Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 22, 2011 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

Kevin Pelton, Basketball Prospectus: “[Nate] McMillan also changed his finishing lineup. While [Brandon] Roy got back on the court when the Blazers needed more shooters and ballhandlers to close out the game, Portland played with its starting lineup most of the stretch run, putting more size and rebounding on the floor. I’m not sure there was a verdict on that decision, as the teams played even during the stretch the Blazers used their starters. Over the course of the season, however, Portland has been much more effective with Aldridge at center and Wallace at power forward in a smaller, quicker unit. Looking ahead to Saturday’s Game Four, the Mavericks can feel good that they had a chance to steal a game in which the Blazers rode their crowd to an early lead. Dallas can also point to missed opportunities at the line, where they shot just 56.5 percent (13 of 23), including an atypical 4-of-7 effort from Nowitzki. Nonetheless, if Roy has found a way to contribute for Portland in this favorable matchup, that might prove the most crucial takeaway of all.”

Ben Golliver, Blazersedge: “Portland’s initial push came courtesy of Matthews, who practically refused to talk about his individual play after leading Portland with 25 points on 8-12 shooting. Thankfully, LaMarcus Aldridge was there to do it for him. ‘I think every game [this series] the team that’s won it has had someone play really, really well,’ Aldridge said. ‘Tonight it was Wesley.’ There’s been so much to like about Aldridge’s maturation this season but that quote is near the top. Aldridge, Matthews and everyone else with a pulse in the Rose Garden knows that the bulk of the headlines are going to Brandon Roy, who finished with 16 crucial points off the bench to help push Portland over the hump. But it was Matthews’ hot shooting that got Portland up early. 16 points in the first quarter. 22 points in the first half. Good shot selection (even including the heat checks, which you know are coming). Solid defense throughout the game on top of it. That Aldridge would single out Matthews with praise — despite his own success on the night and the mountain of questions about Roy — is a moment that will endure. Credit where credit is due. Recognition and rewards for those who have earned it.”

Tim MacMahon (and Ben Rogers), ESPN Dallas: “An object thrown from the Rose Garden stands hit Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban in the face during Thursday night’s Game 3 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. The incident occurred midway through the fourth quarter after Cuban had been interacting with the fans in the section behind the Mavericks’ bench. Cuban was not injured. ‘I don’t know what it was, but something hit me in the face,’ said Cuban, who encouraged fans to boo him more by putting his hand by his ear. Extra security was assigned to the area behind the Mavericks’ bench for the remainder of the game. There were no other issues.”

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The Difference: Portland Trailblazers 97, Dallas Mavericks 92

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Recaps | Be the First to Comment

Screen shot 2011-04-22 at 5.40.56 AM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas85.0108.258.119.118.918.8
Portland114.153.322.718.910.6

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

  • Frustration is a natural precipitate of playoff basketball; combining two competitive entities in elemental form creates not only an expected solution, but a necessary, balancing byproduct. The glow of a win must stand against its opposite, so as Portland goes one way in victory, Dallas goes another. The Mavs are frustrated. Rick Carlisle is frustrated. You’re probably frustrated. There are plenty of reasons to be after Game 3, with the lost potential of a commanding 3-0 series lead perhaps chief among them. Many will point to questionable officiating (with a certain video replay call made in error as only the most obvious example). Others, perhaps, to lost opportunities at the free throw line. Yet the most frustrating aspect of all was a return to normalcy for both teams in the turnover column. Dallas ranked 21st in the league in turnover rate this season, while Portland ranked second in opponent’s turnover rate. That combination seemed highly reactive from the start, and yet the turnover battle was hardly an important part of the series narrative prior to Thursday’s game. Then Jason Kidd turned the ball over three times in the first quarter, reestablishing the season-long Maverick tradition of surrendering possessions midstream. Dallas posted a turnover rate of 18.8, their highest of the series and significantly more damaging than Portland’s 10.6 mark. Every reckless move fed the possibility of a Maverick loss, ultimately leaving the whole evening plump with the potential for disappointment. It’s just one loss, but it’s one loss that could have effectively ended the Blazers had the Mavs not participated in their own temporary demise.
  • As unfortunate as this loss was, those numerous frustrations aren’t guaranteed to persist; this one lost opportunity is no reason for legitimate despondency, considering how well Dallas played even in defeat. The Mavs can find solace in the fact that they generally worked their way into favorable shots, even after Jason Kidd (eight points, 3-9 FG, three assists, six rebounds, five turnovers) and Peja Stojakovic (seven points, 3-7 FG, three rebounds) returned to earth. Dirk Nowitzki (25 points, 10-21 FG, nine rebounds) was able to shoot a decent percentage from the field for the first time all series. Portland’s offensive rebounding was held to a reasonable level. Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum contributed during a crucial fourth quarter run, but were largely unproductive on offense. Even with the loss, there’s a lot to work with and plenty to look forward to in Game 4.
  • For a night, Jason Terry (27 points, 10-13 FG, 5-7 3FG, seven assists) walked on air. JET had played productive minutes in both Games 1 and 2, but his performance in Game 3 stands among the best by any player in this series thus far. Terry was the Mavs’ one consistent source of points, and he expertly used his defensive draw to set up teammates for easy scores. Just productive, heady play from a big-time playoff performer. Terry was able to fuel Maverick runs and keep the team afloat when the offense struggled, and while it’s a damn shame that Dallas couldn’t take full advantage of JET’s excellence, it was a treat to see Terry in optimal form.
  • Fittingly, JET was balanced by his positional counterparts; Wesley Matthews (25 points, 8-12 FG, 4-6 3FG, three assists) and Brandon Roy (16 points, 6-10 FG, four assists) were both fantastic for the Blazers, and together accounted for over half of Portland’s points. Roy will draw the primarily of the attention, as he transformed from self-pitying distraction to valuable contributor almost overnight. However, Matthews’ combination of three-point range, driving ability, and aggressive defense offers the greater long-term concern. Roy may have had a profound impact on this particular game, but he’s not at a point where he can be trusted to do the same on Saturday, much less for the rest of the series. Matthews, on the other hand, stays relatively constant in his effort, even if not his production. He can be a difference-maker with his hustle and defense alone, and when he’s dropping 25 on efficient shooting as well, he presents a rather substantial problem.
  • The Mavs’ defense was stifled by the Blazers’ impressive shot-making (as was the case with the Blazers’ D and the Mavs’ shot-making as well), but Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler did incredible individual defensive work against LaMarcus Aldridge. LMA still managed to get his, and several of his buckets were quite timely. That said, a few big baskets don’t erase Aldridge’s less efficient overall line; he may have scored a bit and even kept Chandler off the court by putting him in foul trouble, but his presence was significantly less taxing on the Dallas defense than it has been in games past. 30 minutes of Haywood typically isn’t conducive to effective play, but he filled in for Chandler admirably.

