I could easily be throwing dirt over Oklahoma City’s coffin way too soon, but history suggests they’re set up for evitable doom as they now the Memphis Grizzlies 3-1. Teams that have been in Oklahoma City’s spot are only 2-32 in their previous series, 1-8 in the conference semifinals. Looking at the potential opponents for Memphis, Golden State and San Antonio, you still have to lean towards Memphis as being the favorites. Would the league be thrilled to see Memphis in the Finals? Probably not, but that’s not the point.
The Memphis Grizzlies being favorites to make a trip the NBA Finals? That’s crazy talk. Yes, a Russell Westbrook injury certainly changed the equation in the Western Conference, but Memphis isn’t necessarily taking advantage of the situation. It’s just a case where Oklahoma City has been exposed as a team that actually needs Westbrook and that they more guys who would be willing to give half the effort or production that Kevin Durant is giving in this series.
Back to the point, Memphis looks primed to make a serious run. It’s not a popular opinion, but I have enjoyed watching them play. Prior to matchups against Memphis, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle has always mentioned that the Grizzlies play a “playoff style of basketball.” How does Dallas, or the rest of the league, look at this and do they adapt?
Read more of this article »
Box Score — Play-by-Play — Shot Chart — Game 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.
- Dirk Nowitzki left this game early in the second quarter with what appears to be a minor injury to his lower back (all indications point to Nowitzki being available on Friday), and from there things went pretty much as expected. Dallas can get by without Dirk on the floor for stretches — a few minutes here, a few minutes there — but runs into a huge, huge problem when teams are able to tweak their approach toward the Mavs’ teetering, Dirk-less offense. Nowitzki is such a prolific and efficient shot creator that the offense can operate according to plan just by having him available, but remove him as a factor and opponents quickly realize how putting pressure on Jason Terry can make the Mavs squirm.
- Plus: Memphis is a team that understands how to operate without their best player in the lineup. Dallas is not, if only because their construction is fundamentally different. It’s not that Zach Randolph isn’t important; he’s every bit as significant, just not as pivotal.
- As mentioned above, Terry (18 points, 7-15 FG, five assists) — and to a lesser extent, Rodrigue Beaubois (16 points, 7-16 FG, three assists, four turnovers) — had the unenviable task of trying to keep the offense afloat. He did what he could, but it doesn’t take much digging into the tape to determine that JET isn’t the kind of player who can function as the primary creator of an offense. He still managed to hit some tough shots and did a good job of trying to get to the rim, but every step he took was shaded by a Grizzly, and Memphis’ guards did a terrific job of funneling him into help. Beaubois wasn’t quite as successful, particularly once the Grizzlies’ defense locked down in the second half. Beaubois was forced to be the Mavs’ primary reset option, but ultimately wasn’t much of a threat out of the pick and roll. The timing and vision just wasn’t there for Beaubois to actually hit the roll man, and the Grizzlies deserve a lot of credit for cutting off passing lanes, hedging on those screens, and forcing Beaubois to retreat.
Read more of this article »
Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images.
Box Score — Play-By-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“Don’t wait for extraordinary opportunities. Seize common occasions and make them great. Weak men wait for opportunities; strong men make them.“
-Orison Swett Marden
The debate over the importance of point differential is essentially a debate over the the value of winning close games. On one extreme is the camp that operates under the assumption that close victories are games of skill; better teams execute at a higher level than others, and ultimately it’s a combination of that execution and overall talent that decides who wins games, no matter the margin. The group firmly entrenched on the other side of the dividing line insists that close games are a product of chance; there are so many variables from opening tip to the final buzzer that a slim margin of victory proves little more than which way the ball tended to bounce.
Somewhere in the middle lies the truth, and we saw both the power of skill and the power of chance at work in the Mavs’ improbable victory over the Grizzlies on Wednesday.
Dirk Nowitzki (28 points, 9-23 FG, five rebounds, six assists) made just three of his first 15 shots, a big reason why Dallas trailed for a majority of last night’s game. It wasn’t to last, though. Dirk is one of the best clutch performers in the game, and when he smelled blood in the water in the fourth quarter, his instincts kicked in. He chipped in 19 points in the fourth quarter and overtime on 6-of-8 shooting, digging himself and the Mavs out of a slump just in time to save the day and grab the win. The 50th win, which as you may have heard, is kind of a big deal.
