Portland Trailblazers 85, Dallas Mavericks 81

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 23, 2009 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

Photo by Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

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Success is never final; failure is never fatal.”

If I didn’t know better, I’d suspect that the Mavs were simply fated to lose last night. It was an event eons in the making, and as all the planets aligned and all of the matter in the cosmos was just so. And then, through a nearly infinite number of events all happening in perfect sequence, the Mavs’ weaknesses were brought forth in four dimensions for all the world to see.

But I do know better, if only a little bit, which is why I can tell you this: even though the Mavs failed in multiple basketball dimensions last night, their coincidence was nearing on aberration. It was almost comical how many of their flaws the Mavs chose to expose, and though the final margin was not only delightfully close but decidedly winnable, there likely does not exist a light that illuminates last night’s offensive performance as anything deserving of praise.

There were bright spots, sure. But first let’s dwell on exactly what ails the Mavs. For one, the Maverick offense remains overly dependent on the scoring of Dirk Nowitzki. To his credit, Dirk came through (27 points on 10 of 13 shooting, albeit with six turnovers), despite the lingering pain and discomfort that goes along with ramming your elbow full speed into Carl Landry’s mouth. It was enough to keep Dirk out of the game entirely on Sunday, but Dirk’s jumper looked clean and healthy against the Blazers. The turnovers are certainly unusual, but given the rest of the team’s struggles on offense and the extra attention afforded to Nowitzki as a result, the true wonder is that it wasn’t any worse. Dirk has had to carry the Mavs on plenty of nights during his career, but rarely has a Dallas outfit looked so terribly hollow on offense.

J.J. Barea (22 points, 9-16 FG, five assists, two turnovers) was again indispensable, if only because the rest of the team combined to shot a woeful 23.5% (12-51 FG) from the field. Shawn Marion (0 points, 0-7 FG, six rebounds, two turnovers) had quite possibly his worst offensive game as a Maverick, almost to prove a point: Marion’s offense is a supplementary piece, a table setting to make that steak dinner more enjoyable without lending anything at all to its creation. He’s not going to carry the load, that much we know. He’s really in Dallas for his defense, after all, and his offensive contributions are meant to keep opposing defenses honest and take advantage of easy opportunities. Shawn was able to achieve none of the above, as his runners and layups alike all met rim in the most unfriendly of ways.

And Jason Terry (eight points, 2-13 FG, four assists, one turnover)? His struggles continue to destroy the Maverick offense from within. So much of the offense is predicated on Dirk and Terry exploiting mismatches, be it through the pick and roll or forcing switches through other means. They’re supposed to be the Mavs’ best offensive options, but so far, only Dirk is playing the part. JET is in the middle of an absolutely brutal shooting slump, which leaves him with little on-court purpose aside from playing the part of the decoy. There are other options that can defend, pass, and rebound better than Terry, and frankly, several of them could shoot better than him right now, too. Without his scoring, JET’s role on the team (and as a primary in the rotation) becomes debatable, and though I honestly believe Terry’s struggles to be a freak occurrence rather than a flaw in approach, someone needs to figure out how to curtail this drop-off and fast. It may not be the difference between a win and a loss every night, but it’s not far off.

Josh Howard (eight points, two rebounds, one assist) was a bit of a non-factor in a game that could’ve used one, and Drew Gooden (five points, 2-7 FG, six rebounds) reminded us all that missing shots within ten feet of the basket is a fine art. The depth that had buoyed Dallas against Cleveland was nowhere to be found, as an entire team’s worth of offense was was made the sole responsibility of a certain seven foot star and a pint-sized role player. There was no balance there, no versatility there, and on a night where nothing is going right, that really, really hurts.

And while you may notice that most of my criticisms dwell on one of the court rather than the other, make note that it’s no coincidence: the Mavs’ defense this year has been terrific, and for perhaps the first time in franchise history, it’s been the offense that has struggled to keep pace. LaMarcus Aldridge (19 points, 9-16 FG, 12 rebounds) was very effective from just about everywhere on the floor, but many of his baskets were simply a case of ‘Good D, Better O.’ That’s the kind of thing you have to live with in the NBA, as the world’s premier scorers are simply waiting for an opportunity to light your team up. If 19 points in 45 minutes from Aldridge is the brunt of that, then give yourselves a round of applause and call it a defensive victory. Brandon Roy may have scored 23, but he only shot 36.8%. And even then, the Mavs needn’t be upset by holding Roy to a mortal scoring output, especially considering the lockdown they did on the rest of Portland’s role players (the rest of the Blazers shot just 36.3% from the field).

But it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to hold the Blazers to 93.4 points per 100 possessions (a full 12 points below their season average), because every Maverick offensive weakness wanted its chance in the spotlight and got its wish:

  • The Mavs continue to struggle at home, where they can neither close out teams convincingly nor create mid-game separation.
  • They still rely far too much on the big gun, as Dirk’s expected to not only put the Mavs in a position to win, but make every big shot when everything is on the line.
  • Option B continues to struggle to score, and in his frustration, JET blew the Mavs’ final attempt to tie the game with eight seconds remaining by forcing up a difficult, contested layup. The Mavs still had timeouts.
  • The Mavs’ typical contributors could not finish around the rim. Marion’s troubles may have been more pronounced, but Gooden blew plenty of opportunities near the basket against power forwards masquerading as centers. I guess that may not mean much when juxtaposed next to power-forward-masquerading-as-center Drew Gooden, but ideally it would.
  • The offense was stagnant. With everyone’s confidence wrecked, Dallas devolved into a group of stand-still jump shooters, and while the midrange game may still be the weapon of choice for the Mavs, those shots need to come off open looks created by cuts, picks, and passes.

