You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
Jason Kidd missed Monday’s game — and is sidelined for the next three, as I understand it — with a groin strain. That’s a bummer, but it’s a valuable opportunity for Delonte West to quickly work himself back into game shape. It’s a trial by fire (or by burn?), sure, but getting a fully effective West back into the regular rotation is a top priority at this point. Dallas needs his shot creation, shooting, and defense badly, and although West was brilliant on Friday against Orlando, Monday was perhaps a more accurate reflection of his game.
Rodrigue Beaubois struggled even more mightily. Rick Carlisle seems fully prepared to take the bad with the good when it comes to Beaubois, but it’s these kinds of performances that will likely change his mind. Beaubois’ overdribbling was a big problem, and on a night when Dallas was already struggling to establish consistent ball movement, having the ball lodged on one side of the floor as Beaubois looked to break his man down was pretty painful. Also: in the first quarter, Beaubois threw one of the worst swing passes I’ve ever seen, missing a wide open Jason Terry by a good five feet.
At no point did this particular game look good for the Mavs. Even their more adequate runs were laced with turnovers and defensive lapses, and their very occasional buckets weren’t really created as a result of any kind of offensive process. It’s good to know that Dallas can still put up 75 points with every bit of beneficial offensive structure burned to the ground, but I don’t suspect they’ll win many games with offensive execution so lackluster and defensive effort so wanting.
“The fastest way to succeed is to look as if you’re playing by somebody else’s rules, while quietly playing by your own.”
You could easily look at all of the Mavs’ close wins this season and determine that they’re not getting the job done. There’s little separation on the scoreboard, and for a quality team against inferior opponents, that’s simply unacceptable.
On some level, I agree; the Mavs should certainly be winning games more decisively. They have the talent necessary to build up a big lead and rest their starters in the fourth quarter, but seem to much prefer slugging out a game in the final seconds. Great for drama, not so much for the point differential.
But I will say this: the Mavs have plenty of clutch experience this season. This team knows how to execute and win with the game on the line. Think that might make a difference in the playoffs?
Last night’s game was only the latest of the Maverick nail-biters, as Dallas surrendered consecutive three-pointers to the Wiz in the final 30 seconds. A safe seven-point lead had dwindled to just one, and then the unthinkable happened: Dirk Nowitzki committed a turnover with the game on the line. It’s one of the few blemishes on Dirk’s clutch resume, and it put Washington in control of the game with just six seconds remaining. They inbounded to Caron Butler in isolation, who measure the situation as he approached the three-point line. He attacked driving left, bumped to create contact, hung in the air, and was smothered by Shawn Marion.
One play hardly a win makes, but Marion and the Mavs are finishers in the truest sense. They may not always start the game strongly (although they had a perfectly respectable first quarter Wednesday night), but they close it with authority. Nowitzki is brutally effective in late-game situations, Jason Terry is one of the league leaders in fourth quarter scoring despite his disappointing performance overall, and the Mavs’ team defense has generally been superb in finishing games. It may not be enough to win by 20 every night, but it’s enough to win on most of them. Considering the pretty intense schedule the Mavs have had so far and the quality of opponents in the Western Conference, winning by a slim margin isn’t quite the sign of weakness it used to be.
The Mavs were certainly not without flaws in their win over the Wiz, but when the most glaring is simply the inability to build up a huge lead? I’ll take it. The offense performed well behind another terrific night from Dirk (28 points, 11-19 FG, five rebounds, three turnovers) and the welcome contributions of Jason Terry (21 points, 9-16 FG, one turnover). JET jumped into the starting lineup for just the second time all season, and he responded beautifully with eight of the Mavs’ 25 first quarter points. Starting Josh Howard has its perks (as does starting J.J. Barea), but it may be time for the Mavs to jump-start Terry’s offensive game with early shots. Despite his talents and his reputation, JET doesn’t play with blinders on. He’s likely to put up points early, but he’ll do so without handcuffing the rest of the offense. That’s the biggest difference between the offensive games of Jason Terry and Josh Howard right now, and though Josh missed the game due to illness, the notion of starting Terry is something the Mavs ought to explore.
