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.
The story of the Mavericks-Lakers series has already undergone a significant rewrite. In Game 1, the Mavericks applied white-out with surgical precision, erasing a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter to steal a win. They continued their editing in Game 2 using broad strokes of liquid-paper, and erased presumed Laker advantages in propelling themselves to a convincing 12-point win on the road. Both teams will be looking to retake control of the narrative in Game 3 tonight. Even with the next two games being played in Dallas, one would be a fool to not anticipate a tightening of the series. The series should be expected to be closer the rest of the way…but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for Dallas.
The Mavericks were 18-9 this season in games decided by five points or less. We’ve looked at their performance in the clutch this season at least once before; they were simply one of the best in the league at making the plays needed to pull out a win in hard fought contests. Obviously the Mavs would prefer not to play the Lakers down to the wire, but have to feel confident about their ability to win in such situations should they arise.
The Lakers are in a slightly different situation. Their performance in crunch time has been a persistent topic of discussion this season, specifically due to L.A.’s reliance on Kobe Bryant. Observation and precedent tell us he’s a crunch time all-star and one of the best closers the game has ever seen. Statistics tell a slightly different story. Kobe scores a lot in crunch time situations, but not very efficiently. He averages more assists, but only because he uses more possessions. Relative to shot attempts and turnovers, Kobe isn’t any more likely to share the ball at the end of the game as he is at any other point.
Los Angeles has just two players who have been very efficient in clutch situations this season, and neither is Kobe Bryant. Lamar Odom shot 61.5% in the clutch, Pau Gasol 46.3%. Luckily for the Mavericks, those two players averaged a combined 26.7 FGA/48 in the clutch, while Kobe alone shot 40.2% and averaged 38.8 FGA/48. When you factor in a combined 22.2 FGA/48 in the clutch for Ron Artest and Derek Fisher — who shot 30.8% and 31.3% respectively in such situations — the Mavericks have to feel pretty confident about their ability to outscore the Lakers in late-game scenarios.
I’m sure many of you are sick of this the ongoing debate over Kobe’s clutch performance, but my apologies — I’m not quite done with it. I’m certainly not the first to point this out, but shot selection is a huge factor in his inefficiency. The table below shows the percentage of Kobe’s shots which have come from each location over the past five seasons.
|Season||At the Rim||<10ft.||10-15ft.||16-23ft.||3PT||FTA/FGA
Kobe is taking roughly the same percentage of his shots from inside of 10 feet. The difference is that a much smaller percentage of them are coming right at the rim; Bryant is more and more reliant on his jumpshooting, which makes him much easier to defend effectively late in games. What makes Kobe so theoretically dangerous is the sheer number of ways that he can punish defenders, but 48,235 career minutes played over 14 seasons have taken some of those options away.
In late-game situations, Kobe’s shot distribution becomes even more rigid. This second table shows his shot breakdown in clutch situations for this regular season, and the small sample from this year’s playoffs:
|At the Rim||<10ft.||10-15ft.||16-23ft.||3PT||FTA/FGA
He’s certainly confident in his ability to win games with mid-range jumpers. Still, that patter of decision making has made the job of the defense that much easier. Many have credited Bryant’s supreme confidence as the key to his perceived success in the clutch, but oddly enough, the only way for Bryant to break a cycle of inefficiency is to relinquish his ultimate alpha status. Does anyone think that’s a realistic possibility right now? It may be in the future, but I have to imagine it would take significant failure to prepare him for that mental transition.
Despite Kobe’s relative inefficiency in clutch situations, the formula has continued to work for the Lakers, a fact no APBRmetrician can argue with. But it won’t work forever. With the inevitable age-related decline of his athletic abilities, there’s not much Kobe can do to change his shot distribution and maintain a semblance of efficiency. We know where Kobe’s story is going because frankly, the nature of aging doesn’t allow for it to unfold any other way. Bryant’s ability to push the Lakers to victory with contested crunch time jumpers can’t persist forever, and though the critical turning point in L.A.’s late-game performance may still be a ways off, it feels closer than ever.