But if you’ll allow me that single bit of optimism that I never thought I’d have: the Mavs had a chance to win this one. A Dirk Nowitzki jumper went in and out with 38 seconds remaining, and what was perhaps a bit of bad judgment from Jason Terry is all that stood in the way of the defense securing yet another win. Dirk and Barea were essentially the only two parts of the offense that didn’t buckle, and still the Mavs were within a breath of forcing overtime. Who knows where the game goes from there, but it’s nice to know that in spite of all the reasons to be disappointed with the Mavs’ performances this season, their defense always seems to be a positive. It regularly puts them in a position to win games if it doesn’t win them outright. Though I still get headaches from watching the offense, it’s that kind of silver lining that can make a tough loss a bit more digestible.

Closing thoughts:

  • Mega bummer for the Blazers, who have likely lost Joel Przybilla for the season. Portland is a fun team and a model organization, and it’s just terrible that sometimes, bad things happen to good franchises. After all they’ve been through with Greg Oden, the Blazers certainly don’t deserve it. But here we are, and we’ll have to see where Kevin Pritchard is willing to take this roster to accommodate its need for big men in 2009-2010.
  • The Cavaliers and the Blazers both seemed content to leave J.J. Barea open at the 3-point line, mostly as a way of combating his speed. It’s a strategic compromise, and my only hope is that J.J. can continue to improve his shooting stroke and capitalize like he did last night (3 of 4 from beyond the arc).
  • The Mavs scored 14 points in the first quarter and 33 points in the first half. Both were their lowest such totals all season long.
  • There was a pretty strange sequence in the third quarter, as Juwan Howard committed a flagrant foul on J.J. Barea…but Barea sunk the basket. As a result, he was afforded two chances to make one free throw, which effectively gave the Mavs a three-point play and control of the ball.
  • I really shorted the Blazers their due in this recap, but they deserve plenty of credit. They played some nice D against the Mavs, and came up with just enough to win in spite of losing Przybilla. It’s understandably a big win for Portland given the circumstances, and deservedly so.
  • The Mavs actually led after three thanks to a 32-point third quarter, but forked over the lead behind a 16-point fourth quarter effort. Yuck.
  • Dirk wore a giant pad on his elbow to protect his favorite new scar. It didn’t seem to hinder his shot much at all.

Houston Rockets 116, Dallas Mavericks 108

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 19, 2009 under Recaps | 6 Comments to Read

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

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There’s such a thin line between winning and losing.
-John R. Tunis

Sometimes a game flows like the scripted word, with a rhythm, climax, and resolution that unfold seamlessly. All is right in the world as the good guys win and the bad guys falter, with no doubt in anyone’s mind as to who was the victor. Heroes are born, legends are written, and everything fits neatly into archetypal form.

But others are written like a biting satire. They make mockery of everything we think to be true, and rely on that defiance and a departure from the expected to prove some kind of point. There may be heroes, but winning the day is hardly an assumption.

From a Maverick perspective, the game would certainly be described as the latter.

After just ten minutes of play, a collision between Dirk Nowitzki and Carl Landry left Dirk with a deep laceration on his arm and Landry minus three teeth (according to Marc Stein, pieces of two of those teeth were actually in Nowitzki’s arm). Neither returned, and the game’s narrative structure had set a prime opportunity for the Mavs to prove their Rocketsesque mettle; Dallas would have to win without their primary scorer, their undisputed best player, and their leader. The cast of characters included: Jason Kidd (the wise sage), Jason Terry (the sidekick with an iron will), Josh Howard (the returning hero), Erick Dampier (the rock, the guide), Shawn Marion (the unwavering defender), J.J. Barea (the seemingly overmatched hero), and Tim Thomas (the rogue with a heart of gold). The stage was set for an epic tale of loss and redemption and triumph in the face of adversity.

And though the game lacked any kind of rhythm or pacing whatsoever, it seemed bound for the fairytale ending. With the Mavs trailing by four points with just over a minute remaining, Shawn Marion stripped Trevor Ariza on what looked to be an easy bucket for the Rockets. After running the floor in transition, Marion was left wide open by the scrambling Houston defense, and Jason Kidd rewarded his efforts with a feed for an easy bucket. And once Aaron Brooks missed one free throw to plant hope in the Maverick huddle, Rick Carlisle drew up a doozie of a play. After some misdirection by Jason Kidd and Jason Terry and a nice shot fake, Tim Thomas was left with a wide open look from the corner. Nothing but net, and the Mavs had one shot to make a defensive play and send the game into overtime.

Shawn Marion, who had been terrific on defense all night, demanded the assignment of guarding the red-hot Aaron Brooks. According to Kidd, Marion insisted that with his height and length he could bother Brooks on the drive or on the shot, and he couldn’t have been more right. Brooks passed up a shot attempt with a taller defender in front of him, and Marion forced him into an out-of-control dive toward the basket that ended with Shawn standing triumphant and a Rockets turnover with .4 seconds to play. The stage for the miracle had been set, but Jason Kidd’s lob was a bit off the mark, and Shawn Marion’s alley-oop layup attempt a bit short as a result.

But in most cases, overtime periods carry only false hope for short-handed teams. With Dirk nowhere in sight, the Mavs certainly qualify, and what had been a tremendous run by the remaining Mavs quickly spiraled into an emotional explosion. Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry continued to run their offense with confidence, and the Mavs provided themselves no opportunity for catharsis by missing jumper after jumper. Ultimately, the game’s defining sequence featured the Mavs down six with a minute to play, and a bit of hope as Erick Dampier began to elevate for a dunk attempt. But rather than rise and finish with a momentum-shifting slam, Dampier was pulled down by the shoulders by Aaron Brooks, who made no play on the ball whatsoever. Brooks was assessed a flagrant one, and in the ensuing video replay aftermath, the officiating crew also assessed a technical foul to Erick Dampier. It was Damp’s second tech of the night, and despite the fact that the elbow is virtually invisible on video, it warranted Damp’s automatic ejection. From then on, finishing the game was a mere formality.