Dirk doesn’t get a chance to play hero without being given that opportunity, though. If Mike Conley doesn’t leave three points at the free throw line, maybe Memphis never has an opportunity to completely botch their final play of regulation. If Zach Randolph doesn’t come up just short on one of his trips in the lane, we’re looking at a verdict in just 48 minutes. If Marc Gasol doesn’t leave the game early with a shoulder injury, I’m probably writing a much more solemn piece this morning.
Likewise, if the Mavs don’t hit the offensive boards hard in the first quarter while firing blanks, maybe they never have a shot at pulling a win out of nowhere. Part of those rebounds is chance, but just as important is the Mavs’ consistent effort on the glass. Memphis actually leads the league in rebounding rate, but Dallas outpaced them on the boards until late in the game. If we’re preaching the “every play counts” mantra, the Mavs’ performance on the boards — even if they ended up a few shy of the Grizzlies’ total — certainly qualifies as a game-altering play.
Brendan Haywood gets called for a questionable foul call, Dirk hits an incredible fadeaway jumper from the baseline. The ball goes through Erick Dampier’s hands, Jason Terry connects on an impressive pull-up jumper. DeMarre Carroll goes 0-for-2 at the free throw line, Jason Kidd hounds O.J. Mayo into an impossible shot attempt. A team can do so much to help its cause in games such as this, but even the fine works of hardwood greats need the added benefit of a little luck. Sometimes it’s the baseline referee seeing (or not seeing) enough contact to make a call, and sometimes it’s a Rudy Gay three-pointer being off by a matter of centimeters.
For that reason, winning like this on a regular season Wednesday night doesn’t mean all that much. Winning like this on a regular season Wednesday night after proving all season long that late-game execution is a Maverick trademark means a great deal. It’s still troubling that Dallas isn’t capable of dismissing inferior opponents in more dominating fashion. That would be nice to see, but the success the Mavs have had in rallying back from deficits late in games this season has evolved beyond mere happenstance. This isn’t a quaint trend, but the way this team operates. When it comes down to winning time, the Mavs get it done. Some of their success is derived from luck, and it would be foolish to debate that, but I refuse to accept the idea that the late-game execution we’ve seen from the Mavs this season is anything less than a basketball truth.
It obviously doesn’t come into effect every night, and on numerous occasions this season the Mavs have surrendered insurmountable leads to their opponents, likely by keeping their own impressive comeback track record in mind. There’s no problem with Dallas having the ability to come from behind, but knowing that they have that ability…aye, there’s the rub. Dallas will surrender early leads to opponents (not that they did in this one) knowing that they’ve lived through similar circumstances before. Sometimes they come back just like they probably think they will, and other times it bites them in the ass.
This time it didn’t, and bringing up that scenario at all isn’t exactly fair. The Mavs were working on defense and working to get good shots offensively, it just wasn’t their day. Dirk was ice cold, Shawn Marion (one points, 0-6 FG, four rebounds, two turnovers) couldn’t hit anything, the entire team had their fingers sufficiently buttered (18 turnovers for the night, 13 in the first half), and the only reason the Mavs were able to hang in this game at all was due to a series of well-timed runs to keep themselves within striking distance.
Most of the credit for those runs goes to Jason Terry (29 points, six assists, four steals, three turnovers), also known as The Only Maverick Who Could Score For the First Three Quarters. I know JET is known around these parts as a great fourth quarter performer, and he is. Last night, he had just two points on 0-for-5 shooting in the fourth (with an additional four points in overtime to be fair). I don’t say this to point and laugh at Terry or even to point out some flaw, but to indicate just how important his 29 points were or more specifically, the 23 of them that came in the game’s first three quarters.