Long And In The Gray

Posted by Ian Levy on April 21, 2011 under Commentary | 4 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-04-21 at 4.03.05 AM

Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and a part of The Two Man Game family. He’ll be bringing his intelligent brand of — mostly quantitative — analysis here on a weekly basis. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

There may not be two teams in the league with as much positional versatility as the Dallas Mavericks and the Portland Trailblazers. Both have players with unique combinations of size and skill, each capable of filling multiple roles. Individual matchups have been and will continue to be an important factor in the series, but so are the lineups employed by Rick Carlisle and Nate McMillan — the way those unique players are used in concert to achieve specific outcomes.

In a weird twist, neither team has been successful with their starting lineups. The Trail Blazers’ starters have been a -2 when on the floor together, the Mavericks’ have been a -3. For each team, change of pace units have done most of the damage. Two intriguing units played significant roles in Game 1 and disappeared in Game 2. These two lineups seem somewhat representative of the overall direction of each team.

The Jason Kidd – Jason Terry – Shawn Marion – Dirk Nowitzki – Tyson Chandler combination was the third most used lineup by the Mavericks this season, playing just over 187 minutes together. It was also one of the team’s most effective units, posting a Net Rating of +19.03 across the entire season. We’ll call this lineup “The Grays” in reference to their 8 gajillion combined years of experience.

For the Blazers we saw a new five-headed monster emerge in Game 1. The Blazers used the Andre Miller – Nicolas Batum – Gerald Wallace – LaMarcus Aldridge – Marcus Camby configuration for just over seven minutes. Wallace joined Portland for the last 23 games of the season and McMillan only ran that combination out onto the floor for a total of 54 seconds before the playoffs started. We’ll call this lineup “The Longs” in reference to their combined wingspan of 8 gajillion feet.

The Grays

This group destroyed the Blazers in Game 1, outscoring them by 19 points in just over 9 minutes. They posted an Offensive Rating of 170.6 and a Defensive Rating of 50.0, for a ridiculous Net Rating of +120.59. They did most of their damage in a stretch from 5:47 left in the fourth quarter to 0:25 left in the fourth, when they took a 72-66 deficit to an 85-78 lead. This is an extremely small sample size, but they lineup obviously caused problems for the Blazers.

In Game 2, The Grays were not nearly as effective. They played just 6 minutes and 14 seconds together towards the end of the second quarter and were outscored by the Blazers 19-17. Some terrific shooting from Peja Stojakavic kept him on the floor for 27 minutes, and The Grays did not play as a unit at all in the second half.

The Longs

This unit gives the Blazers a huge advantage in terms of length and athleticism. In Game 1, McMillan went to The Longs quickly, inserting Batum at the 8:18 mark of the first quarter, after Wesley Matthews had picked up two quick fouls. They were matched primarily with the Mavericks’ starting lineup, and outscored them 10-4 over a four minute stretch. They were also outscored by the Mavs 5-4 over the last three minutes of the first half. They were never on the floor together in the second half.

In Game 2, The Longs played together for the last minute and 24 seconds of the first half, being outscored by the Mavericks 4-3. They did not play at all together in the second half.

These two lineups were each very successful for a stretch in the first game of the series but saw much less floor time in the second. The Grays saw much less time in Game 2 because Peja Stojakavic was scorching from the outside. The Mavericks rode the hot hand, going away from one of their most common configurations in the process. They departed from what they normally do because something else was working on that particular night. Again, The Grays were one of the Mavericks most frequently used lineups during the regular season, comprised of the five players who led the team in crunch time minutes. We’ll certainly see more of them throughout the rest of the series.

The Longs are a slightly different story. They hardly played together in the regular season but were very effective against the Mavericks. Despite that fact, it seemed that McMillan made a conscious choice to avoid this lineup in Game 2. The Longs are comprised of the Blazers starters, with Batum subbed in for Wesley Matthews at shooting guard. Having a 6’9″ body matched up against any of the Mavericks’ shooting guards theoretically gives them a huge advantage at both ends of the floor, especially when that 6’9″ body is someone like Batum with the length and quickness to deny penetration and challenge jumpers.

During Game Two, Batum was subbed in four times. Each time he entered the game with the rest of the starting lineup on the floor. However, three of the four times he came in, McMillan chose to have him replace Camby instead of Matthews. Camby wasn’t in foul trouble, so one would have to think McMillan was making this choice based on matchups. The Mavericks were on fire from the perimeter and it makes sense add a long, quick defender at the expense of a big, rather than merely swap Batum for Matthews. This led them to a Miller-Matthews-Batum-Wallace-Aldridge combination which wasn’t used at all in Game 1, and played the Mavericks even 11-11 in Game 2.

The changes in Rick Carlisle’s rotation have been made to continue success; he rode The Grays to a big lead in Game 1, and made room for Stojakavic’s shooting in Game 2. Nate McMillan’s adjustments appear to be largely reactive; The Longs are a lineup which could theoretically help corral the Mavericks’ dribble penetration, bother jumpshooters, and create matchup problems on offense as well. They didn’t appear to be the best option to stop what the Mavericks were doing in Game 2, so they literally didn’t appear. The Blazers seem to be looking for answers instead of asking the questions.

