Foul Ball

Posted by admin on April 20, 2010 under Commentary | 3 Comments to Read

Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images.

Sunday night, the Mavericks attempted 34 free throws to the Spurs 14. If you’ve been a Mavs fan since before 2006, you know how it feels to be on the short end of this stick.

The game was called very close, which was surprising knowing the previous battles between these two teams. This is a long-standing, heated rivalry that is typically very physical. The referees haven’t been known to call ticky-tack fouls when these two teams meet. They’ve usually just let the players play. Last night that wasn’t the case, as almost every small touch foul was called…on the Spurs.

It’s hard to argue that the game was called fairly, because the Mavericks still hadn’t committed a foul yet in the 3rd quarter when the Spurs were in the bonus. And this was before the “Clamp-a-Damp” technique thrown out by Popovich.

By no means am I complaining about this. Sometimes teams just get the calls, and it can happen on any given night. I highly doubt Bennett Salvatore said to himself before the game, “You know, I feel bad for the way I’ve treated the Mavericks before, so I kind of owe them one.” Things like this just happen every once in a while, and it’s fairly normal for playoff games.

Looking at the season series, the Mavs  attempted 96 Free Throw Attempts to the Spurs 84. In games one and four, the Mavericks had more FTA (27 to 19 in game one and 28 to 20 in game 4). In games two and three, the Spurs had more (24 to 21 in game two and 21 to 20 in game three). The only game the Spurs won was the first game, where the Mavericks shot 8 more free throws than the Spurs. On the season, though, the Spurs have been better at getting to the line. The Spurs finished the season tied for 18th in the league with 1,969 FTAs and the Mavericks were ranked 25th with 1,870 FTAs. Bascially, neither team has been spectacular at getting to the line, which is suprising considering Tony Parker’s driving game and Dirk’s knack of getting fouled on jumpers.

How does this affect the players? Well, the whole reason Popovich called for intentional fouls on Dampier was to get the ball out of Nowitzki’s hands, to take the Mavericks out of the flow of their offense. It didn’t quite work, but with the Mavs aiming to push the tempo, having to stop and inbound or shoot free throws would technically take them out of their game, and made Dallas run more half-court offense. The Spurs may have been cautious defensively due to the frequency of foul calls, but they maintained their focus and energy on the offensive end. San Antonio shot 50% from the field as a result, but they didn’t seem to adjust to how closely the game was being called. Matt Bonner drove a few more times than Spurs fans probably wanted him to, but Parker and Ginobili didn’t drive as much as they normally do. A more aggressive approach by the Spurs’ guards would have almost forced the referees to call more fouls on the Mavericks.

Basically, Game One was an anomaly to how these teams have played all season. Between the two teams, the free throw attempts are very similar, so don’t expect this to become a trend, particularly after the Spurs have had a chance to revise their approach. If anything, expect Game Two to be loosely called, with the referees allowing a lot of contact. After having a chance to review the film from Game One, it’s likely that the officiating crew will give both teams more leeway on defense.

That being said, here are some points to look at moving forward:

  • Dampier played very good defense on Tim Duncan Sunday night. Haywood had 10 points on 4-5 shooting. In close games during this series, don’t be surprised if Carlisle does offense/defense substitutions between these two.
  • Caron Butler (22 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals) had his best game as a Maverick. It is absolutely essential for him to keep playing that well if the Mavs are to make a deep playoff run.
  • Jason Terry had another off night, though he did hit a jumper and a corner three late in the fourth that could boost his confidence going into the next game. For a streaky shooter, a little confidence is all he needs to go from a slump to a monster series.
  • Gregg Popovich is one of the all-time best at making adjustments. Expect an entirely different game plan Wednesday night (especially against Dirk), because that’s just how Popovich works.
  • As Rob said, I doubt we’ll see Beaubois this series, he’s just too inexperienced and Barea has had some great games against the Spurs in the past. I do think Najera will make a couple of appearances, especially if Popovich tries the Clamp-a-Damp again.

Oklahoma City 121, Dallas Mavericks 116: Abridged

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 3, 2010 under Recaps | 4 Comments to Read

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

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More men fail through lack of purpose than lack of talent.

  • As much as I’d like to congratulate the Mavs for mounting an impressive fourth quarter comeback, this is not a win that deserves celebration. The Thunder were a team with something to play for, and play they did. Dallas had a real chance to spoil (or at least delay) Oklahoma City’s playoff celebrations, but to call what they did defensively “execution” wouldn’t exactly be accurate. It shouldn’t take an 18-point deficit and 41 minutes to suddenly instill a playoff team with a sense of urgency, yet that really seems to be a reality with these Mavs. It’s been the story throughout most of the season, regardless of who it was hitting the floor in a Maverick uniform.
  • Jason Kidd chimed in with a harsh reality for a wannabe contender: “It’s not that we don’t have talent. We’re one of the deepest teams in this league. I think we all need to take this nice little break we have and figure out who we want to be, and that’s sad to say with only five games left.”
  • The most effective center for the Mavs was Eddie Najera (11 points), and that’s a problem. Erick Dampier (four points, six rebounds, two blocks) was fairly meh, but Brendan Haywood (nine points, three rebounds) was the big disappointment as he struggled defensively and managed to fumble the ball away three times despite limited touches. When the Mavs traded for Najera, they were expecting a veteran, an end-of-the-rotation guy, and a solid energy player. When the Mavs traded for Haywood, they were expecting a “franchise center,” sayeth Mark Cuban. It’s not good when the former outperforms the latter, especially when the former manages to play 13 and a half minutes without grabbing a single rebound.
  • Seeing Dallas play well only during crunch time is something of a cruel tease. In many cases, they manage to pull out a win after only really playing a quarter or half a quarter of good basketball. That’s impressive, sure, but it only serves as a constant reminder of how good this team could be if they executed more consistently, and makes one wonder how many of these close games would be walk-off wins. This team has had time to gel, and now it’s time to perform.
  • Jason Terry, undoubtedly frustrated, making sure that the guys at the head of the Maverick bench get their due: “Our play is sporadic. Sometimes we play good D, sometimes we don’t. It falls a lot on the players, but I think everybody is held accountable.”
  • Caron Butler and Jason Terry combined for 12 points on 5-of-21 shooting. Beautiful.
  • On the frustrating side of things, the Mavs actually played pretty good defense on Kevin Durant. If they did one thing well defensively tonight, it was that; the Durantula scored 23 points on 7-of-18 shooting with five turnovers, though he also had five assists, five steals, and five rebounds. And the Thunder win by five. It was fated to be. Shawn Marion was matched up with KD early, and that responsibility shifted to Caron Butler after Marion left the game with a strained left oblique. Butler did a decent enough job and his teammates were able to pressure Durant well when he had the ball in his hands. The only problem is that the Mavs didn’t rotate well to compensate.
  • That left guys like Nick Collison (17 points), Eric Maynor (14 points, four assists), and James Harden (11 points, three assists, three turnovers) wide open. The problem wasn’t Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Jeff Green, even though they combined for 62 points; the real trouble was that Dallas gave uncontested threes and open layups to the Thunder’s role players. There’s typically going to be some price to pay when traps and double-teams figure prominently into a team’s defensive strategy, but giving up 17 to Nick Collison? Letting OKC, a team 13th in the league in offensive efficiency, go completely hog-wild and drop 121 points? That stench isn’t trouble a-brewin’, but trouble fully and thoroughly brewed and only now starting to really stink.
  • Then again, plenty of it wasn’t overaggressive defense, just bad defense. With 7:26 left in the fourth quarter and the Mavs down by 16, Collison drove right down the center for an easy layup…against a zone defense. Not good, guys.
  • Dirk Nowitzki (30 points, 10-19 FG, 13 rebounds, five turnovers) actually had a pretty terrific scoring night, and it’s a shame that it will be completely obscured by the Mavs’ defensive shortcomings. Despite OKC having two good defensive options for Dirk in Serge Ibaka and Jeff Green, he performs well against them for some reason (excluding tonight’s game, Nowitzki has averaged 30.3 points per game on 53.5 % shooting against the Thunder). Dirk was a huge reason why the fourth quarter comeback was so successful, and he hit some huge shots. Or really, what would have been huge shots had Dallas’ late-game efforts not been all for naught.
  • Dallas also wasted a great scoring night from Jason Kidd (24 points, 10-15 FG, six assists), who was the sole reason the game wasn’t completely unwinnable by the end of the third quarter. Kidd had 13 points in the third, half of the Mavs’ total for the frame.
  • The Mavs actually out-shot the Thunder, both in terms of effective field goal percentage (56.2% to 54.9%) and raw field goal percentage (53.1% to 51.9%), and outrebounded them (39-34), yet still lost. I’m not positive that this is the case, but it could have something to do with forgetting to play defense in the first half and surrendering 67 points over the first 24 minutes.
  • Rodrigue Beaubois (seven points, two turnovers) got the first minutes as the back-up point, but J.J. Barea (10 points) ultimately outperformed him when he provided a spark for Dallas in the fourth.
  • Nick Collison, via Twitter (@nickcollison4), regarding Oklahoma City’s playoff-clinching win: “Got 1 “congrats” text from my wife and one from her dad. Just realized I accidentally replied “thank you baby, love u” to her dad. Awkward”

