I was able to get to the game in Washington DC last night, as Dallas stopped a six game skid against the Washington Wizards. The Difference provides a breakdown to the keys of the game, but to recap, Washington got out to a 14 point lead in the second quarter as the Maverick offense struggled to get any shots to fall. A Darren Collison fast break and-one finally got the Maverick offense going as they were able to close the Washington lead down to four by half time. A 35 point outburst in the third put Dallas up, as Shawn Marion and Darren Collison lead the way. The final period saw Vince Carter assert himself early and often, scoring 10 of his game high 23 points. He finished the game with a mighty left handed dunk.
Washington saw a solid performance from rookie Bradley Beal, as he put up 22 points. The Wizards have been dealing with a rash of injuries which have hurt their rotations. To give you an example, recently signed D-league call up Garrett Temple made the start at point guard for the Wizards.
Here are the top five quotes from last night’s game.
On the last two weeks: “It’s been crazy. Not winning, I think we all lose sleep. We are all a little stressed out, a little tense. It definitely doesn’t make going home any better losing games so we just came into practice and got some good work in before we came out here. We understood that even though it’s New Years, it’s a business trip and let’s go out here and handle business the right way.
On the game: “I think we gave it a good game. We gave it a great first start. They had experience, they have good players. We wake up the beast (Dirk Nowitzki), and the beast starts making shots. Vince Carter looked like young Vince Carter. I think they did a great job including the post, they had great defense, they forced us to pass the ball to the side and we lost.”
Wizards Head Coach Randy Wittman
On the third quarter: ”They (Mavericks) came out and kind of blitzed in the third quarter. As a team they turned up their intensity and shot very well from the field. They got a lot of shots to go for them that weren’t falling in the earlier possessions of the game. It’s tough to defend a team that’s shooting 67% from the field.”
On Vince Carter and Chris Kaman: “Vince had a great game. Offensively he was efficient. Defensively he was in the right place. He got some big rebounds for us. We need him to make plays, simple as that. I really thought everybody played well. I was especially impressed with Kaman’s game defensively tonight. He was down in the stance, was showing a level of aggression that helped us particularly in the third quarter.”
On Vince Carter’s athleticism: ”The play at the end of the game was pivotal because it kind of sealed the game. And it opened it up. He said to me coming off the court following the timeout, ‘I bet you didn’t think I could do that.’. But he still has tremendous athleticism even though he’s an older guy. He’s taking care of himself. He’s worked extremely hard, especially this year. And he’s a really important guy for us.”
Kirk is a member of the Two Man Game family. Follow him on twitter @KirkSeriousFace for ranting about Dallas basketball, TV, movies, video games, and his dog.
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
Give the Mavericks credit: they didn’t lose this game solely on offense or defense alone, but managed to clam up and crumble simultaneously. They turned the ball over on nearly a fifth of their possessions. They started with a well-intentioned transition defense, but spend most of the game lightly jogging in the Nuggets’ dust. They allowed 117.3 points per 100 possessions. These first two games have been ugly in a way this franchise hasn’t seen in a long time, and hopefully those universal struggles don’t persist for too long.
Delonte West (two points, four assists, three steals) grabbed his first formal start after becoming the de facto starter for the second half of the opener against the Heat. In theory, it was a good move; West is the hands-down best defensive option the Mavs have against Ty Lawson (27 points, 10-15 FG, 3-6 3FG, four rebounds, four assists, three steals). That theoretical decision didn’t do much good against the Nuggets’ outright fast breaks and transition-induced mismatches, but West was still the right call for starting responsibilities.
Turnovers aside, the Mavs actually looked much improved offensively in the game’s opening quarter. There were some productive sets, and various players worked well together in strong-side action. It wasn’t anything resembling the offensive sophistication that earned Dallas their first title, but in such dire times, Mavs fans should take what they can get.
The Mavs weren’t expected to make much commotion during this year’s abridged free agency, but they’ve already made one move in anticipation of another. The Knicks’ acquisition of Tyson Chandler — originally designed to be an outright free agent signing — has officially been processed as a three-team, sign-and-trade endeavor, scoring Dallas an $11 million trade exception, a protected second round pick (via Washington), and the imminently waivable Andy Rautins. According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, the Mavs are already working to use that traded player exception to acquire Samuel Dalembert on a one-year deal via sign-and-trade with Sacramento.
It’s a lot of hustle and bustle (especially when coupled with Dallas’ signing of Brandan Wright, and likely acquisition on Vince Carter) for a team largely anticipated to stand pat, but it’s worth waiting for the smoke to clear before we take full stock in Dallas’ off-season haul. Trade exceptions, by nature, are transitory tools; they’re only worth what a team is able to gain with them, and we’ll have a better grasp of the yield from the Chandler sign-and-trade as soon as Dalembert makes his decision. The Mavs are hardly the only team pursuing him; Stein also noted that Houston was interested in acquiring Dalembert if the Rockets’ other options fell through, meaning the Mavs’ next play could lean on the reconstruction and upcoming review of the Chris Paul blockbuster.
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
This was a game that the Mavs needed to win. This was not the way that the Mavs needed to win it. Denver provided the Dallas’ first real challenge on the schedule, and rather than prove that their defensive success in the first three games was indicative of a real and sweeping change, we’re now left wondering how many of the season’s first 144 minutes should be taken seriously at all.
Dallas was, statistically speaking, an excellent defensive team before last night. Yet when the Mavs had a chance to make a statement against a top-10 offense, they allowed an unpalatable 111 points per 100 possessions. The Mavs’ defensive performance in the first three games matters, but the value of that performance has withered under high heat. There are better offenses out there than the Denver Nuggets. There are surely better offenses out there than the Denver Nuggets sans Nene, Kenyon Martin, and Chris Andersen. And when those offense come, the Mavs may not get the lucky bounce they need to leave the floor as victors.
