The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 117, Houston Rockets 110

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 18, 2012 under Recaps | 7 Comments to Read

Screen Shot 2012-04-18 at 11.46.00 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas92.0127.258.932.926.311.7
Houston119.657.017.431.811.5

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

  • The strategic turn of the game came when the Mavericks — who had been torched by Houston’s perimeter shooting since the early stages of the first quarter — began switching on every pick and roll. The Rockets immediately looked to exploit that fact by involving Brandan Wright (four points, five rebounds) in mandatory switches and then looking to exploit him off the bounce, but Wright did a fantastic job of getting down into a defensive stance and rebuffing dribble penetration. Similarly, Jason Kidd (12 points, 4-7 3FG, eight assists, one turnover) was as brilliant in denying the post as can be expected; Kidd’s ability to handle defensive switches was a huge reason why Dallas was so effective in the Finals, and he was similarly crafty in his fronting of Patrick Patterson and Luis Scola in the fourth. Houston warily tried to attack what they initially perceived as created mismatches, only to fall back into a less aggressive offense and let Dallas switch without penalty.  (Additionally: Kidd may have began the game with some defensive lapses, but by the end he was in full-on throwback mode. His effort was pristine and the results spoke for themselves. Even with the postseason right around the corner, it would be hard to ask for anything more from Kidd.)
  • That said, Dallas’ defensive adjustment came a bit late, or at least their early defensive failures made it so. There were simply far too many conceded jumpers throughout the first three quarters, and unlike Monday’s game against the Jazz, there was no strategic reason to collapse into the middle and leave the perimeter exposed. Goran Dragic (20 points, 8-12 FG, 10 assists, six turnovers) and company initially played the screen game as aggressively as is their wont, and until Rick Carlisle toggled the Mavs into a switch-heavy set, Dallas seemed hopeless against Houston’s outside shooters. The Mavs had still managed to force a good number of turnovers with a swarming interior defense and shading of the passing lanes, but the paint needs to be defended without such a complete disregard for what lies beyond the arc.
  • Jason Terry’s (19 points, 6-11 FG, 3-6 3FG, three assists, four rebounds, three turnovers) annual rut is apparently well behind him; JET nearly topped 20 points for the third consecutive game, and legitimately altered the course of the contest with his on-court gravity. Even as Dallas’ third-leading scorer, Terry was something of a motivational center. He went on a self-propelled 10-0 run. He attempted to put some early punctuation on the game with an attempted slam. He scored and created and provided all the extracurriculars, as Dallas rallied behind his effort and enthusiasm. It’s not hard to find games in which the Mavericks move one way and Terry moves another, but this contest was marked by their perfect symbiosis.

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 90, Houston Rockets 81

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 28, 2012 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

Screen Shot 2012-03-28 at 10.30.25 AM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

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

  • Hopefully we can all look back at this game as the moment when everything turned around for Lamar Odom. The man donned a headband and everything changed; within seconds of coming into the game, Odom drove into the paint to set up Vince Carter with an open three, then made a huge block on the other end. A few possessions later, he forced the issue in semi-transition to create an open driving lane. This simply wasn’t the Odom we’ve sadly grown accustomed to watching this season (or that some have been accustomed to booing). He sprinted. He dunked. He defended. He was an excellent drive-and-kick shot creator. He was Lamar Odom, and in his best 23 minutes of the season, he reminded us all just how constructive of a force he can be.
  • Luis Scola was a mad man in the first half; he dropped 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting in almost 18 first-half minutes, and seemed to thrive regardless of whether his shots were contested or not. But in the second half, the Mavericks were more diligent in their defense, and the Rockets backed off a bit; Houston was understandably ready to go to Scola on possession after possession in the first half, but Ian Mahinmi seemed to make it his particular goal to challenge Scola’s jumper, and Jason Kidd roved to make things particularly difficult for him in the post. Sometimes that’s all it takes to throw a certain player — and in this case, an entire defense — off-rhythm.
  • This was also a fantastic outing for Rodrigue Beaubois, who has possibly never looked more committed to getting to the basket. At the urging of the Mavs’ coaching staff, Beaubois appears to have fully embraced J.J. Barea as his spirit animal; watch enough tape of Barea’s fearless drives, and eventually you start to wonder what you might be able to accomplish as a faster, longer, more athletic player. Last night we saw some of the results, as Beaubois attacked relentlessly off the dribble with the intent to score, and ended up creating easy buckets for both himself and his teammates.

