When you go toe-to-toe with the best team in the entire league, you tend to take wins any way you can get them, even if they turn out a little bit flukey. Dallas had two very strange plays go their way: an errant pass from Jason Terry to Dirk Nowitzki that was somehow converted into a Jason Kidd go-ahead three-pointer, and a shockingly off-target lob from Rajon Rondo to Kevin Garnett on the ensuing inbound play. The probability of both of those plays unfolding in such favorable fashion is insanely low, and yet the Mavericks managed to steal one from the almighty Celtics.
The last time these two teams met, Dallas willingly gave Rajon Rondo a chance to win the game with an open three-pointer, a strategy which paid off when Rondo — a career .252 three-point shooter — caught rim on an attempt at late-game heroism. A similar event unfolded on Friday night, when Rondo found himself wide open from 17 feet with a little over a minute remaining and his team up three points. Rondo again fired away, and again he played right into the Mavs’ hands. Dallas scored seven straight points to end the game, and Rondo jumper marked the unwitting end of Boston’s offensive production.
Dirk Nowitzki (29 points, 9-14 FG, four rebounds, three assists) was back to his old hyper-efficient ways, but what impressed me most about the Mavs’ offense was their usage of Nowitzki as a central scorer, but not as their sole option. Looking past a pair of free throws to close the game, Nowitzki scored just three of the Mavs’ 10 points during their tide-turning run, largely due to the effectiveness of Jason Terry (17 points, 7-15 FG) off the dribble. JET was terrific in curling around defenders and pulling up off the bounce, and his sound night — in addition to other scoring contributions from Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler, and J.J. Barea — led to a terrific offensive night against one of the league’s best defenses.
Speaking of: though Dallas also boasts an effective defense of their own, this was not one of their finer defensive performances. The Mavs let entirely too many cutters get open looks around the rim, and the Celtics’ interior passing was fantastically effective in picking apart the Mavs’ D from the inside. Toss in a standout performance from Ray Allen (24 points, 9-18 FG, 3-7 3FG, two blocks) and a solid showing from Kevin Garnett’s (16 points, 7-16 FG, five rebounds) turnaround jumper, and it’s no surprise that Boston matched Dallas at every turn, even in spite of the Mavs’ offensive variety.
Dallas hit a few snags in their offense about midway through the fourth quarter, but even in their more limited moments they appeared to have this game firmly under wraps. A few much-needed buckets from Shawn Marion (10 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three blocks, three turnovers) and plenty of near-turnovers (as opposed to actual turnovers) from Dirk Nowitzki (24 points, 10-19 FG, four rebounds, four blocks) kept things pointed in the same positive general direction, even if they weren’t on track. There were a few disappointing letdowns on the defensive glass during that stretch as well, but the Mavs at least did a good job of blanketing the Bobcats on their initial attempts (Charlotte posted an effective field goal percentage of just 39.9%). Defensive possessions weren’t played to their conclusion, but at least the effort was there in earnest…initially, anyway.
J.J. Barea (15 points, 7-14 FG, three rebounds, two assists) started — and thrived — again, and one can help but wonder if this short-term arrangement couldn’t become a bit more permanent. Dallas doesn’t have an obvious replacement to fill the spot in the starting lineup once occupied by Caron Butler and then by the since-departed Sasha Pavlovic, and before anyone touts Peja Stojakovic as any kind of solution we should probably see how he’s capable of playing. Additionally, Stojakovic and Stevenson are both spot-up options without a ton of other offensive potential, which puts a lot of pressure on Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd to create offense in that hypothetical lineup. Barea not only gives the Mavs another ball-handler on the floor (the gains of which can be measured in the Kidd-Terry tandem), but also gives them a player who can put pressure on opposing defenses with his ability to dribble penetrate.
