You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
Rick Carlisle tweaked his rotation, and the three Mavs involved — J.J. Barea (eight points, 3-9 FG, four assists), DeShawn Stevenson (11 points, 3-7 3FG), and Shawn Marion (16 points, 7-12 FG, four rebounds) — each had their best games of the series as a result. Not only has Carlisle done a great job of balancing a micro-managing style with the release of control (when he lets the Mavs “just play basketball,” or execute their “flow game,”), but he’s pressed the right buttons in every damn series thus far. Starting Barea as a means to eliminate Peja Stojakovic from the rotation while still keeping Brian Cardinal’s minutes down was actually rather inspired, and though Barea hadn’t really played well in the first three games of the Finals, he was able to accomplish some good things in Game 4 — even as he shot just 3-of-9 from the field. If Carlisle was given the option for Barea to get the same looks and same penetration again in Game 5, I think he’d take it in a heartbeat; Barea worked to create quality shots, but makes just weren’t in the cards this time. Stevenson played an effective game, too, so long as we forget about his horrible, bone-headed foul on Chris Bosh. His 11 points and ability to space the floor were invaluable considering Dirk Nowitzki’s limitations, and Stevenson was an active participant in the zone defense that shut Miami down in the fourth quarter. And then we come to Marion, who had his third game in the series with 16 or more points, and accomplished that much in just 26 minutes — by far his lowest minute total for the Finals. Dallas had leaned too heavily on Marion in the first three games of the series, and while 26 minutes will hardly be the norm from here on out, we should expect more reasonable levels of playing time than the 41+ minutes Marion played in Games 2 and 3.
Dallas continued in their remarkable defense against LeBron James (eight points, 3-11 FG, nine rebounds, seven assists, four turnovers), but what of Dwyane Wade ()? There’s only so much one can do to curtail scorers in isolation, especially those with the handle, speed, and vision that Wade almost unfairly possesses. He can get himself out of trouble so quickly that overt doubling presents serious problems, and yet the Mavs’ man defense can only do so much to contain him. I don’t feel like Marion, Stevenson, and Kidd did a poor job against Wade in Game 4; in many cases they played him well, and Tyson Chandler was there with the help. Wade is just too damn good at what he does, and he torched the Mavs to the tune of 32 points on 20 shots. Wade very nearly deflected some of the ill will aimed at LeBron for his horribly underwhelming performance, but a loss is a loss, and when the Heat are downed it’s often James that’s left to answer for it. I’d be very interested to see how the shift in the narrative had Wade made a single free throw or made a few more buckets, but Dallas winning with clutch execution while Wade shorts a freebie comes with its own narrative power.
Tyson Chandler (13 points, 16 rebounds, nine offensive boards) was a monster, and while plenty will praise him for his relentlessness, I’ve come to praise him for his restraint. Dallas has only remained competitive in this series because of Chandler, and more specifically, because Chandler has avoided foul trouble. The offensive rebounds and put-backs are fantastic, but they’re products of Chandler being on the floor in the first place, something which should in no way be assumed. Carlisle will play Chandler if he can, but foul trouble placed an artificial limit on Chandler’s minutes all season long, and was expected to play a role in one playoff series or another. It hasn’t. Whether defending LaMarcus Aldridge, Andrew Bynum, or Pau Gasol — or somehow protecting the rim from the likes of Wade and James while guarding Bosh — Chandler has kept his fouls down and stayed in the game. Chandler played 43 minutes of fully charged basketball on Tuesday night, and though his motor deserves unending praise, I’m more impressed than ever with Chandler’s ability to cut down on those tempting cheap fouls that got him in trouble so often.
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
Don’t call it a miraculous comeback. All Dallas did was play, and though they spotted Miami points here and there, it’s not as if they were horrid — even at their worst. The difference between the bumbling Mavs and those blazing the comeback trail was actually fairly thin; hitting the defensive glass and taking care of the ball was all it took for Dallas to give themselves a chance in this game, and so it will be for the remainder of the series. Miami is a great team, but they’re not the only great team in this year’s NBA Finals. Provided that Dallas stays away from their bad habits, we should be heading for at least a few more amazing, highly competitive games with singular displays of greatness and brilliant collective execution. The micro and macro battles between Dallas’ offense and Miami’s defense have been absolutely phenomenal, but the other end of the court deserves its due; the Mavs have played some terrific team defense in their efforts to limit LeBron James, and though Dwyane Wade hasn’t been hindered in the same way (as evidenced by the fact that he had a monster game on Sunday night), slowing the MVP enough to create a balanced series is a significant accomplishment. Dallas — specifically Tyson Chandler, Shawn Marion, and Dirk Nowitzki (yes, Dirk Nowitzki) — has played some incredible defense to halt Miami’s high pick-and-rolls in the same way that the Heat defense has halted theirs, and though that side of the court doesn’t come with the same loaded result of an elite offense facing off against an elite defense, both teams have created a reasonable facsimile. Maybe Dallas isn’t elite on D and perhaps Miami’s limitations prevent them from being a truly elite offensive team, but both teams have played at such a high level in this series that those designations are meaningless. All we have is the here and the now, and both Dallas and Miami are playing terrific basketball in an incredible series.
