The Difference: Oklahoma City Thunder 95, Dallas Mavericks 79

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 4, 2012 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

Screen Shot 2012-05-04 at 9.45.34 AM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas94.085.938.834.220.017.4
Oklahoma City103.349.420.017.48.7

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • With the Mavericks splattered on the Thunder’s windshield, it seems a more appropriate time than ever to reinforce just how limited Dallas’ half-court offense has been this season. This crew has managed to salvage just enough possessions for us to wonder if they’re still capable of more, and yet time and time again these Mavs trip into performances like this one: outings filled with bouts of lame, stagnant offense, designed to flow but caught in the mire. Dirk Nowitzki is a miraculous player, but the team so carefully propelled by its balance last season has very clearly caved in, leaving Nowitzki as the one self-standing tentpole to bear the weight of a drooping roster.
    .
    It’s all fun and games when the play action comes easy, but the virtues of extra passes and open shots don’t mean all that much when a team lacks the capability to consistently create such opportunities. Rick Carlisle has tried to find substitutes for the likes of J.J. Barea and Tyson Chandler, but ultimately failed to recreate the same perfect mix of ingredients that brought this same core their own slice of basketball immortality last June. Things could never be the same — not after all of the pieces Dallas lost, and after each of the team’s many additions subtly pushed the Mavs in a different direction. It’s no fault of the newcomers specifically, at least any more than it’s a fault of every Maverick; this was an experiment gone wrong, and though by nature of the process most eyes will turn to the experimenter himself in blame, every beaker and burner and unproductive big man played a part in not playing their part.
  • I’ve been among Brendan Haywood’s more generous supporters, and even I’ve completely run out of excuses and justifications for his poor performance. Perhaps Haywood still holds value in the right context, but at the moment that context seems far too limited to justify his standing or his salary. He actively holds the team back in the vein of an end-of-the-road Erick Dampier, and though he’s only 32 years old, Haywood seems to have sufficiently worn through much of his NBA utility. Haywood has seen Ian Mahinmi and Brandan Wright — two very imperfect players — take their turn in the spotlight during the regular season, all while he settled in with unimpressive rebounding, far too unreliable defense, and slim offensive relevance. Now he seems to have fully completed his downswing; his play leaves more to be desired than I would have possibly imagined, and he shrivels not in the shadow of Mahinmi, Wright, or even Chandler, but in the context of useful basketball players in the most general sense.

Read more of this article »

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 104, Golden State Warriors 94

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 21, 2012 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

Screen Shot 2012-04-21 at 1.35.22 AM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas94.0107.248.832.131.716.3
Golden State96.950.025.315.29.8

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • This could have been a thorough drubbing, but instead Dallas opted for a comfortable win. As much as you’d like to see unwavering effort from the better team in a game like this one, realistically the Mavs were going to let down a bit, they were going to coast at times, and they were going to rest on their laurels. There’s not much to read into there; the mindset of these Mavs has never really been in question, and how they performed — or chose to perform in this particular game is really of little consequence.
  • But if you’re the kind to worry yourself with the Mavericks’ effort in this game for whatever reason, Dallas’ impressive offensive rebounding marks — a display of pure effort — should at least help to assuage some concern. While it’s true that even a fully healthy Warriors team wouldn’t provide stiff competition on the glass, the Mavs were at least committed to exploiting weakness; Brendan Haywood, Ian Mahinmi, and Brandan Wright combined for 10 offensive boards on their own, and their statistical excellence was a product of a slew of back-taps and team-wide hustle. Dallas may not have had the attention span to be troubled with consistent execution, but they at least worked to keep the Warriors off the glass.
  • After back-to-back games plagued by an odd disinterest, it’s good to see Shawn (14 points, 5-10 FG, eight rebounds) Marion actively engaged again. I still wouldn’t suspect that focus would be a problem for Marion in the playoff series to come, but it’s nice to see any potential warning sign erased, regardless.