In the first quarter, Nowitzki went to a pair of righty hooks on back-to-back possessions. The first came as he was sweeping across the lane against Boris Diaw, and was shorted. The second came in a more set post possession form the same block, and looked pretty natural. One of the most unusual things about Nowitzki’s post game is that although he has a vast assortment of fakes and counters to free himself up for shots, everything he does is essentially a variation of the same fadeaway jumper. Nowitzki has dabbled with hooks like these in the past, but it could be a nice wrinkle for him to incorporate on a more regular basis, if only for variety’s sake.
D.J. Augustin (21 points, 7-17 FG, 3-8 3FG, two assists) is a fine player, and should have a fairly successful career. That said, he’s such a natural scorer, but has never had much aptitude as a playmaker. Augustin can create opportunities for his teammates and will have some decent assist totals from time to time, but the Bobcats really need to pair Augustin with another player who can initiate the offense. Freeing up Augustin to catch and shoot or attack the defense from different angles could really open up his game, and would go a long way toward salvaging Charlotte’s offense. Stephen Jackson is not that guy. Although he has a reputation as a competent all-around player, Jackson is exactly the kind of ball-holding, low-percentage-shot-taking partner that Augustin shouldn’t have. I realize the Bobcats don’t have a ton of options at this point, but finding a suitable complement for Augustin should be pretty high on their list of priorities, should they be committed to making him a part of their core for the future.
Brendan Haywood (three points, 1-4 FG, seven rebounds, one block) seems to lack any touch whatsoever in finishing in the paint; he’s Dampier-esque in his need to dunk immediately off the catch, lest he commit a turnover or find new and exciting ways to make his shot attempts go “clang.”
Former Mav Eduardo Najera played 22 minutes (!) while Tyrus Thomas watched in sartorial splendor from the sidelines, and his stint served as a reminder that Najera should never really play that many minutes. If a team is in need of an energy big for five minutes here and there, Najera could be the guy. If the gig requires something more, teams should really look to invest elsewhere.
The Bobcats switched on a lot of the Mavs’ screens, and it was nice to see Jason Terry (21 points, 7-14 FG, three assists, three turnovers) and Marion take advantage of a one-on-one matchup with Brown or another of Charlotte’s bigs.
Tyson Chandler (nine points, 4-10 FG, 15 rebounds, two blocks) made it work. His teammates made a continued effort to get him the ball, but plenty of those possessions ended with botched passes or bobbled catches; the Bobcats were well aware of the Mavs’ intentions, and did their best to take away Chandler as an offensive option. So Chandler created his own scoring opportunities by grabbing eight offensive rebounds, and finishing in particular style on a pair of clean-up dunks. Teams really looking to focus their defense can take away Terry’s impact or Kidd’s impact, but I’m not sure any team in this league can tech Chandler out of a game. It honestly may not be possible.
It’s unfathomable to me that any team in the NBA could allow Dirk Nowitzki to get so many open looks, but this season’s Bobcats are a continued exercise in facepalm-worthy decision making. When Dirk had the ball in his hands, the Bobcats obviously paid him mind. But when the ball was swinging from side to side or Terry attracted multiple defenders on a drive? It was somehow Nowitzki who was standing wide open. Truly odd.
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?
UPDATE: The Mavs have confirmed the trade via press release.
Here’s what Donnie Nelson had to say about the deal: “We wish Erick, Eddie and Matt nothing but the very best. They are consummate professionals that represented the Mavericks family with class and integrity. We could not be more excited to add Tyson Chandler. He is one of the most versatile big men in the league today. He gives our front line a defensive, shot-blocking, athletic punch we haven’t had here in awhile. Alexis Ajinca is a fine young center with significant upside.”
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, the Mavs have traded Erick Dampier, Matt Carroll, and Eduardo Najera to the Charlotte Bobcats for Tyson Chandler and Alexis Ajinca. The chip has been traded, and while it’s not LeBron James, or Dwyane Wade, or Joe Johnson (or Al Jefferson, or Andre Iguodala, or…), the Mavs did trade Damp to fill a bit of a positional need.
