The Difference: Oklahoma City Thunder 106, Dallas Mavericks 100

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 21, 2011 under Recaps | Be the First to Comment

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TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas85.0117.649.426.332.614.1
Oklahoma City124.760.730.028.116.5

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

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 most glaring problems in this game for Dallas weren’t that Jason Terry finished with just eight points, that Shawn Marion shot 4-of-13 from the field, or even that the Mavs had trouble at times getting the ball to Dirk Nowitzki in his most comfortable spots on the floor. This one’s on the defense. Terry and J.J. Barea had particular trouble containing the dribble penetration of Eric Maynor and James Harden, but Dallas’ trouble containing aggressive drives goes well beyond those players. When the Mavs defend, they’re the superior team in this series. If Dallas plays defense like they have in the first two games of this series, then every contest in these Western Conference Finals will be a shootout — or worse. Dallas can still win under those circumstances, but why lean so heavily on the offense when given the choice to diversify? Why allow Oklahoma City to post an effective field goal percentage of 60.7 when this defense is clearly capable of being much more limiting?
  • Nick Collison and Eric Maynor did a much, much better job of containing the Barea-Nowitzki high pick-and-roll, effectively neutralizing that sequence in Game 2. Nowitzki and Barea obviously found other ways to generate buckets, but Collison and Maynor did a great job of denying Barea those free drives to the rim while still deterring a pass to an open Nowitzki. Defending these two at the top of the floor can be pretty brutal for opposing defenses, but the Thunder adjusted well to take away this particularly effective aspect of the Mavs’ Game 1 offense. This is a bit more in line with what we should expect from Barea for the remainder of the series; he’s capable of contributing double-digit scoring, but the Thunder’s pick-and-roll D is much better than they let on in the opening game of the Western Conference Finals.
  • How Kendrick Perkins was able to play even 24 minutes is legitimately curious to me. The notion that trading for Kendrick Perkins would make the Thunder into contenders was understandable, but in this series he has no practical role whatsoever. Perkins can’t effectively defend Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavs’ only interior scoring threat. He can’t stick with Tyson Chandler, as evidenced by TC’s frequent alley oops in transition, semi-transition, and even in a half-court setting in Game 2. Perkins doesn’t rebound particularly well, isn’t defending an Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol type, and is legitimate dead weight on offense, despite what his bizarre make on a contested mid-range J in Game 2 would have you believe. He’ll likely maintain his starting role, but as this series trudges on, I’d expect Perkins’ minutes to diminish even further in favor of Collison, Serge Ibaka, and the small lineup OKC ran for stretches in Game 2.
  • DeShawn Stevenson and Jason Kidd have done the best work defending Kevin Durant in the first two games of this series, but I’m sure we’ll continue to see plenty of Marion matched up against KD, if only because the other options are so horrible.
  • James Harden is doing an incredible job of exploiting whichever defender is put in front of him, and making me eat my words in the process. He’s been significantly better off the dribble than I thought he’d be (or really, Terry has been significantly worse in defending him off the dribble than I thought he’d be), but it’s the pick-and-roll play and flat-out shot making ability that have elevated Harden’s production. He’s been completely fantastic, and I’ve been completely wrong about his potential to make an impact in this series.
  • Appreciate your patience — been a weird past few days. Ian will be taking care of recapping duties for Game 4, and I’ll be back to regular posting after the weekend.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 121, Oklahoma City Thunder 112

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 18, 2011 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

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Box Score Play-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas91.0133.059.646.625.013.2
Oklahoma City123.152.151.430.614.3

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

  • Perfection, thy name is Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk’s Game 1 showing was dominant and poetic, an awkward exercise of mismatch exploitation that can be matched by none. His skill is something to behold in itself, but it was Nowitzki’s versatility that set him apart on Tuesday night; Dirk worked against Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, Kevin Durant, Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha, ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, Buckminster Fuller, Frankenstein’s monster, Joe Montegna, and Rube Goldberg. He varied his approach depending on the coverage — pump faked bigs, backed down guards, shot over the geodesic dome — but the results were always the same. 48 points on 15 shots isn’t a level of efficiency that can be comprehended by the human mind. It’s a transcendent performance, one which we can’t fully grasp by looking at a stat sheet or even watching the game film. Somewhere under the layers and layers of that video is an otherworldly white noise, an aura surrounding Nowitzki that we’re unable to precisely detect but is impossible to ignore. It’s just there, and while puny simpletons like you and I can’t come to a complete understanding of what happened in a game like this one, we’re perceptive enough to know that something special is going on that, frankly, goes beyond our existential pay-grade.
  • This series was branded as a shootout, and lived up to its billing in Game 1. Kevin Durant (40 points, 10-18 FG, 2-5 3FG, 18-19 FT, eight rebounds, five assists, three turnovers) may not have matched Nowitzki shot-for-shot, but he came as close as his own limits (and the Dallas defense, for whatever it was worth) allowed. His was a remarkable performance as well, but feats of basketball strength are forever boosted and obscured by the power of context. On any other night, Durant’s incredible production would have been the story, and the ordaining of a young star in the biggest game of his life would have grabbed national headlines. Those in the know don’t need a strong performance in this series to know that Durant is great, but performances like this one certainly don’t hurt his repute. Shawn Marion and DeShawn Stevenson defended Durant for most of Game 1, but Jason Kidd — primarily through switches on 1-3 pick-and-rolls — got his chance, too. It didn’t matter. Durant was fantastic from all over the floor, and though Tyson Chandler did an excellent job of contesting his attempts in the paint, KD was awarded with enough free throws to keep the Thunder competitive in the face of a Nowitzki onslaught feat. J.J. Barea. Yet Durant’s problem is exactly that which I addressed in the preview; while he holds distinct advantages over Marion and Stevenson, he lacks the means to attack as consistently as Nowitzki. That won’t stop him from putting up huge point totals with efficient percentages, but if the dynamic of this series really is to be centered around Dirk vs. Durant, then the slight limitations of the application of Durant’s offensive game could prove costly.
  • The Mavs’ collective defense against Russell Westbrook went precisely according to the expected plan, with one small change: Stevenson started on Westbrook, and Dallas employed even more zone than one might have thought. Both of those elements worked out swimmingly; while Stevenson wasn’t notably great on the defensive end, he did his job and executed the game plan, while the match-up zone seemed to create some serious problems for Westbrook. The problem isn’t that Westbrook isn’t a “true point guard,” merely that he is particularly vulnerable to defensive coverage that grants him any shot he wants while defending the rim. The results speak for themselves, and though Westbrook is due for a big game at some point during this series (his talent alone should allow for that much), I don’t see how he combats this defensive strategy aside from making more jumpers. Chandler gives Westbrook a lot of problems inside, and while the young Thunder guard was able to compensate for those problems by drawing fouls and getting to the line (he attempted 18 free throws), it’s hard to object with any particular aspect of the Mavs’ defensive execution in this regard.
  • If it hasn’t already become pretty clear, this game turned into a bit of a free throw fest. Dallas’ 46.6 free throw rate is a bit ridiculous, but Oklahoma City’s 51.4 mark is flat-out bonkers. The whistles were quick on both ends of the court (beginning with a bizarre double-technical on Chandler and Kendrick Perkins just a minute and a half into the game), and played a significant role in the efficiency of both Durant and Nowitzki, as well as whatever semblance of efficiency Westbrook was able to muster. I’d expect OKC to continue shooting free throws at a high rate, but it’s no such certainty for Dallas.
  • The fundamental obstructions to the Dirk vs. Durant narrative were a pair of reserve guards. J.J. Barea (21 points, 8-12 FG) was again insanely effective as an initiator of the pick-and-roll, and Jason Terry (24 points, 8-16 FG, 4-8 3FG) continues his run of the gauntlet in an effort to restore his postseason reputation. Both produced as necessary, though the performance of the former may not have the same sustainability as Dirk’s; Barea looked unstoppable running the pick-and-roll with Dirk from the top of the key, but the Thunder are a better defensive team than they showed in Game 1. They may not have an answer for Nowitzki, but they can certainly tweak their approach to contain Barea, as even a single body between J.J. and the rim would limit the impact of that particular sequence. Of all of the areas of adjustment for the Thunder, I’d expect this to be the most significant.
  • Several observers on Twitter wisely pointed out the disconnect between the feel of the game and the scoring margin, and it’s something to consider. Nowitzki was amazing, Barea astounding, and the interior defense excellent, and yet the Thunder were within seven points with just a few minutes remaining. Dallas is good, but this is going to be a fiercely competitive series, regardless of how many games it goes on.
  • On the bright side for the Mavs: Shawn Marion’s performance has plenty of room for immediate improvement. His finishing totals and percentages were pretty decent, but Marion fumbled away many a scoring opportunity in Game 1, with some resulting in turnovers and others mere missed opportunities. If he’s a bit crisper on the catch and off the dribble in Game 2, his slashing and curling around the rim gives Dallas another dynamic offensive contributor.
  • James Harden’s 12 points and four assists weren’t back-breaking, but he did create some problems for the Mavs with his work in the pick-and-roll. I still see this as a directly addressable problem, and though Harden made some terrific passes after getting into the lane, Dallas can do better to prevent that initial penetration. Rest assured: the Mavs are well aware of the problems that Harden can create, and will look to make explicit changes in their execution to account for him.
  • Again: Dallas is the better shooting team in this series, even with both teams’ defenses taken into account. If the Thunder are to win, they’ll need either a sudden drop in the Mavs’ shooting from all over the floor, or a significant advantage on the offensive glass, in the turnover column, or in free throw attempts. They secured modest advantages in two of those areas on Monday, and it still wasn’t enough — Dallas won with a 9.9 efficiency differential.

