Dallas’ playoff opponent is finally set in stone. Thanks to a Maverick win and Kobe Bryant’s ongoing crusade to burn the city of Sacramento to the ground, the Mavs will face off with the formidable Portland Trailblazers in the first found of the postseason. Rejoice, and be worried; this matchup is terrific for basketball fans but should be uncomfortable to the Maverick faithful, a conflict of identities for those who appreciate both the game and this particular team. We’re in for a fantastic series, but a hell of an opponent stands between Dallas and the second round.
The Mavericks are a better team than the Blazers by virtually every objective measure; win percentage, efficiency differential, point differential, Pythagorean win percentage, and the simple rating system all favor Dallas. In terms of their season-long numbers, the Mavs have outperformed the Blazers on both ends of the court, and enjoy all of the statistical trimmings that come with that superior level of performance. However, the fact that Dallas is a better team only matters tangentially. Playoff series’ are so much more dependent on the ways in which teams succeed than just how successful those teams are, a fact surely not lost on Mavs fans. This outcome of this series won’t be determined by determining the better team, but merely the more effective one given this specific matchup.
Dallas and Portland faced off four times during the regular season, but reading too much into the outcome of those four contests can be a bit misleading; the Blazers thoroughly dominated their latest game against the Mavs, for example, but Tyson Chandler’s absence hardly makes it a representative sample. The same can be said of the exclusion of Dirk Nowitzki and Brandon Roy in previous games, the mid-season acquisition of Gerald Wallace, and the unavailability of Caron Butler — we have four games’ worth of competition between the two teams, but little to speak of in the way of legitimate macro-level assessment.
So instead, the most prudent way to predict the performance of both teams is to look at smaller factors which could potentially turn the series. In my eyes, Portland creates particular problems for Dallas through their combination of versatile forwards and sizable guards. LaMarcus Aldridge — who averaged 27.8 points on 51% shooting against Dallas this season — is a huge part of the problem, and acts as a catalyst of sorts for the Blazers to exploit the Mavs on a number of levels. Regardless of whether Marcus Camby is on the floor, Rick Carlisle has largely opted to defend Aldridge with either Tyson Chandler or Brendan Haywood. Carlisle’s decision is understandable; putting Dirk Nowitzki on Aldridge wouldn’t present any kind of advantage (and needlessly puts Dirk at risk for foul trouble), and Shawn Marion doesn’t have the size to contend with Aldridge in the post. That leaves Chandler and Haywood as the most logical defensive options, as both are long enough to contest Aldridge’s shot and strong enough to fight him for position down low. Neither has been tremendously successful in stopping Aldridge in the post thus far this season, but they provide the best theoretical counters considering the Mavs’ lack of alternatives.
If that potential mismatch in Portland’s favor isn’t enough, more problems start to arise when we weigh Aldridge’s other abilities. Not only is Portland’s new frontman skilled in operating from either block, but he’s a credible mid-range shooter and a constant threat to slip toward the basket for a lob. Aldridge’s combination of size, range, and mobility makes him an incredibly difficult cover, and with Dallas’ assumed defensive configuration, his ability to put up points is only the first of several concerns introduced by his very presence. Defensive rebounding is also a legitimate issue, as Aldridge is able to pull one of the Mavs’ strongest rebounders away from the basket by stepping out to the perimeter. That not only limits the rebounding impact of Chandler and Haywood while Aldridge is on the court, but opens up more opportunities for the Blazers — one of the strongest offensive rebounding teams in the league — to attack the glass. Dallas is normally strong on the defensive glass, but it’s no coincidence that some of their worst rebounding performances of the season have come against Portland (the Blazers grabbed more than 27.9 percent of available offensive boards in three of the four games, with the only outlier being the quasi-blowout in the most recent game).
Even more problematic is what that same range does for Dallas’ defensive spacing. Every successful defensive scheme relies on bigs who are able to rotate from across the court and contest shots around the rim, but Aldridge’s ability to knock down an open 18-footer makes it far more difficult for Chandler or Haywood to leave him and rotate into the paint. Without consistent help on the back line (Nowitzki tries, but Dirks will be Dirks), the Mavs’ perimeter defenders are in trouble; one misstep could lead to an uncontested layup or a trip to the free throw line, and Jason Terry, J.J. Barea, and Rodrigue Beaubois certainly commit their share of defensive blunders. Plus, Aldridge’s ability to space the floor opens up the opportunity for the Blazer guards to set up against their undersized opponents on the block. Brandon Roy and Andre Miller are skilled post-up threats capable of both scoring and making plays, and together with Wesley Matthews and Rudy Fernandez, the Blazer guard corps towers over the Mavs’ backcourt.