The Mavericks have to be happy with where they are. They’re firmly in command of the series right now, not just because they’ve won, but because of how they’ve won. The Blazers reactive substitution pattern is a huge boon for Dallas, allowing them to stay one step ahead in the war of matchups.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 20, 2011 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

Jeff Caplan, ESPN Dallas: “In the first three quarters of both games, Nowitzki has scored 29 total points on 10-of-31 shooting and 9-0f-9 from the free throw line. In the fourth quarter, however, Nowitzki’s numbers are mesmerizing: 32 points on 6-of-11 shooting — 1-of-1 from 3-point range — and 19-of-21 from the free throw line. And he’s earning every one of them, pounding his body inside, absorbing contact and finishing strong. ‘This team is going to keep fighting,’ Nowitzki said. ‘I’m going to keep fighting.’”

Jason Quick, The Oregonian: “Brandon Roy has fought through a lot of things in his career, but never has he had to do what he did Tuesday in Dallas during Game 2 of the Trail Blazers’ first-round series. Brandon Roy, the face of the franchise, had to fight off tears. ‘There was a point in the first half, and I was thinking ‘You better not cry,’ Roy said. ‘I mean, serious. I mean, there was a moment where I felt really sorry for myself. Then I was like, nah, you can’t be sorry for yourself. I’m a grown man, but there was a moment there that I felt sorry for myself. Especially when I think I can still help…I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little hurt, or disappointed,’ Roy said. ‘But the biggest thing is to keep moving, to try and keep my spirits up. But it’s tough man. I just…I just always thought I would be treated better. That was a little disappointing for me.’”

Ben Golliver, Eye on Basketball: “Roy has maintained for the last month that his struggles are mental and that his knees feel fine after arthroscopic surgery earlier this season. He’s also talked at length, since before the surgeries, about his need to adjust his game to accomodate his physical changes. There is a clear disconnect for Roy. While his knees feel good that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s the player he once was, nor even a productive player. A lack of swelling or pain doesn’t equal 25 points a night, or 10 points a night. Or, even, a single point on Tuesday night. Playing without pain doesn’t mean he’s playing well. Those two have long gone hand in hand for Roy in the past, but that simply hasn’t been the case for months now. When Roy says his struggles are purely mental, he’s either kidding himself or he hasn’t fully come to terms with his current abilities. Scouts, former players, media observers and fans see a player whose quickness and power off the dribble have disappeared, a player whose ball fake and dribble combinations no longer mesmerize, a player whose lift is gone, a player who has been a defensive liability — slow laterally, slow to rotate, slow to close out — for the entire season, and a player whose confidence is clearly shaken. ”

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 101, Portland Trailblazers 89

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-04-20 at 12.39.53 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas81.0124.753.925.025.07.4
Portland109.953.827.320.614.8

