Contrast

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 18, 2012 under Commentary, Roster Moves | 6 Comments to Read

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Dallas remains among the league leaders in consolation. Continuing in a series of moves that scored Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, Darren Collison, and Dahntay Jones on reasonable, short-term deals, Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban have — according to Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas — agreed to terms with now-former Grizzly O.J. Mayo.

The reported deal is a slight change of pace from the rest of Dallas’ rentals, but given the modest amount of cap space (~$4 million) the Mavs had at their disposal, a two-year deal with the second being a player option seems completely reasonable for a player of Mayo’s skills and age. At one time Mayo appeared to be the free agent most likely to receive a contractual overcommitment, but instead Dallas adds him to a growing rotation for sub-midlevel money without much complicating their financial outlook.

That’s a victory in itself. Ball-handling, perimeter shooting, and quality wing depth were all Maverick needs, and yet Dallas was caught between overcommitting to target players (thereby compromising their long-term goals) and settling for honorable mentions. The gap between Courtney Lee and Marco Belinelli is a wide one indeed, and fortunately, the Mavericks landed in the preferable end of that spectrum without any guaranteed salary beyond this season. That very well could be Dallas’ most impressive stunt this summer — quite an accomplishment considering that Brand, Collison, and Jones were acquired by opportunism alone.

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The Difference: Oklahoma City Thunder 103, Dallas Mavericks 97

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

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot Chart — Game Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas92.0105.448.130.425.012.7
Oklahoma City112.058.026.717.613.4

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

  • You know what they say: If you’re going to lose a winnable series in four games, at least go out in an exhibition for one of the game’s most fantastically understated players, supplying the wood for his buzzsaw in what one can ultimately assume will be a daunting display of razor-focused finesse and craftsmanship. James Harden (29 points, 11-16 FG, 3-4 3FG, five rebounds, five assists) gets a raw deal because the public’s attention span can only extend to two star teammates at a time, but he’s far too good to be relegated as some distant third, and far too lethal to be ignored, even for a second. Dallas tried a number of coverages from a variety of directions in the fourth quarter, but none of it mattered — Harden attacked from the same point on the floor at the same angle, repeatedly bludgeoning the Mavericks with his own unique grace. And, as an important extension: credit upon credit to Scott Brooks, who afforded Harden the opportunities he needed without the slightest interference. Harden keyed the offense and out-dueled Dirk Nowitzki, all because his teammates agreed to spot up from the perimeter, because his coach saw an opening and exploited it, and because he’s a ridiculously difficult pick-and-roll cover.

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The Difference: Oklahoma City Thunder 95, Dallas Mavericks 79

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

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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.
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    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.

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Zoom Out

Posted by Joon Kim on May 3, 2012 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

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Joon Kim is the author of NBA Breakdown, and its subsidiaries, Spurs Motion Offense and The Triangle Offense — a tree of sites dedicated to analyzing the NBA’s structural elements. He’ll be contributing periodically to The Two Man Game with video-based breakdowns, illustrating particular aspects of the Mavericks’ performance. You can follow Joon on Twitter: @JoonKim00.

Our minds are obsessed with recent history. The last memories we form about an event can dominate how we later relive those experiences: a good first date can be ruined by a bad kiss, or a relaxing vacation can be undone by a stressful return home.  With basketball it’s no different; regular season MVPs who falter in the postseason are labeled as chokers, and superstars who struggle but manage to hit clutch shots are remembered as heroes.

If we focus only on the end, the Mavericks seemingly created the looks necessary to win both games. Last year those shots came up heads, this year they’ve hit a stretch of tails.

However, the Mavericks shouldn’t return home regretting how they played at the end of their most recent game. The game was truly lost in a brutal 21-4 Thunder run lasting from the end of the first quarter through midway of the second. During that stretch, the Mavs weren’t locked down by a smothering Thunder defense. They were undone from within: over-dribbling, mental lapses, and the willingness to settle for jumpers all culminated in this possession:

In the initial play we see one pass made to Vince Carter, who isolates at the elbow. Carter dribbles at that spot for six seconds, attempting to survey the defense as James Harden cedes the entire baseline. The other Mavericks aren’t much help as none can decide where to spot up.  Carter’s pounding is finally broken up by Harden’s deflection. Now further from the basket at a worse angle, Carter eventually goes baseline, but with no available passing angles, Carter forces a shot behind his head over the contest of Nick Collison. The Mavericks secure the rebound with a new shot clock, but Jason Terry decides to launch a 30-foot contested three-pointer.