This move isn’t a particularly good one, and it’s not going to thrust the Mavs into the title discussion. However, like the Ian Mahinmi signing, it stabilizes the frontcourt rotation and gives Dallas some depth in the middle. It’s important, but definitely underwhelming. Dampier’s contract was thought to be much more valuable than this.
If the Mavs could have picked up Chandler circa ’07-’08, when he was one of the game’s elite interior defenders and a Chris Paul sidekick? This would be a definite upgrade. Yet as it stands, it’s actually very debatable whether Chandler is better than Erick Dampier at all. Even gifting Chandler the advantage, it’s entirely possible that Damp’s contract, which was supposed to add a significant, long-term piece for the Mavs, could have no direct roster impact past next season. The Mavs may choose to let Tyson walk next summer, and for all of the hullabaloo, that’s awfully anticlimactic.
Plenty more to come on the Mavs’ “big” off-season move.
Al Jefferson wouldn’t have been a suitable replacement for Brendan Haywood, nor is he a particularly wise usage of Erick Dampier’s instantly expiring contract. But what if he could be had for something far less? That’s apparently what the Mavs are asking of the Timberwolves, according to Marc Stein of ESPN Dallas:
Dallas, meanwhile, is determined not to ship out Dampier’s fully unguaranteed $13 million contract just to take back someone else’s long-term deal. The Mavs are telling teams that they have to furnish a clear roster upgrade if they want the ability to acquire Dampier, cut him instantly and wipe $13 million off the books.
Sources say Minnesota has been urging Dallas to part with Dampier’s contract and draft considerations in exchange for Al Jefferson, who has three years left on his contract at $42 million. The Mavericks keep telling the Wolves that they won’t surrender Dampier’s contract in a Jefferson deal because they have it earmarked for a Gasol-type trade, such as a theoretical sign-and-trade arrangement for James or as the centerpiece of Dallas’ longstanding pursuit of Paul. The problem? It’s a steep drop in terms of difference-makers that might be available after LeBron and his good buddy CP3.
The Mavs’ hard-line stance could always change if they miss out on their other summer targets. For now, though, look for them to take a measured look at their options on the trade market for the next month or so, disappointing as it would be if they can’t turn their best asset into tangible help for Dirk Nowitzki after so much hoopla. Just to be clear, though: Sources say Dallas does remain interested in Jefferson if the Wolves prove amenable to a deal that does not involve Dampier’s contract.
The Mavs would understandably want to pick up Al Jefferson for expiring contracts and Matt Carroll while holding on to their most valuable trade chip, it just seems awfully unlikely that Minnesota would ever agree to such terms. Al’s contract is rather large for a player with such glaring holes in his game, but he’s not enough of a burden that he warrants unloading for cap savings alone. If Dallas really wants to add Jefferson, it’s most likely going to take Dampier. Expecting anything less is just a part of the negotiation, but hardly worthy of anything more than a rumor.
There are only a few core deals that the Mavs could use to trade for Al Jefferson without using Erick Dampier’s contract, assuming that the only player coming to Dallas is Jefferson:
DeShawn Stevenson’s expiring contract, Matt Carroll, and Eduardo Najera (with his partially unguaranteed 2011-2012 salary) for Al Jefferson
DeShawn Stevenson’s expiring contract, Matt Carroll, and J.J. Barea for Al Jefferson
Jason Terry (and his partially unguaranteed 2011-2012 salary) and Matt Carroll for Al Jefferson
Jason Terry (and his partially unguaranteed 2011-2012 salary) and DeShawn Stevenson’s expiring contract for Al Jefferson
Terry and Stevenson make the most sense for the Wolves, but only if their intent is to clear as much salary as possible. They would trade Jefferson’s $13 million salary for $5 million guaranteed if they opt to waive Terry, and Dallas could include cash and draft picks to sweeten the pot if they so choose. Would all of that be worth it to earn the right to pay Jefferson over the next three seasons? Perhaps, but only if the Mavs don’t intend to force him into an uncomfortable role: playing center alongside Dirk Nowitzki.