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

  • This was just a pristine performance by the Mavericks. Dallas performed well in virtually every area — they drained their shots, curbed their early defensive troubles, kept their turnovers way down for the second straight game, kept a scoring balance that allowed for some fantastic offensive synergy, hit the glass, and got to the line frequently. It’s hard for such a holistically excellent performance to inspire anything but optimism; most of the worries that survived the Mavs’ Game 1 win were surely vanquished in their Game 2 explosion. So much still depends on the accuracy of Dallas’ perimeter shooters, but let that be a concern for another day. On Tuesday, the Mavs feasted, and for the moment that’s all that matters.
  • LaMarcus Aldridge is playing Dirk Nowitzki (33 points, 9-22 FG, seven rebounds, four assists) well on the defensive end, and it hasn’t meant a damn thing. He stays grounded, contests shots, and generally tries not to commit on any of Nowitzki’s fakes. Yet Dirk was able to attack both Aldridge and a slew of other defenders by spinning into the lane and setting up on the low right block, both of which paid off in free throw attempts and close-range looks. At this stage, I’m not even sure how Aldridge could possibly defend Nowitzki more effectively — the effort is there, and his D is fundamentally sound, though perhaps too aggressive in spots. If the Blazers are less physical with Dirk, they’ll concede more easy jumpers. If they throw more double teams at him, he’ll simply find Jason Kidd, Peja Stojakovic, or Jason Terry spotting up on the perimeter. Aldridge is doing his best to make Nowitzki’s looks as difficult as possible, and yet Dirk still finished Game 2 with 33 points on 22 shots while only recording a single turnover. There are some forces in this world which are just not meant to be stopped or deterred.
  • Jason Kidd (18 points, 7-11 FG, 3-6 3FG, eight assists, four rebounds) reprised his role as unexpected three-point marksman, and even made a layup just for the hell of it. Again: it’s not important that Kidd, specifically, produce like this on offense every night out, but it is important that someone does. If not Kidd then Terry, and if not Terry then Shawn Marion, etc. For now, it’s simply great to see Kidd performing at an elite level in the playoffs, something he’s never done in his Maverick career. Fresh legs are only the half of it; Kidd is flat-out playing better ball than he did for large stretches of the regular season, and his scoring has added a fantastic new dimension to the Maverick offense. Expectations based on Kidd’s late-season performance, fatigue, and age be damned — Kidd has been a pillar for Dallas in the playoffs thus far.
  • The Mavs’ lack of turnovers against a team as (typically) defensively active as the Blazers is a huge story. Dallas didn’t turn the ball over a single time in the second half, which is about as rare as it sounds; according to NBA.com’s StatsCube, Dallas is just the second team to pull off a no-TO second half in playoff history. For them to do so against the second best team in the NBA in opponent’s turnover percentage is flat-out ridiculous. The Mavs ball-handlers are settling into their offense really well, but Nowitzki is also doing a great job of passing out of double teams.
  • Peja Stojakovic (21 points, 8-13 FG, 5-10 3FG, five rebounds) validated his acquisition with a single game, and the playoffs are just getting started. At the time of Stojakovic’s signing, I was admittedly skeptical of what he could offer; Sasha Pavlovic was converting 43.8 percent of his threes for the Mavs while riding out 10-day contracts, and his defensive pedigree made him a more appealing role player option in my mind. Yet it’s hard to imagine Pavlovic would have been able to pull off the kind of performance Stojakovic did last night, even if the Blazers are a bit slow to get their hands in the faces of perimeter shooters; the former simply isn’t as proficient in coming off of curls for catch-and-shoot opportunities, nor was Pavlovic well-suited to fire under duress on those occasions that Portland did close out hard on the three-point shot. Not that the comparison between the two players even matters at this point — the important thing is that Stojakovic is earning his keep and his playing time, and on Tuesday his shooting gave Dallas a huge lift.
  • Those who had incredulously discussed (read: mocked, doubted) Gerald Wallace’s status as a series x-factor after Game 1 can kindly bite their tongues. Wallace was a demon in the open court, which should be no surprise; the man has turned the fast break leak-out into an art form over the course of his career, while somehow maintaining solid defensive rebounding numbers. Don’t be fooled into thinking that Wallace’s only utility came in the open court, though. Crash also established his hard-cutting style in the Blazers’ half-court offense, and found his teammates for easy scores. Obviously Wallace wasn’t the difference-maker in Game 2, but he certainly made a difference. If Portland is going to rebound at home in Games 3 and 4, he’ll likely be a critical part of their formula.
  • The odd thing for the Blazers: none of their players had an especially poor game. Aldridge was dominant for stretches and less so for some, but still efficient. Andre Miller hit a few jumpers and got to the rim off the dribble while running the offense effectively. Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews hit their shots. Wallace chipped in with his dynamic slashing. Yet none of it was enough; Portland was relatively efficient in its shooting, but surrendered modest advantages to Dallas on the offensive glass and in the turnover margin without gaining any offensive ground. With the way the Mavs were scoring, those kinds of extra opportunities were enough to create a substantial buffer between the two teams, a painful threshold constructed by the combination of minor differences. It can be hard for some to understand why their teams lose in occasions like these, and the result is typically some recycled sound bite about toughness or closing games. The Blazers lost because across the board they just weren’t as good as the Mavs. The difference in performance between the two teams wasn’t huge, but it was significant.
  • J.J. Barea: 2-of-7 shooting, two turnovers, but several critical drives to the hoop in the fourth quarter. Barea correctly identified the Blazer overplays on the Nowitzki pick-and-roll, and attacked the rim fearlessly against a stilted defense. Great recognition, and an excellent job of finishing the play or drawing a foul. Plus, Barea — and the Maverick guards on the whole — defended the post well. The Blazer guards’ post-up play was a non-story in Game 2, even after that element of Portland’s offense had found some success in limited Game 1 application. Kudos to J.J. for his work on both ends.
  • Jason Terry still hasn’t made much of an impact on this series, but he’s also not acting as a detriment. For the second game in a row, Terry contributed 10 points without using too many possessions, didn’t turn the ball over, and offered some offensive spacing. Considering the lack of scoring Dallas is getting from Shawn Marion and Tyson Chandler, those 10 points are a tremendous help. It’s not an issue of shot selection, either; JET took good attempts on Tuesday, but his looks just couldn’t find the net. It’s just a matter of time.
  • Nate McMillan made the mistake of overplaying Brandon Roy down the stretch in Game 1, but perhaps the pendulum swung a bit too far the other way in Game 2. Roy logged just eight minutes of playing time as a deep reserve, and went scoreless in his time on the court. Patty Mills even managed to log four minutes of playing time, at least some of which could have gone to Roy. It’s an odd, depressing situation to say the least; Roy is battling his own physical limitations and trying to deal mentally with the transition from star to role player, and neither fight seems to be going particularly well. Regardless, Roy remains painfully oblivious to his shortcomings, and that doesn’t bode well for his status with the team nor his future as a productive player. I haven’t the faintest idea of what the rest of Roy’s career holds, but here’s to hoping he finds balance going forward, even if all of us in Dallas wouldn’t mind him remaining a non-factor for the remainder of the series.
  • Credit to the Maverick bigs for their work on the offensive glass: Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood combined for eight offensive rebounds, which was more than the Blazers had as an entire team. If not for those offensive boards, Chandler’s impact on that end would be negligible, though his presence is certainly more accommodating to the offense than Haywood’s. To Chandler’s credit, he did defend Aldridge in the post relatively successfully, particularly in the fourth quarter. Those defensive stands on the block were huge, and if Chandler can provide a similar defensive front against Aldridge in the games going forward, Dallas should have no problem dealing with whatever else Portland throws their way.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 89, Portland Trailblazers 81

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 17, 2011 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-04-17 at 3.25.42 AM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas81.0109.948.537.925.616.0
Portland100.048.511.827.516.0

