Dallas Mavericks 112, Minnesota Timberwolves 109

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 4, 2010 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

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It’s not what I do, but the way I do it. It’s not what I say, but the way I say it.
-Mae West

I know that a win is a win is a win, but the Mavs sure love to make games like this so much more difficult than they have to be. First of all, these are the Minnesota Timberwolves. Second of all, these are the Timberwolves without Al Jefferson. And third…these are the Minnesota Timberwolves. I don’t expect every contending team to go about their usual business night-in and night-out, but the Mavs’ inability to put away lesser teams missing their top players is at least a bit troubling.

In some cases, it’s tolerable. The Miami Heat performed admirably against the Mavs because Jermaine O’Neal and Daequan Cook hit tough shot after tough shot, despite some pretty decent defense. But last night’s near-miss against the Wolves represents a bit of a darker side. The Mavs were absolutely miserable in defending the fast break for most of the game, and though their defensive execution late in the fourth quarter was enough to pull out the win, it doesn’t excuse the layup line. The transition opportunities came entirely too easily for Minnesota in the second half, and what should have been an easy win (even without Jason Kidd) was a drag-out affair that was competitive until the final buzzer.

Nobody needs to be called out or pulled aside, but the Mavs could certainly stand to play better defense. They could stand to box out a bit more, and not surrender a 19-rebound advantage to Minny. Or a 6-offensive rebound advantage that helped to offset the Wolves’ bevy of turnovers. You expect Kevin Love to pull in some serious boards, but Ryan Hollins grabbing five on the offensive end alone? Corey Brewer and Ryan Gomes with seven each? Not cool, Mavs. Not when you’ve got Dirk Nowitzki, Brendan Haywood, and Shawn Marion playing some serious minutes. Minnesota is actually a superior rebounding team by the numbers, but I expect the Mavs to perform better on the glass without Jefferson in the lineup. A slight disadvantage is something you can work with. But 19 rebounds is a bit much.

That said, let’s not let the game’s overall complexion completely blot out the night’s positives. Rodrigue Beaubois may not have been named the starter in place of Kidd (that honor went to J.J. Barea), but he might as well have been; Roddy played over 28 minutes, mostly at the point, and closed the game for the Mavs at the 1. He put up a season-high 17 points while shooting 3-of-5 from three and 6-of-9 overall along with four assists. I don’t know that this is anything of a coming out party for Beaubois, who has typically been dynamic and effective when given substantial playing time this season, but it was a terrific chance for Roddy to do more than succeed on an individual level. That he did. Though the Mavs didn’t exactly pull away in the fourth, Beaubois combined his usual flair and exciting plays with a calming effect on the offense. Nothing went quite as smoothly as it does with Jason Kidd at the helm (he sat out of the game strictly for rest), but the more experience Beaubois can get at point guard, the better. A pressure situation to boot? Gravy.

Jason Terry (26 points, 9-18 FG, five assists) continues to impress, and continued his penchant for fourth quarter heroics in keying the Dallas offense late. We’ve seen JET step back into the role he was born for: provide balance to the offense, hit big shots, posture for the crowd. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Terry is the heart of the Mavs, and though he may not be the first player you think of when it comes to Dallas’ leadership, he’s very much the emotional leader of this team. And as important as Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood have been to the Mavs’ current win streak, Terry has been equally pivotal. When JET is hitting his shots, this team can go places. But without that scoring, the Mavs are likely to struggle against the league’s better squads.

That Dirk Nowitzki guy (22 points, five rebounds, three assists) was alright, but looked pretty mortal. Just not as crisp as you’d like, though when an “off” player still drops 22 points on just 14 shots…well, it’s something. No one will remember this performance months from now much less years form now, but a quiet 22 is still 22. You can’t disregard Dirk’s 10 free throw attempts, despite the fact that the team wasn’t carried by his jump shot.

Quite a night for Shawn Marion. 17 points is pretty notable output for him these days, especially without Kidd in the mix. He was creating in the half-court, hit his second three of the season (!), and is getting more and more reliable finishing around the basket. Plus, when he gets up, he gets up. Marion may not have the ridiculous hangtime that was his trademark earlier in his career, but his finishes can still be every bit of the staccato brilliance that they were five years ago.