Dallas will have to be better. Luckily, we’re now a mere four games into the season, and the Mavs have innumerable opportunities to solidify their defense before the games stop meaning something and start meaning everything.
We shouldn’t let this win soak up too much gloom, though. Offensively, Dallas was pretty fantastic. That’s an idiomatic Maverick way of saying that Dirk Nowitzki was pretty fantastic. With almost all of Denver’s bigs sidelined, Nowitzki (35 points, 15-31 FG, 12 rebounds, three assists) went to work on a cast of undersized defenders. George Karl refused to throw any kind aggressive double teams Dirk’s way, and his team paid the price with each move on the low block, and each jumper dropped over the hand of a defender that could barely reach Nowitzki’s eye level.
Dirk dominated the game and the Maverick offense, and pushed Dallas’ offensive efficiency just far enough to overcome their deficiencies on defense and the glass. On a typical night this season, Nowitzki uses 24.7% of the Mavs’ possessions. Last night against the Nuggets, he used 47%. Forget alpha and omega, Nowitzki was the entirety of all alphabets of all times, all that had been and all that ever would be for the Mavs’ O.
Others thrived from Dirk’s resplendence. Jason Terry spotted up on the break beautifully and balanced the weak side when things slowed down. JET had 16 points and went 4-of-4 from three in the third quarter alone, keying a 14-4 run that gave Dallas the lead. Of those 14 points, Terry scored 11.
Kidd should also be credited, even if he scored just three points of his own. 83.3% of Terry’s field goals were assisted, and 100% of both Caron Butler’s (16 points, 7-14 FG, seven rebounds) and Shawn Marion’s (eight points, six rebounds, two blocks) field goals were set up by a teammate. Kidd’s 12 dimes don’t account for allof those FGs, but his execution of the offense was masterful. Kidd is just so unbelievably patient; Kidd is kind; Kidd is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. He does not insist on his own way; yada, yada, yada; He bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Nowitzki had the ball in his hands an astounding percent of the time, but it was Kidd who got it there. He was making perfect entry passes, waiting for plays to develop, and finding Dirk (and JET, and Caron…) when he leaked into open space.
When Kidd is functioning at this level, the Mavs are a rather brilliant offensive team. But when Nowitzki is left purely to his own devices to fuel the entire offense, the well-oiled machine tends to sputter. Both players are essential if Dallas is to have a top-shelf offense again, and games like these give us a glimpse — however stilted it may be in terms of usage — of the Mavs’ offensive potential with both Kidd and Nowitzki playing effectively.
Carmelo Anthony finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds, but had a pretty frustrating night overall. He shot 42% from the field on 19 attempts, and while I’d love to attribute some of Anthony’s rougher patches to Shawn Marion and the Mavericks’ defense, Melo didn’t do himself any favors. Dallas played him well, but it was a bit of an off-night.
A silver lining to the Mavs’ defense: Dallas utilized a match-up zone in the second and third quarters that was fantastically effective, but relied on it less and less as the game wore on. The Mavs shouldn’t want to be in a place where their defensive future hinges on the effectiveness of the zone (which, for all of its strengths, is still a bit gimmicky), but knowing that it can still be effective in spurts against rhythm offenses is valuable knowledge.
Speaking of: Nowitzki could probably stand to not hedge quite so heavily toward the middle when playing zone with Chandler. Tyson can cover plenty of ground on his own, and considering the potency of Denver’s three-point shooters, Dirk might be better served honoring the impact of the corner three. Dirk did what he could to close out, but sometimes he was just too far out of position. I realize that threes are a realistic concession of the zone, but in this case some of those attempts (and makes) might have been preventable.
This was not Brendan Haywood’s finest performance.
Gary Forbes is now an NBA player. Forbes started for the Nuggets, and drew the short straw on being the first defender to face Dirk Nowitzki. He did an admirable job, and the former D-Leaguer dropped 12 points on 50% shooting to boot.
Jason Kidd is doing a great job of giving up the ball early on the break and then spotting up as a three-point shooter. In traditional fast break situations, I’m always surprised that opponents pay so much attention to the threat of a Kidd layup. He’s not a very good finisher at all, and the thought of a pass always comes first, second, and third for him. But by giving up the ball early, Kidd turns himself into a fast-break weapon. No longer is he only looking to set up a bucket with a pass. Instead, he’s capable of completing transition opportunities of his own on both the primary and secondary break:
J.J. Barea’s three turnovers hurt, as did his defense at times. But does anyone dare discount the impact of his nine points in a game decided by a single bucket? Barea made mistakes, but he also drew offensive fouls and got to the rim when Dallas needed offensive help.
Arron Afflalo (known affectionately in some circles as “Spellcheck,”) is the real deal. Afflalo had a tremendous year last season with the Nuggets, but he’s become an even more versatile offensive player while continuing to groom a rather potent three-point stroke. Fans of every other NBA team are jealous.
Again: no Kenyon Martin, no Nene, no Chris Andersen. Yet the Nuggets nearly matched the Mavericks in offensive rebounding rate. Dallas has to do better work on the defensive glass. The Mavs’ offensive rebounding on the other hand, was fine. And, might I add, clutch:
All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again. In games like these, it’s hard not to wonder if going small is a more viable option than Rick Carlisle and his coaching staff acknowledge. Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler are very good defenders, but in games like this one, they become strictly help defenders and rebounders. Taking on-ball post defense out of their job description leaves them slightly less useful, and I do wonder if running a lineup of Kidd-Terry-Butler-Marion-Nowitzki might have been more effective at times. It’s not the most intuitive way to get better defensive results, but having more natural match-ups could be a conceivable boon for the Dallas D.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: Come on. Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavs won with their offense, and their offense won with Dirk.