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 98, Houston Rockets 91

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 12, 2011 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas102.096.148.221.714.619.6
Houston89.240.613.528.316.7

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

  • It’s probably a good thing that Jason Terry missed a potentially game-winning free throw with a second and a half remaining in regulation; Dallas had only played about 10 minutes of high-energy basketball up to that point, and for the sake of playoff readiness, an extra five minutes in which the Mavs were forced to run and rotate and execute certainly couldn’t hurt. The win still doesn’t excuse Dallas’ lethargy through the first three frames, but victories do have their own inherent worth, even if this one should and could have been significantly easier for the Mavs. I know there’s an element of mental fatigue involved when facing an opponent perceived to be inferior at this stage of the season — particularly an opponent missing two of its three best players — but Dallas has to be better at every turn. There are precious few tune-ups before the playoffs commence, and regardless of opponent, the Mavs can’t allow themselves to be convinced that this kind of effort is conducive to winning. Each empty victory may be nice for other reasons, but such games nonetheless condition Dallas to accept performances like this one, even when a comparable showing would surely result in a less favorable outcome against a playoff opponent. Tick tock, Mavs. Get it in gear.
  • Don’t let the defensive numbers fool you. Houston only scored at a rate of 89.2 points per 100 possessions, but Dallas’ D wavered from possession to possession, and looked particularly vulnerable to high post action executed by Chuck Hayes (10 points, 5-12 FG, 12 rebounds, four assists) and Brad Miller (12 points, 5-13 FG, eight rebounds, three assists). In its natural state, the Rockets’ offense is a beautiful thing; Rick Adelman’s system facilitates offensive flow like no other, and rewards hard cutting with smart passes. It’s the Mavs’ job to take the Rockets out of that natural element, and in that area they failed. The shooting and overall scoring numbers don’t reflect that, but Dallas’ defensive letdowns — many of which led to wide open layups and dunks — were pretty horrendous. The Mavs showcased the diametric opposite of their defensive struggles during the fourth quarter and overtime, but don’t overrate the significance of their clutchness; as nice as it was that Dallas finished strong, they should never have been in a situation where that was necessary.
  • Dirk Nowitzki (23 points, 8-22 FG, 12 rebounds, three assists) struggled with his shot a bit, but his jumper was the least of the Mavs’ offensive problems. For large portions of this game, Dallas had little or no offensive structure whatsoever. Some players wandered around the three-point line, but having bodies on the perimeter with others inside does not constitute spacing. Just…blech. Here’s to better days when the Mavs actually elect to run sets.
  • The offense wasn’t without that ever valuable silver lining, though. Shawn Marion (21 points, 10-14 FG, four rebounds, four assists, three turnovers) was the most efficient Mav by a considerable margin, despite the fact that he threw away two cross-court passes in the extra period. Marion on the left block is a credible offensive option, and a pretty interesting counter to Dirk’s operation on the opposite wing. (A quick aside: Marion also might be among the best in the league in his ability to discern shot fakes from legitimate attempts; Kevin Martin [28 points, 10-24 FG, 3-7 3FG, seven turnovers] is a wizard with the ball, but Marion stays on the floor and contests Martin’s shots without fouling as well as any wing defender out there.) Additionally, Jason Terry (21 points, 9-15 FG, four assists, six turnovers) had a lot of success driving to the basket, and fully exploited Houston’s lack of shot-blocking inside. Chuck Hayes is a fantastic post defender, but his options in rotation are limited by his height. Once Terry makes an aggressive move toward the rim, Hayes can contest the shot or try to maintain good position between JET and the rim, but he’s unable to put a lot of pressure on Terry’s attempt at its most vulnerable points.
  • Mavs fans have now witnessed the other side of Corey Brewer’s coin. The effort is always there for Brewer, but he played nine largely fruitless minutes. Nothing wrong with grabbing four boards (and his one offensive rebound was heavily contested), but Brewer just isn’t a consistent scoring threat. He’s skilled and works relentlessly on both ends, but Brewer isn’t productive enough to tip the scales nightly.
  • This definitely registers as a curiosity, but count me among those who hope to never hear about Terry’s possible miscalculation again. Honestly it doesn’t really matter to me if JET knew the score or didn’t. Awareness is certainly preferred, but he’s shooting to make free throws at that point, and I’m fairly positive he intended to make his second one. It’s a non-issue, really.
  • How Dallas struggles to rebound in a game like this one baffles me. Tyson Chandler is among the top rebounders in the league. Dirk Nowitzki has historically been a solid defensive rebounder, even if he doesn’t attack the offensive glass. Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd both do terrific work on the glass relative to their positions. Yet the Mavs allowed the Rockets to grab an offensive board on 28.3% of their rebounding opportunities, despite the fact that Chuck Hayes (16.3% total rebounding rate for the season) was Houston’s only decent rebounder on the court. Dallas typically does a decent job of securing defensive rebounds, but this won’t fly.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 101, Houston Rockets 91

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 29, 2010 under Recaps | Be the First to Comment

