The Difference: San Antonio Spurs 93, Dallas Mavericks 71

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 6, 2012 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

Screen shot 2012-01-05 at 11.36.24 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas89.079.835.720.825.016.9
San Antonio104.548.810.518.09.0

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 Mavs have certainly wasted no time this season in rattling off some truly awful losses. The opening night thud against the Miami Heat was practically expected, even if the magnitude of the beatdown the Mavs suffered was a tad surprising. Hitting a terrific Denver Nuggets team on the next night was a recipe for disaster as well, and the fact that Dallas ran out of gas — especially after struggling in their track meet against Miami in the opener — was fairly predictable. And most recently: though the Mavs were lucky enough to play a Spurs team without Manu Ginobili, they’re struggling against a brutal schedule that practically demands inferior basketball at some points. That doesn’t excuse the loss — much less the blowout — but it does meet a game like this one with a bit of a shrug. Requisite patience, yadda yadda yadda, but the clock is only kind for so long, Mavs.
  • Jason Kidd left in the first quarter with a lower back injury, and did not return for the rest of the game. Though the offense certainly could’ve used his help, that’s not necessarily a bad thing; Kidd started the game by leaving Gary Neal (12 points, 4-7 3FG, five rebounds, two steals) — one of the league’s most prolific outside shooters — open on virtually every possession. That’s never sound policy, and Neal’s quick start was a big reason why the Spurs were able to decimate the Mavs in the first half.
  • Now, if Kidd’s injury becomes a lingering problem and forces him to either miss court time or play through considerable pain, that’s a huge setback. Send him your well wishes, painkillers, and ice packs if you have any interest in the Mavs playing well this season.

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A Bear Ration

Posted by Ian Levy on February 10, 2011 under Commentary | 11 Comments to Read

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

Have you ever had an afternoon, or even an entire day, where everything went totally smoothly?  With every normal disaster avoided? The girl at Starbucks doesn’t notice your fly is down as she hands you your coffee. The important meeting for which you’re completely unprepared is canceled at the last minute for a bizarre and unexpected reason. You turn on the fake tears and the state trooper lets you off with a warning.

Well, DeShawn Stevenson has had about 90 of those days in a row.

Stevenson is shooting 41.3% on three pointers this season, well above his career average of 34.7%. This fact becomes even more impressive when you consider that he shot 21.8% and 27.8% his last two NBA seasons. If he was a cyclist and made that sort of single season improvement in one area, hundreds of technicians would be poring over vials of his urine in laboratories around the world.

If we look at Stevenson’s three point percentages for each season, we’ll see this is actually not the only towering peak:

Stevenson 3PT%

He also shot 40.4% on 183 attempts in 2007 and 38.3% on 413 attempts in 2008. What Stevenson is doing this season is not unprecedented for him personally, but it does put a spotlight on an amazing pattern of inconsistency. As I mentioned above, between this season and the 2007 and 2008 campaigns, Stevenson shot 21.8% and 27.8% on a total of 216 attempts. Before the 2007 and 2008 seasons he had made 52 of 202 three pointers for his career, a 26.2% clip. Still, the jump this season over his career average is his greatest increase yet.

Thus far this season, Stevenson is shooting 6.6 percentage points higher than his career average.  In the past 20 years there have been 291 instances of a player shooting better than 40.0% on three pointers for a season with a minimum of 200 attempts, two marks Stevenson should easily surpass barring injury or a gigantic slump. Of those 291 instances I could only find 22 cases where a player shot over 40.0% on three pointers and it represented an increase of 6.6 percentage points or more over their career average. Ray Allen’s jump this season from a career mark of 39.8% to 46.2% just barely misses our cut.

PlayerTeamSeason3PTA3PT%3PT% Career3PT% Change
Tim LeglerWAS1995-199624552.2%43.1%+9.1%
Al HarringtonIND/GSW2006-200729343.3%35.8%+7.5%
Brent BarrySEA2000-200122947.6%40.5%+7.1%
Brent PriceWAS1995-199630146.2%38.7%+7.5%
Donyell MarshallTOR2004-200536341.6%35.0%+6.6%
Earl WatsonDEN/SEA2005-200627240.4%33.0%+7.4%
Glen RiceCHH1996-199744047.0%40.0%+7.0%
Jason KaponoMIA2006-200721051.4%43.9%+7.5%
Jason KiddDAL2009-201041442.5%34.9%+7.6%
Joe JohnsonPHO2004-200537047.8%36.9%+10.9%
Jon BarryDET2001-200225846.9%39.2%+7.7%
Kevin JohnsonPHO1996-199720244.1%30.5%+13.6%
Keyon DoolingNJN2008-200923542.1%34.8%+7.3%
Lindsey HunterDET1999-200038943.2%36.0%+7.2%
Mark JacksonIND1999-200022140.3%33.2%+7.1%
Mehmet OkurUTA2008-200920244.6%37.7%+6.9%
Michael JordanCHI1995-199626042.7%32.7%+10.0%
Richard JeffersonSAS2010-201120342.4%35.8%+6.6%
Rodney RogersPHO1999-200026243.9%34.7%+9.2%
Steve SmithSAS2001-200124647.2%35.8%+11.4%
Tony KukocCHI1995-199621640.3%33.5%+6.8%
Troy MurphyIND2008-200935845.0%38.1%+6.9%
DeShawn StevensonDAL2010-201119641.3%34.7%+6.6%

Looking at things in this way certainly favors the freakishly flukey. Historically great three-point shooters like Steve Kerr, Dale Ellis, Reggie Miller, Dell Curry and Wesley Person don’t make our list because they consistently shot a high percentage each season.

There are a few other oddities with this list. The first is that Stevenson is not the only player showing such a dramatic improvement in their three point shooting this season. I mentioned Ray Allen above, but Richard Jefferson is also on pace to match Stevenson’s improvement over his own career average. The second is a fellow Maverick: Jason Kidd’s performance last year earned him a spot on this list as well. Kidd, a career 34.9% three point shooter, made 42.5% of his three pointers last year, an improvement of 7.6 percentage points. Unfortunately, Kidd hasn’t been able to sustain that improvement this season.

There are only two pairs of teammates who appear on the list for notably improved performances in the same season. The first pairing is Toni Kukoc and Michael Jordan for the 1996 Bulls. Not that you needed any convincing from me, but things went really, really well for the Bulls that season. Brent Price and Tim Legler also made the list for the 1996 Washington Bullets. I’m not sure what was happening in our nation’s capital that winter but it was apparently a glorious time to be an undersized, athletically limited, one-dimensional shooter.