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

  • The glory of Dirk Nowitzki’s late-game heroism surely isn’t lost in Dallas, but even those who expect Dirk to save the day on a nightly basis should take a moment to appreciate his impact at its most elemental. The instant recognition of a mismatch. The spin away from a double team. The awkward stumble transformed into a graceful release. Nowitzki may not have been perfect throughout Saturday’s game, but after a lion-hearted 28-point, 10-rebound performance, there should be no question of to whom the game belonged. Even after all of these years, these playoff runs, these brilliant games, and these fantastic, singular moments, Nowitzki’s basket-making, fist-pumping routine in the fourth quarter just never seems to lose its luster. Maverick fans have never felt championship catharsis, but it’s nights like this one that validate the viewing experience; Nowitzki is a giant in this game, and to see him at the height of his powers — as he was during an invaluable 16-point fourth quarter burst — is a distinct pleasure.
  • That said, the Blazers — particularly LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum — did a tremendous job of bothering Nowitzki as much as possible on the offensive end. Their defensive success didn’t quite last, but Nowitzki’s game-saving performance shouldn’t overshadow the fact that Portland pestered Dirk into an uncharacteristic six turnovers, and held him to 7-of-20 shooting from the field. This isn’t the first time Nowitzki has struggled against Portland, and it may not be the last; although Aldridge is no all-world defender, he has a skill set that makes him uniquely capable of taking on the role of Nowitzki’s primary defender. None of that stopped Dirk from dropping 28, but there’s no question that Nowitzki’s battle for efficiency will be ongoing.
  • This is a win to appreciate, but the reasons for concern were quite apparent. Dallas was as fantastic from three-point range (.526) as Portland was horrible (.125), largely because Jason Kidd (24 points, 9-14 FG, 6-10 3FG, four assists, five rebounds) caught fire and Nicolas Batum (14 points, 6-14 FG, 1-7 3FG) now only holds vague memories of what it’s like to be a three-point shooter. The shooting percentages of both players and both teams are likely to equalize, and though it’s not impossible to fathom that Kidd could be a reasonably effective scorer for the span of an entire series, relying on that idea seems like an especially dangerous proposition. Kidd’s scoring production will inevitably wane, and when it does, Dallas will need more than 10 points from Jason Terry and more than six points from Shawn Marion. The unpredictability of the Maverick offense can work in their favor on some occasions (Who would expect this kind of outburst from Kidd?), but not without a caveat of uncertainty; it’s not a matter of which supporting player will assist Dirk on a given night, but if one will at all. There are plenty of capable scorers on Dallas’ roster, but the reason why we applaud Kidd for his 24 points is the opposite of the reason why we applaud Nowitzki for his 28.
  • Additionally, Andre Miller (18 points, 7-13 FG, six assists, four rebounds) and Nicolas Batum had a lot of success in the post against the undersized Maverick guards. Playing Stevenson for nearly 20 minutes helped to hedge the impact of those guard mismatches, but their potential remains. Even if those opportunities result in just a few buckets, the balance in this series is so very delicate; Dallas and Portland both have an opportunity to tip the scales through subtler measures, and to get a handful of easy shot attempts every night could end up making a substantial difference.
  • Dallas still doesn’t have much of a counter for Aldridge other than Nowitzki’s off-setting scoring. Tyson Chandler had his shot, but Aldridge is able to work his way into prime position and bury hooks over Chandler’s outstretched arms. Brendan Haywood is more capable of battling Haywood in the post, but the fact that Aldridge scored over six more points per 36 minutes while Haywood was on the floor this season (per NBA.com’s StatsCube) is no fluke — Haywood is just as incapable of limiting Aldridge as Chandler is. Shawn Marion even got to try his hand in defending Aldridge on the block a few times, but one nice strip doesn’t change the fact that it would be a horrid matchup. The Mavs need to help against Aldridge as much as possible until they get burned, I fear for Dallas’ ability to keep their heads above water once Portland starts hitting their shots from outside.
  • The Mavs attempted 29 free throws in this one, a notable number made even even more so by the game’s low pace. There were only 81 possessions for the night, so Dallas’ 29 free throws convert into a 37.9 free throw rate, an elite mark by league-wide standards, much less by the Mavs’ own. Getting to the line has never been the Dallas’ strong suit, but Nowitzki’s ability to draw fouls turned out to be vital.
  • Gerald Wallace and Brandon Roy — deemed an x-factor and a difference-maker in this series, respectively — were non-entities. Wallace was active, but seemed phased out; his drives lacked resolve, and his activity on the court didn’t translate into any tangible benefit. Four of Wallace’s nine missed field goals were blocked attempts, a fitting tribute to just how oddly ineffective he was in attacking the basket. Roy had one of his rougher nights, the type of hiccup that has become all too common since his latest return from injury. This shouldn’t come as any surprise, nor should it deter us from still seeing Roy as an important player in this series; he may not be productive every game, but Roy has the potential to spark runs, to break the Mavs’ momentum, and to impact the game as either a scorer or a playmaker. As for Wallace, doesn’t a performance like this in a losing effort only reinforce his status as an x-factor?
  • To the Mavs’ credit, they were able to keep their turnovers to a reasonable level. Nowitzki picked up six on his own, but Kidd, Terry, and J.J. Barea only turned the ball over three times combined. Considering just how pesky the Blazers can be in the passing lanes and against ball-handlers (they ranked second in the NBA in opponent’s turnover rate this season), that’s huge.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 15, 2011 under xOther | 3 Comments to Read

Zach Lowe, SI’s The Point Forward: “To call this Dirk Nowitzki’s ”last ride” is obviously dramatic, but the future of this Mavericks team is uncertain. Jason Kidd is 38 and will be a free agent after next season along with Jason Terry. Tyson Chandler, the anchor of Dallas’ semi-revived defense, is a free agent after this season and plays the same position as Brendan Haywood, to whom Dallas has already committed more than $50 million. Caron Butler will be a free agent, Roddy Beaubois’ development has hit a snag, Shawn Marion is declining and Corey Brewer is at the edge of Rick Carlisle’s rotation. In other words: This team badly needs a playoff run now, especially after going out in the first round in three of the last four seasons.”

Jeff Caplan, ESPN Dallas: “The fact is that Nowitzki, 33, is one of the game’s premier playoff performers — one of four players in history to average 25 points and 10 rebounds — yet he is arguably the most underappreciated player in the game because his teams have failed to convert marvelous regular seasons into postseason parades. ‘I can’t really change peoples’ opinions. I’ll try to win it for me and to kind of top it off with the career that I’ve had. That’s why I’m trying to win it,’ Nowitzki said.’I'm not trying to win to shut anybody up. I’m trying to win for myself and this franchise, which really deserves it; for Cuban, who’s been amazing since he bought it, and for all my teammates. And if I don’t, it just wasn’t meant to be. The only thing that I can tell myself is that I left it all out there. Every summer I tried to get better. I play hurt. I play sick. I try to be out there for my teammates and for my team and ultimately win it all.’”

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: “A veteran NBA advanced scout gave us his breakdown of the two teams, and these are teams that he swears bear a striking resemblance to one another in that they have perimeter big men as their offensive anchors and crafty veteran point guards running the show. ‘The Mavericks definitely will play up and down more than any of Rick Carlisle’s teams in Indiana and even Detroit did in the past,’ he said. ‘Rick has definitely loosened the reigns since then. He’s still a guy that has a lot of sets and runs a lot of things. He lets [Jason] Kidd call his own plays and really lets them go. They run a lot more stuff in early offense. His Indiana teams he would slow them down and call plays, but not with this team. He really does let Kidd do his thing. And with [J.J.] Barea out there with Kidd, you have two ball handlers in the game, if the ball comes out to Barea, they’ll get into their transition game just as easily.’”

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The Official Two Man Game Official Dallas Mavericks Versus Portland Trailblazers Official Playoff Preview for the Official 2010-2011 Official NBA Post-Season

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 14, 2011 under Commentary, Previews | 27 Comments to Read

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Dallas’ playoff opponent is finally set in stone. Thanks to a Maverick win and Kobe Bryant’s ongoing crusade to burn the city of Sacramento to the ground, the Mavs will face off with the formidable Portland Trailblazers in the first found of the postseason. Rejoice, and be worried; this matchup is terrific for basketball fans but should be uncomfortable to the Maverick faithful, a conflict of identities for those who appreciate both the game and this particular team. We’re in for a fantastic series, but a hell of an opponent stands between Dallas and the second round.

