The Difference: Portland Trail Blazers 99, Dallas Mavericks 97

Posted by Connor Huchton on April 7, 2012 under Recaps, xOther | 4 Comments to Read

Mountains

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot 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.

  • One game removed from one of their best team performances of the season, the Mavericks turned in one of their worst. As disappointing as the final minutes of this game were, the far more significant failing came in the third quarter. The Mavericks played their worst 12 minutes of the season, and turned a 12-point lead into an eight-point deficit. In every basketball sense, the seemingly unending third quarter was a complete and total disaster. Ball movement was nonexistent, the effectiveness of the Mavericks’ pick-and-roll was completely neutralized, and the Mavericks’ interior defense was porous, if present at all. It was the best possible representation of this team’s seasonal inconsistency from game-to-game and quarter-to-quarter — two strong opening quarters fully erased by 12 minutes of uninspired, directionless play. The Mavericks played three fairly strong quarters on Thursday night, but it didn’t matter. Of course, Raymond Felton’s sudden offensive explosion (30 points, 12-18 FG, seven rebounds, six assists) didn’t help the Mavericks’ chances, but a good portion of his success stemmed from gifted wide-open jumpers and easy layups. The Mavericks fought back impressively from the unlikely Felton-led third quarter charge once the fourth quarter began, as they are wont to do, and forced overtime. After minutes of neutral overtime play, the game remained tied in the final seconds.
  • And so we arrive at the final two possessions of the game. The first possession, however, was hardly a possession at all. It was tragically brief. It began with a Dirk Nowitzki (23 points, 9-16 FG, 14 rebounds) rebound, and ended almost instantly with a pass sailing out of bounds. Dirk’s attempted pass to a streaking Shawn Marion (6-11 FG, 12 points, 11 rebounds) can’t be faulted on a decision-making level. It was the right play, and one that would have given the Mavericks a two-point lead if executed correctly. Unfortunately, the pass missed its mark by a good margin, and the Blazers were given a final possession in a tie game. On that climactic possession, the Mavericks played beautiful defense, until only 3.7 seconds remained. Jason Terry (7-14 FG, 18 points) began the possession fronting LaMarcus Aldridge (11-24 FG, 25 points, 12 rebounds) in conjunction with Brendan Haywood (1-5 FG, two points, six rebounds), but Aldridge was able to break free when Terry turned to chase a sprinting Nicolas Batum (3-9 FG, six points, nine rebounds, five assists). This left Haywood solely covering Aldridge, meaning a star post player was now in impeccable, isolated post position as the final few seconds ticked down to zero. I don’t tend to like the idea of Haywood covering Aldridge, as Haywood’s simply not quick enough to cover the sudden, instant movements of a power forward like Aldridge. Aldridge used that speed disparity to his advantage, along with a sneakily placed forearm push, and created enough space for an open jumper. The final shot fell as the buzzer sounded, and the Mavericks were dealt their 25th loss to a thoroughly scattered, average Blazers’ team.

Connor Huchton is a contributor to Hardwood Paroxysm, an editor of Rufus On Fire, and a part of The Two Man Game family. You can follow Connor on Twitter: @ConnorHuchton.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 93, Portland Trailblazers 82

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 26, 2011 under Recaps | 6 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-04-26 at 12.14.32 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas83.0112.042.933.341.714.5
Portland98.845.918.923.714.5