I remain utterly convinced that no single factor — not Dirk Nowitzki in all of his clutch glory, not Jason Terry’s offensive contributions, not Corey Brewer’s stint as a difference-maker, or any other — made more of a profound impact on the result of Game 1 than the defensive play of Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood.
Chandler’s negation of Andrew Bynum was a tremendous accomplishment in itself. After all, rebuking a potential double-double does a lot for Dallas’ bottom line, and the efficiency with which Bynum typically operates would have tipped the scales considerably in L.A.’s favor. But more important than any direct impact that Chandler (and Haywood, to give credit where credit’s due) could provide was a subtle nudge.
The Lakers are never lacking in ability. They have production on all fronts, a fully functional defense, leadership, strong coaching, bench production, size, length, the whole shebang. L.A. very much has it all, and their two straight titles did not come by coincidence. Yet along with their considerable ability comes a bit of pride and a bit of laziness, and though it’s difficult for opposing teams to harness those weaknesses against the Lakers on a whim, it’s more than a bit helpful when L.A. does manage to turn against itself. It’s hard to say that the Lakers were their own worst enemy or somesuch in Game 1, but at times, they certainly worked to their own disadvantage. Once Chandler managed to defend Bynum successfully in the post and Gasol floated outward a bit, the Laker guards didn’t make the continued effort to establish an offensive rhythm through the two true conduits of the triangle. Having a post-centered offense requires much more diligence than most understand, and Game 1 was a perfect example of what can happen when a fully capable team shifts away from its very design.
L.A. still competed. They nearly won, too, because frankly, they have the talent to do so. Kobe Bryant played some sensational basketball, and connected on jumper after jumper with Maverick defenders in his face. He also showcased his abilities as a short-term fix when the Lakers needed a long-term solution; Bryant can keep the offense afloat all on his own, but without Bynum and Gasol attacking the interior, drawing fouls, and luring double teams, the Lakers are imminently beatable. Sometimes all it takes is the slightest nudge — a few stops or a few turnovers — to force Bryant and his teammates into a misread. Kobe becomes a bit too focal in the Laker offense, the player movement begins to stagnate, and the activity on the offensive glass comes to a halt. It’s as much Bryant’s fault as it is any other Laker’s, but L.A.’s occasional stagnation is a real, recurring problem. In Game 1, that problem was triggered by Tyson Chandler’s defense.
The Lakers will return tonight with attempts to run their offense as usual, and things will almost certainly be different than they were in Game 1. Still, L.A. remains vulnerable to the very same nudge. Perhaps Chandler can repeat his performance and lock down the low post. Maybe the Mavs will continue to release off of Ron Artest at times, and attempt to disrupt the Laker offense through him. Maybe Shawn Marion can force Bryant into not only missing, but taking tough shots that throw the Lakers out of their desired rhythm.
Then again, perhaps even with a successful push from the triangle, Kobe will bounce back to drop 40 and completely demolish everything that the Mavs could even hope to accomplish. All remain possibilities, but none should change the priority of testing the Lakers’ patience.
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.
The first task has been completed. Despite faltering for a few days, the Mavericks were able to regain focus and close out the Trail Blazers on the road in Portland.
In the end, the promise of the Blazers’ versatility fizzled. Only two of the 11 Blazers’ lineups that played more than 5 minutes finished the series with a positive Net Rating. One was The Longs, which never appeared again together after Game 2. The other was the Miller-Roy-Matthews-Wallace-Aldridge configuration. That lineup consistently hurt Dallas, but for some reason only saw 18 minutes of floor time over the course of the entire series.
The Mavericks can now turn their attention to what should be an epic duel with the Los Angeles Lakers. As has been pointed out literally everywhere (even NPR might be in on this one) this is the first playoff meeting between the Lakers and Mavericks since 1988. Two of the decade’s defining players, Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant, will finally square off when the stakes are the highest.
The Mavericks have tasted playoff success for the first time in years, and confidence will be high after dispatching a solid Trailblazers team in fairly convincing fashion. Still, the Lakers will be favored, as well they should be; L.A. took two out of three from Dallas in the regular season, winning the most recent pair of games by a combined 33 points.