The Mavericks are a better team than the Blazers by virtually every objective measure; win percentage, efficiency differential, point differential, Pythagorean win percentage, and the simple rating system all favor Dallas. In terms of their season-long numbers, the Mavs have outperformed the Blazers on both ends of the court, and enjoy all of the statistical trimmings that come with that superior level of performance. However, the fact that Dallas is a better team only matters tangentially. Playoff series’ are so much more dependent on the ways in which teams succeed than just how successful those teams are, a fact surely not lost on Mavs fans. This outcome of this series won’t be determined by determining the better team, but merely the more effective one given this specific matchup.

Dallas and Portland faced off four times during the regular season, but reading too much into the outcome of those four contests can be a bit misleading; the Blazers thoroughly dominated their latest game against the Mavs, for example, but Tyson Chandler’s absence hardly makes it a representative sample. The same can be said of the exclusion of Dirk Nowitzki and Brandon Roy in previous games, the mid-season acquisition of Gerald Wallace, and the unavailability of Caron Butler — we have four games’ worth of competition between the two teams, but little to speak of in the way of legitimate macro-level assessment.

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So instead, the most prudent way to predict the performance of both teams is to look at smaller factors which could potentially turn the series. In my eyes, Portland creates particular problems for Dallas through their combination of versatile forwards and sizable guards. LaMarcus Aldridge — who averaged 27.8 points on 51% shooting against Dallas this season — is a huge part of the problem, and acts as a catalyst of sorts for the Blazers to exploit the Mavs on a number of levels. Regardless of whether Marcus Camby is on the floor, Rick Carlisle has largely opted to defend Aldridge with either Tyson Chandler or Brendan Haywood. Carlisle’s decision is understandable; putting Dirk Nowitzki on Aldridge wouldn’t present any kind of advantage (and needlessly puts Dirk at risk for foul trouble), and Shawn Marion doesn’t have the size to contend with Aldridge in the post. That leaves Chandler and Haywood as the most logical defensive options, as both are long enough to contest Aldridge’s shot and strong enough to fight him for position down low. Neither has been tremendously successful in stopping Aldridge in the post thus far this season, but they provide the best theoretical counters considering the Mavs’ lack of alternatives.

If that potential mismatch in Portland’s favor isn’t enough, more problems start to arise when we weigh Aldridge’s other abilities. Not only is Portland’s new frontman skilled in operating from either block, but he’s a credible mid-range shooter and a constant threat to slip toward the basket for a lob. Aldridge’s combination of size, range, and mobility makes him an incredibly difficult cover, and with Dallas’ assumed defensive configuration, his ability to put up points is only the first of several concerns introduced by his very presence. Defensive rebounding is also a legitimate issue, as Aldridge is able to pull one of the Mavs’ strongest rebounders away from the basket by stepping out to the perimeter. That not only limits the rebounding impact of Chandler and Haywood while Aldridge is on the court, but opens up more opportunities for the Blazers — one of the strongest offensive rebounding teams in the league — to attack the glass. Dallas is normally strong on the defensive glass, but it’s no coincidence that some of their worst rebounding performances of the season have come against Portland (the Blazers grabbed more than 27.9 percent of available offensive boards in three of the four games, with the only outlier being the quasi-blowout in the most recent game).

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Even more problematic is what that same range does for Dallas’ defensive spacing. Every successful defensive scheme relies on bigs who are able to rotate from across the court and contest shots around the rim, but Aldridge’s ability to knock down an open 18-footer makes it far more difficult for Chandler or Haywood to leave him and rotate into the paint. Without consistent help on the back line (Nowitzki tries, but Dirks will be Dirks), the Mavs’ perimeter defenders are in trouble; one misstep could lead to an uncontested layup or a trip to the free throw line, and Jason Terry, J.J. Barea, and Rodrigue Beaubois certainly commit their share of defensive blunders. Plus, Aldridge’s ability to space the floor opens up the opportunity for the Blazer guards to set up against their undersized opponents on the block. Brandon Roy and Andre Miller are skilled post-up threats capable of both scoring and making plays, and together with Wesley Matthews and Rudy Fernandez, the Blazer guard corps towers over the Mavs’ backcourt.

Portland not only has that specific size advantage, but has shown in their last two games against Dallas that they fully intend to exploit it. Ultimately, the Mavs are put in a position in which fielding any of their crucial but diminutive guards — the aforementioned Terry, Barea, and Beaubois — invites an easy post-up opportunity for either Roy or Miller. The three-guard lineup is even more vulnerable, further limiting Carlisle’s rotational options. Terry and Barea will play, but we could be left pondering ways to keep them off the floor, particularly if either player fails to produce on offense.

Carlisle may adjust by redistributing minutes, but Corey Brewer and DeShawn Stevenson seem to be his only alternatives, and I’m not sure either is likely to actually play significant minutes. In a way, this is all an extension from last year’s playoffs: Terry is almost certain to be an on-court mainstay, and even more certain to be on the court to close games — even when his replacement makes intuitive sense. Last year, it was Beaubois, who ripped up the court in Game 6 against the Spurs before grabbing a seat prematurely, who could have replaced JET. This season, if Terry isn’t on his offensive game, it may make more sense for him to sit for defensive reasons. He isn’t uniquely responsible for Dallas’ potential defensive troubles, but he’s the undersized guard most likely to log the most playing time. The decision to slash the minutes of a player like JET is an immensely difficult one, and it may not even be the correct one. But those guard matchups could end up doing a lot of damage, and one can only hope that Carlisle has some counter — either in scheme or personnel — up his sleeve.

