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.
“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.”
Defense is predicated on calculated risk, and when properly executed, this is what those risks look like. Lots of long two-pointers (Boston shot 31 shots between 16-23 feet and made just 12 of them). Rotations that expose the defense temporarily, but are balanced by a strong presence at the rim. A huge, potentially game-winning shot, put in Rajon Rondo’s hands some 24 feet from the basket. Even the best defense can’t stop everything, but if a team focuses on what’s important and cedes the rest, they can debilitate opposing offenses enough to win games like this one.
The Mavs weren’t flawless in their execution, but we focus primarily on the defense, this is precisely what the Mavs should hope to achieve on a nightly basis. If all goes according to plan, this defensive performance — though fine on its own merits — should be completely unremarkable. This needs to be the regular for Dallas. This needs to be a trademark. This needs to be the schoolwork proudly displayed on the fridge for a day until a new assignment takes its place, rather than some mantle piece riddled with dust. The Mavs have the potential to be this good defensively if they execute properly, and on this night they did just that.
The Mavs also have the potential to rival the league’s elite if they execute properly on offense as well, yet on this night they did anything but. Dallas committed 19 turnovers in a 91-possession game, which might be borderline impressive if it weren’t so maddening. The Mavs can’t expect to win these kinds of games with regularity if their turnover rate is hovering around last night’s mark of 20.9. Dallas’ hot shooting this season has managed to balance out their turnovers, but the shots won’t always fall. This team can’t always hang its hat on high-percentage shot-making, even if they’re working to create more high-percentage looks than ever. The turnovers need to come down, even if it’s hard to peg any specific reasons for the unexpected bump. As I mentioned yesterday, the symptoms are obvious, but if anyone has a proper diagnosis for these sudden turnover concerns, I’m all ears.
Luckily, Dirk Nowitzki (25 points, 9-16 FG, seven rebounds, four turnovers) was relentless in his drives to the rim, Jason Terry (17 points, 5-11 FG, four assists) was patient and fought for open looks in the half-court offense, and Tyson Chandler (12 points, 5-5 FG, 13 rebounds, two blocks, zero turnovers) introduced the alley-oop as an item of cultural relevance in the Dallas metro area, and J.J. Barea (12 points, 4-7 FG, three assists, three turnovers) scored just enough, even if he overstepped his bounds a bit.
The Celtics have a number of excuses/justifications if they choose to play those cards. Maybe they were looking ahead to a game against the Miami Heat. Maybe they were physically or mentally exhausted in playing the second night of a back-to-back. Regardless, Dallas was the superior squad last night. They executed more effectively, shot more efficiently, hustled more consistently, and attacked more strategically. The Mavs were ready for this game, and they earned a win. That’s important. That’s what you can take away to keep in your back pocket. Whatever goes on in Boston’s camp is their problem, but Dallas came in with a well-constructed plan and enacted it properly.
Tyson Chandler was fantastic. Nowitzki’s offense was obviously instrumental, but Chandler (Gold Star spoiler alert) was obviously the Mavs’ most effective player. He didn’t create any of his offense on his own, but by relying on his teammates to feed him the ball at the proper moments, Chandler was always in the right spot offensively. He finished each of his opportunities, and demanded that the Celtics’ defense account for him, praise that hasn’t been applicable to a Mavericks’ center, well, ever. On defense, Chandler didn’t re-write the rules of help defense, but he recited them from memory to perfection. He stepped up and challenged any Celtic who dared attack the basket, and even recovered fully to challenge his own man at the basket in some cases. He never stopped. Chandler clearly understands that a defensive possession is only finished after his team secures the rebound, and he worked tirelessly to challenge as many shots and potential shots as possible before concluding each and every possession. Books aren’t written about those who do exactly what they’re supposed to, but for his efforts on this night alone, I vote Chandler worthy of a memoir.
DeShawn Stevenson started in place of Jason Terry, as Rick Carlisle opted to redistribute the Mavs’ strongest scorers. He answered by hitting a pair of three-pointers and chasing Ray Allen around for 14 minutes, and that’s an unquestionable success. I’m not sure it makes a world of difference to have Terry starting or coming off the bench, as both designations can be balanced by his usage in particular lineups. However, if Stevenson can hit reliably from distance and put in that kind of defensive effort nightly, I’d have no problem with him assuming the starting job until Rodrigue Beaubois’ return.
Caron Butler knows that the season has started, right?
The Mavericks have absolutely no respect for Rajon Rondo’s jumper. So much so that J.J. Barea once forgot that Nate Robinson had subbed in for Rondo, and gave up a wide open three-pointer without even pretending to contest.
I’m not sure who this Brendan Haywood is, but I wouldn’t mind seeing the old one come back. Haywood had a nice contested slam and grabbed a few boards, but he had a lot of trouble defending Kevin Garnett, Semih Erden, and Glen Davis. I know the matchup wasn’t favorable; Haywood would have been far more useful had we seen more of either O’Neal, but Jermaine played limited minutes and Shaquille sat this one out. I understand that puts Haywood in an awkward position, but he has to do better. He has to provide better help, he can’t let Erden beat him to rebounds, and he can’t give up points on the low block so easily. There’s no problem being patient with Haywood given what he’s capable of, but if this is par for the season’s course, Mark Cuban is going to have plenty of sleepless nights, holding his wallet close.
Even after all of the barking and strutting, I still love watching Kevin Garnett play. As long as he milks that pump fake and turnaround jumper, it doesn’t much matter to me what he’s said or done. Garnett — the player — is still terrific in my book, even if Dirk gave him serious trouble with his drives. Also: KG is so brutally effective from the high post against the zone. He backs down a shoots jumpers over JET, while having the passing savvy to abuse any double-teamer that comes his way.