The Mavs’ potential for off-season turnover exists regardless of how deep they go into the playoffs. Given the unique financial circumstances afforded to the Mavericks this summer and the never-ending arms race that exists between NBA teams, no one should be surprised to see Dallas make significant changes this summer even if they somehow stumbled their way to an NBA title.
The reason for that is Erick Dampier. Due to the unique performance-related incentives of Dampier’s contract, he can be traded this off-season and then his entire 2010-2011 salary can be subsequently voided. That makes him an invaluable piece in a potential sign-and-trade, supposing Mark Cuban and the Mavs can entice one of this summer’s bigger talents and manage to convince a rival GM to play ball.That’s what makes Dallas’ off-season outlook so difficult to predict: if the Mavs are to acquire anyone of note this summer by using a sign-and-trade, they’ll have to do it with the blessing of the team said player is deserting. Accurately gauging how willing another GM may be to do such a thing requires an intimate knowledge of management style, manager personalities, ownership complications, and overall team strategy that goes far beyond my pay-grade.
Instead, the best way to predict which players could interest the Mavs is simply to analyze which among them may be the most attractive. Unfortunately, that also hinges greatly on the status of the Mavs’ own unrestricted free agent, Brendan Haywood. Haywood is a franchise center. He’s a capable big that can catch and finish, he’s a top-notch interior defender, and he helps well. Should Dallas lose him to another team this summer, their irrefutable free agent strategy would be aimed at securing another big man. Dampier seems like a lock to be moved; should his salary become fully guaranteed for net season by Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson’s choice, he’ll be owed $13 million next season. I consider myself a stronger advocate of Dampier than most, and I’ll be the first to admit that his level of production doesn’t even whiff that price tag. The allure of dropping Damp’s salary — either by trade or by cutting him loose should the right opportunity not present itself — is simply to great for him to remain a Maverick at his current salary, which makes Haywood an essential piece in the free agency equation. We know that Dirk Nowitzki is not a center, and should Dallas be left Haywood-less, they would essentially have four options:
Sign a cheap, veteran center for the minimum to start and play major minutes for the team. (Read: disaster.)
Try to acquire a center like Shaquille O’Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Ian Mahinmi, or Jermaine O’Neal using the mid-level exception.
Try to acquire a power forward and play him at center, either through a desperate grab for Chris Bosh, a run at a mid-level guy like restricted free agent Luis Scola, etc.
Scrap the free agency dream entirely and try to trade Damp to a team looking to get out from under their center’s contract (Nene, Andris Biedrins, etc.).
How Haywood’s negotiations go this summer obviously hold enormous implications for the Mavs’ off-season plans, so speculating beyond that point is probably fruitless.
So consider me without fruits; I can’t help but think that a number of stars could look awfully good in a Maverick uniform.
LeBron James is this summer’s big prize, but the likelihood of him somehow ending up in Dallas is incredibly slim. It’d be nice, sure, and the Mavs would probably offer him the best chance to compete immediately of any potential destinations. The team is already established in Dallas, and that’s enticing. Then again, do you know where the team is also already established? Cleveland. Who knows how this year’s playoffs will affect LeBron’s decision, but title or not, I like the odds of him sticking with the Cavs.
Chris Bosh also seems like a pipe dream, mainly due to two factors: Bosh does not want to play center, as he’s expressed time and time again in Toronto, and he wants to be The Man, which he wouldn’t be in Dallas. The key in the Mavs acquiring any signed-and-traded free agent is the player’s desire (not just willingness) to come play for Dallas, and Bosh could be described as lukewarm at best when approached about the possibility of playing in his hometown.
Instead, if I’m the Mavs, I have my eyes fixed on the fortunes of two players, one of which is an incredibly unlikely target and the other only mildly unlikely: Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson.
Caron Butler is only the illusion of a starting shooting guard. He can, in theory, shoot, score, handle the ball a bit, and defend. He just doesn’t manage to do the former two efficiently, and his defensive abilities are competent and only likely to diminish with his age. Butler’s Game 5 explosion was so welcome because of the contrast it posed to his typically inefficient scoring nights, and having other scoring threats like Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry around Butler hasn’t elevated his efficiency like we thought it might. He’s more or less the same player he was in Washington, only playing well into April.
That leaves the Mavs still looking for a legitimate 2-guard, and the combination of Damp’s contract provisions and Butler’s expiring deal gives Dallas a unique opportunity. They could potentially offer a team like Miami or Atlanta a player of Butler’s caliber in a sign-and-trade, while also allowing them to dump a bit of salary in exchange for Dampier’s deal. The ability of those teams to acquire Damp and then cut him immediately at no cost is something that no other team in the league can offer in a sign-and-trade, which does give Dallas a bit of an edge. Enough of an edge to willingly sign off on the departure of a franchise player? Probably not, but the Mavs are hoping so.
The wild card in all of this is Rodrigue Beaubois. The rook quickly carved out a niche for himself as a highly efficient scorer, and he hasn’t even begun to actualize his full potential as an NBA player. Few players come into the league with the gifts that Beaubois possesses, and should the right prize be available, Dallas may dangle him as trade bait. Teams may not be eager to give up their star player for Butler and Damp’s savings alone, but if Cuban and Nelson are willing to include a rookie guard that has star written all over him? I’m guessing they’d at least get their phone calls returned.
As for the two players I specified, it’s simple: shooting guard would be the Mavs’ biggest hole in the rotation if they can hang on to Haywood, and Jason Terry wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate, even his prime. JET still has plenty left and is ideal as a sixth man, but just doesn’t have the size or defensive aptitude necessary to guard opposing shooting guards well, and isn’t very good at guarding opposing point guards, either. Terry is much improved on the defensive end, but even those improvements don’t have him quite where he would need to be in order to be a highly effective starter.