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

  • Let this game be known henceforth as the “Oh, the Mavs have Tyson Chandler” Game. TC has been a crucial part of this team all season, and his heralded work on the defensive only constitutes part of his success. This was the full Chandler experience, something unfelt and unseen in the first four games of this series due to foul trouble, a lack of emphasis on establishing Chandler as an offensive option, and TC’s own offensive complacency. Rick Carlisle and the Mavs coaching staff clearly identified that problem and sought to correct it, as Dallas consciously made an effort to get the ball to Chandler early and often. From there, Chandler built on his touches with one of the finest offensive rebounding performances I’ve ever seen, and the most prolific in Maverick playoff history. He was single-handedly responsible for Dallas’ monstrous 41.7 offensive rebounding rate, and demonstrated a complete mastery of the tap-out; every board that Chandler couldn’t claim outright was tipped, pushed, or swatted in the direction of a teammate. On Monday night he was able to secure the board or redirect it to a teammate 13 times in an 83-possession game, which sounds impossible but apparently isn’t. Just insanely effective board work from Chandler on top of great scoring (14 points on four shots) and fantastic post defense.
  • About that defense: Chandler and Brendan Haywood both did a tremendous job of limiting LaMarcus Aldridge in the post, marking the third game in a row that the tandem was able to hold Aldridge to under 43 percent shooting from the field. Aldridge’s point totals have dropped in each game of the series so far: from 27 to 24 to 20 to 18 to most recently, just 12. I wouldn’t expect Aldridge’s scoring production to get any lower than his Game 5 total, but the Mavs’ defensive improvement in that matchup has been remarkable, particularly when considering just how prolific Aldridge was in the first two games of this series and against Dallas in the regular season. Halting Aldridge isn’t always enough, but it’s a valuable foundation for building up the team defense on the whole.
  • Aside from Andre Miller’s mind-boggling drives to the rim and Gerald Wallace’s uncontested opportunities in transition, the Blazers really didn’t have much offensive success at all. Aldridge was, as noted above, limited by terrific defense. Brandon Roy wasn’t given the same free rein to drive and kick that he was in Game 4. Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, and Rudy Fernandez had their opportunities limited against both the Mavs’ oppressive zone and swarming man-to-man configurations. There was little rhythm to anything Portland did on the offensive end, and Dallas refused to bail them out with purposeless fouls and free trips to the free throw line. 98.8 points per 100 possessions is a fantastic defensive mark, and the Mavs rightfully earned it with their effort and execution. This is the kind of performance that renews faith — not only in the fact that Dallas can win another game in this series and advance to the second round, but that they’re capable of competing beyond the ending of this series.
  • Jason Kidd scored four points, but as is usually the case, it didn’t matter. His 14 assists and seven rebounds more than made up for any perceived scoring deficit, and made those three-point-heavy outings to start the series seem like a thing of the past. I’m sure the Mavs are pleased that the offense need not rely so heavily on Kidd for scoring; team-wide scoring balance is just more fun, and having so many players producing efficiently gives Dallas much greater operational latitude. Plus, while those scoring outbursts from Kidd were quite helpful in the Mavs’ early-series cause, Kidd also had a tendency to chase shots. Even veterans are vulnerable to heat checks, and Kidd was attempting two or three rushed attempts a game in an attempt to hold on to whatever jumpshooting magic had enchanted him. Those heat checks are gone — as are most of Kidd’s shots — because the Maverick offense has returned to a more natural state, and is functioning as efficiently as ever.
  • Dirk Nowitzki didn’t allow Portland to double team him. He was incredibly decisive, and on the catch, almost immediately committed to a full-on drive towards the rim or a pull up jumper. There’s a certain elegance to Nowitzki’s slow-motion game; the way he measures up defenders, ball fakes into open space, spins, and counters is an artful dance. Yet when Nowitzki takes this more direct, aggressive approach, he sacrifices a bit of the artfulness in his game in order to maximize production. It’s a shame, but a necessary shame; Dallas needs wins and they need Nowitzki to be highly effective, and attacking the defense before it has a chance to double is a terrific way to achieve both ends.
  • I’m still shocked at how little of an impact the size of the Blazer guards has had on the series overall. Those matchups have been problematic for moments, but they’re clearly not go-to options; as much as Miller, Roy, Matthews, and Batum would love to pick on J.J. Barea in the post, Portland just hasn’t gone to that strategy with any frequency. Part of the reason is that Jason Terry has done a fantastic job of fronting, contesting the entry pass, and even bothering shots in the post. He’s been a passable post defender, which is all Dallas really needs him to be; with JET removed as a defensive liability down low and Beaubois still having yet to play a game in this series, Barea is the only clear matchup disadvantage in post-up guard play. Throw in the time that Barea spends guarding Rudy Fernandez (who doesn’t have the frame nor the proficiency to operate from the block), and it’s a bit more difficult for the Blazer guards to post up the Mavs than many — including myself — anticipated.
  • I still don’t understand why the Blazers have been so willing to switch and muddle their matchups. Dallas — particularly due to Jason Kidd’s patience — works diligently to exploit mismatches, and Dirk Nowitzki’s versatility makes those efforts especially worthwhile. Those switches don’t appear to be by design, but it’s certainly curious that they happen so frequently.
  • A really smart, effective game from JET. His three-point stroke was a bit errant (1-of-5 from that range), but he scored 20 points on 18 shots, made smart passes, found open space, and played defense. This wasn’t Terry as Fourth Quarter Hero, but simply Terry doing exactly what his team need him to do in an efficient manner. Jumpers from the short corner don’t make the highlight reel, but you have to appreciate these kinds of performances from JET.
  • Dallas didn’t solve their turnover problems, but they did eliminate Portland’s marginal (a word used as literally as possible) advantage. The offense “improved” by virtue of the defense; the Blazers and Mavs posted identical 14.5 turnover rates, negating any disadvantage that Dallas’ giveaways once held.
  • J.J. Barea had one of his better games of the series, despite scoring just four points on 2-of-6 shooting and picking up a single assist and a turnover to match. It’s just been that kind of series for Barea.
  • Much ado has already been made of a hard screen that Brian Cardinal set on Patty Mills in the closing moments of the game, with the verdict already set in stone. It’s a non-issue, honestly. Cardinal appears to have gotten in a bit of a cheap shot, sure, but Mills was also guilty of that same zeal in his full-court press. Plus, as is usually the case with the biggest hits on screens, the problem is largely one of communication; Mills wasn’t hit so much as blindsided, and the fact that Cardinal put a little more into it than was necessary is really secondary to the fact that no one told Mills he was about to get creamed. Cardinal’s pick was hardly out of line in the grand scheme of things, even though that fact matters little; the Blazers were already frustrated, and it’s understandable that they (and their fans) are looking for a rallying cry after a loss like this one. Now they have it. Remember the hard pick that no one bothered to tell Patty Mills about! Never forget the injustice of a halfcourt screen!