The Official Two Man Game Official Dallas Mavericks Versus Oklahoma City Thunder Official Western Conference Finals Preview for the Official 2010-2011 Official NBA Post-Season

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 16, 2011 under Commentary, Previews | 22 Comments to Read

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I never expected to be writing series previews for the Mavs this deep into the post season, but here I am, and here are the Mavs, playing some absolutely fantastic two-way basketball. Dallas played through the first two rounds as well as any team in the playoffs, but in the Conference Finals they’ll face their toughest opponent yet. Oklahoma City has neither Portland’s obvious flaws nor L.A.’s crippling defensive issues, and contending with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and the Thunder’s brilliant supporting cast will require more incredible execution from the Mavs. There was little room for error during this playoff run to begin with, but Dallas must continue to walk the fine line of passing without overpassing, pressuring on D without fouling, and committing to a team defensive front without sacrificing the means to grab defensive rebounds.

Reducing this series to a “who guards Dirk/Durant?” bullet point may be oversimplifying things a bit, but I understand the temptation to determine the victor of this series by way of defending an opponent’s star player. Nowitzki and Durant are both fantastic offensive players without clear cross-team matchups; Shawn Marion* and DeShawn Stevenson will get the call for Dallas and Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison for OKC, but none of those four should be expected to do a stellar defensive job, even on the basis of an individual game. All four defenders will work like crazy to defend their man, but there’s only so much you can do against Nowitzki’s array of jab steps and fakes and Durant’s combination of size, speed, and shooting.

*Marion actually didn’t spend much time at all defending Durant this season. Caron Butler logged a lot of time against Durant the first two times the teams met, and Marion spent the last game of the season series filling in for an injured Nowitzki. In both contexts, Marion ended up covering Jeff Green during many of his minutes, but should see a lot more of Durant in the games to come.

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The key in either matchup is the minimization of losses — which team can manage to get torched for less. With that in mind, I think the Mavs have a bit of an advantage on the superstar front. Whether Nowitzki or Durant is the superior player hardly matters. What does is the fact that Nowitzki has more easily initiated ways to attack defenders (low post, high post, iso on the wing, pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop) than Durant. KD’s alleged troubles to get open and receive passes are very real; he may be one of the most brilliant scorers in the league, but against heavy defensive pressure, his touches can be limited. He’s more susceptible to double-teams. His influence can be hindered by encouraging Russell Westbrook to shoot. Dallas simply has more avenues to derail Durant than OKC does to limit Nowitzki, a point which gets lost in the Durant vs. Marion and Nowitzki vs. Ibaka framework.

As far as individual defense goes, I think Marion is perhaps a bit slower than the Mavs would like, but he’ll have to be their best first line of defense against Durant. Stevenson doesn’t have the size, strength, or athleticism to pull off a Tony Allen-like (or even Tony Allen-light) defensive performance, and Jason Kidd isn’t really an option in this series. Corey Brewer could see the court for a few minutes, but Rick Carlisle clearly prefers the rotation regulars. Marion is the most logical choice at this point, even if the speed advantage he surrenders to Durant could be a recurring problem. Still, Marion will make Durant work for every point he gets, and doesn’t often surrender free cuts to the rim nor bite on shot fakes. Marion is excellent at staying down while getting a hand in a shooter’s face — an advantage afforded him by his height and length — and that ability to challenge Durant’s jumper without allowing KD to draw a cheap foul is incredibly important.

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Dallas is the better shooting team in this series, which puts OKC at a disadvantage to begin with; in order to win, the Thunder will need to defend like crazy in order to bring the Mavs’ shooting down to a reasonable level, create a considerable advantage on the offensive glass (akin to Chicago’s Game 1 rebounding dominance against Miami on Sunday night), win the turnover battle by a significant margin, or get to the free throw line at an incredible rate. Marion’s defense can help on a number of fronts, as he can limit Durant’s impact on the glass, create turnovers with deflections, and limit Durant’s free throw attempts. KD may still drop 29 a game in this series, but his full impact across the four factors should be diminished if Marion does his job correctly.

Across the sky, Collison won’t be exploited in his attempts to cover Nowitzki, just overwhelmed (Ibaka may be a different story; he’s a strong defender in most contexts, but this matchup is not one of them). He’ll do a serviceable job against Nowitzki, but I see no way for the Thunder to even hedge on this particular weakness, no way to limit Dirk from doing exactly what he wants to do virtually every time he gets the ball in a position to score. Nowitzki will be bound by his own natural misses and errors, but I don’t see any defensive coverage that can rattle Dirk at this point, and no individual who can truly claim an ability to limit him. With Dirk on the floor against the Thunder this season, the Mavs have posted an offensive efficiency of 131.74. Fish in a barrel, my friend. The Western Conference Finals are the fish, the Thunder defenders are the barrel. Fish in a barrel.

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Beyond Nowitzki and Durant, Russell Westbrook is the best player in this series, though with the regular season as precedent, I wouldn’t expect him to play like it. On paper, Jason Kidd seems like a horrible cover for Westbrook; the Thunder point man is among the most impressively physical perimeter players in the league, and can run circles around any defender with the misfortune of covering him. Dallas, however, lets Westbrook be. Kidd doesn’t try to go chest-to-chest with him, but backs away, affording Westbrook all the opportunity to give into temptation and fire off his pet pull-up jumper. Westbrook isn’t a horrible shooter, but this is far and away the preferred result of any Thunder possession. Not only does it often result in a low-percentage shot, but it creates a scenario in which Westbrook has to turn down open shots on every single possession** in order to get the ball to Durant or any other Thunder player. That’s tough for any player to resist, and particularly so for one with an occasionally destructive tendency to fire at will.

**This is as true of the Mavs’ man-to-man defense as it is the zone. Regardless of the coverage, Westbrook will be given room.

In reality, this matchup is less about Kidd vs. Westbrook than it is about Westbrook vs. his own decision making, and subsequently Westbrook vs. Kidd and Tyson Chandler. Westbrook will need to be incredibly patient in order to properly initiate the Thunder offense, and the Mavs will attempt to goad him into shooting by going under every screen and playing several feet off of Westbrook when he has control of the ball. If Westbrook chooses to shoot, he’ll halt the Thunder offense, miss more than he makes (Westbrook converted 29 percent of his mid-range jumpers against the Mavs in the regular season), and generate transition opportunities for the Mavs. If he chooses to drive, he’ll have Kidd bothering him along the way and Chandler lying in wait. In the season series, Westbrook converted just 44 percent of his shots at the rim and 29 percent of his shots in the paint when Chandler was on the floor (according to NBA.com’s StatsCube), and TC will continue to aggressively challenge Westbrook’s drives; leaving offensively limited bigs like Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison doesn’t create much of a disadvantage for Dallas, so utilizing Kidd and Chandler as a two-man front against Westbrook is only a logical choice. It may be a bit hyperbolic to say that Westbrook will be neutralized in this series as a result, but he’ll certainly be tested and likely be limited.

