You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
Based on the final score, you should immediately be able to tell two things about last night’s game: neither team was particularly proficient offensively with their stars sidelined by injury, and the pace was insanely slow. I wouldn’t expect a game between Portland (the league’s slowest team) and Dallas (the league’s eighth slowest team) to break out into a foot race, but this particular game progressed even more slowly than it first appeared. 80 possessions? That’s an insanely — and impressively, really — low pace number for a game, even by the Blazers’ standards. Both teams worked and worked and worked for good looks, but they rarely came. That didn’t make for the prettiest of contests, but it’s good to see teams at least attempt to replace execution with effort. Dallas’ offense isn’t going to operate normally without Dirk Nowitzki or Caron Butler (much less Rodrigue Beaubois) steering possessions along, and the same is true for Portland’s sets without Brandon Roy. Neither team is currently equipped for dominance, but they fought for rebounds and control throughout. It wasn’t the most aesthetically brilliant game you’ll see this season (or probably even that night; the Knicks and Spurs had a fun no-defense affair in NYC), but it’s easily appreciated for what it was.
DeShawn Stevenson (18 points, 4-9 3FG, three rebounds, two assists) and Tyson Chandler (14 points, 7-9 FG, 13 rebounds) are the unexpected offensive heroes of the Mavs’ latest successes. Stevenson was again money from three-point range, but his willingness to surrender his footing in order to drive or step in still surprises me. In a fully-functioning Mavs offense, Stevenson is a spot-up shooter and little else, but in a pinch, he can handle the ball a bit, make smart, well-timed passes, and draw fouls. Chandler’s production wasn’t anything we haven’t seen before, just an impressive effort on the offensive glass (where Tyson grabbed six of his 13 boards) and a continued excellence in filling open space around the rim. Chandler doesn’t float or wander, he’s always moving with an intent to do something. That may not be a part of the scouting report on TC, but it’s a notable aspect of his game that some bigs would be wise to emulate.
Defensive rebounding was very nearly a back-breaker. The Mavs must be better in boxing out shooters and other offensive players. Portland only barely topped Dallas in offensive rebounding percentage, but Marcus Camby (five offensive boards), LaMarcus Aldridge (three), Nicolas Batum (three), and even Andre Miller (two) scored second and third and fourth opportunities for their team, maximizing each trip down the floor. Had Wes Matthews or the Portland reserves played just a bit better, Dallas would have been nudged out in the fourth. Instead, the Mavs got just enough defensive rebounds to take the lead and Jason Terry scored 12 points (on 5-8 FG) to go along with two assists and two rebounds in the fourth quarter to secure it. The Mavs should take a win any way they can get it at the moment, but one would expect the rebounding on the defensive end to be just a bit better, no?
You know the drill. The Difference is a quick-hitting (or in this case, day after) reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
Dallas really made an effort to lose this game in the second half, but Dirk Nowitzki (21 points, 7-14 FG, five rebounds, three assists, three steals, two blocks, three turnovers) was having none of it. 12 fourth-quarter points for Dirk, including all four of the Mavs’ field goals in the game’s last two minutes. Nothing fancy, unless you still think a seven-footer shooting fading/leaning turnaround jumpers from all over the court is somehow unusual.
Just days after Andrew Bogut scored 21 points on 12 shots while grabbing 14 rebounds against the Mavs, LaMarcus Aldridge put up 35 points (14-26 FG) and notched 10 boards against Tyson Chandler, Dirk Nowitzki, and Brendan Haywood. Not to oversimplify things, but this seems to be a bit of a problem. Aldridge was quite impressive. He’s made a career out of thriving both inside and out, but Aldridge completed a variety of athletic plays that were remarkable even for a player with his talent and pedigree. Among them: this emphatic put-back (video courtesy of Ben Golliver of Blazersedge).
Nowitzki brought his usual heroics, but Caron Butler (23 points, 10-19 FG, seven rebounds, four assists) was surprisingly the Mavs’ most consistent scorer. Butler pump-faked away some possessions in his usual fashion, but for the most part, Caron drove and chose his shots wisely, working his way into a rhythm before outright carrying the Mavs in the third quarter. Dallas’ offense wasn’t exactly reliable, and Butler’s 11 points during a pretty volatile time were basketball godsend for the Mavs. I don’t know what got into Caron Butler, but this Caron should be no stranger to the AAC.
The Mavs still can’t hold onto a lead, but I always wonder if that should really merit legitimate concern. It sounds damning; after all, if good teams are marked by their high point differentials and the Mavs can’t seem to protect their sizable leads, it doesn’t exactly speak to high quality. That said — and I hope to say this without advocating some kind of “any win is a good win” evaluative framework — there’s still some merit to this kind of execution, even if it isn’t consistent throughout the game. It’s not a perfect win, but I’m not sure it’s worthy of an asterisk, either.