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

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot Chart — GameFlow

  • No back-handed compliments and no caveats: Caron Butler (19 points, 8-16 FG, zero turnovers) played well. Particularly, Butler did a terrific job of cutting and rotating in the half-court offense rather than parking on the wing and waiting for the ball. Such movement not only enables Butler to make a catch in transit on the way to the rim, but it also frees him up to take his favorite mid-range jumpers in a far more palatable setting. Butler is fine as a catch-and-shoot player, or in taking one dribble to step in for a shot. The trouble comes when Caron tries to create off the dribble in isolation, and by moving prior to receiving the ball, Butler is protecting himself from…well, himself.
  • Again, love the adjustments as the game went on. Houston was hitting threes and crashing the offensive boards in the first half, but both of those factors were ultimately rectified by the ebb of the Rockets’ shooting and a stronger presence on the defensive glass by the Mavs in the second half.
  • J.J. Barea (11 points, six assists, three rebounds) has looked fantastic driving to the bucket over the last few games, and he’s really using a combination of hesitation moves and patience to his advantage. By displaying a bit more discretion in both his shooting and playmaking, Barea makes the threat of his hesitation that much more potent, which of course further enables him to explode off the dribble and catch opponents off-guard.
  • Houston’s defense on Dirk Nowitzki (20 points, 10-16 FG, 10 rebounds, three turnovers, three blocks) ranged from excellent but futile (Luis Scola) to just plain misguided (Jordan Hill). Something tells me that letting Dirk face up and rise from mid-range without any kind of contest isn’t the way to curtail his scoring production.
  • The first quarter saw 10 of the game’s 17 lead changes. Houston led by as many as three, while Dallas was up by as many as four.
  • A tremendous showing for Shawn Marion (14 points, 5-10 FG, 10 rebounds), who is on one of those rolls, only different from all of his previous rolls. Capiche?
  • Luis Scola is pivotal to the Rockets’ Yao-less offense, and Rick Carlisle elected to have the Mavs swarm Scola during the third quarter. Jason Kidd often released for the double team off of Kyle Lowry, a wise decision given Lowry’s limitations as a spot-up shooter. It’s no coincidence that Dallas really started to separate in the third.
  • Six points, nine rebounds, and two blocks for Brendan Haywood, which is firmly in Erick Dampier territory. Still, Haywood looked more active on the glass than he has of late, and though that alone won’t make the Mavs’ brass sleep more soundly at night with Haywood’s massive contract tucked under their pillows, it’s a nice surprise for a night. That’s how far Haywood has fallen; six, nine, and two now qualifies as a pleasant surprise.
  • The Rockets were able to burn the Mavs pretty consistently with backdoor cuts, which should hardly come as any surprise given that Rick Adelman orchestrated Houston’s offense from the sideline. Zone defenses are particulary vulnerable to such cuts, but Dallas didn’t seem to be much more attentive or responsive to the open backdoor when in man-to-man sets, either.
  • The Mavs ultimately gave up a run to make this game seem closer than it was, but it wasn’t your typical late-game lead concession. This one was very much decided when Houston made their final push toward a respectable margin, and while that dings up the Mavs’ final point differential, it’s not in the vein of Dallas’ previous late-game let-ups.

Dreams of Things to Come: A Look Ahead to 2010 Free Agency

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 29, 2010 under Commentary | 13 Comments to Read

The Mavs’ potential for off-season turnover exists regardless of how deep they go into the playoffs. Given the unique financial circumstances afforded to the Mavericks this summer and the never-ending arms race that exists between NBA teams, no one should be surprised to see Dallas make significant changes this summer even if they somehow stumbled their way to an NBA title.

The reason for that is Erick Dampier. Due to the unique performance-related incentives of Dampier’s contract, he can be traded this off-season and then his entire 2010-2011 salary can be subsequently voided. That makes him an invaluable piece in a potential sign-and-trade, supposing Mark Cuban and the Mavs can entice one of this summer’s bigger talents and manage to convince a rival GM to play ball.That’s what makes Dallas’ off-season outlook so difficult to predict: if the Mavs are to acquire anyone of note this summer by using a sign-and-trade, they’ll have to do it with the blessing of the team said player is deserting. Accurately gauging how willing another GM may be to do such a thing requires an intimate knowledge of management style, manager personalities, ownership complications, and overall team strategy that goes far beyond my pay-grade.