Dallas Mavericks 109, Denver Nuggets 93

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 30, 2010 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing.”
-Leonardo da Vinci

I don’t need to tell you what this win means in terms of playoff seeding, or how good Denver is, or how close the playoffs are. These are things that we all know and we can all appreciate the gravity of. But I will say this: if you roll together timing, magnitude, tangible implications, and pertinence for the future, this is the most important Maverick win of the season. Bigger than the wins over the Lakers, any inspiring comeback, any gutsy, last-second win, or drawn-out defensive battle. We’ve seen Dallas struggle in recent weeks with all kinds of opponents, but last night they were highly-motivated, well-prepared, and ready to rock Denver’s world.

And that they did. That. They. Did.

From the opening tip, the Mavs were just operating at a different level than the Nuggets. The ball movement for Dallas was pristine, while for Denver it was a tad sloppy and just a second off. The Mavs (and Shawn Marion, in particular) were clearly ready for Carmelo Anthony (10 points, 3-16 FG, nine rebounds) and Chauncey Billups (11 points, 3-14 FG, six assists) going in, and they executed their defensive game plan to perfection. This isn’t to say that the Nuggets’ performance, in spite of limited production from their two best players, wouldn’t be enough for a win on some nights. Against some teams in the league, the Nuggets’ 93, with 30 free throw attempts and 12 offensive rebounds, would be enough for a victory. But for the first time in weeks, the Mavs presented a challenge of a different kind for an elite opponent, even if they are a struggling one. The Mavs finally look like a team that’s ready to play playoff basketball, ready to embrace and exploit the physicality and strategy that go with it.

This is the product that Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson envisioned when piecing together this roster. Shawn Marion (21 points two steals) was brought in specifically to handle threats like Anthony, and his defense was absolutely superb. Brendan Haywood (10 points, seven rebounds, four assists) defended the rim and helped to negate Nene’s impact. Caron Butler (10 points, seven rebounds) and Jason Terry (15 points, 3-5 3FG) provided supplemental scoring, Dirk Nowitzki (34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) did the heavy lifting, and Jason Kidd (eight points, 10 assists, six rebounds, three steals) ran the show like few point guards in the league can. This is what the finished product looks like, and we can only hope that what we saw last night was an unveiling rather than a sneak preview. If so, we’re entering “best basketball at the right time” territory, which is a pretty special place to be.

Nowitzki and Marion were particularly impressive. Dirk notched just the second triple-double of his career, and his 34 points came in a different fashion than we’re accustomed. Nowitzki usually makes his money from mid-range, but he put together a 4-of-5 showing from beyond the arc in a bit of a throwback performance. Despite his reputation as a sweet-shooting big man (which he is, don’t get me wrong), Dirk has phased the three out of his nightly arsenal over the last few seasons. It’s not that he can’t shoot them, but in an effort to help the Mavs engineer a more deliberate offense, he’s move his game inward. He sets up in the low post to draw fouls, attract double-teams (a tactic which Denver was happy to utilize, and Dirk capitalized with 10 assists), and get easy buckets, and operates from the high post near the top of the key or the free throw line extended. This is contemporary Nowitzki’s game as we know it, but we saw a Dirk of a different breed against the Nuggets. Dirk had just three two-point field goals, and 28 of his 34 points came off of free throws and three-pointers, the most efficient shots possible.

Marion wasn’t quite as impressive in terms of his all-around game, but the combination of his lock-down defense on Anthony (though to be fair, he obviously had help) and his scoring punch is well-deserving of second billing. Marion scored on an array of runners and layups, as per usual, but it was his ability to post up the Denver guards that was especially helpful. Plus, his own scoring success didn’t outfit him with blinders, and he was willing to find open teammates with passes even from deep in the post. I’m not sure if the Nuggets will still be switching so much on screens if they were to match up with the Mavs into the playoffs, but Marion’s versatility is an obvious way for Dallas to exploit mismatches. He took Chris Andersen off the dribble, he posted up Billups, and he was everything the Mavs wanted him to be.

Even if these last two games are a daydream, they’ve been a pleasant one.

Closing thoughts:

  • J.R. Smith (27 points, 10-16 FG, four rebounds, five turnovers) was both a blessing and a curse, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. I don’t have any problem with a player like Smith focusing solely on his scoring on a night like this, even if he could be using that prowess to create looks for his teammates as well. His efficient shooting and high scoring volume exempt him from that in my book, though, on the grounds that J.R. putting up that kind of production should be good enough. The five turnovers, though, hurt big time. Dallas only had seven turnovers as a team, and for Smith to sniff that total on his own is a bit troublesome. That said, I’m still awed by his scoring ability on nights like these, and if I had to bet my life on one guy in the NBA to take a bad shot at the end of the shot clock, I’d probably pick Smith.
  • The Mavs started quarters with authority. The first quarter began with a 17-4 Dallas run, the third with a 7-0 run, and the fourth — after a Smith three-pointer had brought Denver within 10 — was marked by a 15-4 run in the opening minutes.
  • Dirk grabbed three offensive rebounds, which is enough to tie his season-high.
  • 27 assists on 38 field goals. Tremendous. Dirk and Kidd each had 10 assists, but I’m not sure that number properly encapsulates Kidd’s value. This was one of his better nights running the offense, and the Mavs looked like an elite offensive team. 123.9 points per 100 possessions is awfully impressive, and while that’s representative of team-wide success, the responsibility for the team’s offensive production weighs heavily on the point guard’s shoulders. Kudos, Kidd.
  • Mavericks fans live to see Rodrigue Beaubois succeed, and he actually played reasonably well in spite of a 2-of-7 shooting performance. Unlike most of Beaubois’ games this season, most of his minutes in this contest came at point guard, as J.J. Barea missed the game with a sore left ankle. And unlike most of Beaubois’ games this season, most of his production came at the defensive end, where he was excellent against Chauncey Billups and grabbed three steals.
  • Erick Dampier (four points, five rebounds) looked much more mobile and energetic in nine minutes, and assertive to boot. Since returning from injury on March 10th, Damp has looked a bit rusty in limited minutes. He’s not the quickest big on the court even when healthy, but last night’s game should inspire optimism for many reasons, including the possibility of having a healthy and engaged Erick Dampier.
  • This is the fifth game in seven nights for the Nuggets, and while I don’t really believe in scheduling as an excuse, it deserves a footnote.
  • Solid minutes for Eddie Najera, some coming at the 4 and some at the 5, but even solid…er minutes for Joey Graham (10 points, 4-5 FG, four rebounds). Not what you’d expect from Graham in a game like this, but surprisingly effective role players can make a huge difference in match-ups like these, especially in the playoffs. Chris Andersen, on the other hand, failed to get a single bucket in almost 18 minutes.
  • An even more impressive note on Dirk and Marion’s performances: they played just 37 and 29 minutes, respectively.