On a night-in and night-out basis, those two should be the givens on offense. They should be putting up 20+, and the contributions of the rest of the Mavs provide the fudge, the whipped cream, and the cherry on top. On Wednesday it was Shawn Marion (12 points, 6-12 FG, 12 rebounds, two blocks) and Drew Gooden (14 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two blocks) who provided the trimmings, and they did so in a very efficient manner. Marion and Gooden combined for seven offensive rebounds, which is the ideal for them to provide on the offensive end. Marion can create a little off the dribble or in the post, but his primary offensive strengths come in moving without the ball and securing extra possessions for the Mavs off of rebounds. Drew is a bit more skilled in terms of shot-creation, but Dirk, Terry, and Kidd (in terms of setting up plays) remain superior options. If Gooden secures the offensive rebound and throws up an errant baby hook, it’s essentially a no-loss scenario; the Mavs could technically have scored on the additional possession they created, but Drew still had the opportunity to score based on an opportunity he seized by himself. That means he’s using up less of the possessions in the structured offense, but still contributing on the scoreboard. Tremendous.
The Mavs’ defense wasn’t especially notable, except for their inability to cover Randy Foye (26 points, 9-14 FG, three assists, three turnovers). If you’ll recall, Foye dropped 19 on the Mavs on opening night, and was a bonafide difference-maker with his scoring alone. There’s apparently something about Foye’s game that’s slippery enough to elude Jason Kidd, J.J. Barea, and co., and he’s taken full advantage of that fact this season. But other than that? Antawn Jamison had just seven points on 2-10 shooting with four turnovers. Caron Butler turned in a modest 20, while shooting 7-20 from the field. And though Brendan Haywood (13 points, 18 rebounds) and Earl Boykins (11 points, three assists) stepped up to fill the void, it wasn’t quite enough. This was by no means a marquee defensive performance, but the Mavs did force the Wizards’ best players into tough nights, and sealed the game by shutting down Caron Butler.
Jason Kidd only scored six points (2-10 FG), but contributed plenty to the offense as evidenced by his gaudy 15 assists…which matched the the Wizards’ team total. Kidd has topped 15 assists in the last two games, and he’s averaging 12.6 dimes over his last five. Bravo, good chap.
Even when the Wizards took a slight edge on the scoreboard in the closing minutes, the Mavs always seemed to have the game in control. They were the aggressors, and their primary scorers had established themselves as go-to guys. When in doubt, just get the ball to Dirk or JET. But the Wizards? Not having Butler or Jamison in rhythm, if only as a last resort, hurt their offense.
Matt Carroll logged a few minutes in the second quarter, and played about how you would expect. It’s tough to go into a situation like that and contribute; despite all the drills and practices, nothing can really prepare you for an NBA game except for other NBA games. Quinton Ross also played 15 minutes (and wasn’t all that impressive defensively), and James Singleton logged eight.
Erick Dampier threw down two alley-oop dunks from Jason Kidd with authority. Don’t worry, clips are on their way.
The Mavs are moving the ball beautifully right now. It’s not just Kidd, either — the team totaled 27 assists on 39 field goals.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Shawn Marion. The double-double is huge, but the game-saving block is even better. Shawn had another tough assignment in Caron Butler, but forced Butler into some bad shots throughout the night, and took any hope the Wizards had for a comeback win and stomped on it as time expired.
“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.”
The mantra of the Mavs’ off-season was finding more help for Dirk Nowitzki. If you were to evaluate the fulfillment of that goal solely on last night’s performance against the Wizards, I don’t see how the assessment could be anything aside from “huge, embarrassing failure.” But hey, guys, this is the first game of the season. That means we’re grading on a curve, and “huge embarrassing failure” just so happens to round up to “pretty terrible, but I’ll get over it.”
