Encapsulating a team’s essence in one word is difficult, particularly when that team is the 2012-2013 Dallas Mavericks and one isn’t supposed to curse. Those conditions standing, however, the word which best describes both the current and future outlook of these Dallas Mavericks is “unpredictable.” The instability which characterized the Mavs this season will become the new normal as Dallas prepares to enter another hyperactive off-season.
As the primary topics of discussion shift away from the playoffs and beards, talk of free agency will ramp up. A rush of predictions, rumors and opinion pieces will attempt to assign a method to the ongoing Mavericks madness. It is a void into which I will willingly plunge as an analyst, but I wish to first beg your forgiveness. The task of predicting Dallas’ moves this offseason, or offering reasonable advice to its ownership, is a tall task, and potentially a fool’s errand. Anyone searching for a definitive answer would be wise to remember that little in this Mavericks era can be anticipated; most everything has yet to be determined.
“Know me… and know fear.” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
This offseason, Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson will need to look at the current roster and evaluate which players are a priority. It’s difficult to decide if a good game represents a glimpse of greatness or a fleeting moment. In other words: should we expect more from them or are these anomalies, outliers, from subpar players? Of course, consistency would be nice, but so few of the new players this season were consistent.
To help Cuban and Nelson, I offer my rundown of “best games” from the players who had their first season in Dallas (thus, no Brandan Wright, but I already covered him last week). I also limited my list to players who had significant minutes this season (no Anthony Morrow or Jared Cunningham).
Elton Brand Best game: December 1st vs. Detroit, Mavs win 92 to 77 Stats of note: 17 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 blocks From the game recap, Kirk Henderson wrote: “A healthy round of applause for Elton Brand (17 points, 12 rebounds) is in order. While its exciting to see Mayo shoot well, seeing Brand hit those 10 to 15 foot jump shots was such a relief. Last season Brand shot a fantastic 45% clip from that section of the floor and was a big reason many were initially so excited to pair him with Dirk who would, in theory, open up the floor for Brand the way he has for so many others. Prior to tonight’s game though, Brand has shot an absurd 23% from that range. Tonight Brand hit three shots in that area and it forced the Detroit defense to close out on him, thus opening the floor for his five makes at the rim.” “Brand’s confidence on offense bled over into his defense; his four blocks helped keep the momentum in favor of the Mavericks. Pairing him with Bernard James (six points, 3 rebounds) was a different look for Dallas in the second quarter. It’s probably a rare sight though, both Brand and James are around 6’9″ and Carlisle was looking to steal minutes while Chris Kaman was in foul trouble.” My thoughts: Elton Brand averages a double-double per 36 minutes, but he’s not going to get 36 minutes from the Mavericks. While he may be the most balanced (offensive and defensive) player on the Mavs—with Shawn Marion certainly in that mix—Brand isn’t going to be a high priority in the off season.
In an effort to keep the discussion going, I sought out ESPNDallas.com’s Tim MacMahon for his opinion on pressing issues for the Dallas Mavericks. You can view MacMahon’s coverage of the Mavericks at ESPNDallas.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @espn_macmahon. Periodically, we have touched base and discussed topics with our own unique point of view. It’s been a while, so it was necessary for us to reconnect and agree and disagree on a few subjects.
MacMahon likes to call it like he sees it. That perspective can hover on the other end of the spectrum from my optimistic viewpoint on things. You could say it’s a classic case of good cop, bad cop. Our different perspectives should make for an interesting conversation on hot topics revolving around the Mavs.
This round of bloom and doom analyzes if Rick Carlisle is having the coaching performance of his career, which 2011 departure would fit best this year and other topics.
After playing in the friendly confines of the American Airlines Center for the last six games, the Dallas Mavericks embark on a do or die road trip that will have them going to play the Lakers, Nuggets, Kings and Trail Blazers. Dallas is one-and-a-half games back of the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Lakers from the 8th spot in the West. The Lakers have the same record as the Jazz, but the Jazz have the tiebreaker over the Lakers so they currently hold the final spot. “There’s no need to overstate the obvious,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said before the team departed to Los Angeles. “We need to win every game we can game. This is a challenge you have to look forward to.”
Dallas is once again one game away from reaching .500. They’re in the thick – as thick as Dirk’s beard – of the race for the 8th seed and trying to become only third team since 1989 (Both the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers in 1997) to make playoffs after being 10 games or more under .500. “We’re trying to be the greatest comeback since Lazarus,” Carlisle said. “Really, that’s what we’re trying to do.” At the end of the nine games, they’ll see where they stand. The first game will be against the Los Angeles Lakers. Before the season, if you told people that the Mavs would be in a chase with the Lakers for a seed, many would think it would be for the 2nd or 3rd seed in the conference. Unfortunately for both, they’re both scratching and clawing just to get in.