If you think this game was in any way decided by officiating, stop. The free throw discrepancy was that large for a reason, and the Mavs’ aggressive third quarter mentality was a big part of that reason.
Hail Jason Terry, who in his infinite wisdom, opted to foul Ray Allen with 1.5 seconds left in the game. The Celtics had collected an offensive rebound after Rajon Rondo’s three-point miss, and the Dallas defense was in slight disarray. The Mavs had a foul to give, and Terry took it while he could. Not only is that a smart move irrelevant of the result, but the fact that Dallas was able to completely smother the ensuing inbound pass and force Garnett into a contested turnaround from the far corner…well, you can’t ask for much more. Pitch-perfect execution in all regards by Dallas down the stretch, and a great judgment call by Terry.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: Tyson Chandler. I wouldn’t hang the Mavs’ hat on this iteration of Chandler showing up for every game, but Mavs fans should be thankful he was so effective last night.
Marc Stein of ESPN Dallas: “The Mavericks had no centers under contract when free agency started. Now they have four. Don’t be surprised, though, if the one of the new arrivals is traded again before the season starts…provided that the Mavericks can find a taker for Alexis Ajinca…ESPNDallas.com has learned that the Mavericks have been asked [by Ajinca's agent, Bouna Ndiaye] to shop Ajinca in the hope they can find a team that might be able to offer him more hope for minutes.” As DOH noted at Mavs Moneyball, this does offer some hope for Omar Samhan to make the final roster. Not too much, though. Three centers isn’t necessarily crowded, but it’s certainly cozy.
Kelly Dwyer on the Dampier-Chandler trade: “It’s a great deal for the Mavericks. They had no use for a plodder up front in Dampier with Brendan Haywood re-signed, so adding the athletic Chandler as a counterpoint helps this team moving forward, even if he misses the de rigueur 25 games a year. Chandler’s contract expires next summer, so he’d be off the books after a one-year trial.” Though Chandler may only be a slight upgrade over Dampier if one at all, there is something to be said about variety. Dampier and Haywood are similar players, whereas Chandler can give the Mavs a different defensive look.
John Hollinger (Insider), also on the trade and where the Mavs stand: “What Dallas really needs to vault itself to elite status is a first-rate perimeter player; at the moment, the Mavs man those positions with several 30-something former stars but no current ones. With none available to be had with the Dampier contract, they did the next best thing. By adding Chandler, the Mavs retain the rights to a top defensive center. Additionally, he has a $12 million expiring contract, which gives the Mavs maximum flexibility to pursue other trades during the course of the season. No, it isn’t quite as alluring as being able to waive Dampier and clean the books entirely, but it’s a useful asset.”
John Hollinger weighs in on Brendan Haywood’s new deal with the Mavs: “Here’s the conundrum, however, if you’re Dallas: What were the alternatives? Haywood was getting serious attention from several contenders and was likely to get an outsized contract someplace, although only the Mavs could give him a six-year deal. And in a market where he, Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal were the only true centers, and with everybody wanting size to match up against the Lakers and Magic, there was no doubt he’d command a premium. Moreover, nabbing Haywood was the key to two other pieces of Dallas’ offseason strategy — trading Dampier’s non-guaranteed contract to a team looking to shed money, and using its midlevel exception to reel in still more talent. The Mavs couldn’t do the first without keeping Haywood to have their bases covered at center, and they couldn’t do the second without signing their own player (Haywood) rather than somebody else’s. So Haywood will be overpaid in 2010-11 and comically overpaid by 2015-16. It’s a bad contract, for sure, but it doesn’t necessarily make it a bad decision.”
David Thorpe on Omar Samhan, specifically his performance in Game 2: “The thing I like best is that he’s emotionally engaged in the game. Everything means something to him — his teammates, how they’re playing, how he’s playing. He’s invested in the game — but not just how he’s doing. We all knew he had scoring talent and good hands, but unless he can improve his athleticism, it’s going to be hard for him to show those skills on a nightly basis.”
Kevin Arnovitz on Rodrigue Beaubois, from the same SL Roundup: “So much of what Beaubois does off the dribble is predicated on the success of his quick release from long range. If he’s not hitting, defenders grow a lot more comfortable trying to contain him.”
Ed. note: Now that the Mavs have re-signed Brendan Haywood and the Celtics have signed Jermaine O’Neal, consider this a comparative piece explaining the Mavs’ choice. Haywood was the better option all along for a number of reasons, and if it came down to Dallas choosing between which center to pursue, they made the right call.
There is no poetry to Brendan Haywood’s game. Many of his moves lack polish, and he isn’t easily captured in cliché. Haywood is simply an effective individual defender and a capable finisher at the 5 who is somehow unspectacular enough to live comfortably under the radar and skilled enough to be a vital part of the Mavs’ off-season plans. Regardless of what you’ve read elsewhere, Haywood is the option at center. Any reasonable alternative (Chandler, Biedrins, Jefferson, Shaq, etc.) save from Jermaine O’Neal would be a clear defensive downgrade, and none of those players can boast Brendan’s two-way utility.
That’s why it warms my heart that the Mavs are now linked to the fairer O’Neal, even if he’s not quite the catch that Brendan is. Their defensive abilities are certainly comparable, but what worries me most about Jermaine are his offensive delusions and relatively inferior rebounding. Last season, O’Neal averaged about six more FGAs per 36 minutes than Haywood, despite the fact that the two are roughly equal in terms of their offensive efficiency. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it would be rather important for O’Neal to not see his roles on the Mavs and Heat as congruent. Miami’s dearth of scorers last season afforded Jermaine an opportunity to be more of a focal point, whereas he would fall down a few pegs on the Mavs’ scoring ladder.