Dirk is a unique cat, and his game isn’t easy to build around. It takes a particular set of players that can complement his strengths while making up for his weaknesses, and in that regard Jefferson disappoints. They’re not comparable, just familiar; even if Nowitzki and Jefferson aren’t the same in form, they are in function. It’s a neat diversion, but wouldn’t work as a starting pairing.
Now, a big rotation of Dirk, Brendan Haywood, and Al Jefferson? $13 million is a lot to pay for a big off the bench, but yeesh. Diversion turns to full-time fancy, and concerns about fit are obliterated. It would likely be painful for Mark Cuban to absorb both Jefferson’s deal and the tax implications, but considering it’s salary the Mavs would have been paying out to benchwarmers (and possibly Terry) this season anyway, the financial difference this season would be rather negligible. It’s all about how optimistic the Mavs are in their ability to move under the tax line (and conceivably the cap) in the coming seasons. With Nowitzki, Haywood, Marion, and perhaps another player yet to be determined all eating up space until 2014 at least, it may not be as financially liberal as it seems to throw in Al.
When the Mavs traded resident dreamboat Kris Humphries (along with resident headache Shawne Williams) for Eduardo Najera in January, the primary motivations for the deal seemed to be financial ones. Najera and Humphries are comparable players after all, and Mark Cuban saved an immediate $4.6 million after tax implications by trading Hump for a player almost 10 years his senior and ditching Williams’ 2009-2010 salary. However, the long-term financial outcome of the move is dependent on what the Mavs choose to do with Eddie or rather, what they chose not to do prior to midnight.
Had Dallas chosen to waive Najera prior to the start of free agency (and opted not to fill the open roster spot he left behind), Mark Cuban would have saved a combined $2 milion over the next two seasons after tax. It would be tough to blame him if that’s where he elected to trim the fat; although Najera definitely has utility, Cuban will already be spending a ridiculous amount of money over the next two years (the Mavs already have over $55 million in guaranteed salary for next season, and that’s not accounting for Dirk Nowitzki, Brendan Haywood, a potential MLE signing, and whomever the Mavs fetch using Erick Dampier’s contract). Instead, this move is precisely what makes Mark, Mark: rather than cutting a usable bench player for minor savings, Cuban will foot the bill and keep a big who played almost 15 minutes per in 33 contests for Dallas last season.
There will undoubtedly be power forward options superior to Najera on the open market this summer, but the Mavs will have limited means in which to attain them. The mid-level exception should be conserved as a last resort to grab a center should both Brendan Haywood and Erick Dampier sign elsewhere, and to target a backup 4 in a sign-and-trade would waste an incredible opportunity to satisfy one of the Mavs’ clearer positional needs. Keeping Eddie is the right move for a team over the cap, provided the owner is willing to pay for him to stay. Cuban is, so Najera will.
If the Mavs elect to hold on to Najera through 2011-2012 (his salary for that year is also partially unguaranteed, and waiving him next summer could save Cuban $1 million after tax), they will actually end up paying Eddie more money over his three seasons with the Mavs than they would have paid Humphries and Williams through two. That’s not the kind of move that wins championships, but it could give Dallas another big body to use during the draining regular season. He’s more than just a practice body, even if he’s not quite productive enough to be a full-time back-up for Dirk. Nothing Najera is or does makes him vital to the Maverick machine, but sometimes it’s just nice to have one of those pieces that makes everything run just a tad bit more smoothly.