Most of the credit for those three quarters goes to O.J. Mayo (27 points, 10-16 FG, five rebounds), Zach Randolph (24 points, 8-21 FG, 12 rebounds), and Mike Conley (25 points, six rebounds, five assists, no turnovers). Mayo’s shooting stroke looked damn good, and he was a one-man offense in the third (in terms of his production, not any implied selfishness) when the rest of the Grizz started cooling off a bit. No performance should impress more than Conley’s though, who looked surprisingly dominant against the Mavs guards and actually made layups. If you’ve watched much of Memphis this season, you know how much of a minor miracle that is. Randolph simply did what he does, although Brendan Haywood did a nice job of making Zach’s life difficult. Not every jumper was heavily contested and not every shot from deep in the paint completely smothered, but Haywood did a decent job on a tough cover.
And even though Shawn Marion didn’t have one of his better offensive nights (did he have an offensive night at all?), he did force Rudy Gay (11 points, 5-18 FG, eight rebounds, four turnovers) into some difficult looks. That said, it wasn’t all Shawn; Rudy had plenty of opportunities to hit open jumpers but just couldn’t convert, which you can chalk up to Marion “knocking him off his game” or Gay just having a rough night. Anyone’s guess is as good as mine. All we know is that Gay had plenty of chances to hit but didn’t, and some of that is because of Marion.
That’s really the story of the night. The Grizzlies had plenty of chances to win this game but didn’t, and some of that is because of the Mavericks. Some of that is solid fundamental defense, good rotations, and solid rebounding. Some of it is Memphis giving the Mavs the opportunity to come back, which is both an indictment of their finishing ability and some bad breaks. Having success in the playoffs is going to take a similar mix of skill and luck, and though the latter is as frustrating as it is uncontrollable, the former happens to be a Maverick strength.
Closing thoughts to come.
Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images.
Box Score — Play-By-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“Oh, how disappointment tracks the steps of hope.”
It says something about a team’s constitution and performance when a game like last night’s doesn’t seem all that surprising. It’s not even all that disappointing, in the specific sense. It’s just Exhibit Z in the exhaustive repertoire of the prosecution against the Mavs; another reason to disregard them and their potential for rattling cages in the playoffs.
When this kind of game happens once, it’s a disappointment. Good teams shouldn’t lose to lottery teams, but it does happen. It’s not the end of the world. A minor letdown, to be sure, but nothing that a could team can’t move past and forget. The Mavs not only have dropped many a game to inferior teams, but also happened to get blown out by this same Memphis team early in 2009. It’s not even a case of the Grizz having the Mavs’ number, or some combination of matchup problems that creates a perfect storm. The Mavs just refuse to show up defensively against a team that can have potent offensive nights, and they refuse to match Memphis’ effort level on the glass and on the defensive end. This loss may have not been depressing, but that fact is.
The Mavs’ offense didn’t experience any roadblocks until the fourth quarter, at which time it stopped in its tracks, stiffened up, and died. The first quarter featured the Mavs pounding it inside, with the combination of Erick Dampier, Brandon Bass, and Dirk Nowitzki (who got into the act with a few buckets deep in the paint) scoring 17 of the Mavs’ first 27 points. Marc Gasol, Darrell Arthur, and Darko Milicic were ceding position to the Dallas bigs, and all too often it culminated in an easy bucket or a trip to the line. Jason Kidd seemed equally determined to post up the smaller, younger Mike Conley, with mixed results. In principle, Kidd posting up the idea of smaller point guards is awesome. He’s stronger and bigger than almost every point guard he matches up against. The difficulties come in the execution, which reveal that Kidd doesn’t exactly have the skill set for such an endeavor. The Kidd post-up either results in an off-balance turnaround jumper or a kick out to an open shooter. Again, good in theory. But Kidd isn’t exactly the best finisher around the rim, and the rest of the team (sans Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki) aren’t exactly the best finishers from the three point line.
The Grizzlies apparently are. Or they were, for this night, at least. Mike Conley (25 points on 10-16 shooting including 4-5 from three, and 5 assists) led the charge and shot with a load of confidence. To all those who deny Conley’s rightful place atop the Memphis point guard throne (if it can be called that), kindly remove your feet from your mouths. He’s a young guy with plenty of time to grow, and not having to look over his shoulder for Kyle Lowry or watch the start of the game from the bench will help in that area tremendously. He’s going to be something special.