The biggest single season improvement over a career average I could find was Kevin Johnson’s 1997 campaign for the Suns. Johnson was a career 30.5% three point shooter but knocked down 44.1% that season. Looking at the Suns’ 40-42 record gives the impression that it was a fairly unremarkable season for them. However, that team was one of my all-time favorites to watch. In the early stages of that season, the Suns traded Sam Cassell to Dallas for a talented young point guard named Jason Kidd. The rest of the season they started a three-guard lineup of Kidd, Johnson and Rex Champman, with Wesley Person and a young Steve Nash coming off the bench. That team was an early predecessor of the run-and-gun Suns that would rise to prominence several years later.

Even if surrounded by a generally unimpressive list of players who have accomplished this feat, Stevenson’s improvement is still something to be recognized. But where did this scorching stroke come from? I took a look at the data from Synergy Sports to compare what type of offensive possessions his three point shots came out of this season and last season.*

*For some reason, only the data from his time in Washington was available for last season, though he didn’t attempt many shots at all for Dallas. Stevenson took 87 three pointers last year and 63 of them came with the Wizards, so a significant chunk of last season’s performance is represented here.

Three Point Distribution

Possession3PTA (2010)3PTM (2010)3PT% (2010)3PTA (2011)3PTM (2011)3PT% (2011)
Overall126319.0%7918941.3%
Spot-Up104820.8%5913643.4%
Transition050.0%112740.7%
Off Screen010.0%61540.0%
Isolation1520.0%1425.0%
Other1333.3%040.0%
PnR Ball Handler010.0%22100.0%
Hand Off1250.0%010.0%

It would be nice to have some data from earlier seasons for a point of comparison, but we’re stuck with what we have: publicly available data. The trend from the past two seasons would seem to indicate that Stevenson is a reluctant and inefficient shooter when it comes to taking three-pointers off the dribble. He is taking roughly the same percentage of his three-pointers from each area as he did last season, but in situations where he can just catch and shoot (off screens, transition, spot-up) he has seen a remarkable improvement.

Last season in Washington, Stevenson made just 20.8% of his spot-up three pointers compared to 43.4% this season. Obviously an offense run by Jason Kidd with Dirk Nowtizki as a primary offensive threat is going to generate more open looks than one run by Randy Foye with Andray Blatche as the “weapon of choice,” but I don’t think all of his miraculous shot making can be attributed to better teammates or better coaching. You can call it skill, luck, fate or an aberration. I just think Stevenson has been having one of those days . . . again and again and again.

Runaway Train

Posted by admin on April 26, 2010 under Commentary | 6 Comments to Read

mo·men·tum:
  1. Impetus of a physical object in motion.
  2. Impetus of a nonphysical process, such as an idea or a course of events

(definition from dictionary.com)

NBA games are all about momentum. In Game 4, the Spurs not only seized momentum when they came back from a double-digit deficit in the third quarter, they also managed that momentum effectively and didn’t allow the Mavs to take advantage of what appeared to be giant momentum shift in the fourth quarter.

Let’s take a look at the course of the game’s momentum shifts, including the woulda-coulda-shoulda moments in the fourth quarter when the Mavs couldn’t seem to regain the momentum despite a late-game push.

—–

Momentum Shift #1: Shawn Marion made a layup on a pass from Jason Terry to put the Mavericks up 25-24, after being down 20-24. Immediately after, Matt Bonner missed a three and Brendan Haywood was fouled in the act of shooting. Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan re-enter the game, but didn’t accomplish much, and the Mavs took advantage of poor shooting by both of the Spurs’ stars to go up 15 with 2:33 remaining in the half.

Momentum Shift #2: With two minutes remaining in the half, Jason Terry rolled his ankle on a fast break layup attempt, which was blocked, and the subsequent Spur fast break ended in a Richard Jefferson dunk. The home crowd got back into the game in one sequence. Jason Terry went to the bench and the Spurs took  control, outscoring the Mavericks 38-16 from this point until the start of the fourth quarter.

Should-have-been Momentum Shift #3: Dirk was called for a technical with 1:34 left in the third. On the very next play, Richard Jefferson was called for a flagrant foul for karate chopping Dirk as he went up for a shot. Normally, this course of events would cause a team to rally around their best player, start a run and not look back. Not in this game, though. By this point, the Mavericks had lost the lead and were trying to fight their way back into the game. When Dirk went to the line, the Mavericks were down 57-62. Dirk made both free throws, followed by a Terry missed jumper a George Hill corner three. Any chance of the Mavs gaining momentum was thrown out the window.

Should-have-been Momentum Shift #4: Eduardo Najera got ejected from the game after just 43 seconds of play for a flagrant 2 foul on Manu Ginobili. The Spurs should have completely blown the game open right here, and it looked like they were going to, when Manu made both free throws, then DeJuan Blair got a tip-in on the ensuing play, which made the score 61-70. But no, the next Mavericks possesion was……

Kind-of-was Momentum Shift #5: Blair was called for a flagrant on Jason Kidd (the third flagrant of the game, for those of you counting at home). This play was a small momentum shift, and it allowed the Mavs to get right back into the game, but they never could take back the lead.

—–

All season long, we’ve heard Rick Carlisle and different members of the team talk about focus, or lack thereof. Even after Game 3, we’ve heard the same song and dance from Carlisle and Dirk about the team’s need to focus. I’m sure that for many, the notion that the Mavs would pull it together for the playoffs seemed like a given considering their veteran status. The team may have thought the same, because they look like they’re expecting the focus and drive to just come to them naturally. It hasn’t. Meanwhile, the Spurs are playing like the vetrans they are and are squelching the Mavs opportunities and confidence at every turn.

Basically, in Game 4, whenever the Mavericks should have taken control of the game due to their veteran leadership, instead they instead expected someone else on the team (Dirk) to carry them to victory.

In order for this series and season to be saved, the Maverick veterans need to take advantage of every opening the Spurs give them. Dirk is going to have to become as agressive as he was in Games 1 and 3, especially if the rest of the team is content to stand idly by while expecting Nowitzki to carry them to victory.

This post was written by Blaine Zimmerman. If you’d like to contact Blaine, drop a comment or email him at bzimmerman11b[at]gmail[dot]com.