Figuring out why the Mavericks lost this game requires an analysis that exceeds the limitations of a single bullet point, so with the acknowledgment that my task here is somewhat futile, I’ll offer a bite-sized element that nonetheless factored prominently into the outcome of Game 3: Dirk’s defensive rebounding. Nowitzki’s extraordinary shot-making, Wade’s magnificence, and Chris Bosh’s heroics will take center stage, but this game wouldn’t have been what it was if not for Nowitzki making a deliberate, concentrated effort to clean the defensive glass beginning mid-way through the second quarter. The Heat were still able to grab their share of offensive boards, but thanks to Nowitzki’s efforts to secure contested rebounds — and Chandler’s relentless drive to collect offensive boards — the Mavs were able to win the rebounding rate battle. It’s one of the influences on the game that will be undoubtedly overlooked because it doesn’t support the cause of the victor or explain the shortcomings of the loser, but Nowitzki’s rebounding work was one of many reasons why Game 3 was so enjoyable and competitive.
I left the establishment where I was watching Game 2, just after Dwyane Wade hit a three pointer to put the Heat up by 15 with 7:13 left in the 4th Quarter. I had to follow one of the greatest comebacks in NBA history on the radio as I drove home. Although I didn’t get to see it live, there’s something to be said for great sports moments on the radio. Receiving auditory input only somehow seems to heighten the tension…Yeah, I’m not buying it either. I’m an idiot. If you’re too disgusted to keep reading, I completely understand.
Depending on the media outlet, the Mavericks’ Game 2 victory was either an epic comeback, or an epic collapse. I really do appreciate those who are covering it accurately as both. The Mavericks’ scored the points they needed to close the gap, the Heat couldn’t extend or even protect their lead. The Mavericks raised their game on both sides of the ball, a feat that happily coincided with the Heat easing off the throttle. Most of the attention on the Heat following Game 2 has been focused on their failure to score down the stretch; an offense that had been steaming ahead smoothly, suddenly came off the rails. Here are the results of each offensive possession by the Heat over the last 7:13:
Dwyane Wade misses 24-foot three point jumper
Mario Chalmers misses 25-foot three point jumper
LeBron James misses driving layup
Chris Bosh misses 21-foot jumper
LeBron James makes 2 free throws
LeBron James misses 16-foot jumper
Chris Bosh out of bounds lost ball turnover
Udonis Haslem misses 15-foot jumper
LeBron James misses 26-foot three point jumper
Dwyane Wade offensive rebound
LeBron James misses 25-foot three point jumper
Udonis Haslem offensive rebound
Udonis Haslem bad pass (Jason Terry steals)
Dwyane Wade misses 24-foot three point jumper
Mario Chalmers makes 24-foot three point jumper (LeBron James assists)
Dwyane Wade misses 28-foot three point jumper
Obviously, anyone complaining about the Heat’s shot selection and lack of interior attempts over that stretch has a point. By my count, there were two turnovers, two free throws, a layup attempt, three long two-point attempts, and seven three-point attempts. The last two three-point attempts can probably be excused as one was a wide-open game tying try and the other a heave at the buzzer, but even when taking away those two attempts, the Mavericks’ defense deserves credit and the Heat offense deserves criticism for their respective performances over that spread.
However, while I can’t condone the Heat’s shot selection, I can — in part — understand it. Up to that point, the Heat were shooting 40.4% on three-pointers for the series. Wade and LeBron,who were responsible for five of those six missed three-pointers, had shot spectacularly well from beyond the arc. James had made six of his 10 three-point attempts for the series, and Wade had made four of eight. In case you don’t have a calculator handy, that’s 55.6% shooting on three-pointers from a pair that combined to shoot 32.0% during the regular season.
The Heat should take some heat for their shot selection, but they were missing shots that had been going in for the previous 88 minutes of Finals game time. Part of rooting on Wade and LeBron is living with some ill-advised jumpshots. If you’ll pardon a second pun dropped in this single paragraph: they are the kings of the heat check. They make outlandish shots better than just about anyone, but they’re still rely heavily on outlandish shots and sometimes they don’t go in. Luckily for the Mavericks, Wade and LeBron chose an inopportune time to regress to the mean.
A few other points which seem to have been glossed over in the national discussion:
I’m giving myself half a pat on the back today. I went out on a limb in my series preview, saying DeShawn Stevenson should play much better and had an opportunity to have a large impact in the series. The large impact hasn’t quite materialized but Stevenson has been very effective, playing tough defense, grabbing 5 rebounds in just over 36 minutes, and knocking down five of eight threes.
As great as Nowitzki’s scoring bursts were down the stretch, he helped put his team in position to steal a win by killing himself on the glass. In Game 1 the Heat had an Offensive Rebound Rate of 34.8%. In Game 2, Dallas held the Heat to an ORR of 16.7%. Much of that credit goes to Nowitzki, who grabbed 9 defensive rebounds in the second half.
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
To those struggling to find the fine line between the acknowledgment of Miami’s excellence and the hope provided in the Dallas’ missed opportunities, I empathize. Game 1 has to be viewed in terms of all that the Heat accomplished, but I can’t shed the thought of Dirk Nowitzki’s missed layups, J.J. Barea’s botched runners, Jason Terry’s poor decisions. Credit Miami’s D for their impressive contests — and even for the impact of their potential contests, which clearly had Barea shaking in his boots — but the Mavs can play much better…as long as the Heat defense doesn’t improve yet. We knew this would be a competitive series, but I’m not sure anyone quite expected such an odd start. To credit the Mavs’ offensive failures or the Heat’s defensive successes would be a terrible oversimplification, and yet somewhere in that relationship is the dynamic that could decide the series.