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For their part, the Mavs don’t have a unique matchup advantage other than the fact that they employ Dirk Nowitzki, and that as a team they have the ability to hit shots of all kinds with consistency. That last fact should be especially evident against Portland’s relatively poor shooting defense; for all their defensive versatility and long-armed wings, the Blazers rank 22nd in effective field goal percentage allowed. Dirk Nowitzki will have his work cut out for him grappling with Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum (among others), but I nonetheless anticipate him having an MVP-type series. There’s only so much a defender can do. Wallace and Batum are sure to put in good work on D, but Nowitzki is that efficient, that prolific, that deadly. Expect consistently excellent work from the block, the wing, and the elbow, as Dirk turns in more typically stellar postseason numbers.

Dallas’ perimeter shooters should also be in for a field day. According to Synergy Sports Technology, the Blazers rank 25th in the league in their defense of spot-up jumpers on a per possession basis, while the Maverick shooters rank sixth in their points scored per spot-up possession. This is where being a “jumpshooting team” comes in handy; spot-up jumpshots are a substantial part — 22.7 percent — of the Dallas offense, and happen to be one of Portland’s greatest defensive weaknesses. Let there be a turkey in every pot and a kick-out for every shooter — it’s gonna be a feast from the outside.

To hone in a bit: Portland ranks in the bottom 10 in three-point shooting defense — a big reason why both their points per spot up possession allowed and their opponents’ effective field goal percentage are so high. The Mavs have four consistent perimeter marksmen (Terry, Stevenson, Brian Cardinal, Peja Stojakovic) outside of Nowitzki, and any who sees the floor should find open looks with some regularity. The problem is how many of those shooters will actually see notable time; Stevenson could end up starting, but he’d been out of the rotation for a while before his unearthing on Wednesday. His role is uncertain, to say the least. Cardinal could be left off the playoff roster altogether if Rick Carlisle elects to bring Brewer along for the postseason, and even if Cardinal does make the playoff roster, Dallas rarely plays him and Nowitzki at the same time, which would limit his potential application.

Regardless, Terry, Stojakovic, Jason Kidd, and J.J. Barea should have room to fire from outside. They may not always convert (particularly in the case of the latter two), but those openings are nonetheless an important part of Dallas’ advantage. The opportunities will be there, so it’s on the usually efficient Mavs to hit their shots.

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Dallas shouldn’t have too much of a problem scoring, but they may have some issues in setting up a fluid offense. As counter-intuitive as that sounds, consider this: the Blazers are as good as any team in the league at creating turnovers, but as noted above, they don’t contest shots well at all. One shouldn’t expect some freewheeling Maverick attack, but once the ball gets to Nowitzki or Marion in the post (where they can either score or execute a basic kick-out), to a shooter off a curl via a Kidd assist, or to Terry or Barea to run the pick-and-roll, all should be right with the world. The problem is in the intermediary, those moments between the first and second options in a set where Kidd tries to thread an overly ambitious pass, Terry attempts to create off the dribble in vain, or a non-ball-handler ends up uncomfortably holding the rock as the shot clock dwindles. If the Mavs establish their play actions and work through them without trying to do too much, they shouldn’t have much of a problem on the offensive end at all. If they panic or rush rather than work through their options patiently, then Wallace, Miller, Matthews, and Fernandez will furiously swarm the ball like leather-eating piranhas.

With that in mind, this series feels like a shootout. Portland isn’t a particularly sound defensive team, and Dallas’ defense doesn’t seem poised to be particularly effective based on the matchup and their recent performance. The point totals may not soar due to neither team being a true fast-breaking outfit, but this is a series of offensive prowess unless the Mavs can prove otherwise. One defensive scheme isn’t enough, either; Nate McMillan is a smart, flexible coach, and he’ll have his players adapt to any single counter the Mavs utilize. Dallas will need multiple responses to both Aldridge and the Blazer guards, and somehow not neglect Wallace and Batum in the process. It’s doable, but difficult.

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Which is why I regretfully predict that the Blazers will win in seven games. It’s not an easy call; these Mavs are skilled and can theoretically execute on both ends. I just think Portland’s mismatches will prove a bit too problematic. I think Jason Kidd won’t be quite as effective as the Mavs need him to be. I think Dirk Nowitzki and LaMarcus Aldridge will both be tremendous, and the rest of both teams will be left to tip the balance. I think the Blazers can hide Brandon Roy too easily on defense, which lets him stay on the court long enough to cause a problem. I think Wallace and Batum may only hinder Nowitzki, but they’re capable of significantly limiting Marion. I think that there is a distinct possibility that the Mavs win this series, but there are just too many concerns to consider it the most likely outcome.

The Mavs are the better team in this series. Sometimes that just isn’t enough.

Here’s to hoping I’m wrong.

The Difference: Portland Trailblazers 104, Dallas Mavericks 96

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 4, 2011 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas88.0109.155.027.115.214.8
Portland118.256.828.812.512.5

