The Difference: Miami Heat 106, Dallas Mavericks 85

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

Screen Shot 2012-03-30 at 3.13.49 AM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

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

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

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

Read more of this article »

The Difference: Miami Heat 92, Dallas Mavericks 84

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 1, 2011 under Recaps | 6 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-06-01 at 1.25.16 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas84.0100.044.037.316.713.1
Miami109.545.623.834.811.9

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

  • To those struggling to find the fine line between the acknowledgment of Miami’s excellence and the hope provided in the Dallas’ missed opportunities, I empathize. Game 1 has to be viewed in terms of all that the Heat accomplished, but I can’t shed the thought of Dirk Nowitzki’s missed layups, J.J. Barea’s botched runners, Jason Terry’s poor decisions. Credit Miami’s D for their impressive contests — and even for the impact of their potential contests, which clearly had Barea shaking in his boots — but the Mavs can play much better…as long as the Heat defense doesn’t improve yet. We knew this would be a competitive series, but I’m not sure anyone quite expected such an odd start. To credit the Mavs’ offensive failures or the Heat’s defensive successes would be a terrible oversimplification, and yet somewhere in that relationship is the dynamic that could decide the series.
  • The Dallas zone had its moments, I suppose, but its start to the series was anything but exemplary. Mario Chalmers was able to burn the Mavs with a pair of wide open threes from the corners, but it was the play of Chris Bosh that made things particularly painful for Dallas when in their zone coverage. Bosh finished with five offensive boards in capitalizing on the displacement of the Mavs’ defenders, and his passing from the high post provided a terribly effective counter to the Mavs’ zone look. Rick Carlisle didn’t seem too distressed about the zone’s performance, so I’m curious as to what he saw in Dallas’ Game 1 zone execution that we didn’t; how much zone the Mavs run in Game 2 should provide a more authentic appraisal than anything Carlisle said postgame.
  • Udonis Haslem and the Heat’s double teamers did a credible job defending Dirk Nowitzki (27 points, 7-18 FG, eight rebounds) by playing passing lanes and limiting Dirk’s attempts. In terms of challenging, the Heat defenders can only do so much; Haslem and Joel Anthony just don’t have the height or length to really alter Nowitzki’s shot, which leaves their means of defending him a bit more reliant on prevention. Anthony couldn’t quite pull that off, but Haslem — with help from Mike Miller and others — was able to put enough pressure on Nowitzki to make him pass out of doubles and rush through many of his possessions against single coverage. Nowitzki needs to get settled in, but Erik Spoelstra is too good of a coach to maintain a static approach against Dirk; he may see the same basic defensive look in Game 2, but the specifics of its implementations (the timing of the double, etc.) will likely change. Nowitzki was able to adjust and attack, but he may have to start that process all over again in Game 2.
  • Shawn Marion and DeShawn Stevenson were able to have some success in man-to-man coverage against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but then the Mavs shifted into zone, the zone failed, and the final product was flawed man-to-man execution that allowed the Heat do do as they willed. James and Wade didn’t have their most aggressive driving games, but they were certainly assertive scorers; the two stars combined to shoot 6-of-9 from three-point range, and several of those attempts came against pretty good defense. The prospect of defending Wade and James is always predicated on concession in some form. Teams often cede long jumpers — both twos and threes — to both James and Wade in the hopes that it lures two of the league’s best creators off the dribble into taking decidedly less efficient shots and stalling their team’s offense in the process. That’s still a semi-effective strategy against Wade (particularly due to his poor shooting from three-point range), but James has somehow become even more unguardable by hitting threes with consistency. Defending against either player is a miserable assignment, defending against both at the same time is just brutal, and defending against both at the same time when they’re hitting 67 percent of their three-point attempts is something I’m not sure the basketball world is — or will ever be — quite ready for.
  • Nowitzki tore a tendon in his left hand (or on his middle finger, to be more precise) while trying to strip the ball from Bosh on a drive. Had the tear been in his right hand, we’d be looking at a series ender; Dallas needs Dirk producing at an elite level to compete in this series, and a legitimate injury to his shooting hand would be a painful blow. However, the fact that Dirk injured his left hand isn’t exactly irrelevant, consider how crucial his handle and driving ability are to his overall game. It’s no secret that Nowitzki prefers to drive left, and considering how many driving lanes he had in Game 1, a limitation on his handle and finishing ability strikes me as rather significant.
  • Mike Bibby played 14 minutes, which was probably 14 minutes too long. Mario Chalmers wasn’t perfect, but he was far more productive than Bibby, and the Heat’s no-PG lineups even better than those involving Chalmers. I doubt there will be much of a change in Spoelstra’s rotation at this point in the playoffs, so Dallas needs to take advantage of the time that Bibby sees on a nightly basis.
  • James actually defended JET to close the game, a matchup that, while stifling and impressively creative, opens up an interesting opportunity. Marion had a fantastic offensive game, but could have been even more involved in the fourth quarter offense by going to work against Miller in the post. Any time that Marion can shed James, he’ll have an offensive advantage on the low block, and while he was able to create from the post a few times throughout the game, I think Marion can be used as an instigator of change. If Marion can be efficient enough in the post against Miller, Spoelstra could be forced to give up on assigning LeBron to chase JET and disrupt the Mavs’ two-man game, which would ultimately open up one effective offense by way of another.
  • Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood aren’t deserving of scapegoat status, but they have to be better on the glass. Their job (of anchoring the defense, challenging the shots of stretch bigs like Bosh and Haslem, and still hitting the boards) isn’t ideal, but it’s the task placed in front of them. I don’t see how the Mavs win this series without Chandler and Haywood pulling off something of a minor miracle in that regard. Best of luck to ‘em.

Scene Stealing

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 27, 2011 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

Over at The New York Times’ Off the Dribble blog, I took a closer look at three “minor” matchups that could make a significant difference in shaping the Finals. Take a peek:

J.J. Barea vs. Joel Anthony/Udonis Haslem/Chris Bosh

Miami has amazing elasticity in defending the high screen-and-roll; bigs like Anthony, Haslem, and Bosh are so mobile and so active that they’re able to hedge and recover quickly, so much so that according to Synergy Sports Technology, the Heat held the Bulls to a crippling 0.27 points per possession on pick-and-rolls in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and have held opponents to just .70 points per possession on pick-and-rolls in the playoffs overall. Derrick Rose was thwarted in his attempts to use his pet screens at the top of the key, and the Heat defense limited the league’s most valuable player to an inefficient and ineffective offensive series thanks to their mobility up front.

Those bigs are likely to be assets in the Finals as well, as J.J. Barea -– the Mavericks’ lightning quick backup point guard -– has diced every defense he’s seen in these playoffs by milking high screen-and-roll action for all it’s worth.

Yet before we immediately assume that the Heat will handcuff Barea, consider this: Dirk Nowitzki is Barea’s most common pick-and-roll partner, and he’s a deadlier threat in space than any of the screening bigs Miami has contended with so far. Recovering quickly may not be enough; the combination of Barea’s quickness (and cleverness) and Nowitzki’s ability to score from anywhere on the floor could still open up all kinds of opportunities, and it’s up to the vaunted Heat defense to close off those options.

Head on over to Off the Dribble to check out the other highlighted matchups.