After halftime, Dirk (35 points on 14-26 FG, 9 rebounds) took the team on his back as Memphis looked to build a lead. The Dallas offense turned into isolation after isolation, with Dirk making Hakim Warrick, Darrell Arthur, and Rudy Gay look silly with shot fakes, footwork, and that jumper that was smothered and covered in smooth sauce. Delicious.
Unfortunately, Dirk (and the Mavs as a team) picked the wrong team to go cold, and went 5-19 in the fourth quarter. The Mavs had trouble contesting the Grizzlies’ shooters all game long (partly because of their own fault, and partly because the Grizz were hot hot hot) , and when the offense went so did the Mavs. O.J. Mayo hit two huge shots to put Memphis up to stay, and Jason Terry could only put up two clunker three point attempts with the game still in the balance. Naturally, because the basketball gods are cruel deities indeed, Terry hit his third, insconsequential shot once the outcome had already been determined. Just what I needed: a slap in the face.
If you really want a culprit, I have a few:
- Blame Josh Howard. That’s the easy one. He didn’t play, and that just has to be his fault…right? Point is, the Mavs should know how to win without Josh by now, and that excuse turned up lame long ago.
- Blame the rebounding. The Grizzlies came up with 11 offensive rebounds, and in a game that came down to a bucket or two, that’s pretty huge. I don’t expect the Mavs to be in position to get a defensive rebound on every missed attempt. But not securing the ‘bound on a missed free throw? That’s bush league. A bit more boxing out and this game goes the Mavs’ way.
- Blame the offense. Dirk’s a stud. But again, when the big guns finally ran out of ammo, the rest of the team couldn’t get the ball through the net. Jason Terry, Brandon Bass, J.J. Barea, and Jason Kidd all had their moments on the offensive end, but unfortunately none of those moments were in the fourth quarter. That’s not gonna cut it on a night where Conley, Mayo, and especially Rudy Gay are all getting to the rim and hitting their shots.
At least the guys know to create a little buzz for Sunday’s game with Phoenix, which suddenly became even more interesting. The Mavs are just 3 games ahead of the Suns for the 8th seed, but that number could suddenly dwindle to 2 if the Mavs blow Sunday’s game in Dallas. Good news, though: Utah, home warriors that they are, actually blew a home game to the lowly Wolves. It also just so happens that the Mavs play the Jazz in Dallas on Wednesday. That means that the seven seed is still very much attainable, and dodging a first round series against the Lakers remains a distinct possibility…supposing that nights like these never happen again. Hmph.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Dirk Nowitkzi. Dirk. Dirk-O-Rama. Dirkmania. Dirkopolis. The Dirkster. 35 points is a nice chunk of change, but even more impressive was just how dominant he was in the third quarter. Dirk’s stats from that Q? 17 points (8-11 FG) 4 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block, and just 1 turnover. Spectacular.
Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning New wrote a piece outlining which of the Mavs’ assets are the most tradable, and also gives a pretty hefty list of potential targets that could be on Dallas’ radar. Pure speculation? Maybe. But Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com thinks there’s more to it, and that there may be some legitimate team sentiment behind the rumors.
Dallas needs to do something. Rotation shake-ups and motivational speeches have gone just about as far as they can go. The team has some appealing assets and they have plenty of needs. There are really two questions though. First, can the Mavs even get the “right deal” done? And second, does the “right deal” do enough to get the Mavs out of the first round of the playoffs? The fan in me says yes, but the realist in me says no. To say it’s an uphill battle is underselling it.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun with it, right? So without further ado, a breakdown of each of Sefko’s proposed trades:
Jerry Stackhouse and Erick Dampier to Sacramento for Brad Miller and Kenny Thomas.
Why it works: The trade turns Stack’s contract into a player that’s immediately useful in Brad Miller, and Dallas doesn’t sacrifice 2010 cap flexibility. Miller finally gives Mavs fans the scoring from the center position that they’ve always pined for, and he’s a much better passer than Dampier. When Miller is focused, his ability to facilitate the offense can really open things up for the fringe contributors on the team. Kenny Thomas also gives the Mavs another look at the second string power forward (or third string, whatever), and he’s not as bad as you probably think he is. The Kings aren’t playing him, but Thomas hasn’t been all that bad in his few appearances for Sacramento this season, and could be able to contribute to a playoff team.
