Thermodynamics (n.) – the science concerned with the relations between heat and mechanical energy
When you write a weekly hot-cold basketball column and the team you write about has an atrocious week, it’s sometimes difficult to find much positive or “hot” to discuss. But that’s why they pay us the big bucks here at The Two Man Game. (Note: That “big bucks” thing I said just now? A lie.)
Despite the Mavs’ 0-3 week, which was anything but ordinary, we’re going to do our ordinary thing here at Thermodynamics. Three hot, three cold. Hopefully it’ll be marginally less painful than watching the Mavs’ play of late.
Week 5 (Lakers, @76ers, @Bulls)
1) Vince Carter’s Three Ball
For a guy who often plays the role of shot-chucker, Carter had a nicely efficient week from long range. He shot 4-of-7 (57%) against the Lakeshow, 3-of-5 (60%) against the 76ers, and 2-of-4 (50%) against the Bulls. His three-point production against the 76ers was especially welcome. For one, that was the Mavs’ only close game this week, so it was the only one where his shots had any real impact. And also, Carter hit the biggest shot of the game when he drained a deep three with 1:24 left to ignite a last-ditch Mavs rally. Carter’s three-point percentage on the season is up to a respectable 40%, good for 41st in the league among qualifying guards. If he can hover around there for the remainder of the year–rather than dipping back down into the mid-30s–it will significantly boost the Mavs’ often-troubled offense.
2) Shawn Marion’s Two Ball
The Matrix had a solid week on offense, particularly from two-point range (which, frankly, is the only range from which he should ever be shooting). Marion shot 15-of-25 (60%) from two this week, highlighted by a terrific 7-of-10 (70%) performance last night in Chicago. He showed his typical offensive versaility, mixing layups and tip-ins with a nice array of mid-range floaters off the dribble. It doesn’t always look pretty–in fact, it rarely does–but Marion sent a message this week that he can be a fairly productive scorer on a team desperately seeking its offensive identity.
3) Brandan Wright’s Bench Seat
Earlier this week, The Two Man Game guest columnist Jonathan Tjarks wrote a terrific piece on Rick Carlisle’s handling of Troy Murphy and Brandan Wright. I won’t repeat Jonathan’s reasoned and thorough analysis, but I completely agree with him that Murphy has essentially no business playing power forward in front of Wright. Unfortunately, coach doesn’t agree. Wright started against the Lakers and scored six quick points, but ended up playing fewer minutes than Murphy, who contributed a whopping zero points and two rebounds in 14 minutes. What’s more, that Lakers start was the last time Wright would play this week. He didn’t log a single minute against the 76ers or the Bulls, while Murphy averaged almost 14 minutes in those two games. Wright has serious weaknesses to his game–defense and rebounding, to name a couple. But Murphy has those same weaknesses and, unlike Wright, really doesn’t do anything else well. With the Mavs adding veteran guard Derek Fisher just last night, it’s possible that Murphy will be cut later today to make room. Or maybe they’ll cut Wright, and this whole discussion becomes moot.
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You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
Dallas Mavericks 101, Boston Celtics 97
Box Score — Play-by-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
- When you go toe-to-toe with the best team in the entire league, you tend to take wins any way you can get them, even if they turn out a little bit flukey. Dallas had two very strange plays go their way: an errant pass from Jason Terry to Dirk Nowitzki that was somehow converted into a Jason Kidd go-ahead three-pointer, and a shockingly off-target lob from Rajon Rondo to Kevin Garnett on the ensuing inbound play. The probability of both of those plays unfolding in such favorable fashion is insanely low, and yet the Mavericks managed to steal one from the almighty Celtics.
- The last time these two teams met, Dallas willingly gave Rajon Rondo a chance to win the game with an open three-pointer, a strategy which paid off when Rondo — a career .252 three-point shooter — caught rim on an attempt at late-game heroism. A similar event unfolded on Friday night, when Rondo found himself wide open from 17 feet with a little over a minute remaining and his team up three points. Rondo again fired away, and again he played right into the Mavs’ hands. Dallas scored seven straight points to end the game, and Rondo jumper marked the unwitting end of Boston’s offensive production.
- Dirk Nowitzki (29 points, 9-14 FG, four rebounds, three assists) was back to his old hyper-efficient ways, but what impressed me most about the Mavs’ offense was their usage of Nowitzki as a central scorer, but not as their sole option. Looking past a pair of free throws to close the game, Nowitzki scored just three of the Mavs’ 10 points during their tide-turning run, largely due to the effectiveness of Jason Terry (17 points, 7-15 FG) off the dribble. JET was terrific in curling around defenders and pulling up off the bounce, and his sound night — in addition to other scoring contributions from Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler, and J.J. Barea — led to a terrific offensive night against one of the league’s best defenses.
- Speaking of: though Dallas also boasts an effective defense of their own, this was not one of their finer defensive performances. The Mavs let entirely too many cutters get open looks around the rim, and the Celtics’ interior passing was fantastically effective in picking apart the Mavs’ D from the inside. Toss in a standout performance from Ray Allen (24 points, 9-18 FG, 3-7 3FG, two blocks) and a solid showing from Kevin Garnett’s (16 points, 7-16 FG, five rebounds) turnaround jumper, and it’s no surprise that Boston matched Dallas at every turn, even in spite of the Mavs’ offensive variety.