Two guys that do have that defensive ability — in addition to elite offensive skills — are Wade and Johnson.
Wade is the dream that probably shouldn’t even be chased. For one, because Miami and Chicago are considered the favorites to acquire him. Rightfully so, as both can try to pair him with very talented players, and both boast some sort of hometown advantage. I’m confident one of those teams will land Wade, and they’ll be very, very happy together.
The Mavs could still have an opportunity to play home-wrecker here, supposing Pat Riley is willing to play along with Cuban and Nelson’s plans. I don’t see that as even a remote possibility, but again, I’m not Riles. Maybe he’s very high on Beaubois, or decides he wants to give Caron another go with the Heat, or maybe just wants to do right by Wade for all that he’s done for the franchise. These are not probable scenarios but they are scenarios, and the Mavs would be considered fools if they didn’t do their due diligence when the top shooting guard in the league (yeah, I said it) becomes available.
There would be, of course, that one thing. That one little thing. That one little he single-handedly (we’re not counting officials) destroyed the Mavs in the 2006 Finals thing. It would certainly make the relationship…interesting. There were comments exchanged from both sides in 2006-2007, the thought of the series still stings most Mavs fans, and I can only offer one piece of advice to all parties involved: get over it. This is Dwyane Wade. He’s a remarkable player with a hell of a career still ahead of him, and even though it’s extremely unlikely he’ll wind up a Maverick, the very thought should have Mavs fans sending him love letters and fruit baskets. They don’t come much better than Wade, and regardless of the past between him and the Mavs, his talent and Dallas’ needs should make him a top priority.
Consider Joe Johnson the back-up plan. He’s older, less efficient on offense, a bit slower on defense, and generally not as Dwyane Wadey as Dwyane Wade is. That doesn’t mean he would be anything less than an excellent addition for Dallas. Messing with Atlanta is always a mess, but I think Beaubois could pose an intriguing piece for the Hawks in particular. There’s no reason that Rodrigue can’t do everything that Mike Bibby currently does, only with better activity on the defensive end, better driving ability, and impressive length. He could be a perfect point guard if the Hawks continue on with Mike Woodson (or at least his offensive and defensive systems), and Atlanta may find the idea of getting Beaubois back in a sign-and-trade far more palatable than letting Johnson walk.
However, as talented as Johnson is, there are two concerns. For one, giving a 29-year-old a five or six year deal could end up being a nightmare, especially with the new CBA likely decreasing the possibility of such long-term, lucrative deals in the future. Second, a lot of Caron Butler’s more irritating habits also exist in Johnson, Joe is just better. He’s still a jumpshooter and a lot of his offense in Atlanta has been isolation-centered, he’s just a better player than Caron. Whether that’s good enough to put the Mavs over the proverbial hump or not is unknown, but it’s certainly not a bad start.
It’s almost trite at this point to say “stay tuned,” but that’s exactly the approach Mavs fans should take with regard to the team’s future. So much of what the Mavs will be able to do depends on who wants what, who goes where, and what teams have which options on the table. Fathoming all of that a few months in advance definitely qualifies as impossible, and all that we’re left with is a microscope fixed on the free agent class, an ear on every news and legitimate rumor available, and a head full of pipe dreams and possibilities. The dominoes will be falling soon enough, and we know Mark Cuban will be ready to pull the trigger. Until then, all eyes should rest on Brendan Haywood, who could very well determine the Mavs’ free agent destiny.
Jason Kidd was chosen to replace Kobe Bryant in the All-Star game, but the pick was hardly a popular one. Some pointed to his lack of scoring, some his underwhelming defense, and others were aghast at the mere concept of “Jason Kidd, All-Star.” There are definitely candidates out there that could have given Kidd a run for his money (if not overtake him outright), but regardless of your preferred dish (I’ll have the Tyreke), Kidd will be the guy. But how? Why? What criteria could possibly exist that would have Kidd as next-in-line when our better judgment says otherwise?
1. Quality – Jason Kidd is the top remaining player (or at least guard) left unselected in the Western Conference.
“For the record, Jason Kidd had the best WARP of any West guard not on the roster. Would you rather Baron Davis? Manu Ginobili?” [Ed. Note: WARP is "wins above replacement player"]
-Kevin Pelton, Basketball Prospectus (@kpelton)
If I were given the reins, I would have essentially narrowed it down to four players: Kidd, Tyreke Evans, Carlos Boozer, Nene. From there, it’s almost a matter of preference.
In Evans, you have a dominant scoring guard that can electrify in the All-Star tradition. In Boozer, you have a rock-steady big putting up impressive numbers for a rising Utah team. In Nene, you have a very versatile center that can run the floor, throw it down with authority, and do just about everything in between.
Ultimately, I think the veteran point guard would be my pick, but at the very least this analysis seems to show that Kidd’s selection is hardly the travesty it’s been made out as in some circles. Yes, as at best the fifth-best point guard in the conference, Kidd doesn’t really belong in the All-Star Game. Given the circumstances, however, I think the NBA did the best it could.
2. Convenience – Jason Kidd is the top remaining player left unselected that can actually make it to the All-Star Game.
“New trend for 2010: selecting all stars based on who can get to host city.”
-John Hollinger, ESPN.com (@johnhollinger)
Admittedly, this was the first thought that popped into my head. Dallas is having record snowfall, and the entirety of the Northeast is covered in a white blanket that’s ten feet thick and shuts down cities…much less airplanes. Plauyers from all over the country are having a hard time landing at D/FW, so it makes sense to choose a guy that the league knows can make it to Dallas safely and on-time. Oh hey, Jason Kidd plays in Dallas, doesn’t he? How delightfully convenient!