Portland not only has that specific size advantage, but has shown in their last two games against Dallas that they fully intend to exploit it. Ultimately, the Mavs are put in a position in which fielding any of their crucial but diminutive guards — the aforementioned Terry, Barea, and Beaubois — invites an easy post-up opportunity for either Roy or Miller. The three-guard lineup is even more vulnerable, further limiting Carlisle’s rotational options. Terry and Barea will play, but we could be left pondering ways to keep them off the floor, particularly if either player fails to produce on offense.
Carlisle may adjust by redistributing minutes, but Corey Brewer and DeShawn Stevenson seem to be his only alternatives, and I’m not sure either is likely to actually play significant minutes. In a way, this is all an extension from last year’s playoffs: Terry is almost certain to be an on-court mainstay, and even more certain to be on the court to close games — even when his replacement makes intuitive sense. Last year, it was Beaubois, who ripped up the court in Game 6 against the Spurs before grabbing a seat prematurely, who could have replaced JET. This season, if Terry isn’t on his offensive game, it may make more sense for him to sit for defensive reasons. He isn’t uniquely responsible for Dallas’ potential defensive troubles, but he’s the undersized guard most likely to log the most playing time. The decision to slash the minutes of a player like JET is an immensely difficult one, and it may not even be the correct one. But those guard matchups could end up doing a lot of damage, and one can only hope that Carlisle has some counter — either in scheme or personnel — up his sleeve.
For their part, the Mavs don’t have a unique matchup advantage other than the fact that they employ Dirk Nowitzki, and that as a team they have the ability to hit shots of all kinds with consistency. That last fact should be especially evident against Portland’s relatively poor shooting defense; for all their defensive versatility and long-armed wings, the Blazers rank 22nd in effective field goal percentage allowed. Dirk Nowitzki will have his work cut out for him grappling with Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum (among others), but I nonetheless anticipate him having an MVP-type series. There’s only so much a defender can do. Wallace and Batum are sure to put in good work on D, but Nowitzki is that efficient, that prolific, that deadly. Expect consistently excellent work from the block, the wing, and the elbow, as Dirk turns in more typically stellar postseason numbers.
Dallas’ perimeter shooters should also be in for a field day. According to Synergy Sports Technology, the Blazers rank 25th in the league in their defense of spot-up jumpers on a per possession basis, while the Maverick shooters rank sixth in their points scored per spot-up possession. This is where being a “jumpshooting team” comes in handy; spot-up jumpshots are a substantial part — 22.7 percent — of the Dallas offense, and happen to be one of Portland’s greatest defensive weaknesses. Let there be a turkey in every pot and a kick-out for every shooter — it’s gonna be a feast from the outside.
To hone in a bit: Portland ranks in the bottom 10 in three-point shooting defense — a big reason why both their points per spot up possession allowed and their opponents’ effective field goal percentage are so high. The Mavs have four consistent perimeter marksmen (Terry, Stevenson, Brian Cardinal, Peja Stojakovic) outside of Nowitzki, and any who sees the floor should find open looks with some regularity. The problem is how many of those shooters will actually see notable time; Stevenson could end up starting, but he’d been out of the rotation for a while before his unearthing on Wednesday. His role is uncertain, to say the least. Cardinal could be left off the playoff roster altogether if Rick Carlisle elects to bring Brewer along for the postseason, and even if Cardinal does make the playoff roster, Dallas rarely plays him and Nowitzki at the same time, which would limit his potential application.
Regardless, Terry, Stojakovic, Jason Kidd, and J.J. Barea should have room to fire from outside. They may not always convert (particularly in the case of the latter two), but those openings are nonetheless an important part of Dallas’ advantage. The opportunities will be there, so it’s on the usually efficient Mavs to hit their shots.