Read more of this article »

The Difference: Utah Jazz 123, Dallas Mavericks 121

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 17, 2012 under Recaps | 6 Comments to Read

Screen Shot 2012-04-17 at 12.47.33 AM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot Chart Game Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas117.0103.450.025.515.212.1
Utah117.949.538.929.214.6

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • This game went all the way to the competitive limit, but Dallas’ defense eventually collapsed because of its collapses by design. The Mavericks were content to swarm the Jazz bigs on their interior catches, and although that’s sound strategy considering the personnel and skill sets of both teams, Utah benefited from far too many wide open jumpers. A result this insanely intricate obviously wasn’t decided by those comfortable J’s alone, but if we’re looking for a consistent factor that carried more weight than, say, controversial calls or specific late-game sets, attentions should rightly turn to how so many Jazz shooters found unoccupied real estate. Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, and Gordon Hayward don’t need offensive help, and yet because of the specific gaps in the Mavericks’ defensive matchups, there was little choice for Dallas but to offer systemic help. Look to Jefferson and Millsap’s tough late-game makes, an absent whistle, or Devin Harris’ baffling number of threes, but the Mavs seemed to really lose this game when their inability to create stable offense became juxtaposed with their defense conceding that very thing to the Jazz.
  • If nothing else, this game taught us plenty about Rick Carlisle’s desperation for offense, and more specifically, his designs to improve the Mavs’ offensive potential with perimeter shooting. Dirk Nowitzki (40 points, 13-26 FG, nine rebounds, six assists) was predictably spectacular, but no Maverick seemed both interested and capable enough to assist him throughout the bulk of this game. Jason Terry (27 points, 11-25 FG, 4-9 3FG) was absolutely tremendous late and both Delonte West (16 points, 5-8 FG) and Vince Carter (18 points, 5-15 FG, 12 rebounds, four assists) did great work in spots, but had all of their efforts come earlier and more consistently, this game may have been decided in regulation. Dallas was wanting for scoring of any kind beyond Nowitzki, so much so that Carlisle kept Brendan Haywood on the bench for the game’s final 30 minutes in favor of the more offensively capable Ian Mahinmi, and parked Marion — who was unmistakably absent in his time on the floor — for the final 27 minutes in favor of either Carter or West. That’s a pretty lengthy substitution of defense for offense, particularly when Jefferson is so formidable down low and Gordon Hayward was blowing by Jason Kidd with regularity. Yet considering the downward slope Dallas’ defense has taken over the last 20 games or so, an offensive jump-start is an absolute necessity. This isn’t a one-time occurrence; this team’s scoring is in shambles, and the defense is no longer oppressive enough to pull out consistent wins. Substitution patterns this radical may have been too great a cost, but Carlisle’s concern for the offense within the context of this game and the playoffs is rather clear.

Tessellating Pieces

Posted by Ian Levy on April 13, 2012 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

Screen Shot 2012-04-13 at 10.37.17 AM

There are just under two weeks and seven games left for the Mavericks before the end of the regular season, time enough for a seemingly infinite number of potential outcomes. While a playoff berth is anything but assured (gulp), it seems like Dallas will at least be present in the first round to begin a title defense in the postseason proper. A year ago, the Mavericks finished the regular season by winning four in a row, then systematically built themselves into a seamless juggernaut through a series of progressively more astounding playoff victories.

Although they don’t have the same components that completed last year’s title run, there still exists on this roster all the raw materials to build a similarly potent contraption. Over the last three and a half months, each of Rick Carlisle’s attempts to rebuild this machine have been derailed by injury, inattention, and periods of inexplicable individual futility. However, the nature of the project has changed with the departure of Lamar Odom.

Odom represented a large and potentially powerful piece of the puzzle, and until it was announced that he and the team were parting ways early last week, there was simply no question of his inclusion. Now that he’s out of the way, the slate is cleared and the job can be begun anew. No more accommodations or allowances need be made; Carlisle has 13 days to dabble and experiment, try new looks and new orientations, and decide what this team will look like when the playoffs finally, and hopefully, arrive.