It was a bizarre sequence, and according to Mark Cuban, one that doesn’t follow the letter of the rulebook (only flagrant two fouls are eligible for video review, and Brooks was assessed a flagrant one). But such a sequence only illustrated the value of a single basket in a close game. Regardless of who was right and who was wrong in their assessment of whatever it is that happened on that play, the Mavs had wasted two and a half quarters worth of opportunities. With no Dirk Nowitzki to balance the offense and no cohesion to the team defense, the Mavs looked beyond helpless. Kyle Lowry (a career high 26 points, 10 assists, and a career high-tying five steals) and Aaron Brooks (23 points, six assists) were simply too proficient, and with both on the court, the Mavs lacked the speed to combat their penetration into the lane and separation for jumpers. Meanwhile, Jason Terry struggled from the field (6-15 FG) and didn’t have command of his usual basketball savvy. Josh Howard started the game terribly before finally getting his act together in time to help the Mavs mount a run. And though Erick Dampier’s work on the glass and on defense was, frankly, game-changing (three blocked shots, seven offensive rebounds, and 14 total rebounds), his reinforcements (Drew Gooden and Kris Humphries) failed to defend or produce in any meaningful way. After Dirk left the game, the odds were not stacked in the Mavs’ favor, and until the final run of the fourth quarter, the responded with lethargic D and sloppy offensive execution.

The finale was poignant and demonstrative. It was a sign to the Mavs that coasting isn’t acceptable, and that refusing to play to your potential will only end in heartbreak. Dallas’ efforts were all for naught, and though Dirk’s absence provides a convenient scapegoat, the message here makes no mention of fighting valiantly. Rather, the point is this: Although the Mavs have come so far in terms of their defense and clutch execution, this is still a work in progress. This is still a team that has plenty to learn from a game that has plenty to teach, and regardless of just how high you’ve climbed, every game has the potential to be a humbling experience.

  • J.J. Barea was instrumental in keeping this game competitive. He finished with 23 points on 8-15 shooting, with his couple of turnovers balanced by some pretty timely shots.
  • The Mavs and the Rockets shot an identical 8 of 20 from three, but you would have never guessed it based on their impact. Each Maverick long ball was powerful, but the Rockets’ makes were of monumental importance. Brooks’ final shooting numbers (8 for 20 from the field) may not be sterling, but that man is a master of the momentum-killing three-pointer.
  • Jason Kidd didn’t have a great defensive night, but he does so many things for the Mavs when he’s on the court. His work out of the post against Brooks gave the Mavs a fighting chance in overtime, and though the Dallas offense was anything but smooth, Kidd still contributed with 11 rebounds, 10 assists, four steals, and two blocks.
  • The Rockets killed the Mavs with their ability to quickly shift into the transition game, and only when the Mavs began to counter the fast break did they make any headway whatsoever.
  • Kyle Lowry was sensational. Seriously.
  • The Mavs tried their hand at some zone, with mixed results. It seemed to at least slow down the Rockets, but the Mavs surrendered too many offensive rebounds because of the lack of box-out accountability. On top of that, David Andersen (16 points) and Luis Scola (19 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) have the range to be zone busters, and Lowry and Brooks were able to lure away chunks of the zone to leave jumpers open for the taking.
  • Emotions were running high as the Mavs put pressure on the Rox late in this one. A tech for Jason Kidd and David Andersen for a little scuffle, two Ts on Erick Dampier (one for the alleged elbow, and another for Damp breaking his usually stoic demeanor to argue a non-call), two Ts on Rick Carlisle, and one T to the talkative Josh Howard.
  • Shawn Marion really put the shackles on Kevin Durant the other night, but this may have been an even more impressive defensive performance. He wasn’t quite as consistent, but he made huge defensive plays with the game hanging in the balance.
  • Dirk Nowitzki is considered questionable for Sunday due to the deep lacerations in his elbow, and Carl Landry will see a surgeon tomorrow.

Dallas Mavericks 94, New Orleans Hornets 90

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 15, 2009 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

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TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOr
New Orleans91.098.947.85.620.911.0

“It is the direction and not the magnitude which is to be taken into consideration.”
-Thomas Paine

The Dallas Mavericks have the nerve to treat basketball like a game. Some nights, they’ll sprint out to a big lead and take a breather, just because they can. Others, they’ll tie Dirk Nowitzki’s hands behind his back just to see what happens. And when they’re really in a sporting mood, they’ll do both, cough up turnovers at twice their usual rate, and laugh as the mayhem unfolds.

We’ve seen it happen against the Jazz, the Rockets, the Pistons, the Bucks, the Spurs, the Kings, the Sixers, the Suns, the Bobcats, and as of last night, the Hornets. Whereas Chris Paul was once a reminder of everything the Mavericks were not (quick, young, and ruthless), for 48 minutes he was merely a plaything. A plaything that managed 20 points, 16 assists, and five steals, but one still trapped within the confines of the Mavericks’ game.

It’s not as if Dallas had complete control, but perhaps that’s what keeps a veteran team like the Mavs intrigued with the possibilities. Rather than eliminate the suspense by taking care of business, Dallas insists on flaunting their vulnerability. The offense falls off track, the pick and roll defense breaks down, and the rebounding effort disappears. It’s so clever a ruse that even the Mavs themselves are fooled into desperation, a desperation that only fuels the comeback fire of their opponents. What was once a safe victory is now a matter of clutch execution and timing. Dirk Nowitzki unleashes his wrath, as every jab step and pump fake is like an expertly planned chess move. Jason Kidd rules the floor with his precision, placing every pass exactly where it needs to be and playing the angles on defense. And Jason Terry bides his time, licking his chops at the chance to rip a team’s heart out.

These, ladies and gents, are the 2009-’10 Dallas Mavericks. They want you to think you have a chance, and they’re ready to break your spirit.

Aside from the Mavs’ victory-sealing plays and their explosive first quarter, it’s hard to pick out the positives. J.J. Barea (23 points, 10-13 FG) was stunning in his ability to maneuver through traffic and finish over the Hornets’ bigs. It’s obvious to say that without those 23, the Mavs fall way short, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Each of those buckets was crucial to keeping the team above water, and considering no other Mav was performing at anywhere near their typical offensive efficiency, that carries even more weight than usual.

