Perspective: A Swingman, A Defensive Center, An Abe Lincoln Tattoo

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 15, 2010 under Roster Moves | Be the First to Comment

Perspectives of all kinds from various media members, from the blogosphere to the mainstream, on the Mavs’ big trade:

Kelly Dwyer, Ball Don’t Lie: “Butler has long been a minutes sopper. He’s not going to go off for 30 points consistently, but when he’s at his best he brings extended all-around production, and that means a lot to a team that doesn’t have much depth like the Mavericks. He’s not only replacing Josh Howard’s minutes, but he’s taking minutes from Jose Juan Barea by pushing Jason Kidd down a position for longer stretches. And while Barea’s contributions are to be appreciated, the Mavs can’t be more than second round fodder if he’s playing 20 minutes a night. And he’s averaged 21.9 thus far this season. This depends on Butler picking it up, however. It wasn’t just his unfamiliarity with Saunders’ offense, he was clearly alternately taking possessions off, and jacking up shots. He made no effort to immerse himself in an offense that could have really played to his strengths, and he’ll be hooking up with another coach (Rick Carlisle) that demands that plays actually be run properly. He’ll also be hooking up with one of the best coaches in the NBA, so here’s hoping he’s aware of his luck. The turnaround will be on Butler. If he pulls himself above the muck of the middling and the average, and turns into the Butler of old (even with fewer shots and fewer chances to dominate), these Mavericks could have a chance. If he pulls the same routine we saw in Washington, the Mavericks might as well be starting Josh Howard.”

John Hollinger, ESPN.com (Insider): “So how much better does that lofty sum make Dallas? Based on player efficiency rating, it doesn’t move the needle much. Our Trade Machine analysis is that the swap improves Dallas by only one win for the remainder of the season, largely because this season the difference in performance between Butler and Howard is much smaller than generally perceived. In fact, statistically, there’s been virtually no difference between the two players over the past four seasons, including this one, in which Butler’s numbers have been down just as sharply as Howard’s. For the Mavs, the success of the trade might come down to the names in agate type, not the headliners. That is, Haywood and Gooden may be fairly similar in terms of PER, but look at plus-minus stats and a very different picture emerges. According to Basketballvalue.com, Dallas gives up 11.25 points per 100 possessions more with Gooden on the court, one of the worst marks in basketball…On the other hand, Haywood’s plus-minus numbers over the past half-decade have been spectacular. This season, for instance, Washington is 8.46 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court…That said, the deal overall still leaves me with more questions than answers. How is Butler going to defend opposing shooting guards when he can’t even guard small forwards? How will the Mavs juggle minutes up front between Haywood and Erick Dampier, especially when they’re likely to play extended stretches with…Nowitzki playing the 5?…Without such a second trade…it appears the Mavs are spending a total of $30 million just to improve their odds of making the second round. Even after this deal, I don’t like their chances to beat Denver or Utah, let alone the likes of the Lakers.”

Bethlehem Shoals, FanHouse: “Regardless, this deal is as lopsided as everyone thought the Pau Gasol was in the spring 2008…That transaction spurred Dallas’s acquisition of Jason Kidd, the Suns’s wholesale conversion to the church of Shaquille O’Neal, and the Cavs trading their entire team and coming up with Delonte West where once Larry Hughes was…at the time, it felt like everyone was loading up for the end of the world…For the Mavs, it was a fine time to make a move. Butler was there for the taking, their 2010 hopes were always slim – locking down Dirk should be enough – and Kidd’s days are numbered. But all of us little people want to know: Will this deal set off another arms race, or be seen as an isolated case of opportunism?…Suppose, though, that Dallas trade is interpreted as a sign, and every other big team moves. Cleveland pairs Amare and LeBron, Wade and Bosh become best friends in Miami. Would these be trial runs, ploys to keep these superstars close to home, or actual long-term plans that just happen to unfold a few months in advance?…Dallas has raised the stakes; ergo, Cleveland and Miami might be in a scramble to win a title and seriously contend (respectively). Or, an equally likely possibility: Dallas goes for it now, as Boston might, because their window is closing. However strange it may sound, the more cluttered this season becomes for the Cavs or Heat, the fewer promises/surprises they have to pull once 2009-10 winds down.”

Kevin Pelton, Basketball Prospectus: “Having Butler means Rick Carlisle has the kind of flexibility with lineups he anticipated coming into the season. For the most part, Shawn Marion has played at small forward, stepping into Howard’s old role as a starter and rarely swinging down to the four-spot. A forward duo of Butler and Marion could be very difficult for opponents, especially with Dirk Nowitzki creating matchup problems at center at times…Besides their financial situation, Dallas was in an ideal situation to upgrade at the trade deadline because the Mavericks’ position in the standings has been better than their play on the court. At 32-20, Dallas is just 2.5 games behind second-place Denver in the Western Conference and fourth overall in the West, but the Mavericks’ have outscored opponents by just 1.7 points per game. Even accounting for a more difficult schedule than average, their +2.2 schedule-adjusted differential is 12th in the league in eighth in the conference. As a result, you’d expect a correction in Dallas’ record the rest of the way, but this trade may prevent that from happening and allow the Mavericks to take advantage of their good fortune so far.”

Josh Howard, Washington Wizards:

Photo by Glenn James/Getty Images.

Mike Fisher, DallasBasketball.com: “We often talk about the Mavs “having a plan’’ as opposed to simply “spending to assemble a Fantasy Basketball Team,’’ or worse, grab-bagging their way through moves. This? It all looks like the result of ‘having a plan.’’…A Draft-Day trade. A Summer of 2009 free-agent Sign-and-Trade. A minor deal with New Jersey. A major deal with Washington. And (with the help of ‘JES’ and David Lord of the 75-Member Staff) here’s what Dallas has done, depth-chart-wise, with its dollars and sense:

Shifted from paying $94,743,434 for:
Dampier – Hollins – Williams
Nowitzki – Bass – Singleton
Howard – George – Stackhouse
Wright – Green – Carroll
Kidd – Terry – Barea
and drafting BJ Mullens

To paying $87,707,016 for:
Haywood – Dampier
Nowitzki – Thomas – Najera
Marion – Stevenson
Butler – Terry – Carroll
Kidd – Beaubois – Barea
with Calethes, Nivins, OKC’s 2010 2nd-round pick an a $2.9 mil trade exception[.]”

Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: This is hardly just a Caron Butler trade, however. In fact, for the Mavericks, the big prize of the day may well be center Brendan Haywood…The Wizards have been pretty miserable this season. But they have been dramatically less miserable with Brendan Haywood on the court. Basketball Value pins his adjusted plus/minus at better than plus-eight points per 100 possessions. That’s one of the top 30 ratings in the NBA, ahead of the likes of Ray Allen, Tim Duncan and even Caron Butler. 82games.com says that Haywood is part of the Wizards’ nine most effective lineups. When a player has those kinds of plus/minus statistics, but is not an All-Star, if typically means he knows something about playing D. When he’s on the court, Brendan Haywood grabs about 18% of the available rebounds. At age 30, that’s the best rate of his career. It’s also good for 21st in the NBA, in nice company with Andrew Bogut, David Lee, Shaquille O’Neal, Kendrick Perkins and the like. It’s also slightly better than Drew Gooden, whose place Haywood would take in Dallas.

Marc Stein (@STEIN_LINE_HQ), ESPN.com: “In response to any suggestion out there that Haywood could have been held onto by Wiz: Mavs would never have done this deal without Haywood[.]“

Kyle Weidie, Truth About It: “In Butler, Dallas knows they are getting a former All-Star, but they don’t know if he’ll be compatible. Sure, Butler liked to be seen on the scene, but he always kept it classy. Caron Butler is a good guy with strong character. But can his game get along with Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki? Will he adjust for them as he did not do for Flip Saunders? Brendan Haywood has been playing motivated enough in a contract year, what happens to the games of Butler and DeShawn Stevenson in their respective fresh starts?”

Mike Prada, Bullets Forever: “It’s not just about getting no talent back or not clearing enough salary to get under the luxury tax this year.  It’s not just about sacrificing two somewhat valuable assets for nothing more than a little extra room under the luxury tax and flexibility in 2011.  It’s not just about bringing in two guys who aren’t great characters and would take away minutes from the young players. No, it’s about the coalescence of bad planning, a bad read of the market, a lack of creativity, misplaced priorities and a lack of understanding about what the fans want and what they want to hear.  That’s why this trade stinks.”

Mike Jones, Mike Jones Sports: “Did the Wizards come up on the short end of the stick by not being able to get a draft pick in the mix? Possibly. But given Washington’s situation — their 17-33 record and the fact that it was no secret that they needed to blow this team up — they didn’t have as much leverage as they could have. I’m told they approached — and continue to approach — the trade deadline with somewhat of a checklist. They wanted/want to make deals that give them A) salary relief, B) young talent and or C) future picks. The Wizards would have viewed a deal that gave them all three as fantastic, a deal that gave them one of the two as great, and a deal that at least gave them salary relief as pretty good. Since they didn’t really get any young talent in this trade, then this is a pretty good trade because in it they got a former All-Star in Howard and a player with starting experience in winning situations in Gooden, who also provides a low-post presence. And they get two players (Ross and Singleton) that they can evaluate.”

Dave Berri, Wages of Wins Journal: “Given this roster, how good are the Mavericks today? Looking back at Table One we see that Howard was the least productive player on the Mavericks this season.  So replacing Howard with Butler is an upgrade.  And once again, Haywood is very productive.  Consequently, it’s possible the Mavericks could win about 21 of their final 30 games (this estimate is based upon my guess of how many minutes each player will play down the stretch).  Had the Mavericks stayed the same, this team could have expected to win about 17 more games.  So in terms of the final standings, this move doesn’t really alter the final record dramatically. But that’s because there are only 30 games left.”

Ernie Grunfeld, Washington Wizards Press Release: “Our four new players bring versatility and the experience of playing in a winning situation. Josh and Quinton can each play both the shooting guard and small forward positions while providing athleticism and outside shooting.  Drew can play both the power forward and center positions and he and James give us an inside presence that combines skill and toughness.”

James Singleton, Washington Wizards (via Eddie Sefko): “I’m finally going to get a chance. I think it helps both teams and it’s the best situation for me, really. I spoke to coach Carlisle and I told him he did right by me. I think it will work out good for me and good for both teams.”

LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers (via Brandon George): “[I] love [Caron]. There’s one thing about this league, you can’t substitute toughness. He’s very good everywhere he’s been, in LA, Miami and now Washington. He’s a very, very good player who complements a lot of good players. He was an All-Star last year, and he’s definitely one of those guys you have to key on when you play him.”

Jason Kidd, Dallas Mavericks (via Brandon George): “Caron’s a great player and Haywood, and those guys will definitely help us. The big thing as a whole, we haven’t played well since the new year. Even taking away talking about a trade, us as players, we have to play better and get more wins under our belt…We’re a veteran ball club, so it shouldn’t be as big if we were a younger team and trying to fit in. They just have to come in and do their job, and we have some great guys who will make them feel welcomed and have fun doing it.”

Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks (via Brad Townsend): As a franchise sometimes, you’ve got to make tough decisions. It’s always tough and sad to see teammates leave, especially when you’ve played with them for a long time like we have with Josh. We’ve been through battles with him. So it’s always tough to see guys go, but sometimes a franchise has to move on and make decisions…It’s going to be tough to get everyone together that quick. We’ve got a tough stretch with four games in five nights, but nothing is easy in this league and you’ve got to go out and earn it. Hopefully we’re going to put some basics in Monday, just a couple of plays, tell them our defensive philosophy and go out and play. That’s what good players do, play off each other.”

Michael Lee, The Washington Post: “They surrendered Butler, Haywood and Stevenson in what essentially is a salary dump that provides almost $15 million in cap relief for the 2010-11 season. Ross is the only player the Wizards receive who is signed through next season. The deal would also provide nearly $2.6 million in luxury tax relief this season for the Wizards, who will ship out $19.7 million in salaries while getting back $17.3 million. Coupled with the savings that the Wizards will already receive for suspensions to Arenas and Crittenton, the luxury tax penalty could be reduced by nearly $7 million.”

Falling Up

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 13, 2010 under Commentary, News, Roster Moves | 9 Comments to Read

UPDATE: Per Stein, the deal is official. (Confirmed by Marc Spears)

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported last night that the ongoing trade negotiations between the Mavs and the Wizards have turned serious. Super serious. As in, we could have an official trade by later tonight. That’s a big jump from “the Mavs are interested in Caron Butler,” and based on the Mavs’ rumored acquisitions? I don’t see how Dallas fans could be anything but pleased.

The deal as reported would send Josh Howard, Drew Gooden, Quinton Ross, and (possibly) James Singleton to Washington in exchange for Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, and DeShawn Stevenson. Butler will undoubtedly be the headline-grabber in Dallas, the real prize here may be Haywood.

Drew Gooden has been solid for the Mavs this year, but Haywood is a legitimate game-changer at center. He’s one of the most physical defenders at the position in the entire league, and an offensive superior to Erick Dampier. Dwight Howard ranked Haywood as the third best defender in the league, and an in-depth look at Haywood’s D over at Bullets Forever only tells us more of the same; the Mavs are adding a center that instantly upgrades their interior defense and rebounding, two things he was able to do in Washington despite some truly miserable circumstances.