But then I saw this tweet from Marc Stein (@STEIN_LINE_HQ) “Take note: Kidd [was] already in PHX for his All-Star break. Now scheduled to return to Dallas on Friday.”
So Kidd is flying in to Dallas just like everyone else, and was probably farther away than point guard alternatives Russell Westbrook and Aaron Brooks. So let’s toss this one out, shall we?
3. Host Bias – Jason Kidd is the top remaining player left unselected on the Dallas Mavericks.
“The Jason Kidd emergency selection in the West made enough sense with its hometown angle, considering, with the latest weather developments, that already being in Dallas is emerging as a prime selection criteria. Heck, if Kidd couldn’t make it, the next call was going to J.J. Barea.” -Ira Winderman, ProBasketballTalk
Take a guess: since 1990, how many times has the host city had just one All-Star?
Once. The 1997 ASG in Cleveland featured Terrell Brandon as the sole representative of the Cavs. But in every other year (excepting the lockout season and the ASG in Las Vegas), the host was either star-less (no All-Stars) or blessed with two All-Stars. Chalk it up to wonky coincidence if you’d like, but the host city had one All-Stars in far more cases than one, and based on the data, 1997 seems more like an outlier.
I’d be shocked if this was the sole criteria in naming Kidd an All-Star, but I’d also be shocked if it didn’t tip the scales in his favor.
“…All the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.”
It honestly does not get much worse than this.
Worst loss in nearly a decade? Check. Embarrassing effort level on both ends of the court? Double check. Truly horrid execution? You betcha. Completely whiffing in a ‘statement game?’ Probably an understatement, but yes. The Dallas Mavericks failed in just about every conceivable way on Tuesday night, giving the players, coaching staff, and front office personnel plenty to think about going into the All-Star break.
You’ll find no more cogent and persuasive argument for the Mavs to make a trade than last night’s misery. The Nuggets just seemed to be operating on a completely different plane of existence, one that was simply beyond that of the pitiful, mortal Mavs. All Dallas could do was stare wide-eyed as Denver’s shooters nailed shot after shot, and marvel at every backdoor cut and spot-on defensive rotation. Nothing the Mavs did on the court could really be classified as actively playing the game of basketball, so don’t misunderstand my rhetoric; the Mavericks were spectators on the floor, watching the true professionals do what they do. They simply couldn’t be bothered with offering the slightest resistance or competition.
Dismissing the Mavs didn’t even require a spectacular game from either of Denver’s biggest stars, Chauncey Billups (16 points, 6-8 FG, six assists, three steals) and Carmelo Anthony (19 points, six assists, four rebounds). Instead, the Nuggets simply cashed in on the ordinary performances of their top players, and supplemented with some ridiculous production off the bench. Four of Denver’s reserves finished in double-figures, and it was actually the ridiculous second quarter runs of the Nuggets’ bench players that put away the game early. The Mavs expect, scheme, and tech to stop the players that are difficult to stop otherwise; Billups is so crafty and Anthony so talented that if you’re not preparing for them, you’re doomed to allow a monster scoring night from one or both. But Ty Lawson? Arron Afflalo? Johan Petro? These aren’t supposed to be the guys that give a team like the Mavs trouble…and yet here we are, looking at a decisive 18-33 quarter that says otherwise.
Without a healthy, fully-functional Erick Dampier, the Mavs have no hope of stopping Nene (21 points, 8-9 FG, eight rebounds). Eddie Najera got the start at center in Dampier’s absence (you know the drill – left knee effusion), but both he and Drew Gooden looked absolutely clueless in “guarding” (I use this term loosely) a player with such size, speed, and finishing ability. Nene was one of the unheralded difference-makers of last year’s playoff series between the Mavs and Nuggets, and his most recent domination of the Mavs was only more of the same.
J.R. Smith (12 points, three rebounds, three assists) and Chris Andersen (14 points, ten rebounds) were predictably troublesome, if only because the Mavs didn’t match their energy and activity. Based on everything else you’ve read and seen regarding this game, that shouldn’t be at all surprising.
Look, the Mavs were awful. Terrible, really. They slowed to a crawl when the should have (and could have) been sprinting, and now they’ll have to live with the consequences. So the best thing I can tell you to do is just laugh this off. Chuckle a bit at the thought of Ty Lawson running circles around the Mavs’ defenders. Let out a laugh because you know that Malik Allen, MALIK ALLEN, scored six points against Dallas. Just giggle with delight because you know that Denver shot 16-18 at the rim, and that’s probably not even the Mavs’ most embarrassing defensive feat of the night. But most importantly, laugh this off because there’s really nothing else you can do. This loss was so bad that it’s probably beyond anger or frustration, and qualifies as pure comedy. I mean, this is all some sort of elaborate joke…right?
The Mavs were once destined to rely on Dirk to conquer their demons, and in doing so, doomed themselves against more talented foes. But Dirk shot 6 of 15 from the field against the Nuggets last night, and was anything but the Mavs’ offensive centerpiece. He was more a fancy napkin or a nice tablecloth, an appropriate setting and a suitable distraction from the true forces at work. His offensive efforts were largely complementary, and though Nowitzki managed to drop a dagger of a three-pointer with just 50 seconds remaining, he was ultimately but a part of the Maverick machine. Dallas has had its fair share of struggles in making their offense a team affair, but they’ve had seven double-digit scorers in each of the last two games. Nowitzki’s shot attempts have remained down, the rest of the offense has picked up, and for perhaps the first time all season we have reason to believe that the Maverick offense is ‘getting it.’