The Maverick collective carried the weight in the first quarter, but when the free-flowing offense began to break down, it became obvious that someone needed to step up and hit baskets. Barea did more than his share. Jason Terry chipped in as well, with a much-needed but very mortal 12 points. Then Josh Howard took over for a few possessions, providing a cool 14 points and 8 rebounds on 50% shooting.

But each of those stretches of solo scoring only helped disguise the fact that the Mavs’ offense was pretty woeful. The final numbers don’t paint an accurate picture, as it took three quarters of sandbagging to bring down the Mavs’ epic start. A brutally efficient 35-point first quarter (and an even more efficient 22-5 run) will work wonders on a stat sheet, even if Dallas followed up such a performance with a sour offense and turnovers of every variety. That’s the real story of what held the Maverick offense to just 94 points despite a 59.4% eFG. Chris Paul and the Hornets get all the credit in the world for playing excellent pressure defense and forcing those turnovers, not to mention converting them into easy points. Howard (5 TOs), Terry (4), and Dampier (4) each racked up surprising totals, and what could have been a solid offensive night was instead a parade of bobbled passes, sloppy drives, and failed communication.

So Dirk scored 10 points (on 4-11 shooting, no less), the offense failed to compensate, and the Mavs still won. When finely tuned, the Dallas defense is absolutely smothering, and though it may not have seemed that way when Darius Songaila (12 points in 11 minute, 6-6 FG) went hog wild in the fourth quarter, it’s literally what won the game for Dallas. Dirk and Kidd’s performance in the clutch (they were responsible for 16 of the Mavs’ 23 in the final frame, and nine of the last 11) may have put the Mavs over the top for good, but they’re not even in a position to do so without a pretty impressive defensive effort. It wasn’t always consistent, but it was good enough.

Closing thoughts:

  • For the first time I can remember, Dirk Nowitzki (-4) and Jason Terry (-1) both finished with net negatives for the evening in terms of +/- . The Maverick high (and game high) was Shawn Marion’s +15, despite Marion’s limited box score contributions (10 points, just 2 rebounds) otherwise. Gotta love his D.
  • Drew Gooden must have done something to get on Rick Carlisle’s bad side, because he played just seven minutes last night. Kris Humphries even played eight, despite falling out of the rotation as of late. Rodrigue Beaubois, Quinton Ross, Tim Thomas, and James Singleton all received DNP-CDs.
  • After scoring the game’s first basket, the Hornets never led. The Mavs built up a 21-point lead, and managed to tread water the rest of the way (especially in the second half, where they were outscored by just two despite their limited offense.)
  • The Mavs didn’t commit a single foul in the first. They also didn’t shoot a single free throw in the second or third.
  • Despite his turnovers, Erick Dampier is still looking good. It wasn’t a big statistical night for Damp, but his moves are as quick as ever and his defense is game-changing.
  • The clincher for the Mavs was a beautiful inbounds play that had three Mavs in the backcourt, Jason Kidd on the trigger, and Dirk Nowitzki in the front court covered by James Posey. Dirk pushed off a bit to create a little space, juked left and went right, and ended up with the ball directly in his hands for a layup attempt with just 20 seconds left. The Mavs’ two point advantage at that point was boosted to a much safer four, and though it’s likely that Dallas could have secured two on the inevitable free throws (remember, only 20 seconds remaining), the Mavs’ last encounter with the Hornets taught them not to take those makes for granted.
  • Speaking of, Jason Terry got another chance to ice the game, with the Mavs up two yet again with 12 seconds remaining. Last time around, JET left the door open for Peja Stojakovic to hit a big 3-pointer to send the game into overtime. This time around, Terry calmly walked to the line and buried any chance the Hornets had of a comeback.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to J.J. Barea. An argument could be made for Jason Kidd and his heady play, but this was one of the best scoring nights of Barea’s young career. It’s nice to have a back-up point guard step in to run your offense, but J.J. succeeded in an entirely different role last night. As the placeholder at shooting guard until Josh Howard is healthier, it’s Barea’s prerogative to attack, attack, attack, and he was both fearless and emphatic in that regard last night. Plus, Barea played some terrific defense on Chris Paul in the first quarter, holding him to just four points on 2-5 shooting with one turnover for the opening frame. It’s Barea’s time to shine, so it would be cruel of me not to give J.J. his due.

Dallas Mavericks 98, Charlotte Bobcats 97: Abridged

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 13, 2009 under Recaps | 8 Comments to Read

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

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TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOr

If you can’t excel with talent, triumph with effort.
-Dave Weinbaum

Those of you conscious of the outside world may have noticed that, with a few exceptions, I don’t post game recaps on the weekends. That’s (kind of) about to change. I’ll now be posting an easily digestible recap in bullet-form, which serves two purposes: it provides more game-related content for contests that matter, and allows you and me both to get some Mavs in and get on with our weekend. Let’s go to work.