Dallas shouldn’t have too much of a problem scoring, but they may have some issues in setting up a fluid offense. As counter-intuitive as that sounds, consider this: the Blazers are as good as any team in the league at creating turnovers, but as noted above, they don’t contest shots well at all. One shouldn’t expect some freewheeling Maverick attack, but once the ball gets to Nowitzki or Marion in the post (where they can either score or execute a basic kick-out), to a shooter off a curl via a Kidd assist, or to Terry or Barea to run the pick-and-roll, all should be right with the world. The problem is in the intermediary, those moments between the first and second options in a set where Kidd tries to thread an overly ambitious pass, Terry attempts to create off the dribble in vain, or a non-ball-handler ends up uncomfortably holding the rock as the shot clock dwindles. If the Mavs establish their play actions and work through them without trying to do too much, they shouldn’t have much of a problem on the offensive end at all. If they panic or rush rather than work through their options patiently, then Wallace, Miller, Matthews, and Fernandez will furiously swarm the ball like leather-eating piranhas.
With that in mind, this series feels like a shootout. Portland isn’t a particularly sound defensive team, and Dallas’ defense doesn’t seem poised to be particularly effective based on the matchup and their recent performance. The point totals may not soar due to neither team being a true fast-breaking outfit, but this is a series of offensive prowess unless the Mavs can prove otherwise. One defensive scheme isn’t enough, either; Nate McMillan is a smart, flexible coach, and he’ll have his players adapt to any single counter the Mavs utilize. Dallas will need multiple responses to both Aldridge and the Blazer guards, and somehow not neglect Wallace and Batum in the process. It’s doable, but difficult.
Which is why I regretfully predict that the Blazers will win in seven games. It’s not an easy call; these Mavs are skilled and can theoretically execute on both ends. I just think Portland’s mismatches will prove a bit too problematic. I think Jason Kidd won’t be quite as effective as the Mavs need him to be. I think Dirk Nowitzki and LaMarcus Aldridge will both be tremendous, and the rest of both teams will be left to tip the balance. I think the Blazers can hide Brandon Roy too easily on defense, which lets him stay on the court long enough to cause a problem. I think Wallace and Batum may only hinder Nowitzki, but they’re capable of significantly limiting Marion. I think that there is a distinct possibility that the Mavs win this series, but there are just too many concerns to consider it the most likely outcome.
The Mavs are the better team in this series. Sometimes that just isn’t enough.
Here’s to hoping I’m wrong.
Box Score — Play-by-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
- First things first: this game was neither as close as the final score suggests, nor is it the end of the world. It’s one game in a season, albeit a slightly troubling one given the Mavs’ current slope. If Dallas was exhausted after a nine-day, six-game road trip (a doozie even by standards of the typically rigorous NBA regular season schedule), they sure looked it. Maybe their effort — irrelevant of scheduling — just wasn’t there. Maybe this was just “one of those games.” All we know is that the Mavs didn’t have it in them to play 48 minutes of coherent basketball, and that is never a good thing. Assume whatever you’d like about these Mavs and their effort level, but the best they could do in Sunday’s game was tread water.
- Dirk Nowitzki’s (16 points, 5-12 FG, five rebounds) impact was suppressed, Jason Terry (four points, 1-6 FG) was absolutely bottled, and Jason Kidd (0-6 FG, four assists, two turnovers) was utterly useless in orchestrating the offense. Yet in the game’s final balance, it was still Dallas’ D that caused the biggest problems. The ease with which the Blazers were able to cut to the rim and the brutal effectiveness of basic drive-and-kick action are far more troubling than any Maverick player failing to make shots. Everything looked easy for the Blazers, and while that’s a testament to the talented, productive crew on Portland’s roster, it also helps when uncontested drives to the rim, frequent trips to the foul line, and open three-pointers are common results of simple play execution.
- On a related note: If the Mavs had a fatal flaw in Sunday’s game, it was their transition defense. Not only did Dallas’ defenders not pick up the ball-handler early enough in each transition sequence, but the lack of effort in getting back on defense overall was startling. I don’t think Gerald Wallace (19 points, 8-10 FG, eight rebounds, three assists, three steals, three turnovers) minded much, but the Mavs’ reluctance to defend the transition game without even the slightest competence should keep Rick Carlisle up at night.
- Of all of Portland’s killer runs, the most painful had to be a back-breaking 7-0 sprint just after the Mavs had scored eight straight to cut their deficit to 13 with six minutes remaining. Climbing out of a 13-point hole in six minutes is improbable, sure, but the Blazers made it impossible with a swift response that put the game completely out of reach.
