The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 117, Houston Rockets 110

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

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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 103, Portland Trailblazers 96

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 29, 2011 under Recaps | 6 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas82.0125.653.824.431.611.0
Portland117.147.526.635.78.5

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

  • It’s hard to be too shocked over the Mavs’ Game 6 victory given the way they’ve performed in this series, but relief certainly seems apt at this point. Kindly disregard the “playoff demons” pseudo story; that relief has nothing to do with 2006 or 2007, doesn’t feature the word “finally,” and honestly has nothing to do with anything save for this year’s Mavericks and this year’s Blazers. Brandon Roy’s emergence as a factor in this series was rather unlikely to begin with, but his supernatural effectiveness on his home court did introduce some reason for uncertainty. Dallas’ general reluctance to work through Shawn Marion as much as they should have (particularly when Gerald Wallace was off the floor or matched up with someone else) had the potential to create problems if Jasons Kidd and Terry had coinciding poor performances. Dirk Nowitzki’s slightly low shooting percentages in the majority this series weren’t a problem, per se, but could have been. I saw all of these things — along with an evaporating lead, stints of fantastic team defense followed by lackluster stretches, LaMarcus Aldridge facing up and attacking Brendan Haywood, Gerald Wallace being, frankly, dominant in Game 6 — and wondered if Dallas and Portland weren’t due for a Game 7. Apparently they weren’t. The Mavs got the stops they needed (though they essentially played chicken with Wesley Matthews’ three-point stroke to do so –  it’s not a strategy I’d necessarily recommend), and got huge buckets from Kidd, Terry, Marion, and naturally, Dirk. The stars didn’t align to extend the series, the better team did what was necessary and took the ball out of the hands of Portland’s most capable scorers as much as they could, and things unfolded in the manner the first five games of the series predicted they would. It’s great to be wrong.
  • Nowitzki’s point total had the benefit of some late-game padding, but he was sensationally effective in the first half, and…oddly unneeded for most of the second. Nowitzki didn’t score a single point during the Mavs’ third quarter run, as Kidd played a masterful 12 minutes (four points, 2-3 FG, four assists), Terry scored eight points in just over six minutes, Marion cleaned up where he could, and Chandler finished inside. The franchise centerpiece functioned as an effective decoy, as the Mavs managed to build a 17-point lead without Dirk having to lift a finger on offense. There was some good semi-transition action to facilitate Dallas’ flow, but even their halfcourt play during the third quarter gives reason for optimism in the second round; the Mavs need those multiple points of attack if they’re going to hang with the Lakers.
  • The zone is still looking strong. It didn’t “stop” the Blazers’ offense, but it did generate empty possessions. Portland had a lot of trouble hitting any of their jumpers against the zone, and though Dallas naturally went back to their man-to-man coverage, Portland never could find their rhythm against the zone. The shift to man defense came of the Mavs’ own volition, a fact which shouldn’t be overlooked; Dallas was able to control the game with their choice of defensive strategy.
  • Tyson Chandler (nine points, seven rebounds, one block) and Brendan Haywood (zero points, three offensive boards, four total rebounds) again defended LaMarcus Aldridge effectively in the post. Aldridge eventually established a good offensive rhythm by facing up against the Maverick bigs on the wing, but those jumpers and drives are shots Dallas could — and did — live with. Obviously one would prefer that Chandler and Haywood contest those attempts as best they could, but the fact that Dallas almost completely removed Aldridge from the game as a post-threat was, and is, pretty significant.
  • Gerald Wallace (32 points, 10-17 FG, 12 rebounds, one turnover) played a tremendous game, and I’m curious how Dallas would have fared had Wallace been available in the second quarter. Wallace’s back seized up after his initial run, and he retired to the locker room for the duration of the second frame. He returned, naturally (I’ve never known mortal injury to even deter Wallace), but not before the Mavs had outscored his Blazers 33-16 in the second. Wallace had 16 points and six rebounds in the first quarter, seven points and four rebounds in the third, and 12 points and two rebounds in the fourth. Considering how poorly Nicolas Batum and Rudy Fernandez played and have played in this series, Wallace’s 12-minute unavailability could be seen as a back-breaking moment for Portland. Dallas fully recovered from their early deficit during that crucial second quarter, and established the momentum they carried through the third. Playoff “what ifs” are a futile exercise to a degree, but Wallace’s absence was conspicuous, and his production (not to mention his defense) sorely missed.
  • If you’re of the opinion that J.J. Barea may have played a bit too much, I’d encourage you to reconsider. He did introduce some defensive difficulties at times (the Mavs were forced to double down when Barea was being attacked in the post, for example) but he had productive stints in the second and fourth quarters. Seven points, four rebounds, and four assists without a turnover is pretty solid production in a game of this pace, and the quality of looks he generated — particularly in the second quarter — was impressive. Regardless, I’m sure his minutes will dip a bit as Rodrigue Beaubois is reintegrated into the rotation.
  • Pour one out for Portland — the Blazers are a fine team, a well-run organization, and an opponent worthy of respect. They didn’t quite have the depth nor the defense (What on earth happened to the Blazers’ turnover-inducing ways?) to extend the series, but this was a hell of a way to kick off the playoffs, regardless of the outcome. LaMarcus Aldridge is a legitimate star, and taps into the basic basketball desire for a do-it-all big man. Brandon Roy provided the postseason’s best individual narrative blip, and turned in as dominant of a fourth quarter showing as I’ve seen. Gerald Wallace and Wesley Matthews are the kinds of entertaining, effective, and relentless players that any team would be lucky to have. Andre Miller and Marcus Camby are somehow still criminally underrated, and managed to fly under the radar in this series despite making a genuine impact. It’s been another long, trying season for Portland, but for us basketball fans enjoying from afar, it’s been a treat to watch the franchise-wide resilience. Keep on keepin’ on, BlazerNation.