  • Mark Cuban couldn’t have picked a more perfect game for “Seats for Soldiers” night. It’s probably the greatest of the Maverick traditions, and there really couldn’t be a worthier cause.
  • Tonight, Dirk was Dirk when it counted. His 14 of 34 shooting is actually better than it seemed, as most of those 20 misses came off of very make-able shots. Some by Dirk’s standards (fading jumpers, but with ample space), and others by anyone’s (layups, wide open shots). But regardless of all the shots to draw rim, Dirk looked untouchable in the clutch.
  • The Mavs looked like a team that needs the scoring of Josh Howard. Having the last laugh doesn’t equate to offensive proficiency, and with the Mavs completely unable to convert in the second half, Josh’s shot creation would have been an incredible boost.
  • Dirk’s big shots will get all the highlight love, but Erick Dampier and Shawn Marion are the true unsung heroes. Not only were they everywhere on defense, but Marion and Damp chipped in seven offensive rebound each. When the Mavs are shooting 39.8% from the field (and 41.4% eFG), that means everything. Combined, Damp and Marion totaled 29 points (12 of 17 from the field), 33 rebounds, three steals, five blocks, and just three turnovers. Yowza.
  • J.J. Barea showed his full range. For a quarter, he was brilliant; all of his passes were finding their targets and each of his attempts was finding the net. But once he started blowing possessions (a certain non-shot at the end of the second quarter comes to mind) and botching his defensive duties on the pick-and-roll, he becomes an instant liability. See, here’s the thing: Dirk, JET, Kidd, Josh, Damp, and Marion can all afford to make mistakes. They just bring so much to the team in other respects, and J.J.’s contributions are of the less essential variety. I can understand both sides of the Beaubois-Barea argument, J.J.’s lows are much more emphatic than his highs, but he still chipped in 10 points (4-9 FG, including two 3s) and five assists to just two turnovers. For now, the Mavs will just have to accept both sides of Barea’s spectrum.
  • There are few offensive possessions I hate more than those that end with a Drew Gooden jumpshot.
  • Basketball games can always be boiled down to details, and two stick out. First, Larry Brown’s decision not to call timeout on the final possession of regulation. Dirk had just hit the game-tying bucket, and rather than take a minute to regroup one of the league’s most ineffective offenses. Instead, Gerald Wallace, who otherwise had played a spectacular game, ended up wasting away the closing moments of the fourth quarter. Anyone think LB might want that possession back? And second, Tyson Chandler made the regrettable decision to foul Jason Terry on an inbounds play in overtime. It put JET on the line for a freebie in a game decided by one point, and while it was hardly the only possession that could have decided the final result, it’s easy to point the finger at a play like that.
  • Gerald Wallace and Raymond Felton were terrific. Not only in slashing to the basket, which you’d expect, but in the mid and long range game as well. And that’s not even mentioning their work on the defensive end, which was top-notch.
  • Even though the offense wasn’t very good, the Mavs’ ball movement was sublime. The ball was getting into the right hands, but just couldn’t find its way through the basket.
  • Another fine showing from the Mavs’ zone defense. I can’t even begin to understand what that means considering just how bad the Bobcats’ offense can be on its own, but it seemed to slow down Stephen Jackson (28 points on 25 shots) enough to make a difference. Rick Carlisle threw a handful of defensive looks at Jax, and though Jason Kidd played some superb man defense late in the game, the zone look was plenty effective.
  • Take a look at the minutes column for the Mavs, and tell me Rick Carlisle doesn’t find comfort in his starters. Kidd, Dampier, Nowitzki, and Marion all logged 40+ minutes, while Drew Gooden, Tim Thomas, and Quinton Ross played a combined 27 minutes.
  • Marc Stein: “Most devastated locker room I’ve seen this season: Charlotte. Bobs crushed by this 98-97 OT loss in Dallas. G-Wallace and Jack especially”

Dallas Mavericks 104, Philadelphia 76ers 102

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 1, 2009 under Recaps | 9 Comments to Read

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.

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Winning isn’t always finishing first. Sometimes winning is just finishing.
-Manuel Diotte

It’s easy to start with what went wrong against the Sixers, but one thing certainly went right: with the game on the line, the Mavs got the ball into the hands of a proven killer, put him in his comfort zone on the floor, and just watched as a relentless 76ers comeback was wiped away by a gentle splash of the net. Yet again, the Mavs were in a position to demoralize their opponents, the plucky, hard-working, but outclassed Philadelphia 76ers. And yet again, they capitalized.

The fact that Jason Terry was able to create his first clutch imprint of the season is icing on the cake. A shot like that (combined with JET’s clutch pedigree) establishes and diversifies the Mavs’ options in close games, which can only be a good thing.

Also: if you’re Willie Green, do you find solace in the fact that you blanked Jason Terry to the best of your ability and contested the shot well? Or do you find depression in the realization that it wasn’t good enough?

Based on the execution in the first half, it shouldn’t have ever come down to JET. The Mavs played a half of completely balanced basketball, holding the Sixers to 33% shooting while shooting 50% themselves, keeping pace in the rebounding battle, and maintaining the edge in the turnover margin. Provided they kept playing solid basketball, the Mavs had provided themselves enough of a cushion to coast to an easy victory.

Jason Kidd (22 points, 11 assists, six rebounds, four steals, three blocks, 5 for 8 from 3-point land) was reason #1 why everything was rosy at halftime. Kidd brought the heat early and often, connecting on three of his four 3-point attempts in the first en route to a 13-point, 4-assist first quarter. If leaving Kidd open on the perimeter was a strategic decision on the part of Eddie Jordan, it came back to haunt him. That quarter (and this game) was Kidd’s most prolific scoring display of the season, and the early momentum gained from his sudden outburst was a huge factor in determining how the first half would play out. As Philly adjusted to the threat of Kidd’s offense, the passing lanes opened up for the Mavs. Dallas registered 18 assists in the first half, compared to Philadelphia’s seven.

But Terry’s soul-draining shot may have been the only thing to go according to plan in the second half. Not only did the Sixers crank up their attack in the second half, but they toed a line between assertiveness and control. On offense, Philadelphia found a rhythm, but their moves were deliberate and controlled. Every offensive sequence didn’t unfold smoothly, but the Sixers, a relatively limited offensive team, never quite seemed out of sorts in the second half. I’m not sure if their gusto was due to a rousing locker room speech or if they simply picked up on the Mavs’ vulnerability, but their performance was pretty inspired.

Effort definitely played a role, and the Sixers exposed the Mavs on the boards. For the second game in a row, the Mavs struggled to rebound, and the 60-37 rebounding deficit was every bit as bad as it sounds. Dallas managed just 12 rebounds in the entire second half, which is an unacceptable number against any opponent, much less a poor rebounding team like the Sixers. Philadelphia ranks 24th in the league in rebound rate (“the percentage of missed shots that a team rebounds”), and yet the Sixer bigs dominated Dallas on the glass. Samuel Dalembert (19 rebounds), Thaddeus Young (7), Elton Brand (10), and Jason Smith (7) combined for 43 rebounds. Erick Dampier (1), Dirk Nowitzki (6), Drew Gooden (10), and James Singleton (1) combined for just 18. It’s tough to wrap your head around, and though Damp played limited minutes in his return, it doesn’t excuse the Mavs’ overall effort in terms of rebounding.