Ramblin’ Rose

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

Screen shot 2011-04-25 at 4.50.43 PM

Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and a part of The Two Man Game family. He’ll be bringing his intelligent brand of — mostly quantitative — analysis here on a weekly basis. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 22, 2011 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

Kevin Pelton, Basketball Prospectus: “[Nate] McMillan also changed his finishing lineup. While [Brandon] Roy got back on the court when the Blazers needed more shooters and ballhandlers to close out the game, Portland played with its starting lineup most of the stretch run, putting more size and rebounding on the floor. I’m not sure there was a verdict on that decision, as the teams played even during the stretch the Blazers used their starters. Over the course of the season, however, Portland has been much more effective with Aldridge at center and Wallace at power forward in a smaller, quicker unit. Looking ahead to Saturday’s Game Four, the Mavericks can feel good that they had a chance to steal a game in which the Blazers rode their crowd to an early lead. Dallas can also point to missed opportunities at the line, where they shot just 56.5 percent (13 of 23), including an atypical 4-of-7 effort from Nowitzki. Nonetheless, if Roy has found a way to contribute for Portland in this favorable matchup, that might prove the most crucial takeaway of all.”

Ben Golliver, Blazersedge: “Portland’s initial push came courtesy of Matthews, who practically refused to talk about his individual play after leading Portland with 25 points on 8-12 shooting. Thankfully, LaMarcus Aldridge was there to do it for him. ‘I think every game [this series] the team that’s won it has had someone play really, really well,’ Aldridge said. ‘Tonight it was Wesley.’ There’s been so much to like about Aldridge’s maturation this season but that quote is near the top. Aldridge, Matthews and everyone else with a pulse in the Rose Garden knows that the bulk of the headlines are going to Brandon Roy, who finished with 16 crucial points off the bench to help push Portland over the hump. But it was Matthews’ hot shooting that got Portland up early. 16 points in the first quarter. 22 points in the first half. Good shot selection (even including the heat checks, which you know are coming). Solid defense throughout the game on top of it. That Aldridge would single out Matthews with praise — despite his own success on the night and the mountain of questions about Roy — is a moment that will endure. Credit where credit is due. Recognition and rewards for those who have earned it.”

Tim MacMahon (and Ben Rogers), ESPN Dallas: “An object thrown from the Rose Garden stands hit Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban in the face during Thursday night’s Game 3 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. The incident occurred midway through the fourth quarter after Cuban had been interacting with the fans in the section behind the Mavericks’ bench. Cuban was not injured. ‘I don’t know what it was, but something hit me in the face,’ said Cuban, who encouraged fans to boo him more by putting his hand by his ear. Extra security was assigned to the area behind the Mavericks’ bench for the remainder of the game. There were no other issues.”