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If much of Westbrook’s positive impact is taken out of the picture, the advantages held by Nowitzki and the Mavs’ supporting cast (which is more versatile and productive than the Thunder’s crew, even if the difference in efficacy isn’t glaring) become even more vital. That could easily be negated if OKC does particularly well on the offensive glass or gets out into transition frequently, but I see the Mavs taking care of business in both of those regards. The Thunder will naturally get theirs on the break and with second chance points, but not to a degree that will significantly affect the series. Marion, Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic, and J.J. Barea, on the other hand, seem poised to consistently outscore OKC’s supporting cast thanks to the opportunities granted by Dallas’ offensive system. The Thunder will play much better defense than the Lakers did, but the production and efficiency of the Mavs’ complementary scorers was no fluke.

That’s why I predict that the Mavs will win in six games. The Mavs haven’t won back-to-back series because of hot shooting, but because their commitment to offensive execution in these playoffs has no equal. Contending with their ball movement is a difficult feat, and an incredibly difficult one if Westbrook is side-stepping the offense to pull up for mid-range jumpers. There isn’t a terribly compelling reason why the Thunder will be able to disrupt the most beautifully structured and productive offense remaining in the playoffs, and the strength of the Mavs’ offense should power them through to their second ever NBA Finals appearance, prediction jinx permitting.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 122, Los Angeles Lakers 86

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 9, 2011 under Recaps | 9 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas92.0132.674.019.220.020.7
Los Angeles93.540.923.230.617.4

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

  • That, ladies and gents, was one of the most dominant performances in NBA playoff history. Dallas posted an effective field goal percentage of 74.0% — seventy-four percent! — which, according to Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus, was the highest mark in the playoffs by any team of the past two decades.  The Mavs won by 36 points, but the actual margin was even larger; if we adjust the final totals of both teams to the 100-possession standard, Dallas was actually 39.1 points superior on a pace-neutral scale. That’s an absurd, gaudy dominance that nears Bambi vs. Godzilla territory.
  • It was all possible because of the ball movement. Dallas did such an incredible job of finding open space and making the right passes in this series, and as I’ve noted on several occasions, it was that continued work toward the extra pass and the better shot that destroyed any hope L.A. had of mounting an effective defense. The Lakers embarrassed themselves with their inability to stick with the Mavs’ shooters, but they were only put in a position to fail because the passing was so crisp and the cuts were so perfect. Dallas — though they look absolutely brilliant at present — had fallen victim to their own stagnant offensive execution at various times during the regular season, but that’s not even a conceivable outcome with this team right now. Execution is playoff currency, and the way the Mavs created shots on offense was borderline magical. The Lakers were flummoxed by the sight of a moving ball, and incapable of defending pick-and-rolls, flare cuts, or really anyone at all.
  • Not that Dallas’ defense was anything to scoff at, either. Some of the same lethargy that haunted L.A.’s defense crept into their offensive game, but it’s not as if shots went up unchallenged or passes deflected themselves. The Mavs were true defensive aggressors, and forced the Lakers into a 17.4 turnover rate while holding them to a 40.9% effective field goal percentage. Kobe Bryant had a successful first quarter run, but that short burst aside, the Lakers had absolutely no continuity. They scored a bucket here and a bucket there, but the Mavs were scrambling so incredibly well in their half-court defense and demolishing one of the league’s most impressive offensive outfits in the process.
  • There should be no question that the better team won this series because frankly, when the Mavs play like this, they’re better than almost any team in the league. Dallas essentially played a perfect game to cap off an incredible four straight victories, and while there should be understandable doubt regarding the Mavs’ ability to sustain their current roll, the Dallas team of this series was a championship contender and then some.
  • Jason Terry (32 points, 11-14 FG, 9-10 3FG, four assists) was positively stupendous. This wasn’t “one of those nights” or the “hot hand”; on May 8th, 2011, Jason Eugene Terry activated his final Chakra. He reached out and touched the divine. He shifted into another state of consciousness, or was possibly existing simultaneously in two realms, his body a conduit for some greater power. This shooting display was a spiritual experience, the likes of which can change lives and convert men in their heart of hearts. The Lakers didn’t exactly put up much resistance, but the confidence and the consistency in JET’s jumper was otherworldly, or self-actualizing, or centering, or dimension-shifting. I’m not exactly sure which, but one simply knows when they’ve witnessed something miraculous.
  • Peja Stojakovic (21 points, 7-7 FG, 6-6 3FG, three steals) wasn’t too bad, either, and continued in his efforts to make me look like an absolute fool for wondering if he would bear fruit for the Mavs. Stojakovic was perfect from three-point range in six attempts, and like JET, his composure is admirable. He can fire off a corner three even against a hard close-out, and in those situations when he thinks the defense might get the better of him, he doesn’t hesitate to put the ball on the floor or swing it back to the top of the key. Stojakovic is a shooter, but he isn’t exactly consistent with the typical limitations spot-up shooter archetype.
  • The Maverick reserves scored 86 points, matching the Lakers’ collective total. Unreal.
  • Blowout losses do crazy things to people. Like Lamar Odom:

  • And Andrew Bynum:

  • I can understand the argument that Odom’s foul wasn’t quite deserving of the flagrant 2/auto-ejection, but Bynum’s is completely classless, uncalled for, and unacceptable. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t receive a multi-game suspension to kick off the 2011-2012 season for his momentary lapse into insanity. Bynum is typically a pretty reasonable, aware guy, but the sight of J.J. Barea getting yet another uncontested drive to the rim drove him into some kind of madness. Then again, he had mostly himself to blame for Barea’s previous effortless drives, so maybe he was just taking out his frustrations on a mini, Barea-sized avatar of himself. Or, y’know, he just lost his mind.
  • Bynum’s flip-out wasn’t wholly negative though, because it did help Barea (22 points, 9-14 FG, eight assists) — who shared the game’s tri-MVP honors with JET and Peja — score an elusive made bucket on a flagrant foul. Even after taking a huge forearm hit from Bynum, Barea’s floater went up and in, resulting in two points for Dallas, two subsequent free throws, and possession of the ball. Not exactly an everyday occurrence.
  • On a related note, it’s still baffling to me that the Lakers would commit so much pressure at the three-point line to the task of defending Barea with either Tyson Chandler or Brendan Haywood setting a screen. Is it so hard to roll under screens to encourage Barea to shoot jumpers while letting the big man sag in the paint? Chandler and Haywood aren’t going to catch at the free throw line and pop a jumper, and if J.J. concedes in order to take a three, that’s ultimately a good thing for the Laker defense considering the circumstances. Yet L.A.’s defenders got hung up on screens time and time again with Bynum hedging 20 feet from the rim and Pau Gasol unable to leave Dirk Nowitzki. I’m not sure who was responsible for the pick-and-roll blunders for the Lakers, but they empowered Barea as a creator and made him into a significant problem in this series.
  • But let’s take a moment to appreciate just how incredible Barea was in this game and this series. The pick-and-roll opened the door, but it was still up to Barea — who has often functioned as the Mavs’ built-in scapegoat, but has set that honorary title ablaze — to finish his looks and find his teammates. He scored over and around Bynum, he worked for creative passing and scoring angles, and had Terry not connected with an unseen power, he would have been the best guard for either team in Game 4, despite taking the court alongside two surefire Hall-of-Famers.
  • Also: attempting to defend Barea with Ron Artest was hilarious.
  • As were Artest’s offensive pursuits:

  • Gasol vs. Nowitzki used to seem like an actual argument, but that debate segued into Bryant vs. Nowitzki, and now Nowitzki vs. pretty much anyone. To the victor go the spoils of public opinion, and after championing the Mavs through their improbable sweep, Dirk is walking on sunshine.
  • I doubted the ability of Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood to defend against LaMarcus Aldridge’s versatility, and then doubted their ability to defend against Bynum’s sheer size. I was horribly wrong, and both players have been defensive rock stars. Bynum scored six points and grabbed just six boards in Game 4, his second game in this series where he had both under 10 points and 10 rebounds. Bynum still had a pair of successful performances, but that’s the expectation. He played up to par in two games, and was held far below his expected performance in two others, including the final outing of the Lakers’ season.
  • Oh, by the way: the Mavs happened to make 20 three-pointers (in just 32 attempts), setting a new playoff record. No big deal, just making history over here.
  • Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook found one constant in the Mavs’ three-point shooting aside from the hard work of Terry and Stojakovic: the influence of Dirk Nowitzki. Yet another example of how the man makes things happen, even on a day where his statistical output isn’t quite what you’d expect.
  • Brendan Haywood made two consecutive free throws. That’s an omen of the apocalypse, right?
  • I’m still in disbelief over Gasol’s regression. Nowitzki did a fantastic job of defending him both on the perimeter and in the post, but even with that in mind, the degree to which Gasol was neutralized is startling. He’s been the most important Laker all season long, but throughout both of L.A.’s postseason series he’s failed to be aggressive, failed to execute, failed to make an imprint on the game in almost any regard. Basketball fans will again call him soft, but really, Gasol was just bad; it has nothing to do with his masculinity or his ability to grind in the post or something equally ridiculous, but simply an odd reluctance to assert himself. He was certainly too passive, but also underwhelming even when he did get touches down low or in the high post. I don’t mean to make the man a scapegoat — what ailed the Lakers went far deeper than Pau Gasol — but he was so unbelievably absent from this series.
  • 32 assists on 44 made field goals is pretty insane, as was the fact that the Mavs had assisted on 10 of their first 11 buckets, and had notched 20 dimes by halftime. This is truly unparalleled ball movement.
  • Dallas’ worst quarter in Game 4: a 9-of-17 third frame in which they played L.A. to a draw at 23-all. The Lakers started out the second half with some defensive stops, and for a matter of moments, looked like they actually belonged on the court on Sunday.
  • Jason Kidd deserves a round of applause for 1) his well-publicized ability to impact the game in a variety of ways, and 2) his tremendous defense against Kobe Bryant in this series. Kidd didn’t even rack up all that many assists in Game 4, but he was a contributor during some big Maverick runs (the 10-0 sprint to close the first half, for example) and did those mythical little things.
  • However, it was the Mavs’ additional defensive pressure that really threw Kobe off of his game. Dallas was somehow able to pull off the feat of committing an extra defender against Bryant overtly at times (direct double team) or more subtly at others (a floating defender, waiting to help), and yet still scamper back to cover the open man. Kidd, Stevenson, Stojakovic, Terry, and Barea deserve a ton of credit — they managed to hound Bryant a bit and recover nicely to avoid weak side exploitation.
  • For the sake of finding a silver lining, L.A. did do one thing relatively well: rebound. The Mavs should have dominated the raw rebounding totals given the incredible number of Laker misses. Instead, they took just a 40-39 advantage, thanks largely to L.A.’s 30.6 offensive rebounding rate. I don’t want to glorify a series of missed put-backs in a game that the Lakers essentially forfeited, but at least there was a slight display of effort in creating extra possessions off the glass.
  • Stojakovic was an oddly effective defender in this series. He faced a series of tough assignments created by weird matchups or on switches, but held his own against Bryant, Odom, Artest, and even Bynum and Gasol (via denying entry passes) on occasion. I’d settle for Stojakovic not providing opponents with a clear point of attack, but at various times in this serious he made legitimately beneficial defensive plays.
  • The same is true of Marion, but due to his superior defensive ability, I don’t look at his performance in this series in such rosy terms. Dallas clearly didn’t need huge performances from Marion due to their hot shooting, but he ultimately took the back seat in defending Kobe Bryant to Kidd. Marion still had effective stretches, but just wasn’t quite as good as one may have expected given Marion’s track record in defending elite wing players. Even at this age, he can do better, and if the Mavs play the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals, he’ll have to.
  • The Lakers made five three-pointers in the entire game. The Mavericks made at least four pointers in each quarter, including seven in the second and five in the fourth.
  • I still don’t have the foggiest idea why we didn’t see more of Corey Brewer in this series. DeShawn Stevenson didn’t play all that well on either end of the court, and Brewer is definitely capable of shooting 1-of-5 from three but while providing better slashing, more energy, and better defense. Plus, when opponents are leaving Stevenson to double elsewhere, isn’t that enacting the fear of the offensive burden that Brewer might bring?
  • Haywood grabbed more rebounds in 17 minutes of action (eight) than every Laker except for Gasol (who also had eight).
  • Kudos to the folks running the entertainment at the American Airlines Center. During several rounds of the “BEAT L.A” chants that broke out in Game 4, the folks running the soundboard killed everything. They cut the music, the sound effects, the video clips — they let the fans unleash in support of their team with only silence as the backdrop. The AAC can be characterized by its non-stop audio-visual stimulation (sometimes to the detriment of the basketball experience), but these moments of unadulterated fan fervor were pretty awesome. I know it’s easy for fans to get psyched when their team is on the verge of sweeping the defending champs, but the MFFLs showed up on Sunday and the AAC entertainment staff let them scream to the rafters.
  • Terry’s rapport with the fans is tremendous. You know JET eats up the response to his antics, but the man makes a conscious, ongoing effort to keep the fans involved and energized, even when things like long TV timeouts take away some of the game’s natural momentum. Rather than loiter around the scorer’s table to wipe off his shoes an extra time or do a quick stretch, JET took the court solo to energize the fans. He stalked the sidelines and called to the Maverick faithful. Opposing teams, coaches, and fans may find him irritating, and I can understand their frustration with JET’s posturing. Yet there’s a reason he holds such a special place in the hearts of Mavs fans, and it goes beyond the timely shots and the fourth quarter performance.
  • More record fun: Terry’s nine three-point makes tied an NBA playoff record, but the lopsided nature of the game prevented him from securing that record-breaking three. Drat.
  • This was likely Phil Jackson’s final game as a coach, and it’s a damn shame that his players couldn’t have taken that into consideration when they were spacing on pick-and-roll coverage and practically rotating away from open shooters. Jackson’s the best there ever was, and though this loss likely won’t be even a footnote of a footnote of a footnote on his coaching career, it would have been nice to see his team go out with a bit more fight. For the record, I don’t think Jackson was a victim in this loss or this win-less series; there are a number of technical problems that held L.A. back, and that responsibility falls on the coaching staff. Still, Phil wasn’t supposed to go out like this, and even if the Lakers committed some strategic blunders, the biggest problem in Game 4 was the embarrassing lack of effort.
  • Predictable dynamic of the post-game press conferences: though plenty of questions were lobbed up for both Dirk and JET to answer (they took the podium together), Dirk remained silent while Terry offered his analysis and reflection. In several cases, Nowitzki didn’t even look up; he merely stared straight through the table in front of him during the question and the response both, allowing Terry — ever the talker — to handle every single question purposed for both of them to answer.

The Science of Zion

Posted by Ian Levy on May 1, 2011 under Commentary, Previews | Be the First to Comment

Screen shot 2011-05-01 at 1.49.54 PM

Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and a part of The Two Man Game family. He’ll be bringing his intelligent brand of — mostly quantitative — analysis here on a weekly basis. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

The first task has been completed. Despite faltering for a few days, the Mavericks were able to regain focus and close out the Trail Blazers on the road in Portland.

In the end, the promise of the Blazers’ versatility fizzled. Only two of the 11 Blazers’ lineups that played more than 5 minutes finished the series with a positive Net Rating. One was The Longs, which never appeared again together after Game 2. The other was the Miller-Roy-Matthews-Wallace-Aldridge configuration. That lineup consistently hurt Dallas, but for some reason only saw 18 minutes of floor time over the course of the entire series.

The Mavericks can now turn their attention to what should be an epic duel with the Los Angeles Lakers. As has been pointed out literally everywhere (even NPR might be in on this one) this is the first playoff meeting between the Lakers and Mavericks since 1988. Two of the decade’s defining players, Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant, will finally square off when the stakes are the highest.

The Mavericks have tasted playoff success for the first time in years, and confidence will be high after dispatching a solid Trailblazers team in fairly convincing fashion. Still, the Lakers will be favored, as well they should be; L.A. took two out of three from Dallas in the regular season, winning the most recent pair of games by a combined 33 points.

Areas for Concern

At The Point Forward, Zach Lowe highlighted some of the heading into this series. At the top of his list: How does Dallas handle Kobe Bryant? Lowe is right that Kobe creates some problems for the Mavs; the only player in the rotation even remotely equipped to handle Kobe is Shawn Marion, and that matchup is still less than ideal. As Lowe points out, the answer may be finding some minutes for Corey Brewer, a solution which creates another set of problems at the offensive end.