Here are a few chemistry experiments Carlisle might be interested in trying.

TWIN TOWERS

Odom’s absence leaves a void in the Mavs’ front court, and judging from the two games since, Brandan Wright will be helping to fill that space. On Thursday night against the Warriors, Wright spent most of his playing time strictly as a center and backup to Brendan Haywood. He played admirably in this role crashing the glass, scored on found possessions, and did his best against the wily David Lee. However, on Tuesday night, we had the opportunity to see a few minutes of Wright on the court alongside Ian Mahinmi, which to me is a much more tantalizing possibility.

Mahinmi and Wright have alternated this season in playing backup center minutes, lifting fans with the athleticism and effort, before grounding them with their inexperience and lack of awareness. However a Wright/Mahinmi combo offers some the potential to be a devastating combo if deployed in the right situation.

The two have played just 37 minutes together for the entire season, but some very positive things have happened in those minutes. With both on the floor the Mavericks have posted a Defensive Rating of 77.2, holding their opponents to an effective field goal percentage of 35.7 percent. Stretched (and stretched they would be; 37 minutes isn’t much of a sample size) across an entire season, those numbers would be the best in the league by a wide margin. When Wright and Mahinmi are on the floor together, the Mavs have a total rebound percentage of 56.0 percent with an offensive rebound percentage of 37.5 percent –and accomplished all that defensive and rebounding dominance at a pace of 97.7 possessions per 48 minutes.

That said, having both players the floor together presents some serious problems. Offensive spacing would suffer dramatically, and polished post players like Andrew Bynum, Zach Randolph, and both Gasols would eat either Wright or Mahinmi alive. However, against an athletic up-tempo team like the Thunder, Spurs or Clippers, Wright and Mahinmi could help the Mavericks keep pace, disrupt pick-and-rolls, defend the rim against penetration, and control the glass. Games against the Warriors and Trail Blazers might be the time to try this combo out for an extended period of time and see what it might offer for spot duty in the playoffs.

THREE GUARDS

Small-ball lineups featuring multiple ball-handlers have been a staple of Carlisle’s cross-matching rotations the past few seasons. Vince Carter has played plenty of small forward this year, but what I’m really talking about here is some three-man combination of Delonte West, Jason Kidd, Rodrigue Beaubois and Jason Terry. The one that intrigues me the most would be the West-Beaubois-Terry grouping — that trio hasn’t played a single minute together this season, and while they present the most potential problems at the defensive end, they also present the most interesting combination at the offensive end.

If the playoffs started today, the Mavericks would be matched up in a series with the Los Angeles Lakers. Even with the addition of Ramon Sessions, the Lakers would have struggled against quick, athletic penetrators. West-Beaubois-Terry would allow the Mavericks to keep the floor spaced, attack from multiple angles, and put pressure on Gasol and Bynum to defend the rim. It could end up being a disaster, but almost every other combination of players has been tried by Carlisle this season. With seven games left, it might be worth giving this one a look to see if there’s anything there.

YINSANITY

I realize this suggestion may cause me to get laughed off the internet, but I think Odom’s departure may also make room for Yi Jianlian to make a meaningful contribution in the playoffs. Yi is best known for the disparity between his production against chairs and his production against NBA players, but he does have a few legitimate basketball skills; he’s a solid rebounder, can move the ball on offense, and most importantly: is a consistent shooter. Although he’s shooting just 38.0 percent on the season, Yi is averaging 1.03 points per possession on spot-up possessions. Looking again at that potential Lakers matchup, it would be nice to be able to keep Gasol away from the rim, and open space for the second unit when Dirk is on the bench. He’s certainly a liability defensively, but no more than Peja Stojakavic was last season, as he was busy shredding the Lakers from the perimeter.

Statistical support for this story from NBA.com.

Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows and HoopSpeakU, and a part of The Two Man Game family. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 110, Sacramento Kings 100

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 11, 2012 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

Screen Shot 2012-04-11 at 12.04.49 AM

Box Score Play-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

[Game-specific advanced stats forthcoming.]

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • The steam coming from Rick Carlisle’s ears in the opening minutes may have dissipated by night’s end, but in-game improvement isn’t reason enough to like Dallas’ transition defense. The Kings have the benefit of having three ball-handlers capable of pushing the break, but they were only able to generate easy points on in transition because the Mavs’ effort was decidedly lacking. Things will have to be more consistent against an opponent like Oklahoma City or San Antonio, and fortunately Dallas has some time to remedy their lead feet.
  • That said, when the Mavs actually forced the Kings to execute against a set defense in a half-court setting, things went predictably well. The bigs rotated effectively, none of Sacramento’s three talented perimeter players were allowed to really explode, and although the overall defense wasn’t anything spectacular, I suppose these Mavs might settle for “good enough,” at this juncture.
  • With Lamar Odom erased from Maverick existence, we saw the three components of his piecemeal replacement: an extra dose of Shawn Marion, a dash of Yi Jianlian, and a bit of a different look for Brandan Wright. Wright and Ian Mahinmi have played together sparingly this season, but it seems as though that combination may be a fair bit more common from here on out — if the initial returns are worth much of anything, Wright’s energy should be a valuable resource, even at the cost of spacing. Either way, it seems an appropriate time for Brian Cardinal to be placed firmly behind glass in case of emergencies; the Custodian managed to finally hit a few three-pointers in March, but that 21-percent mark from long-range should still leave Carlisle wary. Cardinal isn’t long removed from being a decent reserve, but his most useful NBA skill — his three-point shooting, particularly from the corners — has either rapidly decayed or temporarily escaped him. I’m not sure the Mavs are really in a position to find out for sure, but they may yet if Carlisle elects to keep their in-game mascot in the rotation going forward.

Read more of this article »

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 95, Memphis Grizzlies 85

Posted by Connor Huchton on April 4, 2012 under Recaps, xOther | 11 Comments to Read