Instead, the best way to predict which players could interest the Mavs is simply to analyze which among them may be the most attractive. Unfortunately, that also hinges greatly on the status of the Mavs’ own unrestricted free agent, Brendan Haywood. Haywood is a franchise center. He’s a capable big that can catch and finish, he’s a top-notch interior defender, and he helps well. Should Dallas lose him to another team this summer, their irrefutable free agent strategy would be aimed at securing another big man. Dampier seems like a lock to be moved; should his salary become fully guaranteed for net season by Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson’s choice, he’ll be owed $13 million next season. I consider myself a stronger advocate of Dampier than most, and I’ll be the first to admit that his level of production doesn’t even whiff that price tag. The allure of dropping Damp’s salary — either by trade or by cutting him loose should the right opportunity not present itself — is simply to great for him to remain a Maverick at his current salary, which makes Haywood an essential piece in the free agency equation. We know that Dirk Nowitzki is not a center, and should Dallas be left Haywood-less, they would essentially have four options:

  • Sign a cheap, veteran center for the minimum to start and play major minutes for the team. (Read: disaster.)
  • Try to acquire a center like Shaquille O’Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Ian Mahinmi, or Jermaine O’Neal using the mid-level exception.
  • Try to acquire a power forward and play him at center, either through a desperate grab for Chris Bosh, a run at a mid-level guy like restricted free agent Luis Scola, etc.
  • Scrap the free agency dream entirely and try to trade Damp to a team looking to get out from under their center’s contract (Nene, Andris Biedrins, etc.).

How Haywood’s negotiations go this summer obviously hold enormous implications for the Mavs’ off-season plans, so speculating beyond that point is probably fruitless.

So consider me without fruits; I can’t help but think that a number of stars could look awfully good in a Maverick uniform.

LeBron James is this summer’s big prize, but the likelihood of him somehow ending up in Dallas is incredibly slim. It’d be nice, sure, and the Mavs would probably offer him the best chance to compete immediately of any potential destinations. The team is already established in Dallas, and that’s enticing. Then again, do you know where the team is also already established? Cleveland. Who knows how this year’s playoffs will affect LeBron’s decision, but title or not, I like the odds of him sticking with the Cavs.

Chris Bosh also seems like a pipe dream, mainly due to two factors: Bosh does not want to play center, as he’s expressed time and time again in Toronto, and he wants to be The Man, which he wouldn’t be in Dallas. The key in the Mavs acquiring any signed-and-traded free agent is the player’s desire (not just willingness) to come play for Dallas, and Bosh could be described as lukewarm at best when approached about the possibility of playing in his hometown.

Instead, if I’m the Mavs, I have my eyes fixed on the fortunes of two players, one of which is an incredibly unlikely target and the other only mildly unlikely: Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson.

Caron Butler is only the illusion of a starting shooting guard. He can, in theory, shoot, score, handle the ball a bit, and defend. He just doesn’t manage to do the former two efficiently, and his defensive abilities are competent and only likely to diminish with his age. Butler’s Game 5 explosion was so welcome because of the contrast it posed to his typically inefficient scoring nights, and having other scoring threats like Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry around Butler hasn’t elevated his efficiency like we thought it might. He’s more or less the same player he was in Washington, only playing well into April.

That leaves the Mavs still looking for a legitimate 2-guard, and the combination of Damp’s contract provisions and Butler’s expiring deal gives Dallas a unique opportunity. They could potentially offer a team like Miami or Atlanta a player of Butler’s caliber in a sign-and-trade, while also allowing them to dump a bit of salary in exchange for Dampier’s deal. The ability of those teams to acquire Damp and then cut him immediately at no cost is something that no other team in the league can offer in a sign-and-trade, which does give Dallas a bit of an edge. Enough of an edge to willingly sign off on the departure of a franchise player? Probably not, but the Mavs are hoping so.

The wild card in all of this is Rodrigue Beaubois. The rook quickly carved out a niche for himself as a highly efficient scorer, and he hasn’t even begun to actualize his full potential as an NBA player. Few players come into the league with the gifts that Beaubois possesses, and should the right prize be available, Dallas may dangle him as trade bait. Teams may not be eager to give up their star player for Butler and Damp’s savings alone, but if Cuban and Nelson are willing to include a rookie guard that has star written all over him? I’m guessing they’d at least get their phone calls returned.

As for the two players I specified, it’s simple: shooting guard would be the Mavs’ biggest hole in the rotation if they can hang on to Haywood, and Jason Terry wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate, even his prime. JET still has plenty left and is ideal as a sixth man, but just doesn’t have the size or defensive aptitude necessary to guard opposing shooting guards well, and isn’t very good at guarding opposing point guards, either. Terry is much improved on the defensive end, but even those improvements don’t have him quite where he would need to be in order to be a highly effective starter.

Two guys that do have that defensive ability — in addition to elite offensive skills — are Wade and Johnson.

Wade is the dream that probably shouldn’t even be chased. For one, because Miami and Chicago are considered the favorites to acquire him. Rightfully so, as both can try to pair him with very talented players, and both boast some sort of hometown advantage. I’m confident one of those teams will land Wade, and they’ll be very, very happy together.