Dirk Nowitzki refused to let his team lose. Dallas trailed by 12 (97-85) with less than four minutes to go in the fourth quarter, but close the game on a 15-1 run en route to a 100-98 win over the Chicago Bulls. The 12-point comeback is biggest deficit overcome in a win when trailing with less than 4:00 to play in NBA this season. Dirk sealed the deal for the Mavericks as he hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds left. He was untouchable in the fourth quarter as he went 6-of-7 from the field and 3-of-4 from 3-point range for 15 points in the fourth quarter. Dirk scored 15 of the teams 25 points. In the end, Dirk tallied a season-high (game-high) 35 points to go along with seven rebounds in 34 minutes against Chicago.
Brandan Wright recorded his first double-double of the season (fourth career) with 17 points and a career-high-tying 13 rebounds in 23 minutes off the bench against Chicago. It was his first double-double since April. 1, 2011 at Philadelphia (15 points and 11 rebounds while with New Jersey).
An MRI revealed that Mavericks shooting guard O.J. Mayo has a mild sprain of the AC joint in his left shoulder. He played in the game and logged just under 42 minutes of action. Mayo went 1-of-13 from the floor. It was evident he was struggling with his shoulder as he missed his first two shots of the day, two left-handed layups. Through the pain, Mayo grinded out the game and provided an all-around effort that made up for his poor shooting performance.
For the Bulls, Nate Robinson went a perfect 7-of-7 from beyond the arc en route to a team-high-tying 25 points for Chicago. He scored Chicago’s first 11 points of the fourth quarter and finished with 15 points in the fourth. He added six assists in 32 minutes off the bench. Carlos Boozer (25 points and 11 rebounds) and Luol Deng (25 points and seven rebounds) combined for 50 points and 18 rebounds.
Really though, this is about Dirk Nowitzki.
Some notes before the quotes:
- Including the postseason, the game against the Bulls marked the 12th time in his career that Dirk made a game-winning basket in the final 10 seconds of a game (and the first since Mar. 30, 2012 at Orlando). Nowitzki, who had 33 points vs. the L.A. Clippers on 3/26, scored 30-plus points for the second time in his last three games (third time this season). He is averaging 29.7 points on 62.1 percent shooting (.455 3FG) over his last three games.
- Dirk during the homestand: 61.5 percent from the field, 44.4 percent from 3, 90 percent from the line. 24.0 points and 7.0 in six games for Dirk.
- Nowitzki went a perfect 8-for-8 from the field (2-for-2 from deep) and 2-for-2 from the line in the first half against Chicago. He led all players with 20 points in 17 first-half minutes. It was the most points he’s scored in any half this season (previous: 17 in first half at Milwaukee Mar. 12). Nowitzki scored 20-plus points in the first half for the first time since Mar. 13, 2012 vs. Washington (20 points). It was the most points he’s scored in any half since Apr. 18, 2012 vs. Houston (31 points).
- By shooting 14-of-17 from the field and shooting 82.4 percent from the field, Dallas has now gone 13-2 in games where Dirk shoots at least 80 percent from the field (min. 10 field goal attempts). Dallas had lost their previous two games under those circumstances.
- Nowitzki, who had 20 points in the first half against Chicago on Saturday, scored 20-plus points for the seventh time in his last 10 games (16th time this season). Nowitzki is averaging 22.0 points on 57.1 percent shooting over his last 11 games.
Here is the quoteboard for Dallas’ heroic win over Chicago. Meet everyone at the altar of Dirk.
Several weeks ago I put together a post highlighting the incredible amount of turnover on the Mavericks’ roster and rotation this season, and looking specifically at the effectiveness of different player pairs. At that point, 19 different players had dressed in a Mavericks uniform during the 2012-2013 season, not including Delonte West who was released just before the regular season started. That number has now climbed to 21, despite the team’s slow march towards 0.500 and a potential playoff berth. The larger pieces of the rotation finally seemed to have fallen into place, which means Rick Carlisle can return to tinkering around the edges. Plenty of elements have been difficult to watch this season, but among the most challenging for me has been the trial-and-error…and error method Carlisle has needed to piece together the limited specialists on this roster into a consistently reliable attack. We’ve never seen so much of the error portion of his process in years past, and Carlisle’s previously masterful performance in managing rotations have raised expectations to obscene levels. As Dirk Nowitzki has returned to form and all the new parts have become more secure in understanding how they fit around him, the tumult has eased. It’s an incredible relief to feel that identifying useful player combinations is no longer such a daily battle.