San Antonio Spurs 92, Dallas Mavericks 89

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 25, 2010 under Recaps | 15 Comments to Read

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot Chart — GameFlow

Any event, once it has occurred, can be made to appear inevitable by a competent historian.”
-Lee Simonson

Admittedly, I’m a bit tired of the Mavs being both incredibly predictable and uncomfortably surprising.

On the offenseive end, the Mavs’ limitations are the same old, same old: there aren’t enough players around Dirk who can create shots. Jason Terry’s pull-up game is nice but only when he’s hitting, Caron Butler’s ability to drive is comforting but he’s both resistant of it and can’t finish, and the rest of the Mavs are largely situational scorers that can only complete plays if put in very specific situations. For all of the moves, the money, and the hype, these Mavericks are more or less the same team that they’ve always been.

You can’t walk into every Maverick game knowing precisely what to expect, though. For one, it’s unclear exactly which opposing role player Dallas will allow to thoroughly demean them. Maybe it’s George Hill, like it was tonight, or Richard Jefferson, like it was in Game 2, or DeJuan Blair, like it was in the regular season finale. That’s one regard in which the Mavs will always keep their fans guessing, as you never know when they might give up 52 points to Andre Miller.

That’s the Dallas Mavericks in a nutshell: too predictable on offense, too unpredictable on defense. They have yet to find the magical balance where they can still bewilder their opponents without also startling themselves, and it’s that quality that separates the Mavs from the Spurs, much less teams like the Cavs or the Magic. It’s that quality that has Dallas on the brink of elimination, facing a seemingly impossible three-game gauntlet just to move on to the second round.

That fate is, of course, made even more depressing by a few factors. The Mavs led by 15 points in the first half, and looked to be responding well to the pressure of a “must-win” Game 4. Tim Duncan scored just four points on 1-of-9 shooting and Manu Ginobili shot 25% from the field despite tying the team high in shot attempts. Dallas was right there at the end yet again, despite playing one of the worst third quarters in the post-Greg Ostertag era. You’d think in a game where the Mavs held a substantial lead, the opposing Big Three totaled just 37 points, and their own shortcomings were remedied by a shot at greatness, that something would end up going Dallas’ way. It didn’t. The lead was an empty memory, the Spurs’ stars’ struggles were erased by an incredible game from George Hill, and the Mavs’ second-half struggles should haunt them long into the off-season.

This was a game Dallas could have won and should have won. They just didn’t, and while there is some consolation in knowing that all of the Mavericks’ losses have been close, that very fact also makes them incredibly heartbreaking.

I think it would be difficult to fully comprehend everything that happened in the third quarter. It was a bizarre intersection of turnovers, poor defense, and iffy shot selection, and the magnitude of that 12 minutes (or even the first six minutes, in which Dallas went completely scoreless) likely warrants a post of its own. Maybe the Mavs will miraculously climb out of the 1-3 hole they now find themselves in, and we can all laugh and reminisce about how dire it all seemed. But should the rest of the series play out as expected, Dallas won’t have died rolling over in Game 5, toughing it out in Game 6, or clawing to the last in Game 7. They’ll have fallen whiffing, caving, and settling in the third quarter of Game 4.

It’s a shame.

As I mentioned before, George Hill (29 points, 11-of-16 shooting) was beyond impressive. He was deadly from the corners, but just as efficient from mid-range. That’s what surprised me most about Hill’s performance: most of his damage came strictly from jumpers, as a loose ball found its way into his hands or he was left open off a pick-and-roll rotation. With Dirk (17 points on a measly 10 shot attempts, 11 rebounds, four assists, three turnovers) held down by Antonio McDyess and shackled by the Spurs’ double-teams, no Maverick could even attempt to match Hill’s scoring production. Terry (17 points, 5-of-11 FG, six rebounds) tried, and Butler (17 points on 18 shot attempts, three turnovers) really tried, but it wasn’t enough. Haywood and Kidd managed to chip in 10 apiece, but where is the scoring option that can take advantage of the double teams on Dirk? Where is the scorer that will elevate the Mavs above their .416 mark from the field?

The Spurs, by contrast, won in spite of subpar performances by their stars. Duncan couldn’t hit a thing (1-for-9), but it didn’t matter. Hill provided the scoring, DeJuan Blair was so good that his mortal offerings on the stat sheet (seven points, seven rebounds) seem like a joke, and Richard Jefferson was both more productive and more efficient than Tony Parker. It turns out that this is what depth looks like, and though the Mavs would seem to have it in spades, Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson seemed to have done nothing more than make the world’s most ferocious paper tiger.

This post honestly isn’t supposed to be an outright hit; there are still plenty of positive things to take out of Game 4 and the effort was there even if the execution wasn’t. But suffering another close loss by the Spurs’ hand doesn’t make this 1-3 deficit any less glaring or any more manageable. Dallas will need something truly remarkable to advance to the second round, and based on how the Spurs have answered the Mavs at almost every turn, deeming a comeback ‘improbable’ may be too kind.

It’s Pressing: Post-Game Pressers from Mavs-Spurs Game 3

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 24, 2010 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

Photo by D.Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images.

Tons of quotes here from the locker room and post-game press conferences, so dig in. I’ve bolded items of interest for various reasons, but if nothing else, at least check out Damp’s comments about the officiating.

See the Mavs and Spurs BARE ALL after the jump.

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San Antonio Spurs 102, Dallas Mavericks 88

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 22, 2010 under Recaps | 6 Comments to Read

Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot Chart — GameFlow

Wait until the next big rain, you will see the trees fall down.
-Billy DeCosta

Teams become the things they do. So it shouldn’t surprise you that after an entire season of climbing out of substantial holes, the Mavs were going to make a run at some point. After giving up plenty of ground in the second and third quarters, Dallas’ deficit hit rock bottom at 20, was whittled down to 10 in three minutes, and was brought within five points in the fourth. It just wasn’t enough. The Mavs have had so many comeback victories this season that it’s easy to forget about the nights where they came up a little bit short, and this game serves as a bit of a heartbreaking reminder. All of those regular season games counted, just like this one did, and all of the habits and tendencies formed during those games invariably resurface at some point. Though Dallas is certainly improved, they can’t escape who they are or who they’ve been, and unfortunately that’s a team that’s given up leads to their opponents before attempting to claw back.