Then of course, the Mavs would hope that Caron Butler can return to form, or at the very least, improve on Josh Howard’s production as a Mav. It’s incredibly difficult to tell which parts of Butler’s game are due to a genuine regression and which parts simply come from playing for a terrible team at a terrible time, but Caron has a lot working in his favor with the Mavs. Rick Carlisle is a top-notch coach, and Dirk Nowitzki is an insanely talented and productive player. Jason Kidd makes things so easy on offense, and having an offensive threat like Jason Terry and a defensive weapon like Shawn Marion relieves a lot of pressure. On top of that, Mark Cuban spares no expense in making his players comfortable, and the outlook of the team as a whole is decidedly more optimistic than that of the Wiz. It’s amazing what a change of scenery and a different disposition can do for a player’s performance, and Dallas has all of the ingredients necessary to facilitate a Butler resurgence.

DeShawn Stevenson is the filler element, and he’s essentially the price the Mavs have to pay for Butler and Haywood. Once upon a time he was something of a defensive stalwart, but even that aspect of his game has faded in the last two seasons. Now he’s merely an Abe Lincoln-tatted headcase with an overinflated ego and marginal on-court effectiveness. Stevenson can be destructive, but if his minor distraction is what it takes to bring such substantial talent to the Mavs, then Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban have certainly pulled a fast one on Ernie Grunfeld (or at the very least, managed to capitalize on Grunfeld’s misfortune).

It’s honestly a shame to see the Josh Howard era end under such depressing circumstances, but the Mavs’ brass made a beautiful move. This is more than you could ever hope for from a trade deadline deal, and if the Wizards cut Drew Gooden loose only to re-sign in Dallas some 30 days later? The Mavs get that much deeper, with a pretty fearsome 10-man rotation. If Butler and Haywood indeed find themselves in Maverick uniforms, it might be time to get excited — this team will be absolutely tremendous.

The Irony of the Imminent

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 5, 2010 under Commentary | 5 Comments to Read

Josh Howard used to be many things to many people: a draft snub, an energetic scorer, a solid shooter, an athletic defender, a problem child, a diva, a falling star, a trade chip. But the nearly unanimous sentiment in the Dallas media and fan base now regards him as a universal scapegoat, and the one man that stands between the Mavs and true contention.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Josh Howard is on his way out of Dallas. In one form or another, Josh will likely find himself playing in other colors next season. It’s just a reality constructed by the state of the franchise (and the economic times), Josh’s poor play, and the Mavs’ personnel and opportunities. But the great irony of it all is this: If Josh Howard’s career in Dallas has been marked by one thematic constant, it’s been his immaturity, and yet Josh is dealing with the trade rumors and his fluctuating role on the team like an absolute professional.

When I talk about Josh’s immaturity, don’t misunderstand my meaning. For instance, in his rookie season, it’s Josh’s game that was immature. He had no jumpshot to speak of, his defense relied on length and athleticism rather than technique (which isn’t a bad thing really, just less “sophisticated”), and his offense was based purely on slashes to the rim and put-backs.

In the second stage of his career, Josh stumbled into a few pitfalls. His on-court approach had changed entirely behind a new and improved jumper, but he soon grew complacent on both ends of the court. Being named an All-Star in 2007 was, in many ways, one of the worst things that could’ve happened for Josh’s career; his lone AS appearance won’t influence his legacy in any kind of meaningful way, but there seemed to be pretty demonstrative effects on his play. After all, one of the league’s best and brightest can’t be troubled with hustling on defense when scoring output is what caused the Cult of Howard to grow. The people want to see the ball go through the basket, not good and proper defense, and it’s that kind of populist mindset that guided Josh Howard’s adolescent career. Oh, and that’s saying nothing of the drug admission, the drag racing, the off-color (on-color?) comments on the national anthem.

But now, there’s an entirely new Josh. On the court, he’s been awful. The game against Golden State offers the slightest light, but it’s hardly enough to lead the way. Howard’s days as a Maverick centerpiece and a cherished son of Dallas are essentially over, and based on what we know and have seen of Josh over the last six and a half years, you’d almost expect something other than what he’s offering: complete and utter professionalism. Josh Howard has grown up right before our very eyes, and though he’s having the roughest on-court stretch of his entire career, this is the mature Josh that Mavs fans have always demanded.

“I never said I don’t want to be here,” Howard told NBA.com. “It’s as much a shock to me. I’ve only played [27] games. I haven’t even got to two months [worth of games] yet. I don’t know why everybody is ganging up on me.”

“I’m just doing whatever the coaches want me to do,” Howard said. “They didn’t give me a reason why they ain’t starting me, so I don’t know. I ain’t been cussing, I ain’t been fussing, I ain’t been tripping.”

“I don’t know what [the team's] plans were for me,” Howard said. “All I did was buy into whatever they had for me. I came back earlier than what I should have, then I had to sit down. I rehabbed and did everything they wanted to do, and came back to the bench and did what I was supposed to do. I started again and then they came to me and told me to sit on the bench again. It ain’t me. I know it ain’t me.”

From Art Garcia’s piece on NBA.com.

Mark Cuban, who’s never been shy in speaking his mind, was unequivocally positive in his praise of Howard’s attitude. Josh, despite some serious baiting, refuses to bite on trade rumor talk. He’s had just about every opportunity imaginable to voice all kinds of displeasure (whether it be frustration with his role, the rumors, or his own play), but Josh is playing it cool. Maybe it’s just the eerie calm of a man lying on his deathbed, but it’s an admirable calm nonetheless.

It’s impossible to pin down what the future holds for Josh Howard and the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs are left with plenty of questions following their struggles in January, and trading Josh may be the answer. But even if Howard’s days as a Maverick are numbered, the circumstances of his departure will certainly be unique; Dallas won’t be shipping out Josh Howard for admitting to using marijuana, or planning a birthday bash during the playoffs, or even for taking one too many pull up jumpers in transition. They’ll be trading him because the Mavs need to do something, and despite the maturity Josh has shown of late, they may not be in a position to wait for him to turn it around.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 4, 2010 under xOther | 3 Comments to Read