The Mavs were once fated to be a step slow on the perimeter, and the league’s elite wings licked their chops at the opportunity to tear up the Dallas D. But add Carmelo Anthony (16 points, 5-19 FG, 12 rebounds) as the latest to fall under the constant pressure of the Maverick defense, a mighty juggernaut that has bested the likes of Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, and Kevin Durant. To call this defensive outfit “for real” is a tad understated and a few months too late, and all the credit in the world for that goes to Shawn Marion and Josh Howard. The two drew the primary defensive responsibilities of covering Anthony, and though the Maverick plan of attack featured frequent and early double teams, it was Marion and Howard’s execution on and individual level that kept Melo’s shooting percentage so dreadfully low. Anthony absolutely torched the Mavs (who at the time depended heavily on the defensive skills of Antoine Wright) in last year’s playoffs, but the addition of Shawn Marion and a healthy Josh Howard proved to be a world of difference. This is the defensive tandem that will largely determine the outcome of games against the Western elite, and they added another line to their already impressive resume with the way they shackled Carmelo Anthony.
The Mavs were slated to be soft inside, as perennial punchline Erick Dampier and non-center Drew Gooden formed the entirety of Dallas’ center rotation. But Dampier nearly notched a double-double (10 points, nine rebounds) in just 21 minutes, and Gooden (19 points, 8-8 FG, 10 rebounds) was completely and utterly dominant against Nene, Chris Andersen, and the Denver bigs. The Nuggets seemed to only have a fleeting interest in playing solid defense, and Dampier and Gooden positioned themselves to best exploit Denver’s lackadaisical attitude. Damp was able to capitalize on the Nuggets’ D in a way he had failed to do in last year’s playoffs, and Gooden showed what is perhaps his most valuable skill as a Maverick: interior shot creation. Creating shots is a crucial part of any offense’s success, and part of the reason why the Mavs have struggled this season is the inability of players (outside of Dirk Nowitzki) to create good shot attempts for themselves. Gooden is certainly capable of that, as his array of hook shots and finishes around the basket demonstrated beautifully. And to drop a cherry on top, Gooden and Damp were instrumental in the Mavs’ shot-challenging and defensive rebounding (to the tune of a 22.6 and 33.2 defensive rebounding rate, respectively). Damp and Drew were nothing if not tough on the interior, and they moved earth, expectation, and Nuggets in search of rebounds and scoring opportunities.
Though supposedly aged and wise, the Mavs were foretold as a team that would inevitably falter in the face of adversity. Not only have the Mavericks completely flipped that theory on its head with their performance in clutch situations this season, but against the Nuggets they played with the poise of a contender while closing out yet another strong opponent. Denver was visibly distracted by the overly and overtly physical play, but Dallas simply executed their sets, got their stops, and scored just enough to keep the Nuggs at bay. It wasn’t the prettiest finale (late turnovers, blown free throws, and missed opportunities can put a blemish on even the most beautiful of wins), but the Mavs pulled together enough scoring and rebounding to secure a victory.
Everything has changed.
It simply has to be noted that Chauncey Billups missed the game due to injury. He changes the outlook and execution level of this Denver team, and though Carmelo Anthony has elevated his game over the last season or so, he operates much more comfortably with the safety net that Billups provides. When the Mavs really brought the heat against Melo, the rest of the Nuggets were left to sort out the mayhem. That’s the kind of situation in which Billups thrives, whereas his replacements, rookie Ty Lawson or the limited Anthony Carter, falter.
Arron Afflalo was a nice pick-up for the Nuggets, even if his jumpshot was absolutely erratic last night; he nailed a few of his early looks before throwing up some bricks in the fourth quarter. But as someone who has watched plenty of Nuggets this year, let me simply say that he makes sense as a defensive stopper/offensive contributor when Chauncey Billups is in the game and the Nuggets are on their game. He’s a contributor to the system, and that’s all you should expect from your role players.
It was a good night for the Shawn Marion hook shot, as the Mavs looked to engage Carmelo Anthony both offensively and defensively. The game plan was obvious: wear him out on both ends and frustrate him with constant pressure and movement. It worked beautifully, and Marion’s work in the low post against Anthony was a carefully executed part of that plan.
With Carmelo Anthony in and out of the game with foul trouble (he played just 31 minutes on the night), the Maverick defense turned its full attention to J.R. Smith. Rick Carlisle clearly had the utmost respect for Smith’s offensive game, and he wasn’t shy about throwing additional defensive pressure J.R.’s way. The results were often even better than they were against Anthony, as the flustered Smith committed offensive fouls (including one near-flagrant by introducing his elbow to Jason Terry’s head) and jacked up ill-advised three-pointers. In Billups’ absence, Smith is supposed to fill in with ball-handling and scoring, and instead, he stalled the flow of the Denver offense when met with the Mavs’ defensive pressure.
Again, Shawn Marion was not on the floor to finish the game. That said, the lineup of Kidd-Terry-Howard-Nowitzki-Gooden was entirely deserving and successful.
DNP-CDs for Tim Thomas and Quinton Ross. Defending Carmelo Anthony was one of the more obvious reasons for adding a player of Ross’ defensive caliber, and though I was thrilled with the Mavs’ coverage of Anthony last night, I’m a bit disappointed that we didn’t get to see Q give it a try. Maybe next time.
J.J. Barea (13 points, 6-10 FG, four assists) continues to excel in his starting role. Say what you will about the aesthetic of the starting lineup (a 6’0” shooting guard? Wha-wha-what?), but he’s adding a ton offensively while he’s on the floor. The defense may be another story, but for the moment, his time on the floor is certainly a net positive (he was a +4 on the night).