It almost worked, but the Mavs’ defense was too accommodating early, the shooting was too bad for too long, and Tim Duncan clubbed Dallas’ comeback hopes repeatedly with improbable shot (floating baseline hook while leaning out of bounds) after improbable shot (deflected hook shot that ended up back in his hands, allowing Tim to train a push shot from close range just before the shot clock expired).

Dallas finished the game shooting 36.5% from the field, which makes the fact that they were within five points of San Antonio in the fourth quarter all the more impressive. Some of that is shot selection: the Mavs are still a jump-shooting team, and Dirk Nowitzki, Caron Butler, and Jason Terry missed their fair share of jumpers. That doesn’t even come close to telling the full story, though, as Dallas had a lot of good looks that simply couldn’t find the bottom of the net. This was an absolutely frigid shooting night for the Mavs, who were only able to stay competitive thanks to their 19 makes on 20 free throw attempts and a huge night from Terry (27 points, 9-of-19 FG, 3-of-7 3FG, three assists).

Aside from Terry, the Maverick offense was stagnant and ineffective. Solid ball movement still created plenty of open looks, but there wasn’t enough in the way of player movement. There were far too many isolation plays even for Dallas’ iso-heavy offense (I’m looking at you, Caron), far too many passes caught while standing still. Guys like Butler, Marion, and Terry are good enough to make plays in those situations, but they really shouldn’t have to. Not to the magnitude they were asked to do so on Wednesday night, and that’s a big reason why Dallas finished the evening with just 88 points (104.4 offensive efficiency). The Spurs defense was solid, but not suffocating. The worry isn’t that San Antonio is going to lock down the Mavs, even if they were far more successful on Dirk in Game 2 than they were in Game 1. The worry is that Dallas will freeze up offensively like they did last night, and that when the shots stop falling the defense won’t be able to hold ground.

The defense really didn’t. Dallas finally increased their defensive intensity over the game’s final 15 minutes, but it wasn’t enough to make up for plays like this one:

Or this one, that happened just moments later:

That’s pretty much exactly what happened in Game 2. The Mavs made their own mini-runs in the first and second quarters, but flurries of offensive success could only barely cover up for how dismally Dallas performed the majority of the time. The Spurs’ lead had already hit double-digits going into halftime, and the Mavs were really struggling to put points on the board with Dirk Nowitzki (24 points on 24 shots, 10 rebounds, four assists) suddenly mortal.

There were a number of differences between Game 1 and Game 2, but the most notable was the play of Richard Jefferson. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he’s an NBA player. After putting up a four-point (on 1-of-4 shots), two-turnover stinker on Sunday night, RJ finished with the same two turnovers, but a far more palatable 19 points (7-of-12 FG) and seven rebounds. Throw in another nice performance from each of the Spurs’ three stars (a combined 64 points), and that’s a tough game to win…especially when the Mavs are only making 36.5% of their shots. The first question that should come to mind over Jefferson’s performance is a valid one: can it be replicated? Based on RJ’s inconsistency this season, it’s hardly a given. I wish this was an area in which I could offer insight, but how could anyone say with any certainty what Jefferson will do in Game 3?

Jefferson will justly get his due as the game’s difference-maker, but San Antonio doesn’t pull out this victory without their breadwinner. Tim Duncan (25 points, 11-of-19 FG, 17 rebounds) was fantastic, and even though Brendan Haywood made Duncan’s looks as difficult as possible in the fourth, sometimes that’s not good enough. Tim is, at absolute worst, the second most effective “traditional” offensive post player in the league, and one of the best of all-time. There are going to be nights where he’s blocked by Erick Dampier (especially as Duncan gets older and older), but there are certainly going to be nights where he wins games outright with his ability to score down low. Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood worked hard defensively, Duncan was just on another level last night.

Dallas just didn’t play very well on either end. The Mavs couldn’t stop Duncan, gave Jefferson too many opportunities to get to the rim, and allowed Parker and Ginobili to make an even bigger impact than their already impressive box score contributions suggest. On offense, Dallas just couldn’t connect on their open looks, played sub-par (but not irredeemable) defense, and were completely Duncanized in the middle of their crucial fourth-quarter surge. A bit more could have gone wrong for the Mavs, but so, so much more should have gone right. Chin up, Mavs fans; Dallas displayed flukey, Stormtrooper-like accuracy, JET is alive and kicking, and all the Mavs have to do is win a best-of-five series starting on Friday. It’s not going to be easy, but you shouldn’t have expected it to be.

Closing thoughts:

  • San Antonio’s spot-up shooters are quite important. In Game 1, Matt Bonner, Richard Jefferson, George Hill, Keith Bogans, and Roger Mason combined for nine points and made just one three-pointer between them. In Game 2? Bogans received a DNP-CD and Mason went scoreless in six minutes, but Bonner, Jefferson, and Hill combined for 31 points (12-of-25 FG) and four made three-pointers. That’s a huge difference in role player production, and in truth, it could have been much worse. Dallas wasn’t contesting San Antonio’s three-pointers particularly well at all, and dodged a few bullets on completely uncontested Spur threes that just didn’t go down. On the occasions that Dallas did contest, they were pretty successful. For comparison’s sake, take a look at this first clip, in which George Hill gets a wide open look at a corner three:

    And this one, in which Jason Terry scrambles to deter Hill from taking the shot. George ends up settling for a tough, two-point leaner, which is a micro win for the Mavs’ defense:

