The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 89, Boston Celtics 73

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 21, 2012 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR

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 Celtics’ availability issues started out crippling and ended up comical; if it weren’t bad enough that Rajon Rondo (suspended), Kevin Garnett (personal reasons), and Brandon Bass (knee) were nixed from the game at the start, Jermaine O’Neal (wrist) and Chris Wilcox (groin) left in the third quarter and did not return. That left the Celtics reeling with all kinds of crazy lineup combinations, and completely incapable of mounting a comeback run using their typical offensive and defensive alignments.
  • Then again, considering how O’Neal and Wilcox plodded through their pick-and-roll recoveries on Dirk Nowitzki, maybe a delayed absence was for the best from Boston’s perspective. Nowitzki was focused from opening tip and quick to fire, but each of his ball screens secured him an ocean of open space. A make is virtually guaranteed for any competent NBA shooter who is able to catch, square up, and fire off a jumper without even the slightest hint of duress; under those same conditions, a shooter as as accurate and highly utilized as Nowitzki apparently rattles off 26 points in 30 minutes. Without having Garnett around to at least attempt to check Dirk, Boston was fairly helpless.
  • Dominique Jones, making dreams come true:

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 96, Los Angeles Clippers 92

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 14, 2012 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Los Angeles101.151.433.828.231.5

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

  • Dallas didn’t play terrific D, but packing the paint and trapping Chris Paul made the league’s top offense very beatable. The Clippers — simplistic though their offense may be at times — are so incredibly effective if Paul is given any kind of access to the paint, so the Mavs walled it off (in part by assigning Shawn Marion to cover Paul) and lived with the results. Caron Butler and Mo Williams hit a combined eight three-pointers as a result, but the Mavs were able to prevent the more foundational play actions that would have set up a rhythm for the Clips’ inside-out offense. Defense against an elite offense is always going to involve some give and take, and though there were some breakdowns and plenty of surrendered perimeter jumpers, the Mavs were able to minimize Paul’s impact and keep things contained in the paint.

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 104, Minnesota Timberwolves 97

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 11, 2012 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR

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 (eight points, 2-3 3FG, 10 assists, two steals, eight turnovers) returned to the lineup on Friday after a six-game absence, and brought plenty of good to overpower the unfortunately-too-familiar bad. Those horribly misguided passes are back with a vengeance; though Kidd looks more energetic and better prepared to play than he was previously, he’s still making the same head-scratching blunders that got him into trouble earlier in the season. Those bafflingly bad passes will have to go, and hopefully without penalty to Kidd’s more sensible playmaking endeavors. Kidd’s identification of mismatches and potential advantages was as impeccable as ever (Read: Jason Kidd stays Jason Kidd), and his work as a help defender was nothing short of spectacular. It’s just a matter of hedging the bad to better accent the good at this point, and hopefully Kidd is just a few weeks away from finding a happier balance.
  • The box score makes this game look like a bit of a scoring duel between Dirk Nowitzki (33 points, 11-19 FG, 4-7 3FG, four rebounds, three assists, three blocks, one turnover) and Kevin Love (32 points, 9-18 FG, 12 rebounds, three assists, five turnovers), but both players were scoring as components of their respective teams’ runs rather than the sole proponents of them. Dallas and Minnesota’s bursts of scoring and defense were fairly balanced overall, and though Nowitzki and Love ended up as the most productive players on the court, this game wasn’t some powerful demonstration of their individual brilliance. It was merely the latest exhibit in the ridiculous effectiveness of both players, stretched over a prolonged period of time, and enhanced by fairly complete — if still relatively inefficient — team efforts. (That said: A season-high 33 points on just 19 shots for Nowitzki? Yes, please.)