The first quarter was a pretty depressing basketball exhibition. On a national broadcast, the Mavs scored at a rate of just 80 points per 100 possessions (a mark which qualifies as mind-numbingly awful) in the game’s first 12 minutes, and the Blazers followed along by scoring at a rate of 75 points per 100 possessions (a mark which skips through the mind-numbing stage and goes straight for the excruciating pain). Portland registered an effective field goal percentage of 28%. The Mavs allowed the Blazers to grab 33.3% of their misses for offensive boards. Not exactly a worthy basketball showcase, but luckily they game took an upward turn over the final three quarters.
“No object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.”
This was a hideous game. The Mavs and Blazers are both top 10 teams in offensive efficiency, and yet last night neither team could score at a rate higher than 95.4 points per 100 possessions. Dallas shot .338 from the field compared to Portland’s .364 and won. Erick Dampier and Eddie Najera were the only Mavs to at least 50% from the field, and both went 1-for-2. It was physical, it was intense, and the officiating was pretty horrible. Neither team was given the whistles they deserved, and the Rose Garden was within inches of completely imploding. But you know what? The Mavs looked like the veteran team they are, and they kept playing. Dirk Nowitzki is brutally persistent in his complaints to the officials on some nights, but yesterday it was the Blazers that couldn’t stop yapping to the officiating crew (Brandon Roy, Andre Miller, and Nate McMillan were given techs for precisely this reason). While Dallas was ineffective on offense, Portland looked rattled. Not a bad thing to see from this team as they’re closing in on the playoffs.
The Blazers were ice cold for long stretches of this game, but the Mavs didn’t make anything easy for the Portland offense. In terms of the Mavs’ ability to rotate, contest shots, and protect the rim, this was one of the Mavs’ more impressive efforts. I would never expect to say something like that after a game that Shawn Marion missed due to injury, but the Mavs’ defense on Brandon Roy (13 points, 4-14 FG, eight rebounds, six assists) was pretty impressive; Caron Butler (18 points, 6-16 FG, seven rebounds) offered a physical, aggressive counter, and the Mavs’ double teams didn’t leave the weak side exposed as they did in these two teams’ previous meetings. Brendan Haywood also did a pretty good job playing man defense on LaMarcus Aldridge (27 points, 9-20 FG, five rebounds, three blocks), even if LMA still had a very productive scoring night by hitting tough shots and running the floor.
Jason Kidd had an interesting night. By most measures, this game was an abject failure for Kidd; many of his passes were errant (four turnovers to just six assists), he didn’t provide much scoring at all (just two points), and the offense he’s paid to run was woefully inefficient. There is one number on his stat line that should pop out, though: 12 rebounds. Team rebounding was so important in this game, and Kidd played a huge role in gathering the plethora of misses on both ends. The Mavs didn’t dominate the rebounding column, but they still deserve some credit for their effort on the glass. It may not seem like much, but Kidd pulling down a rebound in traffic, Caron Butler fighting for a second opportunity on the offensive boards, and J.J. Barea sprinting in to secure a defensive rebound — these are plays that matter. In a high-intensity contest, each of those plays does wonders in terms of establishing, retaining, or denying momentum, which matters even more when baskets are tough to come by.
What can I even say about Dirk Nowitzki at this point in the season that I haven’t already said a million times before? He was terrific, and though he missed plenty of good looks (he was a horrible, terrible, no-good, very bad 11-of-24 from the field), he more than made up for those misses with his frequent trips to the free throw line. 40 points on 24 shots is pretty insane no matter how you slice it, but that mark is even more impressive thanks to how badly the rest of the offense performed by comparison. Nowitzki had nearly half of the Mavs’ total points. Think about that.
Another start for DeShawn Stevenson, but he again he didn’t play all that much. He only collected two rebounds and score no points in nearly 17 minutes, but his greatest value was in defending Brandon Roy early in the game. He was hardly spectacular, but he held down the fort until Butler was switched onto Roy later.
If it hasn’t been made abundantly clear in recent weeks, Eddie Najera has clear value to this team. With 1:07 seconds to go in the first quarter, Najera played the irritant, and stood in Juwan Howard’s path as Howard started to run back down the court after a Maverick basket. Juwan extended his arm, Najera hit the ground, offensive foul. Hardly the most honorable move, but getting under opponents’ skin is something that Eddie does extraordinarily well. His stat line will show up empty aside from his three points, but even that three-pointer was a go-ahead bucket that sank the Blazers just as they looked to be figuring things out.
