“It’s not what I do, but the way I do it. It’s not what I say, but the way I say it.”
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.
- 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.