rocks and clouds

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot Chart — Game Flow

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • It’s difficult to predict which Mavericks’ team will show up on any given night this season. The vacillation between an encouraging 2011-2012 Mavericks’ win and poorly played loss is both significant and frequent. Tonight’s game fell in the former category, as the Mavericks played arguably one of their most complete games of the season. No Maverick player’s performance stood out as particularly fantastic, but almost every player provided what was needed, and assumed their role to the fullest. Dirk Nowitzki (10-18 FG, 23 points, 10 rebounds) was in fine form from the onset, Shawn Marion (7-11 FG, 16 points, seven rebounds) scored and defended Rudy Gay (4-12 FG, eight points) with typical ease, and Jason Terry (6-14 FG, 15 points) gave the Mavericks a much needed scoring spark during times of stagnant offensive movement. The Mavericks’ defense gave the team the boost it has all season, frustrating both Marc Gasol (3-13 FG, 10 points) and Zach Randolph (2-6 FG, four points) to no end, but the difference in this game came when the Mavericks finally found an offensive rhythm late in the second and fourth quarters.
  • Rodrigue Beaubois (3-7 FG, 8 points, five assists) had a nice little bounce-back game, if an unspectacular one. Rick Carlisle called on Beaubois to finish out the fourth quarter after a strong stretch of play, and Beaubois met the challenge. Carlisle’s decision to keep Beaubois in the game late is further evidence of Carlisle’s trust in Beaubois and situational rotations, as Delonte West (6-7 FG, 14 points, two assists) had scored efficiently during his time on the court. Beaubois was hustling terrifically, passing well, and giving Mike Conley quite a bit trouble defensively, and the result was a sustained Mavericks’ run in the closing minutes.
  • Marc Gasol (seven assists) had quite the no-look pass at the top of the key to a cutting teammate. I don’t remember who scored the basket, but I do remember thinking, “Cool pass, Marc Gasol. Cool pass.”
  • Ian Mahinmi’s ten rebounds in 24 minutes were absolutely essential to the win. When Mahinmi checked into the game, the Grizzlies second-chance opportunities almost immediately lessened.
  • The Grizzlies scored only 34 points in the second half, a poor offensive showing that the efforts of Mahinmi, Beaubois, and Marion were largely responsible for producing.
  • Tony Allen was a defensive stalwart in the first half, as he frequently is, and made perimeter ball movement difficult for the Mavericks. Late in the game, Lionel Hollins was faced with making a difficult choice between O.J. Mayo (6-10 FG, 17 points), who was having an excellent offensive night, and Allen, whose defense was paramount to the Grizzlies’ early success. Mayo earned the majority of late minutes, and while he can hardly be blamed for the loss, it’s interesting to ponder how the game would have gone if Allen had remained on the court. (Update: As pointed out in the comments, Tony Allen left the game with a lip injury in the fourth quarter.)
  • The Mavericks’ center rotation continues to vary from game to game, as Brendan Haywood (2-4 FG, five points, five rebounds) and Ian Mahinmi earned almost the entirety of minutes. (Brandan Wright did check into the game for two minutes.) It appears fit and matchup will determine who is more likely to get minutes between Wright and Mahinmi going forward. Considering both players are quality backup centers, it’s a nice luxury for the Mavericks to have.
  • Beaubois had one of the best saves I’ve seen this season, as he vaulted towards the scoring table late in the fourth quarter and threw the ball back to a waiting Jason Terry. The highlight only vaunted in quality after the play finished with a Shawn Marion dunk.
  • The Mavericks shot 50% from the field for the game, but only 26.7% from three. Given how rare it is that the Mavericks will shoot at such a high percentage without a barrage of threes falling, the numerous looks for the Mavericks’ at-the-rim and in the paint (especially in the fourth quarter) only add to the encouraging signs that can be taken from this game.
  • Shawn Marion dribbling the ball up the court is always an adventure, isn’t it?

Connor Huchton is a contributor to Hardwood Paroxysm, an editor of Rufus On Fire, and a part of The Two Man Game family. You can follow Connor on Twitter: @ConnorHuchton.

The Difference: Los Angeles Clippers 94, Dallas Mavericks 75

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 3, 2012 under xOther | 5 Comments to Read

Screen Shot 2012-04-03 at 8.29.31 AM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • Jason Kidd missed Monday’s game — and is sidelined for the next three, as I understand it — with a groin strain. That’s a bummer, but it’s a valuable opportunity for Delonte West to quickly work himself back into game shape. It’s a trial by fire (or by burn?), sure, but getting a fully effective West back into the regular rotation is a top priority at this point. Dallas needs his shot creation, shooting, and defense badly, and although West was brilliant on Friday against Orlando, Monday was perhaps a more accurate reflection of his game.
  • Rodrigue Beaubois struggled even more mightily. Rick Carlisle seems fully prepared to take the bad with the good when it comes to Beaubois, but it’s these kinds of performances that will likely change his mind. Beaubois’ overdribbling was a big problem, and on a night when Dallas was already struggling to establish consistent ball movement, having the ball lodged on one side of the floor as Beaubois looked to break his man down was pretty painful. Also: in the first quarter, Beaubois threw one of the worst swing passes I’ve ever seen, missing a wide open Jason Terry by a good five feet.
  • At no point did this particular game look good for the Mavs. Even their more adequate runs were laced with turnovers and defensive lapses, and their very occasional buckets weren’t really created as a result of any kind of offensive process. It’s good to know that Dallas can still put up 75 points with every bit of beneficial offensive structure burned to the ground, but I don’t suspect they’ll win many games with offensive execution so lackluster and defensive effort so wanting.