I know this is sacrilege in some circles, but from a Maverick perspective, Kobe should perhaps invoke less fear than Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. Going back to 2008, the Lakers are 50-23 in the playoffs, for a win percentage of 0.648. Over that same stretch, Kobe has attempted 25 or more shots in a game 23 times. The Lakers are 14-9 in those games, for a win percentage of 0.608. He shot 44.4% from the field and 34.7% on three-pointers in those games — good but not great numbers. The Lakers are at their best, and Kobe at his most efficient, when the offense is balanced. I would be fine with Kobe in hero-mode, taking 35 shots a game. But if the big men are involved, engaged and energetic on offense, opening the floor for Kobe and the rest of the perimeter players, things could get ugly for the Mavericks.

The value of Tyson Chandler on both ends of the floor as has been discussed in some detail in this space, and suffice it to say that Chandler’s defense and rebounding will be crucial to keeping Gasol, Bynum and Odom from running roughshod in the paint. In the regular season, opposing centers averaged 5.6 personal fouls per 48 minutes against the Lakers, as they tried desperately to stymie Gasol and Bynum. Chandler’s average was just 4.1 against the Lakers, a very promising sign. However, his longest streak of 30+ minute games this season was just five. He will probably need to replicate that in this series for the Mavericks to have a chance.

How Dallas shoots from beyond the arc is also going to play a significant role in determining the outcome of this series. The Mavericks made 36.5% of their three-pointers in the regular season, and shot 38.0% in their six games against the Trail Blazers. In their three games against the Lakers they shot just 32.4%. They made 11 of 18 from the corners, but went 11 of 50 from everywhere else behind the three-point line. They don’t need to hit 15 a game , but when left open, DeShawn Stevenson, Peja Stojakavic, Jason Terry and J.J. Barea have to knock down open threes.

Reasons for Optimism

The worst kept secret in the NBA is that the Lakers are vulnerable defensively at the point guard position. The table below shows the individual statistics the Lakers have allowed their opponents, broken down by position.

Lakers' Opponent Production by Position

PositioneFG%FGA/48Pts/48Ast/48PER
PG49.8%17.520.79.217.4
SG44.3%18.419.54.111.4
SF49.2%17.319.93.414.2
PF47.6%16.719.02.815.6
C48.0%14.016.32.715.8

Point guards score more and more efficiently against the Lakers than any other position. This presents both an opportunity and a challenge for the Mavericks.  Like everyone else, the Mavericks’ point guards were very effective against the Lakers in the regular season. Barea and Kidd posted an eFG% of 60.7% in the three regular season matchups. However, they combined for just 18.4 points per game because they averaged only 14 field goal attempts per contest. The Mavericks point guards are not aggressive scorers by nature, but if they can find some aspect of that assertion deep within themselves, they can take advantage of a rather large hole in the Lakers’ defensive front.

Rodrigue Beaubois played two games against the Lakers this season, and struggled mightily — going 3 of 15 from the field with 2 assists and 2 turnovers in just under 30 minutes of play. Recovering from a sprained foot, Beaubois missed all six games against in the first round, but is nearing a return to game action. He may not be 100%, and Rick Carlisle seems pretty confident with his guard rotation as is, so minutes may be scarce at first. Still, if Beaubois is healthy, he has the potential to create serious problems for L.A.; the Lakers simply can’t defend his speed and athleticism on a one-on-one basis.

Finally, if the Mavericks can keep the games close, they’ll always have a chance to steal one at the end with their crunch-time execution. According to 82games.com, Chandler, Marion and Terry all shoot 50.0% or better from the field in clutch situations. Kidd and Nowitzki shoot a modest 45.8% each in the clutch. Dallas played 27 games this season that were decided by 5 points or less, and won 18 of them (a win percentage of 0.667). Dallas has found ways to pull out close games all season, and while they’d prefer not to rely on their closing ability, but it’s not a bad fall-back plan.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 103, Portland Trailblazers 96

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 29, 2011 under Recaps | 6 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-04-29 at 12.29.04 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas82.0125.653.824.431.611.0
Portland117.147.526.635.78.5

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

  • It’s hard to be too shocked over the Mavs’ Game 6 victory given the way they’ve performed in this series, but relief certainly seems apt at this point. Kindly disregard the “playoff demons” pseudo story; that relief has nothing to do with 2006 or 2007, doesn’t feature the word “finally,” and honestly has nothing to do with anything save for this year’s Mavericks and this year’s Blazers. Brandon Roy’s emergence as a factor in this series was rather unlikely to begin with, but his supernatural effectiveness on his home court did introduce some reason for uncertainty. Dallas’ general reluctance to work through Shawn Marion as much as they should have (particularly when Gerald Wallace was off the floor or matched up with someone else) had the potential to create problems if Jasons Kidd and Terry had coinciding poor performances. Dirk Nowitzki’s slightly low shooting percentages in the majority this series weren’t a problem, per se, but could have been. I saw all of these things — along with an evaporating lead, stints of fantastic team defense followed by lackluster stretches, LaMarcus Aldridge facing up and attacking Brendan Haywood, Gerald Wallace being, frankly, dominant in Game 6 — and wondered if Dallas and Portland weren’t due for a Game 7. Apparently they weren’t. The Mavs got the stops they needed (though they essentially played chicken with Wesley Matthews’ three-point stroke to do so –  it’s not a strategy I’d necessarily recommend), and got huge buckets from Kidd, Terry, Marion, and naturally, Dirk. The stars didn’t align to extend the series, the better team did what was necessary and took the ball out of the hands of Portland’s most capable scorers as much as they could, and things unfolded in the manner the first five games of the series predicted they would. It’s great to be wrong.
  • Nowitzki’s point total had the benefit of some late-game padding, but he was sensationally effective in the first half, and…oddly unneeded for most of the second. Nowitzki didn’t score a single point during the Mavs’ third quarter run, as Kidd played a masterful 12 minutes (four points, 2-3 FG, four assists), Terry scored eight points in just over six minutes, Marion cleaned up where he could, and Chandler finished inside. The franchise centerpiece functioned as an effective decoy, as the Mavs managed to build a 17-point lead without Dirk having to lift a finger on offense. There was some good semi-transition action to facilitate Dallas’ flow, but even their halfcourt play during the third quarter gives reason for optimism in the second round; the Mavs need those multiple points of attack if they’re going to hang with the Lakers.
  • The zone is still looking strong. It didn’t “stop” the Blazers’ offense, but it did generate empty possessions. Portland had a lot of trouble hitting any of their jumpers against the zone, and though Dallas naturally went back to their man-to-man coverage, Portland never could find their rhythm against the zone. The shift to man defense came of the Mavs’ own volition, a fact which shouldn’t be overlooked; Dallas was able to control the game with their choice of defensive strategy.
  • Tyson Chandler (nine points, seven rebounds, one block) and Brendan Haywood (zero points, three offensive boards, four total rebounds) again defended LaMarcus Aldridge effectively in the post. Aldridge eventually established a good offensive rhythm by facing up against the Maverick bigs on the wing, but those jumpers and drives are shots Dallas could — and did — live with. Obviously one would prefer that Chandler and Haywood contest those attempts as best they could, but the fact that Dallas almost completely removed Aldridge from the game as a post-threat was, and is, pretty significant.
  • Gerald Wallace (32 points, 10-17 FG, 12 rebounds, one turnover) played a tremendous game, and I’m curious how Dallas would have fared had Wallace been available in the second quarter. Wallace’s back seized up after his initial run, and he retired to the locker room for the duration of the second frame. He returned, naturally (I’ve never known mortal injury to even deter Wallace), but not before the Mavs had outscored his Blazers 33-16 in the second. Wallace had 16 points and six rebounds in the first quarter, seven points and four rebounds in the third, and 12 points and two rebounds in the fourth. Considering how poorly Nicolas Batum and Rudy Fernandez played and have played in this series, Wallace’s 12-minute unavailability could be seen as a back-breaking moment for Portland. Dallas fully recovered from their early deficit during that crucial second quarter, and established the momentum they carried through the third. Playoff “what ifs” are a futile exercise to a degree, but Wallace’s absence was conspicuous, and his production (not to mention his defense) sorely missed.
  • If you’re of the opinion that J.J. Barea may have played a bit too much, I’d encourage you to reconsider. He did introduce some defensive difficulties at times (the Mavs were forced to double down when Barea was being attacked in the post, for example) but he had productive stints in the second and fourth quarters. Seven points, four rebounds, and four assists without a turnover is pretty solid production in a game of this pace, and the quality of looks he generated — particularly in the second quarter — was impressive. Regardless, I’m sure his minutes will dip a bit as Rodrigue Beaubois is reintegrated into the rotation.
  • Pour one out for Portland — the Blazers are a fine team, a well-run organization, and an opponent worthy of respect. They didn’t quite have the depth nor the defense (What on earth happened to the Blazers’ turnover-inducing ways?) to extend the series, but this was a hell of a way to kick off the playoffs, regardless of the outcome. LaMarcus Aldridge is a legitimate star, and taps into the basic basketball desire for a do-it-all big man. Brandon Roy provided the postseason’s best individual narrative blip, and turned in as dominant of a fourth quarter showing as I’ve seen. Gerald Wallace and Wesley Matthews are the kinds of entertaining, effective, and relentless players that any team would be lucky to have. Andre Miller and Marcus Camby are somehow still criminally underrated, and managed to fly under the radar in this series despite making a genuine impact. It’s been another long, trying season for Portland, but for us basketball fans enjoying from afar, it’s been a treat to watch the franchise-wide resilience. Keep on keepin’ on, BlazerNation.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 93, Portland Trailblazers 82