Dallas Mavericks 111, Golden State Warriors 90: Abridged

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 28, 2010 under Recaps | 6 Comments to Read

Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”
-Robert Oppenheimer/Bhagavad-Gita

  • Unreal. Did this possibility even cross your mind last June, when the Mavs drafted a semi-unknown French point guard? Roddy has come such a long way since draft night, and he still has miles to go before he sleeps. Rodrigue Beaubois is going to be a star in this league for a very long time, and this was a giant hop toward that stardom. It’s going to hinge on a ton of factors that are too tough to gauge right now, but his climb seems inevitable at this point. Rookie seasons can yield many mirages, but I don’t think you can explain away Beaubois’ talent, physical tools, and natural instincts. Roddy just looks at home with a basketball in his hands, and with his willingness to learn, talent, and physical tools, he seems like a can’t-miss prospect at this point. I know that’s easy to say after an incredible outburst against one of the worst defenses in the league, but it’s an observation that’s been nearly a season in the making.
  • The already one-sided debate that’s been raging on over Rodrigue Beaubois’ playing time? It should be nonexistent after tonight. Beaubois went off for 40 points in an absolutely surreal display of shooting prowess, in which he shot 9-of-11 from three and scored just one of his 40 at the line. But here’s the thing: the debate won’t disappear. The fact that Beaubois’ big night came against the Warriors will mark it with an asterisk, and the idea that this is exactly the type of game Beaubois should excel in will somehow demean just how impressive of a game this was for Roddy. It’s not fair, honestly, but I have a bad feeling that the perceptive powers that be will try to negate what we saw on March 27th, 2010. Don’t let them. It was a hot night against a bad defensive team, but this was a thoroughly dominating performance.
  • That said, the beauty that was this 40-pointer came with Beaubois at the two. This may be some incredible evidence for Roddy’s value as a player, but not really as a point guard. Or basically, we could be right back where we started, simply with confirmation of Beaubois’ value as a scorer.
  • Other than that, what is there to say? It’s a bit refreshing to have the most dynamic, high-scoring guard on the Mavs’ side of the Dallas-Golden State match-up for once; Monta Ellis (14 points, four assists) and Steph Curry (17 points, seven rebounds, six assists, seven turnovers) each shot 6-for-16 from the field, and neither could stabilize the sloppy Warrior offense. The Mavs’ defense wasn’t all that impressive, though I do appreciate Rick Carlisle’s decision to cover Ellis with Shawn Marion to start the game.
  • The Warriors just couldn’t shoot. Credit to the Mavs for forcing the Dubs into plenty of long two-pointers, but Golden State missed a ton of open looks from three and completely shut down offensively in the second quarter. The same second quarter that was home to 36 Maverick points, 21 of which were Rodrigue Beaubois’. A 20-2 run and a separate 10-0 run (all Beaubois) in the second pretty much sealed the game. If not for an uncharacteristically high turnover rate for those twelve minutes, it could very well have been the Mavs’ best offensive quarter of the season. I’m pretty sure it was Roddy’s best offensive quarter, regardless.
  • The Mavs on the other hand, could. Dallas shot 48.4% from the field, and an incredibly impressive 53.3% from three (on 30 attempts!) thanks to Beaubois’ handiwork. Eddie Najera (nine points, nine rebounds, two steals, one block) was an unexpected contributor from the perimeter, where he hit three of his six three-point attempts. Najera saw plenty of court time due to a minor injury (middle finger jam) to Brendan Haywood and the Warriors’ unique style of play, and he played rather well.
  • Shawn Marion (18 points, 9-12 FG, four rebounds, five steals) had another strong night, and even if the Mavs on the whole aren’t rounding into playoff shape, he certainly has been. He’s been so much more effective with his runners and mid-range game over the last few weeks, and that makes him a pretty effective half-court weapon. He still misses some of his looks at the rim and isn’t a huge threat off the dribble, but Shawn’s value in the offense has improved significantly in about a month’s time. Defensively, Marion was incredibly active in the passing lanes, and if the NBA tracked deflections his stat line would be that much more impressive. Shawn was everywhere, and he was a big reason why one of the more confident offenses in the league looked a bit tentative on Saturday.
  • Dallas shot just ten free throws and collected just four offensive rebounds. It didn’t make a bit of difference. The Warriors’ shooting was so awful and the Mavs’ shooting so effective that half of the Four Factors  were deemed irrelevant. The bottom line, and proof that there’s truth in simplicity: the team that shoots better wins almost every game. Dallas had nearly a 20-point edge in effective field goal percentage, which was more than enough to trump the Mavs’ weaknesses in other areas.
  • Caron Butler finished with 15 and four, Dirk Nowitzki dropped a 13-10 double-double, and Jason Kidd tallied 11 assists, but this was Rodrigue’s show. The game was never in doubt after the Roddy Show in the second quarter, which mean plenty of rest for the Mavs’ big guns (only Marion played more than 30 minutes).
  • Brendan Haywood played almost nine minutes, but Erick Dampier did not play at all. Most of the minutes at center went to Najera, with Nowitzki playing back-up.
  • The Mavs had some serious problems finishing at the rim, despite of the number of uncontested run-outs the Warriors’ defense gifted them. Scoff and shake your head at the Mavs who blew layups (Dirk blew an easy one, Marion airballed a finger roll, and even Roddy couldn’t convert on a fairly rudimentary look), but don’t forget to credit Ronny Turiaf, who only finished with two blocks but was one of the few Warriors interested in playing some real defense.
  • A mixed bag for J.J. Barea, who finished with five points and five assists in 20 minutes, but also turned the ball over four times. Point guards should be allowed to make mistakes, but high-turnover games like this one don’t really indicate high value as a PG. We know J.J. is better than this, even if our love affair with Roddy makes it tough to admit. Barea is a pretty decent point guard, and for some reason his hands were a bit slippery against Golden State.
  • Anthony Tolliver had 21 rebounds, including eight on the offensive end. Shame on every GM who thought this guy couldn’t be an NBA player, or who looked to use a roster spot on a name rather than a player. His fellow former D-Leaguers, Reggie Williams and Chris Hunter, weren’t as impressive. But those guys are NBA players, and for everything that has gone wrong with the Warriors this year, their ability to scout D-League and their willingness to sign that talent is pretty much unparalleled.
  • Two points for Matt Carroll! He had 20% of the Mavs’ free throw attempts, and boy can that guy make his free throws.