All was not lost during this lopsided Thunder run, and there remains a silver lining. The deep hole forced Carlisle to go to a three-guard lineup with Shawn Marion at the four and Dirk Nowitzki at the five.  The flow of the offense returned, but not in typical small ball fashion.  The offense was revived because Kendrick Perkins was forced to guard Dirk Nowitzki:

In the beginning of the clip, we notice the pace and aggression of the Mavs is noticeably higher. Jason Kidd’s misses a layup but the Mavericks gather the rebound. Dirk slides into the post and the ball is swung to Marion who feeds him. As Dirk sets up, Marion cuts and the other Mavs properly space the floor. Perkins gives Dirk just enough airspace to rise up for the jumper.

Again, in this clip, the Mavericks are attacking quickly. Dirk gets to the same spot and Kidd feeds him the ball. Having established the jumper, Dirk pump fakes Perkins, who bites hard. Nowitzki drives by and uses another pump fake to draw an and-one on Serge Ibaka.

Growing frustrated, Perkins commits an off-the-ball foul while attempting to deny Dirk:

The fast pace of the Mavericks finds Perkins uncomfortably matched up against Dirk again.  This time in transition, all the way out to the three point line:

Once again, Dirk uses a pump fake to get by Perkins leading to another and-one. It’s that simple.

The Thunder are a talented group, but they feature a jump-shot heavy half-court attack that can quickly turn south. The difference between being up or down two can be blamed on coin flips alone, but an improbable series win lies more in the Mavs ability to play a complete game than in any particular late-game fortune.

Nothing Would Be What It Is, Everything Would Be What It Isn’t

Posted by Joon Kim on April 30, 2012 under xOther | Read the First Comment

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Joon Kim is the author of NBA Breakdown, and its subsidiaries, Spurs Motion Offense and The Triangle Offense — a tree of sites dedicated to analyzing the NBA’s structural elements. He’ll be contributing periodically to The Two Man Game with video-based breakdowns, illustrating particular aspects of the Mavericks’ performance. You can follow Joon on Twitter: @JoonKim00.

For the most part, every NBA team runs the same basic actions: screens, pick and rolls, and isolations. And why shouldn’t they?   Basketball is ultimately a simple sport – one team puts the basketball in the hoop more than the other and that team wins. While this is true of most teams, the Dallas Mavericks lie beyond the rabbit hole — where basketball conventions are twisted and your expectations must be set aside.

Last May, the Mavericks found themselves going up against the irrepressible potential of a youthful Thunder squad. The Thunder found themselves facing a team that wasn’t measured by its potential, but the pain of past experience. Now the Mavs find themselves facing a surging championship contender filled with bitter experiences of their own. While the teams may be the same, it’s difficult to say where this Mavs team lies. Their resolve has been softened with a championship, and those championship pieces are playing (or or currently “auditioning”) for other teams.

Yet in a season full of inconsistency, the Mavericks have found the best of themselves when facing the Oklahoma City Thunder. Perhaps this isn’t such a surprise. The orthodox attack of the Thunder may be more susceptible than most when facing the unique methods the Mavs regularly employ. Though time passes and the pieces have changed, the Mavericks embracing of unconventional methods could be the key to holding the Thunder down for one more year.

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The Difference: Oklahoma City Thunder 99, Dallas Mavericks 98

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 29, 2012 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot Chart Game Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas94.0104.350.032.127.014.4
Oklahoma City105.351.925.322.013.8

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 should hardly come as a surprise given the final margin, but games really don’t get more balanced than this one. Both teams saw their superstars swell in the spotlight, escaping heroically from the mire of their earlier struggles. The top-notch defenders present didn’t disappoint; Serge Ibaka and Shawn Marion both came up with tremendous play after tremendous play, and the craftier defenders on both teams — Jason Kidd and James Harden — managed to get deflections and key defensive action from off the ball. The rebounding profiles of both teams came to a curious middle. The Mavericks somehow managed to get to the line more often than the Thunder — an incredible feat considering that OKC ranks tops in the league in free throw rate — but also turned the ball over more often than their opponents — an equally incredible feat considering that OKC also ranks last in the league in turnover rate. The elite team and the inconsistent team played their way to a standstill, and Kevin Durant broke the silence with a terrific shot in the face of perfectly played defense.
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    One could theoretically chalk up a Maverick loss to any number of factors (oddly fragile late-game performance, Dirk Nowitzki’s uncharacteristic turnovers, OKC’s fantastic denial of Jason Terry, a random Ibaka three-pointer, etc.), but I’m not sure I see the point in that kind of exercise. Rick Carlisle and his staff will look to make changes based on Dallas’ many distinct shortcomings, but none of those individual flaws provided a reason for loss so much as the slightest opportunity for one. The Mavs played well. They got real, consistent value from a wide net of contributors, largely forced the Thunder into difficult shots, and managed to negate some of their opponent’s greatest strengths. But someone had to lose this game, and the fact that it ended in a coin flip made the result no less cruel, and such assignments of blame no less arbitrary.
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    That final moment was the only time the game’s dynamic took any decisive shift whatsoever, and even then, only a ticking clock was able to provide the impetus for such a change. Otherwise, these two teams would have traded blows and well-executed sets and spectacular shots into eternity, with no victor save any lucky enough to be a part of the process. Those of us on this side of the fourth wall certainly were, and with any luck, will continue to be so fortunate.
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    But all individual games must end, just as this series will eventually succumb to its own lamentable finality. In the meantime, the stage has been set for a fantastic arrangement of call and return — supposing that the Mavericks manage to maintain even a remotely similar form in the games to come. Let’s hope that isn’t such a naive assumption in hindsight, and that those engaged by the possibility for highly entertaining basketball aren’t made to be fools. We know what the Mavs are capable of, and sadly, we’ve come to know how little the Mavs are sometimes capable of. This matchup seems to bring out the best in them and the best in a beautiful game, but if this bittersweet day and this nearly canceled season haven’t taught us to take nothing for granted, I’m not sure what in this sport possibly could.
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    I honestly have no idea what’s coming, nor the slightest clue of how to conclusively use the information we have to even take a shot in the dark. Yet if nothing else, we have this night of near-makes and infinite possibility. The Thunder and Mavs won’t play again until Monday, and in that lapse we have the invaluable and immaculate gift of tomorrow. For now — even if not for a second more — there are no disappointments. There is only the promise of greater basketball to come, without worry for letdown or regression.
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    So rest up. Tomorrow’s a big day.