- Shawn Marion (19 points, 8-11 FG, five rebounds) was terrific. He slid into open space, created lanes to receive passes, and generated quality attempts. He seemed to be clicking on a level that the rest of the Mavs simply couldn’t access, in large part due to an energy that far exceeded that of any of his teammates. Shawn Marion was the best Maverick on the floor on Sunday, and while that’s terrific in its own way, in this case the gulf between Marion and his teammates was created by both parties.
- Brendan Haywood (five points, 11 rebounds, three offensive boards) was able to play strong individual defense on LaMarcus Aldridge (18 points, 9-17 FG, eight rebounds), who has become something of a terror for the Mavs and the league at large. No Mav — including Haywood — rotated well in order to establish a successful team concept on defense, but if nothing else, we know that Haywood can provide the length and size necessary to curtail Aldridge’s production should these teams meet in a playoff series. Tyson Chandler sat this one out to nurse a minor back injury, but Haywood showed well in his stead by sticking Aldridge and picking up a ton of boards.
- Rodrigue Beaubois (18 points, 6-12 FG, four assists, two turnovers) is in an odd position. For the relevant minutes he played in last night’s game (read: before garbage time), I thought Beaubois played well on the offensive end. Picked up too many fouls on D by playing as young players so often do (biting on pump fakes, hand-checking Brandon Roy, etc.), but he did well as a shot-creator with the ball in his hands. The only problem was that both Beaubois and his teammates missed some very makeable shots. Missed opportunities have a way of making a stat line go sour, and though Beaubois was able to throw up nine points in a hurry with the game more or less decided, I think some will still — wrongfully — see this game as further proof of some alleged unreliability. I don’t buy it, and frankly, I don’t buy a lot of the oddly negative evaluations of Beaubois’ play this season. More on that later.
- J.J. Barea (12 points, 5-10 FG, three assists, two turnovers) did a terrific job of giving the Mavs a scoring punch in limited minutes, but there’s also a reason that his raw plus-minus was a -1 for the night in spite of his offensive production. Barea is perhaps most emblematic of the specific problems that this Portland team causes from a matchup perspective; between Andre Miller, Wesley Matthews, Brandon Roy, and Rudy Fernandez, the Mavs’ backcourt is undersized at almost every turn. To make matters worse: Miller, Matthews, and Roy understand how to exploit their size advantage on drives and down on the block, which puts a pretty unique pressure on the Mavs’ defense when Dallas trots out smaller lineups. There is no Blazer regular whom Barea can reasonably be expected to defend, and yet Dallas still needs him on the court for his dribble penetration. Should be interesting to see what happens with the Blazer guards should these teams meet in a playoff series.
Box Score — Play-By-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“The future is plump with promise.”
The Mavs finally raised the opening night curtain, and if anyone claims to have predicted that grand of a reveal, they’re lying. Dallas didn’t just play out their first game of the season. They put on a show. There was sleight of hand. There were pyrotechnics. There was brilliant execution throughout, barring one rather tragic stretch bridging the first and second quarters. If that first 48 minutes was any indication, this season promises to be far more fantastic than anticipated.
Dallas started the night with a 16-0 run, and though every point of that advantage was squandered by the midway point of the second quarter, it was but a simple demonstration of what this team is capable of. Not ‘capable of,’ in some distant sense, either, like when discussing adolescent potential or a purely hypothetical call to action. The Mavs were capable of being a great team as of this afternoon, and for this game against the Charlotte Bobcats (I know, I know), they became one. The cynic would rightfully ask if this kind of production is sustainable. I don’t know. No one does. But the Mavs looked damn impressive last night, didn’t they?
Offensively, this was the best we’ve seen the Mavs in some time. Their already impressive efficiency (111 points per 100 possessions) would be off the charts if not for a late first quarter slip-up, in which a lineup of J.J. Barea, Dominique Jones, Caron Butler, Shawn Marion, and Brendan Haywood allowed the Bobcats to go on a pretty brutal run. Up to that point, Butler had been getting to the rim fairly effectively. A few clanged jumpers and a handful of Barea turnovers later, Charlotte had erased the Mavs’ early lead and started to forge one of their own. A line switch brought a reversal in fortune, and from that point on, Carlisle didn’t make the same mistake. Clearly a bench unit isn’t the way to go, nor is running any lineup where Butler is expected to create offense without significant help.