The Dallas zone had its moments, I suppose, but its start to the series was anything but exemplary. Mario Chalmers was able to burn the Mavs with a pair of wide open threes from the corners, but it was the play of Chris Bosh that made things particularly painful for Dallas when in their zone coverage. Bosh finished with five offensive boards in capitalizing on the displacement of the Mavs’ defenders, and his passing from the high post provided a terribly effective counter to the Mavs’ zone look. Rick Carlisle didn’t seem too distressed about the zone’s performance, so I’m curious as to what he saw in Dallas’ Game 1 zone execution that we didn’t; how much zone the Mavs run in Game 2 should provide a more authentic appraisal than anything Carlisle said postgame.
Udonis Haslem and the Heat’s double teamers did a credible job defending Dirk Nowitzki (27 points, 7-18 FG, eight rebounds) by playing passing lanes and limiting Dirk’s attempts. In terms of challenging, the Heat defenders can only do so much; Haslem and Joel Anthony just don’t have the height or length to really alter Nowitzki’s shot, which leaves their means of defending him a bit more reliant on prevention. Anthony couldn’t quite pull that off, but Haslem — with help from Mike Miller and others — was able to put enough pressure on Nowitzki to make him pass out of doubles and rush through many of his possessions against single coverage. Nowitzki needs to get settled in, but Erik Spoelstra is too good of a coach to maintain a static approach against Dirk; he may see the same basic defensive look in Game 2, but the specifics of its implementations (the timing of the double, etc.) will likely change. Nowitzki was able to adjust and attack, but he may have to start that process all over again in Game 2.
Shawn Marion and DeShawn Stevenson were able to have some success in man-to-man coverage against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but then the Mavs shifted into zone, the zone failed, and the final product was flawed man-to-man execution that allowed the Heat do do as they willed. James and Wade didn’t have their most aggressive driving games, but they were certainly assertive scorers; the two stars combined to shoot 6-of-9 from three-point range, and several of those attempts came against pretty good defense. The prospect of defending Wade and James is always predicated on concession in some form. Teams often cede long jumpers — both twos and threes — to both James and Wade in the hopes that it lures two of the league’s best creators off the dribble into taking decidedly less efficient shots and stalling their team’s offense in the process. That’s still a semi-effective strategy against Wade (particularly due to his poor shooting from three-point range), but James has somehow become even more unguardable by hitting threes with consistency. Defending against either player is a miserable assignment, defending against both at the same time is just brutal, and defending against both at the same time when they’re hitting 67 percent of their three-point attempts is something I’m not sure the basketball world is — or will ever be — quite ready for.
Nowitzki tore a tendon in his left hand (or on his middle finger, to be more precise) while trying to strip the ball from Bosh on a drive. Had the tear been in his right hand, we’d be looking at a series ender; Dallas needs Dirk producing at an elite level to compete in this series, and a legitimate injury to his shooting hand would be a painful blow. However, the fact that Dirk injured his left hand isn’t exactly irrelevant, consider how crucial his handle and driving ability are to his overall game. It’s no secret that Nowitzki prefers to drive left, and considering how many driving lanes he had in Game 1, a limitation on his handle and finishing ability strikes me as rather significant.
Mike Bibby played 14 minutes, which was probably 14 minutes too long. Mario Chalmers wasn’t perfect, but he was far more productive than Bibby, and the Heat’s no-PG lineups even better than those involving Chalmers. I doubt there will be much of a change in Spoelstra’s rotation at this point in the playoffs, so Dallas needs to take advantage of the time that Bibby sees on a nightly basis.
James actually defended JET to close the game, a matchup that, while stifling and impressively creative, opens up an interesting opportunity. Marion had a fantastic offensive game, but could have been even more involved in the fourth quarter offense by going to work against Miller in the post. Any time that Marion can shed James, he’ll have an offensive advantage on the low block, and while he was able to create from the post a few times throughout the game, I think Marion can be used as an instigator of change. If Marion can be efficient enough in the post against Miller, Spoelstra could be forced to give up on assigning LeBron to chase JET and disrupt the Mavs’ two-man game, which would ultimately open up one effective offense by way of another.
Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood aren’t deserving of scapegoat status, but they have to be better on the glass. Their job (of anchoring the defense, challenging the shots of stretch bigs like Bosh and Haslem, and still hitting the boards) isn’t ideal, but it’s the task placed in front of them. I don’t see how the Mavs win this series without Chandler and Haywood pulling off something of a minor miracle in that regard. Best of luck to ‘em.
As a Finals matchup between the Mavericks and the Heat appeared possible, then probable, then certain, the story of a chance at redemption rose to the surface. The Heat’s victory over the Mavericks in 2006 has been The Elephant in The American Airlines Center the past five seasons, and a Finals rematch against the Heat would seem to give the Mavericks a chance to atone for previous shortcomings. If this redemption becomes reality, it will mostly be at the organizational level; only four players from that 2006 series — Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem — will be returning for their original teams. The legacy of each has continued to build on the foundation of the 2006 Finals, and will be, in large part, determined by what happens in this year’s Finals. However, the later chapters of several other NBA stories will be written in this series, stories that have little or nothing to do with the initial Finals matchup between the Mavericks and Heat.