Areas for Concern
At The Point Forward, Zach Lowe highlighted some of the heading into this series. At the top of his list: How does Dallas handle Kobe Bryant? Lowe is right that Kobe creates some problems for the Mavs; the only player in the rotation even remotely equipped to handle Kobe is Shawn Marion, and that matchup is still less than ideal. As Lowe points out, the answer may be finding some minutes for Corey Brewer, a solution which creates another set of problems at the offensive end.
I know this is sacrilege in some circles, but from a Maverick perspective, Kobe should perhaps invoke less fear than Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. Going back to 2008, the Lakers are 50-23 in the playoffs, for a win percentage of 0.648. Over that same stretch, Kobe has attempted 25 or more shots in a game 23 times. The Lakers are 14-9 in those games, for a win percentage of 0.608. He shot 44.4% from the field and 34.7% on three-pointers in those games — good but not great numbers. The Lakers are at their best, and Kobe at his most efficient, when the offense is balanced. I would be fine with Kobe in hero-mode, taking 35 shots a game. But if the big men are involved, engaged and energetic on offense, opening the floor for Kobe and the rest of the perimeter players, things could get ugly for the Mavericks.
The value of Tyson Chandler on both ends of the floor as has been discussed in some detail in this space, and suffice it to say that Chandler’s defense and rebounding will be crucial to keeping Gasol, Bynum and Odom from running roughshod in the paint. In the regular season, opposing centers averaged 5.6 personal fouls per 48 minutes against the Lakers, as they tried desperately to stymie Gasol and Bynum. Chandler’s average was just 4.1 against the Lakers, a very promising sign. However, his longest streak of 30+ minute games this season was just five. He will probably need to replicate that in this series for the Mavericks to have a chance.
How Dallas shoots from beyond the arc is also going to play a significant role in determining the outcome of this series. The Mavericks made 36.5% of their three-pointers in the regular season, and shot 38.0% in their six games against the Trail Blazers. In their three games against the Lakers they shot just 32.4%. They made 11 of 18 from the corners, but went 11 of 50 from everywhere else behind the three-point line. They don’t need to hit 15 a game , but when left open, DeShawn Stevenson, Peja Stojakavic, Jason Terry and J.J. Barea have to knock down open threes.
Reasons for Optimism
The worst kept secret in the NBA is that the Lakers are vulnerable defensively at the point guard position. The table below shows the individual statistics the Lakers have allowed their opponents, broken down by position.
Lakers' Opponent Production by Position
Point guards score more and more efficiently against the Lakers than any other position. This presents both an opportunity and a challenge for the Mavericks. Like everyone else, the Mavericks’ point guards were very effective against the Lakers in the regular season. Barea and Kidd posted an eFG% of 60.7% in the three regular season matchups. However, they combined for just 18.4 points per game because they averaged only 14 field goal attempts per contest. The Mavericks point guards are not aggressive scorers by nature, but if they can find some aspect of that assertion deep within themselves, they can take advantage of a rather large hole in the Lakers’ defensive front.
Rodrigue Beaubois played two games against the Lakers this season, and struggled mightily — going 3 of 15 from the field with 2 assists and 2 turnovers in just under 30 minutes of play. Recovering from a sprained foot, Beaubois missed all six games against in the first round, but is nearing a return to game action. He may not be 100%, and Rick Carlisle seems pretty confident with his guard rotation as is, so minutes may be scarce at first. Still, if Beaubois is healthy, he has the potential to create serious problems for L.A.; the Lakers simply can’t defend his speed and athleticism on a one-on-one basis.
Finally, if the Mavericks can keep the games close, they’ll always have a chance to steal one at the end with their crunch-time execution. According to 82games.com, Chandler, Marion and Terry all shoot 50.0% or better from the field in clutch situations. Kidd and Nowitzki shoot a modest 45.8% each in the clutch. Dallas played 27 games this season that were decided by 5 points or less, and won 18 of them (a win percentage of 0.667). Dallas has found ways to pull out close games all season, and while they’d prefer not to rely on their closing ability, but it’s not a bad fall-back plan.