  • Dirk shot 4-of-7 from within six feet of the basket, but once he stepped outside that six-foot radius, he was 5-for-17. Ouch.
  • I’ve read in several places that Popovich’s defensive strategy entailed maintaining one-on-one coverage on Dirk, but I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. San Antonio also seemed to be doubling Nowitzki when he put the ball on the floor, just like Dirk saw in the 2007 series against Golden State. Video on that to come later.
  • J.J. Barea isn’t doing to well defensively, but his five points and three assists in 10 minutes of play weren’t too shabby. The Mavs’ net production with him on the floor was +1, which tells us what we already know: Barea is a decent stop-gap point, and his marginal offensive contributions can help to balance his defensive lapses. Related: another DNP-CD for Rodrigue Beaubois.
  • Brendan Haywood looked pretty bad on pick-and-rolls, though a more thorough analysis should be made before giving a declaration one way or another. Whereas most of the other Mavs were still showing strongly on screen-and-rolls, Haywood simply hung back to cover a potential roll man. I’m not sure whether that was a Duncan-specific assignment or Haywood botching the game plan, but either way it opened up opportunities for Tony Parker to penetrate into the lane and for Manu Ginobili to hit the dagger three. Otherwise, his help defense was excellent in halting penetration, and his D on Duncan, while ultimately unsuccessful, was still solid.
  • A rough shooting night for Jason Kidd, who went 1-of-4 from three and 1-of-7 overall. A few of those threes go down, and we’re looking at an entirely different game.
  • DeJuan Blair had another empty night with four rebounds and no points in 11 minutes. Spurs fans should be thankful that Antonio McDyess (four points, but nine big rebounds) has been playing some effective minutes at center.
  • Caron Butler is a hard guy to criticize sometimes, because he plays extremely hard. From his first game as a Maverick, effort has never been a question. The downside is that he often is so focused on trying to score on his man that he puts blinders on. It’s something we saw often from Josh Howard, as well. Sometimes Butler’s focus ends up with him hitting a tough step-back jumper or getting to the rim for a layup, but often he ends up hoisting up a tough, contested jumper when he should have passed to the open man.
  • Not only was Jason Terry shooting the ball much more efficiently last night, but he was much more aggressive. Freeing up JET was clearly a Carlisle point of emphasis between Game 1 and Game 2, and you could tell from early in the first quarter that Terry was looking to attack the San Antonio defense:

Disarmed

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 20, 2010 under Commentary | 4 Comments to Read

Three-point shooting is a huge part of what makes the San Antonio Spurs the San Antonio Spurs. They’re a pedestrian 11th in the league in three-point attempts per game (18.9), but in terms of approach, floor spacing is nothing short of crucial. Not only because having shooters on the floor gives Duncan the room he needs to operate in the post or Ginobili the lane he needs to get to the basket, but because without that spot-up threat, the number of useful players on the Spurs’ roster is woefully, woefully small.

Consider this: the Orlando Magic shoot far and away the highest number of three-pointers per game (27.3), and playing four shooters along with Dwight Howard is Stan Van Gundy’s schematic design. They swing the ball along the perimeter, work it in to Dwight almost as a distraction, and exploit aggressive defensive coverage against Howard (or on the pick-and-roll) by milking the added point value of the long ball. It’s a strategy that can be insanely effective, and one of the reasons why the Magic are among the most successful teams in the league despite a slightly unconventional roster.

Still, if you take away Orlando’s three-pointers by chasing them off the line — and good luck pulling that off — the players are still versatile and effective. Vince Carter, despite all of his faults, is still Vince Carter. Rashard Lewis is far more versatile than he gets credit for. Even J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, and Mickael Pietrus are far more than just designated shooters.

That’s just not the case with San Antonio. There are role players for whom this is less of an issue: DeJuan Blair obviously isn’t too reliant on the long ball, Richard Jefferson is theoretically a jack of all trades, and a healthy George Hill can put the ball on the floor and get to the basket (even if his ability to run an offense is largely overstated by his positional alignment). Other than that, who is San Antonio really relying on for supplementary offensive production? Keith Bogans (61.4% of scoring production from threes)? Roger Mason, Jr. (52.3%)? Matt Bonner (60%)? Those are one-trick ponies. Bogans is a fine defender, Mason can kind of handle the ball, and Bonner is another body to throw at Dirk, but these are not players that can contribute much offensively outside of the strict framework of the Spurs’ system. If you push them off the corners, what scoring are they really going to provide? The most reliable shot (after being chased off of the three-point line) any of those three is able to hit is probably a step-in two-point jumper, which would indicate a hugely successful defensive possession for the Mavs.

Richard Jefferson and George Hill are the two players that could make a significant difference without having to rely too heavily on threes. Unfortunately for the Spurs, it’s hardly so simple. Hill was a complete non-factor in Game 1, as his ankle injury and the Mavs’ defense on him removed any potential for a positive impact during Hill’s abbreviated night. Jefferson, on the other hand, is just stuck. He hasn’t been able to perform offensively all season long, and though one would think that he has the size, athleticism, and versatility necessary to be a significant piece for this Spurs team, he hasn’t lived up to his own name or his rather substantial contract.

That said, even Hill and Jefferson are less effective when chased off the three-point line. Check out the data for all five the aforementioned Spurs role players in strictly spot-up situations:

Player3FGAs/FGAsPPS (3FGA)PPS (2FGA)%TO Chased%TO Spot-Up
Bonner69.6%1.210.943.30%0.00%
Mason72%1.130.931.90%0.50%
Bogans85.6%1.060.745.90%0.00%
Hill60.6%1.350.92.70%0.50%
Jefferson51.50%1.040.755.80%0.00%

Data courtesy of Synergy Sports Technology.

3FGA/FGA – Percentage of used spot-up possessions that end in a three-point attempt

PPS (3FGA) – Points per three-point shot attempt

PPS (2FGA) – Points per two-point shot attempt

%TO Chased – Percentage of spot-up plays that end in a turnover after the player is chased from their spot

%TO Spot-up – Percentage of spot-up plays that end in a turnover without the player being chased from their spot (drop ball out of bounds, foot on the sideline, etc.)

Based on this data, you can glean a few things. Most notably, that every single one of these players is predictably less efficient once they’re chased from the three-point line (and in spot-up opportunities within the arc) than when they’re allowed to fire after spotting up. Particularly surprising is that George Hill, who would easily seem to be the best ball-handler of the bunch (save Mason, maybe), exhibits the most dramatic drop in points per shot between three-point spot-ups and other plays. Those other plays not only include spot-up opportunities for two-point jumpers (which are Hill’s most likely sandbag), but consist mostly of possessions in which George is run off of the three-point line by a closing defender. 2.7% of those chase-off possessions alone ended in turnovers, and even when he didn’t turn the ball over, Hill was a far less effective scorer.

Also worth noting is how similar Keith Bogans and Richard Jefferson turned out to be statistically-speaking in these situations. Both were markedly more efficient as spot-up three-point shooters (1.04 PPS vs. 0.75 PPS for Jefferson, 1.06 vs. 0.74 PPS for Bogans), to an almost identical degree. They also both turned the ball over nearly six percent of the time after being chased from the perimeter, in part due to traveling violations on their first step. That’s an aspect of scrambling defense that’s vastly overrated; the far right column of the chart, which represents the percentage of spot-up opportunities ending in turnovers if the player was not chased from their spot on the three-point line, displays drastically lower turnover rates than if the player puts the ball on the floor even for a single dribble. There’s not much opportunity to turn the ball over if a player is simply catching and shooting, and scrambling to contest three-point shooters seems to cause a fairly significant (and understandable) bump in turnover rate.