The Mavs could still have an opportunity to play home-wrecker here, supposing Pat Riley is willing to play along with Cuban and Nelson’s plans. I don’t see that as even a remote possibility, but again, I’m not Riles. Maybe he’s very high on Beaubois, or decides he wants to give Caron another go with the Heat, or maybe just wants to do right by Wade for all that he’s done for the franchise. These are not probable scenarios but they are scenarios, and the Mavs would be considered fools if they didn’t do their due diligence when the top shooting guard in the league (yeah, I said it) becomes available.

There would be, of course, that one thing. That one little thing. That one little he single-handedly (we’re not counting officials) destroyed the Mavs in the 2006 Finals thing. It would certainly make the relationship…interesting. There were comments exchanged from both sides in 2006-2007, the thought of the series still stings most Mavs fans, and I can only offer one piece of advice to all parties involved: get over it. This is Dwyane Wade. He’s a remarkable player with a hell of a career still ahead of him, and even though it’s extremely unlikely he’ll wind up a Maverick, the very thought should have Mavs fans sending him love letters and fruit baskets. They don’t come much better than Wade, and regardless of the past between him and the Mavs, his talent and Dallas’ needs should make him a top priority.

Consider  Joe Johnson the back-up plan. He’s older, less efficient on offense, a bit slower on defense, and generally not as Dwyane Wadey as Dwyane Wade is. That doesn’t mean he would be anything less than an excellent addition for Dallas. Messing with Atlanta is always a mess, but I think Beaubois could pose an intriguing piece for the Hawks in particular. There’s no reason that Rodrigue can’t do everything that Mike Bibby currently does, only with better activity on the defensive end, better driving ability, and impressive length. He could be a perfect point guard if the Hawks continue on with Mike Woodson (or at least his offensive and defensive systems), and Atlanta may find the idea of getting Beaubois back in a sign-and-trade far more palatable than letting Johnson walk.

However, as talented as Johnson is, there are two concerns. For one, giving a 29-year-old a five or six year deal could end up being a nightmare, especially with the new CBA likely decreasing the possibility of such long-term, lucrative deals in the future. Second, a lot of Caron Butler’s more irritating habits also exist in Johnson, Joe is just better. He’s still a jumpshooter and a lot of his offense in Atlanta has been isolation-centered, he’s just a better player than Caron. Whether that’s good enough to put the Mavs over the proverbial hump or not is unknown, but it’s certainly not a bad start.

It’s almost trite at this point to say “stay tuned,” but that’s exactly the approach Mavs fans should take with regard to the team’s future. So much of what the Mavs will be able to do depends on who wants what, who goes where, and what teams have which options on the table. Fathoming all of that a few months in advance definitely qualifies as impossible, and all that we’re left with is a microscope fixed on the free agent class, an ear on every news and legitimate rumor available, and a head full of pipe dreams and possibilities. The dominoes will be falling soon enough, and we know Mark Cuban will be ready to pull the trigger. Until then, all eyes should rest on Brendan Haywood, who could very well determine the Mavs’ free agent destiny.

Houston Rockets 97, Dallas Mavericks 94

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 1, 2010 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOr
Dallas97.096.946.326.817.411.3
Houston100.050.012.224.416.5

“If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you’ve got a problem. Everything else is inconvenience.
-Robert Fulgham

I’m going to miss these Mavs-Rockets games. No opponent has been a more compelling foil for the Mavs all season. In the first two games, the Mavs flipped the script on huge second quarter runs, turning the game’s momentum on a dime and completely demoralizing the Rox. In the last two, Dallas and Houston have battled for 48 minutes (or more) only to see the Rockets edge out the Mavs by way of just a few more successful possessions. All four contests were particularly noteworthy for a variety of reasons, regardless of whether the final margin was three or 31.

As far as losses go, I don’t see anything revolutionary or catastrophic about the Mavs’ final L of 2009. Dirk Nowitzki (11 points, 3-12 FG, seven rebounds, three turnovers) had a pretty terrible offensive game, and though the rest of the Mavs provided ample support (including 46 bench points), Dallas simply couldn’t overcome such a woeful shooting night from the undisputed leader. Dirk didn’t have to make every shot for the Mavs to stay competitive, but he couldn’t make any shot when the game was very much up for grabs. A few long misses on Dirk jumpers segued perfectly into Houston’s transition offense, which exposed the Mavs’ real troubles. Though the Mavs would often stop or stall the Rockets’ primary break, there was entirely too much damage done on the secondary offensive wave. Trailing three point shooters and late cutters put significant pressure on the defense, and though the trailers and cutters themselves didn’t always convert opportunities into points, they did force the Mavs to scramble in order to compensate. It was a non-issue when the Mavs were playing small ball (Kidd-Terry-Howard-Marion-Gooden), because that lineup switched on every screen and rotated onto every shooter. But with a more traditional lineup, the Mavs were often out of position to contest the Rockets’ threes or their entry passes.