Jason Terry (12 points, two assists) did not shoot very well from the floor (3-of-9, 1-of-3 from three-point range), but to his credit he got to the line eight times. Some of those attempts were off of technical fouls, but that doesn’t change the fact that JET was more aggressive in going to the hoop when his shot clearly wasn’t going to be kind to him.
Rudy Fernandez () didn’t score in great volume, but his three three-pointers were much like Najera’s: they were far more impactful than a few ticks on the scoreboard. Fernandez has had a very weird season, with his shooting stroke, his ambiguous role on the team, and injury mucking up what could have been a very successful year. It’s good to see at least his health and his shooting going his way, even if there’s lingering uncertainty between Rudy and the team over his place with the Blazers.
J.J. Barea (zero points 0-5 FG, two rebounds, one assist) played nearly 11 minutes, but the Mavs didn’t give Jason Kidd enough of a break for any of the Mavs’ point guards to take a significant turn at running the show. Rodrigue Beaubois: DNP-CD.
Brendan Haywood’s performance was much better than the six points and four rebounds he ended up with. He boxed out well even if he wasn’t the man to collect the rebound, he challenged shots inside and altered layups due to his rotation, and he got to the foul line a few times by putting pressure on the Blazers’ bigs. This one won’t go on his resume or in his highlight reel, but it was still a fairly effective night for Brendan.
A point that came up in the comments yesterday and in Eddie Sefko’s mailbag: if back-up point guard is a problem for the Mavs with Barea and assuming Beaubois isn’t the answer, why not go to Jason Terry? If we’re moving around pieces on paper, it makes sense. I thought Terry did a nice job as the Mavs’ full-time point guard, and this would be a similar role but scaled back in minutes. It also opens up more minutes at the 2 for Roddy Beaubois, with the cost being the complete marginalization of J.J. Barea. I’m sure plenty of Mavs fans would not be opposed to that. Some concerns though: Terry hasn’t been a real point guard for years, and even though he can and will distribute on occasion, it hasn’t been his in-game mindset for quite some time now. Plus, in terms of his familiarity with the playbook, Terry knows the Mavs’ sets as the 2. He’d have to go back to basics if he were to take over as a point.
Positions that worry the Mavs defensively: PG, SG, PF. No problem with SF and C, though, which has been the story all season with Shawn Marion, Erick Dampier, and Brendan Haywood putting forth some solid defensive performances. Extra credit – notice anything about the Mavs’ problem areas and the Blazers’ top performers last night?
Dave of Blazers Edge: “Portland didn’t let the Dallas runs throw them. They didn’t settle for a ton of bad shots. They never lost their poise. They took advantage of their advantages, which sounds circular but as year-long viewers will know it’s something the Blazers have struggled to do this season. They rolled the dice with the No-No Nowitzki strategy, stuck to it, and it worked. It was just a nice game. Finally.”
You can see Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd’s locker room availability here, as well as Q&A with Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Nate McMillan.
“I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.”
Road teams face an uphill battle. The Mavs perform better away from home than most teams in the league, but that doesn’t necessarily make each individual contest any easier. They face the same struggles, from the travel to the unfamiliar accommodations, to the fans and the officials. Home court matters in the NBA, which makes it all the more important for a team to bring their A game along for a road trip.
This wasn’t quite the Mavs’ A game. Probably a C+ game. The first half was plagued by flawed defensive strategy, and the finale by poor execution. The Mavs’ strength is supposedly their ability to execute in spite of their opposition, but they looked absolutely flustered under the pressure of the Blazers’ defense. The free throw differential was substantial, Dirk Nowitzki (15 points on 5-of-13 shooting, seven rebounds) had an off night, the Blazers looked to be in complete control, and the Mavs were in complete offensive disarray.
Yet with four minutes left, the Mavs found themselves trailing by just eight. Thanks to some hot shooting from the perimeter, the zone defense, and a fellow named Caron Butler (25 points, 11-19 FG, nine rebounds, two steals), Dallas was poised to make a serious run at this game with ample time to pull out a win.
They didn’t. They folded. The defense surrendered open looks to Brandon Roy (16 points, 5-7 FG, seven assists, four rebounds) and Andre Miller (19 points, 10 assists, three steals). Any hopes that the Mavs could somehow walk away with a win when they had no business doing so was shattered on the Rose Garden floor. This game might as well be the Mavs’ “Almost Got ‘Em“; they had a chance to play the bad guys before an incredibly vocal crowd, but right when Portland looked its most vulnerable, an unexpected turn put the Mavs on their backs. The problem with biding time before making a big run on the road is that it’s essentially a one shot proposition. Once the Mavs took their shot — which fell quite a bit short, given the Blazers’ ability to best them on both ends — even the illusion of drama was wiped from the game entirely.