Caron Butler is unlikely to play in this series after recovering from a gruesome knee injury. Tat injury seemed cruel at the time, but as the season has unfolded, that cruelty has taken on an entirely new meaning; Butler served as a crucial contributor in each of the Mavs’ regular season wins against the Heat, and yet a single bad fall has robbed him of the ability to participate in this series. Butler’s defensive presence will be particularly missed against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on the wing, and his absence puts a lot of pressure on DeShawn Stevenson, Shawn Marion, and Jason Kidd to hold their defensive ground.
In addition, Butler has a personal history with Wade and the Heat. He was drafted by the Heat in 2002, and spent two seasons with the team. His second season was Wade’s rookie year and saw the team win 42 games and a playoff series against the New Orleans Hornets. Committed to Wade as the team’s centerpiece, the Heat saw Caron Butler as an inadequate complimentary piece. He was traded the following summer in the deal that brought Shaquille O’Neal — and ultimately, the 2006 title — to Miami. For someone who didn’t participate in the 2006 Finals, his fate is still greatly intertwined in those events.
Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson came to Dallas by way of the Washington Wizards, and while neither player has any particular history with the Heat, both have had their share of conflict with Miami’s shiniest new toy, LeBron James. In both 2007 and 2008, the Wizards were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by LeBron and the Cavaliers. Both series were heavy on trash talk and technicals, and featured some heated one-on-one matchups between LeBron and Stevenson. I have to believe that each relishes the opportunity to go through LeBron in their pursuit of this title, even as they publicly say otherwise.
Dallas also has a veritable who’s-who of “Close, but no cigar,” guys. There are 34 active players who have played at least 80 playoff games. 14 of those 34 have never won a championship. 4 of those 14 play for the Dallas Mavericks. In addition to Nowitzki, we find Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion and Peja Stojakovic on that list. It’s worth noting that in LeBron, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Mike Bibby, the Heat have three players on that list as well.
Kidd is finishing his 17th season in the NBA. Among his other remarkable achievements, Kidd has played in 136 playoff games. 10 of those 136 games were played in the NBA Finals, over two separate trips with the Nets. The results are a disappointing 2-8 record. Marion has played 86 playoff games but never participated in an NBA Finals. He lost twice in the Western Conference Finals with the Suns. Stojakovic has played in 91 playoff games. That includes a crushing loss in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers.
The Mavericks are a stunning collection of the league’s disenfranchised and overlooked. This series offers many chances for redemption, not just for missed opportunities in the 2006 Finals. A victory over the Heat could provide closure for heartbreaking trades and soul-crushing playoff exits, for years of dominance by the Lakers and Spurs, for odiferous officiating, and for a body slam and a three-pointer from Robert Horry. The ghosts of this playoff series won’t just be wearing the uniforms of the Mavericks and Heat.
Five different Mavericks’ lineups have played at least 30 minutes together in the playoffs. Of those, the most effective has been the Kidd-Terry-Marion-Nowitzki-Chandler combination. In just under 100 minutes, this group has posted an Offensive Rating of 122.51 and a Defensive Rating of 89.56, for an absurd Net Rating of +32.95. They’ve outscored their playoff opponents by 71 points in 96 minutes, meaning they’ve added a point to the Mavericks lead, on average, every 81 seconds.
This has been one of the Mavericks’ strongest and most consistent units all season. Unfortunately, it’s one that may be difficult to keep on the floor for extended periods of time against the Heat. To use this lineup against any Heat unit with both LeBron and Wad means that either Terry or Kidd will likely have to guard Wade. Obviously, this is a less than ideal defensive matchup. Using their zone is an option, but committing to using it consistently with this lineup will make them very predictable. To deal with these matchup problem, the Mavericks may need to rely a little more heavily on a lineup that has been generally ineffective in the playoffs this far: their starters.
Dallas’ starting lineup (Kidd-Stevenson-Marion-Nowitkzi-Chandler) has played the most minutes of any of their five man units in the playoffs. It’s also the only unit they’ve used for more than 25 minutes which has a negative Net Rating. Kidd, Marion, Nowitzki, and Chandler have all played well in other units, and most of the struggles with the starting lineup can be traced to Stevenson. Make no mistake, Stevenson has been bad in these playoffs. He’s shooting 27.1%, and his PER his fallen all the way to 2.2 (with 15.0 being indicative of league average production). Still, I think he the chance to be an impact player in this matchup against the Heat.
When we look at the lineups used by the Mavericks in their two regular season matchups with the Heat, we see they struggled mightily with Terry and Wade on the floor together. The Mavericks had an Offensive Rating of 108.24 and a Defensive Rating of 124.71 in the 44 minutes they were both in at shooting guard. However, in the 29 minutes Stevenson was matched up with Wade at shooting guard the Mavericks posted an Offensive Rating of 126.16 and a Defensive Rating of 71.93. As this was early in the season, and both teams are in a much different place then they were the last time they met, those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt.