Why it doesn’t: Brad Miller just so happens to occupy the same offensive space as Dirk, meaning that someone is going to be out of their comfort zone on almost every play. Miller also happens to be an inferior post defender, shot-blocker, and rebounder to Dampier. Granted that Miller is in fact a more gifted scorer than Damp, he also relies on a higher usage rate that could require taking touches away from Dirk, Josh, and JET in order to accomodate Miller’s usual production. Is that worth it? Probably not. You might be able to argue that this trade slightly favors Dallas, but even so it would be a marginal upgrade at best.
Jerry Stackhouse and Brandon Bass to Golden State for Stephen Jackson.
Why it works: This one is definitely the most interesting to me. The 2 guard has been a problem all season, and Antoine Wright/Gerald Green/Dwane Casey’s kid probably aren’t the answer. Wright’s passable some nights and unspectacularly awful others, and Green ranges from smile-worthy offensive explosion to migraine-inducing “rookie mistake” factory. Jax would give the Mavs a great defender, a vocal leader, and a player who can drive, shoot, and set up his teammates. Plus, this trade would give Dallas a quality wing player without giving up Josh Howard.
Why it doesn’t: The bench would be a disaster. Who plays power forward? James Singleton? Ryan Hollins? Shawne Williams? It wouldn’t be pretty on the backlines, and Dallas would be hit hard in the low post and on the boards. Or, I guess Carlisle could just play Dirk for 43 minutes a night. That would work really well. But the trouble doesn’t stop there; Stephen Jackson signed what is actually a pretty reasonable three-year, $28 million extension this season. The wittle bitty problem with that is the fact that Jackson is nearly 31 right now, and at the end of his deal (2012-2013), he would be 35 years old. Who knows how productive he’ll be by that time, and it could be a nightmare to move an aging wing scorer if things don’t work out.
Photo from Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images via ESPN.
Jerry Stackhouse and Brandon Bass to Chicago for Andres Nocioni.
Why it works: Noc gives the Mavs another weapon off the bench, or possibly a small forward to start alongside Howard. He can stretch the floor, he’s a physical player, and would add firepower to a team that has trouble scoring at times.
Why it doesn’t: Nocioni’s contract is entirely too long, stretching to 2012-2013 (although that last year is a team option). Some might call him an “irritant,” but I merely cite him as the primary example under the dictionary definition of “fake hustle.” He’s almost constantly overaggressive both in terms of shot attempts and fouls, and while he is a physical defender he isn’t that great at D in general. Trading Bass would open up a huge hole at the 4 (see above), and while Chicago may play Noc at the 4 for stretches, Dallas should have no business doing that. He’s 6’7”, 201, and just tends to push people in the back. Not exactly a dream come true. Plus, his better offensive days look more like an exception than a rule at this point.
Jerry Stackhouse and Brandon Bass to Minnesota for Mike Miller.
Why it works: Mike Miller is a great player on the down year of all down years, somehow appearing to be one of the worst players in the Wolves’ regular rotation. And that’s saying something. I’d find it hard to believe that the Real Mike Miller isn’t buried beneath layer upon layer of Minnesota-induced psychosis, and the Mavs would hope to save Miller from himself. When he’s rolling, he’s creating for his teammates, getting to the hoop, and one of the deadliest shooters in the game. When he’s not, well, just look at his stats on the season. Not too pretty.
Why it doesn’t: This trade doesn’t really seem like a possibility. All indications point to Minny demanding back more compensation that just Bass and an expiring deal, and I’m sure they have their eyes on draft picks around the league. Beyond that, Miller only makes the Mavs better at doing what they already do: shooting. He would fix the starting shooting guard problem but open up the power forward Pandora’s Box, which could actually end up being a wash. On top of that, there’s no guarantee that Miller won’t continue his reign as the Archduke of the Royal Principality of EPIC FAIL.