Last night’s game was conclusive evidence of the fact that when you outwork your opponent, good things are bound to happen. That is, unless you’re a results-oriented win-loss type of guy, in which the moral of the story is that regardless of how hard you work or how much you probably deserve to win, Jason Terry will stomp repeatedly on all of your hard work. Then he’ll go home and sleep like a baby.

Closing thoughts:

  • As mentioned above, Erick Dampier made his return to the lineup last night. His mysterious illness is still, well, a mystery. Although his box score production was rather empty (three points, just one rebound, and one turnover), I liked what I saw from the Maverick defense with Dampier on the floor. It’s not like the Sixers have Monta Ellis, but the rim is better protected with Dampier in the game. Period.
  • J.J. Barea had a hell of a game. His 11-point 6-assist night is no doubt dwarfed by Kidd’s performance, but the playmaking and outside shooting of Barea were crucial in balancing the Maverick attack. J.J.’s night turned the three guard lineup into a productive bunch once again, as the trio of Kidd-Barea-Terry were responsible for all but one bucket during a 14-3 run in the second quarter.
  • Shawn Marion was moving with an obvious limp by the end of the game. That didn’t stop him from playing good defense on Andre Iguodala, but it’s something to keep in mind. Marion put together an unremarkable (14 points, 5 rebounds) but efficient (6-10 FG) offensive night, but in a game where every bucket counts, his contributions were much appreciated.
  • Kris Humphries (DNP-CD), Tim Thomas (DNP-CD), Quinton Ross (back), and Josh Howard (ankle) didn’t play for the Mavs. Although the latter is a foregone conclusion at this point, it’s unclear why Hump and Tim didn’t play. James Singleton was the primary beneficiary of the shift in the rotation. Singleton has averaged 15.7 minutes per game over the last three contests, up from just 4.4 minutes in the 15 games prior.
  • Iguodala got a pretty decent look to tie/win the game after Terry’s dagger…but it might have been intercepted by Samuel Dalembert. Dalembert clearly thought the shot was short, but from every angle of the shot I’ve seen (a whopping one), it looks like Iggy’s jumper had at least a chance of falling. So pat on the back for the big fella, and I hope he got a rebound (or a steal?) for that grab.
  • I got through this entire recap without really giving Dirk Nowitzki (28 points, 11-26 FG, zero turnovers) his due for another big scoring night. Dirk’s excellence is just assumed at this point, which is a testament to exactly how good he’s been this season.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to, without question, Jason Kidd. Terry’s shot was huge, but Kidd’s outstanding first quarter deserves an accolade, even if it’s only a sticker. Efficient scoring and solid defense went hand-in-hand for Kidd in the first, and the results for Kidd and the Mavs were simply brilliant. Kidd’s night was beyond vintage; Jason combined his usual court vision and D with uncanny accuracy as a spot-up shooter. It was quite a night for the future Hall-of-Famer, even in the context of his long and illustrious career.

Golden State Warriors 111, Dallas Mavericks 103

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 25, 2009 under Recaps | 4 Comments to Read

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOr
Golden State103.0107.853.419.323.820.4

“We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret of disappointment.”
-Jim Rohn

Somehow it’s only fitting that when the Mavs are on the cusp of elite status, some familiar demons push them down a peg. I couldn’t care less that they were wearing Warriors uniforms, but yet again, quick point guards had their way with the Dallas defense time and time again, and the results were downright depressing.

Nothing in this game quite turned out as it should. That much should have been certain from the opening tip, when the probable turned questionable turned out Shawn Marion found his way to the bench in a suit. That much should have been certain when the normally careful, deliberate Mavs offense was turning the ball over just for fun. That much should have been certain when the impressive Mavs defense suddenly collapsed on itself rather than on penetration, and when I was begging for Dallas to pick up someone, anyone, in transition. What should have been an easy win over an undermanned team turned out an ugly loss to just six players, and if that didn’t keep each and every Maverick up last night with nightmares of Monta Ellis layups, then we have a problem.

The first half was just sloppy basketball on both ends, which you can live with provided the Mavs show some second half intensity. But despite having a deeper roster and more talented personnel, Dallas very much looked the part of the inferior team for the latter half of the game. The offense was completely out of sorts by the time the fourth quarter rolled around, with the Warriors’ maniacal defensive strategy disrupting the Mavs’ flow plenty. It wasn’t as if Radmanovic was playing stellar defense on Dirk, or that the Warrior guards were locking down Terry; Golden State’s team defense (I know, it surprises me to type this as much as it surprises you to read it) just forced turnovers with help, double teams, and some sleight of hand (creating the illusion of a passing lane when there, in fact, was none).

The numbers don’t properly reflect just how out of sorts Dallas was when it mattered most, but Jason Terry’s infuriating turnover with the Mavs down four and just under a minute to play (video forthcoming) epitomized the night spectacularly. JET and Dirk, two machines created for the sole purposes of putting a ball in a hoop with no unexpected hiccups, combined for nine turnovers. Nine. As in, the titular Plan from Outer Space. The thing seven ate. Just to put things in perspective, before last night, Nowitzki and Terry combined to average just 3.2 turnovers per game.

The defense, as I mentioned before, was an abomination and hopefully an aberration. Though the Warriors themselves had plenty of turnovers, they more than made up for them with frequent and effective drives to the basket as well as the sweet outside shooting of Anthony Morrow (6-8 3FG) and Stephen Curry (2-4 3FG). Morrow simply had one of those games where you’re shocked to see any misses at all in the box score, as his confidence level and on-court positioning were pitch perfect. All the while, Monta Ellis had his way with just about every Maverick defender, in particular exploiting J.J. Barea on the left side of the zone defense. The only Mavs player that showed any effectiveness in guarding Ellis was rookie Rodrigue Beaubois, who managed to slow Ellis on a few drives while the Mavs were in man-to-man sets. Otherwise, the perimeter defense was a turnstyle, the rotation D nonexistent, and the interior D simply a means to the end of an Ellis three point play.