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

  • First things first: this game was neither as close as the final score suggests, nor is it the end of the world. It’s one game in a season, albeit a slightly troubling one given the Mavs’ current slope. If Dallas was exhausted after a nine-day, six-game road trip (a doozie even by standards of the typically rigorous NBA regular season schedule), they sure looked it. Maybe their effort — irrelevant of scheduling — just wasn’t there. Maybe this was just “one of those games.” All we know is that the Mavs didn’t have it in them to play 48 minutes of coherent basketball, and that is never a good thing. Assume whatever you’d like about these Mavs and their effort level, but the best they could do in Sunday’s game was tread water.
  • Dirk Nowitzki’s (16 points, 5-12 FG, five rebounds) impact was suppressed, Jason Terry (four points, 1-6 FG) was absolutely bottled, and Jason Kidd (0-6 FG, four assists, two turnovers) was utterly useless in orchestrating the offense. Yet in the game’s final balance, it was still Dallas’ D that caused the biggest problems. The ease with which the Blazers were able to cut to the rim and the brutal effectiveness of basic drive-and-kick action are far more troubling than any Maverick player failing to make shots. Everything looked easy for the Blazers, and while that’s a testament to the talented, productive crew on Portland’s roster, it also helps when uncontested drives to the rim, frequent trips to the foul line, and open three-pointers are common results of simple play execution.
  • On a related note: If the Mavs had a fatal flaw in Sunday’s game, it was their transition defense. Not only did Dallas’ defenders not pick up the ball-handler early enough in each transition sequence, but the lack of effort in getting back on defense overall was startling. I don’t think Gerald Wallace (19 points, 8-10 FG, eight rebounds, three assists, three steals, three turnovers) minded much, but the Mavs’ reluctance to defend the transition game without even the slightest competence should keep Rick Carlisle up at night.
  • Of all of Portland’s killer runs, the most painful had to be a back-breaking 7-0 sprint just after the Mavs had scored eight straight to cut their deficit to 13 with six minutes remaining. Climbing out of a 13-point hole in six minutes is improbable, sure, but the Blazers made it impossible with a swift response that put the game completely out of reach.
  • Shawn Marion (19 points, 8-11 FG, five rebounds) was terrific. He slid into open space, created lanes to receive passes, and generated quality attempts. He seemed to be clicking on a level that the rest of the Mavs simply couldn’t access, in large part due to an energy that far exceeded that of any of his teammates. Shawn Marion was the best Maverick on the floor on Sunday, and while that’s terrific in its own way, in this case the gulf between Marion and his teammates was created by both parties.
  • Brendan Haywood (five points, 11 rebounds, three offensive boards) was able to play strong individual defense on LaMarcus Aldridge (18 points, 9-17 FG, eight rebounds), who has become something of a terror for the Mavs and the league at large. No Mav — including Haywood — rotated well in order to establish a successful team concept on defense, but if nothing else, we know that Haywood can provide the length and size necessary to curtail Aldridge’s production should these teams meet in a playoff series. Tyson Chandler sat this one out to nurse a minor back injury, but Haywood showed well in his stead by sticking Aldridge and picking up a ton of boards.
  • Rodrigue Beaubois (18 points, 6-12 FG, four assists, two turnovers) is in an odd position. For the relevant minutes he played in last night’s game (read: before garbage time), I thought Beaubois played well on the offensive end. Picked up too many fouls on D by playing as young players so often do (biting on pump fakes, hand-checking Brandon Roy, etc.), but he did well as a shot-creator with the ball in his hands. The only problem was that both Beaubois and his teammates missed some very makeable shots. Missed opportunities have a way of making a stat line go sour, and though Beaubois was able to throw up nine points in a hurry with the game more or less decided, I think some will still — wrongfully — see this game as further proof of some alleged unreliability. I don’t buy it, and frankly, I don’t buy a lot of the oddly negative evaluations of Beaubois’ play this season. More on that later.
  • J.J. Barea (12 points, 5-10 FG, three assists, two turnovers) did a terrific job of giving the Mavs a scoring punch in limited minutes, but there’s also a reason that his raw plus-minus was a -1 for the night in spite of his offensive production. Barea is perhaps most emblematic of the specific problems that this Portland team causes from a matchup perspective; between Andre Miller, Wesley Matthews, Brandon Roy, and Rudy Fernandez, the Mavs’ backcourt is undersized at almost every turn. To make matters worse: Miller, Matthews, and Roy understand how to exploit their size advantage on drives and down on the block, which puts a pretty unique pressure on the Mavs’ defense when Dallas trots out smaller lineups. There is no Blazer regular whom Barea can reasonably be expected to defend, and yet Dallas still needs him on the court for his dribble penetration. Should be interesting to see what happens with the Blazer guards should these teams meet in a playoff series.

The Difference: Portland Trailblazers 104, Dallas Mavericks 101

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 16, 2011 under Recaps | 4 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas82.0123.266.417.924.018.3
Portland126.850.621.235.78.5

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

  • Losing a game like this one is undoubtedly rough on the Mavs, but we’re fortunate enough to be on the side of the fence for which losses don’t mean everything. Take a minute to appreciate just how spectacular of a contest this was. I know some would be happier with winning ugly, but there’s something to be said about the aesthetic worth of beautiful basketball. This was a wonderfully executed game by both teams, as Portland matched Dallas’ consistent machinations with flurries of highlight reel plays, and the two clubs combined for 49 assists. Those only interested in win-loss outcomes won’t see this game for what it really is, but this really was a remarkably entertaining 48 minutes.
  • Those looking to blame the Mavs’ defense for this loss aren’t entirely correct. The Blazers did score at a rate of 126.8 points per 100 possessions, which is a less than spectacular mark. However, they also posted just a 50.6% effective field goal percentage, which hovers right around the league average. Dallas actually did well in contesting and challenging shots, but broke down in other areas; defensive rebounding was a clear issue, and the Mavs’ frequent turnovers fueled the Blazers’ offense and put them in a position of advantage. Portland picked up 15 boards in an 82-possession game, and their offensive rebounding rate for this game outpaced the season average for the league’s most prolific rebounding teams. Dallas did the same with their rush of turnovers, as their 15 giveaways in such a slow game put them a step above/below the rest of the league. Dallas still orchestrated beautifully when those passes connected, but there should be little doubt that their aggressiveness in forcing play action ended up being part of their downfall. It would have been great if LaMarcus Aldridge (30 points, 13-25 FG, eight assists) and Brandon Roy (21 points, 9-17 FG) didn’t have such productive offensive games, but its not as if either player was really defended all that poorly. It’s surely not a landmark defensive showing for Dallas, but not quite a spectacular failure, either.
  • There were a handful of incredibly productive offensive players for Dallas — from Dirk Nowitzki and his 28 points on 14 shots, to Jason Kidd and his 14 assists, to Shawn Marion’s sweet cuts to the bucket for 18 — but Rodrigue Beaubois (16 points, 6-8 FG, 4-6 3FG, four assists) impressed me most. He looked incredibly comfortable finding his teammates, which should excite everyone who sees Beaubois as the future initiator of the Maverick offense. Beaubois made the kinds of passes you’d expect of a player who had spent an entire season developing chemistry with his teammates, not a second-year guard who spent most of the season on the shelf and is prone to questionable passing decisions. Plus, this was one of the finest defensive performances of Beaubois’ career, as he completely shackled Andre Miller (eight points, 2-9 FG, four assists). Beaubois got caught in the air once on a pump fake, but other than that minor slip-up, his D was incredible. I shouldn’t need to remind anyone that Miller is capable of giving the Mavs fits, and having a starter capable of defending him allowed Dallas to avoid all kinds of inconvenient cross-matching and lineup shuffling.