Here are the updated finances of the deal, with Humphries’ accepted player option, Najera’s guaranteed ’10-’11 salary, and Shawne Williams not receiving a qualifying offer:
*Najera’s 2011-2012 salary is partially unguaranteed ($2,250,000)
Eduardo Najera doesn’t want to be considered an enforcer. He’d rather be called an energy guy. Most Spurs fans probably just want to call him an annoyance, though, as Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News writes: “Bothersome, he is. And that’s the way he and the Mavericks like it. But he doesn’t want to be known as an enforcer in this series, even if he’s one flagrant foul away from being suspended for a game.”
Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News points out that when Manu Ginobili plays Dirk Nowitzki, Manu normally gets hurt: “…At least this fits into a pattern. In 2002, in the World Championships, Ginobili collided with an opponent, severely sprained his ankle and missed the rest of that tournament. The opponent? Nowitzki.”
Andrew McNeill of 48 Minutes of Hell previews Game 6 and writes about the mounting pressure on the Spurs and why some people see tonight as a must-win for the Spurs: “Here’s a riddle for you: lots of folks are saying that the San Antonio Spurs need to win Game 6 tonight in San Antonio and end the series, because if it goes to Game 7 in Dallas, all the pressure will be on the Spurs. But by saying that, aren’t they putting all that pressure on the Spurs to win tonight instead?”
No Maverick made the Top 15 in jersey sales this year, and the Mavericks were not in the top 10 in team merchandise sold.
Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas writes one of the keys to Game 6 is for the Mavericks to keep their cool: “The Mavs didn’t handle the pressure and a deafening crowd well here in Games 3 and 4. They know they have no choice tonight in do-or-die Game 6.”
Enjoy watching the game tonight, wear your lucky shorts, sit in your lucky chair and hopefully this will not be the last Mavericks game we see until November.
This post was written by Blaine Zimmerman. If you’d like to contact Blaine, drop a comment or email him at bzimmerman11b[at]gmail[dot]com.
Rick Carlisle’s job isn’t threatened regardless of the outcome of this first round series. Cuban on Carlisle (via MacMahon): “I mean, it’s not something we’ll evaluate now, it’s not something we’ll evaluate this summer. I don’t see what would change anything.”
Dan Devine of Ball Don’t Lie: “It’s an immutable truth of the online world: If you write something about Caron Butler that skews negative — like I did, like Mike Prada did on Bullets Forever, like Kyle Weidie did on Truth About It, and on, and on — you will have your ugly craw crammed with humility walnuts within the space of 48 hours… It was a dominant performance in a game the Mavs had to have, the kind of game that tantalizes the Dallas faithful with visions of that one more big-time scorer that can aid Dirk Nowitzki and push their team over the top. Of course, it was also the kind of performance that leaves longtime watchers shaking their heads, saying things like “If only it was every night,” and being skeptical that Butler can turn in reasonable facsimiles in likewise must-win sixth and, if the Mavs get that far, seventh games.”
From mavstats: “for the 15:14 that Shawn Marion defended Manu Ginobili, Marion was +19 and held Ginobili to 7 points on 2-7 FG.”
Jason Terry has a new pregame ritual that symbolizes the coming-back-from-the-dead of the Mavericks’ playoff hopes… I guess. “I’m not big on death, but I was in a casket, and when they bunched me up, I fell up out of the casket and said ‘we’re not done yet.’ We’re going to have to do that again.”
Rick Carlisle didn’t play Erick Dampier in garbage time out of respect for the veteran center: “By the time late in the game, with veteran guys in those situations, I have too much respect to put him back in, unless he wants to.”
Former Mavs stats man Wayne Winston talks adjustments and lineups in his Game 5 recap.
This post was written by Mark Kao. If you’d like to contact Mark, drop a comment or email him at mark.kao[at]gmail[dot]com.
“The key to change…is to let go of fear.”