Dirk Nowitzki really was a virtual non-factor on offense, but he continued to influence the game through his rebounding. As far as defensive efforts go, Dirk’s night was merely so-so, but Nowitzki pulled in tough, contested rebounds at crucial times to help put this thing away.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Drew Gooden, whose perfect night from the field and tough interior D were highlights of the Mavs’ win. Dallas simply doesn’t get the job done without Gooden’s tangible and intangible contributions. This was perhaps Drew’s finest game in a Maverick uniform (his effort against Tim Duncan and San Antonio stands out as a potential equal, in my mind), and as such he gets the gold sticker bling.
“Little strokes fell great oaks.”
Our man Dirk sure knows how to put on a show.
In a game where the anarchy of flagrant and technical fouls ruled, Dirk was able to make order out of chaos. He was never involved in the game’s numerous entanglements, not once caught fuming with uncontrollable anger or demonstrating anything but the desperation and calculated resolve that makes him such a force. The result? Dirk poured in for 19 in the fourth quarter, the importance of which is amplified by the Mavs’ narrow margin of victory. The Mavs needed every single point to reel in a victory that desperately tried to escape their grasp. Though this time, no near-foul, heart-breaking shot, or referee could stand in their way.
Plus, how’s this for irony: the Mavs were feeding off of the energy of Antoine Wright wrapping up Carmelo Anthony in the way that he was ‘supposed to’ at the end of Game 3. After Anthony grabbed an offensive rebound early in the second quarter with the Nuggets nursing a 14-point lead, Antoine Wright wrapped up his arms to foul him on the floor. For seconds after the whistle blew, Wright refused to let go of Anthony’s arm. Carmelo wasn’t all too pleased about that, and responded by trying to push AW off, only to maybe possibly kind of catch a bit of Wright’s cheek. The implications of which were much more significant than a simple technical foul; the Mavs and the crowd were awakened to fight off the surging Nuggs, and a game that seemed destined for a blowout was suddenly altered into a competitive affair.
The Dirk takeover had commenced, and it was really one of those nights. One of those nights where Dirk’s greatness can hardly be quantified, but also one of those nights where the numbers (44 points on 25 shots, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, 16-17 FT) turn out quite beautifully. Dirk’s attack was as captivating as it was methodical, as he used every trick in his book and then some to lure the Nuggets’ defenders into fouls, including an insatiable desire to score at the rim. K-Mart, Nene, Melo, whatever; Dirk took advantage of whoever was guarding him, turning every matchup into a problem with his footwork, balance, and silky smooth jumper. More coming on Dirk in a later post.
Carmelo Anthony (41 points on 29 shots, 11 rebounds, 5 steals) provided the perfect foil for Dirk. Whereas Dirk’s moves were calm, planned, and deliberate, Melo’s game represented the brash improvisation and spontaneity that makes him such an effective scorer. His pull-up jumpers were exclamation points, and each steal and subsequent fast break dunk a flurry of its own. Melo’s night was exemplified by his clutch, hard-hitting three pointer with just seconds remaining, a chilling reenactment of his Game 3 shot that pulled a seeminglysafe four-point lead into an ever-vulnerable two-point one. I’m just glad that this time around, that shot was dangerous and not deadly. It’s also certainly worth noting that J.R. Smith went absolutely hog wild on huge, game-changing jumpers. Some of his attempts deserved to go in and other’s didn’t (a certain straight-on bank shot, perhaps?), but Smith bailed the Nuggs out of many a shot clock violation by hitting important shot after important shot.
Though Dirk was undoubtedly the shining star (and the Gold Star, hint-hint), he couldn’t have done it without some help from his friends. Josh Howard gimped his way to 21 points and 11 rebounds, and though his shot selection in the fourth very nearly cost the Mavs the game, they couldn’t have even been in this game without him. J.J. Barea (10 points, 5-8 FG) and Brandon Bass (11 points, 4-6 FG) were able to get easy baskets at difficult times, and Jason Terry (12 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists) made his presence felt in spite of foul trouble. Roll all of that up into a ball with superior team defense (though you’d never guess it based on Carmelo’s totals), a much more dependable Jason Kidd, and world’s finest Dirk Nowitzki, and you’ve got yourself a win.
Sad team defense is often tough to point out in the box score, but it was clear that in these last two games, the Mavs were much more willing to prevent Denver’s transition attack and contest many (notably not all) of the Nuggets’ attempts in the paint. Of course that starts with the perimeter guys — Kidd, Howard, Wright, Terry, Barea — but relies on the rotation of bigs like Dampier, Bass, and Dirk to make things work. This is one area in particular where I thought Dirk Nowitzki excelled, and though his individual defense may not have received any of the spotlight, his effectiveness on that end should not go unnoticed. He and Bass proved that they can work together as a defensive tandem and still be effective, which means quite a bit for the team’s most efficient offensive frontcourt.
Please, please, please, NBA, have some consistency with the flagrant calls. The Mavs were called for two very iffy flagrants to finish the 2nd quarter, one of which, combined with a technical arguing the play and a Melo bucket, turned a 5-point deficit into a 10-point one at the buzzer. I remain convinced the fouls on Kleiza and J.R. Smith were just that, fouls.
The Birdman didn’t suit up for this one due to some severe stomach cramps.
I’d feel bad if I didn’t single out Brandon Bass by name for praise for his defense. Erick Dampier racked up six fouls in just 23 minutes, so Bass played a huge role in keeping Nene to a very mortal 9 points and 8 rebounds. Essentially, Nene has been the difference between a nail-biter and a blowout for the Nuggets. When he’s on his A-game, they can just roll over teams. But when a physical defender really digs in and gives him trouble, their offense can really struggle.
The Mavs won the battle of the offensive boards 9-6 and got the win. That’s no coincidence.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: Come on. Seriously? Do you have to ask? Dirk Nowitzki. No-brainer.
“Have the courage to live. Anyone can die.”