Jerry Stackhouse and Erick Dampier to Toronto for Jermaine O’Neal.
Why it works: It really, really doesn’t.
Why it doesn’t: Probably the worst deal on the list. Turn our prized expiring deal and a healthy starting center into a possibly-more-talented-but-definitely-more-washed-up, oft-injured center. Where do I sign up?
Brandon Bass To Detroit for Arron Afflalo.
Why it works: Arron Afflalo is exactly the type of young point guard the Mavs want to have going forward. He’s already a good defender, shoots well, and plays the game without forcing the issue or making careless mistakes. Another quality young playerdrafted by Joe Dumars. Plus, dude has an awesome name.
Why it doesn’t: This trade could only make sense in tandem with another deal that would bring in frontcourt depth. The Mavs already have J.J. Barea, Jason Terry, and even Matt Carroll to back-up Kidd if the situation calls for it, while Brandon Bass is the only line of defense between a potential Dirk Nowitzki energy and complete Maverick apocalypse. I love Afflalo’s game and I love his potential, but this move doesn’t make sense for Dallas right now.
Photo from AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki.
Jerry Stackhouse and Brandon Bass to Oklahoma City for Earl Watson.
Why it works: I’m not really sure. I guess Earl Watson would be another Kidd back-up, or possibly an insurance policy if Dallas decides to go another way this summer. Otherwise, I’m speechless.
Why it doesn’t: Earl Watson just isn’t that good. His jumper is errant, his playmaking skills are slightly above average, and his defense is unimpressive. There’s a reason that his “steady veteran presence” has made its rounds throughout the league, let’s just put it that way. Plus, giving up an expiring deal and arguably Dallas’ most promising young player for a piece that doesn’t fit on the team, isn’t a youngster, and isn’t anything better than average seems awfully silly.
Photo from NBAE/Getty Images/Kent Smith.
Josh Howard and J.J. Barea to Charlotte for Raja Bell and Raymond Felton.
Why it works: Raymond Felton would be the Mavs’ point guard of the future and Raja Bell would be a capable starting 2 guard who still retains some of the skills of a lockdown defender. At once, this trade will fill a glaring hole for the Mavs at the 2 and procure Kidd’s protégé.
Why it doesn’t: The Mavs are giving up quite a bit for two ill-fitting pieces. Josh Howard is still a hotbed of talent, whether he can harness it or not. J.J. Barea not only holds status as a Mavericks folk hero, but penetrates well, knows when to look for his own shot, and has plenty of time to improve on a perfectly reasonable contract. Meanwhile, Raymond Felton would possibly be forced into the shooting guard slot alongside Kidd or in a back-up role, meaning that he won’t have experience running the point full-time when he takes over and/or he won’t have the added experience of playing against top-flight players. Meanwhile, Raja Bell could be an interesting addition to the Mavs roster if it still featured Howard, but in this case filling the hole at the 2 leaves an even bigger one at the 3. Devean George might actually start. I’m doing my best to keep in my enthusiasm. Beyond that, Felton isn’t a great shooter, has stalled at times in his progression, and Raja Bell is already a shade behind his former self and only getting worse.
Photo from NBA.com
Josh Howard and Brandon Bass to Memphis for Mike Conley and Darko Milicic.
Why it works: Mike Conley is going to be a stud. He has all the physical tools required of a great point guard, and while his play has been up and down, I see the good in him. He’s probably the best option listed here in terms of young guards, and the Grizz apparently aren’t entirely opposed to the idea of parting ways with him. If Memphis was rumored to be interested in Milwaukee’s Ramon Sessions and Joe Alexander for Conley, why wouldn’t they be interested in Howard/Bass? Darko on the other hand, despite his neverending status as a 2003 Draft punchline, is a pretty decent big man. Like Conley, he’s had good days and bad. But he’s also a legit 7-foot shot blocker with plenty of room to grow and a nice presence in the low post.
Why it doesn’t: It doesn’t help the Mavs this season. Darko would be able to play either power forward or center on any given night, but the small forward position would be awful. Conley doesn’t fill any specific short-term need,and would be a luxury I’m not sure the Mavs can afford on a roster that needs some help.