If not for a few rather glaring asterisks on O’Neal’s application, he could be considered Haywood’s equal. Jermaine is 31 going on 60, and heavy minutes, significant usage, and a long NBA career have sent O’Neal’s athletic abilities through a meat processing plant. Even though Haywood isn’t likely to improve from here on out, his career is at least moving laterally, which in this case functions as an advantage. O’Neal’s injuries are also a bit of a concern, as he’s played 70+ games just twice in his last seven seasons (Haywood played five 70+ game seasons over that same span).
However, the most frightening footnote of all — fair or unfair — is O’Neal’s latest playoff performance. Jermaine completely disappeared against Boston’s defense in the first round, when Miami needed offense more than ever. Dwyane Wade desperately needed some kind of help to make the series competitive, but Jermaine could only manage 4.2 points and 5.6 rebounds on 20.5% shooting. In case you’re curious, that’s good for a 2.5 PER. The Celtics were operating at a special level all throughout the playoffs, but that’s the same level at which the Mavs hope to compete. If Jermaine couldn’t even manage to be competent against the turned backs of the Celtics while all eyes were on Wade, would he really be a wise choice for the Mavs’ starting center?
Haywood was merely himself during the Mavs’ abbreviated postseason run, and made three more field goals than O’Neal (12 to 9) despite taking about half of the attempts (21 to 44). He didn’t step outside himself, defended well when given the opportunity, and played the victim almost as well as Rodrigue Beaubois. There should never have been any dispute over who was Dallas’ rightful starting center, yet Brendan was denied both minutes and opportunities on the basis of some ridiculous criterion. It didn’t stop him from posting a 19.3 PER over six playoff games, but Haywood was clearly restricted from making his full impact by forces outside his control.
A Haywood-O’Neal center tandem would be fantastic for Dallas, but it’s admittedly a bit of a long-shot. The Mavs and Jermaine were both reportedly interested in a union, but since, the Celtics have emerged as the front-runners to sign O’Neal. On top of that, Miami is a legitimate option for Brendan Haywood if they fail to entice LeBron James (luckily, there doesn’t seem to be any other serious competition). LeBron would eat up the cap space with Haywood’s name on it, and while his joining with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would be the bane of the league at large, it would be a positive development for the Mavs. With no one left to bid against, Dallas would likely be able to come to reasonable terms with Brendan, and the starting five for next season would be secured. Throw in a coup for Jermaine and good return on Dampier, and the Mavs have the potential to be one of the most complete teams in basketball.
The Mavs’ potential for off-season turnover exists regardless of how deep they go into the playoffs. Given the unique financial circumstances afforded to the Mavericks this summer and the never-ending arms race that exists between NBA teams, no one should be surprised to see Dallas make significant changes this summer even if they somehow stumbled their way to an NBA title.
The reason for that is Erick Dampier. Due to the unique performance-related incentives of Dampier’s contract, he can be traded this off-season and then his entire 2010-2011 salary can be subsequently voided. That makes him an invaluable piece in a potential sign-and-trade, supposing Mark Cuban and the Mavs can entice one of this summer’s bigger talents and manage to convince a rival GM to play ball.That’s what makes Dallas’ off-season outlook so difficult to predict: if the Mavs are to acquire anyone of note this summer by using a sign-and-trade, they’ll have to do it with the blessing of the team said player is deserting. Accurately gauging how willing another GM may be to do such a thing requires an intimate knowledge of management style, manager personalities, ownership complications, and overall team strategy that goes far beyond my pay-grade.
Instead, the best way to predict which players could interest the Mavs is simply to analyze which among them may be the most attractive. Unfortunately, that also hinges greatly on the status of the Mavs’ own unrestricted free agent, Brendan Haywood. Haywood is a franchise center. He’s a capable big that can catch and finish, he’s a top-notch interior defender, and he helps well. Should Dallas lose him to another team this summer, their irrefutable free agent strategy would be aimed at securing another big man. Dampier seems like a lock to be moved; should his salary become fully guaranteed for net season by Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson’s choice, he’ll be owed $13 million next season. I consider myself a stronger advocate of Dampier than most, and I’ll be the first to admit that his level of production doesn’t even whiff that price tag. The allure of dropping Damp’s salary — either by trade or by cutting him loose should the right opportunity not present itself — is simply to great for him to remain a Maverick at his current salary, which makes Haywood an essential piece in the free agency equation. We know that Dirk Nowitzki is not a center, and should Dallas be left Haywood-less, they would essentially have four options:
Sign a cheap, veteran center for the minimum to start and play major minutes for the team. (Read: disaster.)
Try to acquire a center like Shaquille O’Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Ian Mahinmi, or Jermaine O’Neal using the mid-level exception.
Try to acquire a power forward and play him at center, either through a desperate grab for Chris Bosh, a run at a mid-level guy like restricted free agent Luis Scola, etc.
Scrap the free agency dream entirely and try to trade Damp to a team looking to get out from under their center’s contract (Nene, Andris Biedrins, etc.).
How Haywood’s negotiations go this summer obviously hold enormous implications for the Mavs’ off-season plans, so speculating beyond that point is probably fruitless.
So consider me without fruits; I can’t help but think that a number of stars could look awfully good in a Maverick uniform.
LeBron James is this summer’s big prize, but the likelihood of him somehow ending up in Dallas is incredibly slim. It’d be nice, sure, and the Mavs would probably offer him the best chance to compete immediately of any potential destinations. The team is already established in Dallas, and that’s enticing. Then again, do you know where the team is also already established? Cleveland. Who knows how this year’s playoffs will affect LeBron’s decision, but title or not, I like the odds of him sticking with the Cavs.
Chris Bosh also seems like a pipe dream, mainly due to two factors: Bosh does not want to play center, as he’s expressed time and time again in Toronto, and he wants to be The Man, which he wouldn’t be in Dallas. The key in the Mavs acquiring any signed-and-traded free agent is the player’s desire (not just willingness) to come play for Dallas, and Bosh could be described as lukewarm at best when approached about the possibility of playing in his hometown.