I’m not sure I’ll ever tire of hard-fought, Mavs-Spurs nail biters, but there’s nothing quite like a refreshing change of pace. For a moment, we can all breathe a deep sigh of relief, and find some comfort in knowing that when the Mavs’ options were limited to winning or facing a long, long summer, they fought to secure the former. There really is hope for this team yet, and though winning the next two games poses a significantly greater challenge than Game 5 did, winning the series remains a distinct possibility. It’s hardly probable, mind you, and would require more than a bit of luck, but after putting together the most dominant game by either team in this series, the Mavs’ chances seem decidedly better than they were just a few hours ago.
Rick Carlisle tweaked his rotation from opening tip, opting to start Brendan Haywood (eight points, eight rebounds, four blocks) over Erick Dampier (who received a DNP-CD). Haywood responded wonderfully, and though he failed to reach double-digits in points, his impact was profound. Brendan emerged from series invisibility to grab six offensive boards in 30 minutes, and went to the free throw line 12 times as a result. The Mavs fed Haywood down low early, and his focus and intensity never lagged. He was a force defensively, and held Tim Duncan to 3-of-9 shooting and just 11 points. He also made a tremendous difference as a weak side defender, and Haywood looks to be an entirely different pick-and-roll defender than he was when the series began. In Game 5, Haywood defended like a player who not only knew the team’s defensive game plan, but was completely comfortable in executing every aspect of it. Interior shots were challenged, screens were hedged, and four poor, unfortunate attempts were never the same again.
Caron Butler (35 points on 24 shots, 11 rebounds, three steals, zero turnovers) who famously rode the pine in the second half of Game 3, was the hero on offense. I wrote earlier in the day that “expecting Caron Butler to radically change his shot selection…is a bit ridiculous at this point,” but that’s precisely what he did. Caron shifted from his late Josh Howardian isolation step-back jumper-heavy style to an aggressive all-out assault. He still took plenty of jumpers, but many of those looks were on open spot-up attempts rather than attempts to run a one-man offense. Plus, Butler’s nine free throw attempts were no fluke; Caron attacked the rim both in the half-court and in transition, and that approach was rewarded with several trips to the free throw line. Butler’s career playoff high couldn’t have come at a better time, and should his suddenly renewed interest in getting to the rim last through the end of the weekend, it could go a long way in pushing the Mavs to an improbable series win.
However, the most promising development wasn’t simply Butler seeing the light, but the improved flow of the offense on the whole. For the first time since Game 1, Jason Kidd (10 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, two steals) looked like a game-changing player, and it’s hardly a coincidence that Dallas’ ball and player movement improved accordingly. There was no settling and no stopping the ball, as the once smothering Spurs defense looked quite mortal when faced with the challenge of containing a multifaceted Maverick offense. Dallas moved to strike quickly and efficiently, and San Antonio had absolutely no answer.
Dirk’s offensive rhythm is almost a given at this point, but even his shot attempts were markedly more open than they were in the first four games of the series. Once the game opens up for Butler, Haywood, Jason Terry (12 points on eight shots, four rebounds, two steals), J.J. Barea (eight points, four rebounds, four assists, five turnovers), and Shawn Marion (10 points, four rebounds), a Dirk-centered defense seems to miss the point.
The Mavs defended as well as they had all series, and with Tony Parker (18 points, 6-of-15 shooting, six assists) as the lone scorer on a Spurs team that was giving up plenty, the Spurs had little chance to mount a serious comeback. Manu Ginobili struggled from the field for the third game in a row (.333 in Game 3, .250 in Game 4, .286 in Game 5) thanks primarily to the defense of Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd, though defending a player of Manu’s caliber is always a team effort. George Hill, who was very nearly cast as a statue outside the AT&T Center following his performance in Game 4, finished with a mortal 12 points. Half of those game late in the third quarter after the game had already been decided, which officially qualifies him as a non-factor. The open shots that Hill feasted on were gone due to the Mavs’ quicker rotations, and without the benefit of wide open shots, George shifted to a rather limited form.