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 26, 2011 under Recaps | 6 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-04-26 at 12.14.32 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas83.0112.042.933.341.714.5
Portland98.845.918.923.714.5

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

  • Let this game be known henceforth as the “Oh, the Mavs have Tyson Chandler” Game. TC has been a crucial part of this team all season, and his heralded work on the defensive only constitutes part of his success. This was the full Chandler experience, something unfelt and unseen in the first four games of this series due to foul trouble, a lack of emphasis on establishing Chandler as an offensive option, and TC’s own offensive complacency. Rick Carlisle and the Mavs coaching staff clearly identified that problem and sought to correct it, as Dallas consciously made an effort to get the ball to Chandler early and often. From there, Chandler built on his touches with one of the finest offensive rebounding performances I’ve ever seen, and the most prolific in Maverick playoff history. He was single-handedly responsible for Dallas’ monstrous 41.7 offensive rebounding rate, and demonstrated a complete mastery of the tap-out; every board that Chandler couldn’t claim outright was tipped, pushed, or swatted in the direction of a teammate. On Monday night he was able to secure the board or redirect it to a teammate 13 times in an 83-possession game, which sounds impossible but apparently isn’t. Just insanely effective board work from Chandler on top of great scoring (14 points on four shots) and fantastic post defense.
  • About that defense: Chandler and Brendan Haywood both did a tremendous job of limiting LaMarcus Aldridge in the post, marking the third game in a row that the tandem was able to hold Aldridge to under 43 percent shooting from the field. Aldridge’s point totals have dropped in each game of the series so far: from 27 to 24 to 20 to 18 to most recently, just 12. I wouldn’t expect Aldridge’s scoring production to get any lower than his Game 5 total, but the Mavs’ defensive improvement in that matchup has been remarkable, particularly when considering just how prolific Aldridge was in the first two games of this series and against Dallas in the regular season. Halting Aldridge isn’t always enough, but it’s a valuable foundation for building up the team defense on the whole.
  • Aside from Andre Miller’s mind-boggling drives to the rim and Gerald Wallace’s uncontested opportunities in transition, the Blazers really didn’t have much offensive success at all. Aldridge was, as noted above, limited by terrific defense. Brandon Roy wasn’t given the same free rein to drive and kick that he was in Game 4. Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, and Rudy Fernandez had their opportunities limited against both the Mavs’ oppressive zone and swarming man-to-man configurations. There was little rhythm to anything Portland did on the offensive end, and Dallas refused to bail them out with purposeless fouls and free trips to the free throw line. 98.8 points per 100 possessions is a fantastic defensive mark, and the Mavs rightfully earned it with their effort and execution. This is the kind of performance that renews faith — not only in the fact that Dallas can win another game in this series and advance to the second round, but that they’re capable of competing beyond the ending of this series.
  • Jason Kidd scored four points, but as is usually the case, it didn’t matter. His 14 assists and seven rebounds more than made up for any perceived scoring deficit, and made those three-point-heavy outings to start the series seem like a thing of the past. I’m sure the Mavs are pleased that the offense need not rely so heavily on Kidd for scoring; team-wide scoring balance is just more fun, and having so many players producing efficiently gives Dallas much greater operational latitude. Plus, while those scoring outbursts from Kidd were quite helpful in the Mavs’ early-series cause, Kidd also had a tendency to chase shots. Even veterans are vulnerable to heat checks, and Kidd was attempting two or three rushed attempts a game in an attempt to hold on to whatever jumpshooting magic had enchanted him. Those heat checks are gone — as are most of Kidd’s shots — because the Maverick offense has returned to a more natural state, and is functioning as efficiently as ever.
  • Dirk Nowitzki didn’t allow Portland to double team him. He was incredibly decisive, and on the catch, almost immediately committed to a full-on drive towards the rim or a pull up jumper. There’s a certain elegance to Nowitzki’s slow-motion game; the way he measures up defenders, ball fakes into open space, spins, and counters is an artful dance. Yet when Nowitzki takes this more direct, aggressive approach, he sacrifices a bit of the artfulness in his game in order to maximize production. It’s a shame, but a necessary shame; Dallas needs wins and they need Nowitzki to be highly effective, and attacking the defense before it has a chance to double is a terrific way to achieve both ends.
  • I’m still shocked at how little of an impact the size of the Blazer guards has had on the series overall. Those matchups have been problematic for moments, but they’re clearly not go-to options; as much as Miller, Roy, Matthews, and Batum would love to pick on J.J. Barea in the post, Portland just hasn’t gone to that strategy with any frequency. Part of the reason is that Jason Terry has done a fantastic job of fronting, contesting the entry pass, and even bothering shots in the post. He’s been a passable post defender, which is all Dallas really needs him to be; with JET removed as a defensive liability down low and Beaubois still having yet to play a game in this series, Barea is the only clear matchup disadvantage in post-up guard play. Throw in the time that Barea spends guarding Rudy Fernandez (who doesn’t have the frame nor the proficiency to operate from the block), and it’s a bit more difficult for the Blazer guards to post up the Mavs than many — including myself — anticipated.
  • I still don’t understand why the Blazers have been so willing to switch and muddle their matchups. Dallas — particularly due to Jason Kidd’s patience — works diligently to exploit mismatches, and Dirk Nowitzki’s versatility makes those efforts especially worthwhile. Those switches don’t appear to be by design, but it’s certainly curious that they happen so frequently.
  • A really smart, effective game from JET. His three-point stroke was a bit errant (1-of-5 from that range), but he scored 20 points on 18 shots, made smart passes, found open space, and played defense. This wasn’t Terry as Fourth Quarter Hero, but simply Terry doing exactly what his team need him to do in an efficient manner. Jumpers from the short corner don’t make the highlight reel, but you have to appreciate these kinds of performances from JET.
  • Dallas didn’t solve their turnover problems, but they did eliminate Portland’s marginal (a word used as literally as possible) advantage. The offense “improved” by virtue of the defense; the Blazers and Mavs posted identical 14.5 turnover rates, negating any disadvantage that Dallas’ giveaways once held.
  • J.J. Barea had one of his better games of the series, despite scoring just four points on 2-of-6 shooting and picking up a single assist and a turnover to match. It’s just been that kind of series for Barea.
  • Much ado has already been made of a hard screen that Brian Cardinal set on Patty Mills in the closing moments of the game, with the verdict already set in stone. It’s a non-issue, honestly. Cardinal appears to have gotten in a bit of a cheap shot, sure, but Mills was also guilty of that same zeal in his full-court press. Plus, as is usually the case with the biggest hits on screens, the problem is largely one of communication; Mills wasn’t hit so much as blindsided, and the fact that Cardinal put a little more into it than was necessary is really secondary to the fact that no one told Mills he was about to get creamed. Cardinal’s pick was hardly out of line in the grand scheme of things, even though that fact matters little; the Blazers were already frustrated, and it’s understandable that they (and their fans) are looking for a rallying cry after a loss like this one. Now they have it. Remember the hard pick that no one bothered to tell Patty Mills about! Never forget the injustice of a halfcourt screen!

