“The fastest way to succeed is to look as if you’re playing by somebody else’s rules, while quietly playing by your own.”
You could easily look at all of the Mavs’ close wins this season and determine that they’re not getting the job done. There’s little separation on the scoreboard, and for a quality team against inferior opponents, that’s simply unacceptable.
On some level, I agree; the Mavs should certainly be winning games more decisively. They have the talent necessary to build up a big lead and rest their starters in the fourth quarter, but seem to much prefer slugging out a game in the final seconds. Great for drama, not so much for the point differential.
But I will say this: the Mavs have plenty of clutch experience this season. This team knows how to execute and win with the game on the line. Think that might make a difference in the playoffs?
Last night’s game was only the latest of the Maverick nail-biters, as Dallas surrendered consecutive three-pointers to the Wiz in the final 30 seconds. A safe seven-point lead had dwindled to just one, and then the unthinkable happened: Dirk Nowitzki committed a turnover with the game on the line. It’s one of the few blemishes on Dirk’s clutch resume, and it put Washington in control of the game with just six seconds remaining. They inbounded to Caron Butler in isolation, who measure the situation as he approached the three-point line. He attacked driving left, bumped to create contact, hung in the air, and was smothered by Shawn Marion.
One play hardly a win makes, but Marion and the Mavs are finishers in the truest sense. They may not always start the game strongly (although they had a perfectly respectable first quarter Wednesday night), but they close it with authority. Nowitzki is brutally effective in late-game situations, Jason Terry is one of the league leaders in fourth quarter scoring despite his disappointing performance overall, and the Mavs’ team defense has generally been superb in finishing games. It may not be enough to win by 20 every night, but it’s enough to win on most of them. Considering the pretty intense schedule the Mavs have had so far and the quality of opponents in the Western Conference, winning by a slim margin isn’t quite the sign of weakness it used to be.
The Mavs were certainly not without flaws in their win over the Wiz, but when the most glaring is simply the inability to build up a huge lead? I’ll take it. The offense performed well behind another terrific night from Dirk (28 points, 11-19 FG, five rebounds, three turnovers) and the welcome contributions of Jason Terry (21 points, 9-16 FG, one turnover). JET jumped into the starting lineup for just the second time all season, and he responded beautifully with eight of the Mavs’ 25 first quarter points. Starting Josh Howard has its perks (as does starting J.J. Barea), but it may be time for the Mavs to jump-start Terry’s offensive game with early shots. Despite his talents and his reputation, JET doesn’t play with blinders on. He’s likely to put up points early, but he’ll do so without handcuffing the rest of the offense. That’s the biggest difference between the offensive games of Jason Terry and Josh Howard right now, and though Josh missed the game due to illness, the notion of starting Terry is something the Mavs ought to explore.
On a night-in and night-out basis, those two should be the givens on offense. They should be putting up 20+, and the contributions of the rest of the Mavs provide the fudge, the whipped cream, and the cherry on top. On Wednesday it was Shawn Marion (12 points, 6-12 FG, 12 rebounds, two blocks) and Drew Gooden (14 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two blocks) who provided the trimmings, and they did so in a very efficient manner. Marion and Gooden combined for seven offensive rebounds, which is the ideal for them to provide on the offensive end. Marion can create a little off the dribble or in the post, but his primary offensive strengths come in moving without the ball and securing extra possessions for the Mavs off of rebounds. Drew is a bit more skilled in terms of shot-creation, but Dirk, Terry, and Kidd (in terms of setting up plays) remain superior options. If Gooden secures the offensive rebound and throws up an errant baby hook, it’s essentially a no-loss scenario; the Mavs could technically have scored on the additional possession they created, but Drew still had the opportunity to score based on an opportunity he seized by himself. That means he’s using up less of the possessions in the structured offense, but still contributing on the scoreboard. Tremendous.
The Mavs’ defense wasn’t especially notable, except for their inability to cover Randy Foye (26 points, 9-14 FG, three assists, three turnovers). If you’ll recall, Foye dropped 19 on the Mavs on opening night, and was a bonafide difference-maker with his scoring alone. There’s apparently something about Foye’s game that’s slippery enough to elude Jason Kidd, J.J. Barea, and co., and he’s taken full advantage of that fact this season. But other than that? Antawn Jamison had just seven points on 2-10 shooting with four turnovers. Caron Butler turned in a modest 20, while shooting 7-20 from the field. And though Brendan Haywood (13 points, 18 rebounds) and Earl Boykins (11 points, three assists) stepped up to fill the void, it wasn’t quite enough. This was by no means a marquee defensive performance, but the Mavs did force the Wizards’ best players into tough nights, and sealed the game by shutting down Caron Butler.
- Josh Howard missed the game with “nasty gasto problems.”
- Jason Kidd only scored six points (2-10 FG), but contributed plenty to the offense as evidenced by his gaudy 15 assists…which matched the the Wizards’ team total. Kidd has topped 15 assists in the last two games, and he’s averaging 12.6 dimes over his last five. Bravo, good chap.
- Even when the Wizards took a slight edge on the scoreboard in the closing minutes, the Mavs always seemed to have the game in control. They were the aggressors, and their primary scorers had established themselves as go-to guys. When in doubt, just get the ball to Dirk or JET. But the Wizards? Not having Butler or Jamison in rhythm, if only as a last resort, hurt their offense.
- Matt Carroll logged a few minutes in the second quarter, and played about how you would expect. It’s tough to go into a situation like that and contribute; despite all the drills and practices, nothing can really prepare you for an NBA game except for other NBA games. Quinton Ross also played 15 minutes (and wasn’t all that impressive defensively), and James Singleton logged eight.
- Erick Dampier threw down two alley-oop dunks from Jason Kidd with authority. Don’t worry, clips are on their way.
- The Mavs are moving the ball beautifully right now. It’s not just Kidd, either — the team totaled 27 assists on 39 field goals.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Shawn Marion. The double-double is huge, but the game-saving block is even better. Shawn had another tough assignment in Caron Butler, but forced Butler into some bad shots throughout the night, and took any hope the Wizards had for a comeback win and stomped on it as time expired.