I think we’ve officially reached the point where the Mavs have developed a Blazer complex. The natural instinct when this team sees Brandon Roy is to overcompensate, mostly in fear of what opposing guards have been able to do to the Mavs in the past. That’s why Dallas was doubling Roy off of every screen, hurling another big defender at him to take him out of the game. It worked for Houston in last year’s playoffs (or at least the idea behind it did, evne if the Rockets didn’t execute in exactly the same way), and to an extent it makes sense. But Roy was able to exploit the pressure with smart, crisp passing, a big reason why the Mavs allowed Portland, a good offensive team but a slow offensive team, to put up 32 points in the first quarter.
Not to say that LaMarcus Aldridge (20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) didn’t play a part in that as well. Aldridge had 10 points in the first quarter on 5-of-8 shooting, coming off of turnaround jumpers, forays deep into the paint, and smart cuts. LaMarcus did more than just to play to his strengths in the first twelve minutes; he was utterly dominant.
But no one benefited more from the additional attention paid to Roy than Marcus Camby (17 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks), who helped to diversify the Blazers’ early offense with seven first quarter points. Camby is somewhat limited as an offensive threat. He has no back-to-the-basket game to speak of, and his points come almost exclusively off of offensive rebounds, assisted looks at the rim off of cuts, and mid-range jumpers. So shockingly, when the Mavs were throwing two defenders at Roy, who is one of the better playmaking 2 guards in the league, the ball wound up in the hands of an open man. That open man was often Camby, who was able to get his money’s worth early.
The Mavs were putting up points of their own, but there were early signs that the offense would struggle. Passing and play execution were major concerns in the first quarter, and it’s a slight wonder that the Mavs were able to put up 27 points in spite of those warning signs. Their struggles didn’t fully actualize until the second half, when Portland’s ability to throw a number of long, interchangeable defenders at the Mavs’ scorers was nothing short of smothering. There are certain Mavs games where every offensive possession makes you hold your breath, not because of some team-wide brilliance or a stunning individual performance, but because that single exhaled breath could push over a team resting on the edge. So many broken plays and lazy passes, and though the Blazers’ defense didn’t translate into a high number of turnovers (the Mavs finished with 11 for the game, 1.4 shy of their season average), it clearly limited the Mavs’ ability to execute.
Is it possible that after all those years of facing long, active defenders, the swarming long-armed flurry that broke the Mavs down in the 2007 playoffs is still giving Dallas problems? For this regular season game, it certainly seems so. One would only hope that a seven-game series would tell a different story.
The Mavs’ defense improved significantly in the second half, when they began to lean heavily on the zone. The catch-22 inherent to unconventional defensive schemes was painfully apparent: at some point, an opposing team’s continued exposure to a defense will enable them to beat it. Good teams will be able to solve and counter the zone in the playoffs, which is why stabilizing the Mavs’ rotations in man-to-man sets is so important. The zone can be a great addition to a team’s defensive arsenal, and it was just that for the Mavs last night. But once Aldridge starts working the high post, shooters space the floor, the offense overloads one particular side, or backdoor cutters start exposing the defense, it’s game over.
The Mavs needed to stop Andre Miller’s penetration because frankly, Kidd was a sieve. They needed a force in the paint to always defend the rim, because Aldridge and Camby were pulling the Mavs’ bigs out to the perimeter. You’ll hear no questions from me about why Carlisle opted to go zone because frankly, the results speak for themselves. The problem is that the man defense was so poor and has been so poor that Rick didn’t have much of a choice. With just ten games left before the playoffs begin, this should worry you.
This loss isn’t the end of the world for the Mavs, but it certainly hurts. Dallas hasn’t had a meaningful win since the first of the month (or perhaps longer, if you don’t respect the Bobcats), which is a product of soft scheduling and some disappointing play against stronger opponents. That needs to change, and the Mavs will have three tough opportunities (Denver, Orlando, and OKC, all at home) to get quality wins over the next eight days. These games matter, folks, and the Mavs are running out of time and excuses.
A weird game for Brendan Haywood (eight points, eight rebounds, four blocks, three turnovers). A times, he looked completely capable of dominating the Blazer bigs. No one on Portland’s roster is a strong on-ball post defender, and Haywood has the size and skill to take advantage of that. He showed that much with a nice baseline hook and a nifty up and under dunk. But he also was a complete liability in holding the ball, as he was stripped on numerous occasions by blind side help defenders.
On an individual level, Jason Kidd (11 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) didn’t have a terrible game. But considering that the the flow of the offense is his primary responsibility, this game was a complete failure for Kidd. The blame obviously doesn’t rest solely on his shoulders, but if Kidd’s value comes in the intangibles and having a steadying influence on the offense, this was one his poorest performances of the season.