Ramblin’ Rose

Posted by Ian Levy on April 25, 2011 under Commentary | 4 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-04-25 at 4.50.43 PM

Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and a part of The Two Man Game family. He’ll be bringing his intelligent brand of — mostly quantitative — analysis here on a weekly basis. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

After Games 1 and 2, we met two lineups, The Grays and The Longs, and identified the utilization of each as an example of the approach the Mavericks and Blazers were bringing to this series. The part played by each unit changed dramatically over Games 3 and 4, again revealing a lot about the status of each team.

The Longs have essentially disappeared from Portland’s rotation, playing less than a minute together over the past two games. Nate McMillan obviously has some player combinations he likes better. He might want to take a look at these numbers, because despite taking both games in Portland, most of what he’s been trying hasn’t worked very well. The table below shows the five-man units Portland has used for at least three minutes over the past three games.

LineupMinutesPoss. ForPoss. OppPts. ForPts. OppORtg.DRtg.Net
Miller - Matthews - Wallace - Aldridge - Camby53.1791909698105.5108.9-3.4
Fernandez - Roy - Batum - Wallace - Aldridge15.6528273341117.9151.9-34.0
Miller - Matthews - Batum - Wallace - Aldridge19.103233263981.3118.2-36.9
Miller - Roy - Matthews - Wallace - Aldridge11.6322203218145.590.0+55.5
Miller - Matthews - Batum - Aldridge - Camby9.8016172025125.0147.1-22.1
Fernandez - Roy - Matthews - Batum - Aldridge5.2289108125.088.9+36.1
Fernandez - Roy - Batum - Wallace - Camby3.06655550.0100.0-50.0

Over that stretch, only one lineup has consistently hurt the Mavericks. It’s the Andre Miller – Brandon Roy – Wesley Matthews – Gerald Wallace – LaMarcus Aldridge combination, which has outscored the Mavericks by 14 points across 11 minutes. Interestingly enough, this lineup only played 2 minutes and 48 seconds together during the Blazers fourth quarter comeback on Saturday.

The Blazers’ 20-point advantage in that quarter was built mostly by two other lineups. The Rudy Fernandez – Roy – Nicolas Batum – Wallace – Aldridge configuration was +7 over the first 6:28 of the 4th. The Roy – Matthews – Batum – Wallace – Aldridge lineup was +8 over a one-minute, 43-second span towards the end of the quarter. However, those two lineups have played another 18 minutes together across the rest of the series, in which they were outscored by Dallas by 13 points. The Blazers didn’t run away with the fourth quarter because they stumbled into an effective new lineup. Rather, a method they had tried previously began to click. For one quarter, Brandon Roy turned into Jerry West and Jason Terry turned into Darrick Martin, triggering a sudden change in the performance of a familiar lineup.

That the Blazers were able to come away with two wins at home will obscure the fact that they still aren’t playing very well. If we take away Brandon Roy’s magical fourth quarter in Game 4, we find that the Mavericks outscored the Blazers by 13 points over 7 quarters of play. The Blazers are still left with just one lineup that has been successful over a significant stretch in more than one game.

The table bel0w shows the same lineup information for the Mavericks, covering the last three games.

LineupMinutesPoss. ForPoss. OppPoints ForPoints OppORtg.DRtg.Net
Kidd - Stevenson - Marion - Nowitzki - Chandler26.134241413797.690.2+7.4
Kidd - Terry - Marion - Nowitzki - Chandler17.0630323645120.0140.6-20.6
Barea - Terry - Stojakavic - Nowitzki - Haywood18.3031314739151.6125.8+25.8
Barea - Terry - Stojakavic - Marion - Haywood9.7518191814100.073.7+26.3
Kidd - Terry - Stojakavic - Nowitzki - Chandler11.0021193119147.6100.0+47.6
Kidd - Terry - Marion - Nowitzki - Haywood9.0017141913111.892.9+18.9
Kidd - Terry - Stojakavic - Marion - Haywood7.551313101276.992.3-15.4
Kidd - Barea - Terry - Nowitzki - Haywood7.201212158125.066.7+58.3
Kidd - Barea - Stojakavic - Nowitzki - Haywood4.37891113137.5144.4-6.9
Kidd - Terry - Stojakavic - Marion - Chandler4.598771187.5157.1-69.6
Barea - Terry - Marion - Nowitzki - Chandler5.2391031133.3110.0-76.7

The Grays (the Jason Kidd – Jason Terry – Shawn Marion – Dirk Nowitzki – Tyson Chandler lineup we identified as a key factor in Game 1) have been ineffective to say the least, being outscored by nine points over a span of a little more than 17 minutes. This is one of the player combinations Rick Carlisle relies on in crunch time, which makes it unsurprising that Dallas has struggled late in games (the Mavericks have been outscored by 22 over the last two fourth quarters).

That ineffectiveness shouldn’t be a huge concern for the Mavericks. Most of their negative differential comes from a roughly five-minute stretch in the fourth quarter of Game 4, when they were outscored by 13 points due to Roy’s hot hand and their own failures to execute on offense. Over that stretch, Roy scored 12 points and assisted on two other baskets, while the Mavericks couldn’t create a single shot attempt for Nowitzki, turned the ball over twice, and attempted five long jumpshots.

Roy’s explosion has changed the series, but that doesn’t mean it’s a permanent course correction. The Mavericks have still been the better team for most of the four games, narrative intrigue be damned. Additionally, his performance could have some unintended side-effects. When Roy was producing less, his role in the Blazers’ offense was defined. Tonight, Nate McMillan will have to decide how much to let what happened in Game 4 change the way the Blazers attack the Mavericks. This could potentially be good news for Dallas; Roy seems unlikely to produce at the same level, but will probably see more minutes and use more possessions. He’s has been a shell of his former self for all but the most recent 15 minutes of this season. He was largely the difference the Blazers were able to even the series, but those 15 minutes are not a large enough sample size to convince me he’s ready to pull that off two more times.

I realize I’m looking at two tough losses with rose-colored glasses; I can’t help it. After two close losses in Portland, everywhere I look I see roses.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 20, 2011 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

Jeff Caplan, ESPN Dallas: “In the first three quarters of both games, Nowitzki has scored 29 total points on 10-of-31 shooting and 9-0f-9 from the free throw line. In the fourth quarter, however, Nowitzki’s numbers are mesmerizing: 32 points on 6-of-11 shooting — 1-of-1 from 3-point range — and 19-of-21 from the free throw line. And he’s earning every one of them, pounding his body inside, absorbing contact and finishing strong. ‘This team is going to keep fighting,’ Nowitzki said. ‘I’m going to keep fighting.’”

Jason Quick, The Oregonian: “Brandon Roy has fought through a lot of things in his career, but never has he had to do what he did Tuesday in Dallas during Game 2 of the Trail Blazers’ first-round series. Brandon Roy, the face of the franchise, had to fight off tears. ‘There was a point in the first half, and I was thinking ‘You better not cry,’ Roy said. ‘I mean, serious. I mean, there was a moment where I felt really sorry for myself. Then I was like, nah, you can’t be sorry for yourself. I’m a grown man, but there was a moment there that I felt sorry for myself. Especially when I think I can still help…I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little hurt, or disappointed,’ Roy said. ‘But the biggest thing is to keep moving, to try and keep my spirits up. But it’s tough man. I just…I just always thought I would be treated better. That was a little disappointing for me.’”