Taking away spot-up threes for these kinds of role players isn’t quite the equivalent of taking out the Spurs’ legs from under them. It’s more like cutting off both arms. They’ll still be able to function in the same basic ways (Duncan will still work the post, Parker will still attack off the dribble, etc.), but things get awfully difficult when the actions start to get a bit more complex. Open a door? Tough, but okay. Brush your teeth? Very unnatural but manageable. Pour yourself a glass of milk? Incredibly difficult, very gross, and remember not to cry. Use the bathroom? Ay, caramba.

If the Mavs can reduce the Spurs’ offense to the production of three players — even three great ones –  they’ll stand a very good chance of taking the series. Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker were responsible for 71 of the Spurs’ 94 points on Sunday night. Jefferson, Hill, Bonner, Mason, and Bogans combined for just nine points, and a single made three-pointer (on just four attempts). Dirk credited the Mavs’ ability to scramble defensively after the game, and he was right to do so. If Dallas continues to rotate quickly not only on the pick-and-roll but to open shooters as well, this series could be fun, hotly-contested, and extremely short-lived.

It’s Pressing: Post-Game Pressers from Mavs-Spurs Game 1

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 19, 2010 under Recaps | Be the First to Comment

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

DIRK NOWITZKI

On the Spurs’ different defensive approaches between last season’s playoffs and Game 1:

“Well, I think on my first couple of catches in the first half I wanted to see what they were doing and what kind of schemes they’ve got going. They played me pretty much straight up for the whole first half, [and I] had some good looks there. [I] took my time and was able to knock some shots down. Then in the second half, they were coming [at me] a little bit again from the low side [and] made me pass the ball some, but I thought we had some great cutting going on. When I caught the ball at the elbow there in the fourth quarter, [there were] two cuts: JET had a big floater and Marion had a big cut for a layup. That’s what you’ve gotta do, you can’t just sit there and watch, you’ve gotta get everybody involved and we did a great job of getting open.”

On the performances of Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood:

“They were great. [They were] really battling Timmy. I think Timmy still had 27 just because he’s a Hall-of-Famer, but the guys make him work for everything — made him work for his points, really battled him in there. Damp actually blocked one or two of his jump hooks, so I think they did a fantastic job — battling for us, keeping some balls alive on the offensive end. They were definitely big for us tonight.”

On the importance of winning Game 1, and his evaluation of the Mavs’ play:

“We turned the ball over a couple of times too many for our liking, but we ran back [on defense and] didnt give them too much in transition. That’s big. [We] forced them into a half-court game. That was definitely a big win, but really, that win means nothing if we lose on Wednesday, so we’ve gotta come out with the same focus. When you play San Antonio you’ve gotta guard two things, and that’s Duncan on the block and a lot of screen and rolls. With Ginobili and Parker. we did some decent stuff on the pick and rolls. We still made some mistakes, but we were scrambling for each other and we made stuff happen. Even though we made mistakes, we tried to run their three-point shooters off and to give them only four threes is a heck of a job.”

On whether or not he was surprised at being defended straight-up:

“I’m going to take whatever they give me. When they came at me in the second half, I was able to pass out [of the double teams] pretty good and we made some shots when they mattered. JET hit a big three there in the corner for us out of the double team. We’ve just gotta make plays. Caron made some timely, big shots. I’m just going to be patient, and when they do come, I’ll hopefully make the right play out and not try to force anything or make a bad play out of the double team. I’ve gotta take the double team sometimes and move the ball and let other guys make the play, and when I have single coverage, I’ve still gotta be aggressive and try to make things happen.”

On his confidence in his shot right now:

“Well, you know I thought early I made a couple of lucky shots: the one where I thought I got fouled and I threw it up and it went in off the glass and there was another shot where McDyess was all over me and I was able to make a tough turnaround. Sometimes it’s a little bit of both — you feel good about yourself, but you need a little bit of luck. Sometimes the ball goes in, so sometimes you have one of those nights where the basket looks big and some other nights you can’t make a layup…Tonight was definitely a good night.”

On Caron Butler’s contributions, and how vital Butler was to the Mavs’ victory:

“Especially with the way they played Jason Terry, [the Spurs] really took the ball out of his hands on screen-and-rolls and they’re trying to take him out of the game. He did have a couple of good looks, but he never really got into a rhythm. So we definitely needed some scoring somewhere else and Caron was big. He’s a great guy playing the mid-range [game]: facing up, step-backs, posting up. He had the full repertoire going from 14-15 feet. I think Kidd made some big threes, some timely threes. Like I said, with JET not having a great shooting night, we needed scoring somewhere else.”

On the sloppiness of the game relative to the Mavs-Spurs standard:

“I don’t think it was a great game on both ends of the floor. Definitely gotta look at some film. There were a lot of turnovers for a Mavs-Spurs game, but I think sometimes you’ve gotta grind it out. Even if it wasn’t a pretty game, you’ve gotta find a way to win. You know with the way they play and the way they’ve grinded [sic] things out over the years, they’re going to keep coming even if they’re down ten. They’re going to get some stops and they’re going to make some big plays, [and] that’s what they did tonight. We made some runs at them and they still kept on coming. It’s going to be a tough, long, grind-out series and we’ve gotta be ready for it.”

On playing the Spurs in the playoffs again:

“It seems like every year we see them sooner or later. [It's] definitely a tough matchup…With them being healthy, it’s definitely one of the best seven seeds there is, but it is what it is, and we’ve gotta find a way to grind this out. [It was] definitely a good win for us, but they’re going to keep coming and they’re very very good at home so we need to make sure we get this one on Wednesday as well.”

On the Spurs shooting 50% from the field:

“They’re tough, like I said. They’ve got Duncan on the block and all of the other guys — Ginobili and Parker — in their pick-and-rolls. They make stuff happen: they get into the paint, get to the basket, [and] if you cut them off they’ve got a lot of shooters out there spreading the floor with Bogans and Bonner and all of those guys shooting the ball well. You’re going to give up something in there, but I thought we did a decent job [of] scrambling and sometimes we did make mistakes in our coverages, but you’ve gotta fight for everything in the playoffs and you don’t assume anything. You don’t assume that anyone is going to make a shot, you’ve gotta run out and contest the shots and that’s what the playoffs are all about: you’re going to make mistakes, but you’ve gotta make them aggressive[ly].”