In a game where Dirk’s offense isn’t clicking, that makes all the difference. Add in a poor performance on the defensive glass, and the shortcomings compound into a loss. Not exactly a perfect storm, but the Mavs’ woes on the defensive end were notable enough that the Rockets were able to seal the game late on a pair of 3-pointers from Aaron Brooks (who was sensational; 30 points, 6-12 3FG, four rebounds, four assists) and Shane Battier (11 points, eight rebounds, five assists). It’s never a good thing to see an opposing player go off like that, particularly one in the mold of previous Maverick-killers. But Brooks had one of those nights, and the bizarre decision from Rick Carlisle to shift to the zone defense only made matters worse for the Mavs on the perimeter. There are essentially three things which break down the zone defense: long-range shooters, mid-range shooters that can make smart passes, and offensive rebounds. The Rockets boast plenty of the former, the second is practically Luis Scola’s epithet, and Houston is 8th in the league in offensive rebounding rate. Brooks’ quickness and activity creates a certain illusion, but using a zone defense against the Rockets plays right into their hand. That team is simply too smart and too skilled in all the right ways for a zone to work, and it gave Houston a boost when the Mavs had them on the ropes.

But that decision wasn’t symptomatic of some greater fault that lies within Rick Carlisle, just as the Mavs’ sub-par defense wasn’t symptomatic of anything other than the realities of an 82 game season. There will be nights where some things don’t quite come together and there will be nights where nothing comes together. The key is to make sense of them and deal with them accordingly, understand what went wrong, and move on. There is entirely too much going on in the regular season to get bent out of shape over a three point loss to the Rockets that very nearly went into overtime. Last night’s game wasn’t the ideal way to usher in the new year, but 2010 is here and the Mavs face the Lakers on Sunday. Hit the film room, gents.

Closing thoughts:

  • Shawn Marion (16 points, 8-12 FG, nine rebounds, a steal and a block) and Jason Terry (20 points, 7-12 FG, four assists, two steals) were excellent. Marion started the game brilliantly and Terry more or less closed it, with both taking advantage of Houston’s lack of shot-blocking inside. Marion went to work with his usual runners and post-ups, but he also had great success simply cutting to the open spot around the rim for easy finishes. Plus, Marion showed his defensive versatility in his ability to defend both Trevor Ariza and Carl Landry. Terry used perimeter picks and his pure speed to drive around his defender, resulting in six of JET’s 12 attempts coming at the rim. Terry was legitimately looking to finish his layups, rather than driving into the lane simply as a means of getting to the free throw line. It showed, as JET converted five of his six attempts deep into the paint.

Jason Terry's FGA Breakdown

At Rim<10 ft.10-15 ft.16-23 ft.Threes
2009-2010 Avg.2.01.21.24.24.8
12-31-09 vs. HOU6.00.02.01.03.0
  • A rough night for J.J. Barea (four points, 1-6 FG, four rebounds, three assists), which makes sense considering I spent yesterday singing his praises. Sheesh, you try to do a guy a favor…
  • Neither Dirk Nowitzki, nor Jason Terry, nor Josh Howard, nor J.J. Barea scored in the first quarter. The Mavs trailed 17-24 at the end of the frame.
  • Drew Gooden (10 points, eight rebounds, a steal and a block) could very well be on his way another roll, as he completely outplayed Erick Dampier (three points, five rebounds, a steal and a block). Damp had previously had some success against the Rox (8.7 points, 13.0 rebounds, 2.3 blocks in the first three games against Houston), but could only manage to stay on the floor for about 17 minutes last night. That said, it wasn’t a very productive night from the center position as a whole. Dampier really struggled offensively (0-3 at the rim), and though Gooden contributed on that end, he struggled defensively.
  • Shane Battier reacted pretty dramatically to an out of bounds call (and to his credit, he was pushed in the back by Dirk) with 44 seconds remaining, and he was assessed a technical foul with the Rockets ahead by four. That’s a pretty huge call late in the game, and though the Mavs weren’t able to capitalize on it (though Jason Kidd had a good look at a game-tying 3-pointer), I’m still a bit surprised it was even called.
  • It’s odd that the Mavs had a pretty significant advantage in terms of free throw rate, but still coughed up the game. Especially considering that Dirk only got to the line for four attempts, which is a bit more than half of his season average.
  • Carl Landry (15 points, including nine of the Rockets’ final 15) and Luis Scola (12 points, 6-12 FG, 13 rebounds) did their jobs. Nothing to see here, just a couple of pros getting done what needs to get done. Move along, sir, move along.

Shot distribution data courtesy of HoopData.com.