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The Difference: Portland Trailblazers 97, Dallas Mavericks 92

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Recaps | Be the First to Comment

Screen shot 2011-04-22 at 5.40.56 AM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas85.0108.258.119.118.918.8
Portland114.153.322.718.910.6

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

  • Frustration is a natural precipitate of playoff basketball; combining two competitive entities in elemental form creates not only an expected solution, but a necessary, balancing byproduct. The glow of a win must stand against its opposite, so as Portland goes one way in victory, Dallas goes another. The Mavs are frustrated. Rick Carlisle is frustrated. You’re probably frustrated. There are plenty of reasons to be after Game 3, with the lost potential of a commanding 3-0 series lead perhaps chief among them. Many will point to questionable officiating (with a certain video replay call made in error as only the most obvious example). Others, perhaps, to lost opportunities at the free throw line. Yet the most frustrating aspect of all was a return to normalcy for both teams in the turnover column. Dallas ranked 21st in the league in turnover rate this season, while Portland ranked second in opponent’s turnover rate. That combination seemed highly reactive from the start, and yet the turnover battle was hardly an important part of the series narrative prior to Thursday’s game. Then Jason Kidd turned the ball over three times in the first quarter, reestablishing the season-long Maverick tradition of surrendering possessions midstream. Dallas posted a turnover rate of 18.8, their highest of the series and significantly more damaging than Portland’s 10.6 mark. Every reckless move fed the possibility of a Maverick loss, ultimately leaving the whole evening plump with the potential for disappointment. It’s just one loss, but it’s one loss that could have effectively ended the Blazers had the Mavs not participated in their own temporary demise.
  • As unfortunate as this loss was, those numerous frustrations aren’t guaranteed to persist; this one lost opportunity is no reason for legitimate despondency, considering how well Dallas played even in defeat. The Mavs can find solace in the fact that they generally worked their way into favorable shots, even after Jason Kidd (eight points, 3-9 FG, three assists, six rebounds, five turnovers) and Peja Stojakovic (seven points, 3-7 FG, three rebounds) returned to earth. Dirk Nowitzki (25 points, 10-21 FG, nine rebounds) was able to shoot a decent percentage from the field for the first time all series. Portland’s offensive rebounding was held to a reasonable level. Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum contributed during a crucial fourth quarter run, but were largely unproductive on offense. Even with the loss, there’s a lot to work with and plenty to look forward to in Game 4.
  • For a night, Jason Terry (27 points, 10-13 FG, 5-7 3FG, seven assists) walked on air. JET had played productive minutes in both Games 1 and 2, but his performance in Game 3 stands among the best by any player in this series thus far. Terry was the Mavs’ one consistent source of points, and he expertly used his defensive draw to set up teammates for easy scores. Just productive, heady play from a big-time playoff performer. Terry was able to fuel Maverick runs and keep the team afloat when the offense struggled, and while it’s a damn shame that Dallas couldn’t take full advantage of JET’s excellence, it was a treat to see Terry in optimal form.
  • Fittingly, JET was balanced by his positional counterparts; Wesley Matthews (25 points, 8-12 FG, 4-6 3FG, three assists) and Brandon Roy (16 points, 6-10 FG, four assists) were both fantastic for the Blazers, and together accounted for over half of Portland’s points. Roy will draw the primarily of the attention, as he transformed from self-pitying distraction to valuable contributor almost overnight. However, Matthews’ combination of three-point range, driving ability, and aggressive defense offers the greater long-term concern. Roy may have had a profound impact on this particular game, but he’s not at a point where he can be trusted to do the same on Saturday, much less for the rest of the series. Matthews, on the other hand, stays relatively constant in his effort, even if not his production. He can be a difference-maker with his hustle and defense alone, and when he’s dropping 25 on efficient shooting as well, he presents a rather substantial problem.
  • The Mavs’ defense was stifled by the Blazers’ impressive shot-making (as was the case with the Blazers’ D and the Mavs’ shot-making as well), but Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler did incredible individual defensive work against LaMarcus Aldridge. LMA still managed to get his, and several of his buckets were quite timely. That said, a few big baskets don’t erase Aldridge’s less efficient overall line; he may have scored a bit and even kept Chandler off the court by putting him in foul trouble, but his presence was significantly less taxing on the Dallas defense than it has been in games past. 30 minutes of Haywood typically isn’t conducive to effective play, but he filled in for Chandler admirably.

Long And In The Gray

Posted by Ian Levy on April 21, 2011 under Commentary | 4 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-04-21 at 4.03.05 AM

Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and a part of The Two Man Game family. He’ll be bringing his intelligent brand of — mostly quantitative — analysis here on a weekly basis. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

There may not be two teams in the league with as much positional versatility as the Dallas Mavericks and the Portland Trailblazers. Both have players with unique combinations of size and skill, each capable of filling multiple roles. Individual matchups have been and will continue to be an important factor in the series, but so are the lineups employed by Rick Carlisle and Nate McMillan — the way those unique players are used in concert to achieve specific outcomes.