New Orleans Hornets 115, Dallas Mavericks 99

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 23, 2010 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images.

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“Disappointment is a sort of bankruptcy — the bankruptcy of a soul that expends too much in hope and expectation.”
-Eric Hoffer

There are some things in this world that we take for granted. The sun will come up tomorrow. Our technology, that helps us, guides us, conveniences us, and protects us, will not fail. That the institutions with a huge influence on our lives — governmental bodies, banks, etc. — will work with the best interest of the population at large in mind. These are things that we likely only give thought to in the event that they fail, which doesn’t give the proper due to the steady but impactful forces in our lives.

The Dallas Mavericks are apparently resolved to never fall into that category.

If you even begin to take this team for granted — even their leadership, their execution — they’ll make you a fool. They’ll cough up 14 turnovers over the span of two quarters. They’ll go six minutes without scoring a single point and surrender a 23-0 run to a Hornets team that really isn’t that good. They’ll give up 20+ points to not only David West (25 points, 10-17 FG, six rebounds, 10 assists) and Marcus Thornton (28 points, 12-22 FG, 4-9 3FG), who are very talented scorers, but also to Morris Peterson (20 points, 8-11 FG, 4-7 3FG, five rebounds). It was a 36-minute defensive disaster, and though the Mavs once held a 16-point lead in the opening frame, it wasn’t enough to save them from the clinic the Hornets ran over the final three quarters.

That’s an important distinction. The Hornets won this game. They didn’t stumble into success; they earned it with their defense and their effectiveness in transition and from the perimeter. I’m not in any way saying the Mavs aren’t culpable for the way they played, because Rick Carlisle should demand accountability from this team. They’re too good and too experienced for anything less. But New Orleans still played some incredibly impressive basketball from the first quarter on.

They were white-hot from beyond the arc, as good ball movement (33 assists on 45 field goals) and strong cuts opened up shooters from all over. The Hornets are in the top third of the league in three-point shooting percentage, but they looked nothing short of elite last night. Peterson and Thornton combined for eight makes alone from the beyond the arc, and the team as a whole shot 50% on 24 attempts. That shooting combined with David West’s interior scoring was more than enough to anchor New Orleans’ half-court offense.

But all of that is manageable. The Mavs have dealt with teams that are skilled operating on the perimeter before (Phoenix, Orlando, etc.), and they’re certainly capable of doing it again. But a team shooting so well from just about everywhere on the court doesn’t need to be handed points, and that’s exactly what the Mavs did with their 18 turnovers, a vast majority of which came over the game’s horrific middle quarters. That gave the Hornets entirely too many opportunities for transition buckets, which made what could have been a perfectly winnable game (even given the six-minute scoreless stretch the Mavs had spanning the second and third quarters) into a bit of a laugher. That’s usually what happens when one team allows the other three 30+ point quarters in a row.

99 points is enough, and that’s with Dirk resting over the final eight minutes. Making 52% of your shots is enough, and that’s with Jason Kidd (six points, six assists, three turnovers) and Caron Butler (12 points, six rebounds) combining to go 7-for-21. The Mavs were scoring at a rate of 108.8 points per 100 possessions, which would register as a top five offense. But when you allow your opponent to 126.4 points per 100 possessions, you’re going to face some problems. I’m not sure where the defense went or why it decided to take a sudden vacation, but the Mavs would be wise to track it down. The search starts on the perimeter and goes inward.

Closing thoughts:

  • Jason Terry ditched his protective face mask, apparently because he has regained some of the feeling in his face. Doctors have advised him to wear it for the rest of the season, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. Especially not after dropping 24 points on 16 shots without it.
  • Chris Paul (11 points, three assists) returned to the starting lineup, but he actually didn’t have all that much to do with this win. That’s a bit scary. This game was kind of reminiscent of the Mavs January loss to the Lakers in that way: a limited superstar was technically on the floor, but wasn’t necessarily a reason why Dallas lost at all. The Mavs were taken down by Paul’s supporting cast, and that’s no bueno. As a follower of the Mavs, I’m obviously not thrilled to see Chris Paul back in uniform. But at the same time, as an NBA fan, how could you not be excited? Even if there’s some bitterness over when Paul downed the Mavs in the playoffs in 2008, Chris is such a special player. I’m convinced of Paul’s greatness, as in eventual historical greatness, and you’re honestly missing out if you don’t take every opportunity to appreciate his game now.
  • Caron Butler’s vice: the jab-step, jab-step, jab-step long two-point jumper with his heels on the three-point line. It’s almost always contest, but sometimes goes in. The sometimes is not a positive, as the makes only encourage him to do it again and again.
  • Wow, Marcus Thornton. I don’t get a chance to talk about him much around here, but how could you not like his game? His double-clutch reverse layup around Erick Dampier was just plain beautiful. I was pretty high on Thornton around the draft, but I didn’t expect this. Not for him to be this good this fast.
  • Slightly alarming offensive note: Dirk Nowitzki shot 67% from the field, but only put up 12 field goal attempts. That’s as many as Shawn Marion. The Mavs were getting Nowitzki plenty of good looks when they settled into their sets, but the Dallas turnover splurge hurt Dirk’s attempts more than anyone else. Dirk was responsible for five of them himself, which is more than a tad uncharacteristic.
  • Signs of life from Brendan Haywood (10 points, nine rebounds, two blocks), who had played poorly in his last three. Only ten minutes of action for Erick Dampier, though, all of which came in the first half. Something happening there.
  • The Hornets broke a three-game losing streak, and the Mavs have now lost three of their last four.
  • Darren Collison deserves mention for his excellent play off the bench. He finished with 16 points and eight assists in 35 minutes, though he only shot 6-of-15 from the field. Impressive nonetheless. And who says Collison and Paul can’t play together?
  • An odd sequence to end the game, as James Posey was called for a flagrant foul on Rodrigue Beaubois with 0.4 seconds remaining. The play wasn’t malicious, but Posey did make contact with Beaubois’ head.

Dallas Mavericks 125, Minnesota Timberwolves 112

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 9, 2010 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images.

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Safety is something that happens between your ears, not something you hold in your hands.
-Jeff Cooper

See, it doesn’t have to be so difficult.

The Timberwolves have inexplicably matched up quite well with the Mavericks this season, taking one of their two prior meetings this season (in Dallas, no less) and nearly taking another despite not having Al Jefferson in the lineup. That’s more than a bit odd considering each team’s relative standing, particularly the fact that despite the fact that Minny has twice the wins of the New Jersey Nets, they could very well be the worst team in the league. The Wolves’ talent is far less balanced and cohesive than what the Nets have to work with, and though Jefferson and Kevin Love are terrific players, their individual brilliance is often diminished by the odd collection of talent David Kahn has assembled.

In short: the Wolves aren’t very good. The Mavs will inevitably struggle against some inferior teams. That doesn’t mean that Minnesota should be capable of challenging Dallas on a regular basis, particularly because on paper, the Wolves don’t seem to have any clear match-up advantages ripe for exploitation. Jefferson and Love against the Mavs’ bigs isn’t exactly Dwyane Wade v. Adrian Griffin.

