Dallas Mavericks 91, Indiana Pacers 82

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 23, 2010 under Recaps | 6 Comments to Read

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

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There is a sort of charm in ugliness.
-Josh Billings

Well, at least the Mavs won. Otherwise, they’d be mere participants in a sloppy, ugly contest in which neither team could accomplish much of anything. Whatever specter follows around the Pacers to groan ghoulishly, move around furniture, and haunt Indy’s shooters was apparently bored with only making one team painful to watch. So not only did the Pacers shoot a characteristically bad 36.9% from the field, the Mavs shot 38.6%. Dallas’ offensive performance can really only be positively skewed by saying that it was bad, but not as bad as Indiana’s.

The Mavs did play impressive defense, though it’s hard to gauge numerically based on Indiana’s general ineptitude. This team is pretty miserable offensively night-in and night-out, and if you take Danny Granger out of the lineup (he missed the game due to personal reasons), then they find new ways to redefine misery. So yeah, the Mavs held the Pacers to some poor shooting numbers, including just three makes out of 23 three-point attempts. But the Pacers gave them plenty of help by missing open looks and exhibiting rather poor shot selection.

But if you feel compelled to hand out plaques for nice defensive play, they’d go to Jason Terry (14 points, 5-10 FG, two assists) and Brendan Haywood (13 points, 3-6 FG, 20 rebounds, three blocks). JET played a particularly active brand of perimeter defense, in which he took advantage of Indiana’s lazy passing by not only grabbing three steals, but by deflecting a good deal of the passes and loose balls that were in his midst. Haywood did as Haywood does, challenging shots from deep in the post or just deep in the paint, and though he’s still figuring out how best to work with his new teammates in pick-and-roll situations, his shot-blocking and rebounding abilities were fairly elite in this contest. I know it doesn’t take a legendary defender to hold Roy Hibbert to eight points, but that doesn’t make Brendan’s work clogging the paint and cleaning the defensive glass any less impressive.

But the Mavs offense. Yeah. Okay. Well, hrm. No one shot or scored particularly well at all, though Dirk Nowitzki (23 points, seven rebounds, two turnovers) did settle into his stroke late in the game. Dirk started the game with a 1-for-4 first quarter, and closed it with a 3-for-3 stint in the fourth. Caron Butler (eight points, five rebounds, three assists, four turnovers, two steals, and a block) started with a 2-for-8 first quarter, and at least had the decency to cut down his field goal attempts. Butler put up just two more shots in his final 18.5 minutes of playing time, and while that doesn’t translate to a productive scoring night, it’s his Maverick-low in attempts. Caron has averaged 14.6 attempts on 37% shooting as a Mav. To be fair, Butler has missed lot of looks around the rim over the last five games trying to draw fouls, which is why it’s much easier to tolerate than having him hoist jumper after jumper.

But his deference was enough. The Mavs found a way to scrape together enough points to put up a respectable total, with 10 from Kidd (seven assists, two turnovers) here, eight from Marion (six rebounds, three assists, three turnovers) there, and a Maverick-high seven for DeShawn Stevenson (four rebounds, two assists). DeShawn looked like a real rotation player in 23 minutes, and his play was unlike much of what we saw from him in Washington. The defense was back, and though DeShawn wasn’t quite a lockdown guy, he made smart plays when playing on-ball defense and worked that end of the court. On offense, he didn’t stop the ball or play outside himself; Stevenson hit a shot off the catch or a few dribbles if he had space, or else he simply continued to swing the ball. No indecision. It was nothing flashy — just a wing stepping off the bench to knock down a few jumpers (he was 3-of-5 before garbage time) and get a hand in a shooter’s face — but on some nights that type of play is exactly what the Mavs could use coming off the bench.

The Mavs probably took too long to really put the Pacers out of their misery, as the game wasn’t decided until the beginning of the fourth quarter. Indiana was right there by halftime, though a 15-5 and a 13-3 run to start the third and fourth quarters, respectively, put an end to that nonsense. The result never seemed to be in doubt, but I can understand why some would find the lack of separation (especially in the final score) troubling. But the Mavs did build the lead up to 22 before emptying the bench, and while they weren’t impressive overall, they did manage to muck up a game that wasn’t going their way. Not every win has to be an impressive win, and the more important thing for this team right now is to build confidence in their altered core.

Closing thoughts:

  • After J.J. Barea (0-3 FG) received the initial minutes as the back-up point guard, Rodrigue Beaubois (six points, 2-8 FG, three rebounds, two assists) emerged for the first time since the All-Star break. The results were mixed, and the low-light (for me, at least) was Roddy’s defense. He looked awful against the pick-and-roll; Marion would buy Beaubois time by flashing out on picks, but when Marion was forced to recover, Roddy was hardly in a position to defend the ball. I’m not sure whether it was some unusually effective picking by the Pacers, Beaubois’ lithe frame keeping him unable to fight back to his man, or simply an effort thing, but that has to change. With that length and athleticism, Beaubois’ calling card should be his defense, and you can’t defend the point guard position right now without great chemistry in your pick-and-roll defense.
  • Jason Kidd and Brendan Haywood – still a work in progress, but they’re syncing up.
  • What I couldn’t understand, for the life of me, was how T.J. Ford was able to bait Beaubois and Barea into biting on his pump fakes. I respect the intent to play good honest defense on a shooter, but come on. He’s T.J. Ford. If he wants to take turnaround, fadeaway jumpers, then you shake his hand and be on your merry.
  • Shawn Marion was doing entirely too much off the dribble, which probably isn’t a good thing. There are nights where Shawn can do that and get away with it, but Indiana stripped him repeatedly, and three of those strips ended up as turnovers.
  • I’m liking what Eddie Najera brings to the table more and more. He’s not exactly Erick Dampier, and that’s because he’s nothing like Erick Dampier; Najera still thrives based on a high energy level, despite being a spry 33 years old. But he’s holding down the center position with his hustle, and what matters is that he can relieve Brendan for 15 minutes a game or so until Damp’s return.
  • Pacers’ coach Jim O’Brien was given a technical foul 58 seconds into the game. Dirk’s free throw gave the Mavericks a commanding 1-0 lead.
  • Remember when Mike Dunleavy used to be good? He was fantastic for the Pacers in 2007-2008, but injuries seem to have completely derailed his post-Golden State renaissance. A pity, honestly – I’ve always hoped that MDJr would have a chance to redeem himself for all the grief he got while he was with the Warriors, and he was becoming quite the complementary player before he went down.
  • JOSH MCROBERTS HAD AN ALLEY-OOP DUNK ON A FAST BREAK. THAT IS ALL.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Brendan Haywood. Speaking of, we should probably be on nickname alert for this guy. Caron Butler already has “Tough/Tuff Juice,” but Haywood needs something aside from the semi-infamous “Brenda.” Get on it, Mavs Nation, because if a 20-rebound night doesn’t deserve a moniker, then I don’t know what does anymore.

No Game Is an Island: Consider the Road Forked

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 20, 2009 under Previews | 5 Comments to Read

The Dallas Mavericks visit the Indiana Pacers
6:00 CST

It’s almost an irrelevant discussion by now, but as recently as a week ago, those with an eye to the Mavs pondered the perks of playoffs versus the lottery.  This team almost certainly doesn’t have the chops of a championship contender (or if they have them stowed away in some secret compartment, I have yet to see them), so at best the playoffs are an extension to a season most view as an exercise in mediocrity.  Sure, every team in the playoffs technically has a chance to win it all, but at what minute fraction of a fraction does it become more worth our while to try our luck at the lottery balls?

The Mavs are a veteran team, and that route isn’t exactly an appetizing one.  Just making the playoffs is a bare bones accomplishment, but for a team of proud, veteran players, it could offer enough consolation to keep them from tossing and turning in bed every night for the next three months.  And, of course, the financial incentives are well worth the Mavs’ while, especially when considering the team’s massive payroll and luxury tax payout.

Simply, the difference between potentially the 14th pick and the 20th pick or so isn’t worth the fuss.  What the Mavs would gain in a (possibly) marginally more talented/productive player, they would almost certainly lose in whatever quantitative way there is to measure mental health.  The hot line with the Mavs has always been that they lack the sort of fiery, on-court leader that forges championship mettle with his bear hands; if that’s as true as believed, then missing the playoffs with two future Hall-of-Famers, not to mention two players who fancy themselves borderline All-Stars, could be a stroke of death.

The Indiana Pacers find themselves in a similar discussion, but with a decidedly different outlook.  For them, making the playoffs isn’t as much a testament to their longevity and a shallow fulfillment of their own personal expectations, but a fairly significant breakthrough for a roster that has been continually limited by circumstance.  Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy, the team’s two best players, have battled injury all season.  Almost every other rotation player has missed at least a handful of games, sometimes leaving a cast of role players to accomplish what teams at full-strength often struggle to do: win games.  At their best, they’re world-beaters, a potent offensive club that overcomes deficiencies with a sense of direction.  Sometimes the compass may be pointing the wrong way, but at least their direction is conclusive.

What would making the playoffs mean to the Pacers?  I’d wager an awful lot; Jarrett Jack, Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy (though he’s injured) have never even tasted the playoffs, and it goes without saying that rookies Roy Hibbert and Brandon Rush have yet to play their first postseason game.  Something tells me that those players, Murph and Dunleavy in particular, might want to take a crack at the playoffs, even if it means nothing more than a beatdown at the hand of the Cavaliers.  If it doesn’t happen this year, it would certainly be disappointing, but it’s also completely understandable given the myriad of injuries.  The Pacers are in an oddly accomodating situation for a team on the playoff bubble; their injuries arm them with the perfect write-off, a playoff berth would bring a newfound sense of fulfillment and justification, and a draft pick in the lottery would only serve to help their cause next year with a healthy, matured roster.

That seems to be the theme with the Mavs in comparison to the rest of those on the fringes of relevance.  These teams have been to the bottom, and they’ve seen just how dark it can get.  Dallas, on the other hand, has glimpsed the summit.  Though they’re stranded with no apparent means of reaching their goal, claims to fear their half-way camp much more than the fall.  They could be in for a rude awakening when glorified visions of falling with style transform into the panic and fear of a freefall, but we’ll tackle that monster when we come to it.  For now, the Mavs will do their best MacGyver, and try to fashion a pickaxe from dental floss, a tube sock, and a metal spork.