This loss isn’t the end of the world, but it should sting like hell. And it’s a shame, too. Dirk Nowitzki had an excellent night scoring the ball (28 points on 9-18 shooting), despite only getting a few touches during the game’s crucial closing stretch (Dirk had just three shot attempts in the fourth, none over the final 4:28). Jason Kidd (13 assists, 10 rebounds) had a spectacular night offensively, even if he had trouble with the quickness of the Warriors defensively. And Drew Gooden (14 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks) again filled in well for the ill Erick Dampier, providing the low post scoring the Mavs have always lacked against Golden State. But it was all for naught, and worse, the momentum the Mavs had been building over the last five games has essentially been shattered.

Closing thoughts:

  • File this game away as Exhibit A for why Rodrigue Beaubois should be eating into J.J. Barea’s minutes. Though Barea’s +/- on the night isn’t bad at all, he was clearly the weakest point of the Mavs’ D last night, and as such, the entry point for a lot of Golden State’s drives.
  • I’m a bit surprised we didn’t see more James Singleton, especially considering Quinton Ross missed the entire second half with back issues. The Mavs missed Ross’ D (and Marion’s, and Howard’s, for that matter), and probably could have used Singleton’s energy at either forward spot to ditch the woefully ineffective three guard lineup.
  • Tim Thomas is playing pretty well. I haven’t seen anything to worry about in terms of his shot selection or defensive intensity, though his mobility is pretty clearly limited by that knee injury. He looks rusty, but he’s still converting from the post and got his first look at a made three last night. Once the real, healthy rotation falls into place, I definitely see a few minutes for Thomas.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night Goes to…I won’t even bother.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 20, 2009 under xOther | 4 Comments to Read

  • Shawn Marion will not play tonight.
  • Drew Gooden insists that his big game against the Spurs wasn’t a personal statement (via Tim MacMahon): “Not at all…From the day I got there to the day I left, I knew it was all business. That’s a great group of guys over there. I enjoyed playing with them and trying to make a playoff run with those guys. …But this is a business. I had to move on. Now, I switched sides to the team that beat us. Spurs fans don’t like it too much, but it wasn’t my choice.” That last sentence may sound strange, but Drew has a very valid point, one that I wish Mavs fans would have taken to heart in 2006. The Spurs decided to move in a different direction, and chose not to re-sign Gooden. In the same vein, the Mavs decided to move in a different direction, and chose to cut Michael Finley. Considering the circumstances, does it really make sense to declare either a turncoat? Especially Finley, whose years of playing his ass off for a miserable Dallas team were forgotten with a quick change of clothes?
  • Dirk has scored 30+ against the Spurs 10 times in his career, third to only Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson.
  • Have you seen Kris Humphries’ new movie yet?
  • It’s perfect, actually, because the Kings’ Donte Greene is apparently also a vampire. Who knew?
  • Dirk Nowitzki, on the difference between this year’s start and last year’s start (via Art Garcia): “Last year coming into camp, after Avery, we focused so much on offense, opening up the offense, let [Jason] Kidd run a lot of stuff…This year we said screw that. We’re going to do all defense. We worked a lot of defense and it’s really paid off early, but now the offense is slacking a little bit.”
  • Statistically speaking, the Mavs have been the 5th best team in the NBA this season. Not too shabby.
  • Autograph-seekers can do the face-to-face thing with Josh Howard this Saturday, who will be rehabbing his ankle by working the sharpie.
  • Sean Deveney names Rodrigue Beaubois one of the “Hidden Gems” of the ’09 Draft Class.

Dallas Mavericks 99, San Antonio Spurs 94

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 19, 2009 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOr
San Antonio86.997.948.124.420.018.0

Winning isn’t everything, but the will to win is everything.
-Vince Lombardi

When I watch this season’s Mavs, I feel like I’m watching something special. The play isn’t always sterling and the team is hardly immortal, but their games (and particularly their wins) have a certain sublime quality that begs watching. It’s not so much a demand as it is a gentle nudge, a reminder to sit up and pay attention. And if the Mavs didn’t have everyone’s attention after their wins againt the Lakers and Jazz, they should definitely have it after pulling out two close wins over the Bucks and as of last night, the Spurs.

Both teams looked and played like they’d been decimated by injuries, and rightfully so. Shawn Marion, Josh Howard, and Erick Dampier sat out for Dallas, and Manu Ginobili joined Tony Parker among the wounded after straining his left groin early in the first quarter. Both teams looked completely out of sync offensively in the first half, with bad shot selection being the Mavs’ vice of choice and turnovers the Spurs’ poison. But the Spurs and the Mavs were careful not to lose too much ground, relying on energy and quickness to outwit and outwork one another. While those early offensive struggles didn’t offer much in the way of a prelude, they still dictated the theme of things to come: as the Mavs do, so do the Spurs, and as the Spurs do, so do the Mavs. It was as if both teams were connected by a string, and as soon as one began to rise, the other inevitably followed suit.

The second half was a welcome change of pace. Drew Gooden (17 points on 8-13 shooting, 11 rebounds, three blocks, one steal, and just one turnover) had welcomed the challenge of defending Tim Duncan with open arms, and the third quarter glorified his offense to the same level as his hard-working defense. There must have been something on Gooden’s bulletin board, because I’ve never seen him play with such inspiration or determination, especially not in a Maverick uniform. On a nightly basis, I expect Drew to be solid. But Gooden took that expectation and crushed it in his bare hands, stood against Duncan and lived to tell about it, and then sent me a very angry letter for merely expecting competence. Drew was near every loose ball or potential rebound, his defensive fundamentals were sound (and held Duncan to 22 points on 22 shots), and he didn’t try to force his way on offense. The Mavs don’t even sniff the win without Gooden’s contributions.