So in a fit of irony, the one occasion in which Minnesota would appear to have a clear advantage (with the absence of Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood due to injury) comes on the same night as the Mavs’ first double-digit win since February 19th and the Mavs’ most convincing win against the Wolves (hey, small victories are still victories, right?) this season.

For once, Dallas wasn’t battling Minnesota to the game’s final seconds. Not that Jefferson (36 points, 15-21 FG, 13 rebounds) didn’t fight the good fight, but Love (six points, 1-7 FG, six rebounds, three turnovers) could do little more than rebound in his 12 minutes on the floor…which was a pretty poor showing from both Love (despite the prodigious rebounding rate) and Kurt Rambis. Darko Milicic played more minutes. Sasha Pavlovic played more minutes. Ryan Hollins played over double the minutes. I don’t care how badly Kevin Love is playing, there really isn’t an excuse to run that kind of rotation barring Love snapping his femur in half. No one on the Timberwolves (save Al) is good enough to displace Love, which tells me one of two things:

  1. Kurt Rambis has gone completely batty.
  2. Kurt Rambis has visions of ping pong balls dancing in his head.

At this point, neither would surprise me.

But Jefferson went wild, the Wolves put up 112 points. Not bad, except that in such a fast-paced game, the Mavs put up a whopping 125 on 50% shooting. Without anything resembling a traditional center (Dirk and Eddie Najera filled in at the 5 for the Mavs), the Mavs pushed the ball with abandon…and still only turned the ball over eight times. That’s Jason Kidd (12 points, 10 assists, three turnovers, three steals) doing his job and doing it well. That’s J.J. Barea (nine points, nine assists, two turnovers) and Rodrigue Beaubois (11 points, five rebounds, four assists) taking care of the ball and not trying to do too much. That’s just tremendous efficiency in the passing game for the Mavs’ guards, and the team-wide ball protection (Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, and Caron Butler, the Mavs’ leaders in FGAs, combined for just one turnover) was just phenomenal. Dallas played reasonable defense considering the circumstances, but they earned the W on the offensive end last night.

That’s where Shawn Marion (29 points, 14 rebounds, three steals) had an unexpected explosion. Dirk Nowitzki (24 points, 8-15 FG, six rebounds, three assists) picked up his second foul just a minute and a half into the game. That would seem incredibly troublesome, especially when considering that Jason Terry is still out recovering from surgery. But Marion and Caron Butler (23 points, 9-19 FG, three rebounds, three assists) keyed a tide-turning 19-2 run for Dallas that flipped an eight-point deficit and then some and secured a lead that the Mavs would never relinquish. Hot starts have been pivotal for the Wolves in their last two games against the Mavs, and the first five minutes were no different. But once Marion, Caron, and surprisingly, Jason Kidd started piling on the points, it was all downhill from there.

You’ve heard me say it a dozen times about just as many spectacular performances this season: don’t expect it every night. Marion is capable of scoring in volume if given the chance, and he can do more with the ball than he’s been able to this season (include hit the mid-range J, which he wasn’t as reluctant to pull the trigger on yesterday), but that’s not his role on this team. Nowitzki, Terry, and Butler are going to get the shots. Marion knows that, and he’s comfortable with it. But don’t think for a second that he didn’t like showing off for a night, and don’t think for a second that he didn’t enjoy every one of those 25 field goal attempts.

Closing thoughts:

  • Aren’t the Mavs on a winning streak or something?
  • The reason the Mavs were able to hold down the fort defensively without Haywood or Damp: the zone defense. It absolutely killed the Wolves, who lack consistent outside shooting (they finished 4-of-22 from behind the arc). Once Dallas decided to zone up, the Wolves became tentative, they took bad shots, and the turned the ball over. A ton. But they also finished with 15 offensive rebounds, which is about what you’d expect given the lineup and the defensive scheme. Any strategy change comes with a give and a take, and while the Mavs took away plenty of opportunities by zoning up, they also gave quite a few back.
  • Ramon Sessions (11 points, 5-5 FG, two assists, two turnovers) gets an absurd number of crazy and ones against Dallas. What’s more: they’re usually on fouled runners and jumpers. These are shots with some decent range where Sessions absorbs a bit of contact and finishes over Kidd, Barea, or Beaubois some eight or 10 feet from the basket.
  • Beaubois had another highlight reel block, although one of the foul-ish variety. Jonny Flynn had what looked to be a breakaway dunk to close the first half, but Roddy stopped him at the cup by swatting the ball and plenty of Flynn’s hand. No blood, no foul, right?
  • I was very impressed with Jefferson’s passing. Not a big assist night for him, and he’s not a big assist player, really. But both of his dimes came off perfect, no-look dishes to backdoor cutters. That’s about as sexy as it gets for passing bigs.
  • Tough luck: J.J. Barea rolled his ankle in the game’s closing minutes, and he could end up missing some time. He was able to limp off the court, but he looked to be in quite a bit of pain.
  • Matt Carroll (four points, 1-2 FG)saw seven and a half minutes of actual playing time, and connected on a shot to boot. Great for him, and it would certainly be nice if, in Tim Thomas’ absence, Carroll could crack the rotation once in awhile.
  • Ryan Hollins is always hyped up, and particularly so when he plays against Dallas. That energy helped him to a near double-double with 13 points and nine rebounds, but his tight winding was also the impetus that caused him to hit two Mavs, DeShawn Stevenson and Dirk Nowitzki, in the face. He’s a bit out of control to say the least, and while his smack on DeShawn’s cheek wasn’t even whistled as a foul (though Stevenson was assessed a technical for yelling at a referee about it), the swipe that connected with Dirk’s noggin earned Hollins a flagrant two and an automatic ejection.
  • Caron Butler is showing the range. He had made exactly one three in his first nine games with the Mavs, but three in each of the last two games (on an average of five attempts per). Najera got in the act as well, and he’s hit four out of his nine attempts in the last two contests.

Dallas Mavericks 89, Charlotte Bobcats 84

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 2, 2010 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images.

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“I am not afraid of tomorrow, for I have seen yesterday and I love today.”
-William Allen White

This game was not beautiful. It wasn’t a sight to behold, aesthetically pleasing, or even “ehhh, kinda cute.” This was an ugly affair in which neither team could perform at any competent level offensively, and though the final margin was relatively tight, there wasn’t a photo finish of any kind. The defenses just mucked up the game in every regard, and any chance at having a good game was slashed with each forced turnover.

And it was absolutely glorious.

There are contests where both teams just can’t buy a bucket, and the Bobcats have been a part of plenty of them. But this was simply a triumph of defense, as the Bobcats held down the Mavs for nearly the entire game, and Dallas managed a defensive exhibition all its own. It wasn’t a clinic; neither team’s performance in this game will be flagged in the annals of the NBA, because despite how grand the defense was at times, it simply didn’t meet historical levels of greatness. But as far as ugly, early March games go, this one was surprisingly fulfilling.

Part of that is because while last night’s affair wasn’t necessarily a good game, it was certainly a good win. The Mavs only led for two minutes and 10 seconds prior to the fourth quarter, and they again overcame a double-digit lead in the second half to pull out the victory. Their own inability to stop Charlotte’s limited offense in the first half had a lot to do with that lead, but the Mavs holding the Bobcats to a 31-point second half was far more impressive than allowing them a 53-point first half was distressing. It’d be nice to see Dallas thoroughly dominate teams for 48 minutes, but asking that is pretty unrealistic. Instead, take pride in the fact that the Mavs refuse to cede significant ground to their opponents even during their worst stretches, and there’s absolutely no disputing their fourth-quarter effectiveness. This is a team that was built to endure, and while the first three quarters consist of some feeling out and ‘guess and check’ work, the final twelve minutes is where these Mavs shine.