There’s no way of knowing whether anything from Game 5 will carryover into Thursday’s game, but there’s no reason to think that it can’t. Everything that the Mavericks did to dominate the Spurs is very sustainable, Caron Butler won’t necessarily be dropping 35 again, but the ball movement, the pick-and-roll defense, the balance — all reasonable goals for Game 6. It’s just a matter of execution, and with all of the Mavs’ big hitters getting plenty of rest, there’s no reason to expect Dallas to fail.
A few closing thoughts:
Dallas looked to get into transition at every opportunity (23 fast break points to San Antonio’s eight), which ended up playing a huge part in the rebounding battle. San Antonio’s focus on transition defense is logical and effective, but in this case pulled the Spurs’ bigs back to protect their own basket rather than hitting the offensive glass. Dallas had five more offensive rebounds and 11 more total rebounds as a result.
DeShawn Stevenson shaved his beard for the first time in 18 months. The Mavs have gone undefeated since.
Game 6 will be at 7 PM (central time) on TNT.
Eduardo Najera was called for another flagrant foul for catching Tony Parker’s head on a downward swipe, though this time he was assessed a flagrant one rather than a flagrant two. If Eddie picks up another flagrant foul, he’ll face (at least) a one game suspension. That could end up being pretty influential, as Najera played all of the backup center minutes in Dampier’s stead.
On that note: no word on why exactly Damp received a DNP-CD. Rick Carlisle sat Haywood for an extended stretch in Game 3 and has generally limited Brendan’s minutes throughout the series, but went back to him in Game 5 and it paid off.
Mark Cuban, when asked by Howard Beck of the New York Times if being willing to go above and beyond as an owner (in terms of spending) can be beneficial in the NBA: “Yes. Not because he/she can spend more on players, or even facilities, but rather because of the opportunity to invest in analytics and other nontraditional means that give a team an edge. Other nontraditional means could be something like a free-throw shooting coach. Right now, I think the Mavs are the only team with a full-time free-throw coach, because of the expense. I think we are the only team with a full-time team psychologist. Those are things that don’t show up on rosters but are very expensive and can impact a team significantly.”
Andrew McNeil of 48 Minutes of Hell on the fate of the series and the rivalry: “It’s not far-fetched to think that this could be the last time the Spurs and Mavericks meet as rivals. If the Spurs win tonight, no one knows what Mark Cuban might do to his roster. And the possibility that these two franchises might not meet in the playoffs in the near future is a very real possibility.So enjoy it. Enjoy the passion of both fan bases and the (hopefully) respectful hatred directed at one another. Enjoy the greatness of Dirk Nowitzki, no matter how much you may like to insult him. And if the Mavericks win tonight? Well, we’ll do it all over again on Thursday night.”
A few lasting images from Game 4, courtesy of Kyle Weidie (normally of Truth About It) writing at Hardwood Paroxysm, as well as a Mark Cuban GIF that I hope I don’t need to re-use here later tonight, and this memorable line: “If Dallas was looking for Butler to be a maverick from his past inept wizardry, they should look somewhere else.”
Gregg Popovich finds the presumption of pep talks with these two teams to be a bit ridiculous (via Art Garcia writing for Sekou Smith’s Hangtime Blog): “These guys are grown. The Mavs guys are grown. Jason and Dirk don’t need speeches. Timmy and Manu and Tony, they don’t need speeches. We’d probably put them to sleep if we said, ‘Now guys, this is a big game. Guys, it’s going to be loud.’ That’s a little silly to do with grown men.”
Caron Butler still views his trade to Dallas as a “blessing,” even after going down 1-3 to the Spurs and being benched for the entirety of Game 3′s second half. Michael Lee of the Washington Post: Butler said Pollin’s widow, Irene, called to inform him a week before the trade that the organization planned to move him and Antawn Jamison and would place them in good situations. ‘They could’ve just sent me anywhere, but obviously, Mr. Pollin was still working and it’s a blessing. The Pollin family really took care of me. But, you know, Washington was really home for me. Coming to a new city and having to invent yourself all over again, it’s mind-boggling to think about that on the fly, but at the same time I understand the nature of the business. Players get recycled in this game all the time.’”