But Stevenson does have some things working in his favor. Unless Rick Carlisle is interested in finding minutes for Corey Brewer, Stevenson is the one Maverick with the size and mobility to challenge Wade. His offense is mostly of the one-dimensional spot-up shooting variety, and that single dimension has mostly abandoned him in the playoffs. Still he’s a much better shooter then what he has shown the past few weeks. At some point you would expect his percentages to rebound, moving closer to his averages. As I mentioned above, Stevenson has a history with LeBron, and by association, the Miami Heat. He’s always been a player who thrived on an emotional challenge, and perhaps that connection with James provides just such a challenge. There is a path cleared for him to step up and make a difference in these Finals. It will be up to him to walk it.
The Miami Heat concluded the game with an extended team meeting; James and Wade eventually fielded questions, but not until at least 45 minutes after the game had wrapped. This team is entitled and this team is frustrated.
Dallas wins, but the defense doesn’t. We should in no way confuse this victory for some validation of the Mavs’ defensive performance, as this was actually one of their lesser efforts on the season overall. The Heat helped the Mavs along with poor shot selection, and had they not, it would have been interesting to see how the Dallas offense would have really held up under fire. However, Miami’s unfavorable shot chart is far from a one-time problem; LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and their compatriots have a bad habit of batting their eyelashes at Caron Butler-esque shots.
The declaration of the total defense’s shortcomings is going to make this next sentence sound a bit odd: Tyson Chandler was the indisputable player of the game. Chandler is playing on the most talented team he’s seen in his entire career, and he’s responding in every way possible. He’s a shot-blocker, but more importantly, he’s a sound positional defender. Chandler is able to change shots without sacrificing his ground and he’s mobile enough to cover the entire paint with ease. Individually, he had a terrific defensive performance. Not flawless, but for all intents and intensive purposes, as damn well close to being so as anyone could reasonably expect. And just for fun, Chandler dropped in 14 points of his own, while wiping our memories clean of Brendan Haywood.
Dirk Nowitzki shot 9-of-23 from the field, but would anyone know that based on observation alone? Nowitzki definitely took and missed his fair share of shot attempts, but the eye test didn’t sting quite as badly as 39% shooting does. Nowitzki’s 22 points — as well as his four assists and three steals — were still quite valuable, but this wasn’t the Dirk-and-only-Dirk approach Mavs fans are painfully familiar with.
With that in mind, here’s a note from ESPN Stats and Info: “The Mavericks outscored the Heat 95-67 in the 34 minutes and 48 seconds that Nowitzki was on the floor. It was the second straight game in which Nowitzki made such an impact. In a win over Charlotte on Wednesday, Nowitzki was plus-27. The difference is that in that game, three other Dallas starters posted similar plus-minus totals. In Saturday’s win, Nowitzki was significantly better than any of his teammates.”
The Heat grabbed the offensive board on 44.4% of their misses in the first quarter, which is a perfectly dreadful number as far as the Mavs are concerned. But how about this: Miami’s final offensive rebounding rate was a palatable 23.3%. That’s a hell of a turnaround over the final three quarters.
Miami’s offense was a painful watch for long stretches of this game, and the effect that their union has had on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade is inexplicable. James still has stretches where he seems himself, but even at Wade’s most aggressive, he’s a tinted portrait of his former self. Sometimes he floats, sometimes he drives, sometimes he defers, but he’s always affected by some unseen humor. Last season’s Wade was one of the best players on the planet, but this year’s model isn’t worthy of fear, and worthy of respect primarily due to his reputation.
J.J. Barea was fantastic. Against San Antonio, we saw Barea at his playmaking finest; he didn’t force shots, and willingly and skilfully set up his teammates with open looks. In tonight’s game, Barea had his eyes locked on the rim. He still picked up two assists, but Barea’s 13 points on seven shots came through a pitch-perfect approach. Barea sliced and diced Miami’s perimeter defenders, and got right to the basket when the Heat bigs were characteristically slow to rotate. Your teammates miss you, Udonis Haslem.
Erick Dampier made his first appearance as a member of the Miami Heat, and promptly committed a personal foul. He played eight minutes in total and grabbed one rebound. Regular readers should know that I’m one of Dampier’s few remaining advocates, and that should make my stance on Damp’s addition to the Heat roster somewhat obvious: he’s an obviously beneficial addition for this team, and though he won’t solve all of their problems, he’s a definite upgrade on D and the glass.
The Mavs didn’t seem to respect the three-point attempts of any Heat player not named James Jones or Eddie House. The rest were left to do their worst, and while 2-of-10 from three may not be the worst, it’s pretty awful.
I touched on this the other night, but it needs to be repeated in light of Shawn Marion’s 14-point, 6-of-12 night: Dallas may not have a second scoring option etched in stone, but they have enough reliable contributors to find help from somewhere. JET has taken a turn for the inefficient (12 points, 3-of-12 shooting, three turnovers), but Marion, Caron Butler (23 points, 9-15 FG, 3-3 3FG, zero turnovers), Barea, and Chandler have all made vital contributions to the scoring column. Dallas can’t expect the roster to click from top to bottom, but all of these guys are can walk and chew bubblegum.