Houston Rockets 116, Dallas Mavericks 108

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 19, 2009 under Recaps | 6 Comments to Read

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot Chart — GameFlow

There’s such a thin line between winning and losing.
-John R. Tunis

Sometimes a game flows like the scripted word, with a rhythm, climax, and resolution that unfold seamlessly. All is right in the world as the good guys win and the bad guys falter, with no doubt in anyone’s mind as to who was the victor. Heroes are born, legends are written, and everything fits neatly into archetypal form.

But others are written like a biting satire. They make mockery of everything we think to be true, and rely on that defiance and a departure from the expected to prove some kind of point. There may be heroes, but winning the day is hardly an assumption.

From a Maverick perspective, the game would certainly be described as the latter.

After just ten minutes of play, a collision between Dirk Nowitzki and Carl Landry left Dirk with a deep laceration on his arm and Landry minus three teeth (according to Marc Stein, pieces of two of those teeth were actually in Nowitzki’s arm). Neither returned, and the game’s narrative structure had set a prime opportunity for the Mavs to prove their Rocketsesque mettle; Dallas would have to win without their primary scorer, their undisputed best player, and their leader. The cast of characters included: Jason Kidd (the wise sage), Jason Terry (the sidekick with an iron will), Josh Howard (the returning hero), Erick Dampier (the rock, the guide), Shawn Marion (the unwavering defender), J.J. Barea (the seemingly overmatched hero), and Tim Thomas (the rogue with a heart of gold). The stage was set for an epic tale of loss and redemption and triumph in the face of adversity.

And though the game lacked any kind of rhythm or pacing whatsoever, it seemed bound for the fairytale ending. With the Mavs trailing by four points with just over a minute remaining, Shawn Marion stripped Trevor Ariza on what looked to be an easy bucket for the Rockets. After running the floor in transition, Marion was left wide open by the scrambling Houston defense, and Jason Kidd rewarded his efforts with a feed for an easy bucket. And once Aaron Brooks missed one free throw to plant hope in the Maverick huddle, Rick Carlisle drew up a doozie of a play. After some misdirection by Jason Kidd and Jason Terry and a nice shot fake, Tim Thomas was left with a wide open look from the corner. Nothing but net, and the Mavs had one shot to make a defensive play and send the game into overtime.

Shawn Marion, who had been terrific on defense all night, demanded the assignment of guarding the red-hot Aaron Brooks. According to Kidd, Marion insisted that with his height and length he could bother Brooks on the drive or on the shot, and he couldn’t have been more right. Brooks passed up a shot attempt with a taller defender in front of him, and Marion forced him into an out-of-control dive toward the basket that ended with Shawn standing triumphant and a Rockets turnover with .4 seconds to play. The stage for the miracle had been set, but Jason Kidd’s lob was a bit off the mark, and Shawn Marion’s alley-oop layup attempt a bit short as a result.

But in most cases, overtime periods carry only false hope for short-handed teams. With Dirk nowhere in sight, the Mavs certainly qualify, and what had been a tremendous run by the remaining Mavs quickly spiraled into an emotional explosion. Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry continued to run their offense with confidence, and the Mavs provided themselves no opportunity for catharsis by missing jumper after jumper. Ultimately, the game’s defining sequence featured the Mavs down six with a minute to play, and a bit of hope as Erick Dampier began to elevate for a dunk attempt. But rather than rise and finish with a momentum-shifting slam, Dampier was pulled down by the shoulders by Aaron Brooks, who made no play on the ball whatsoever. Brooks was assessed a flagrant one, and in the ensuing video replay aftermath, the officiating crew also assessed a technical foul to Erick Dampier. It was Damp’s second tech of the night, and despite the fact that the elbow is virtually invisible on video, it warranted Damp’s automatic ejection. From then on, finishing the game was a mere formality.

It was a bizarre sequence, and according to Mark Cuban, one that doesn’t follow the letter of the rulebook (only flagrant two fouls are eligible for video review, and Brooks was assessed a flagrant one). But such a sequence only illustrated the value of a single basket in a close game. Regardless of who was right and who was wrong in their assessment of whatever it is that happened on that play, the Mavs had wasted two and a half quarters worth of opportunities. With no Dirk Nowitzki to balance the offense and no cohesion to the team defense, the Mavs looked beyond helpless. Kyle Lowry (a career high 26 points, 10 assists, and a career high-tying five steals) and Aaron Brooks (23 points, six assists) were simply too proficient, and with both on the court, the Mavs lacked the speed to combat their penetration into the lane and separation for jumpers. Meanwhile, Jason Terry struggled from the field (6-15 FG) and didn’t have command of his usual basketball savvy. Josh Howard started the game terribly before finally getting his act together in time to help the Mavs mount a run. And though Erick Dampier’s work on the glass and on defense was, frankly, game-changing (three blocked shots, seven offensive rebounds, and 14 total rebounds), his reinforcements (Drew Gooden and Kris Humphries) failed to defend or produce in any meaningful way. After Dirk left the game, the odds were not stacked in the Mavs’ favor, and until the final run of the fourth quarter, the responded with lethargic D and sloppy offensive execution.