There are far worse things than losing your home opener, and the Mavs’ offensive struggles against the Wizards should not be construed of anything more than a one game aberration. We know that this offense works, and we know that these players are more capable than they’ve shown. Jason Terry is simply better than 4-15 FG, and Shawn Marion is definitely more impressive than his largely invisible offensive performance. Jason Kidd and J.J. Barea should be held responsible for the rest of the crew, as the shots need to come easier for the Maverick bigs. None of that happened, and Dirk was left to his own devices. He didn’t disappoint (34 points on an atypical 10-25 FG, 12-13 FT, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks ), but it was far from enough to stave off a shockingly effective Gilbert Arenas (29 points on 10-21 FG, 9 assists), empowered by the surprise contributions of Randy Foye (19 points on 8-14 FG) and Andray Blatche (20 points on 8-14 FG, 7 rebounds). Dirk isn’t a bad guy to back, even in a one on three shoot out, but the Maverick guards were only slightly more effective perimeter defenders than, say, a chair.
The Mavs were clearly confused by the pick and roll, as Arenas and Brendan Haywood abused the Mavs for almost the entirety of the first half. Haywood responded with three thunderous first quarter dunks, resulting in a giant metaphorical wagging finger in the general direction of Erick Dampier. Damp knows better and the rest of the Mavs know better; if Dampier was too busy preventing Arenas from taking a quick jumper, someone else (ANYBODY else) should have stepped up to prevent Haywood from waltzing down the lane, untouched. That kind of defense is just unacceptable…unless, of course, you’re playing in the regular season opener and shaking off an inch-thick coat of rust.
Gilbert deserves more praise than the cursory treatment I’ve already given him. Considering everything he’s been through physically and mentally, he was a revelation. He fully compensated for the absence of Antawn Jamison with a deadly pull-up jumper, and Gil’s forays into the paint emanated both creativity and resolve. Plus, Arenas had a way of answering every would-be Maverick run with a huge play of some kind, either with a dagger of his own or a perfectly placed pass. Maybe he wasn’t yelling “HIBACHI!”, but Gilbert Arenas was back in almost every other sense. As a basketball fan, that excites me. As a Mavs fan, not so much.
There were a few bright spots to help mask a pretty disappointing effort. For one, J.J. Barea was a key reason the game didn’t get out of hand sooner. He dominated the second quarter, creating scoring opportunities off the dribble against an opposing team clearly unable to combat his speed and craftiness. Also, the Mavs were set on getting to the basket to start the game. The result was 23 first half free throw attempts, which is just an ungodly amount for the Mavs.
But if you absolutely must take away something from the Mavs’ flub against the Wizards, take this down and circle it: The Mavs were just…off. Dirk Nowitzki hit an unexpected dry spell in the first half, when he shot just 3-12 from the field. Jason Terry’s jumper went half-way down on more than a few occasions. Erick Dampier and Drew Gooden were just slightly out of position to receive an entry pass or challenge a shot. The team defense, the rebounding, and just about everything else was a step slow and a bit flat…and yet the Mavs were still within a stone’s throw of winning this game. Had Foye and Blatche not channeled their inner demi-gods, we could very well be celebrating one in the win column. The Mavs still have a lot of work to do, but they also have nothing but time.
The only Mavericks to post a positive +/- were Quinton Ross and Kris Humphries.
It wasn’t a great day for the newcomers. Shawn Marion biffed a dunk attempt and horribly airballed a corner three. Drew Gooden airballed a midrange jumper, and found most of his attempts ended up clanging off the rim.
Marion’s night wasn’t nearly as miserable as Gooden’s, though. Shawn was able to post up Caron Butler in on the block, and easily converted a few flip shots turning over his left shoulder.
In the second quarter, the Mavs surrendered three consecutive and ones to the Wizards, courtesy of Blatche and Fabricio Oberto. Yeah, that sucked.
DeShawn Stevenson had no place being on the floor. His three point stroke was miserable, and he could not stay in front of Jason Terry.
Rather than the expected small ball lineup, the Mavs fielded a unit of Barea, Terry, Kidd, Marion and Dirk with mixed results.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Dirk Nowitzki,who was unquestionably the best Maverick on the floor. Not only was Dirk the offense’s only net positive, but he was also aggressive on the defensive end, competing for rebounds and blocking a few shots. We even saw glimpses of a few new toys, as Dirk busted out his running hook (it was very short) and a hesitation move off the dribble that froze Brendan Haywood where he stood. A great all around night for Dirk, who managed to salvage a poor start with a fine second half performance and a parade to the free throw line.