John Schuhmann of NBA.com, on which teams could challenge the Lakers this season: “In the East, you have the same three contenders as you had going in: Boston, Miami and Orlando. In the West, I really like what I’ve seen from Dallas. Defensively, I think they’ve taken a step forward with Tyson Chandler replacing Erick Dampier. If their offense can come around, they’ll be a stronger foe than we thought the Lakers would have in their conference.”
Chris Mannix of SI.com: “Bottom line, to get out of this Groundhog Day-like loop, Dallas needs to make a change beyond what it’s already done. Since February 2008, the Mavs have acquired Kidd, Marion, Butler, Haywood, DeShawn Stevenson and Chandler to revamp their roster. Mark Cuban committed $80 million to Nowitzki last summer and signed Kidd to a three-year, $25 million extension in 2009 because Kidd, even at 37, is still better than most point guards in the league. Cuban didn’t sit on the sideline when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were being courted. He just didn’t have enough to get them. But to avoid history repeating itself again, the Mavericks may need to take even more risks. They have movable assets like Butler ($10.5 million expiring contract) and Stevenson ($4.2 million expiring contract). James, Wade and Bosh are no longer available, but there could be a few potential difference-makers who are.” Mannix goes on to suggest Gilbert Arenas and Andre Iguodala as possible trade returns for Caron Butler. One of those suggestions is tremendous and would be quite helpful, and the other could end up crippling the franchise for a decade. I’m not sure we’re at the stage where Butler has to go or the Mavs have to make a move just yet, but if that day comes, here’s to hoping the Mavs stay away from the guillotine.
It was rumored at one point that Greg Ostertag may be trying to make a comeback (or start his coaching career) with the Texas Legends, but no longer. According to Marc Stein, Ostertag will stay retired for now, citing “family reasons.” Bummer.
Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas: “His 84 field-goal attempts rank third on the team, just 12 shots behind Jason Terry — in one less game – who has made 20 more shots. Marion has made three fewer baskets on 25 fewer attempts. Jason Kidd is the only rotation player shooting a lower percentage (34.7), but Kidd has put half as many attempts and isn’t needed to score in bulk as is Butler. But, that doesn’t mean Marion is the more logical choice to start. Marion has handled the move to the bench with grace and a team-first attitude when at least some outsiders viewed it with trepidation. There’s no reason to stir things up by asking Butler to now come off the bench, a move he probably wouldn’t welcome. During an ESPNDallas.com chat prior to the start of training camp, Butler was asked if the team had plans to bring him off the bench. Butler stated that he’s not at a point in his career where that move makes sense. Plus, the Mavs want Butler on the floor and performing well, not only to accomplish team goals, but to elevate Butler’s value in the case his $10.8-million expiring contract can be flipped in a beneficial trade.”
A few more detailed looks at the Mavs’ upcoming season are on their way, but in honor of the CelticsBlog-hosted NBA preview circuit, I present to you a first look at the immediate future of the Dallas Mavericks:
Last Year’s Record: 55-27; best in the Southwest, second in the West.
Key Losses: Erick Dampier, screen-setter extraordinaire and instantly expiring contract, Eduardo Najera, a signed-and-released Tim Thomas, Matt Carroll, Rodrigue Beaubois’ preseason, and hope for a big name free agent.
Key Additions: Tyson Chandler, Ian Mahinmi, Dominique Jones, Alexis Ajinca, Rick Carlisle’s faith in Beaubois, the benefit of a full training camp.
1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?
Dirk Nowitzki was re-signed on a bargain deal relative to his current production. Brendan Haywood was inked to a long-term contract that has brought the Mavs a fair bit of criticism, though the partial guarantees written into the deal and the market this summer (not to mention the fact that re-signing Haywood was a flat-out necessity) make his deal fairly palatable. Erick Dampier was traded for Tyson Chandler, and the Mavs shed Matt Carroll and Eduardo Najera’s contracts while picking up an interesting young big in Alexis Ajinca. Mark Cuban shelled out $3 million for the chance to select South Florida’s Dominique Jones in the first round of the draft. Ian Mahinmi, a per-minute wonder with plenty of promise, was had for two years and minimal salary commitment.
Yet the biggest moves of Dallas’ off-season were the ones never made. The Mavs’ brass made pitches to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Joe Johnson in an effort to lure them to Dallas via sign-and-trade, but the former two had grander ideas and the latter his eye on a much larger paycheck. Erick Dampier’s instantly-expiring contract was a hell of a trade chip, but it sat unused while the most attractive free agents on the market committed to playing anywhere but Dallas.
The Mavs also made runs at two candidates for their mid-level exception. Al Harrington: miss. Udonis Haslem: miss. Dallas wasn’t sinking any battleships.
Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban then turned their attention to the trading block, where they found an eligible bachelor in Al Jefferson. His fit with the team may have been a bit awkward, but there’s no mistaking Jefferson’s talent. Reportedly, the Mavs were but Dampier’s contract and a few draft picks away from working out a deal with Minnesota, yet the Mavs balked. Maybe it was the luxury tax implication. Maybe Nelson and Cuban were hoping for an even better return on Dampier’s contract. Maybe it was concern over how Nowitzki and Jefferson would play together. Regardless, the Utah Jazz swooped in to collect Jefferson while giving up little more than cap space and a pair of first rounders in return, and the Mavs leave the summer in only a slightly better position than when they entered it.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
Dirk Nowitzki. In an otherwise unremarkable offense, Nowitzki is one of the few unmistakable standouts. He still presents a match-up problem for every player in the league, and even at 32, Nowitzki’s offensive game is as potent as ever. His rebounding rate has dropped a bit. His defense is still lacking, though probably underrated on the whole. But Nowitzki is the player through which all things come and all things go for the Mavs.