Ramblin’ Rose

Posted by Ian Levy on April 25, 2011 under Commentary | 4 Comments to Read

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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.

After Games 1 and 2, we met two lineups, The Grays and The Longs, and identified the utilization of each as an example of the approach the Mavericks and Blazers were bringing to this series. The part played by each unit changed dramatically over Games 3 and 4, again revealing a lot about the status of each team.

The Longs have essentially disappeared from Portland’s rotation, playing less than a minute together over the past two games. Nate McMillan obviously has some player combinations he likes better. He might want to take a look at these numbers, because despite taking both games in Portland, most of what he’s been trying hasn’t worked very well. The table below shows the five-man units Portland has used for at least three minutes over the past three games.

LineupMinutesPoss. ForPoss. OppPts. ForPts. OppORtg.DRtg.Net
Miller - Matthews - Wallace - Aldridge - Camby53.1791909698105.5108.9-3.4
Fernandez - Roy - Batum - Wallace - Aldridge15.6528273341117.9151.9-34.0
Miller - Matthews - Batum - Wallace - Aldridge19.103233263981.3118.2-36.9
Miller - Roy - Matthews - Wallace - Aldridge11.6322203218145.590.0+55.5
Miller - Matthews - Batum - Aldridge - Camby9.8016172025125.0147.1-22.1
Fernandez - Roy - Matthews - Batum - Aldridge5.2289108125.088.9+36.1
Fernandez - Roy - Batum - Wallace - Camby3.06655550.0100.0-50.0

Over that stretch, only one lineup has consistently hurt the Mavericks. It’s the Andre Miller – Brandon Roy – Wesley Matthews – Gerald Wallace – LaMarcus Aldridge combination, which has outscored the Mavericks by 14 points across 11 minutes. Interestingly enough, this lineup only played 2 minutes and 48 seconds together during the Blazers fourth quarter comeback on Saturday.

The Blazers’ 20-point advantage in that quarter was built mostly by two other lineups. The Rudy Fernandez – Roy – Nicolas Batum – Wallace – Aldridge configuration was +7 over the first 6:28 of the 4th. The Roy – Matthews – Batum – Wallace – Aldridge lineup was +8 over a one-minute, 43-second span towards the end of the quarter. However, those two lineups have played another 18 minutes together across the rest of the series, in which they were outscored by Dallas by 13 points. The Blazers didn’t run away with the fourth quarter because they stumbled into an effective new lineup. Rather, a method they had tried previously began to click. For one quarter, Brandon Roy turned into Jerry West and Jason Terry turned into Darrick Martin, triggering a sudden change in the performance of a familiar lineup.

That the Blazers were able to come away with two wins at home will obscure the fact that they still aren’t playing very well. If we take away Brandon Roy’s magical fourth quarter in Game 4, we find that the Mavericks outscored the Blazers by 13 points over 7 quarters of play. The Blazers are still left with just one lineup that has been successful over a significant stretch in more than one game.

The table bel0w shows the same lineup information for the Mavericks, covering the last three games.

LineupMinutesPoss. ForPoss. OppPoints ForPoints OppORtg.DRtg.Net
Kidd - Stevenson - Marion - Nowitzki - Chandler26.134241413797.690.2+7.4
Kidd - Terry - Marion - Nowitzki - Chandler17.0630323645120.0140.6-20.6
Barea - Terry - Stojakavic - Nowitzki - Haywood18.3031314739151.6125.8+25.8
Barea - Terry - Stojakavic - Marion - Haywood9.7518191814100.073.7+26.3
Kidd - Terry - Stojakavic - Nowitzki - Chandler11.0021193119147.6100.0+47.6
Kidd - Terry - Marion - Nowitzki - Haywood9.0017141913111.892.9+18.9
Kidd - Terry - Stojakavic - Marion - Haywood7.551313101276.992.3-15.4
Kidd - Barea - Terry - Nowitzki - Haywood7.201212158125.066.7+58.3
Kidd - Barea - Stojakavic - Nowitzki - Haywood4.37891113137.5144.4-6.9
Kidd - Terry - Stojakavic - Marion - Chandler4.598771187.5157.1-69.6
Barea - Terry - Marion - Nowitzki - Chandler5.2391031133.3110.0-76.7