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The Difference: Oklahoma City Thunder 95, Dallas Mavericks 86

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

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Box ScorePlay-by-Play – Shot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Oklahoma City95.043.840.730.614.3

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

  • Not many teams on this side of the Orlando Magic have managed to put together the kind of inescapably horrendous shooting performance that sank Dallas on Thursday. The Mavs shot just 8-for-38 in the second half, with the occasional trip to the free throw line providing the only non-JET source of reliable scoring. It would be incredibly convenient if there just one element to blame for Dallas’ offensive implosion — disrupted ball movement, a lack of effort, a mere bad shooting night, or the tilt of a team missing its star. Unfortunately, the best explanation is “all of the above.” This was a true team effort, with every possible variable ganging up on the Mavs for a perfect storm of offensive impotency. (To put things in perspective: Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, and Rodrigue Beaubois combined to shoot 28 percent from the field. Ouch.)
  • A testament to how bad things have become for Nowitzki (eight points, 2-15 FG, eight rebounds): The Thunder aggressively trapped the ball handler on pick-and-rolls involving Dirk. Nowitzki is certainly trying his best to revert back to the player we all know he can be, but the impossible fadeaway jumpers are finally starting to live up to their billing. That bouncing ball has no mercy for Dirk whatsoever, and it simply refuses to cooperate with Nowitzki’s efforts to provide his scoring talents to the Mavs’ championship defense. He’s still making some smart passes, working hard on defense, and clawing for rebounds, but Nowitzki isn’t suited to be a glorified hustle player. This is one of the greatest offensive players the NBA has ever seen, and if anyone out there has any idea how to help him find his way home, I’m sure Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle would be all ears.

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 116, Utah Jazz 101

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 28, 2012 under Recaps | 7 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR

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

  • Rodrigue Beaubois (22 points, 9-15 FG, 3-5 3FG, seven assists, six rebounds, four blocks, two turnovers) is such a fascinating player to watch that Rick Carlisle, unprompted, crafted a persona for Beaubois as entertainer. Even with that in mind, this particular performance may be the promising guard’s finest work — as a competitor, as an entertainer, or in virtually any other role you would seek to assign him. It wasn’t Beaubois’ most prolific game nor his most significant, but never has Beaubois created such a profound impact without caveat. There are no “buts” or asterisks; Beaubois was tremendous, as he flashed every angle of his high-scoring potential with impressive drives, cuts, and jumpers. With so many elements of his game tuned to precision, Beaubois finally found his way. Mais il arriva que le petit prince, ayant longtemps marché à travers les sables, les rocs et les neiges, découvrit enfin une route. Et les routes vont toutes chez les hommes. “Bonjour, dit-il.” C’était un jardin fleuri de roses.
  • If I may gush further: Beaubois’ full-speed reads on pick and rolls were a thing of absolute beauty. He previously would approach such sequences as strictly a two-man game, but with experience, Beaubois’ scope has widened. He sees the baseline cutter and the open spot-up shooter — the men that, in the flurry of addressing their compromise in coverage, the defense has forgotten. Beaubois may always be a scorer first and foremost, but this was a fantastic passing display on a night when it was sorely needed.
  • This game completely exploded in the fourth quarter. Dallas had managed to protect a meager lead prior to the final frame, but Utah was still very much within range of a win due to their effectiveness on the interior. Then, the Mavs snatched the possibility of a Jazz win away without much notice or remorse, and what had once been a very reasonable affair grew into a walk-off victory for Dallas in a matter of minutes. It’s good to see the Mavs close out a game so dominantly, but it’s even better to see a previously struggling offense put together four consecutive quarters of 28 points or more.

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The Difference: Minnesota Timberwolves 105, Dallas Mavericks 90

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 25, 2012 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR

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

  • Ricky Rubio (17 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds, four steals, seven turnovers) did a terrific job of getting the Wolves good looks both inside and out, be he hardly did all the work. Minnesota’s bigs fought hard to get good interior position and create contact once they received the entry pass, and the perimeter players worked diligently for a slice of open floor. The Wolves’ offensive success was hardly constant, but they at least seemed to know what worked and what didn’t, and sought to capitalize on their in-game strengths. Dallas, despite being a team of mismatch creation and utilization, didn’t quite share in that approach.
  • That said, there was a time in this game when the Mavs were pushing the pace not only as a means of getting easy transition buckets, but also forcing opponents to scramble into mismatches. On one particular first-quarter possession, Rubio was mismatched on Lamar Odom, giving Delonte West a chance to pull the ball out for a fake entry look before darting a pass to a wide open Brendan Haywood for an easy dunk. Haywood’s defender had snuck away to help on Odom, and West had correctly identified not only the mismatch, but its ripple effect.
  • The most succinct explanation possible for why the Mavs withered away on offense: they settled. Rarely is it so simple, but Minnesota applied defensive pressure, and Dallas recoiled. No rally. No response. There were simply too many pull-up threes and too many lazy sets. The Mavs tried to speed up their futile comeback attempt with quick jumpers early in the shot clock, but bricked pretty much every “momentum-changing” shot they attempted. I guess they did speed things up in a sense, merely not in the direction that they intended.

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 93, Phoenix Suns 87

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 24, 2012 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR

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 was certainly more of a defensive win than an offensive win, though Dallas had a way of playing to the extremes on D. The Mavs did a good job of pressuring shots, clogging passing lanes, and preventing penetration in a general sense, but were periodically victimized by Steve Nash’s (eight points, 2-9 FG, 12 assists, three turnovers) typical pick-and-roll brilliance. The defensive execution on those high screen-and-rolls improved as the game went on, but as late in the third and fourth quarters we still saw the occasional breakdown in coverage that led to a wide open attempt for Marcin Gortat within five feet of the basket, or an open three-point look for a Suns shooter without so much as a mild contest. Dallas’ final defensive numbers were pretty solid, but it would be reassuring to see some steadiness in their execution. It’s easy to settle for improved effort and play in the second half en route to a win, but when a team is posting elite defensive marks for the season, they deserve a bit more scrutiny than an “all’s well that ends well” outlook would typically provide. Bravo for the rebound, but those first-half quirks can’t become too common.
  • Although Dallas struggled offensively overall (45.7% eFG%; 99.9 points per 100 possessions), this was an oddly dominant performance by the Maverick bigs. Brendan Haywood  (5-10 FG) scored Dallas’ first two buckets and finished with 10 on some pretty aggressive moves to the rim, Ian Mahinmi (4-7 FG, 9-12 FT) scored 17 points on just seven shots, and Brandan Wright came off the bench in the first half to play some productive minutes alongside Mahinmi rather than behind him. There was a stretch in the second quarter when every positive play on the floor seemed to be due to either Mahinmi or Wright, and their energy on both ends was crucial as Dallas figured out how to adjust their defensive coverage.

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Just Being Polite

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 22, 2012 under Video | 3 Comments to Read

Ian Mahinmi doesn’t always make the best decisions in rotation as a team defender, but he was ever courteous in pulling out Chris Kaman’s chair for him on Saturday night.

Such a gentleman, Ian.

Necessary Surprise

Posted by Connor Huchton on January 17, 2012 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

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Connor Huchton is a contributor to Hardwood Paroxysm and Rufus On Fire, and beginning today, he’ll be a semi-regular contributor here at The Two Man Game. You can follow Connor on Twitter at @ConnorHuchton.

A daunting problem faced the Dallas Mavericks on the eve of a new season, only months removed from a championship: how would a franchise now at the pinnacle of its existence replace a player that was the key to the team’s surprising 2010-2011 run? The organization had decided to let Tyson Chandler brave the overreaching free agent waters elsewhere, largely for long-term cap reasons, and now lacked assurance at the center position. How could the Mavericks hope to reach any semblance of their recent success without the keystone of a championship defense?

Possible answers presented themselves in various, (albeit less impressive) ways. The Mavericks signed Brandan Wright (a power forward capable of playing center) and Sean Williams to one-year deals as a play for both depth and potential, but made little progress in their other attempts to find a player outside the organization who could serve as a solution to their Chandler-less woes. This left a substantial burden of minutes on foul-prone Brendan Haywood and oft-unused young center Ian Mahinmi.