Brick by brick, the Mavs built the foundation for a victory. They survived 1st quarter adversity to remain within striking distance. The bench stepped up as Josh Howard went down. They clawed their way into a game that they really had no business being in. And yet, when a Jason Terry three finally pushed the Mavs ahead 74-72, I couldn’t shake the unmistakable feeling that it would all come crashing down.
Boy, did it, in a way that may seem eerily familiar.
After hanging, and hanging, and hanging with a Nuggets team playing better basketball than them on both sides of the floor, the Mavs blew a perfect opportunity by scoring just 2 points in the first 6 minutes of the fourth quarter. There were rim-outs, there were horrible turnovers, and there were blocked shots, all of which seemed to end in free buckets for Denver on the break. The offensive magic that pulled the Mavs through the third quarter unscathed was left gasping the thin Denver air, and the Nuggets danced on the grave of the Mavs’ dead and buried transition defense. The team that wanted to turn this series into a marathon was run out of the gym, and I can’t decide whether ‘leak out’ better describes the nemesis of the Mavs’ defense or the insufferable feeling of their playoff hopes dripping away. Each drop brings us a bit closer to another playoff loss puddled on the floor, and another step towards the team staring itself down in the puddle’s reflection.
For three quarters, this was a game. You can thank Dirk Nowitzki (35 points on 20 shots, 9 rebounds, 4 assists) for that. Dirk’s impact was anything but the silent assassinations we’re used to; each fall-away and maneuver in the post was deafening. He served as a constant reminder that no Nugget can guard him (don’t worry, I’ll get to the TNT crew later), and also that the Mavs’ offense can’t function without him. That’s where Denver’s defense really excels. They can’t stop Dirk, and they don’t even do a very good job of limiting him. But the second that the offense stops going through Dirk or the second that he sits on the bench, the Mavs look bewildered. Our possessions begin with a lot of dribbling on the perimeter by Jason Kidd or Jason Terry, and usually end with a turnover or a forced jumper at the shot clock buzzer. They haven’t taken away our best player, but they may have taken away much more.
The number of open dunks and layups the Nuggets had was humiliating. Erick Dampier, Ryan Hollins, and James Singleton finally started stopping the freebies with a steady supply of fouls, but the attempts the Nuggets were able to get on the whole were entirely too easy. The Mavs would grind and pick and squeeze two points out of a jumper, and the Nuggets would respond in a matter of seconds by hitting a wide open Nene for a dunk. It’s impossible to say exactly how much Dampier’s ankle is limiting him, but for his sake I hope it feels like a ball and chain. Otherwise, Nene has basically ripped Damp’s heart out of his chest, demoralizing and emasculating him on national television with rolls to the basket, thunderous dunks, and sly work in the post. Nene finished with 25 and 8, but it seemed like his highlight reel would last for days.
The Mavs’ bench does deserve the appropriate credit for their offensive exploits, but the defense was bad enough that no Mav should leave this recap unmarred. Jason Terry finally looked like Jason Terry again, registering 21 points and 6 assists off the bench. Ryan Hollins was the Mavs’ most effective center, and he somehow corralled his speed and athleticism into a few buckets. J.J. Barea and Brandon Bass vaguely resemble the contributors we saw against San Antonio, but even their mild success was balanced with a steady diet of defensive failure.
On his return, JET ran headfirst into his foil, J.R. Smith (21 points on 6-10 shooting). Smith showed his full range by making alert, intelligent passes to open teammates, and pulling up early for an errant 26-footer at the end of the second quarter that allowed Kidd to run the length of the court and hit a bomb of his own to pull the Mavs within three going into the half. He was every bit the Maverick irritant, coming away with a few steals and hitting big shots to stop the Mavs’ momentum dead in its tracks. I’m sure George Karl will fall asleep smiling.
Carlisle made frequent use of the zone defense, and personally, I’m not sure what to think about it. It seemed to limit the number of successful slashes, but the Mavs gave up entirely too many offensive rebounds to Denver’s bigs, and surrendered a few baskets to backdoor cuts. It’s hard to tell exactly how effective it was without some in-depth analysis, but to be honest it seemed like a wash.
Carmelo Anthony (25 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) was again brilliant in the fourth quarter, capping an otherwise quiet game with a 15-point explosion to put the game out of reach. Whether foul trouble or stomach pains have kept Melo mortal, his close-out performances have been stellar. He’s hitting tough jumpers without forgetting to attack the basket, and essentially using a style that is quintessentially Melo to improve on his perceived shortcomings. There’s no doubt that he has evolved as a player, and when that fully-evolved form is on display it is to be both feared and respected.
I can’t think of anything that makes me angrier than Jason Kidd penetrating all the way to the rim, and declining a layup for a chance to whip the ball around to a shooter. Truly infuriating basketball.
The TNT crew (and by that I mean Kenny, Charles, and C-Webb) really grilled Dirk for describing Denver’s defenders with positive attributes. Apparently in saying that Nene and Martin are strong and Andersen can challenge shots, Dirk was ceding some gravely important psychological edge. Oh, but then he kind of dropped 35 on them. A big thanks to Ernie Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo for being voices of reason and actually listening to Dirk’s soundbite before they frolick off into exaggeration land.
Denver’s first quarter parade to the free throw line was brutal. They entered the bonus with about 6 minutes remaining, and shot 14 free throw attempts in the first quarter alone.
Jason Kidd’s performance was much easier to swallow, but with all the free three-pointers he blew, his performance still hurt. On top of that, Chauncey Billups (18 points, 8 assists, 4-9 3FG) finally emerged from whatever cave he was hiding in, so not only was Kidd sub-par, he was outclassed.
For those who don’t know, Josh Howard missed three of the four quarters with some swelling and soreness in his ankle.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Dirk. Let’s just leave it at that, because even though Dirk had a wonderful night offensively, this team doesn’t deserve a superlative right now.