Taking care of the ball. The Mavs had the 10th best offense in the league last season, but were ranked 13th in effective field goal percentage, 26th in offensive rebounding rate, and 15th in free throw rate. How? Dallas turns the ball over on just 12.2% of its possessions. Nowitzki is an absurdly efficient go-to scoring option in part because of how deliberately careful he is with the ball. Jason Kidd may pick up quite a few turnovers, but between Nowitzki and a few other high-usage, low-turnover players (Jason Terry, Caron Butler), Dallas puts up plenty of shots without giving up scoring opportunities.
Creating turnovers without fouling. Typically, successful NBA defenses fall into one of two general categories: a more conservative, field goal percentage-limiting style, or a more aggressive scheme based on forcing turnovers. Great defenses can sometimes manage to do both. Dallas manages to do neither, at least to the full extent of each defensive theme. Of the 10 teams that forced the most turnovers last season on a per possession basis (GSW, BOS, CHA, MIL, DET, UTA, OKC, MIA, PHI, and DEN), seven were also among the bottom 10 in opponents’ free throw rate. This is pretty intuitive; the more teams pressure ball-handlers and try to force turnovers, the more likely they are to be whistled for fouls.
Dallas, however, has managed to be fairly successful in creating turnovers (they ranked 11th in the league in that regard last season) without picking up all that many fouls (the Mavs were 3rd in the league in opponents’ free throw rate). It’s a strange balance, but thanks to anticipation on the wings and an overall conservative style (perhaps a bit too conservative at times), Dallas has made it work. Not well enough to do serious damage in the playoffs in the last few years, but well enough to remain in the West’s second tier in spite of other defensive shortcomings.
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
Shot creation. Nowitzki can manufacture a reasonably good shot attempt against almost any opponent when covered one-on-one, but aside from Dirk, Dallas doesn’t have many players that can create quality shots reliably. Rodrigue Beaubois is likely the team’s second best option in that regard, as Beaubois can use his speed to free himself up for an open look or execute relatively simple drive-and-kick sequences. Otherwise, Jason Terry’s shot-creating abilities looked stifled in last year’s playoffs, and Caron Butler is a decent isolation option…which might make a difference if decent isolation options were considered useful for offensive success.
Jason Kidd is, oddly enough, the question mark. Against San Antonio last season, he wasn’t able to create open looks for the likes of Terry, Butler, Shawn Marion, and Brendan Haywood, and the Mavs suffered. One of the reasons why Beaubois seemed so brilliant in that series was his stark contrast to Kidd; while the future Hall-of-Famer claimed to be troubled by illness and a bad back, Beaubois was slicing to the hoop in a way that no other Maverick can. If Kidd can stay healthy for the playoffs and redeem his performance against the Spurs, the Mavs’ offense could be pretty potent. It comes down to Dirk providing another year of solid production, Dallas recognizing the kind of shot-creating star it has in Beaubois, and Kidd finding a way to make the rest of the offense work. Without all three of hopes points coming to fruition, the Maverick offense will struggle at times.
A lack of elite production in any particular category. When people say that the Mavericks lack a team identity, they’re wrong. What they really mean to say is that Dallas isn’t really a top-level team in any particular statistical regard. The Mavs were a solid team in most capacities last season, but with the Lakers looming above and so many other team fighting for the no. 2 seed in the West, just being solid may not be good enough. The Mavericks were neither an elite offense nor an elite defense last year, and that’s troubling, particularly because their primary off-season acquisition was a back-up center that will replace the already steady Erick Dampier. Any improvement that will thrust Dallas into elite company will have to come internally, and that puts a lot of pressure on Rodrigue Beaubois, Caron Butler, and Brendan Haywood.
4. What are the goals for this team?
Win 50 games to extend the Mavs’ current 10-year streak, rest the veterans as much as possible, and make it to the conference finals. Any playoff series would be a step up from last season’s first round exit, but Dallas has enough talent to aim high. Not ‘up, up, away, and through the Lakers’ high, but high enough to be L.A.’s stepping stool on the way to the Finals.
Here are some developmental goals for some of the younger guys:
Rodrigue Beaubois needs to prove that the production from his fantastic rookie season is sustainable, while working to improve his ability to run the offense and defend opposing point guards.
Dominique Jones needs to find a way to crack the Mavs’ wing rotation, which is currently clogged with veteran talent. Jones’ on-ball defense and ability to get deep into the paint could be quite useful, but nothing will be given to Jones. He’ll have to pry every minute he gets from Terry, Butler, Beaubois, and J.J. Barea’s fingers.
Ian Mahinmi needs to continue to work on his face-up game, work the offensive glass as well as he did in the preseason, and focus on improving his ability to defend centers. There aren’t all that many minutes to be had behind Dirk, but if Mahinmi can grow into a capable defensive option in the middle, he could become a Maverick fixture.