The Mavs are good. Very good. So good that even wins like these can appear a bit discolored, if only because we know that they’re capable of doing much, much better. The streak rolls on.

Closing thoughts:

  • For as well as Beaubois played, J.J. Barea (eight points, 4-8 FG, three assists, one turnover) wasn’t all that bad. The Mavs struggled with Barea at the point early in the first, but score six straight for Dallas in the third when nothing else was going right for the offense. And at this point, he’s still more of a sure thing than Beaubois, who for all of his strengths, still has moments where it’s clear that he’s a rookie. That’s just what happens when a first year player is handling the ball so much, and while the Mavs’ offense isn’t a drive-and-kick scheme and even the two man game rarely goes through Beaubois when he’s on the floor, upping his usage rate is, in some cases, asking for trouble. Roddy is a terrific contributor and a mesmerizing player, and as long as the Mavs can live with his occasional turnovers (which are not absurd in volume by any means, don’t misunderstand my meaning here), he should be playing as much point guard as possible. But that’s just it. Sometimes the Mavs do need to buckle down, and while Barea may not be the prototypical conservative point guard, he’s familiar enough with this team that he still has clear value. More to come on this later.
  • Caron Butler (14 points, 6-15 FG, five rebounds, four assists, two steals) and Brendan Haywood were both relatively nondescript. Not a terrific night for either by any means, though to Caron’s credit, he did put up a decent, well-rounded line. His shot selection can be a bit iffy (a double-teamed, long, mid-range jumper from the corner when Dirk stands more or less unguarded comes to mind), and in that way he’s almost the opposite of Haywood; Butler’s damage comes when he’s making his presence felt a bit too much, while Haywood’s comes when he’s more or less invisible.
  • Kevin Love (14 points, 5-9 FG, 14 rebounds, four turnovers) is a very good basketballer. So when Al Jefferson is out, naturally, Kurt Rambis starts Dark Milicic. Everything is becoming clear.
  • Corey Brewer (24 points, 6-16 FG, seven rebounds, four assists, six turnovers) is a very infuriating basketballer. He can’t shoot, but he can shoot. He can’t score, but he can score. He turns the ball over a lot, but…well, he does turn the ball over a lot. But Brewer is such a confusing player these days, not because everything I thought I knew about him was proven false, but because it’s all still true. And yet he accomplishes things I never thought he would as an NBA player, and he’s a more important part of this Wolves team, for better or worse, than many will give him credit for.

No Game Is an Island: Better Off Alone

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 3, 2010 under Previews | 3 Comments to Read

The Minnesota Timberwolves are a very, very bad basketball team…albeit one that completely embarrassed the Mavs right before the All-Star break.

But despite how limited Minny’s roster is, things don’t have to be quite so bleak. Ryan Hollins (or in tonight’s case, Darko Milicic) doesn’t have to start at center, general manager David Kahn doesn’t have to do what David Kahn does, and perhaps most importantly, the team’s two best players shouldn’t be forced into a system that needlessly keeps them from producing and evolving. Kurt Rambis is a disciple of Phil Jackson and Tex Winter, and as such, is installing the famed triangle offense. The only problem is that the triangle buster — the player in the vein of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant that holds the liberty to work around the system — is Jonny Flynn, the best players on the team don’t fit with the triangle or its objectives, and the rest of the roster isn’t talented enough to make up for it. Gee whiz.

In theory, they should be one of the most fearsome pairs of bigs in the league. But they’re not. They’re nice and fluffy. They’re a cute distraction, but hardly a team. They don’t reinforce each other’s strengths, but counter them while magnifying each other’s weaknesses. They are Kevin Love and Al Jefferson, and despite the fact that they’re both immensely talented and incredibly productive, they will never, ever work as a pairing.

Okay, they might. In fact, they probably will at some point, provided they’re kept together. But at this point in their careers, it seems like they’re both forces that while unstoppable, are slowing and hindering one another, despite their best efforts not to.

