- Any chance we could just keep these playoff match-ups? LAL-HOU, PHX-UTA, DEN-POR, DAL-SAS. BOS-CHA, ORL-MIA, CLE-MIL, and ATL-DET. Sounds like a pretty terrific playof to me, with even the bad matchups providing a bit of intrigue.
- Rick Carlisle has his sights set squarely on Aaron Brooks (via Earl K. Sneed): “[Brooks] has had a great season up to this point, and so for us, it’s just to make him work on the defensive end and just try to take the ball out of his hands on offense — make him become a play-maker and not some much a guy who can score…[Brooks] is a priority,” Carlisle said. “One of the reasons that he’s so important is because he generates their tempo. He gets them playing fast — which leads to transition buckets, transition threes, chances to drive and get in the paint. It’s just important that we get everybody back and build walls so he can’t be taking runs at us and getting open shots.”
- Ken Berger ponders the point of Tracy McGrady’s comeback: “Tracy McGrady returned to the Houston Rockets Tuesday night, and the fans cheered. T-Mac hit a 3-pointer, his only points during an eight-minute stint, and all was right in Rocket Land again. Right? No, not so much. McGrady’s comeback is only part of a larger plan to increase his minutes and prove his worth to a team willing to take a chance on his once-breathtaking ability to score and benefit from his $23 million expiring contract at the same time. The Rockets were 14-10 this season without Yao Ming and McGrady, and now the only question is how long they’ll have to keep up the charade until McGrady is in good enough condition to help another team.”
- Head over to this ESPN SportsNation poll for assorted “best of the decade” awards. Not much Mavs rep, but do vote for Mavs-Spurs ’06 as the best playoff series of the decade. At the moment, it’s inexplicably trails the four other nominees.
- Jason Terry is a much improved defender this year, in part because that was his point of emphasis in the off-season and in training camp. As open shot attempts have been fewer and farther between for Terry, that defense has kept him on the floor.
- Rick Carlisle on JET’s responsibilities in the offense: “They’re double-teaming, both on pick-and-rolls and on pin-downs…When that happens, he’s got to be a facilitator for us and he has to have a level of patience. He’s got to stay aggressive to score when the opportunities are there. But when people commit two to him, he’s got to drag those guys, and then make the pass leading to a bucket.”
- Marc Stein has plenty of Mavs content in the Weekend Dime, including a brief Q & A with Erick Dampier, an explanation of why Stein votes Mavs-Spurs as the playoff series of the decade, news that the NBA wants Mavs’ head scout Amadou ‘Gallo’ Fall to help run part of its Basketball Without Borders program, and mention of Mavs’ players in the numbers and the soundbites.
- Sham Sports has come up with a nice nickname for the Milwaukee Bucks’ Ersan Ilyasova (who has been having a terrific season, by the way): Turk Nowitzki. (Link via TrueHoop, Bucksketball)
- Kevin McHale still has high hopes for Dirk.
- Gerald Narciso of DIME Magazine lists Rick Carlisle as the second best coach in the NBA this season (in terms of exceeding expectations), behind only Mike Woodson.
- I have no objection to voicing my opinion, but I don’t like the idea of taking someone else’s work and breaking it down in order to poke holes and criticize. But in the case of Charlie Rosen’s piece on Dirk for FOX Sports, well, I’m just glad Fish got to it before I did, because the temptation may have been overwhelming. Dirk “once ran through a ball game like his pants were on fire, jumped to touch the moon, looked to dunk on every drive and dribbled freely from end-to-end?” Really? Rosen’s column may be the first I’ve ever seen to use “speed” and Dirk Nowitzki in the same sentence.
- Adventures in the facial expressions of Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol.
- Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion are among the league leaders (over the last five seasons) in clutch TS% differential (the differential in true shooting between normal situations and ‘clutch’ situations).
Q.: Have you ever sensed that that soft label gets quickly attached to European players more so than other players? Have you sensed that with you and other guys that come from Europe?
PAU GASOL: Yeah, it tends to be that way, I think, because a guy has a set of skills and is more of a finesse player, then he’s labeled as a soft player more likely. It is what it is. I’m not bothered by it because I know I’m a competitor, I’m a winner, and I’ve competed for my whole career, and nobody has given me anything. I had to earn everything I got, and I’m proud to be where I am today. You know, aside from that, I don’t really care much about comments like that.
I’ve never understood how people applied the label to Pau in the first place, personally. He’s one of the best post scorers in the game, a good rebounder, and a decent defender. He can hit a shot from midrange, but most of his damage is done on hook shots in the lane. What about that reads as soft, aside from a clearly pasty, European exterior?