On Pop’s Clamp-a-Damp strategy:

“I was surprised, but I think Pop — he’s just like Nelly. I played for Nelly for a long time and you’ve gotta be ready for everything with him. He’s liable to do anything at any time and he doesn’t care what anyone thinks or says. He’s going to do whatever he thinks is right at that moment. I actually thought Damp stepped up and made some big free throws. Some of them didn’t go in but he made those two timely ones in a row in the fourth quarter, so like I said I feel Damp really stepped up and played a good game for us.”

—–

RICK CARLISLE

On Erick Dampier’s defense against Tim Duncan, which likely won’t get the credit it deserves:

“Damp was a real presence for us on the inside. Duncan had a big game offensively, he scored a lot of points, but Damp made his job harder. He [Dampier] got his hands on a lot of balls, got us a lot of rebounds, and when they went to the fouling tactic he made 4 out of 6, which was great for us.”

On Jason Kidd’s excellence and influence:

“Kidd played great. He was sensational in really all areas. In the second half he gave us a spark defensively—on Ginobili and when he was guarding their point guards. He’s been great all year and it’s no surprise that he carried it into tonight.”

On Gregg Popovich’s surprising decision to cover Dirk with a single defender for most of the game:

“There were some double teams and we’re going to see everything before it’s over. Butler got double teamed, but he got going. Marion got double teamed a couple times. They’re going to give you different looks and we’re going to give them different looks, too. We’ll have to adjust when those things happen, and we’ll have to be ready to make plays.”

On the Mavs’ pick-and-roll defense, and how it improved throughout the game:

“We struggled a little at the beginning of the game, and then when we finally got our bearings we did a better job. It’s very tough because such a high percentage of their plays are pick and roll plays, and they’ve got really great facilitators and good screeners and rollers and a bunch of three point shooters out there. It’s going to be challenging. The important thing is five guys are engaged in it defensively, even though it’s a two man game. Everybody’s got to be involved because so many different things happen on their screen and roll.”

On Caron Butler’s (22 points, 8-19 FG, six rebounds, three steals, five turnovers) impact:

“He got it going in the first half and a lot of his early points were not necessarily out of plays we were running for him, but out of just playing basketball. Then we started to run some stuff for him and he delivered. There was a period in the third quarter where he really carried us for a three or four minute stretch. They adjusted and double teamed him and we got other guys the ball. But he’s a guy that’s not afraid; he wants the ball in those situations. He’s been in the playoffs multiple times and he played well for us.”

—–

CARON BUTLER

On Popovich’s “Clamp-a-Damp” strategy:

“That’s something we’ve seen before in the past with Pops.  He’s a great coach and has a great basketball mind that does a lot of things on the fly.  Damp was ready, stepped up and made most of his free throws during that stretch and that was a key factor.”

On Dirk Nowitzki going absolutely bonkers from the field:

“That’s just what he does.  When you got so many guys around him to keep the double-teams coming for the most part and making it difficult for the defense he’s going to have his way.  He did a great job of making decisions, creating for others and at the same time hitting shots.”

—–

JASON KIDD

On the constitution of the win:

“Our defense really played a part tonight even though we missed a lot of wide open shots.  We never got discouraged on the defense end and we deflected a bunch of passes and we were active and we tried to limit them to one tough shot and if they made we had to come down on the other end and make those guys work. We were able to get out a little and run and really eliminate them from double-teaming Dirk or Caron.  Everybody pitched in and it was a good win.”

On the performance of San Antonio’s Big Three, and how the Mavs responded:

“Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili put a lot of pressure on us on the defensive end and when you’ve got a guy like Tim Duncan setting screens our bigs our going to have their work cut out defensively and you just try to make it tough on those guys because they are all all-stars and no how to play at a high level especially this time of year.  But I thought our bigs did a good job.”

On the Mavs’ shot selection:

“We want to be aggressive on the offensive end.  I think the scouting report on us probably says that we rely on the jump shot, but I thought tonight was a great example of us not doing that and coming out and being aggressive, driving the ball to the basket and getting to the free throw line.  That got us off to a good start and from there we just started driving the ball and guys started to get some wide open looks and we made some big shots in the third and fourth quarter.”

—–

GREGG POPOVICH

On the difference between the 2008-2009 Mavs and the 2009-2010 model:

“I’m not going to compare their teams. I only care about the team they have now. So it’s not much interest to me to compare how they are now to Josh. I know what they are now and that’s who we have to play. They played better than we did, they played very well. I felt the first half was just a killer, half their points, 27 points off boards, putbacks and turnovers. That’s just a sloppy game. There’s no reason for that, so I was very disappointed in us not being very sharp. I think we’ve got to have a few more people step up and play worth a damn. I thought we had a lot of guys that played like dogs.”

On the Clamp-a-Damp strat, and why he employed it:

“We wanted to put him at the line because and hoped he would miss free throws rather than Dirk killing us the way he was.”

On Dirk’s “special” performance:

“There are many nights when Dirk is not special. He was special tonight, but he had a lot of help. A lot of other guys played really well. Butler killed us and both big guys were really good on the boards defensively. Jason [Kidd] was a gnat. He was a focused, driven individual, as usual. They had a lot of people play well. They played sharper than we did.”

On why his coverage of Dirk shifted from his pressure-heavy approach last season to single coverage this season:

“They had scorers last season too. You pick your poison and whatever you pick you try to do it well. Dirk got the best of whatever we tried to do with him tonight. We tried a lot of different things, but he beat them all.”

On whether the Spurs sloppy play was preventable:

“Sure. Some turnovers were caused for good reason. But there a good number that were unnecessary, and I felt we did a poor job on the boards as far as team defense is concerned.”

—–

RICHARD JEFFERSON

On the on-going process of defending Dirk Nowitzki:

“He’s a former MVP, at the peak of his game right now, with a lot talented teammates around him. We’ll figure it out, that’s why fortunately it’s a best-of-seven, not a best-of-one. You’ve got to stay even-keel through your wins and your losses.”

On what positive things the Spurs should take away from this game:

“Nothing. You give them all the credit, but there wasn’t too much positive. We’re not going to go blow smoke up our butts and say that we did this well, we did that well. We’ve got to play better.”