Prior to this season, Mahinmi struggled to find a place in a rotation — both in Dallas and elsewhere.  Though his minutes per game have risen with every season (3.8, 6.3, and 8.7, respectively), he’s never been able to garner consistent minutes. The issue hasn’t been Mahinmi’s inability to produce – he was actually quite impressive on a per-minute basis in two seasons with the Spurs – but instead an inability to conquer depth as he developed in his first years in the league. After finally carving out a consistent role for himself last season (in his third year in the league) as the Mavericks’ third-string center, an opportunity for a bigger role and ample playing time presented itself to Mahinmi.

In the relatively short period since, Mahinmi has established himself as both a viable and impressive center option for a Mavericks team in desperate need of such a player. Despite a substantial jump in minutes per game, from 8.7 to 19.6, Mahinmi’s efficiency has risen significantly. These improvements aren’t generated from solely one positive change in Mahinmi’s game. Rather, a series of substantial enhancements have raised his PER from last season’s relatively average 13.7 to this season’s impressive 16.5.

The upgrades in Mahinmi’s play begin on the offensive end. The greatest change for Mahinmi has come at the rim, where his shots are most often generated. Mahinmi is making 78.4 percent of his attempts at the rim, up from 67.2 percent last season. Instead of resorting to simply flinging attempts skywards when under duress, Mahinmi appears more relaxed and controlled, and has been able to contort and finish with ease in difficult situations as a result. He’s also made strides a bit further away from the basket, as Mahinmi’s occasional mid-range jumpers have paid dividends against defenses that hardly expect him to be capable of making such a shot. Confidence isn’t unstoppable on its own, but it’s a valuable addition to an improved form and a year of basketball learning.

Though Mahinmi’s defensive improvements are both harder to recognize and less extensive than his offensive contributions, these slight changes can provide key value over the course of a long season. Mahinmi’s total rebounding rate and steal rate have increased by slight margins (along with a decreased foul rate), while his other attributes have remained relatively steady in increased minutes.The Mavericks’ defensive system relies on a strong interior defensive presence. Mahinmi’s increased offensive abilities  have enabled him to stay on the court for longer periods of time, allowing him to provide this defensive presence, a quality essential to the Mavericks’ markedly improved scoring defense in recent games.

The Mavericks find themselves somewhat dependent on Mahinmi, and he has thus far risen to the team’s need. Though small sample size is an oft cry in early season evaluations, the consistency and wide-ranging nature of the beneficial changes in Mahinmi’s game leads one to believe that a full regression to the mean is certainly not imminent. Mahinmi is still a relatively young player, so these developments can hardly be considered unexpected. A “leap” from Mahinmi seemed important to continued Mavericks’ contention before the season began, and that leap has appeared prevalently in the season’s first 12 games. If Mahinmi’s current play proves itself sustainable, as most known measures validate, the Mavericks could find the team’s center play acceptable and the future, both long-term and short-term, brighter than expected.

The Difference: Los Angeles Lakers 73, Dallas Mavericks 70

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Recaps | Read the First Comment

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Los Angeles81.138.825.013.612.2

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

  • Let’s get one thing straight: Derek Fisher’s game-winning three-pointer was a stroke of mercy. A competitive game is not necessarily a good one, and though the Mavs put themselves in a position to sneak a win on a tough night on the road, Fisher’s spot-up three saved us all from (at least) five more minutes of basketball misery. I’m sure Dallas would love to have a mulligan on a few of their more pitiful possessions, but perhaps a game of this ilk is better left dead. The defensive activity displayed by both teams was excellent, but energetic D against unstable O makes for a horrid mess. Nothing about either team’s total performance should be glorified; there’s simply too much for both the Mavs and the Lakers to figure out about the workings of their respective offenses, and too much muddled by terrible play to really determine anything meaningful and specific about either team’s defense. Poor shooting is the great equalizer, and though one could certainly build a case in support of the defensive efforts of either team, I have a hard time seeing this outing as anything other than Dallas and Los Angeles attempting to out-miss one another. I guess the Mavs won.

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