Instead, if I’m the Mavs, I have my eyes fixed on the fortunes of two players, one of which is an incredibly unlikely target and the other only mildly unlikely: Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson.
Caron Butler is only the illusion of a starting shooting guard. He can, in theory, shoot, score, handle the ball a bit, and defend. He just doesn’t manage to do the former two efficiently, and his defensive abilities are competent and only likely to diminish with his age. Butler’s Game 5 explosion was so welcome because of the contrast it posed to his typically inefficient scoring nights, and having other scoring threats like Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry around Butler hasn’t elevated his efficiency like we thought it might. He’s more or less the same player he was in Washington, only playing well into April.
That leaves the Mavs still looking for a legitimate 2-guard, and the combination of Damp’s contract provisions and Butler’s expiring deal gives Dallas a unique opportunity. They could potentially offer a team like Miami or Atlanta a player of Butler’s caliber in a sign-and-trade, while also allowing them to dump a bit of salary in exchange for Dampier’s deal. The ability of those teams to acquire Damp and then cut him immediately at no cost is something that no other team in the league can offer in a sign-and-trade, which does give Dallas a bit of an edge. Enough of an edge to willingly sign off on the departure of a franchise player? Probably not, but the Mavs are hoping so.
The wild card in all of this is Rodrigue Beaubois. The rook quickly carved out a niche for himself as a highly efficient scorer, and he hasn’t even begun to actualize his full potential as an NBA player. Few players come into the league with the gifts that Beaubois possesses, and should the right prize be available, Dallas may dangle him as trade bait. Teams may not be eager to give up their star player for Butler and Damp’s savings alone, but if Cuban and Nelson are willing to include a rookie guard that has star written all over him? I’m guessing they’d at least get their phone calls returned.
As for the two players I specified, it’s simple: shooting guard would be the Mavs’ biggest hole in the rotation if they can hang on to Haywood, and Jason Terry wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate, even his prime. JET still has plenty left and is ideal as a sixth man, but just doesn’t have the size or defensive aptitude necessary to guard opposing shooting guards well, and isn’t very good at guarding opposing point guards, either. Terry is much improved on the defensive end, but even those improvements don’t have him quite where he would need to be in order to be a highly effective starter.
Two guys that do have that defensive ability — in addition to elite offensive skills — are Wade and Johnson.
Wade is the dream that probably shouldn’t even be chased. For one, because Miami and Chicago are considered the favorites to acquire him. Rightfully so, as both can try to pair him with very talented players, and both boast some sort of hometown advantage. I’m confident one of those teams will land Wade, and they’ll be very, very happy together.
The Mavs could still have an opportunity to play home-wrecker here, supposing Pat Riley is willing to play along with Cuban and Nelson’s plans. I don’t see that as even a remote possibility, but again, I’m not Riles. Maybe he’s very high on Beaubois, or decides he wants to give Caron another go with the Heat, or maybe just wants to do right by Wade for all that he’s done for the franchise. These are not probable scenarios but they are scenarios, and the Mavs would be considered fools if they didn’t do their due diligence when the top shooting guard in the league (yeah, I said it) becomes available.
There would be, of course, that one thing. That one little thing. That one little he single-handedly (we’re not counting officials) destroyed the Mavs in the 2006 Finals thing. It would certainly make the relationship…interesting. There were comments exchanged from both sides in 2006-2007, the thought of the series still stings most Mavs fans, and I can only offer one piece of advice to all parties involved: get over it. This is Dwyane Wade. He’s a remarkable player with a hell of a career still ahead of him, and even though it’s extremely unlikely he’ll wind up a Maverick, the very thought should have Mavs fans sending him love letters and fruit baskets. They don’t come much better than Wade, and regardless of the past between him and the Mavs, his talent and Dallas’ needs should make him a top priority.
Consider Joe Johnson the back-up plan. He’s older, less efficient on offense, a bit slower on defense, and generally not as Dwyane Wadey as Dwyane Wade is. That doesn’t mean he would be anything less than an excellent addition for Dallas. Messing with Atlanta is always a mess, but I think Beaubois could pose an intriguing piece for the Hawks in particular. There’s no reason that Rodrigue can’t do everything that Mike Bibby currently does, only with better activity on the defensive end, better driving ability, and impressive length. He could be a perfect point guard if the Hawks continue on with Mike Woodson (or at least his offensive and defensive systems), and Atlanta may find the idea of getting Beaubois back in a sign-and-trade far more palatable than letting Johnson walk.
However, as talented as Johnson is, there are two concerns. For one, giving a 29-year-old a five or six year deal could end up being a nightmare, especially with the new CBA likely decreasing the possibility of such long-term, lucrative deals in the future. Second, a lot of Caron Butler’s more irritating habits also exist in Johnson, Joe is just better. He’s still a jumpshooter and a lot of his offense in Atlanta has been isolation-centered, he’s just a better player than Caron. Whether that’s good enough to put the Mavs over the proverbial hump or not is unknown, but it’s certainly not a bad start.
It’s almost trite at this point to say “stay tuned,” but that’s exactly the approach Mavs fans should take with regard to the team’s future. So much of what the Mavs will be able to do depends on who wants what, who goes where, and what teams have which options on the table. Fathoming all of that a few months in advance definitely qualifies as impossible, and all that we’re left with is a microscope fixed on the free agent class, an ear on every news and legitimate rumor available, and a head full of pipe dreams and possibilities. The dominoes will be falling soon enough, and we know Mark Cuban will be ready to pull the trigger. Until then, all eyes should rest on Brendan Haywood, who could very well determine the Mavs’ free agent destiny.