The spotlight was on Jason Terry (20 points, 8-17 FG, four assists, two turnovers), who played an absolutely stellar fourth quarter. JET dropped 13 in the fourth quarter, and 11 of those points came over a four-minute span in which he personally outscored the Bobcats 11-4. Terry hasn’t been dropping in points in tremendous volume lately, but he’s been incredibly efficient; this was actually the first game that he’s shot less than 50% (and it’s 47.5%, which is damn near close enough for me) since the 0-for-10 debacle against Miami on February 20th. This is only the second time he’s registered 20 points over that same stretch (with the other being his 30-point night against L.A.), but JET’s shooting has been wonderfully efficient of late.

Dirk Nowitzki (27 points, 12-23 FG, 13 rebounds, two blocks, one turnover) is one of the most effective isolation weapons in the game, and most opponents’ best defense on him in late-game situations is to double aggressively (leaving them vulnerable to the kick-out) or pray that he misses. Charlotte is a beast of a team on the defensive end, but even with their group of talented, athletic defenders, the Bobcats had no means of halting Dirk’s high post game. Tyrus Thomas (16 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks) was matched up with Nowitzki in the fourth, and though he’s one of the more physically gifted defenders in the league much less in Charlotte, Dirk pump faked and spun his way to a few crucial buckets.

One of Josh Howard’s most publicized shortcomings was his inability to provide stable scoring behind Nowitzki and Terry. It’s something he struggled with throughout his injury-plagued campaigns, and though Howard would occasionally show flashes of what could have been (had he been healthy and comfortable in the rotation), he clearly wasn’t able to provide in that capacity this season. Caron Butler (22 points, 10-16 FG, three steals) on the other hand, is looking more and more like a perfect option as a third scorer. Caron’s averaged 20.5 points on 55.9% shooting since sitting out two games due to complications with a medication, along with 1.0 turnovers and 3.5 steals per night. Two games is an incredibly small sample size, but Butler really does look more comfortable in the Mavs’ sets and, just as importantly, his teammates are more aware of where and when Caron wants the ball.

Everything is still not perfect, as evidenced by a mere five-point win and only 89 points on the board. But the things the Mavs have improved since the trade — defense, balanced scoring, activity level — are more than enough reason to keep looking up.

Closing thoughts:

  • This win pushed the Mavs up to 2nd place in the Western Conference, which is even more important than the fact that it was Dallas’ eighth straight victory.
  • Stephen Jackson (20 points, seven rebounds, four assists, six turnovers) looked to be a big problem early in the game. Rick Carlisle clearly has tremendous respect for Gerald Wallace’s (11 points, eight rebounds, three blocks) game, and matched Crash with Shawn Marion. That left Caron Butler and Jason Kidd to defend the lanky, streak-shooting Jackson, who had 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting and three assists in the first quarter. Letting a shooter like Jax build confidence early in a game can be particularly dangerous. To some extent he was, as his 20 points are pretty significant in such a low-possession, low-scoring game. But those six turnovers were ruinous. Three of them came in just over three minutes in the second quarter, and by the time Jax had reeled in the TOs in the fourth, his shooting had gone cold. This is kinda what you get with Stephen Jackson.
  • Brendan Haywood (seven points, six rebounds) had an incredibly quiet night, but at least picked the right time to do so. Some scoring would’ve surely helped, but Haywood’s defense wouldn’t be especially helpful against the monster that is Theo Ratliff (four points, two rebounds). Theo is a force that you can only hope to contain.
  • I have no way of explaining what has happened to D.J. Augustin (two points, 0-3 FG, three turnovers). Last year he looked like a legitimate option at point guard moving forward. But this season? A mirage of his former self, accurate only when he’s shooting himself in the foot. I’ve always thought of Augustin as a scoring point guard first and foremost, and that’s where he found his biggest successes at Texas. The scoring’s stopped — as a matter of failure to execute, not a change in approach — and Augustin’s play makes Raymond Felton, even on a night where 4-of-14 from the field, rather indispensable.
  • 1-for-9 shooting for Jason Kidd. Blech. Seven assists to three turnovers. Meh.
  • Still no playing time for Von Wafer, and I don’t suspect we’ll see him play until the Mavs can create some fourth quarter separation. If you didn’t have another reason to cheer for a blowout, here you go. No DeShawn Stevenson or Rodrigue Beaubois either, which made for a rather short bench that did little to produce aside from JET. Eddie Najera and J.J. Barea combined for two points (1-4 FG), three rebounds, two assists, two turnovers, two steals, and two blocks in 25 minutes. Nothing to write a bullet point about.
  • The Bobcats really miss Nazr Mohammed.
  • As impressive as Caron Butler was, he wasn’t even on the floor for the critical moments in the fourth quarter. Rick Carlisle rolled with Kidd-Terry-Marion-Nowitzki-Haywood, leaving Butler’s big scoring night sitting on the bench in favor of Marion’s defense and rebounding. And it paid off. Marion may not have had incredibly visible box score contributions, but he still was a crucial part of Dallas’ fourth quarter surge.
  • This was the second straight game that the Mavs gave up the advantage at the free throw line (15 attempts to Charlotte’s 28) and the offensive boards (five to Charlotte’s eight) to the Bobcats. Not a good habit to get into, although in this case it wasn’t the difference between a win and a loss.

Dallas Mavericks 108, New Orleans Hornets 100

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 1, 2010 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

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“All good things arrive unto them that wait – and don’t die in the meantime.”
-Mark Twain

If it wasn’t crystal clear that easy baskets are the Mavs’ best friend, take note. Write it in red, underline it, and trace over it over and over again until it makes an etching in the rest of your notepad, the desk below it, the foundation of  the building you’re in, and the molten core of the planet Earth. Dallas may not need a ton of transition buckets to win games, but the Mavs’ running game plays enough of a role that it can be the demonstrative difference between a dominant win and a nail-biter.

Not to lean too heavily on the “tale of two halves” platitude, but…well, it was a tale of two halves. The game’s first 24 minutes was about as dominant as Maverick basketball gets. The defense was creating turnovers (which as we well know, is not usually a strength) to ignite the break in the second quarter, and some great ball movement (23 of the Mavs’ 31 assists came in the first half) and fast breaking opportunities allowed the Mavs to put up 69 points in two quarters. Dallas led New Orleans by 19 at halftime, had created clear separation thanks to some explosive offense, and seemed set for a second-half snoozer with some late-game rest for Jason Kidd (13 points, nine assists, five rebounds, seven turnovers) and Dirk Nowitzki (36 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, no turnovers).

Not so. Jeff Bower had the Hornets making some serious defensive adjustments in the second half, and the Mavs’ pass-happy ways that had led to so many easy buckets in the first half turned on them completely. Jason Kidd had five turnovers in the third quarter alone, and though Darren Collison did a nice job of pressuring the ball, the real credit goes to an assortment of Hornets playing the passing lanes and picking off Kidd’s would-be assists. The game slowed down and the Mavs broke down, giving Collison (a career high 35 points, three assists, five turnovers) and Marcus Thornton (21 points, five rebounds) ample opportunity to carve into Dallas’ early lead. Both took full advantage as the Mavs’ defense focused on stopping David West, and on that front they were wholly successful; West with just 10 points on 20% shooting with four turnovers, though with eight rebounds and six assists.