  • Ladies and gentlemen, the ever-quotable Dirk Nowitzki, in reference to Andre Miller’s 52-point night and Monta Ellis’ 46-point night: “That’s what we do. We get guys contract extensions.”
  • I’m thrilled that guys like Coby Karl and Anthony Tolliver are being called up from the D-League, but they’re not exactly reppin’. Josh Howard went to work against Karl in the post time and time again with plenty of success, and neither Tolliver nor Karl could contribute much of anything in terms of points last night.
  • The attendance goal for the All-Star Game: 100,000.
  • Jeff “Skin” Wade can’t help but wonder if Rodrigue Beaubois is already actualizing a bit of his potential as a defensive difference-maker: “After the game Rick Carlisle mentioned that Rodrigue Beaubois is already developing into one of their better on-the-ball defenders out on the perimeter. There’s a need to have him on the floor because of the athleticism he brings to an older team, but with virtually all of his minutes outside of the New York game that Jason Kidd missed coming at the off-guard, he’d be eating into minutes where the Mavs have guys like Jason Terry and Josh Howard who need to be on the floor…Against the Warriors, he received all of the available backup point guard minutes in the second half. I’m fascinated to know what the plan had been had he not gotten hurt against Utah. As the Mavericks try to find ways to keep opposing guards from enjoying career nights against them, will Roddy B at point guard be a factor for his defensive spark as much as the potential for him to get some offense going coming off the bench?”
  • Everything is A-OK with Dirk’s thumb.
  • SLAM’s Holly MacKenzie checked in from Toronto with an important announcement from last night’s Nets-Raptors game: “It was fun to see former Raptor Kris Humphries have a double-double off of the bench. It was not fun having two women scream his name every single time he was even remotely near the Nets bench.” Miss you, buddy.
  • Del Harris wants to return to work the Frisco-Dallas connection, though it’s not official as of yet whether or not he’ll slide right back in as GM in Frisco.
  • Chad Ford (Insider) names Josh Howard as one of the 20 players most likely to be moved by the deadline. Here’s his blurb on Josh: “Howard, at age 29, is having the worst season of his career and has struggled to play alongside Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion. But other teams have interest because his contract has a team option for next year, which means a team can acquire him now and decide this summer whether to keep him as player, hold on to him as a 2011 expiring contract or decline the option and take the savings right away. The Raptors and Kings have been rumored to have the most interest.” Just as a note of interest, Caron Butler is listed at #4, Andre Iguodala #5, Kevin Martin #12, and Chris Bosh at #15.
  • Dirk will participate in the “Shooting Stars” competition representing…well, the state of Texas. With no WNBA team in sight, “Team Texas” will borrow Nowitzki, San Antonio’s Becky Hammond, and former Rocket Kenny Smith.

Dallas Mavericks 110, Golden State Warriors 101

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

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.
-Winston Churchill

The Mavs needed this. Not just to avoid going on a four-game losing streak, though that’s certainly important. But even more important than Dallas’ need to not lose was their need to flat-out win. A game like this one isn’t so much about celebrating an end to failure as it is putting together something productive and presenting it in a meaningful way. Success is determined by wins and losses, and though the Mavs have played well for some if not most of 144 losing minutes, it’s crucial that the Mavs find success in 48 minute spurts. In the grand scheme of things, it’s about playing well. But for now, it’s wins and losses that could get the Mavs where they want (and need) to go; anything less than the third seed means a second round collision course with the Lakers, which is no good. As much as I’m sure the Mavs wouldn’t mind soaking up the sun, Los Angeles is not a place you want to be in the playoffs until every other option is exhausted.

So, a nine point win against a team like the Warriors? In which Dallas surrendered a career-high 46 points to Monta Ellis on just 23 shots? It really doesn’t seem like much on paper, but this was kind of big.

First, let’s start with the completely insane: the Mavs’ defense on Monta Ellis was a little bit better than you’d think, based on Ellis’ ridiculously efficient shooting line. He did finish with seven turnovers (a decidedly Monta-like number), and while Jason Terry couldn’t do all that much to slow Ellis down, it wasn’t for lack of effort. I mean, take a look at the shot chart for Ellis. That’s a lot of long two-pointers for a guy who can get to the rim at will, and though I have complete faith in Ellis’ ability to hit the mid-range jumper, that’s pretty much exactly the shot they want Monta taking. He made eight of his 12 attempts from 16-23 feet, which when you think about it, is just stupid good. Some of those were contested and some weren’t, but in terms of shot selection, I think you take those looks over forays into the paint any day. (Only four of Ellis’ 23 attempts came at the rim; that’s about half his season average.)

I mean, there are nights where you make shots, and there are nights where you make this shot (via BDL):

Ellis was the Warriors’ offense last night, as the rest of the roster managed just 38.9% shooting from the field. When Ellis subbed out for a few minutes rest to start the fourth quarter, the Mavs promptly went on a 5-0 run. Without their star in to run the offense or, at the very least, create a shot for himself, the Warriors’ offense completely broke down. Moves and passes on the court were made without purpose, and we were able to see first-hand why Monta Ellis ranks second in the league in minutes per game (41.8 per): the Warriors don’t have any other choice.

We’ve seen similar sequences from the Mavs this season. With Dirk on the bench and Jason Terry and Josh Howard struggling, the Maverick attack was somewhat directionless. Not so against the Warriors. Dirk Nowitzki (20 points, 7-11 FG, seven rebounds) wasn’t the team’s high-scorer and probably wasn’t even the most impressive Maverick; Jason Terry led the Mavs with 21 points and six assists, Shawn Marion scored 18 on a wonderful 11 of 19 from the field (and nine rebounds to boot), and Drew Gooden ran the floor with ease, and punished the Warriors to the tune of 16 points on just nine shots. But Josh Howard, the prodigal son, looked to have finally found his way home. His spot-up three-point stroke still needs some work, but Josh chipped in 19 points on 9-15 shooting, with a couple of assists and rebounds. Howard just looked so natural on the floor, as if his season hasn’t been eclipsed by the dark clouds overhead and some woefully inefficient play. You could easily accuse Howard of being a bit of a black hole, and this season has been no exception. But Howard didn’t force much at all against Golden State, and though his two assists don’t really grab your attention, he wasn’t stopping the ball. I’d almost forgotten what that looked like, but Howard’s game was a pleasant surprise.

In terms of offense, it really was a complete team effort. That’s five Mavs with 16+ points, and Jason Kidd (six points, 16 assists, six steals, four turnovers) orchestrated masterfully. The Mavs ran the ball down the Warriors’ throats to start, and beat Golden State at their own game; Dallas forced turnovers, got out on the break, and built up an early lead. It’s one that the Mavs would never relinquish, although the Warriors did bring the game within four points with 5:11 in the fourth quarter.

I know that sounds like this was another one of those games. But it really wasn’t. The Warriors had clawed their way back from an 18-point deficit, but from the moment they narrowed it to three, the Mavs took off. Or more specifically, Dirk did. Nowitzki scored six straight before the Warriors could even respond, and from that point on the Mavs simply matched Monta Ellis and the Warriors shot for shot. For once, the Mavs weren’t dodging bullets in the final seconds, and honestly it was a bit of a relief. I’m all for the dramatic, but once in awhile it’s nice to just breathe.