In a weird twist, neither team has been successful with their starting lineups. The Trail Blazers’ starters have been a -2 when on the floor together, the Mavericks’ have been a -3. For each team, change of pace units have done most of the damage. Two intriguing units played significant roles in Game 1 and disappeared in Game 2. These two lineups seem somewhat representative of the overall direction of each team.

The Jason Kidd – Jason Terry – Shawn Marion – Dirk Nowitzki – Tyson Chandler combination was the third most used lineup by the Mavericks this season, playing just over 187 minutes together. It was also one of the team’s most effective units, posting a Net Rating of +19.03 across the entire season. We’ll call this lineup “The Grays” in reference to their 8 gajillion combined years of experience.

For the Blazers we saw a new five-headed monster emerge in Game 1. The Blazers used the Andre Miller – Nicolas Batum – Gerald Wallace – LaMarcus Aldridge – Marcus Camby configuration for just over seven minutes. Wallace joined Portland for the last 23 games of the season and McMillan only ran that combination out onto the floor for a total of 54 seconds before the playoffs started. We’ll call this lineup “The Longs” in reference to their combined wingspan of 8 gajillion feet.

The Grays

This group destroyed the Blazers in Game 1, outscoring them by 19 points in just over 9 minutes. They posted an Offensive Rating of 170.6 and a Defensive Rating of 50.0, for a ridiculous Net Rating of +120.59. They did most of their damage in a stretch from 5:47 left in the fourth quarter to 0:25 left in the fourth, when they took a 72-66 deficit to an 85-78 lead. This is an extremely small sample size, but they lineup obviously caused problems for the Blazers.

In Game 2, The Grays were not nearly as effective. They played just 6 minutes and 14 seconds together towards the end of the second quarter and were outscored by the Blazers 19-17. Some terrific shooting from Peja Stojakavic kept him on the floor for 27 minutes, and The Grays did not play as a unit at all in the second half.

The Longs

This unit gives the Blazers a huge advantage in terms of length and athleticism. In Game 1, McMillan went to The Longs quickly, inserting Batum at the 8:18 mark of the first quarter, after Wesley Matthews had picked up two quick fouls. They were matched primarily with the Mavericks’ starting lineup, and outscored them 10-4 over a four minute stretch. They were also outscored by the Mavs 5-4 over the last three minutes of the first half. They were never on the floor together in the second half.

In Game 2, The Longs played together for the last minute and 24 seconds of the first half, being outscored by the Mavericks 4-3. They did not play at all together in the second half.

These two lineups were each very successful for a stretch in the first game of the series but saw much less floor time in the second. The Grays saw much less time in Game 2 because Peja Stojakavic was scorching from the outside. The Mavericks rode the hot hand, going away from one of their most common configurations in the process. They departed from what they normally do because something else was working on that particular night. Again, The Grays were one of the Mavericks most frequently used lineups during the regular season, comprised of the five players who led the team in crunch time minutes. We’ll certainly see more of them throughout the rest of the series.

The Longs are a slightly different story. They hardly played together in the regular season but were very effective against the Mavericks. Despite that fact, it seemed that McMillan made a conscious choice to avoid this lineup in Game 2. The Longs are comprised of the Blazers starters, with Batum subbed in for Wesley Matthews at shooting guard. Having a 6’9″ body matched up against any of the Mavericks’ shooting guards theoretically gives them a huge advantage at both ends of the floor, especially when that 6’9″ body is someone like Batum with the length and quickness to deny penetration and challenge jumpers.

During Game Two, Batum was subbed in four times. Each time he entered the game with the rest of the starting lineup on the floor. However, three of the four times he came in, McMillan chose to have him replace Camby instead of Matthews. Camby wasn’t in foul trouble, so one would have to think McMillan was making this choice based on matchups. The Mavericks were on fire from the perimeter and it makes sense add a long, quick defender at the expense of a big, rather than merely swap Batum for Matthews. This led them to a Miller-Matthews-Batum-Wallace-Aldridge combination which wasn’t used at all in Game 1, and played the Mavericks even 11-11 in Game 2.

The changes in Rick Carlisle’s rotation have been made to continue success; he rode The Grays to a big lead in Game 1, and made room for Stojakavic’s shooting in Game 2. Nate McMillan’s adjustments appear to be largely reactive; The Longs are a lineup which could theoretically help corral the Mavericks’ dribble penetration, bother jumpshooters, and create matchup problems on offense as well. They didn’t appear to be the best option to stop what the Mavericks were doing in Game 2, so they literally didn’t appear. The Blazers seem to be looking for answers instead of asking the questions.