9-of-22 shooting from beyond the arc? Yes please, I’ll have another. Just nine free throw attempts? Please, sir, I’d like some more.
Is there any basketball team on the planet that couldn’t use a Nicolas Batum? Anyone know where the Mavs might be able to buy one?
The Mavs are not going to win many games where Dirk and JET combine for 9-of-27 shooting, and the only reason Dallas was even competitive offensively was due to spot production across the board, Caron Butler, and Shawn Marion (15 points, 7-12 FG, four rebounds).
Ben Golliver of Blazers Edge should need no introduction to hardcore hoops fans, but he posted an item of particular interest to Mavs fans in light of tonight’s game between Dallas and Portland. Much of Ben’s report from the Blazers’ practice on Wednesday — and much of the observable portion of practice, from his indications — was spent discussing how to best defend Dirk Nowitzki:
Obviously any defensive scheme against a player of Dirk’s caliber is a “pick your poison” affair. When Dirk receives the ball with back to the basket in the mid post, LaMarcus Aldridge was instructed to get up into his body with the express purpose of making Dirk use his dribble while his back was still to the basket. The theory is simple: Cut down Dirk’s potential options when he turns and faces. More than just about anyone in the NBA, Dirk has the ability to be a deadly triple threat while facing the hoop: he can shoot over the top, drive either direction off the bounce or read the defense and pass instantly. The Blazers seemingly would prefer Dirk not to be able to turn and face with his dribble intact and would rather take their chances with him dribbling into the key with his back to the basket. Interestingly, Aldridge was also instructed not to show Dirk either direction in the post but to simply play him square. That shows a respect factor for Dirk’s ability to turn and shoot over either shoulder. Something to watch tomorrow: How well does Aldridge execute this portion of the game plan? How easy and often is Dirk able to turn with his dribble intact? How diligent and careful is Aldridge in bodying Nowitzki without fouling?
“Success is never final; failure is never fatal.”
If I didn’t know better, I’d suspect that the Mavs were simply fated to lose last night. It was an event eons in the making, and as all the planets aligned and all of the matter in the cosmos was just so. And then, through a nearly infinite number of events all happening in perfect sequence, the Mavs’ weaknesses were brought forth in four dimensions for all the world to see.
But I do know better, if only a little bit, which is why I can tell you this: even though the Mavs failed in multiple basketball dimensions last night, their coincidence was nearing on aberration. It was almost comical how many of their flaws the Mavs chose to expose, and though the final margin was not only delightfully close but decidedly winnable, there likely does not exist a light that illuminates last night’s offensive performance as anything deserving of praise.
There were bright spots, sure. But first let’s dwell on exactly what ails the Mavs. For one, the Maverick offense remains overly dependent on the scoring of Dirk Nowitzki. To his credit, Dirk came through (27 points on 10 of 13 shooting, albeit with six turnovers), despite the lingering pain and discomfort that goes along with ramming your elbow full speed into Carl Landry’s mouth. It was enough to keep Dirk out of the game entirely on Sunday, but Dirk’s jumper looked clean and healthy against the Blazers. The turnovers are certainly unusual, but given the rest of the team’s struggles on offense and the extra attention afforded to Nowitzki as a result, the true wonder is that it wasn’t any worse. Dirk has had to carry the Mavs on plenty of nights during his career, but rarely has a Dallas outfit looked so terribly hollow on offense.
J.J. Barea (22 points, 9-16 FG, five assists, two turnovers) was again indispensable, if only because the rest of the team combined to shot a woeful 23.5% (12-51 FG) from the field. Shawn Marion (0 points, 0-7 FG, six rebounds, two turnovers) had quite possibly his worst offensive game as a Maverick, almost to prove a point: Marion’s offense is a supplementary piece, a table setting to make that steak dinner more enjoyable without lending anything at all to its creation. He’s not going to carry the load, that much we know. He’s really in Dallas for his defense, after all, and his offensive contributions are meant to keep opposing defenses honest and take advantage of easy opportunities. Shawn was able to achieve none of the above, as his runners and layups alike all met rim in the most unfriendly of ways.
And Jason Terry (eight points, 2-13 FG, four assists, one turnover)? His struggles continue to destroy the Maverick offense from within. So much of the offense is predicated on Dirk and Terry exploiting mismatches, be it through the pick and roll or forcing switches through other means. They’re supposed to be the Mavs’ best offensive options, but so far, only Dirk is playing the part. JET is in the middle of an absolutely brutal shooting slump, which leaves him with little on-court purpose aside from playing the part of the decoy. There are other options that can defend, pass, and rebound better than Terry, and frankly, several of them could shoot better than him right now, too. Without his scoring, JET’s role on the team (and as a primary in the rotation) becomes debatable, and though I honestly believe Terry’s struggles to be a freak occurrence rather than a flaw in approach, someone needs to figure out how to curtail this drop-off and fast. It may not be the difference between a win and a loss every night, but it’s not far off.