Closing thoughts:

  • Eddie Najera got the start at center, as Erick Dampier sat out another game with a left knee effusion. Najera didn’t contribute much in limited minutes (no points, just one rebound), but did show a bit of his potential value: Najera drew three charges, including two on Monta Ellis. Considering that the only thing that may have kept Ellis from playing the entire fourth quarter was foul trouble, that’s huge.
  • I couldn’t be happier with Drew Gooden’s shot selection. With a guy like Drew, the last thing you want to see is him fall in love with his own jumper. I thought that might be the case after watching Gooden drain his first jumpshot of the night just 40 seconds after entering the game. But to Drew’s credit, he used that first made jumper as a weapon throughout the night. Ronny Turiaf and Andris Biedrins were the primary covers for Gooden, and after making that first jumper, they were both tempted to respect it. Gooden made the textbook move and turned to the shot fake, which was more than enough to goad the eager Turiaf and Biedrins into a block attempt. A few drives and a few trips to the free throw line later, and you have one of Drew Gooden’s best offensive nights as a Mav (in terms of shot creation).
  • The Warriors really were not accounting for Shawn Marion. Most of his points just came during broken defensive sets or off of very basic pick-and-roll action, but he looked like a serious offensive weapon against Golden State’s defenders.
  • Rodrigue Beaubois (eight points, two rebounds, two assists) looked completely healthy after that nasty fall on Monday night. And he actually got some decent burn playing point guard, too. Beaubois played 16 minutes while J.J. Barea played just eight, designating Roddy as the back-up PG of the night. There’s plenty to look forward to, but his play is certainly a reminder that his play at the point is a work in progress. I still see him as a good second string point at the moment, but there’s nothing wrong with bringing him along slowly, getting him in-game experience with minimal pressure, and easing him into the life of an NBA point guard.
  • Devean George sighting! George scored five points on 2-6 FG for the Warriors, which is about six more points than he ever scored as a Maverick.
  • Dirk has ditched the large, bulbous elbow brace he’d been wearing for the last month or so in favor of a more traditional arm sleeve. Needless to say, the thinner “brace” didn’t have any kind of negative effect on his shot.
  • That said, Dirk did injure his right thumb, which has since been declared a mere bruise. So much depends on Dirk’s right hand, and if nothing else, his minor injury reminded us of the mortality of it all.
  • The Mavs had 32 assists to the Warriors’ 13.
  • Corey Maggete had 20 points (8-19 FG) and nine rebounds for GS and C.J. Watson had 14 points on 5-10 shooting. It was probably the quietest 34 points I’ve ever seen.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Josh Howard. As I mentioned before, Howard not only played well, but played unselfishly. It’s a thing that’s easier said than done for a guy in Josh’s position, and though I know he’s desperate for redemption, that desperation didn’t overcome his fairer basketball instincts.

Shot distribution data from Hoopdata.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 2, 2010 under xOther | 2 Comments to Read

  • Why yes, that is Tim Thomas (playing against the Mavs, oddly enough) wearing two headbands at once. (via Trey Kerby)
  • I missed this on yesterday’s Grapevine, but Ben Golliver of Blazers Edge put together a wonderful breakdown of Nicolas Batum’s defense on Dirk Saturday night. In light of Andrei Kirilenko’s performance yesterday, it’s pretty apparent that the best way to guard Dirk is still to find the longest, most athletic three around and glue him to Dirk’s hip.
  • It’s tough to pin down exactly what’s wrong with the Mavs, but Mark Cuban already has the problem diagnosed (via Tim MacMahon, Gina Miller): “I think [it's] just time of year where guys get bored…They gotta get re-energized. I think we’ve taken who we are for granted in some respects and that we can turn it on and just beat people.”
  • Fourth quarter buckets were hard to come by last night, but you know what wasn’t? Accountability. Neither Dirk nor JET shielded themselves from blame after the loss, and that’s incredibly important.
  • Doug Collins doesn’t mince words, and in this case, speaks the truth (via Barry Horn): “I think (the Mavericks) are pretty far behind the Lakers. Dirk (Nowitzki) has had a tremendous year, there’s no doubt about that. I think they really miss an effective Josh Howard. He was such a big part of that team and Jason Terry has really taken on his role. When Josh was playing well, he would get them out of the gate quickly. He got them off to great starts. He is struggling right now coming off the bench. I think from (head coach) Rick Carlisle’s standpoint, he’s been unhappy with the defensive slippage the team has had. I think he feels that they’ve lost some of that competitive toughness that they had earlier when they were winning. We’ll see if they can get that back. I don’t see them as a team that can beat the Lakers as they are constituted right now.”
  • Kelly Dwyer on the Mavs’ recurring fourth quarter problem: “This Dirk Nowitzki thing, nearly as nasty as the “Kobe Bryant thing,” is getting serious, for serious, yo. He played nine and a half fourth quarter minutes on Monday night and didn’t attempt a shot, only taking two free throws. Mainly because the Jazz used a smaller, quicker defender (Andrei Kirilenko) to effectively turn Dirk into a slowish small forward. Dirk still got his 28, and it was his 26 through three quarters that had the Mavs in it to begin with, but his inability to sustain with AK hounding him handed this game to a Jazz club that continues to look good…There are few coaches who I’d trust more to work around this nagging Nowitzki issue than Rick Carlisle, but for now the Mavs are in a tough spot.”
  • Fox Sports Southwest has video available for the press scrums for Dirk and Rick Carlisle.

Oh, What a Tangled Web

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 29, 2010 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News:

“We got to get the ball in people’s hands who can put it in the basket, that’s the bottom line,” Jason Terry said. “Their bench outplayed us all night. Clear as day. It can’t happen. They just outplayed us.”

Jason Terry’s not wrong; the trademark of a functional offense is appropriate shot selection. The distribution of possessions in last night’s game was mostly regular, with one glaring exception: Dirk Nowitzki was anything but a part of the offense in the fourth quarter. Much credit goes to the Suns’ defense, but quality offensive outfits find ways to get shots for their best scorers.

Earlier this week, Matt Moore unveiled a graphical display of each team’s offense in terms of usage (percentage of possessions used by a player while he’s on the floor) and Player Efficiency Rating (PER). Here’s a look at the Mavs’ offense:

Starting from the top of the graph and going clockwise, players are ordered in terms of their possession usage. The white area of the graph represents the player’s PER, with the two optimally being relative close, or at least proportional (though, it’s definitely worth noting that usage and PER are in no way measured by the same scale. They’re completely different metrics.). So let’s break it down on a player-by-player basis, shall we?

HIGH USAGE PLAYERS:

Dirk Nowitzki (23.20 PER, 29.16 usage) – Dirk is the king of the castle. The top banana. The big enchilada. The MVP-caliber power forward who has the license to shoot any shot he wants any time he wants it. It’s his prerogative. Nowitzki is the team’s most effective and consistent scorer by far, and the team appropriates possessions to him accordingly.