Johnny Ludden, Yahoo Sports: In a lot of ways, Nowitzki is not unlike David Robinson before Tim Duncan joined his side. Robinson waded through the same torrent of criticism each year the Spurs went out early in the playoffs. Many times, it should have been an indictment on the supporting cast around him rather than his own shortcomings. The soft label has never really fit Nowitzki, no matter how many times someone tries to hang it on him. He plays tough. He plays clutch. This series offered more evidence. In three of the Mavs’ four victories, Nowitzki scored 18, 14 and 14 points in the fourth quarters. On Thursday, the Blazers’ Chris Johnson raked Nowitzki across the face, a flagrant foul that left Nowitzki sprawled on his back. After a few moments, Nowitzki picked himself, made both free throws then promptly stuck a step-back jump shot. The next time down the floor, he drove for a reverse layup. ‘Toughness doesn’t always mean throwing a punch back,” Chandler said. “It means getting up and going at ‘em even tougher. … Dirk got up. Instead of getting in some dumb altercation, he said, ‘All right, I’m going to punish you.’’”
Eddie Sefko, Dallas Morning News: “As the Mavericks were leaving the court after ending Portland’s season, some of the Blazer fans were understandably yelling at them. But the message wasn’t one of anger. ‘They were great,’ Dirk Nowitzki said of the fans. ‘When we won and were walking off the court, a lot of them were yelling ‘go beat LA.” The Mavericks will give that their best shot, of course, but they understand that it will not be easy. They went 1-2 against the Lakers in the regular season and everybody knows that beating the two-time defending champions is going to be a huge challenge.”
The Brothers Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: “Zone Defense. The Mavs play a ton of it, and with a great deal of success and, unlike many other squads, a great deal of pride. Rick Carlisle has used it to take advantage of their frontcourt length and protect his smaller lineup, too, all with positive results. Dallas finished the season just behind the Lakers in defensive efficiency (102.3 points allowed per 100 possessions), and while they don’t dominate in any particular statistical category, the Mavs are a top 10 bunch in opponent’s field goal percentage, three point percentage, free throws allowed, and defensive rebounding percentage. The Lakers, a mediocre jump shooting team often too easily seduced into taking them, will need to show discipline offensively in attacking it.”
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Box Score — Play-by-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
- Dallas had a tough time converting the good shot attempts they snuck by L.A.’s defense, and certainly didn’t help their chances with a handful of cringe-worthy defensive breakdowns. Yet at every turn the Mavs stayed within a competitive range. The Mavs could certainly do far worse than stay with the best team in the league step-for-step, even if the scoreboard was less than favorable by the final buzzer. The effort was there and the execution was solid, but the Mavs aren’t going to win many games against this good of an opponent when their top four guards shoot a combined 11-of-34 from the field. The Lakers played some excellent D, but they weren’t responsible for Rodrigue Beaubois’ missed jumpers, Jason Terry’s blown opportunities, or Jason Kidd’s unfruitful three-point attempts. This was a very winnable game for the Mavs, and their proximity to victory stands for reasons more legitimate than their slim scoring deficit.
- This is the second game in a row where Shawn Marion (25 points, 11-20 FG, 12 rebounds, seven offensive rebounds, two blocks) has been the best player in a Maverick uniform. On Thursday, Marion did a phenomenal job of defending Carmelo Anthony (who shot 5-of-15 on the night) while dropping 22 and 8, and Marion followed up that performance by reprising his role as a defensive virtuoso (against Kobe Bryant, who finished 6-of-20 from the field) and thoroughly dominating the offensive glass. Dallas went to Marion in the post repeatedly against Bryant, Ron Artest, and others, and Marion was able to score from the block regardless of opponent. On the occasions when the initial hook didn’t fall, Marion followed his shot for a tip-in. Marion shot 20 field goal attempts on the night, and on 15 of those attempts he either made the shot or followed it up with an offensive board. Just incredible work.