When any other lineup was on the floor, the Mavs paced their offense to a rather beautiful rhythm. Everyone shared the ball. Everyone (even Butler, Dirk Nowitzki, and Jason Terry) cut to the basked and worked toward open space. The sets were almost completely devoid of isolation play, and Jason Kidd (12 points, 2-3 3FG, 18 assists, three steals, just one measly turnover) was generating some obscenely good looks for his teammates. I’ve previously mentioned the impact that Kidd can have on players like Shawn Marion, Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler, all perfectly useful players but ones lacking in shot creation. This game was an excellent case study in the other primary impact of Kidd’s playmaking: generating wide open looks for the team’s most efficient offensive weapons. It’s by Kidd’s hand that Nowitzki (28 points, 11-13 FG, 13 rebounds) and Terry (22 points, 10-15 FG, six assists, four steals) were able to have such tremendous nights, and the three engineered a stable, replicable brand of pass-happy offense.
That’s right. Replicable. Kidd won’t pick up 18 dimes a night and Nowitzki won’t average 85% shooting for the year, but the elements that made the Mavericks so successful on both the break and in their half-court offense can be accomplished on a nightly basis. The looks were just that good, and while Charlotte’s defense looked positively flummoxed by a maestro at work, Dallas should be able to accomplish something similar even against more effective defensive fronts. Dallas just needs to keep moving, and extend the beautiful flow that brought them their first victory through the rest of the season. If Mavs fans can be bored with these types of performances by the end of the year, Dallas will be among the league’s true contenders. The design has been detailed, now the Mavs just need to mass produce.
Dallas looked terrific defensively, but that’s almost to be expected against a team like the Bobcats. Take an already depressing offense, replace its starting point guard — a sturdy if unspectacular creator who excels in pick-and-roll situations — with a young, shaky, score-first point man, give them limited time to gel, and you have…this. It didn’t help that Larry Brown benched Stephen Jackson for the game’s final 16 minutes for seemingly arbitrary reasons, but Charlotte’s defensive limitations go far beyond any of Brown’s substitutions. They’ll starve for scoring all season, and though Tyrus Thomas (22 points, 8-15 FG, six rebounds) came out of nowhere to lead the team in that department, the Bobcats aren’t likely to get that kind of contribution consistently. As poorly as Charlotte performed on offense in this game, they actually have the potential to be even worse.
Not that Dallas didn’t have a little something to do with that poor performance. The Mavs forced the ball out of Stephen Jackson’s hands early, and gradually transitioned into a more balanced defensive style that contested just about everything within the arc while causing plenty of turnovers. Charlotte’s effective field goal percentage on shots within 10 feet was just 23.6%, a testament to fine work by Tyson Chandler, Brendan Haywood, and a Maverick defense free to swarm from the perimeter. Dallas gave Boris Diaw, Gerald Wallace, and D.J. Augustin license to shoot from the weak side as they smothered anyone attacking the basket, and the results were very manageable. The same approach clearly wouldn’t work against a team with reliable three-point shooters, but for the Bobcats, it was a perfectly drawn scheme.
This is about as good as it gets for opening night. Let’s just hope it’s not as good as it gets for the entire 2010-2011 season.
- The Mavs have never lost to the Bobcats. The all-time series between the two teams stands at 13-0 after last night.
- It looks like Jason Terry will round out the starting unit after all. No chance Carlisle shuffles the deck after a performance like this one.
- Oddly, Tyson Chandler started rather than Brendan Haywood. I was under the impression that the starting gig was Haywood’s to lose, but apparently that part of the negotiating process was a little less explicit than initially reported. Or the Mavs have completely gone back on their initial promise. One of the two. Either way, Chandler looks to be the starter for now (and deservedly so, based on their performances last night), though it’s hardly set in stone.
- Caron Butler had three turnovers, all traveling violations. Exploding to the basket off the catch is clearly an uncomfortable maneuver for Butler at this juncture.
- Brendan Haywood was largely invisible, in spite of his defensive contributions. The box score (two points, three rebounds) is fair to him. Not exactly a compelling case to overtake Chandler as the starter.