Josh Howard (11.36 PER, 24.37 usage) – Lo, our first hiccup. Josh has had a rough season in terms of efficiency, but it hasn’t stopped him from chucking up shots at will. It’s ye olde premise of shooting oneself out of a slump…only Howard’s still mired in it. To Josh’s credit, he’s performing better since his return to the bench. But the high number of field goals attempted and high number of turnovers send his usage rate to, at least, upper tropospheric heights. It’s one thing for Josh to be an ineffective, “invisible” player, but Howard was routinely making his team worse by being ineffective while using up a lot of possessions. That’s a definite no-no, and one of the biggest reasons why the Mavs have struggled offensively with Howard in the lineup.

Rodrigue Beaubois (14.24 PER, 22.94 usage) – Having a high usage point guard is a bit unusual, but the situation with Beaubois is a bit more complicated. For one, he’s played a vast majority of his minutes this season off the ball, which puts him in a position to shoot more than your average combo guard. Playing alongside a pure distributor like Jason Kidd doesn’t hurt in that respect either, nor does starting with other low usage players like Shawn Marion and Erick Dampier. Once Roddy was relegated into duty as a deep reserve, his occasional minutes were rare chances to showcase his abilities. It’s only natural that those at the end of the bench will put up shots during garbage time, and while I wouldn’t call Beaubois selfish by any means, he was certainly determined to get his.

Jason Terry (15.68 PER, 22.45 usage) – In theory, this usage is about right. Terry recorded a career high in usage rate last year (25.56), but with the additions the Mavs made in the off-season and the full-time return of Josh Howard, that number was sure to dip. What’s more troubling is JET’s merely average PER, which is his lowest in his career excluding his rookie year. Terry’s efficiency has started to pick up, but he’ll need a pretty stellar second half to meet his career numbers. Still, the important thing isn’t how Terry’s production is represented statistically at the end of the season, but how he performs from now until then. What’s done is done, and though JET’s poor shooting has played a role in plenty of Dallas losses, it’s far more important that he shoots well going into April than going into February.

MID-LEVEL USAGE PLAYERS:

Kris Humphries (15.30 PER, 21.58 usage) – Checking Humphries’ numbers over the course of this season (both in New Jersey and Dallas), I can’t help but think that the Mavs weren’t properly utilizing Hump’s talents. He was impressive, but not overwhelmingly so. Could that be because Hump was primarily playing out of position? It seems a logical argument to me, but 82games doesn’t agree. Could it be that he wasn’t valued enough in the offense? Possible; his relatively high usage rate would seem to betray the notion, but keep in mind Hump’s incredibly high offensive rebounding rate. He was creating possessions on his own, for the most part, and most of his shot attempts were coming around the basket. It goes against the scouting report I would write on Hump, but is it possible that New Jersey has figured something out about Kris Humphries’ game that the Mavs could not? Or is this just another case of a big man on a bad team boasting a bloated PER?

Tim Thomas (15.58 PER, 21.13 usage) – Tim Thomas is pretty versatile, but make no mistake: his job is to shoot the ball. Sometimes that involves working the pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop. Sometimes it involves spotting up from the corner. And more often than you’d think, it involves setting up on the low block. As for the PER? It’s among the best outputs of Thomas’ career. Can’t ask much more from Thomas than what he’s given the Mavs in limited playing time this season.

Drew Gooden (16.82 PER, 20.15 usage) – In coming to Dallas, Drew Gooden was asked to occupy different spots on the floor and change his position entirely. So naturally, he’s responded by putting up solid numbers at an efficient rate…just as he’s done throughout his career. PER doesn’t really measure defensive performance, and that’s largely a reason why Gooden is rated so highly. But in terms of offense, the Mavs have a clearly above average player occupying their back-up center spot…which isn’t something that a lot of teams in the league can say (only Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Charlotte, by way of these rankings). That makes his usage rate completely understandable, especially given the help that the Mavs need in terms of bench scoring.

J.J. Barea (12.61 PER, 19.94 usage) – Like Beaubois, Barea has logged plenty of time as the 2. Rick Carlisle clearly finds great comfort in having two ball-handlers on the floor, and J.J.’s drive and kick style is different enough from Kidd’s more traditional point guard play and Terry’s pull-up game that the skill sets aren’t redundant. In the Tony Parker mold, J.J.’s passing is a product of the threat of his scoring, which contextualizes his high possession usage. As for the PER? Well, Barea’s good, but not that good. He’s a solid back-up point man, and perfectly capable of taking over a game when he’s on a roll. But the rest of the time his production falls right in line with his role on the team. A good back-up point is hard to find, and though Barea’s game is definitely flawed in a few ways, he qualifies.

Matt Carroll (5.74 PER, 18.31 usage) - Matt Carroll used to make basketball shots. Now he just shoots basketball shots. And sits on the bench. A lot.

LOW USAGE PLAYERS:

Shawn Marion (15.67 PER, 17.57 usage) – Though Marion’s on-court offerings have been translating to the scoreboard lately, that’s not quite in his job description. Shawn’s primary objective is to defend, and the rebounding and points that come as a result are simply organic byproducts of the game. Marion gets rebounds because he’s a natural rebounder, nevermind the fact that Nowitzki, Dampier, Gooden, and Kidd are all strong relative to their positions. Marion gets points because he’s open, and because Jason Kidd knows what he’s doing. But without impressive game totals in points, rebounds, etc., Shawn’s PER was never going to be sky-high.

James Singleton (9.13 PER, 16.81 usage) – Despite James’ occasional delusions of jumpshooting grandeur, he usually sticks to the script. Singleton is in the game as an energy guy first and foremost, and strictly speaking his contributions should be limited to defense and rebounding. But you throw a guy some shots every now and then, even if he’s not necessarily great at converting them. His usage is in a range where it’s hardly damaging, and his extremely limited playing time makes it a virtual non-factor regardless.

Jason Kidd (15.68 PER, 12.90 usage) – What more can I say about Jason Kidd? He makes the offense go. His instincts as a point guard are All-World, and though he isn’t the box score stuffer he used to be, his offensive numbers on the season are still quite solid. Kidd’s no longer the type of star you can build a team around, but he is the kind of star that can produce quality shots for himself and his teammates. He doesn’t turn the ball over that much or force many shot attempts (hence the low usage), but he doesn’t have the kind of top-notch statistical production needed to register a higher PER (hence…well, the low PER).

Erick Dampier (15.92 PER, 12.52 usage) – Basically in the same boat as Shawn Marion. Dampier is fighting the good fight by cleaning the glass, setting picks for his teammates, and scoring on minimal shot attempts.