- Unfortunately, Marion’s efforts were countered and then some by the work of the Lakers’ frontline, primarily due to a stellar game from Andrew Bynum (22 points, 9-12 FG, 15 rebounds). He may not be the most consistent interior threat, but Bynum thrived as both a primary post option (against sizable opposition in Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood, no less) and on mop-up duty. Pau Gasol (18 points, 6-14 FG, five rebounds) offered some nice support inside with his usual array of sweeping hooks, and Ron Artest (12 points, 5-8 FG, eight rebounds) added rebounding and efficient low-volume scoring. L.A. won this thing in the paint, and Bynum’s ridiculous effectiveness was the primary reason why.
- All of which diminishes the impact of Dirk Nowitzki (25 points, 10-19 FG, 10 rebounds, six assists), perhaps unfairly. Nowitzki played a fantastic game, but Marion was more impressive and Bynum more dominant, which puts Dallas’ star in the odd position of being the other big playing effective ball. Still, Nowitzki’s all-around offensive game was, as usual, something to behold. He dropped his trademarked mid-range fadeaways, but also acted as a drive-and-kick player at times; twice Nowitzki drove past smaller defenders and passed out to an open three-point shooter after drawing in the defense, and both of those sequences ended with a make from a corner shooter. Nowitzki was outmatched at times defensively when forced to cover Bynum on a switch, but it’s hard to argue with elite offensive production at such an efficient clip.
- It’s certainly worth noting that Kobe Bryant suffered a hell of an ankle sprain around the two-minute mark in the third quarter. Bryant was stripped by Marion as he launched upward for a jumper, and came down very awkwardly — and painfully — on his left ankle upon returning to the floor. Bryant called a timeout and left for the locker room, clearly hobbled. He would later return, but it was a heavy moment; according to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, Bryant initially worried that his ankle injury was a season-ender and said he was “scared s***-less.” That didn’t stop Bryant from making some critical plays for the Lakers in the fourth quarter, but if the swelling doesn’t come down it could significantly limit him in the coming weeks.
- Gatorade’s “Replay” gives teams that participated in controversial games a chance at a redo. Dwyane Wade (along with Dwight Howard) served as a a coach for the event, which pitted two Chicago schools against each other for a rematch of a hotly contested game from a decade ago. Steve Aschburner of NBA.com had a chance to catch up with Wade on the possibility of replaying one of his more controversial finishes:
“NBA.com: Have you ever had a game that you wanted to replay?
DW: Every game I’ve lost.
NBA.com: But you’ve contributed to some that other people would like to replay, too.
DW: Yeah, I’m sure. So it’s a wash [laughing].
NBA.com: So it’s OK with you if the Dallas Mavericks want to replay Game 5 of the 2006 Finals in 2016?
DW: Uh, that would have to be something I’d have to think about.”
- If you have any doubts about how much the Mavs value Rodrigue Beaubois, read through Jeff Caplan’s piece on ESPN Dallas regarding Beaubois’ recovery from injury. When you’ve got the GM running errands for you, you’re in a good place.
- Team USA’s success this summer had nothing to do with NCAA-instructed fundamentals, and players like Tyson Chandler (who jumped straight into the league out of high school) stand testament to that. Chandler may have not been a pivotal piece of the gold medal squad, but up and down the roster there is very little college experience, even though the good ol’ principles of fundamental, palatable college basketball were once touted as the solution to the national team’s shortcomings.
- Rick Carlisle on the Mavs’ depth and flexibility this season (via Earl K. Sneed of Mavs.com): “We feel like we have great flexibility with the club. You know, one of the reasons you have training camp is to compete for those positions, compete for minutes. And again, I just think that our ability to use different lineups, use different combinations, is going to be a big key for us. We’re going to be able to go 10-, 12-deep. I have no question about that.”
- Caron Butler could be all over the place, positionally speaking.