The Grays (the Jason Kidd – Jason Terry – Shawn Marion – Dirk Nowitzki – Tyson Chandler lineup we identified as a key factor in Game 1) have been ineffective to say the least, being outscored by nine points over a span of a little more than 17 minutes. This is one of the player combinations Rick Carlisle relies on in crunch time, which makes it unsurprising that Dallas has struggled late in games (the Mavericks have been outscored by 22 over the last two fourth quarters).

That ineffectiveness shouldn’t be a huge concern for the Mavericks. Most of their negative differential comes from a roughly five-minute stretch in the fourth quarter of Game 4, when they were outscored by 13 points due to Roy’s hot hand and their own failures to execute on offense. Over that stretch, Roy scored 12 points and assisted on two other baskets, while the Mavericks couldn’t create a single shot attempt for Nowitzki, turned the ball over twice, and attempted five long jumpshots.

Roy’s explosion has changed the series, but that doesn’t mean it’s a permanent course correction. The Mavericks have still been the better team for most of the four games, narrative intrigue be damned. Additionally, his performance could have some unintended side-effects. When Roy was producing less, his role in the Blazers’ offense was defined. Tonight, Nate McMillan will have to decide how much to let what happened in Game 4 change the way the Blazers attack the Mavericks. This could potentially be good news for Dallas; Roy seems unlikely to produce at the same level, but will probably see more minutes and use more possessions. He’s has been a shell of his former self for all but the most recent 15 minutes of this season. He was largely the difference the Blazers were able to even the series, but those 15 minutes are not a large enough sample size to convince me he’s ready to pull that off two more times.

I realize I’m looking at two tough losses with rose-colored glasses; I can’t help it. After two close losses in Portland, everywhere I look I see roses.

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 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.

magnify

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).

boat

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.

darts

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.

horse

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: Dallas Mavericks 84, Portland Trailblazers 81

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 5, 2011 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

Screen shot 2011-01-05 at 12.42.42 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas80.0105.048.113.027.310.0
Portland101.344.313.929.216.3

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?

Dallas Mavericks 83, Portland Trailblazers 77: Abridged

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 10, 2010 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

No object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.”
-Oscar Wilde

  • 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.
  • Marcus Camby grabbed 18 rebounds. I remember some Mavs fans fussing a bit when John Hollinger gave the Blazers’ acquisition of Camby and the Mavs’ acquisition of Butler/Haywood the same “trade grade,” but is there any question that Camby has made a phenomenal difference since arriving in Portland?
  • 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.

Portland Trailblazers 101, Dallas Mavericks 89

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 26, 2010 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images.

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I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.”
-Benjamin Franklin

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.

Closing thoughts:

  • 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).

Dallas Mavericks 93, Los Angeles Clippers 84

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 1, 2009 under Recaps | 4 Comments to Read

Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOr
Dallas94.098.943.523.820.912.8
LA Lakers89.446.718.718.622.3

Success is simple. Do what’s right, the right way, at the right time.
-Arnold H. Glasgow

The Mavs’ second straight win was an exercise in call and response. The Clippers actually managed impressive stretches in every quarter, powered primarily by the brilliance of Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon, and, oddly enough, Sebastian Telfair. But each Clipper run was countered by a timely and even more impressive Maverick run. Dallas played with the poise and composure of a playoff team, and unlike the 2008-’09 Mavs, this group didn’t allow a little adversity to transform into the business end of a blowout.

Take a walk with me:

  • The Clippers were down 5-8 at the 8:51 mark of the first quarter, and the Mavs looked to be establishing a little bit of offensive momentum. But as the Clips’ defensive intensity increased, the Mavs’ offense came to a steady crawl behind a slew of missed jumpers. Chris Kaman responded with a few jumpers of his own (though of the made variety), and Gordon and Davis each contributed a bucket apiece during an 11-2 Clipper run. Rick Carlisle immediately called a timeout. Though the effects of that timeout weren’t immediately apparent, the Mavs responded to Carlisle’s strategery by rattling off eight straight points through a Marion nine-footer, a Damp layup, and four free throws. L.A. clearly had the Big Mo on their side, but a well-timed Carlisle timeout keyed a great defensive run (the results of the Clips’ offensive possessions: shot clock violation, missed layup, offensive foul, missed jumper, missed shot, missed jumper, turnover) and a more assertive offense.
  • The Clippers were down 32-38 at the 6:20 mark of the second quarter, and the Mavs looked to be establishing a little bit of offensive momentum. DeAndre Jordan tagged in Marcus Camby who gave L.A. some life with six points and an assist during a 12-2 Clipper run. That was enough to give the Clips a 44-40 advantage, which is beyond close and starting to get uncomfortable. But just in time, the Mavs’ somewhat stagnant offense came alive with some excellent ball movement, and a late 9-2 Mavs run kept things from getting out of control. Over that stretch, the Mavs made four field goals: three were assisted, two were layups, one was a Shawn Marion slam. Easy buckets are a beautiful thing.
  • The Clippers were up 59-57 at the 7:41 mark of the third quarter, and they were still rolling from a late second quarter surge that brought the game within striking distance. Then, not unlike the win a night ago, the Mavs absolutely took over the third quarter. Every Maverick on the floor (Kidd, Terry, Marion, Dirk, Damp) scored in a complete team effort, and the result was a beautiful 17-3 run that would eventually decide the game. The Mavs were not very good offensively in the fourth, but they were able to edge out a victory based on the successes of this run.
  • The Clippers were down 71-80 at the 10:47 mark of the fourth quarter, and the Mavs appeared to have the game in tow. Sebastian Telfair had other plans, as he was responsible for nine points in a critical 11-2 Clipper run that brought the game to an even 82-all. Both offenses lacked rhythm and coordination, but the Mavs were able to score some easy points with buckets around the rim, and then relied on the heavy lifters to supply a dagger or two. The result was a sloppy but effective 11-3 closeout, locking up the game for good and throwing away the key.

Nowitzki (24 points on 9-19 FG, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and an uncharacteristic 5 turnovers) looked to be much more comfortable shooting the ball, even if his overall line was a different shade of Dirk. It’s surely worth noting, though, that the Clippers’ bigs are far less equipped to defend Dirk than that of the Lakers or even the Wizards. But it’s about the baby steps, and Dirk showed a bit more of his usual shooting touch to accompany his forays into the paint and trips to the free throw line.

Shawn Marion and Erick Dampier were the Mavs’ finishers, and they performed excellently. Some lobs and interior feeds still reeked of a feeling out process, but Dallas showed a sudden willingness to toss lobs in the direction of Erick Dampier off of the pick and roll. The Kidd-Dampier combo could be a fun new weapon in the half-court game, as Damp made the Clippers pay for not respecting his rolls to the basket. Shawn Marion finished well on the move in all kinds of situations, even if L.A.’s bigs were ready to combat him at the rim. The result wasn’t always a dunk or even a make, but I already admire Marion’s aggressive movement off the ball and refusal to surrender opportunities to shot blockers. Shawn’s shot was packed a few times as a result, but his activity around the basket on both ends helped him total 16 points and 11 rebounds to go with a steal and two blocks.

Kidd, JET, and Barea did an excellent job of finding the right guys at the right times, and they were the only reason why the offense was in gear for key stretches. Kidd finished with 10 assists, JET with 6, and Barea with 4, which isn’t too shabby for a three guard rotation.

Still, the bizarre offense could give some a reason for worry. The Mavs managed just 13 points in a messy fourth quarter, and if their opponent had been anyone other than the equally messy Clippers, that could have been a problem. The Mavs came out with a win thanks to their ability to respond when it counted, but it’d be nice to nurse a cozy lead rather than jump into a slug fest.

Of course the defense played a huge role in making the Clippers falter, a fact which shouldn’t go unrecognized. The Mavs played good D inside and out, and though their performance wasn’t flawless, it was impressive nonetheless.

Closing thoughts:

  • Even though you wouldn’t know if it from the box score, Baron Davis (9 points on 4-10 FG, 6 assists, 4 turnovers) can still wreck havoc against the Mavs’ defense.
  • The Clippers roared back into the game at the end of the second quarter, but their four point lead was quickly erased in the closing seconds when Sebastian Telfair fouled Jason Terry while shooting a 3-pointer. Telfair objected, and was rewarded for what I’m sure was a perfectly cordial objection with a technical foul. Four made free throws later, both teams walked into the locker room with a tie.
  • Drew Gooden missed the game with a strained rib muscle on his right side. Kris Humphries played effectively in his absence, even if Kaman managed to bully him inside for points.
  • JET was twice called for an offensive foul for pushing off with his off-hand while driving in for a layup.
  • J.J. Barea seems to be a much improved jumpshooter, which is a beautiful thing for a guy who already had touch and range.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night, in a bit of a curveball, goes to Erick Dampier. Damp (12 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks, 0 turnovers) protected the rim, rebounded well, and turned himself into a bonafide offensive contributor with his ability to find dimples in the Clips’ defensive coverage and abuse the pick and roll.