Quinton Ross (5.74 PER, 9.49 usage) – Not applicable. I think Q-Ross is a solid contributor to a team like the Mavs, but nothing he does on the court would translate to PER.

Phoenix Suns 112, Dallas Mavericks 106

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

Photo by P.A. Molumby/NBAE via Getty Images.

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To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; credible we must be truthful.
-Edward R. Murrow

For the purposes of this recap, the fact that the Mavericks lost is almost certainly a good thing.

I find it a bit difficult to rail on a team for winning. The explicit goal of playing in the NBA is to win games, and though there are millions of ways to accomplish that feat, the end result reads the same in the standings. All wins are obviously not created equal, but in a game where the Mavs are the victors, their weaknesses and limitations are easily disguised. The shoddy defense, the offensive impotence, the poor rebounding, the lack of consistent execution — all shoved into boxes in the corner of the garage, covered with a sheet, and forgotten.

Until a night like tonight. The defense we’ve come to expect from the Mavs’ strong start has been nonexistent in their last two contests, and any offensive momentum the Mavs have built in the past week was exhausted in the first three quarters against the Phoenix Suns. By the time the fourth came around, Dallas’ offense could do little other than sputter.

I have no intention of denying the Suns their due. They were relentless in their activity and ball movement, and were a huge part of the Mavs’ offensive collapse in the final quarter. They held the Mavs to just 16 points in the fourth on 6-21 shooting. Grant Hill (seven points, five rebounds) played terrific defense on Dirk (19 points, 5-11 FG, five rebounds) throughout, but of course he didn’t do it alone. The Suns’ ability to deny Dirk the ball late in the fourth quarter was absolutely tremendous, and that’s a team-wide effort. That’s Channing Frye cheating over a bit to help in the post. That’s Jared Dudley denying a pass. That’s Steve Nash (yes, that Steve Nash) making the entry pass just a little bit more difficult. This is how you phase your opponent’s best player out of the game, and the result speaks for itself.

Of course it didn’t exactly help matters that Phoenix was getting to the basket at will. The Suns had 22 attempts at the rim compared to the Mavs’ 12, mostly due to poor rotations in the paint; Erick Dampier’s (12 points, four rebounds) minutes and mobility were limited and Drew Gooden (eight points, three rebounds) looked suspiciously like Drew Gooden. And on the perimeter? The Mavs were lost, doubling Amar’e Stoudemire (22 points, one rebound, five turnovers) in the post at the wrong moments and scrambling to account for Steve Nash (19 points, 11 assists). The mayhem left plenty of shooters open from behind the arc, where the Suns’ collection of marksmen nailed nine of their 15 attempts. 38 of Phoenix’s 73 attempts came from highly efficient spots on the floor, and they added 31 free throw attempts just for the hell of it. That’s three very efficient ways of scoring for the Suns, contributing a total of 82 points on 51 estimated possessions.

Needless to say, that’s not exactly championship caliber defense. And the offense that scored just eight points in the final seven minutes? Well, that’s not even quasi-contender quality. The Mavs are past the point where they “need to figure these things out,” and on to “they really should have figured these things out by now.” Things should be getting easier on the offensive end, and the defensive game plan should be second nature. That hasn’t happened. And though it seems like centuries between now and the playoffs, the post-All-Star stretch will fly by. The Mavs are far from a lost cause, but if they’re to peak at the right time, they should probably get started with their marked improvement relatively soon.

Closing thoughts:

  • Jason Terry (21 points, 8-15 FG, five assists) looks to be in an offensive rhythm. One can only hope that this is more than a mirage, and that the productive, efficient JET is here to stay.
  • Josh Howard’s (seven points, 3-10 FG, six rebounds, two turnovers) presence on the court was pretty damning. I so badly want to defend Josh’s play because I think he’s putting in the effort, but his performance is hardly worthy of significant floor time. He’s losing his man on defense, he can’t convert on jumpers or in the lane, and he’s stopping the ball. Rick Carlisle’s in a tough place in managing Howard’s ego, playing time, and trade value, but something has to give.
  • The Mavs looked great working against the zone, as they moved the ball to the open area of the floor, drew in the D, and kicked it out. The Suns tried their hand at zoning up for just two possessions early in the game, and two Jason Kidd jumpers later (one two-pointer and one three-pointer), they were back to man-to-man.
  • Amar’e Stoudemire had a weird game. He grabbed just one rebound in 27 minutes. He sat out the entire fourth quarter. He floated. He scored .0.84 points per minute. He could get moved, and after the game he was all smiles. If you can make any sense of those events, then by all means.
  • Dirk Nowitzki’s last field goal attempt came with 6:15 left in the fourth quarter. Yikes. To steal a line from Hedo Turkoglu on what could have helped Dirk contribute more down the stretch: Ball.
  • I’m convinced that Jared Dudley may be the perfect role player. He works hard, he rebounds, and he completely overcomes his limitations by playing smart defense, limiting his shots to where’s he’s most effective, and moving without the ball.
  • Goran Dragic (13 points, 4-6 FG) isn’t a “completely different player” from last year, but he’s skipped a step in his evolutionary process and become an instant contributor. He was much more of a scorer than a playmaker last night, but Dragic is capable of doing both playing either guard position. He continues to find ways to make himself more and more useful.
  • Obligatory mention to Louis Amundson (12 points, 5-7 FG, two blocks), whose play kept Amar’e off the floor.
  • The Mavs shot .500 from the field, Marion chipped in 15 points and 8 rebounds, Dampier added 12 points, Jason Kidd notched 13 points and six assists and J.J. Barea scored eight points on just five shots to go along with four assists. Combined with Terry’s production, that’s about all you can ask from the supporting cast. Makes you wonder what could have been offensively if the Mavs hadn’t completely fallen apart in the fourth quarter, doesn’t it?
  • Black eye on Shawn Marion’s game: Marion missed a fairly basic look from short range with the Mavs down three and under a minute remaining. Dallas then gives up a layup to Steve Nash (not Marion’s fault), and is forced to go into fouling mode (only kind of Marion’s fault).
  • Just for fun, look at the contrast between this picture from Tuesday and this picture from last night.