- Seven of Kidd’s 18 assists led to made FGs right at the rim.
- The first bucket of Dominique Jones’ career was a long two-point jumper from the left corner. Huh.
- Dallas was impressive in how quickly they triggered the transition game, and even more impressive in their execution on the break. Kidd ran the show expertly, and once he got the Mavs running, wouldn’t hesitate to wait for trailers on the secondary break. Plenty of NBA guards only know one gear in transition, but Kidd’s patience on the break is remarkable.
- Shawn Marion is trying to shoot more threes this season, but the early returns weren’t pretty. An 0-fer on two attempts last night for Shawn, including an airball.
- In the second quarter, Marion was defending Wallace on the perimeter, and somehow forced a jump ball while Wallace was in the triple threat. Marion received no statistical credit for the play whatsoever, but it was one moment among many that attest to his defensive savvy.
- Remember, Dirk Nowitzki ended the regular season of last year on a consecutive free throw streak, and he picked up right where he left off with a 6-of-6 night at the line. His streak of consecutive regular season makes now stands at 78. Minnesota’s Michael Williams holds the record for the most consecutive free throws made with 97 (March 24-Nov. 9, 1993).
- Chandler was a bit out of control in the fourth quarter, as he was involved in a series of tie-ups and strange fouls. He and Gerald Wallace both received a technical foul for one of the entanglements. This is pretty much par for the course with Tyson; he’s rather emotive. He also fouls a lot. Put the two together, and he can get himself into trouble.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: There were so many fantastic performances in the NBA last night that somehow Kidd’s 18-assist evening will probably be overlooked. It’s a shame, because it was an exhaustive exhibition of his creative wizardry. He threw a lob to Chandler. He hit teammates streaking up the wings on the break. He fed JET as he curled around a screen. He found Dirk on a backdoor cut. Kidd did it all, and made it look easy. 18 A’s, but it felt like 50.
Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images.
Box Score — Play-By-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“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.
- 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.
From a perch near the top of the Western Conference standings, the Bobcats’ current home at 8th in the East may not be all that impressive. After all, the Mavs have rattled off 50-win season after 50-win season, they’ve been to the depths of the playoffs and back again, and they’ve battled some of the greatest teams the Western Conference has ever seen for supremacy for an entire decade. The Charlotte Bobcats, needless to say, haven’t been so lucky. They’ve had ownership troubles, coaching troubles, roster troubles, arena troubles, broadcast troubles, and fan troubles in the franchise’s six-year existence, and only now are they on the brink of a legitimate breakthrough. After much delay, the Bobcats may make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history this year, just months after Gerald Wallace became the first All-Star in franchise history.
Charlotte has come a long way since 2004, and now with Michael Jordan in a more central ownership position, the team may be ready to make one final, superficial change: a departure from the ‘Bobcats’ name, one of the worst team names in the NBA:
Maybe all that’s needed to really complete the metamorphosis from struggling, small market upstart caterpillar into playoff-bound butterfly is not only a new man at every post save point guard and small forward, but a moniker change to accompany the face lift. ‘Bobcats,’ like the miserable threads that once bore the name, has to go. It’s not even a D-League-esque team name, like Moore mentioned. It’s the name of a seven-year-old’s soccer team, and one that probably couldn’t even make the playoffs at that. Bobcats aren’t just about as unferocious and unintimidating as ferocious cats get, but naming a team after an animal just isn’t NBA practice. It’s amateur. If you’re going to name an entire franchise after an animal, at least disguise it; not the Milwaukee Deer, but the Milwaukee Bucks. Not the Detroit Flaming Horses, but the Detroit Pistons. There are enough teams named after animals, I admit, but most have enough tradition that they no longer seem out of place. The two obvious exceptions are the Toronto Raptors and the Memphis Grizzlies, but dinosaurs are awesome and hilarious and Memphis Grizzlies still reads and sounds infinitely better than the Memphis Bears.
For the most part in professional basketball, we go inanimate (Nets, Nuggets, Spurs), confounding (Celtics, Lakers), or nonsensical (Pacers). It’s time that Charlotte buys into the tradition, and there is no better time than now. Regardless of what happens in the rest of this season, the Bobcats have been reborn. They’ve constructed hope without much potential, and they’ve created a culture and a family where there was nothing but confusion. I’m not saying anyone should buy into MJ and Larry Brown’s world like they buy into Pop and Buford’s, or Phil Jackson and Jerry Buss’, or Sam Presti and Scotty Brooks’. But there’s something going on in Charlotte that’s worthy of your attention, and it’s worthy of a far better name than the Bobcats.