Josh Howard (eight points, two rebounds, one assist) was a bit of a non-factor in a game that could’ve used one, and Drew Gooden (five points, 2-7 FG, six rebounds) reminded us all that missing shots within ten feet of the basket is a fine art. The depth that had buoyed Dallas against Cleveland was nowhere to be found, as an entire team’s worth of offense was was made the sole responsibility of a certain seven foot star and a pint-sized role player. There was no balance there, no versatility there, and on a night where nothing is going right, that really, really hurts.
And while you may notice that most of my criticisms dwell on one of the court rather than the other, make note that it’s no coincidence: the Mavs’ defense this year has been terrific, and for perhaps the first time in franchise history, it’s been the offense that has struggled to keep pace. LaMarcus Aldridge (19 points, 9-16 FG, 12 rebounds) was very effective from just about everywhere on the floor, but many of his baskets were simply a case of ‘Good D, Better O.’ That’s the kind of thing you have to live with in the NBA, as the world’s premier scorers are simply waiting for an opportunity to light your team up. If 19 points in 45 minutes from Aldridge is the brunt of that, then give yourselves a round of applause and call it a defensive victory. Brandon Roy may have scored 23, but he only shot 36.8%. And even then, the Mavs needn’t be upset by holding Roy to a mortal scoring output, especially considering the lockdown they did on the rest of Portland’s role players (the rest of the Blazers shot just 36.3% from the field).
But it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to hold the Blazers to 93.4 points per 100 possessions (a full 12 points below their season average), because every Maverick offensive weakness wanted its chance in the spotlight and got its wish:
The Mavs continue to struggle at home, where they can neither close out teams convincingly nor create mid-game separation.
They still rely far too much on the big gun, as Dirk’s expected to not only put the Mavs in a position to win, but make every big shot when everything is on the line.
Option B continues to struggle to score, and in his frustration, JET blew the Mavs’ final attempt to tie the game with eight seconds remaining by forcing up a difficult, contested layup. The Mavs still had timeouts.
The Mavs’ typical contributors could not finish around the rim. Marion’s troubles may have been more pronounced, but Gooden blew plenty of opportunities near the basket against power forwards masquerading as centers. I guess that may not mean much when juxtaposed next to power-forward-masquerading-as-center Drew Gooden, but ideally it would.
The offense was stagnant. With everyone’s confidence wrecked, Dallas devolved into a group of stand-still jump shooters, and while the midrange game may still be the weapon of choice for the Mavs, those shots need to come off open looks created by cuts, picks, and passes.
But if you’ll allow me that single bit of optimism that I never thought I’d have: the Mavs had a chance to win this one. A Dirk Nowitzki jumper went in and out with 38 seconds remaining, and what was perhaps a bit of bad judgment from Jason Terry is all that stood in the way of the defense securing yet another win. Dirk and Barea were essentially the only two parts of the offense that didn’t buckle, and still the Mavs were within a breath of forcing overtime. Who knows where the game goes from there, but it’s nice to know that in spite of all the reasons to be disappointed with the Mavs’ performances this season, their defense always seems to be a positive. It regularly puts them in a position to win games if it doesn’t win them outright. Though I still get headaches from watching the offense, it’s that kind of silver lining that can make a tough loss a bit more digestible.
Mega bummer for the Blazers, who have likely lost Joel Przybilla for the season. Portland is a fun team and a model organization, and it’s just terrible that sometimes, bad things happen to good franchises. After all they’ve been through with Greg Oden, the Blazers certainly don’t deserve it. But here we are, and we’ll have to see where Kevin Pritchard is willing to take this roster to accommodate its need for big men in 2009-2010.
The Cavaliers and the Blazers both seemed content to leave J.J. Barea open at the 3-point line, mostly as a way of combating his speed. It’s a strategic compromise, and my only hope is that J.J. can continue to improve his shooting stroke and capitalize like he did last night (3 of 4 from beyond the arc).
The Mavs scored 14 points in the first quarter and 33 points in the first half. Both were their lowest such totals all season long.
There was a pretty strange sequence in the third quarter, as Juwan Howard committed a flagrant foul on J.J. Barea…but Barea sunk the basket. As a result, he was afforded two chances to make one free throw, which effectively gave the Mavs a three-point play and control of the ball.
I really shorted the Blazers their due in this recap, but they deserve plenty of credit. They played some nice D against the Mavs, and came up with just enough to win in spite of losing Przybilla. It’s understandably a big win for Portland given the circumstances, and deservedly so.