Eight teams have come back from a 1-3 deficit to win a playoff series.
Impetus of a nonphysical process, such as an idea or a course of events
(definition from dictionary.com)
NBA games are all about momentum. In Game 4, the Spurs not only seized momentum when they came back from a double-digit deficit in the third quarter, they also managed that momentum effectively and didn’t allow the Mavs to take advantage of what appeared to be giant momentum shift in the fourth quarter.
Let’s take a look at the course of the game’s momentum shifts, including the woulda-coulda-shoulda moments in the fourth quarter when the Mavs couldn’t seem to regain the momentum despite a late-game push.
Momentum Shift #1: Shawn Marion made a layup on a pass from Jason Terry to put the Mavericks up 25-24, after being down 20-24. Immediately after, Matt Bonner missed a three and Brendan Haywood was fouled in the act of shooting. Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan re-enter the game, but didn’t accomplish much, and the Mavs took advantage of poor shooting by both of the Spurs’ stars to go up 15 with 2:33 remaining in the half.
Momentum Shift #2: With two minutes remaining in the half, Jason Terry rolled his ankle on a fast break layup attempt, which was blocked, and the subsequent Spur fast break ended in a Richard Jefferson dunk. The home crowd got back into the game in one sequence. Jason Terry went to the bench and the Spurs took control, outscoring the Mavericks 38-16 from this point until the start of the fourth quarter.
Should-have-been Momentum Shift #3: Dirk was called for a technical with 1:34 left in the third. On the very next play, Richard Jefferson was called for a flagrant foul for karate chopping Dirk as he went up for a shot. Normally, this course of events would cause a team to rally around their best player, start a run and not look back. Not in this game, though. By this point, the Mavericks had lost the lead and were trying to fight their way back into the game. When Dirk went to the line, the Mavericks were down 57-62. Dirk made both free throws, followed by a Terry missed jumper a George Hill corner three. Any chance of the Mavs gaining momentum was thrown out the window.
Should-have-been Momentum Shift #4: Eduardo Najera got ejected from the game after just 43 seconds of play for a flagrant 2 foul on Manu Ginobili. The Spurs should have completely blown the game open right here, and it looked like they were going to, when Manu made both free throws, then DeJuan Blair got a tip-in on the ensuing play, which made the score 61-70. But no, the next Mavericks possesion was……
Kind-of-was Momentum Shift #5: Blair was called for a flagrant on Jason Kidd (the third flagrant of the game, for those of you counting at home). This play was a small momentum shift, and it allowed the Mavs to get right back into the game, but they never could take back the lead.
All season long, we’ve heard Rick Carlisle and different members of the team talk about focus, or lack thereof. Even after Game 3, we’ve heard the same song and dance from Carlisle and Dirk about the team’s need to focus. I’m sure that for many, the notion that the Mavs would pull it together for the playoffs seemed like a given considering their veteran status. The team may have thought the same, because they look like they’re expecting the focus and drive to just come to them naturally. It hasn’t. Meanwhile, the Spurs are playing like the vetrans they are and are squelching the Mavs opportunities and confidence at every turn.
Basically, in Game 4, whenever the Mavericks should have taken control of the game due to their veteran leadership, instead they instead expected someone else on the team (Dirk) to carry them to victory.
In order for this series and season to be saved, the Maverick veterans need to take advantage of every opening the Spurs give them. Dirk is going to have to become as agressive as he was in Games 1 and 3, especially if the rest of the team is content to stand idly by while expecting Nowitzki to carry them to victory.
This post was written by Blaine Zimmerman. If you’d like to contact Blaine, drop a comment or email him at bzimmerman11b[at]gmail[dot]com.