You can read my full piece on the Bobcats at HP.
The Dallas Mavericks visit the Charlotte Bobcats:
Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Marc Spears have unearthed the All-Star reserves, with a few surprises.
Dirk Nowitzki’s exclusion was not one of them. His selection was never even debatable. But the Western Conference reserves will be Chris Paul, Brandon Roy, Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, Pau Gasol, Deron Williams, and and Zach Randolph. Great picks all the way down the line, and particular kudos to the coaches for picking this crop over Denver’s Chauncey Billups. Billups is a fine player, but this just isn’t his year. Plus, I think there’s a very legitimate argument to be made for Tyreke Evans over Chauncey, anyway…but we’ll save that for another day.
In the East, the reserves will be Rajon Rondo, Joe Johnson, Chris Bosh, Gerald Wallace, Al Horford, Paul Pierce, and Derrick Rose. In related news, it really, really sucks to be David Lee right now. He’s doing just about everything humanly possible (ahem, offensively), and still can’t catch a break. Pierce is having an off-year, but his selection was more or less assumed. I just wish we could see Lee and Josh Smith in the game, but no such luck.
Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.
Box Score — Play-By-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“If you can’t excel with talent, triumph with effort.”
Those of you conscious of the outside world may have noticed that, with a few exceptions, I don’t post game recaps on the weekends. That’s (kind of) about to change. I’ll now be posting an easily digestible recap in bullet-form, which serves two purposes: it provides more game-related content for contests that matter, and allows you and me both to get some Mavs in and get on with our weekend. Let’s go to work.
- Mark Cuban couldn’t have picked a more perfect game for “Seats for Soldiers” night. It’s probably the greatest of the Maverick traditions, and there really couldn’t be a worthier cause.
- Tonight, Dirk was Dirk when it counted. His 14 of 34 shooting is actually better than it seemed, as most of those 20 misses came off of very make-able shots. Some by Dirk’s standards (fading jumpers, but with ample space), and others by anyone’s (layups, wide open shots). But regardless of all the shots to draw rim, Dirk looked untouchable in the clutch.
- The Mavs looked like a team that needs the scoring of Josh Howard. Having the last laugh doesn’t equate to offensive proficiency, and with the Mavs completely unable to convert in the second half, Josh’s shot creation would have been an incredible boost.
- Dirk’s big shots will get all the highlight love, but Erick Dampier and Shawn Marion are the true unsung heroes. Not only were they everywhere on defense, but Marion and Damp chipped in seven offensive rebound each. When the Mavs are shooting 39.8% from the field (and 41.4% eFG), that means everything. Combined, Damp and Marion totaled 29 points (12 of 17 from the field), 33 rebounds, three steals, five blocks, and just three turnovers. Yowza.
- J.J. Barea showed his full range. For a quarter, he was brilliant; all of his passes were finding their targets and each of his attempts was finding the net. But once he started blowing possessions (a certain non-shot at the end of the second quarter comes to mind) and botching his defensive duties on the pick-and-roll, he becomes an instant liability. See, here’s the thing: Dirk, JET, Kidd, Josh, Damp, and Marion can all afford to make mistakes. They just bring so much to the team in other respects, and J.J.’s contributions are of the less essential variety. I can understand both sides of the Beaubois-Barea argument, J.J.’s lows are much more emphatic than his highs, but he still chipped in 10 points (4-9 FG, including two 3s) and five assists to just two turnovers. For now, the Mavs will just have to accept both sides of Barea’s spectrum.
- There are few offensive possessions I hate more than those that end with a Drew Gooden jumpshot.
- Basketball games can always be boiled down to details, and two stick out. First, Larry Brown’s decision not to call timeout on the final possession of regulation. Dirk had just hit the game-tying bucket, and rather than take a minute to regroup one of the league’s most ineffective offenses. Instead, Gerald Wallace, who otherwise had played a spectacular game, ended up wasting away the closing moments of the fourth quarter. Anyone think LB might want that possession back? And second, Tyson Chandler made the regrettable decision to foul Jason Terry on an inbounds play in overtime. It put JET on the line for a freebie in a game decided by one point, and while it was hardly the only possession that could have decided the final result, it’s easy to point the finger at a play like that.