Obviously, I’m still hung up on these player combinations, so I decided to take another look, again using a Tableau Visualization. The chart below shows each different player combination the Mavericks have used this season graphed by their minutes played. I divided the season into six-game segments so each mark displays the numbers for just the previous six games. The color of each line represents the effectiveness of the unit, as expressed by Net Rating; red is good, green is bad. You can use the search filter at the bottom to focus in on any pairing that strikes your fancy.
The overall graph, displaying every combination is an overwhelming amount of information. But in looking at the hornet’s nest as a whole, a few things should pop out. The first is how inconsistent the use of different pairings has been. Injuries have shuffled the cards at different points during the season, but the jagged peaks and valleys adorning most of those lines emphasize what a shifting surface the Mavericks’ rotation has been. The second point is how inconsistent performance has been. Six games is not a huge sample slice by which to be measuring these groups, but most of the pairs, especially those at the top, have been rocketing back and forth between terrific and terrible.
Thermodynamics (n.) – the science concerned with the relations between heat and mechanical energy
Until this month, we’d gone most of the season without being able to celebrate undefeated weeks by the Mavs. Now, all of the sudden, we’ve been bestowed that privilege. This week was surely the most impressive, as the Mavs went 3-0 against a decently tough schedule.
Let’s hit the highs and lows of the week.
Week 22 (Celtics, Jazz, Clippers)
1) Dirk Nowitzki
A vintage week from Dirk, as he averaged 24.0 points per game on a cumulative 27-of-49 (55%) shooting along with seven rebounds per game. He was particularly effective in crunch time against the Clippers, dropping 15 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter and overtime alone. Nowitzki’s season-long efficiency numbers are finally starting to approach his usual, otherworldly levels; as of today, his true-shooting percentage is 56.2% (well below his monstrous 61.2% during the 2010-2011 championship season, but otherwise comparable to most recent seasons). His effective field-goal percentage is 51.2%, which is higher than any of the last six seasons other than 2010-2011.
Some of that can be attributed to the fact that Nowitzki has posted an amazingly low usage rate — just 23.8%, by far his lowest in nine seasons — though it can also be difficult for a high-volume scorer to find such consistent accuracy when they don’t touch the ball early and often. Dirk defies that trend, though the Mavs still need to work to get him the ball regularly (which they were much better at this week than last).
The Dallas Mavericks had their most impressive victory of the season with a 109-102 overtime victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. The Mavericks moved to 2-8 in overtime games this season. They also beat a top-5 team in the West for the first time since they beat the Memphis Grizzlies on Jan. 12. Dallas must have gotten a blood transfusion leading up to the game as it appears they now have alligator blood running their veins. Breaking the rut that seemed to haunt them all season long, the Mavericks found a way to execute when they needed to and got clutch performances out of Dirk Nowitzki and OJ Mayo.
Nowitzki tallied a season-high 33 points to go along with a team-high nine rebounds in 39 minutes against the Clippers (previous high: 30 vs. L.A. Lakers Mar. 24). Chris Paul, who finished with a season-high 33 points, hit a potential dagger basket with 5.3 seconds remaining in regulation. OJ Mayo got the ball along the baseline and had Paul defending him. Mayo spun away from the second defender and found daylight for an easy layup, forcing overtime. Mayo actually used Paul’s aggression against him as Paul over-committed and sacrificed the baseline and the easiest path to the basket.
Mayo went 5-of-15 from the field for only 11 points, but stepped up with some incredible defense on Paul. The point guard for the Clippers was still able to break through but he had to earn everything he got against the Mavericks.
Some notes before the quotes:
- Dirk Nowitzki passed Patrick Ewing (24,815) for 17th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with a jumper at the 8:51 mark of the first quarter. The basket gave him four points for the game and 24,816 for his career. Nowitzki finished with 33 points against Los Angeles and now has 24,845 career points. Jerry West ranks 16th all-time with 25,192 career points.
- Nowitzki went 12-of-21 from the field against the Clippers on Tuesday. With his 11th field goal of the game (8,694th career) at the 4-minute mark of overtime, he passed Elgin Baylor (8,693) for 20th place on the NBA’s all-time field goals made list. Nowitzki now has 8,695 career field goals. Gary Payton ranks 19th all-time with 8,708 career field goals.
- Lamar Odom got the business from the fans. He was booed every single time he touched the ball.
- The Clippers went 10-for-22 on 3-point baskets through three quarters. They went 0-for-11 on three-pointers in the fourth quarter and overtime.