The Mavs’ biggest problems weren’t on the defensive end, though I’d hardly call New Orleans’ 106.4 points per 100 possessions any kind of success. The primary troubles came with the Mavs inability to execute in half-court sets, though it was largely due to Dallas swinging for home runs rather than the steady single. Jason Kidd in particular wasn’t settling the Mavs into the offense, and a sequence of passes by Kidd and Terry compounded with a few missed jumpers keyed a 10-0 third quarter run for the Hornets. It’s hard to get too upset considering the Mavs were ultimately just trying to do too much, and especially because when they badly needed buckets late in the fourth quarter, they isolated Dirk Nowitzki and let him go to work. The results in those situations typically speak for themselves, and this was no exception. James Posey may have, at some point, been the prototypical defender for Dirk: skilled, hard-working, smart, athletic, long. But Nowitzki dropped 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting in the fourth, which was enough to give the Mavs a late surge and a sure victory.

Closing thoughts:

  • Caron Butler (19 points, five rebounds, four steals) isn’t known for his defense, despite his reputation as a tough player. But his steal with 51 seconds remaining of the game was crucial to preserving the Mavs’ lead…even if Brendan Haywood’s subsequent uncalled offensive basket interference should have turned the tide.
  • I understand the need for bench depth, but the more minutes and shot attempts the Hornets give to Morris Peterson instead of Marcus Thornton, the worse they’ll be. There was a time where Mo Pete was a solid option as a shooting guard, and though he’s never been a gold standard for the position, he was more than capable of being a quality shooter and scorer for a good team. No longer, as each jump shot is more a shot in the dark, and all of his insubstantial production comes at a direct cost to a younger, better player that could stand to play even more. It’s not an issue right now, with Chris Paul out and Darren Collison logging major minutes in his place. But I worry that with the priority on Collison’s development as a point guard prospect (for either a 6th man role or to use as trade bait), Chris Paul’s return to the lineup will inevitably cut into Thornton’s production/opportunities just because of some ridiculous notion that Mo Pete deserves his due.
  • Brendan Haywood may have played his worst game as a Maverick on Sunday night…and he had 12 points, nine rebounds (five offensive), two blocks, two steals, and no turnovers. Makes you wonder if Carlisle, Nelson, and Cuban are happy with the trade returns on Josh Howard.
  • J.J. Barea didn’t have a high-scoring night, but he ran the offense to perfection for the entirety of the second quarter. He had eight assists and just one turnover in the frame, and for how brilliant Rodrigue Beaubois has been at times this season, I’m not sure he’s had a sustained performance that could fully match how J.J. fueled the team’s surge in the second quarter. The few Barea supporters left in MavsLand: here is your 12-minute long piece of video evidence.
  • Caron Butler is looking more and more comfortable in the offense. He’s hitting his jumpers from his comfort zones along the baseline, and though he’s not quite a force in attacking the basket, he’s remaining assertive.
  • Eddie Najera is starting to worry me a little bit. He’s not in the game for long enough stretches to make any kind of significant negative impact (and part of the drop-off is negated by his hustle), but I can’t wait to see how this rotation functions with Dampier back in the mix.

Dallas Mavericks 91, Indiana Pacers 82

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 23, 2010 under Recaps | 6 Comments to Read

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

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There is a sort of charm in ugliness.
-Josh Billings

Well, at least the Mavs won. Otherwise, they’d be mere participants in a sloppy, ugly contest in which neither team could accomplish much of anything. Whatever specter follows around the Pacers to groan ghoulishly, move around furniture, and haunt Indy’s shooters was apparently bored with only making one team painful to watch. So not only did the Pacers shoot a characteristically bad 36.9% from the field, the Mavs shot 38.6%. Dallas’ offensive performance can really only be positively skewed by saying that it was bad, but not as bad as Indiana’s.

The Mavs did play impressive defense, though it’s hard to gauge numerically based on Indiana’s general ineptitude. This team is pretty miserable offensively night-in and night-out, and if you take Danny Granger out of the lineup (he missed the game due to personal reasons), then they find new ways to redefine misery. So yeah, the Mavs held the Pacers to some poor shooting numbers, including just three makes out of 23 three-point attempts. But the Pacers gave them plenty of help by missing open looks and exhibiting rather poor shot selection.

But if you feel compelled to hand out plaques for nice defensive play, they’d go to Jason Terry (14 points, 5-10 FG, two assists) and Brendan Haywood (13 points, 3-6 FG, 20 rebounds, three blocks). JET played a particularly active brand of perimeter defense, in which he took advantage of Indiana’s lazy passing by not only grabbing three steals, but by deflecting a good deal of the passes and loose balls that were in his midst. Haywood did as Haywood does, challenging shots from deep in the post or just deep in the paint, and though he’s still figuring out how best to work with his new teammates in pick-and-roll situations, his shot-blocking and rebounding abilities were fairly elite in this contest. I know it doesn’t take a legendary defender to hold Roy Hibbert to eight points, but that doesn’t make Brendan’s work clogging the paint and cleaning the defensive glass any less impressive.

But the Mavs offense. Yeah. Okay. Well, hrm. No one shot or scored particularly well at all, though Dirk Nowitzki (23 points, seven rebounds, two turnovers) did settle into his stroke late in the game. Dirk started the game with a 1-for-4 first quarter, and closed it with a 3-for-3 stint in the fourth. Caron Butler (eight points, five rebounds, three assists, four turnovers, two steals, and a block) started with a 2-for-8 first quarter, and at least had the decency to cut down his field goal attempts. Butler put up just two more shots in his final 18.5 minutes of playing time, and while that doesn’t translate to a productive scoring night, it’s his Maverick-low in attempts. Caron has averaged 14.6 attempts on 37% shooting as a Mav. To be fair, Butler has missed lot of looks around the rim over the last five games trying to draw fouls, which is why it’s much easier to tolerate than having him hoist jumper after jumper.

But his deference was enough. The Mavs found a way to scrape together enough points to put up a respectable total, with 10 from Kidd (seven assists, two turnovers) here, eight from Marion (six rebounds, three assists, three turnovers) there, and a Maverick-high seven for DeShawn Stevenson (four rebounds, two assists). DeShawn looked like a real rotation player in 23 minutes, and his play was unlike much of what we saw from him in Washington. The defense was back, and though DeShawn wasn’t quite a lockdown guy, he made smart plays when playing on-ball defense and worked that end of the court. On offense, he didn’t stop the ball or play outside himself; Stevenson hit a shot off the catch or a few dribbles if he had space, or else he simply continued to swing the ball. No indecision. It was nothing flashy — just a wing stepping off the bench to knock down a few jumpers (he was 3-of-5 before garbage time) and get a hand in a shooter’s face — but on some nights that type of play is exactly what the Mavs could use coming off the bench.

The Mavs probably took too long to really put the Pacers out of their misery, as the game wasn’t decided until the beginning of the fourth quarter. Indiana was right there by halftime, though a 15-5 and a 13-3 run to start the third and fourth quarters, respectively, put an end to that nonsense. The result never seemed to be in doubt, but I can understand why some would find the lack of separation (especially in the final score) troubling. But the Mavs did build the lead up to 22 before emptying the bench, and while they weren’t impressive overall, they did manage to muck up a game that wasn’t going their way. Not every win has to be an impressive win, and the more important thing for this team right now is to build confidence in their altered core.