- Gerald Wallace and Raymond Felton were terrific. Not only in slashing to the basket, which you’d expect, but in the mid and long range game as well. And that’s not even mentioning their work on the defensive end, which was top-notch.
- Even though the offense wasn’t very good, the Mavs’ ball movement was sublime. The ball was getting into the right hands, but just couldn’t find its way through the basket.
- Another fine showing from the Mavs’ zone defense. I can’t even begin to understand what that means considering just how bad the Bobcats’ offense can be on its own, but it seemed to slow down Stephen Jackson (28 points on 25 shots) enough to make a difference. Rick Carlisle threw a handful of defensive looks at Jax, and though Jason Kidd played some superb man defense late in the game, the zone look was plenty effective.
- Take a look at the minutes column for the Mavs, and tell me Rick Carlisle doesn’t find comfort in his starters. Kidd, Dampier, Nowitzki, and Marion all logged 40+ minutes, while Drew Gooden, Tim Thomas, and Quinton Ross played a combined 27 minutes.
- Marc Stein: “Most devastated locker room I’ve seen this season: Charlotte. Bobs crushed by this 98-97 OT loss in Dallas. G-Wallace and Jack especially”
The Mavs don’t have a very good track record when it comes to finding value late in the draft, though selecting Josh Howard with the final pick in the first round back in 2003. But the stakes have never been higher, with the Mavs’ few young assets weighing their options in free agency and the Mavs’ 2010 pick in the hands of the New Jersey Nets. This one counts big time, and it’s up to the management and the scouting team to find the diamond in the rough.
It’s tough, but hardly impossible. Quality players pass right under the noses of many a team year after year, leaving latent value late in the draft. The Mavs pick at 22, which is just a shade closer to the lottery than to the Mavs’ customary position at the draft’s tail.
Here are the picks at 22 this decade:
2008 – Courtney Lee
2007 – Jared Dudley
2006 – Marcus Williams
2005 – Jarrett Jack
2004 – Viktor Khryapa
2003 – Zoran Planinic
2002 – Casey Jacobsen
2001 – Jeryl Sasser
2000 – Donnell Harvey
Three of those players (Courtney Lee, Jared Dudley, Jarrett Jack) have shown rotation player chops. Lee is the most notable as the starting 2 guard of an impressive Orlando team just one win away from the Finals. In fact, if the Mavs could magically re-draft Lee this year, they’d be in pretty good shape.
Just for fun, here are picks in the late first round (20+) :
Courtney Lee (22)
Nicolas Batum (25)
Wilson Chandler (23)
Rudy Fernandez (24)
Aaron Brooks (26)
Renaldo Balkman (20)
Rajon Rondo (21)
Kyle Lowry (23)
Shannon Brown (25)
Jordan Farmar (26)
Jarrett Jack (20)
Nate Robinson (21)
Francisco Garcia (23)
Jason Maxiell (26)
Linas Kleiza (27)
David Lee (30)
Jameer Nelson (20)
Delonte West (24)
Kevin Martin (26)
Boris Diaw (21)
Travis Outlaw (23)
Kendrick Perkins (27)
Leandro Barbosa (28)
Josh Howard (29)
Tayshaun Prince (23)
Nenad Krstic (24)
John Salmons (26)
Brendan Haywood (20)
Gerald Wallace (25)
Jamaal Tinsley (27)
Tony Parker (28)
Morris Peterson (21)
It’s certainly worth noting that even the 2005 draft, predicted to be a weak draft class among pundits and largely looked at as a failure in comparison to its contemporaries, still produced productive players late in the first round. Blake Griffin is no Tim Duncan and the consolation prizes may have their flaws, but that doesn’t mean true commodities can’t be found late in the first.
Next week I’ll start examining potential picks for the Mavs, starting with those rumored and confirmed to have scheduled workouts with the team. Some of those players seem poised for success on the pro level, and others may not even be top competitors in the D-League. As fans, we can only hope that MGMT not only makes the right decision in assessing the talent of a potential pick, but also in picking talented players to fill holes in the Mavs’ rotation.