- With the win, Dallas is now one game back of the the Los Angeles Lakers for the 8th spot in the Western Conference. They are also one game under .500 for the first time since Dec. 14.
Here is the quoteboard for Dallas’ potentially season-changing victory over the Clippers.
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
The strategic decision to double team Chris Paul late in the fourth quarter (33 points, seven turnovers) stifled Paul at the perfect moment for Dallas. Starting with a jumper over Mike James at the 4:13 mark in the fourth, Paul put on a one-man 6-0 run to pull the Clippers from down 87-90 to up 93-90 in just 79 seconds. By doubling Paul early in the shot clock, Dallas effectively shut down any semblance of offense for Los Angeles. The other Clippers looked unsure what to do offensively and the result was three contested three pointers that would not fall, giving Dallas a chance to get back into the game after Paul’s momentum shifting run.
In a refreshing return to form, Dallas insisted on going to Dirk Nowtizki (33 points, nine rebounds) in both the fourth quarter and overtime. In those final two periods of basketball Dirk scored 15 points on a mere six shot attempts, getting to the line seven times. The concern over the Dallas guards and their inability to get the ball to Dirk is not an issue that will go away with one game, but seeing Darren Collison actively look to give Dirk the ball when he’s posting up hard is a welcome change.
While the focus might be on O.J. Mayo’s impressive driving lay up to send the game into over time, his defensive efforts on Chris Paul at the end of the third and during the double teaming sequence of the fourth were fantastic. His length seemed to bother Paul much more than Mike James, Darren Collison, or even Shawn Marion, forcing Paul into a few uncharacteristic bad decisions. Oddly, coach Rick Carlisle gave Shawn Marion the assignment for the final Clipper regulation play (where Paul hit an incredible lay up at a nearly impossible angle), but I would’ve rather seen him stick with what had frustrated Paul in previous possessions.
While I value Rick Carlisle immensely (see above with his choice to double Paul), he’s been very inflexible at times this season. Against the Clippers, his late game and overtime play calling nearly cost Dallas the game. The decision to run isolation plays for Vince Carter in the final minute of the fourth and the final minute of overtime defy logic, particularly in the overtime when Dirk had been unstoppable. Carter has been brilliant this season, but is at his best on catch and shoot threes and trying to get to the rim against the bench players of an opponent. Carlisle put Vince in situations did not necessarily play to his current strengths, particularly when the Mavericks have another potent final shot taker.
The Mavericks started the third quarter in frustrating fashion, picking up four team fouls in under two minutes. After putting the Clippers into the bonus with nearly seven and a half minutes left in the quarter, it felt as if the game might get out of hand quickly for Dallas. However, the often foul-prone Mavericks only committed two more fouls the remainder of the period and managed to keep pace with a Clipper offense that is capable to putting up points quickly.
The ever reliable Shawn Marion (four points, four turnovers) looked out of sync from the opening tip. Though it’s surely not a trend, it was bizarre to see how off Shawn Marion was with his timing. As he’s aged and lost aspects of his athleticism, his game has shifted more towards anticipation and understanding of the game. He misplaced passes on offense, mistimed jumps on rebounds, and was surprisingly ineffective on defense. That the Mavericks won without a strong Marion contribution is fantastic, but I remain shocked at how out of sorts Marion looked against the Clippers.
Center by committee won out again, with Brandan Wright and Elton Brand chipping in a combined 19 points, 12 rebounds, and six blocks . With Dirk both missing games and taking time to round into form, it was a clear challenge for the coaching staff to determine which players work in a given situation with such a limited sample size of data. I remain shocked that a Wright-Nowitzki front court has worked reasonably well defensively. That all of these pieces are coming together at all is a testament to the players and the coaching staff. It’s is also a lesson for fans just how important chemistry is and how long it can take to build.
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.
It’s not every day you get to chat with, in my opinion, one of the best writers in basketball. I had the privilege to talk to Grantland’s Zach Lowe over the weekend to go over key subjects that revolve around the Mavericks. His exclusive, inside look at how SportVU is changing basketball is can’t-miss stuff. With his vast knowledge of the league, including the nuances of the salary cap and the CBA, Lowe’s insight on what is going on in Dallas is definitely worth reading. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to get into the twisted fascination he has with NBA mascots. At least we have something saved up for hopefully another conversation with the talented writer.
With all of the things we were able to discuss, we’re able to break this into two parts that will be easy to digest and absorb. In part one, we discussed the recent disappearing act of Dirk Nowitzki’s shot attempts, Rick Carlisle’s coaching and the situation that has hampered the Mavericks all season long. The conversation covers pretty much the nuts and bolts for Dallas. Let’s dig in.