The Mavericks have to be happy with where they are. They’re firmly in command of the series right now, not just because they’ve won, but because of how they’ve won. The Blazers reactive substitution pattern is a huge boon for Dallas, allowing them to stay one step ahead in the war of matchups.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 89, Portland Trailblazers 81

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 17, 2011 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-04-17 at 3.25.42 AM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas81.0109.948.537.925.616.0
Portland100.048.511.827.516.0

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

  • The glory of Dirk Nowitzki’s late-game heroism surely isn’t lost in Dallas, but even those who expect Dirk to save the day on a nightly basis should take a moment to appreciate his impact at its most elemental. The instant recognition of a mismatch. The spin away from a double team. The awkward stumble transformed into a graceful release. Nowitzki may not have been perfect throughout Saturday’s game, but after a lion-hearted 28-point, 10-rebound performance, there should be no question of to whom the game belonged. Even after all of these years, these playoff runs, these brilliant games, and these fantastic, singular moments, Nowitzki’s basket-making, fist-pumping routine in the fourth quarter just never seems to lose its luster. Maverick fans have never felt championship catharsis, but it’s nights like this one that validate the viewing experience; Nowitzki is a giant in this game, and to see him at the height of his powers — as he was during an invaluable 16-point fourth quarter burst — is a distinct pleasure.
  • That said, the Blazers — particularly LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum — did a tremendous job of bothering Nowitzki as much as possible on the offensive end. Their defensive success didn’t quite last, but Nowitzki’s game-saving performance shouldn’t overshadow the fact that Portland pestered Dirk into an uncharacteristic six turnovers, and held him to 7-of-20 shooting from the field. This isn’t the first time Nowitzki has struggled against Portland, and it may not be the last; although Aldridge is no all-world defender, he has a skill set that makes him uniquely capable of taking on the role of Nowitzki’s primary defender. None of that stopped Dirk from dropping 28, but there’s no question that Nowitzki’s battle for efficiency will be ongoing.
  • This is a win to appreciate, but the reasons for concern were quite apparent. Dallas was as fantastic from three-point range (.526) as Portland was horrible (.125), largely because Jason Kidd (24 points, 9-14 FG, 6-10 3FG, four assists, five rebounds) caught fire and Nicolas Batum (14 points, 6-14 FG, 1-7 3FG) now only holds vague memories of what it’s like to be a three-point shooter. The shooting percentages of both players and both teams are likely to equalize, and though it’s not impossible to fathom that Kidd could be a reasonably effective scorer for the span of an entire series, relying on that idea seems like an especially dangerous proposition. Kidd’s scoring production will inevitably wane, and when it does, Dallas will need more than 10 points from Jason Terry and more than six points from Shawn Marion. The unpredictability of the Maverick offense can work in their favor on some occasions (Who would expect this kind of outburst from Kidd?), but not without a caveat of uncertainty; it’s not a matter of which supporting player will assist Dirk on a given night, but if one will at all. There are plenty of capable scorers on Dallas’ roster, but the reason why we applaud Kidd for his 24 points is the opposite of the reason why we applaud Nowitzki for his 28.
  • Additionally, Andre Miller (18 points, 7-13 FG, six assists, four rebounds) and Nicolas Batum had a lot of success in the post against the undersized Maverick guards. Playing Stevenson for nearly 20 minutes helped to hedge the impact of those guard mismatches, but their potential remains. Even if those opportunities result in just a few buckets, the balance in this series is so very delicate; Dallas and Portland both have an opportunity to tip the scales through subtler measures, and to get a handful of easy shot attempts every night could end up making a substantial difference.
  • Dallas still doesn’t have much of a counter for Aldridge other than Nowitzki’s off-setting scoring. Tyson Chandler had his shot, but Aldridge is able to work his way into prime position and bury hooks over Chandler’s outstretched arms. Brendan Haywood is more capable of battling Haywood in the post, but the fact that Aldridge scored over six more points per 36 minutes while Haywood was on the floor this season (per NBA.com’s StatsCube) is no fluke — Haywood is just as incapable of limiting Aldridge as Chandler is. Shawn Marion even got to try his hand in defending Aldridge on the block a few times, but one nice strip doesn’t change the fact that it would be a horrid matchup. The Mavs need to help against Aldridge as much as possible until they get burned, I fear for Dallas’ ability to keep their heads above water once Portland starts hitting their shots from outside.
  • The Mavs attempted 29 free throws in this one, a notable number made even even more so by the game’s low pace. There were only 81 possessions for the night, so Dallas’ 29 free throws convert into a 37.9 free throw rate, an elite mark by league-wide standards, much less by the Mavs’ own. Getting to the line has never been the Dallas’ strong suit, but Nowitzki’s ability to draw fouls turned out to be vital.
  • Gerald Wallace and Brandon Roy — deemed an x-factor and a difference-maker in this series, respectively — were non-entities. Wallace was active, but seemed phased out; his drives lacked resolve, and his activity on the court didn’t translate into any tangible benefit. Four of Wallace’s nine missed field goals were blocked attempts, a fitting tribute to just how oddly ineffective he was in attacking the basket. Roy had one of his rougher nights, the type of hiccup that has become all too common since his latest return from injury. This shouldn’t come as any surprise, nor should it deter us from still seeing Roy as an important player in this series; he may not be productive every game, but Roy has the potential to spark runs, to break the Mavs’ momentum, and to impact the game as either a scorer or a playmaker. As for Wallace, doesn’t a performance like this in a losing effort only reinforce his status as an x-factor?
  • To the Mavs’ credit, they were able to keep their turnovers to a reasonable level. Nowitzki picked up six on his own, but Kidd, Terry, and J.J. Barea only turned the ball over three times combined. Considering just how pesky the Blazers can be in the passing lanes and against ball-handlers (they ranked second in the NBA in opponent’s turnover rate this season), that’s huge.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 84, Portland Trailblazers 81