“Only in growth, reform, and change, paradoxically enough, is true security to be found.”
-Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Just a lovely win. You’d like to see the Mavs really take advantage of a Miami team that’s missing Dwyane Wade, but a quality win is a quality win. After all, these are NBA players. Sometimes all that separates a benchwarmer from a contributor is opportunity, and with Wade out of the picture, the Heat’s lesser talents got a chance to strut their stuff. So what appears to be a clear victory is often hardly so simple. Case in point: Daequan Cook. Cook is averaging 5.6 PPG this season on 32.5% shooting. So naturally, with double the minutes and over double the shots, Cook caught fire and dropped a season-high 22 on the Mavs while shooting 50% from the field. Is part of that poor defense and open opportunities? Most certainly. But to throw away Cook’s performance merely on the basis of the Mavs’ faults is a bit misguided. Yes, Daequan has had a pretty miserable year, and his night definitely qualifies as a bit of a fluke; expecting 22 points from him on a nightly basis would be downright foolish. But that doesn’t mean that every once in awhile the man can’t catch fire, and on this night he did just that and had the freedom to cash in.
If the first half of the season was predicated on the Mavs building early leads and holding on for close wins, the post-trade Mavs’ success has been based on staying competitive and winning late with lock-down defense. Dallas used a 9-0 run late in the third quarter and a 7-0 run late in the fourth to keep the Heat at bay, and each wasn’t so much an offensive explosion as an exercise in staying in position, being patient on defense, and forcing turnovers or misses.
Jason Kidd was particularly effective defensively, and he’s playing with an incredible amount of energy on both ends right now. Kidd finished with 21 points (5-8 FG, 3-5 3FG), 11 assists, five rebounds, and three steals in what turned out to be a perfect cap for his impressive week. Player of the game, player of the week, and the player most essential to making Brendan Haywood and Caron Butler more comfortable in the offense.
Speaking of Haywood and Butler: it the Mavs had played this game pre-trade, there’s no way they would’ve escaped with a victory. With Drew Gooden guarding Jermaine O’Neal (18 points, 9-15 FG, 13 rebounds, four turnovers)? Jermaine drops 25 or 30. With the Mavs having to rely heavily on Josh Howard, considering Jason Terry’s 0-for-10 night? Josh may have scored a bit and played reasonably well, but to say that his offense has come and gone this season would be a gross understatement. Instead, Butler put together his best offensive performance as a Maverick in scoring 20 points on just 13 shots (with 54% shooting to boot!) while rounding out his line with four rebounds and three assists, and Haywood had his first double-double as a Maverick with 11 points and 11 boards. Kidd may have stolen the show, but those two were absolutely crucial to the victory.
I don’t know what else to say about Dirk Nowitzki (28 points, 10-21 FG, five rebounds, two assists), aside from the fact that it was one of those nights. Aside from a cold fourth quarter, Dirk was draining jumper after jumper, primarily due to Dirk finding holes in Miami’s defense and Dirk’s teammates (particularly Kidd) finding him at exactly the right moment. The chemistry is already there for those who have been Mavs all season long, and it will get there between Mavs new and old. Those feeds from Butler to Dirk will start getting crisper and crisper, and soon enough, these guys will seem like a part of the family.
The Dallas bench scored just six points. That kind of showing makes miserable look good, appalling look appetizing, and insufferable seem, well, sufferable. Dallas isn’t going to win many games with that type of showing from the bench, regardless of who is coming off the pine.
Defense is a headache from reading and re-reading scouting reports. It’s a sweet TV spot. It’s technique, athleticism, anticipation, and blind luck all rolled into one. It’s holding a team to 12 points in the third quarter on 5-of-13 shooting with six turnovers.
If nothing else, the trade and the All-Star break have given the Mavs a youthful exuberance. Oklahoma City may have trumped Dallas with their energy out of the gate, but since then, the Mavs have been anything but lethargic. Kidd is all over the court and swinging the ball, and Shawn Marion (11 points, 5-6 FG, five rebounds) is running the break as well as he has all season.
I’m greatly anticipating the first successful Jason Kidd-Brendan Haywood pick-and-roll lob. It’s coming.
I don’t know whether his production trumps what Kris Humphries would have been able to bring to the table, but Eddie Najera is providing some solid minutes at center for a Dallas team with few alternatives. With Dampier out (he’s still sidelined with that nasty open dislocation), the Mavs are leaning heavily on Haywood and Najera to man the middle. Both are doing a terrific job thus far.
Have you had enough of the decade rankings yet? If not, check out John Hollinger’s top ten players of the decade (Insider only), in which Dirk takes top 5 honors: “Nowitzki’s résumé lacks only an NBA title for validation; the Dwyane Wade Show in 2006 and a knee injury in 2003 eliminated his best chances. (Side note: Don’t forget that fadeaway he hit over Shaq in Game 5 in Miami before the foul call on Wade). Otherwise, he won one MVP award and had three other seasons that were MVP-caliber. He also made the All-NBA team nine years despite a surplus of quality players at his position. Additionally, Nowitzki’s teams won at least 50 games every full season this decade, capped by 67 in 2006-07; that’s a feat only Tim Duncan can match.” Hollinger also notes Jason Kidd as an honorable mention.
Could Dirk have taken a three to potentially tie the game last night? Sure. But swinging the ball to Jason Kidd, who pump faked his way to an open look, is hardly a settling for a “contested, desperation 3.” And given the way Dirk shot the ball to close the game (Dirk had missed his last six jumpers; his last made jump shot came with 9:59 remaining in the third quarter), I was completely comfortable with his decision to give up the rock.