The finale was poignant and demonstrative. It was a sign to the Mavs that coasting isn’t acceptable, and that refusing to play to your potential will only end in heartbreak. Dallas’ efforts were all for naught, and though Dirk’s absence provides a convenient scapegoat, the message here makes no mention of fighting valiantly. Rather, the point is this: Although the Mavs have come so far in terms of their defense and clutch execution, this is still a work in progress. This is still a team that has plenty to learn from a game that has plenty to teach, and regardless of just how high you’ve climbed, every game has the potential to be a humbling experience.

  • J.J. Barea was instrumental in keeping this game competitive. He finished with 23 points on 8-15 shooting, with his couple of turnovers balanced by some pretty timely shots.
  • The Mavs and the Rockets shot an identical 8 of 20 from three, but you would have never guessed it based on their impact. Each Maverick long ball was powerful, but the Rockets’ makes were of monumental importance. Brooks’ final shooting numbers (8 for 20 from the field) may not be sterling, but that man is a master of the momentum-killing three-pointer.
  • Jason Kidd didn’t have a great defensive night, but he does so many things for the Mavs when he’s on the court. His work out of the post against Brooks gave the Mavs a fighting chance in overtime, and though the Dallas offense was anything but smooth, Kidd still contributed with 11 rebounds, 10 assists, four steals, and two blocks.
  • The Rockets killed the Mavs with their ability to quickly shift into the transition game, and only when the Mavs began to counter the fast break did they make any headway whatsoever.
  • Kyle Lowry was sensational. Seriously.
  • The Mavs tried their hand at some zone, with mixed results. It seemed to at least slow down the Rockets, but the Mavs surrendered too many offensive rebounds because of the lack of box-out accountability. On top of that, David Andersen (16 points) and Luis Scola (19 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) have the range to be zone busters, and Lowry and Brooks were able to lure away chunks of the zone to leave jumpers open for the taking.
  • Emotions were running high as the Mavs put pressure on the Rox late in this one. A tech for Jason Kidd and David Andersen for a little scuffle, two Ts on Erick Dampier (one for the alleged elbow, and another for Damp breaking his usually stoic demeanor to argue a non-call), two Ts on Rick Carlisle, and one T to the talkative Josh Howard.
  • Shawn Marion really put the shackles on Kevin Durant the other night, but this may have been an even more impressive defensive performance. He wasn’t quite as consistent, but he made huge defensive plays with the game hanging in the balance.
  • Dirk Nowitzki is considered questionable for Sunday due to the deep lacerations in his elbow, and Carl Landry will see a surgeon tomorrow.

No Game Is an Island: Pleasant Surprises

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 18, 2009 under Previews | Be the First to Comment

The Mavs have pleasantly surprised. Although it might be easy to dig up a Maverick die-hard who had faith in Dallas’ ability to develop a top-notch defense, I think you’d be hard pressed top back that argument with warrant and logic. Expecting such a prolific defensive display could possibly have labeled you as some kind of maniac, or worse, a homer.

But the Rockets have been a surprise in a completely different way. Whereas underestimating the Dallas defense was natural given the personnel (a supposedly slowing Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion, and the near-liabilities turned competent defenders, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry), the Rockets were underestimated due to a complete oversight of the power of a basketball cooperative. Each player compensates for the weakness of another, and though high-level talent separates Houston from the West’s elite, we all should have expected competence from a batch of skilled, highly-motivated ballplayers:

I don’t know if you heard, but over the Summer, the Houston Rockets essentially swapped Ron Artest for Trevor Ariza. The former is a bit of a wildcard, known for ill-advised 3s, elite perimeter defense, and something about snake eggs. The latter is a superb athlete, a tremendous wing defender, and an emerging shooting threat.

So why is it that the Houston Rockets were so woefully underestimated coming into the season, when the only significant difference between last year’s playoff team and this year’s would-be playoff time is the (occasionally bad) shot creating abilities of Artest?

I…I don’t know. Count me among the many that refused to acknowledge Houston’s potential. I didn’t see where the points were going to come from, even if Ariza is a young, talented player on a perfectly reasonable salary. Call me crazy, but I wasn’t sold on Aaron Brooks’ ability to score consistently, much less run an offense. And I saw some problems among their rotation of bigs, which had fallen to three productive if undersized power forwards in the absence of Yao Ming. Not only is none of that true, but we’ve seen virtually the opposite.

Read my thoughts on the Rockets in their entirety on Hardwood Paroxysm.