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

Screen shot 2011-01-05 at 12.42.42 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

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

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

  • Based on the final score, you should immediately be able to tell two things about last night’s game: neither team was particularly proficient offensively with their stars sidelined by injury, and the pace was insanely slow. I wouldn’t expect a game between Portland (the league’s slowest team) and Dallas (the league’s eighth slowest team) to break out into a foot race, but this particular game progressed even more slowly than it first appeared. 80 possessions? That’s an insanely — and impressively, really — low pace number for a game, even by the Blazers’ standards. Both teams worked and worked and worked for good looks, but they rarely came. That didn’t make for the prettiest of contests, but it’s good to see teams at least attempt to replace execution with effort. Dallas’ offense isn’t going to operate normally without Dirk Nowitzki or Caron Butler (much less Rodrigue Beaubois) steering possessions along, and the same is true for Portland’s sets without Brandon Roy. Neither team is currently equipped for dominance, but they fought for rebounds and control throughout. It wasn’t the most aesthetically brilliant game you’ll see this season (or probably even that night; the Knicks and Spurs had a fun no-defense affair in NYC), but it’s easily appreciated for what it was.
  • DeShawn Stevenson (18 points, 4-9 3FG, three rebounds, two assists) and Tyson Chandler (14 points, 7-9 FG, 13 rebounds) are the unexpected offensive heroes of the Mavs’ latest successes. Stevenson was again money from three-point range, but his willingness to surrender his footing in order to drive or step in still surprises me. In a fully-functioning Mavs offense, Stevenson is a spot-up shooter and little else, but in a pinch, he can handle the ball a bit, make smart, well-timed passes, and draw fouls. Chandler’s production wasn’t anything we haven’t seen before, just an impressive effort on the offensive glass (where Tyson grabbed six of his 13 boards) and a continued excellence in filling open space around the rim. Chandler doesn’t float or wander, he’s always moving with an intent to do something. That may not be a part of the scouting report on TC, but it’s a notable aspect of his game that some bigs would be wise to emulate.
  • Defensive rebounding was very nearly a back-breaker. The Mavs must be better in boxing out shooters and other offensive players. Portland only barely topped Dallas in offensive rebounding percentage, but Marcus Camby (five offensive boards), LaMarcus Aldridge (three), Nicolas Batum (three), and even Andre Miller (two) scored second and third and fourth opportunities for their team, maximizing each trip down the floor. Had Wes Matthews or the Portland reserves played just a bit better, Dallas would have been nudged out in the fourth. Instead, the Mavs got just enough defensive rebounds to take the lead and Jason Terry scored 12 points (on 5-8 FG) to go along with two assists and two rebounds in the fourth quarter to secure it. The Mavs should take a win any way they can get it at the moment, but one would expect the rebounding on the defensive end to be just a bit better, no?