Read more of this article »

The Difference: Miami Heat 106, Dallas Mavericks 85

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 30, 2012 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

Screen Shot 2012-03-30 at 3.13.49 AM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas93.091.448.116.715.415.2
Miami114.051.933.832.412.4

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • The margin of this game exploded in a hurry; Dallas trailed by just seven points with about four and a half minutes remaining, but a combination of Miami’s starters and deep reserves finished the night on a 16-2 run. This loss — the second “blowout” by the hand of the Heat this season — certainly looks bad on face, the final verdict and sheer number of bullets in this post are incredibly misleading. The Mavs certainly had their second-half difficulties, but their late-game petering isn’t of monumental concern. They’ll be healthier, they’ll play better, and most importantly, they’ll largely keep these kinds of winnable games within reach. The fact that something not at all dissimilar happened at the tail end of the Mavs’ loss to the Spurs last week does offer the slightest reason for pause, but there’s no reason to believe that Dallas’ latest fourth-quarter troubles are suggestive of any legitimate trend.
  • Odd though it may seem, this still appears to be a specific matchup that the Mavericks are capable of winning — even if they would be considered extreme underdogs in a single-game event or a presumptuously hypothetical seven-game series. I highly doubt that we’ll have to weigh Dallas’ playoff odds against any Eastern Conference opponents this season, but it’s easy to see this game going very differently if only for a stronger second half from Dirk Nowitzki (25 points, 9-19 FG, six rebounds, three assist, three turnovers). It’s certainly not a good sign that the Mavs are struggling so much on the offensive end, but so long as we’re basking in hypotheticals, I don’t think the on-paper Mavericks would necessarily be doomed.
  • Miami won this game by plugging away; their second half possessions were interwoven sequences of driving and passing from every angle imaginable, pressuring the defense repeatedly until it gave way at a particularly vulnerable point. LeBron James (19 points, 8-16 FG, nine rebounds, five assists) and Dwyane Wade (16 points, 5-11 FG, five assists, three rebounds) deserve a lot of credit for their refusal to settle, and the entire offense followed the lead of their shot creation. Those who somehow doubt Miami’s half-court potency need only to watch tape from this game; James and Wade were creating shots in a consistent stream, and Dallas’ defense was stretched to its limits.

Read more of this article »

Shifty

Posted by Ian Levy on March 29, 2012 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

Screen Shot 2012-03-29 at 9.56.53 AM

When you see measures of a team’s pace, it’s almost always listed as a single number – the average number of possessions a team uses per game. The addition of pace into the statistical lexicon was a monumental step forward, but discussions on the subject still lack oodles of nuance. The Mavericks are averaging 91.7 possessions per game this season, but those 91.7 possessions are not consumed in an equal distribution across 48 minutes. The game speeds up and slows down, alternately racing and lulling through to its conclusion.

Looking at pace only in the context of average possessions used per game leaves a lot of information by the wayside. For example, a team might play two games, using 90 possessions in each, for a pace factor of 90. Another team might play two games, using 70 possessions in the first and 110 in the second, also arriving at a pace factor of 90. Those two pace factors, although numerically identical, are far different in terms of functional significance. These fluctuations in pace don’t just happen across single games, but also across sections of games; teams will play at different speeds based on situations or the personnel that’s on the floor, all of which is muddled in a single pace factor.

Last season I tried to dissect pace in two slightly more defined ways. During the playoff series against the Thunder I looked at pace in smaller chunks of time, and found that the Mavericks seemed to struggle as the game got faster. I also looked at how the Mavericks pace changed when different lineups were on the floor.

What I was curious to look at next was how much the Mavericks’ pace fluctuated in settling on their average, and how that compared to the rest of the league. The tool I used to illustrate this change is variance, a numeric expression of how much a data-set varies from the average. For this analysis I looked at the ten most played lineups for each NBA team and calculated the variance for those ten lineups from the team’s average. The higher the variance, the more change there was in pace from unit to unit, the smaller the variance, the more consistent their pace was.

Read more of this article »

Do You Love Blue Robe?

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 28, 2012 under Video | 5 Comments to Read

Presented without comment.