- Rick Carlisle, in evaluating his seasons as the Mavericks’ coach and what the team needs to do this season to be more successful (via Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News): “‘[The last two seasons are] both failures,’ [Carlisle] said. ‘One we got to the second round so maybe it’s viewed as more successful. But we were a better team this past year. We just got beat in the first round. Our mission is to stay the course and keep working on the things we have to work on – defense and getting better at home. That’s the difference between ultimate success and perceived shades of success.”
- Dave McMenamin of ESPN LA thinks the Mavs have the best shot of challenging the Lakers in the West: “With Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler (who looked like a new man at times during Team USA’s gold medal run), the Mavericks have the size to compete with the Lakers’ length in Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. Add in the fact that this might be Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki’s last real shot at a championship and consider that Kobe’s buddy, Caron Butler, will get the benefit of a full training camp under Rick Carlisle’s system and you have a seven-game series battle on your hands.”
- Carlisle appreciates Tyson Chandler’s ability to run the floor.
- A little love for Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, and Steve Nash in the pantheon of Arizona athletes.
- Kelly Dwyer ranks Dirk Nowitzki as the fourth best power forward in the game, behind Pau Gasol, Tim Duncan, and Amar’e Stoudemire. Feel free to be angry, if that’s how you feel about these things. I will say this: when you get to the top of a positional ranking, you’re often going apples to oranges. Gasol, Duncan, Nowitzki, and Stoudemire are all great players. I happen to think Nowitzki will best Stoudemire in the upcoming season, New York’s offensive freedom be damned, but then again, I’m more of a citrus fan than most.
- On a related note, Andrew McNeill of 48 Minutes of Hell compared Gasol and Duncan in response to Dwyer’s rankings. A great place to start if you’re really into battling this out.
- And because we can never get enough rankings, Dwyer also sorted out the top 30 centers in the NBA next season. Erick Dampier ranked 30th, Tyson Chandler 24th, and Brendan Haywood 19th. Chandler’s ranking I can understand, but Dampier and Haywood’s seem a bit harsh. Then you look at those listed above Haywood (Or below? Rank orientation always confuses me.), and it’s hard to find some unthinkable error.
- Statistically speaking, defense does win championships. A certain Celtics dynasty skews the results a bit, but even exempting that team (and all teams prior to 1976) from the statistical sample yields a significant result in favor of prominent defensive squads.
- Tyson Chandler on how it feels to be traded, the significance of having a role as a defense-first player, and the secret to playing good D (via DOH on Mavs Moneyball).
- Another smart organization hiring quality personnel to run their D-League team.
- Alexis Ajinca didn’t quite make the French national team, though Ian Mahinmi is on their final roster in spite of a minor hand injury. (via DallasBasketball.com)
Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Marc Spears have unearthed the All-Star reserves, with a few surprises.
Dirk Nowitzki’s exclusion was not one of them. His selection was never even debatable. But the Western Conference reserves will be Chris Paul, Brandon Roy, Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, Pau Gasol, Deron Williams, and and Zach Randolph. Great picks all the way down the line, and particular kudos to the coaches for picking this crop over Denver’s Chauncey Billups. Billups is a fine player, but this just isn’t his year. Plus, I think there’s a very legitimate argument to be made for Tyreke Evans over Chauncey, anyway…but we’ll save that for another day.
In the East, the reserves will be Rajon Rondo, Joe Johnson, Chris Bosh, Gerald Wallace, Al Horford, Paul Pierce, and Derrick Rose. In related news, it really, really sucks to be David Lee right now. He’s doing just about everything humanly possible (ahem, offensively), and still can’t catch a break. Pierce is having an off-year, but his selection was more or less assumed. I just wish we could see Lee and Josh Smith in the game, but no such luck.
- Kelly Dwyer on the Lakers’ rough night last night: “The Lakers are beat to hell – Ron Artest, Jordan Farmar, and a guy named Kobe Bryant are in pain; Pau Gasol didn’t even play – and they were on the road. Topping that, they’re the champs. The last bit means teams have it out for them. It means teams get up for the best. And while Tim Duncan has never needed an excuse to rule the entire half-court defensively, he easily turned in his best defensive performance of the season against Los Angeles. Every angle was covered.”