Dirk’s stigma is slightly more explainable, but still continues to baffle me. The % of Dirk’s shots that are jumpers is nearly identical to rock-hard American hero/villain Kevin Garnett, but Dirk makes a markedly better percentage. For that matter, he makes a better percentage of those shots than all but five players (Jason Terry, Ray Allen, Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Derek Fisher) in the league. There’s a reason why Dirk shoots a lot of jumpers, and it’s because he’s playing to his strengths. Just because that strength doesn’t break backboards or rattle rims doesn’t mean it’s not valuable, and just because Dirk’s white and European doesn’t make him soft. He goes down into the post to do his work just like other big men, takes his beating, gets pushed, bowled over, and smacked, and yet he continues to fight the ‘soft’ label because he happens to be a good shooter.
I feel like I’ve wasted enough words on an unwinnable battle.
“Better late than never…right guys?”
The thing about establishing a goal and a corresponding brightline is that you need to be prepared to fall short of it. Obviously that’s not the preferred result, but even the most worthy competitors need to eventually brace themselves for the possibility of failure.
That may be what stings most about Sunday’s loss in Los Angeles. The Mavs no doubt realized that this was the toughest game on their four-game road trip, and if there was a spot to drop a loss, this would be it. Yet the Mavs hung around, enduring an inspired first half performance from Pau Gasol (or a lackluster performance from the Mavs’ defense, take your pick), and took the lead at the 8:49 mark in the 4th quarter.
The Mavs, those with flaws much deeper than their bench, overcame a 15 point deficit and had extended a lead of as much as 5 points. This could have been the season’s defining moment, a point at which everything the team hopes to accomplish and the often troublesome product they have fielded thus far come to a sharp divergence. This was a team on the brink of creating something beautiful on a Sunday afternoon on national television. But, as you know now, it wasn’t to be.
With a little help from his friends, Antoine Wright actually smothered Kobe into an 0-4 first quarter. It was only fitting that Kobe put similar shackles on the hot-handed Jason Terry to effectively end the Mavs’ run in the fourth, shift the momentum considerably as the Mavs struggled to dribble the ball cleanly, much less score.
Still, one has to ask why exactly Jason Kidd is taking the biggest shots of the game, and why exactly our star point guard is committing silly ball-handling errors and careless turnovers on overambitious passes. The great points of the league can see the angles no one else can see, and make the passes no one else can make; part of that comes from pure ability, and the other part comes from the will to complete those types of passes. Kidd showed every bit of that will, but maybe he was a little too willing to attempt to thread the needle through three defenders on the break when a lob or kick-out would have done just fine.
The defense continues to be the problem. In the first half, the Mavs were getting good looks, but just failed to capitalize. Meanwhile on the other end, Pau Gasol was having his way, three point shooters were left wide open, and Kobe Bryant eventually remembered that he is, in fact, Kobe Bryant. The Mavs again show a complete inability to defend any player on the floor that could be described as ‘quick,’ and the man defense was sliced and diced on the way to a 66-point first half for L.A.. But there is a bright spot defensively: the zone continues to baffle opponents. It’s effectiveness would no doubt dwindle in a playoff series, in which coaching staffs (staves) can tech and teach specifically to counter it. In the regular season, on the other hand, it’s managed to slow down two of the league’s most potent offenses while only surrendering one key weakness against the Lakers: the lack of rebounding in the clutch. Lamar Odom turned excellent defensive possessions for the Mavs into entirely too many opportunities for the Lakers. Of course when the Mavs went away from the zone to secure more rebounds, the Lakers just beat them outright. Fun.
It’s also definitely worth noting that the zone is a vicegrip for opposing second units. The Mavs bench isn’t particularly skilled defensively, but what they lack in talent and fundamentals on that end they make up for in hustle. Barea, Singleton, and Bass, coupled with say Antoine Wright and Jason Terry, can smother opponents’ bench lineups that lack the sort of penetrating playmaker needed to make smart passes against the zone. We saw this in full effect against the Lakers sans Kobe, and equally so with the Blazers sans a healthy Brandon Roy.
Dirk played very poorly by his standards. His shot was off the entire night, and this may be the first game of the season where the Mavs came back to make things interesting in spite of him. Credit that to Jason Terry, who made an absolutely batty seven threes. Ultimately, it wasn’t enough, and this one stings more than a game that just slipped through our fingers.