Jeff “Skin Wade” voiced his concerns over Kidd’s minutes, and while I don’t have any fears about Kidd’s durability (he’s played 80+ games over each of the last four seasons while averaging 36.4 minutes per game) I completely agree with Mike Fisher’s suggestion: “The headless-chicken nature of the Dallas offense when Kidd isn’t on the floor has occurred when [Barea] is running the point and it has occurred when Jet is running the point. But because the bulk of Roddy Beaubois’ playing time (back in the good ol’ days when he played) came at the 2, alongside Kidd. So we really haven’t seen Roddy at the 1, imposing his potentially precocious will on a defense. So are we trying to shave just a few minutes off of Kidd’s load? I’m never quite able to quantify what happens positively to a guy’s body if he plays 34 minutes a game instead of 35, but for the sake of argument. …If we’re trying to shave just a few minutes off of Kidd’s load … and if we agree that the Dallas offense doesn’t quite click when JJB or Jet are in charge … are we sure there aren’t one or two spots in occasional games in which [Beaubois] wouldn’t be helpful for one or two minutes?”
Dirk Nowitzki disagreed with my assessment of the zone defense’s effectiveness. I wouldn’t say that the zone was “really, really effective,” but a video review could be in order.
Rick Carlisle, diagnosing what went wrong when (via Eddie Sefko): “I thought our undoing was a sluggish first quarter…They hit us with transition points and 3s, and the rest of the game was even, maybe even in our favor.”
In 1998, the Mavs completed one of the great fleeces in NBA history by trading the draft rights for Robert ‘Tractor’ Traylor to the Milwaukee Bucks for Pat Garrity and the draft rights to a certain lanky, German power forward. The Mavs flipped Garrity in a package for Steve Nash, and the rest, as they say, is history. As for Traylor? Well, a lot has happened between then and now, but he’s currently having a rough go of it playing professionally in Italy. (Also: a Travis Best sighting!)
“It’s truly spectacular, no other words.”
You want vindication, Mavs fans? There’s your vindication. We can talk Warriors and catharsis all day long, but what brings more emotional closure than beating Dwyane Wade at his own game? The Mavs and the Heat traded big shot for big shot for what seemed like days, but this time around, Dallas got the edge of a beneficial whistle and a nice shiny dagger. Trophy-less revenge never seemed so sweet.
I’d be lying to you if I said that I just knew it would end up that way. Even with the Mavs clutching a small lead, the big Wade shot seemed inevitable. But a strange thing happened, and I’d like to think that this is at least one area improvement since the original letdown of ’06: it never game. Jason Kidd denied, denied, denied, and when Wade did get the ball, the double-team came immediately and Kidd went into an all-out frenzy to swipe the ball away. The result? Dwyane Wade’s last real shot attempt (excluding his last second heave from the three-point line) went up with 5:03 left in the fourth quarter, and his last actual points with nearly 6. Somehow the Mavs denied one of the best players in basketball from getting a shot up for five straight minutes, and in the process yanked the crutch out from under Michael Beasley, Mario Chalmers, and Udonis Haslem. Instead, the late game heroics came from Wade’s 2003 draftmate Josh Howard, and his Olympic teammate Jason Kidd. Wade has only gotten better since 2006, but on this one night in April you never would have guessed it.
It’s only fair that we start with Josh Howard (20 points on 6-12 shooting, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks). Josh’s first quarter explosion is par for the course, but seemingly from the opening tip you could tell that he was playing with a different energy. It was an extension of his play against Minnesota; a cornucopia of runners, post-ups, and floaters, with his favorite step-back jumper sprinkled in with discretion. If two games qualifies as a legit trend, then Josh has done what I previously thought impossible: he’s reinvented his game, and reverted back to what earned him a special place in the hearts of Mavs fans all those years ago. This isn’t new era Josh, the weapon that had forgotten how he carved out a place among the elite for the Mavs and doomed them to failure. This was throwback Josh, but with all the perks (better jumper, craftier around the basket) of the new model. His trademark first quarter was dynamite, but his second half performance was equally stunning. He didn’t mimic his point-per-minute pace, but he gathered huge rebounds, made huge defensive plays on the weakside, and spaced the floor for the offense to open up. It was equal parts delicious and nutricious, and 29 minutes of effort and excellence were exemplified by Howard’s drawn charge on Mario Chalmers with two seconds left and the Mavs up just one.
How great was Jason Kidd in this game? His denial defense over the last half quarter was superb, but he played solid D on Wade throughout. Antoine Wright shared the defensive billing at times, but the reason Wade was held to a pedestrian 23 points (9-20 FG), 6 assists, 4 turnovers, and just 6 free throw attempts was because Kidd barely gave him room to breathe. And somewhere in there, he managed to rack up 11 assists and hit one of the biggest shots in the game, a three pointer that pulled the Mavs within one with just five and a half minutes to go. Howard may have prevented Chalmers from getting an honest look at a game-winner, but Kidd got a hand on the ball before Wade could throw up a prayer in the corner at endgame.
Brandon Bass was the center of the night (10 points on 4-6 shooting, 8 rebounds, and 1 block in 22 minutes), and he was absolutely superb. There are nights where Bass gets look after look from the elbow, and that I don’t mind. He makes that shot at a great clip. But you know what I love even more? When every time he touches the ball within eight feet of the basket, he takes a ridiculous leap and tries to throw it down with the ferocity of a pack of tiger-eating sharks, or shark-eating tigers. The rim was never the same again. Bass had 8 points and 4 rebounds on perfect shooting in the second half, and led his counterpart, Udonis Haslem, scoreless in the fourth. He was an unstoppable force inside during crucial stretches of the third and fourth quarters, and the energy he provided on both ends was tremendous.