- And just in case you’re not quite getting it, here’s Brian Kamenetzky with a laundry list of Laker injuries: “Start with injuries. L.A.’s entered the game dealing with the slow burn of Kobe Bryant’s fractured right index finger and Pau Gasol’s improving hamstring. Over the ensuing 48 minutes, they added Ron Artest’s right hand- one he spent most of the second half clutching before leaving the game with 4:11 remaining- a hamstring injury for Sasha Vujacic limiting him to 3:06 of playing time, a sore throat for Adam Morrison…oh, and did I mention Kobe spent the fourth quarter in the locker room getting treatment for back spasms? So easy to overlook the minor details, right?”
- Josh Howard is expected to play tonight, but Erick Dampier and Tim Thomas are questionable. Dampier could be the biggest blow of all; we’ve had the distinct displeasure of seeing how the Lakers can dissect a Damp-less Maverick defense, and while the Lakers are even more banged up this time around (remember, that horrible loss was without Ron Artest and largely without Pau Gasol), I’d still much prefer it if Damp could find a way onto the floor. Knee effusions aren’t something you want to mess with, but the Mavs need Damp tonight.
- The Mavs are projected to have a home record of 27-14, which would be among their worst of the decade. The players and coaches are saying all the right things, but this is one of those tricky psychological problems that’s easy to notice but far more difficult to solve.
- John Hollinger, on Twitter (@johnhollinger): “Southwest Division: Five teams over .500. Entire Eastern Conference: Four teams over .500.” The Grizzlies and the Hornets are making a run at the playoffs, and from where I’m sitting, the Southwest is the best division inbasketball. The other two divisions in the West each boast some impressive teams, but they also have dead weight in the Timberwolves and the Warriors. The worst team in the West is a game over .500, and that’s beyond impressive.
- Dirk Nowitzki is a hop and a skip (no jump necessary) away from 20,000 career points. Get ready for the standing ovation.
- Amadou Fall, the Mavs director of scouting, is officially leaving the team to head the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program in South Africa. Congrats to Amadou, and though his talents will be missed (Marc Stein cites Fall as a major player in the decision to draft Rodrigue Beaubois), he’ll be working for a terrific cause and will undoubtedly do some fine work.
- Jason Terry on the significance of his hot shooting against the Pistons (via Tim MacMahon): “Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come.”
- Shawn Marion’s high-energy bobblehead.
- Sebastian Pruiti, my fellow TrueHooper over at NetsAreScorching, has launched a new blog entitled NBA Playbook. It’s exactly what it sounds like, and Sebastian broke down the Mavs’ “miscommunication” that led to a wide open, potentially game-tying three point attempt for Rodney Stuckey.
- Where have you gone, Calvin Booth?
- Dirk is a no-brainer for the best European player of all time, but could Pau Gasol eventually nab the honor? Dirk is two years Pau’s senior, so it could very well depend on just how long the two remain active and just how successful Pau and the Lakers can be. On an individual level, I’m not sure the two are even comparable; Dirk can simply do things on the offensive end that no other player can do, while Gasol, for all his talents, isn’t built to carry an offense in the same way. That said, if championships are part of the criteria, Gasol already has a ring on his finger and is in a good position to possibly win a few more. I’m not sure how much the ‘ships count in the context of this discussion, but that’s the one area in which Pau clearly trumps Dirk.
- Now infamous former Mavs stat guru Wayne Winston on this season’s MVP (via Henry Abbott): “Surely Dirk. He leads the whole league in two of my categories, plus/minus points and impact (plus-26 points, plus-73% impact). Luol Deng, Ray Allen and LeBron James have also been great. People forget Kobe Bryant has great teammates, so I do not think he is up there.” High praise, albeit from a guy who has made his share of dubious claims.
- On the surface, this is about a blogger who has long walked the realm of the NBA utterly team-less. But dig a little deeper, and you’ve got one of the most cogent, self-aware, and perceptive writers in the biz pinning down exactly what it means to be a fan. Lap up the praise, Moore, because this new era of your NBA fanhood has started with a bang.