Block Life

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 5, 2010 under Commentary | 7 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2010-11-05 at 7.07.40 AM

The elusive regular season home-and-home series is perhaps the best way to artificially generate a playoff-like atmosphere. The two games may lack in post-season gravity, but by pitting two competitive teams against one another in consecutive contests, players are allowed to slide into their narrative roles while coaches make more detailed game plan adjustments than usual. It’s another regular season game in the grand scheme of things, but it’s hardly an independent entity; perhaps we could view the second game as vaguely episodic, but each outing only makes thematic sense when evaluated within the context of a two-part series.

The Mavericks are in the middle of such a series at this very moment, as they’ll take on the Nuggets this Saturday albeit on more familiar turf. I’ve already harped enough on the relevance of the Mavs’ defensive performance in Wednesday’s game, so naturally that’s a point of interest in the follow-up. However, just as important will be the sustainability of the Mavs’ offensive execution, and more specifically, the Nuggets’ response to a dominant performance by Dirk Nowitzki.

With Denver’s primary bigs sidelined, Nowitzki was free to score at will from the low block. In Dallas’ first concentrated effort to isolate Dirk in the post, Shawn Marion freed him up with a baseline screen that ultimately proved to be counterproductive; the 6’5” Arron Afflalo had previously been assigned to defend Nowitzki, but Afflalo switched with the more sizable Carmelo Anthony on the screen. Dirk was still able to draw a foul while battling for post position, but the play setup made Dirk’s post-up far more complicated than it had to be.

Dallas then ran a nearly identical set with one caveat: rather than having Marion set the baseline screen (and have Anthony switch onto Nowitzki as a result), the Mavs used Dominique Jones. Rather than having to wrestle with Melo to allow the entry pass, Dirk was free to catch and finish easily over venerable statesman J.R. Smith.

Next trip down, the Mavs executed the exact same play with the exact same result. Smith decided to chase the entry pass, but Nowitzki finished with the same easy two.

Following a timeout, Denver tries something a bit different. Anthony is designated to follow Nowitzki, and the Nuggets ditch their plan to switch on low screens. It didn’t matter much. Although Nowitzki would obviously have preferred going to work against Chauncey Billups rather than Carmelo Anthony, he faces up, his teammates clear out, and Dirk rains a jumper over Anthony, who can’t even make much of a play on the ball.

Which defender Denver opted to use was irrelevant to Dirk. He scored over and around everyone placed in front of him, and in the few instances when the Nuggets were caught doubling? Dallas’ shooters were ready and waiting on the weak side. In this sequence, a fast break matches Nowitzki against Billups, which urges Smith to cheat off of Marion. Dirk finds Shawn in the corner, who swings it to Terry, and the ball moves back to the strong side to J.J. Barea for a wide open three. He doesn’t convert, but that’s a quality shot created by moving the ball out of the mismatch.

Later, a side screen sets up Nowitzki with prime post position, and his subsequent back down draws three Nuggets defenders. Dirk kicks the ball out to Jason Kidd, who is relatively open at the three-point line, but the ball doesn’t stop there. Kidd swings the ball to an open Jason Terry — who actually triggered the initial screen action — in the corner. Boom, as they say, goes the dynamite.

I’m not sure there’s a proper counter for Denver. Nowitzki can abuse any one-on-one matchup the Nuggets throw his way, and he’s also smart enough to find the open man in the case of a double/triple-team. Terry, Kidd, and Caron Butler have been hitting their looks from outside, which means that the Nuggets merely have their choice of execution. It’s not a flawless offense (all it takes is an off-day from Dirk and the whole scheme dissolves), but considering the Mavs’ clear positional advantage, there’s no excuse for Dallas to have anything but sterling offensive efficiency come Saturday.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 4, 2010 under xOther | Read the First Comment

  • Trey Kerby of The Basketball Jones: “If Chauncey Billups and Jason Kidd were a wrestling tag team, their combined age would be 71.”
  • Chris Tomasson of NBA FanHouse: “Dirk Nowitzki has a seen a lot of basketball. Entering Wednesday, he had played in 923 career NBA games. He had no clue who the guy guarding him was at the start of his 924th game. ‘I actually did not. I had no idea,’ Nowitzki said. The 13-year veteran Dallas forward wasn’t alone. Mavericks center Tyson Chandler also had zero knowledge of the guy wearing No. 0 and starting at forward for the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. ‘I didn’t know who he was before the game and, for a while, when he kept hitting jump shots, I was trying to figure out who he was,’ Chandler said.”
  • Dallas Mavericks: you got dunked off.
  • It seems like ages since Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry were both Bulls, but Chandler still has a pretty clear soft spot for his former teammate. (via Henry Abbott)
  • Matt Moore of CBS Sports’ NBA Facts and Rumors: “The trap we often fall into when evaluating great performances is that somehow, the defense was useless. That they were pathetically overmatched by the greatness we just witnessed. But in truth, it’s often a great performance in the face of great defense. Great players hit tough shots and figure out a way to get it done. And that’s what Dirk Nowitzki did against a surprisingly good defensive approach from the Nuggets. Rookie Gary Forbes and Al Harrington did everything they could, had position, got a hand in his face, and Nowitzki just kept working them over with the fadeaway. There were a few times when questionable switches and assignments doomed the Nuggets. J.R. Smith trying to defend Dirk? Aaron Afflalo? That’s not going to work, kids. He may be “Euro-soft” or whatever (averaging 9.8 rebounds this season), but he’s still 7 feet. And he took advantage of it.”
  • Dirk Nowitzki, as Fabio-esque smutty romance novel cover boy.
  • I recently joined Brian Doolittle on his radio show, At the Buzzer, to preview the Mavs’ season and the Southwest Division. Check it out if you’re into that sort of thing.
  • From the Elias Sports Bureau, via Marc Stein of ESPN Dallas: “Wednesday’s victory in Denver marked the 21st time in Jason Kidd’s career that he registered at least a dozen assists while managing no more than one field goal. Which is, obscure as it sounds, an NBA record.”