Dirk Nowtizki did more than his fare share during the third, but really made the game his in the fourth and fifth frames. Gregg Popovich’s decision to through primarily one-on-one coverage at Dirk was misguided if not completely flawed, and to make matters worse, Matt Bonner drew the primary responsibility despite the vastly superior defense of Antonio McDyess. I’ve been very impressed with McDyess’ defense on Dirk in two games this season, as Dice has both the physical (strength and length) and mental attributes (preparation, understanding of Dirk’s tendencies) to cause Nowitzki some problems. But Pop opted for Bonner, a decision which resulted in more open looks than you could count on your hands and a few trips to the line to boot. With Jason Terry (13 points, 4-19 FG), the Spur-Killer, struggling to find his shot, Dirk decided that tonight would be one of those nights. He unleashed a flurry of picturesque jumpers over the outstretched hands of Bonner, Duncan, McDyess, and anyone foolish enough to get in his way. And to top it all off, Dirk was far more than a stop-gap defensively after Drew Gooden fouled out late in the fourth. Dirk bodied up Duncan and made every look in the post a difficult one. The he ran the court, made a few and ones, dropped a 3-point bomb on Spurs’ comeback hopes, and called it a day.

The Mavs were decimated in terms of 3-point percentage, made less of their shots overall, were outrebounded, attempted less free throws, and were out assisted. But the Spurs committed 18 turnovers to the Mavericks’ five. That’s where the Spurs missed the steady hands of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and that’s where Dirk Nowitzki and Drew Gooden were able to capitalize.

Closing thoughts:

  • Hoorah for the point guards! Jason Kidd again played effectively despite his inability to score (8 assists, 11 rebounds, 4 steals), Rodrigue Beaubois proved that he can do wrong but still shot 50% from the field and scored 8, and J.J. Barea had another effective game against San Antonio with 9 points and 3 assists, not to mention a +14 in terms of on-court team production.
  • If near-dunks were pennies, the Mavs would be a few cents richer today. Kris Humphries’ ‘almost poster’ of Tim Duncan would have been one for the ages, and Tim Thomas would have won over the fan base quickly had his dunk gone through. But alas, some things just aren’t meant to be.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Drew Gooden. Dirk gets plenty of love, but Gooden’s terrific defensive performance earns him a sticker. I called, and Gooden answered, and I couldn’t be happier.

No Game Is an Island: This Is Only a Test

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 18, 2009 under Previews | Be the First to Comment

The San Antonio Spurs visit the Dallas Mavericks
8:30 CST

With everyone’s favorite Maverick (and I mean EVERYONE), Erick Dampier, on the shelf for tonight’s game, Drew Gooden will have his first real go as a starter against a quality big. Drew is coming off of back-to-back double-doubles against the Pistons and the Bucks, and in both games he was indispensable. Here are Gooden’s stats over the last two:


But Andrew Bogut is no Tim Duncan. Ben Wallace is no Tim Duncan. Hell, Ben Wallace is barely Ben Wallace these days. That could translate to some big trouble for the Mavs, who are forced to start Drew Gooden in a situation in which they would normally start Erick Dampier. But this is also a case where Drew can prove his value to this team, and hopefully demonstrate some versatility.

In this test run, Drew Gooden is playing on borrowed minutes. Duncan is precisely the type of center that the Mavs would counter with the strength of Erick Dampier, but tonight they have no such luxury. Gooden is the choice to start by default, which, and forgive me for oversimplifying here, essentially means that there will be one of two possible outcomes:

  • Drew Gooden plays well. He holds his own on the defensive end, making Tim Duncan work for his points and rotates well to contest penetration. Gooden scores on some Dampier-esque garbage buckets as well as dropping a few buckets when left to his own devices in the post. He uses up minutes at the 5 without being a liability on the floor, and he takes full advantage of this free opportunity.
  • Drew Gooden falls in line with expectation. He allows Duncan, Blair, and McDyess to bully him in the post and on the glass. Gooden floats on defense, not committing to any particular man or system, but feigning activity. He uses up shot attempts at the 5 when there are better offensive options on the floor, and he stops the offense in order to maximize his own opportunities.

I would say it’s up to Drew, but it’s hardly that simple. Still, the fact remains that this is a free opportunity for Gooden to gain some ground on Erick Dampier for a consistent starting gig. If the Mavs’ starting center job really is a meritocratic endeavor, then Drew has nothing to lose tonight, but a lot to gain. A big night tonight would likely translate to more opportunities against a greater variety of opponents, and would shift the chips in Gooden’s favor as a default starter. Unless Gooden is content to let Damp ride shotgun, he should try his damnedest to prove himself against the very breed of center Drew was never supposed to prove himself against.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 17, 2009 under xOther | Read the First Comment

  • Luc Richard Mbah a Moute on that final Mavs’ possession (via Charles Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel): “I tried to deny [Dirk] the ball, but he [Kidd] threw it high and he [Nowitzki] caught it…I was trying to make him drive, but he shot that fadeaway. It was a tough shot.”
  • Ersan Ilyasova has long flown under the radar as a prospect (so much so that he skipped over to Europe for a spell), but he looked damn effective on both sides of the ball last night.
  • Brandon Jennings, on his perhaps ill-advised three with Beaubois in his face (via the wonderful Holly MacKenzie from SLAM Online): “I wanted the ball at the last second. I didn’t know Ersan’s man had doubled me. When I looked back at the tape I saw he was wide open for the jump shot. It’s something I’m going to learn from. It’s a long season.”
  • A friendly reminder that Drew Gooden, contrary to his initial performances in a Maverick uniform, is a pretty good basketball player.
  • Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie: “This is on the Mavs. This was a decisive performance that, even if it ended with the Mavericks taking the loss, tells us that we can’t bank on the “Dallas’ core is on the other side of 30, and they played last night” warning shot. This isn’t to say the team won’t drag during some four-game-in-five-night endeavor before the All-Star break — every team does — but we do know for sure that these Mavericks have the mettle to work through those tired legs.”
  • Giving a little love to Dirk, Kidd, and Gooden.