Alexis Ajinca needs to outplay Ian Mahinmi and force the Mavs to give him a serious look. He’ll start the season at the back of the center rotation, but if Alexis can outplay Ian in practice and in his limited floor time this season (which won’t be the easiest thing to do considering Mahinmi’s gaudy per-minute numbers), he’ll have a chance to feast on the Mavs’ center minute scraps. Other than that, Ajinca needs to continue honing his hook shot, and improve his defensive positioning.
J.J. Barea needs to be a bit more choosy with his shots in the paint, and really hone in on his coverage of the pick-and-roll. All things considered, he’s not a bad backup, but it’s his D on screens that really gets him in trouble.
5. Do you have a video of Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash playing guitar that could take us back to the simpler times, when defensive inadequacies were just a cute little quirk of our beloved Mavs?
Jason Kidd smiled. More than Media Day positivity, it was as if Kidd were laughing to himself over a joke that was never told. “Nah, I slept well this summer,” Kidd said, still grinning, now chuckling. “I wasn’t worried about Dirk.”
Dirk Nowitzki’s free agent flirtations didn’t cost Kidd a wink. The same could likely be said of many Mavs fans, who considered the star’s return a virtual certainty. Yet that sound you heard when Nowitzki agreed to a new four-year deal with Dallas this summer?
One giant collective sigh of relief.
Kidd may not have been worried. Mavs fans may not have been worried. Even Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson may not have been worried. But don’t think that all of those parties, confident or not, were oblivious to the magnitude of Nowitzki’s decision. Had some team caught Dirk’s eye, everything — the 50 win seasons, the quasi-contention, the well-paid roster built to compliment his talents — would have come crashing down. It didn’t. Dallas may not have the same bright hope for the coming season that Los Angeles and Miami bask in, but they certainly have that.
“I looked around,” Nowitzki said, “but this is where my heart was. It wouldn’t have felt right to put another uniform on. The fans, and everybody here, and Mark, obviously, and Donnie have been so loyal to me over the last 12 years that it would’ve felt like running away a little bit in a way.”
Still, Nowitzki wasn’t so swayed by his loyalty as to dismiss reason. There are valid justifications for “running away,” and one of them was put before him at Media Day: What if LeBron James and Dwyane Wade had called Nowitzki up to present him with the basketball opportunity of a lifetime? What if, instead of Chris Bosh, it could be Dirk Nowitzki playing with two top-five players?
“It would’ve been tough,” Nowitzki said. “That would’ve been something I would have had to think about very hard. My goal is a championship, and that would obviously have been a nice option to have. But it’s something that never happened so I never really had to think about it.”
In terms of NBA stars, Nowitzki is as reliable as they come. His production is rock steady, and his keel absurdly even. He’s grounded. He’s loyal. He’s a walking, talking 25 and eight, and his absurdly dependable production and efficiency can be written on the stat sheet in pen before the season even begins. Let Nowitzki’s comment serve as a reminder, though, that his trademark statistical exploits didn’t have to come with him in a Maverick uniform. Sometimes even the most consistent of stars on the most consistent of teams can be prey to mere falling dominoes. They never fell Dirk’s way. He never got that phone call, and Nowitzki is every bit the Maverick he’s always been.
Gatorade’s “Replay” gives teams that participated in controversial games a chance at a redo. Dwyane Wade (along with Dwight Howard) served as a a coach for the event, which pitted two Chicago schools against each other for a rematch of a hotly contested game from a decade ago. Steve Aschburner of NBA.com had a chance to catch up with Wade on the possibility of replaying one of his more controversial finishes:
“NBA.com: Have you ever had a game that you wanted to replay?
DW: Every game I’ve lost.
NBA.com: But you’ve contributed to some that other people would like to replay, too.
DW: Yeah, I’m sure. So it’s a wash [laughing].
NBA.com: So it’s OK with you if the Dallas Mavericks want to replay Game 5 of the 2006 Finals in 2016?
DW: Uh, that would have to be something I’d have to think about.”
Rick Carlisle on the Mavs’ depth and flexibility this season (via Earl K. Sneed of Mavs.com): “We feel like we have great flexibility with the club. You know, one of the reasons you have training camp is to compete for those positions, compete for minutes. And again, I just think that our ability to use different lineups, use different combinations, is going to be a big key for us. We’re going to be able to go 10-, 12-deep. I have no question about that.”
Rick Carlisle, in evaluating his seasons as the Mavericks’ coach and what the team needs to do this season to be more successful (via Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News): “‘[The last two seasons are] both failures,’ [Carlisle] said. ‘One we got to the second round so maybe it’s viewed as more successful. But we were a better team this past year. We just got beat in the first round. Our mission is to stay the course and keep working on the things we have to work on – defense and getting better at home. That’s the difference between ultimate success and perceived shades of success.”
Dave McMenamin of ESPN LA thinks the Mavs have the best shot of challenging the Lakers in the West: “With Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler (who looked like a new man at times during Team USA’s gold medal run), the Mavericks have the size to compete with the Lakers’ length in Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. Add in the fact that this might be Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki’s last real shot at a championship and consider that Kobe’s buddy, Caron Butler, will get the benefit of a full training camp under Rick Carlisle’s system and you have a seven-game series battle on your hands.”