It’s pretty sick that Dirk had 30 (9-17 FG, 2-5 3FG, 10-10 FT), and he still gets fourth billing. It was Dirk’s 22nd 30-point game this season, and his explosion was as quiet and likely underappreciated in the game as it is in this recap. I like to think that I give Dirk more love than most, if for no other reason than non-Mavs fans typically don’t fully understand his game outside of stereotypes and generalizations. That said, I’m still guilty of discounting his Herculean feats of jumpshooting strength from time to time, and for that I apologize. Josh was greThe Two Man Game › Edit Post — WordPressat, Kidd was great, and Bass was great, but Dirk was Dirk, and that’s on a different level entirely.
Props to the team as a whole for not letting this game get away from them. The Heat hung around in the first half with some hot shooting from the perimeter (4-5 on threes in the first frame), and looked to be running away with it when their lead hit double-digits in the second half. The Mavs’ shots weren’t falling, the turnovers were piling up, and the whistles started turning against them. It would have been a perfect time to cave and give in to defeat. Instead, the defensive intensity went up another notch, and the Mavs got out on the break. The Mavs did plenty of things that I wouldn’t mind seeing on a more regular basis, but that kind of resiliency has to be at the top of that list.
Erick Dampier looked like he was going to be a factor early, and he was causing Jermaine O’Neal some real trouble. The Heat brought in O’Neal to clear up the logjam at forward and improve their interior defense, but I have to ask: if O’Neal has trouble guarding Damp, who doesn’t exactly have a premier back-to-the-basket game, how could you possibly expect him to guard the centers that can really cause problems?
Chris Quinn is a great match-up for J.J. Barea. Typically, playing Barea concedes something either at point guard or otherwise, simply because J.J. doesn’t have the size to contend with a lot of players. But not only can J.J. guard Quinn, but Quinn doesn’t have much of a chance against Barea’s speed. Happy happy, joy joy.
Just in case you were curious how we’ve gone this far without a JET mention, Jason Terry did play basketball on Wednesday night. He even scored 13 points. But he shot 5-13, and didn’t quite seem himself. Just one of those days.
Jamaal Magloire had one more dunk in this game than I think he ever did in a Maverick uniform last season.
How good would James Singleton be if he could just hit that spot-up three from the corner?
A cool stat shared by the Mavs’ broadcast team: the Mavs are tied for the most wins in the league when trailing at the half. Not bad, comeback kids.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Josh Howard, for the second straight night. Nothing more need be said.
Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning New wrote a piece outlining which of the Mavs’ assets are the most tradable, and also gives a pretty hefty list of potential targets that could be on Dallas’ radar. Pure speculation? Maybe. But Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com thinks there’s more to it, and that there may be some legitimate team sentiment behind the rumors.
Dallas needs to do something. Rotation shake-ups and motivational speeches have gone just about as far as they can go. The team has some appealing assets and they have plenty of needs. There are really two questions though. First, can the Mavs even get the “right deal” done? And second, does the “right deal” do enough to get the Mavs out of the first round of the playoffs? The fan in me says yes, but the realist in me says no. To say it’s an uphill battle is underselling it.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun with it, right? So without further ado, a breakdown of each of Sefko’s proposed trades:
Jerry Stackhouse and Erick Dampier to Sacramento for Brad Miller and Kenny Thomas.
Why it works: The trade turns Stack’s contract into a player that’s immediately useful in Brad Miller, and Dallas doesn’t sacrifice 2010 cap flexibility. Miller finally gives Mavs fans the scoring from the center position that they’ve always pined for, and he’s a much better passer than Dampier. When Miller is focused, his ability to facilitate the offense can really open things up for the fringe contributors on the team. Kenny Thomas also gives the Mavs another look at the second string power forward (or third string, whatever), and he’s not as bad as you probably think he is. The Kings aren’t playing him, but Thomas hasn’t been all that bad in his few appearances for Sacramento this season, and could be able to contribute to a playoff team.
Why it doesn’t: Brad Miller just so happens to occupy the same offensive space as Dirk, meaning that someone is going to be out of their comfort zone on almost every play. Miller also happens to be an inferior post defender, shot-blocker, and rebounder to Dampier. Granted that Miller is in fact a more gifted scorer than Damp, he also relies on a higher usage rate that could require taking touches away from Dirk, Josh, and JET in order to accomodate Miller’s usual production. Is that worth it? Probably not. You might be able to argue that this trade slightly favors Dallas, but even so it would be a marginal upgrade at best.
Jerry Stackhouse and Brandon Bass to Golden State for Stephen Jackson.
Why it works: This one is definitely the most interesting to me. The 2 guard has been a problem all season, and Antoine Wright/Gerald Green/Dwane Casey’s kid probably aren’t the answer. Wright’s passable some nights and unspectacularly awful others, and Green ranges from smile-worthy offensive explosion to migraine-inducing “rookie mistake” factory. Jax would give the Mavs a great defender, a vocal leader, and a player who can drive, shoot, and set up his teammates. Plus, this trade would give Dallas a quality wing player without giving up Josh Howard.
Why it doesn’t: The bench would be a disaster. Who plays power forward? James Singleton? Ryan Hollins? Shawne Williams? It wouldn’t be pretty on the backlines, and Dallas would be hit hard in the low post and on the boards. Or, I guess Carlisle could just play Dirk for 43 minutes a night. That would work really well. But the trouble doesn’t stop there; Stephen Jackson signed what is actually a pretty reasonable three-year, $28 million extension this season. The wittle bitty problem with that is the fact that Jackson is nearly 31 right now, and at the end of his deal (2012-2013), he would be 35 years old. Who knows how productive he’ll be by that time, and it could be a nightmare to move an aging wing scorer if things don’t work out.
Jerry Stackhouse and Brandon Bass to Chicago for Andres Nocioni.
Why it works: Noc gives the Mavs another weapon off the bench, or possibly a small forward to start alongside Howard. He can stretch the floor, he’s a physical player, and would add firepower to a team that has trouble scoring at times.