Private Execution

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 25, 2010 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

Ben Golliver of Blazers Edge should need no introduction to hardcore hoops fans, but he posted an item of particular interest to Mavs fans in light of tonight’s game between Dallas and Portland. Much of Ben’s report from the Blazers’ practice on Wednesday — and much of the observable portion of practice, from his indications — was spent discussing how to best defend Dirk Nowitzki:

Obviously any defensive scheme against a player of Dirk’s caliber is a “pick your poison” affair.  When Dirk receives the ball with back to the basket in the mid post, LaMarcus Aldridge was instructed to get up into his body with the express purpose of making Dirk use his dribble while his back was still to the basket.  The theory is simple: Cut down Dirk’s potential options when he turns and faces.  More than just about anyone in the NBA, Dirk has the ability to be a deadly triple threat while facing the hoop: he can shoot over the top, drive either direction off the bounce or read the defense and pass instantly.  The Blazers seemingly would prefer Dirk not to be able to turn and face with his dribble intact and would rather take their chances with him dribbling into the key with his back to the basket.  Interestingly, Aldridge was also instructed not to show Dirk either direction in the post but to simply play him square. That shows a respect factor for Dirk’s ability to turn and shoot over either shoulder.  Something to watch tomorrow: How well does Aldridge execute this portion of the game plan? How easy and often is Dirk able to turn with his dribble intact? How diligent and careful is Aldridge in bodying Nowitzki without fouling?

Interestingly enough, most of Portland’s briefing on Dirk is coming from Joe Prunty, a former Maverick assistant. Head on over to Blazers Edge to get the report in full, and take a trip down memory lane with Ben’s in-depth of analysis of Nicolas Batum’s defense on Dirk the last time these two teams met.

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Draft Ranges

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 30, 2009 under xOther | 5 Comments to Read

The Mavs don’t have a very good track record when it comes to finding value late in the draft, though selecting Josh Howard with the final pick in the first round back in 2003.  But the stakes have never been higher, with the Mavs’ few young assets weighing their options in free agency and the Mavs’ 2010 pick in the hands of the New Jersey Nets.  This one counts big time, and it’s up to the management and the scouting team to find the diamond in the rough.

It’s tough, but hardly impossible.  Quality players pass right under the noses of many a team year after year, leaving latent value late in the draft.  The Mavs pick at 22, which is just a shade closer to the lottery than to the Mavs’ customary position at the draft’s tail.

Here are the picks at 22 this decade:

2008 – Courtney Lee
2007 – Jared Dudley
2006 – Marcus Williams
2005 – Jarrett Jack
2004 – Viktor Khryapa
2003 – Zoran Planinic
2002 – Casey Jacobsen
2001 – Jeryl Sasser
2000 – Donnell Harvey

Three of those players (Courtney Lee, Jared Dudley, Jarrett Jack) have shown rotation player chops.  Lee is the most notable as the starting 2 guard of an impressive Orlando team just one win away from the Finals.  In fact, if the Mavs could magically re-draft Lee this year, they’d be in pretty good shape.

Just for fun, here are picks in the late first round (20+) :

2008
Courtney Lee (22)
Nicolas Batum (25)

2007
Wilson Chandler (23)
Rudy Fernandez (24)
Aaron Brooks (26)

2006
Renaldo Balkman (20)
Rajon Rondo (21)
Kyle Lowry (23)
Shannon Brown (25)
Jordan Farmar (26)

2005
Jarrett Jack (20)
Nate Robinson (21)
Francisco Garcia (23)
Jason Maxiell (26)
Linas Kleiza (27)
David Lee (30)

2004
Jameer Nelson (20)
Delonte West (24)
Kevin Martin (26)

2003
Boris Diaw (21)
Travis Outlaw (23)
Kendrick Perkins (27)
Leandro Barbosa (28)
Josh Howard (29)

2002
Tayshaun Prince (23)
Nenad Krstic (24)
John Salmons (26)

2001
Brendan Haywood (20)
Gerald Wallace (25)
Jamaal Tinsley (27)
Tony Parker (28)

2000
Morris Peterson (21)

It’s certainly worth noting that even the 2005 draft, predicted to be a weak draft class among pundits and largely looked at as a failure in comparison to its contemporaries, still produced productive players late in the first round.  Blake Griffin is no Tim Duncan and the consolation prizes may have their flaws, but that doesn’t mean true commodities can’t be found late in the first.

Next week I’ll start examining potential picks for the Mavs, starting with those rumored and confirmed to have scheduled workouts with the team.  Some of those players seem poised for success on the pro level, and others may not even be top competitors in the D-League.  As fans, we can only hope that MGMT not only makes the right decision in assessing the talent of a potential pick, but also in picking talented players to fill holes in the Mavs’ rotation.