Shot distribution data courtesy of HoopData.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 28, 2010 under xOther | 2 Comments to Read

  • Jeff “Skin” Wade has put together an excellent piece at ESPN Dallas, detailing the complications of trading Josh Howard this summer. Josh may not be attractive at all to teams this summer; after all, if teams are looking for savings to cut cap, why would they take back Howard’s substantial deal when smaller or unguaranteed contracts could be had? Skin also offers up a suggestion for a deal focusing on the Wizards’ Caron Butler. I can understand the allure, but Butler has had trouble giving up the ball this season. And though his scoring and shooting would appear to be better than Howard’s this season, the per minute numbers indicate otherwise. Josh Howard is actually a better per-minute scorer than Caron Butler is in ’09-’10. Josh also gets the edge in FTAs per minute, and the two are equally turnover-prone. It’s hard to make perfect sense of the stats coming out of Washington given the situation there, but this has not been a great campaign for Caron Butler.
  • Art Garcia grades the Mavs’ season to date, and the report card looks pretty, pretty, pretty, prettay good.
  • A notion that the Mavs might be better served resting Erick Dampier tonight. No argument here.
  • Jason Terry wants in for the three-point contest. Jason Kidd does not. Either way, you can fully expect JET to be part of the weekend’s festivities as an ambassador.
  • Tom Ziller with a compelling argument that contract length is much more destructive than contract size.
  • Rick Carlisle seems impressed with what he’s seen from Rodrigue Beaubois, meaning the rookie could again be a regular part of the rotation.
  • Speaking of, Jason Terry isn’t shy about heaping praise on Roddy (via Tim MacMahon): “More important than Josh is going to be the rookie…The rookie steps instantly into my shoes. You see what he provides. He’s a spark. He gets up and down the court quick. He may make a mistake, but he’s going to make more good things happen.”

Dallas Mavericks 108, Milwaukee Bucks 107

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 27, 2010 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

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Out of need springs desire, and out of desire springs the energy and the will to win.”
-Dennis Waitley

For the first 46 minutes, the Mavs were executing brilliantly on offense and, well, letting the Bucks execute brilliantly on offense as well. Dirk Nowitzki (28 points on 25 shots, eight rebounds, five assists) and Jason Terry (21 points, 8-15 FG, 4-6 3FG, four assists) made beautiful music together throughout, and their play was clearly reminiscent of the simpler times of ’08-’09. But despite the throwback quality of Terry’s shooting, the Maverick offense was anything but the isolation-heavy sets of a year ago; the Mavs notched an impressive 31 assists on 41 field goals.

But the Bucks kept pace. Though the Mavs were able to build a slight lead and reap the benefits of some breathing room, there was never any clear separation. Blame Andrew Bogut, who missed just one of his 14 attempts from the field en route to a 32-point, nine-rebound performance. Or blame the exceedingly slippery Carlos Delfino (22 points, 4-5 3FG, six rebounds, five assists) who somehow seemed to be the open man on any particular offensive set.

The Bucks shot very well from the field, and based on the Mavs’ inability to stop Bogut down low or get a man to stick with Delfino, a win would require just making one more basket than Milwaukee. Or, literally, making a few more baskets and coasting on offense to a one-point victory. In the final two minutes, the Mavs didn’t score a single point. In a rare display of mortality, Dirk turned the ball over with the game on the line. Compound that turnover with the two Maverick misses in the final few, and a game of impressive offense suddenly boils down to a few defensive possessions. On most nights, no problem. But given what Bogut and Delfino were able to accomplish against the Mavs’ D — not to mention the potential impact of a guy like Brandon Jennings — the fact that Dallas escaped with a win seems an improbability. Milwaukee had just scored six straight, all but erasing Dallas’ seven-point lead and bringing the game to a “do or die” sequence with 27 seconds remaining.

Dirk Nowitzki definitely didn’t “do,” as Luc Richard Mbah a Moute channeled him into help defense and the subsequent turnover. But the Mavs found a way to avoid that unenviable demise by doing just enough to ensure a victory. Their last defensive sequence isn’t quite worthy of gilding for display in the halls of the AAC, but in the game’s final three seconds, the Mavs bothered Carlos Delfino just enough to survive.

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s two back-to-back impressive offensive displays from the Mavs. Does not compute.

Closing thoughts:

  • Erick Dampier (two points, 11 rebounds, a block, a turnover) played despite sitting out Sunday with his left knee injury. It wasn’t pretty. He was a non-factor on offense, and wasn’t anywhere near his usual defensive impact. Bogut had a field day against Damp (and for that matter, Drew Gooden, and anyone else who tried to guard him) with a few notable exceptions: late in the game, when the Bucks desperately needed points, Damp bodied up Bogut, forced him out of the lane, and prevented him from even taking a shot. It doesn’t quite make up for the fact that the Aussie was putting on a hook shot clinic, but the defensive accomplishments in this game were purely relative.
  • Rodrigue Beaubois (eight points, 3-6 FG, 2-2 3FG, two rebounds, two assists) continues to impress, though he was again moved off the ball upon Jason Kidd’s return. But oddly enough, the Mavs were startlingly effective fielding a lineup of J.J. Barea at the point and Beaubois at shooting guard. It’s an interesting look if the Mavs are in need of a short-term shakeup, as the speed of that backcourt could be absolutely brutal against some slower guards.
  • Josh Howard (13 points, 4-7 FG, three rebounds) was a bit nondescript, but did make a bit of an impact by driving to the basket. It really is that simple with Josh; if he stops taking bad shots and looks to get to the rim rather than throw up contested jumpers, it will not only help the team but open up the rest of his game. Josh’s jumpshot was always predicated on his ability to drive, and when you take away that foundation, he’s too easy to defend.
  • Roddy made a 25-footer without any hesitation, but his long shot was completely upstaged by Carlos Delfino’s. On a busted offensive set with 27 seconds left and the Bucks down four, Delfino nailed a 31-footer with the shot clock on his back.
  • The natural chemistry between Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings is a little strange and totally excellent.
  • Jason Terry’s impact cannot be overstated. He really may be all the difference between middling offensive efficiency and a top ten mark, which is all the more reason to be optimistic about times like this. Terry has only really looked like himself in a handfull of games all season, and last night’s contest was definitely one of them.
  • Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is one of the best defenders in the league. Not just in defending Dirk, but overall. The only shame is that at this point, he’s a bit of an offensive liability. Mbah a Moute really just needs one offensive move — a steady mid-range jumper, the corner three, SOMETHING — to make him impossible to take off the floor. The fact that this guy made it all the way to the second round is a travesty.
  • Shawn Marion (12 points, 5-8 FG, five rebounds) is much improved as a finisher. Chalk it up to familiarity with Jason Kidd’s passing or simply Marion settling in, but he’s worlds more effective offensively than he was to start the season.
  • This play was huge.
  • Dirk Nowitzki scored 28 points while shooting a decent percentage. In other news, the world continues to turn.

THE GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Jason Terry. Dirk faced a lot of double coverage early and had to grapple with Mbah a Moute late, so it was up to JET to carry the offense for stretches. He certainly answered, putting up nine points in the fourth frame and hopefully securing his position as the starting 2. The Mavs start and finish better with JET in the lineup, and until Howard can figure things out (and maybe even beyond then), the job should be Terry’s to lose.