It’s one of those cases that has oh so little to do with personality, and everything to do with style and system. Despite the particular strengths and versatility of Love and Jefferson’s games, the overlap is such that they haven’t quite figured out how to best play alongside one another. Or rather, Kurt Rambis hasn’t best figured out how his two best players can be effective on the court at the same time, which is not a good thing. The triangle is an effective system if given the right personnel with the right mindset. But when the squad has such strength in its low post game, is the triple post really necessary? Especially when you just drafted Jonny Flynn and Ricky Rubio? Is that the type of core that you construct the triangle offense around? Really? Really, Kahn?

You can read my full piece on the problems between the Wolves personnel and coaching/management at HP.

The Minnesota Timberwolves visit the Dallas Mavericks:
7:30 CST

Dallas Mavericks 108, Minnesota Timberwolves 88

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 1, 2009 under Recaps | Be the First to Comment

Photo by AP.

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The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.
-William Arthur Ward

It was only a win over the lowly Timberwolves, who boast a .280 win percentage.  It was only a victory in a game that was assumed as such.  It was only a blowout in what deserved to be one, against a team that was missing two of their best players.

But boy did that feel good.

Back-to-back losses of the heartbreaking (Denver) and soul-crushing (Cleveland) varieties made an otherwise pedestrian win all the more delicious.  There’s no reason the Mavs should have lost last night’s game, and they didn’t.  They showed up, blew the Wolves out of the water, refused to concede their substantial lead, and finished the game with ease.  That’s exactly the kind of win the Mavs need at this point in the season and their closing schedule.  Wins aren’t just wins, but exercises in execution and boosts in the ever-important confidence level in a team that will surely be a playoff underdog.

The Mavs’ offense was white-hot, and for once wasn’t completely reliant on jumpshots.  Almost every Mav was getting into the paint at ease, and Jason Kidd using laser-guided passing to cutters and players with good post position surely didn’t hurt.  Essentially, the Mavs did everything right offensively.  Want Dirk and JET to bust out of their mini-slumps?  Boom, 44 combined points on 20-34 shooting.  Think the Mavs need to get more easy baskets?  Pow, 55% shooting overall, including a plethora of looks right around the rim.  Tired of seeing a lethargic Josh Howard?  Well golly gee, he was active on both ends on his way to 14 points (6-12 FG) and 6 rebounds in just 22 minutes.  Rest for the weary?  Kidd, Dirk, and Terry got to take catnaps on the bench, and finished a combined 15 minutes under their season averages.

Oddly enough, the Mavs only attempted 11 free throws despite a renewed commitment to get into the paint.  Chalk it up to a Timberwolves defense that often wasn’t even in a position to foul, a Maverick team resolved to get good looks inside, and the mentality of a team staring down a significant deficit.

James Singleton (11 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks), J.J. Barea (9 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds), and Brandon Bass (8 points, 4 rebounds) went out and did their jobs.  Some of that came in garbage time, and some of it came in what basically amounted to third quarter garbage time, but their solid contributions made everything that much easier.  There’s nothing wrong with going with the flow, succeeding without pushing the issue, and allowing the starters their aforementioned rest.

Kevin Love gave the Mavs some trouble, but how can you really complain when his shots and Mike Miller’s were practically the only ones falling?  The Mavs could have done a better job on those two, but it’s always hard to maintain defensive intensity when nursing a lead hovering around 20.  Both are talented offensive players, and I’m not going to beat the Mavs up about it.  You hold a team to 39.8% shooting and win by 20, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.

It’s hard to pinpoint specifics that could really help the Mavs going into the postseason, but a win like this is best appreciated in a general sense.  So chalk up the V, give the guys a round of applause, and get pumped for tonight’s game against Miami.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Josh Howard.  Via Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News: “‘A world of difference,’ said James Singleton. ‘He brings so much to the table, it’s like a different team.’”

He only played 22 minutes, and only seemed limited in terms of his timing and conditioning.  I noticed him grabbing his shorts a bit.  But it’s great to have him back, and 14 points on 50% shooting is a smooth first game back.  Glad to have you back (again), Josh.