Closing thoughts:

  • After J.J. Barea (0-3 FG) received the initial minutes as the back-up point guard, Rodrigue Beaubois (six points, 2-8 FG, three rebounds, two assists) emerged for the first time since the All-Star break. The results were mixed, and the low-light (for me, at least) was Roddy’s defense. He looked awful against the pick-and-roll; Marion would buy Beaubois time by flashing out on picks, but when Marion was forced to recover, Roddy was hardly in a position to defend the ball. I’m not sure whether it was some unusually effective picking by the Pacers, Beaubois’ lithe frame keeping him unable to fight back to his man, or simply an effort thing, but that has to change. With that length and athleticism, Beaubois’ calling card should be his defense, and you can’t defend the point guard position right now without great chemistry in your pick-and-roll defense.
  • Jason Kidd and Brendan Haywood – still a work in progress, but they’re syncing up.
  • What I couldn’t understand, for the life of me, was how T.J. Ford was able to bait Beaubois and Barea into biting on his pump fakes. I respect the intent to play good honest defense on a shooter, but come on. He’s T.J. Ford. If he wants to take turnaround, fadeaway jumpers, then you shake his hand and be on your merry.
  • Shawn Marion was doing entirely too much off the dribble, which probably isn’t a good thing. There are nights where Shawn can do that and get away with it, but Indiana stripped him repeatedly, and three of those strips ended up as turnovers.
  • I’m liking what Eddie Najera brings to the table more and more. He’s not exactly Erick Dampier, and that’s because he’s nothing like Erick Dampier; Najera still thrives based on a high energy level, despite being a spry 33 years old. But he’s holding down the center position with his hustle, and what matters is that he can relieve Brendan for 15 minutes a game or so until Damp’s return.
  • Pacers’ coach Jim O’Brien was given a technical foul 58 seconds into the game. Dirk’s free throw gave the Mavericks a commanding 1-0 lead.
  • Remember when Mike Dunleavy used to be good? He was fantastic for the Pacers in 2007-2008, but injuries seem to have completely derailed his post-Golden State renaissance. A pity, honestly – I’ve always hoped that MDJr would have a chance to redeem himself for all the grief he got while he was with the Warriors, and he was becoming quite the complementary player before he went down.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Brendan Haywood. Speaking of, we should probably be on nickname alert for this guy. Caron Butler already has “Tough/Tuff Juice,” but Haywood needs something aside from the semi-infamous “Brenda.” Get on it, Mavs Nation, because if a 20-rebound night doesn’t deserve a moniker, then I don’t know what does anymore.

Dallas Mavericks 97, Miami Heat 91: Abridged

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 21, 2010 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

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Only in growth, reform, and change, paradoxically enough, is true security to be found.
-Anne Morrow Lindbergh

  • Just a lovely win. You’d like to see the Mavs really take advantage of a Miami team that’s missing Dwyane Wade, but a quality win is a quality win. After all, these are NBA players. Sometimes all that separates a benchwarmer from a contributor is opportunity, and with Wade out of the picture, the Heat’s lesser talents got a chance to strut their stuff. So what appears to be a clear victory is often hardly so simple. Case in point: Daequan Cook. Cook is averaging 5.6 PPG this season on 32.5% shooting. So naturally, with double the minutes and over double the shots, Cook caught fire and dropped a season-high 22 on the Mavs while shooting 50% from the field. Is part of that poor defense and open opportunities? Most certainly. But to throw away Cook’s performance merely on the basis of the Mavs’ faults is a bit misguided. Yes, Daequan has had a pretty miserable year, and his night definitely qualifies as a bit of a fluke; expecting 22 points from him on a nightly basis would be downright foolish. But that doesn’t mean that every once in awhile the man can’t catch fire, and on this night he did just that and had the freedom to cash in.
  • If the first half of the season was predicated on the Mavs building early leads and holding on for close wins, the post-trade Mavs’ success has been based on staying competitive and winning late with lock-down defense. Dallas used a 9-0 run late in the third quarter and a 7-0 run late in the fourth to keep the Heat at bay, and each wasn’t so much an offensive explosion as an exercise in staying in position, being patient on defense, and forcing turnovers or misses.
  • Jason Kidd was particularly effective defensively, and he’s playing with an incredible amount of energy on both ends right now. Kidd finished with 21 points (5-8 FG, 3-5 3FG), 11 assists, five rebounds, and three steals in what turned out to be a perfect cap for his impressive week. Player of the game, player of the week, and the player most essential to making Brendan Haywood and Caron Butler more comfortable in the offense.
  • Speaking of Haywood and Butler: it the Mavs had played this game pre-trade, there’s no way they would’ve escaped with a victory. With Drew Gooden guarding Jermaine O’Neal (18 points, 9-15 FG, 13 rebounds, four turnovers)? Jermaine drops 25 or 30. With the Mavs having to rely heavily on Josh Howard, considering Jason Terry’s 0-for-10 night? Josh may have scored a bit and played reasonably well, but to say that his offense has come and gone this season would be a gross understatement. Instead, Butler put together his best offensive performance as a Maverick in scoring 20 points on just 13 shots (with 54% shooting to boot!) while rounding out his line with four rebounds and three assists, and Haywood had his first double-double as a Maverick with 11 points and 11 boards. Kidd may have stolen the show, but those two were absolutely crucial to the victory.
  • I don’t know what else to say about Dirk Nowitzki (28 points, 10-21 FG, five rebounds, two assists), aside from the fact that it was one of those nights. Aside from a cold fourth quarter, Dirk was draining jumper after jumper, primarily due to Dirk finding holes in Miami’s defense and Dirk’s teammates (particularly Kidd) finding him at exactly the right moment. The chemistry is already there for those who have been Mavs all season long, and it will get there between Mavs new and old. Those feeds from Butler to Dirk will start getting crisper and crisper, and soon enough, these guys will seem like a part of the family.
  • The Dallas bench scored just six points. That kind of showing makes miserable look good, appalling look appetizing, and insufferable seem, well, sufferable. Dallas isn’t going to win many games with that type of showing from the bench, regardless of who is coming off the pine.
  • Defense is a headache from reading and re-reading scouting reports. It’s a sweet TV spot. It’s technique, athleticism, anticipation, and blind luck all rolled into one. It’s holding a team to 12 points in the third quarter on 5-of-13 shooting with six turnovers.
  • If nothing else, the trade and the All-Star break have given the Mavs a youthful exuberance. Oklahoma City may have trumped Dallas with their energy out of the gate, but since then, the Mavs have been anything but lethargic. Kidd is all over the court and swinging the ball, and Shawn Marion (11 points, 5-6 FG, five rebounds) is running the break as well as he has all season.
  • I’m greatly anticipating the first successful Jason Kidd-Brendan Haywood pick-and-roll lob. It’s coming.
  • I don’t know whether his production trumps what Kris Humphries would have been able to bring to the table, but Eddie Najera is providing some solid minutes at center for a Dallas team with few alternatives. With Dampier out (he’s still sidelined with that nasty open dislocation), the Mavs are leaning heavily on Haywood and Najera to man the middle. Both are doing a terrific job thus far.