Ben Golliver, Eye on Basketball: “Roy has maintained for the last month that his struggles are mental and that his knees feel fine after arthroscopic surgery earlier this season. He’s also talked at length, since before the surgeries, about his need to adjust his game to accomodate his physical changes. There is a clear disconnect for Roy. While his knees feel good that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s the player he once was, nor even a productive player. A lack of swelling or pain doesn’t equal 25 points a night, or 10 points a night. Or, even, a single point on Tuesday night. Playing without pain doesn’t mean he’s playing well. Those two have long gone hand in hand for Roy in the past, but that simply hasn’t been the case for months now. When Roy says his struggles are purely mental, he’s either kidding himself or he hasn’t fully come to terms with his current abilities. Scouts, former players, media observers and fans see a player whose quickness and power off the dribble have disappeared, a player whose ball fake and dribble combinations no longer mesmerize, a player whose lift is gone, a player who has been a defensive liability — slow laterally, slow to rotate, slow to close out — for the entire season, and a player whose confidence is clearly shaken. ”

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 101, Portland Trailblazers 89

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-04-20 at 12.39.53 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas81.0124.753.925.025.07.4
Portland109.953.827.320.614.8

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 was just a pristine performance by the Mavericks. Dallas performed well in virtually every area — they drained their shots, curbed their early defensive troubles, kept their turnovers way down for the second straight game, kept a scoring balance that allowed for some fantastic offensive synergy, hit the glass, and got to the line frequently. It’s hard for such a holistically excellent performance to inspire anything but optimism; most of the worries that survived the Mavs’ Game 1 win were surely vanquished in their Game 2 explosion. So much still depends on the accuracy of Dallas’ perimeter shooters, but let that be a concern for another day. On Tuesday, the Mavs feasted, and for the moment that’s all that matters.
  • LaMarcus Aldridge is playing Dirk Nowitzki (33 points, 9-22 FG, seven rebounds, four assists) well on the defensive end, and it hasn’t meant a damn thing. He stays grounded, contests shots, and generally tries not to commit on any of Nowitzki’s fakes. Yet Dirk was able to attack both Aldridge and a slew of other defenders by spinning into the lane and setting up on the low right block, both of which paid off in free throw attempts and close-range looks. At this stage, I’m not even sure how Aldridge could possibly defend Nowitzki more effectively — the effort is there, and his D is fundamentally sound, though perhaps too aggressive in spots. If the Blazers are less physical with Dirk, they’ll concede more easy jumpers. If they throw more double teams at him, he’ll simply find Jason Kidd, Peja Stojakovic, or Jason Terry spotting up on the perimeter. Aldridge is doing his best to make Nowitzki’s looks as difficult as possible, and yet Dirk still finished Game 2 with 33 points on 22 shots while only recording a single turnover. There are some forces in this world which are just not meant to be stopped or deterred.
  • Jason Kidd (18 points, 7-11 FG, 3-6 3FG, eight assists, four rebounds) reprised his role as unexpected three-point marksman, and even made a layup just for the hell of it. Again: it’s not important that Kidd, specifically, produce like this on offense every night out, but it is important that someone does. If not Kidd then Terry, and if not Terry then Shawn Marion, etc. For now, it’s simply great to see Kidd performing at an elite level in the playoffs, something he’s never done in his Maverick career. Fresh legs are only the half of it; Kidd is flat-out playing better ball than he did for large stretches of the regular season, and his scoring has added a fantastic new dimension to the Maverick offense. Expectations based on Kidd’s late-season performance, fatigue, and age be damned — Kidd has been a pillar for Dallas in the playoffs thus far.
  • The Mavs’ lack of turnovers against a team as (typically) defensively active as the Blazers is a huge story. Dallas didn’t turn the ball over a single time in the second half, which is about as rare as it sounds; according to NBA.com’s StatsCube, Dallas is just the second team to pull off a no-TO second half in playoff history. For them to do so against the second best team in the NBA in opponent’s turnover percentage is flat-out ridiculous. The Mavs ball-handlers are settling into their offense really well, but Nowitzki is also doing a great job of passing out of double teams.
  • Peja Stojakovic (21 points, 8-13 FG, 5-10 3FG, five rebounds) validated his acquisition with a single game, and the playoffs are just getting started. At the time of Stojakovic’s signing, I was admittedly skeptical of what he could offer; Sasha Pavlovic was converting 43.8 percent of his threes for the Mavs while riding out 10-day contracts, and his defensive pedigree made him a more appealing role player option in my mind. Yet it’s hard to imagine Pavlovic would have been able to pull off the kind of performance Stojakovic did last night, even if the Blazers are a bit slow to get their hands in the faces of perimeter shooters; the former simply isn’t as proficient in coming off of curls for catch-and-shoot opportunities, nor was Pavlovic well-suited to fire under duress on those occasions that Portland did close out hard on the three-point shot. Not that the comparison between the two players even matters at this point — the important thing is that Stojakovic is earning his keep and his playing time, and on Tuesday his shooting gave Dallas a huge lift.
  • Those who had incredulously discussed (read: mocked, doubted) Gerald Wallace’s status as a series x-factor after Game 1 can kindly bite their tongues. Wallace was a demon in the open court, which should be no surprise; the man has turned the fast break leak-out into an art form over the course of his career, while somehow maintaining solid defensive rebounding numbers. Don’t be fooled into thinking that Wallace’s only utility came in the open court, though. Crash also established his hard-cutting style in the Blazers’ half-court offense, and found his teammates for easy scores. Obviously Wallace wasn’t the difference-maker in Game 2, but he certainly made a difference. If Portland is going to rebound at home in Games 3 and 4, he’ll likely be a critical part of their formula.
  • The odd thing for the Blazers: none of their players had an especially poor game. Aldridge was dominant for stretches and less so for some, but still efficient. Andre Miller hit a few jumpers and got to the rim off the dribble while running the offense effectively. Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews hit their shots. Wallace chipped in with his dynamic slashing. Yet none of it was enough; Portland was relatively efficient in its shooting, but surrendered modest advantages to Dallas on the offensive glass and in the turnover margin without gaining any offensive ground. With the way the Mavs were scoring, those kinds of extra opportunities were enough to create a substantial buffer between the two teams, a painful threshold constructed by the combination of minor differences. It can be hard for some to understand why their teams lose in occasions like these, and the result is typically some recycled sound bite about toughness or closing games. The Blazers lost because across the board they just weren’t as good as the Mavs. The difference in performance between the two teams wasn’t huge, but it was significant.
  • J.J. Barea: 2-of-7 shooting, two turnovers, but several critical drives to the hoop in the fourth quarter. Barea correctly identified the Blazer overplays on the Nowitzki pick-and-roll, and attacked the rim fearlessly against a stilted defense. Great recognition, and an excellent job of finishing the play or drawing a foul. Plus, Barea — and the Maverick guards on the whole — defended the post well. The Blazer guards’ post-up play was a non-story in Game 2, even after that element of Portland’s offense had found some success in limited Game 1 application. Kudos to J.J. for his work on both ends.
  • Jason Terry still hasn’t made much of an impact on this series, but he’s also not acting as a detriment. For the second game in a row, Terry contributed 10 points without using too many possessions, didn’t turn the ball over, and offered some offensive spacing. Considering the lack of scoring Dallas is getting from Shawn Marion and Tyson Chandler, those 10 points are a tremendous help. It’s not an issue of shot selection, either; JET took good attempts on Tuesday, but his looks just couldn’t find the net. It’s just a matter of time.
  • Nate McMillan made the mistake of overplaying Brandon Roy down the stretch in Game 1, but perhaps the pendulum swung a bit too far the other way in Game 2. Roy logged just eight minutes of playing time as a deep reserve, and went scoreless in his time on the court. Patty Mills even managed to log four minutes of playing time, at least some of which could have gone to Roy. It’s an odd, depressing situation to say the least; Roy is battling his own physical limitations and trying to deal mentally with the transition from star to role player, and neither fight seems to be going particularly well. Regardless, Roy remains painfully oblivious to his shortcomings, and that doesn’t bode well for his status with the team nor his future as a productive player. I haven’t the faintest idea of what the rest of Roy’s career holds, but here’s to hoping he finds balance going forward, even if all of us in Dallas wouldn’t mind him remaining a non-factor for the remainder of the series.
  • Credit to the Maverick bigs for their work on the offensive glass: Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood combined for eight offensive rebounds, which was more than the Blazers had as an entire team. If not for those offensive boards, Chandler’s impact on that end would be negligible, though his presence is certainly more accommodating to the offense than Haywood’s. To Chandler’s credit, he did defend Aldridge in the post relatively successfully, particularly in the fourth quarter. Those defensive stands on the block were huge, and if Chandler can provide a similar defensive front against Aldridge in the games going forward, Dallas should have no problem dealing with whatever else Portland throws their way.