Dallas Mavericks 101, Charlotte Bobcats 92
Box Score — Play-by-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
- Dallas hit a few snags in their offense about midway through the fourth quarter, but even in their more limited moments they appeared to have this game firmly under wraps. A few much-needed buckets from Shawn Marion (10 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three blocks, three turnovers) and plenty of near-turnovers (as opposed to actual turnovers) from Dirk Nowitzki (24 points, 10-19 FG, four rebounds, four blocks) kept things pointed in the same positive general direction, even if they weren’t on track. There were a few disappointing letdowns on the defensive glass during that stretch as well, but the Mavs at least did a good job of blanketing the Bobcats on their initial attempts (Charlotte posted an effective field goal percentage of just 39.9%). Defensive possessions weren’t played to their conclusion, but at least the effort was there in earnest…initially, anyway.
- J.J. Barea (15 points, 7-14 FG, three rebounds, two assists) started — and thrived — again, and one can help but wonder if this short-term arrangement couldn’t become a bit more permanent. Dallas doesn’t have an obvious replacement to fill the spot in the starting lineup once occupied by Caron Butler and then by the since-departed Sasha Pavlovic, and before anyone touts Peja Stojakovic as any kind of solution we should probably see how he’s capable of playing. Additionally, Stojakovic and Stevenson are both spot-up options without a ton of other offensive potential, which puts a lot of pressure on Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd to create offense in that hypothetical lineup. Barea not only gives the Mavs another ball-handler on the floor (the gains of which can be measured in the Kidd-Terry tandem), but also gives them a player who can put pressure on opposing defenses with his ability to dribble penetrate.
- In the first quarter, Nowitzki went to a pair of righty hooks on back-to-back possessions. The first came as he was sweeping across the lane against Boris Diaw, and was shorted. The second came in a more set post possession form the same block, and looked pretty natural. One of the most unusual things about Nowitzki’s post game is that although he has a vast assortment of fakes and counters to free himself up for shots, everything he does is essentially a variation of the same fadeaway jumper. Nowitzki has dabbled with hooks like these in the past, but it could be a nice wrinkle for him to incorporate on a more regular basis, if only for variety’s sake.
- D.J. Augustin (21 points, 7-17 FG, 3-8 3FG, two assists) is a fine player, and should have a fairly successful career. That said, he’s such a natural scorer, but has never had much aptitude as a playmaker. Augustin can create opportunities for his teammates and will have some decent assist totals from time to time, but the Bobcats really need to pair Augustin with another player who can initiate the offense. Freeing up Augustin to catch and shoot or attack the defense from different angles could really open up his game, and would go a long way toward salvaging Charlotte’s offense. Stephen Jackson is not that guy. Although he has a reputation as a competent all-around player, Jackson is exactly the kind of ball-holding, low-percentage-shot-taking partner that Augustin shouldn’t have. I realize the Bobcats don’t have a ton of options at this point, but finding a suitable complement for Augustin should be pretty high on their list of priorities, should they be committed to making him a part of their core for the future.
- Brendan Haywood (three points, 1-4 FG, seven rebounds, one block) seems to lack any touch whatsoever in finishing in the paint; he’s Dampier-esque in his need to dunk immediately off the catch, lest he commit a turnover or find new and exciting ways to make his shot attempts go “clang.”
- Former Mav Eduardo Najera played 22 minutes (!) while Tyrus Thomas watched in sartorial splendor from the sidelines, and his stint served as a reminder that Najera should never really play that many minutes. If a team is in need of an energy big for five minutes here and there, Najera could be the guy. If the gig requires something more, teams should really look to invest elsewhere.
- The Bobcats switched on a lot of the Mavs’ screens, and it was nice to see Jason Terry (21 points, 7-14 FG, three assists, three turnovers) and Marion take advantage of a one-on-one matchup with Brown or another of Charlotte’s bigs.
- Tyson Chandler (nine points, 4-10 FG, 15 rebounds, two blocks) made it work. His teammates made a continued effort to get him the ball, but plenty of those possessions ended with botched passes or bobbled catches; the Bobcats were well aware of the Mavs’ intentions, and did their best to take away Chandler as an offensive option. So Chandler created his own scoring opportunities by grabbing eight offensive rebounds, and finishing in particular style on a pair of clean-up dunks. Teams really looking to focus their defense can take away Terry’s impact or Kidd’s impact, but I’m not sure any team in this league can tech Chandler out of a game. It honestly may not be possible.
- It’s unfathomable to me that any team in the NBA could allow Dirk Nowitzki to get so many open looks, but this season’s Bobcats are a continued exercise in facepalm-worthy decision making. When Dirk had the ball in his hands, the Bobcats obviously paid him mind. But when the ball was swinging from side to side or Terry attracted multiple defenders on a drive? It was somehow Nowitzki who was standing wide open. Truly odd.