Why it doesn’t: Nocioni’s contract is entirely too long, stretching to 2012-2013 (although that last year is a team option). Some might call him an “irritant,” but I merely cite him as the primary example under the dictionary definition of “fake hustle.” He’s almost constantly overaggressive both in terms of shot attempts and fouls, and while he is a physical defender he isn’t that great at D in general. Trading Bass would open up a huge hole at the 4 (see above), and while Chicago may play Noc at the 4 for stretches, Dallas should have no business doing that. He’s 6’7”, 201, and just tends to push people in the back. Not exactly a dream come true. Plus, his better offensive days look more like an exception than a rule at this point.
Jerry Stackhouse and Brandon Bass to Minnesota for Mike Miller.
Why it works: Mike Miller is a great player on the down year of all down years, somehow appearing to be one of the worst players in the Wolves’ regular rotation. And that’s saying something. I’d find it hard to believe that the Real Mike Miller isn’t buried beneath layer upon layer of Minnesota-induced psychosis, and the Mavs would hope to save Miller from himself. When he’s rolling, he’s creating for his teammates, getting to the hoop, and one of the deadliest shooters in the game. When he’s not, well, just look at his stats on the season. Not too pretty.
Why it doesn’t: This trade doesn’t really seem like a possibility. All indications point to Minny demanding back more compensation that just Bass and an expiring deal, and I’m sure they have their eyes on draft picks around the league. Beyond that, Miller only makes the Mavs better at doing what they already do: shooting. He would fix the starting shooting guard problem but open up the power forward Pandora’s Box, which could actually end up being a wash. On top of that, there’s no guarantee that Miller won’t continue his reign as the Archduke of the Royal Principality of EPIC FAIL.
Jerry Stackhouse and Erick Dampier to Toronto for Jermaine O’Neal.
Why it works: It really, really doesn’t.
Why it doesn’t: Probably the worst deal on the list. Turn our prized expiring deal and a healthy starting center into a possibly-more-talented-but-definitely-more-washed-up, oft-injured center. Where do I sign up?
Brandon Bass To Detroit for Arron Afflalo.
Why it works: Arron Afflalo is exactly the type of young point guard the Mavs want to have going forward. He’s already a good defender, shoots well, and plays the game without forcing the issue or making careless mistakes. Another quality young playerdrafted by Joe Dumars. Plus, dude has an awesome name.
Why it doesn’t: This trade could only make sense in tandem with another deal that would bring in frontcourt depth. The Mavs already have J.J. Barea, Jason Terry, and even Matt Carroll to back-up Kidd if the situation calls for it, while Brandon Bass is the only line of defense between a potential Dirk Nowitzki energy and complete Maverick apocalypse. I love Afflalo’s game and I love his potential, but this move doesn’t make sense for Dallas right now.
Jerry Stackhouse and Brandon Bass to Oklahoma City for Earl Watson.
Why it works: I’m not really sure. I guess Earl Watson would be another Kidd back-up, or possibly an insurance policy if Dallas decides to go another way this summer. Otherwise, I’m speechless.
Why it doesn’t: Earl Watson just isn’t that good. His jumper is errant, his playmaking skills are slightly above average, and his defense is unimpressive. There’s a reason that his “steady veteran presence” has made its rounds throughout the league, let’s just put it that way. Plus, giving up an expiring deal and arguably Dallas’ most promising young player for a piece that doesn’t fit on the team, isn’t a youngster, and isn’t anything better than average seems awfully silly.
Josh Howard and J.J. Barea to Charlotte for Raja Bell and Raymond Felton.
Why it works: Raymond Felton would be the Mavs’ point guard of the future and Raja Bell would be a capable starting 2 guard who still retains some of the skills of a lockdown defender. At once, this trade will fill a glaring hole for the Mavs at the 2 and procure Kidd’s protégé.
Why it doesn’t: The Mavs are giving up quite a bit for two ill-fitting pieces. Josh Howard is still a hotbed of talent, whether he can harness it or not. J.J. Barea not only holds status as a Mavericks folk hero, but penetrates well, knows when to look for his own shot, and has plenty of time to improve on a perfectly reasonable contract. Meanwhile, Raymond Felton would possibly be forced into the shooting guard slot alongside Kidd or in a back-up role, meaning that he won’t have experience running the point full-time when he takes over and/or he won’t have the added experience of playing against top-flight players. Meanwhile, Raja Bell could be an interesting addition to the Mavs roster if it still featured Howard, but in this case filling the hole at the 2 leaves an even bigger one at the 3. Devean George might actually start. I’m doing my best to keep in my enthusiasm. Beyond that, Felton isn’t a great shooter, has stalled at times in his progression, and Raja Bell is already a shade behind his former self and only getting worse.
Photo from NBA.com
Josh Howard and Brandon Bass to Memphis for Mike Conley and Darko Milicic.
Why it works: Mike Conley is going to be a stud. He has all the physical tools required of a great point guard, and while his play has been up and down, I see the good in him. He’s probably the best option listed here in terms of young guards, and the Grizz apparently aren’t entirely opposed to the idea of parting ways with him. If Memphis was rumored to be interested in Milwaukee’s Ramon Sessions and Joe Alexander for Conley, why wouldn’t they be interested in Howard/Bass? Darko on the other hand, despite his neverending status as a 2003 Draft punchline, is a pretty decent big man. Like Conley, he’s had good days and bad. But he’s also a legit 7-foot shot blocker with plenty of room to grow and a nice presence in the low post.
Why it doesn’t: It doesn’t help the Mavs this season. Darko would be able to play either power forward or center on any given night, but the small forward position would be awful. Conley doesn’t fill any specific short-term need,and would be a luxury I’m not sure the Mavs can afford on a roster that needs some help.