The Difference: Chicago Bulls 93, Dallas Mavericks 83

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 22, 2012 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas89.093.341.824.120.812.1
Chicago104.550.614.319.510.1

  • Talk amongst yourselves, all. As Jason Terry goes, so do I.
  • (That withstanding, a brief note: Dallas did a perfectly reputable job considering that both Jasons elected to sit this one out, and it was easy to be particularly impressed with Rodrigue Beaubois (for resiliency alone; returning after dislocating a finger can’t be fun) and Dominique Jones — both of whom did good work in considerable minutes. This rotation obviously looks very different when two candidates for 30+ minutes watch from the bench, but considering that fact — as well as how little the Mavs have to play for at this point — the result was quite favorable.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 104, Golden State Warriors 94

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

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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.

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 117, Houston Rockets 110

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 18, 2012 under Recaps | 7 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas92.0127.258.932.926.311.7
Houston119.657.017.431.811.5

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

  • The strategic turn of the game came when the Mavericks — who had been torched by Houston’s perimeter shooting since the early stages of the first quarter — began switching on every pick and roll. The Rockets immediately looked to exploit that fact by involving Brandan Wright (four points, five rebounds) in mandatory switches and then looking to exploit him off the bounce, but Wright did a fantastic job of getting down into a defensive stance and rebuffing dribble penetration. Similarly, Jason Kidd (12 points, 4-7 3FG, eight assists, one turnover) was as brilliant in denying the post as can be expected; Kidd’s ability to handle defensive switches was a huge reason why Dallas was so effective in the Finals, and he was similarly crafty in his fronting of Patrick Patterson and Luis Scola in the fourth. Houston warily tried to attack what they initially perceived as created mismatches, only to fall back into a less aggressive offense and let Dallas switch without penalty.  (Additionally: Kidd may have began the game with some defensive lapses, but by the end he was in full-on throwback mode. His effort was pristine and the results spoke for themselves. Even with the postseason right around the corner, it would be hard to ask for anything more from Kidd.)
  • That said, Dallas’ defensive adjustment came a bit late, or at least their early defensive failures made it so. There were simply far too many conceded jumpers throughout the first three quarters, and unlike Monday’s game against the Jazz, there was no strategic reason to collapse into the middle and leave the perimeter exposed. Goran Dragic (20 points, 8-12 FG, 10 assists, six turnovers) and company initially played the screen game as aggressively as is their wont, and until Rick Carlisle toggled the Mavs into a switch-heavy set, Dallas seemed hopeless against Houston’s outside shooters. The Mavs had still managed to force a good number of turnovers with a swarming interior defense and shading of the passing lanes, but the paint needs to be defended without such a complete disregard for what lies beyond the arc.
  • Jason Terry’s (19 points, 6-11 FG, 3-6 3FG, three assists, four rebounds, three turnovers) annual rut is apparently well behind him; JET nearly topped 20 points for the third consecutive game, and legitimately altered the course of the contest with his on-court gravity. Even as Dallas’ third-leading scorer, Terry was something of a motivational center. He went on a self-propelled 10-0 run. He attempted to put some early punctuation on the game with an attempted slam. He scored and created and provided all the extracurriculars, as Dallas rallied behind his effort and enthusiasm. It’s not hard to find games in which the Mavericks move one way and Terry moves another, but this contest was marked by their perfect symbiosis.

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The Difference: Utah Jazz 123, Dallas Mavericks 121

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

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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.