragically: Dallas would play 10-20 seconds of pretty incredible defense (nice on-ball pressure, ball denial, perfect rotations) before one of the Grizz would force up a shot, only to see Gasol, Gay, or Randolph pull in an offensive rebound for a clear bucket or a fresh shot clock. Considering that the starting lineup features four solid to great rebounders by position, that’s not a result I would expect on a regular basis. Still, this isn’t the first time the Mavs have been shown up on the boards (the final margin was 49-40 in favor of Memphis, who also won the offensive rebounding battle 20-10), and while I’m not quite ready to call it a recurring problem, it’s something to keep under your pillow.
- Drew Gooden missed the game with back spasms, and as a result, Dirk saw some minutes at center and Kris Humphries was pulled out from beneath the couch. Hump can be such a positive force for this team, but the man is simply the master of the anticlimactic possession. I appreciate his efforts on the boards, but it’s a bit disheartening to watch all of his work end in a blown layup attempt. Keep doing what you do, Hump, but hopefully next time you’ll be doing what you do just a little bit better.
- The Mavs looked completely incapable of defending the rim without Erick Dampier in the game. I don’t know if it’s primarily a shift in coverages or just a perceived shift on part of the opposition, but Rudy Gay danced down the lane for slams whenever Damp took a breather on the bench.
- Promising offensive nights from both Jason Terry (23 points, 7-18 FG, five assists) and Josh Howard (11 points, 4-6 FG). JET took every touch as a personal invitation to attack the rim, and Terry and the Mavs reaped the benefits later as a more confident JET made plays of consequence. In addition, Jason looked to expand his on-court contributions beyond the points column, and his playmaking in the two man game or after penetration opened up new wrinkles of the Maverick offense. All of a sudden Shawn Marion was wide open and in position to score, and Dirk Nowitzki was left all alone at the top of the key or out on the wing. Josh’s totals don’t demand your attention, but his 25 minutes were an exercise in minimalism. He didn’t over-dribble, he didn’t hold the ball too long, and he didn’t think too much after receiving the ball. Howard looked completely in the flow of the game without feeling the need to dominate the ball, and while the Mavs should certainly expect more raw production out of Howard, they can still appreciate his discretion.
- The Mavs shot and scored at a terrific rate, but they simply did not get to the free throw line. Excluding six late FTAs during the game’s final moments, the Mavs attempted just 14 free throws on the game, less than half of the Grizzlies’ 29. That said, it’s not safe to assume that the discrepancy is attributable to the Mavs’ shot selection; against the Grizz, the Mavs shot 22 attempts at the rim (with 15 makes), which is comparable to their season average of 24.6 attempts (with 14.7 makes).
- The Mavericks took care of the ball. 9.9 is a pretty ridiculous turnover rate (As a reminder, TOR is equal to the percentage of a team’s possessions that end in a turnover. Atlanta is the most careful team in the league, and their average is 20.3.), and it’s a testament to the Mavs’ efficient offense that they were able to finish with such a number in spite of Dirk’s abnormal four turnovers.
- Dirk Nowitzki (20 points, 10-16 FG, four rebounds, three assists) was as wonderful as you’d expect, even if he was a bit more turnover-prone than usual. But for those of you looking for a storyline, this game wasn’t about what Dirk did, but what he didn’t have to do. Seven Mavericks scored in double figures, and Dirk didn’t score a point over the game’s final 15 minutes. Terry, Howard, and company were ready and willing to take over, and they closed the game beautifully.
- Only two teams in the Western Conference have yet to lose ten games. One of them is Los Angeles (23-5), reigning champions and resident “team-to-beat.” The other is Dallas (21-9).
Shot location data courtesy of HoopData.com.