The Mavs actually led after three thanks to a 32-point third quarter, but forked over the lead behind a 16-point fourth quarter effort. Yuck.
Dirk wore a giant pad on his elbow to protect his favorite new scar. It didn’t seem to hinder his shot much at all.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
-Leonardo da Vinci
The Mavs are going to win the NBA title this year.
Okay, not really, but back-to-back road wins over solid Western Conference teams is a welcome contrast to the Mavs’ recent road woes. They walked into the Rose Garden, took everything they wanted on the offensive end, put together a solid defensive performance, and showed tremendous testicular fortitude as they vanquished the Blazers (who the Mavs have beaten all three times this season) and what remained of their inner demons.
Part of me wants to cheapen this win. The voice in my head is telling me “Well pffft, any team can win if they make their jumpshots and play half-decent defense.” This is entirely true, and the Mavs haven’t had much trouble winning when they actually do those two things. Unfortunately, the defense tends to come and go with the shooting. But you know what? This one counts, and it counts big. The Mavs weren’t killing the Blazers’ playoff chances like they did to the Suns the night before, but they also implode when faced with adversity and low expectations. Myself and countless others hoped for a win in Portland, but generally resigned ourselves to the fact that the Mavs might go out and lay an egg. It was the second night of a back-to-back, they played an awfully good Portland team that has been ridiculously good at home lately, and when the Blazers offered some resistance in the second half, the Mavs had every reason to fold. They were on tired legs, and again, no one was scoring outside of Dirk and Terry. But they stood their ground, and as a team the Mavs came up huge. Dirk and and JET took and made all the big shots, but the impact of players like Erick Dampier, Antoine Wright, and whoever invented the zone defense cannot be discounted.
So much of what the Mavs were able to accomplish in this game hinged on their play in the first and third quarters, which have been the most troublesome all season. They started things off well, and though they were down one at the end of the first, it was evident that this was the Mavs’ game. The Blazers made their runs and had their chances, but it was a Maverick world and they were just temporarily leasing in it. The third quarter, in which the Mavs typically implode on their way to a double-digit loss, instead had the Mavs standing their ground against a Blazer resurgence. The storm was weathered, the Mavs bounced back, and the day was won. Huzzah!
Dirk, you got it goin’ on.
The Blazers don’t have anyone that matches up well with Dirk. LaMarcus Aldridge would seem to be a good choice in theory, but somewhere between ‘good, tall defender with reasonably quick feet’ and ‘actually keeping Dirk from doing whatever he wants’, Aldridge falters. To be honest, I’m not even sure I can put a finger on it. Even the plays where Aldridge does a commendable job at making Dirk’s life difficult, Nowitzki just launches an awkward, off-balance jumper (for Dirk, is there any other kind?) over LaMarcus’ outstretched arms. Dirk didn’t quite match his production in Phoenix, but was every bit as brilliant with 29 points (13-24 FG), 10 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks, and just 2 turnovers. But take a look at that picture up top, and it tells you all you need to know: any time Dirk does his awesome reverse-popped-jersey-tug thing, something’s going very, very right. Up 2 with just a minute to play, Dirk hit a tough jumper with Aldridge in his face. Travis Outlaw made a layup down the middle of the broken zone, and Dirk iced the game with a foot-on-the-three-point-line jumper off the dish from Jason Terry.
Just for fun, take a look at Dirk’s shot chart from games against Portland this season (via NBA.com):
Yeah. I know.
Jason Terry (24 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 0 turnovers) was nearly as fantastic, and was in full effect. The Chris Paul-Tyson Chandler pick-and-roll may be terrifying in its own regard, but on nights like these I would hate to be an opposing fan watching Dirk and Terry go to work.
No recap of this game would be complete without mention of the zone. According to the Blazers’ broadcast team, Brandon Roy was “chugging Pepto” on the bench during several breaks in the action, and it showed. Without Roy’s usual assertiveness and penetration, the Blazers looked like a much more athletic, taller version of my intramural basketball team. Nate McMillan is a great coach, but he did not have the Blazers ready to face the zone. The Mavs went to it consistently in the second and fourth, and Portland just couldn’t get good looks.
Today, I was planning on writing a piece about the growing marginalization of Erick Dampier. Brandon Bass and James Singleton seemed on the up-and-up, and Ryan Hollins’ outburst against the Suns only made things worse for Damp. Then Dampier reminded me why we keep him around with 12 points, 9 rebounds, and a block, most of which was much more emphatic than I could put into type. The Blazers were focused on stopping the Mavs’ shooters and repeatedly forgot about Dampier in the middle. Four offensive rebounds and a handful of dunks later, I’m well aware of what Dampier can offer.
Jason Kidd, in typical Kidd fashion, finished with 10 rebounds, 10 assists, and just 7 points. That’s nice production, but his night wasn’t anything to write home about. A good night from Kidd, a decent job on Brandon Roy during the man-to-man stretches, and a near disaster averted when Antoine Wright corrected a Kidd mistake when Travis Outlaw managed to poke away Kidd’s dribble in crunch time.
As Dampier’s play increased, James Singleton and Ryan Hollins faded to the background; neither logged a single second of action. Not that Brandon Bass (10 points, 4 rebounds) helped. Carlisle went shallow with the rotation, only playing Terry, Bass, and Devean George off the bench. Devean George once again proved that he’s still Devean George, and that he’s always willing to foul players attacking the basket — but only when it’s too late and they actually make their attempts.
Barea started again in place of Josh Howard, and had his moments. Unfortunately, most of what he did well on the court was countered by his overaggressiveness. It comes with the territory with J.J., and he wouldn’t be where he is now if he wasn’t aggressive. Still, a little more control now and again couldn’t hurt, and he’d be much more useful in his role if he took off his blinders once in awhile.
The Mavs had just one turnover, and shot 51.% from the field in the first half. Wicked awesome.
Joel Przybilla had just about my favorite play in all of basketball: he went up for a block attempt on Jason Terry (I think), and instead of swatting the shot, just grabbed it out of the air. Terry’s runner may have already been tipped, but still.
J.J. Barea injured what appeared to be his left elbow, Devean George left the game with a knee injury, and the Blazers Nicolas Batum left the game with a shoulder strain.
The Blazers had won 12 consecutive home games before last night.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Jason Terry. As usual, Dirk probably deserves it, but in the name of spreading the love around, I’m throwing this one JET’s way. Terry had an excellent offensive night and was the ideal counterpart for Dirk. Bonus points for not forcing the issue on what would be the Mavs’ last field goal of the game, a good shot fake as the clock dwindled that opened up Dirk for a great look. Jason Terry, I raise my glass to you.
The Portland Trailblazers visit the Dallas Mavericks
How many jump shots does a jump shooting team have to jump shoot to define a jump shooting team as a jump shooting team?
It’s a valid question. And one that everyone should be asking themselves about the Blazers. Take a hard look up and down that roster. There’s a boatload of talent and promise galore, but you might also notice one small caveat: there isn’t a lot in the way of interior scoring. Greg Oden has his nights, and by “his nights” I mean the ones where he looks less like an animatronic T-Rex. Joel Przybilla is probably the best backup center in the game, but his offensive game is generally limited to putbacks and bunnies. But where a lot of public knowledge steers into the wrong is with LaMarcus Aldridge. In theory, a long, strong, 6’11” beast would be a killer pivot man. Don’t call him ‘soft,’ but Aldridge’s game is definitely of the face-up variety. He lingers in midrange, excelling in the supposed ‘lost art’ of the game (how that was ever considered a legitimate criticism of the league is beyond me). Dirk is 2nd in the league in 2-point jumpshot attempts percentage (it’s exactly what it sounds like: what percentage of a player’s attempts are 2-point jumpers) at 71%. LaMarcus Aldridge isn’t far behind, at #11 with 64%. Travis Outlaw and Brandon Roy, Portland’s other top shooters in terms of attempts, don’t share Aldridge’s lust for le jumpehr, but that doesn’t mean they are devoid of jumpshooting passion in their own rights.
So what separates the 2nd best offensive outfit in the league from the 9th? You’ve got a jumpshooting power forwards, offensively animatronic centers, and small forwards that have fallen in love with their shot…what exactly is missing from the equation that places the Mavs on one side and the Blazers on the other? The obvious difference lies at the guard positions. Jason Kidd gets the upper hand against Steve Blake, Sergio Rodriguez, and Jerryd Bayless, but Brandon Roy absolutely puts the Mavs 2 guard rotation to shame. Jason Kidd does things to help his team, but Brandon Roy is the team. If you want the basic element that limits the Mavs to this day and will eventually thrust the Blazers into championship contention, it’s scoring in the post. Interior scoring isn’t some mythical fourth quarter beast that a contender make, though. Rather, it’s the horse that you mount to get you through the rough stretches. Lucky for Portland, they have the third best post-up guard in the game. Kobe. Wade. Roy. That’s it. Meanwhile, the Mavs are twiddling their thumbs with Antoine Wright. It could be worse, but it’s not exactly the same.
Does Dirk’s way work? I think it can. Doesn’t hurt that he’s a unique beast. Is Roy’s way easier, even if it means lacking a true scoring big man? We’ll see.
Oh, and in the name of shameless self-promotion: I answered a few questions for the crew at Bust a Bucket for today’s game. Take a looksie if you dare.