On whether or not injuries and resting the starters down the stretch had an effect on the number of turnovers:

“There wasn’t anybody that was rested down the stretch. The only game that we sat out was the last game. Outside of that, Manu [Ginobili] and Tim [Duncan] and myself were pretty much in the entire time. You give them all the credit. We made some mistakes but also they capitalized on them.”

On whether Jason Kidd seems to be playing “younger” than their days together in New Jersey:

“Jason is a very talented player. He’s a future Hall of Famer. And he’s going to continue playing at a high level. He’s one of those guys that can make people around him better. And he has a lot of talent around him right now. And the way he’s shooting the ball right now is impressive and it’s something that you really have to try and key in on.”

On why the Spurs couldn’t get stops in the fourth quarter:

“They hit shots. At the end of the day, they hit some tough shots. Dirk hit some good shots, he put up some rotations and some other guys hit shots. Sometimes it’s not too much of a science, and tonight was one of those nights.”

—–

GEORGE HILL

On why the Spurs could only seem to get scoring out of Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker:

“I don’t know. It’s something we’re going to have to go look at on film, and see how other people can get involved and help this team win a basketball game.”

On whether or not this is some of the best basketball he’s seen Dirk play in his career:

“I’ve only been in the league for two years, so I’ve only seen two years. He’s Dirk, he’s 7-foot and can shoot it. It’s a tough match-up for anybody. Other than, Dirk is Dirk.”

Maverick Hoops Summit: Previewing Mavs-Spurs

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 17, 2010 under Previews | 8 Comments to Read


You’ve already read my thoughts on the Mavs’ series against the Spurs, and if not I implore you to do so. However, the beauty of the internet lies in the multitude of perspectives that are readily available just a click or two away, and I’ve brought a few of those perspectives here to The Two Man Game for a media roundtable of sorts. Zac Crain (FrontBurner/D Magazine), Mark Followill (TXA 21/Fox Sports Southwest), Jeff ‘Skin’ Wade (103.3 FM ESPN Radio, TXA 21/Fox Sports Southwest, ESPN Dallas), Tim MacMahon and Jeff Caplan (ESPN Dallas), Art Garcia (NBA.com), Mike Fisher and David Lord (DallasBasketball.com), and Gina Miller (TXA 21) were kind enough to join me for a discussion of the upcoming series.

——————-

Rob Mahoney: Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker are pretty good at the whole basketball thing, but the Spurs are notorious for consistently boasting a capable crop of role players. This year’s supporting cast may not be as daunting as in years’ past, but which of the non-’Big Three’ Spurs do you anticipate giving the Mavs the most trouble?

Zac Crain: Even though he hasn’t fully clicked this season, I’ll say Richard Jefferson. Roger Mason is a feast or famine shooter, and George Hill is, at times, worrisome. But with Manu back being, seemingly, a fully operational Death Star, I think the defensive attention the Mavs will have to pay him might open things up for Jefferson a bit. Remember: his best game as a Spur came against the Mavs. If nothing else, it will likely mean Caron Butler expends more energy on that side of the court.

Mark Followill: I gotta go with George Hill, assuming (of course) he is healthy.  Hill was great while Tony Parker recently missed 16 games, averaging 15.5 points and shooting 50% as the Spurs went 11-5. Hill can drive, shoot 3′s and defend, and even if he returns to a role coming off the bench he will probably be on the floor at the end of games. If crusty old Gregg Popovich says you’re his favorite player, then that’s good enough for me in terms of judging whether or not this kid has the heart and toughness to be a player under the intense playoff spotlight.

Jeff ‘Skin’ Wade
: I was pretty worried about George Hill and without knowing the extent of his ankle injury, I’d have to say I’m still worried about him. As best as I could tell, he didn’t look to be in too bad of shape when he left the floor Wednesday night, but that doesn’t really tell you anything. I’ll assume he’ll be ready and my worries begin there. That guy does everything well. And I know people like to goof on Matt Bonner ’cause he doesn’t look like a baller and he has quite possibly the worst nickname in the history of pro sports (can’t even bring myself to type it here), but he burns you on pick and pops and in the minimum possession game that we anticipate the Spurs will want, those threes are painful. If the refs let San Antonio get really physical, then I’ve seen him frustrate Dirk before (the 93-76 Mavs loss in San Antonio last season comes to mind). But hey, he’s no Ryan Bowen, and I’m sure Dirk’s happy about that.

Tim MacMahon: Can I get an injury report on George Hill before giving my answer? He might actually have pushed past Tony Parker to become the Spurs’ third-best player. Richard Jefferson has been a bust, but he’ s still a scoring threat. But if not Hill, DeJuan Blair is the Spur that worries me most. Not sure if Pop will trust the rookie enough to give him significant playoff burn, but he’s a wide-body beast who showed in the regular-season finale that he can give Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood fits.

David Lord: In my crystal ball, no one. Any or all of the SA role players will make some plays (if I have to predict, probably someone will hit a big 3 here or there), but from what I’ve seen, with Parker still feeling his way, the Spurs chances will rest almost entirely on the ability of Duncan and/or Ginobili to have one of those sustained all-world caliber series they have had before and carry the Spurs on their back.

Art Garcia: It starts with George Hill. At this time last year, Popovich didn’t trust rookie. Hill didn’t get off the bench in the Dallas series until it was too late. Now he’s vital. He’s long, athletic, gets to the rim and defends. And don’t sleep on DeJuan Blair, though I’m not sure how much time Pop finds for this year’s rookie.

Mike Fisher: I’m sure the Spurs would like to unleash George Hill and/or DeJuan Blair, but there are some problems there: The more minutes those guys get, the more it means Parker and Duncan, respectively, must be sitting due to rest (or ineffectiveness). It’s one of the issues with teams’ ballyhooed “depth’’ (and an issue the Mavs have, too): Once we get to this point, that ninth guy in the rotation is a minute factor compared to the front-of-the-rotation heavy-lifters.

Hill is twice the player, statistically, that he was a year ago as a rookie. And next year, DeJuan might be twice the player he is now.

But they are still supplementary at best.

And that’s not even counting the facts that if you play Hill, you might be asking him to do it on one ankle … and if you play DeJuan, he’s more likely to collect fouls as he is to go 20/20 again.

Gina Miller: McDyess for what he can do against Dirk defensively. Popovich because he’s such a smart coach and so good at making adjustments.  Richard Jefferson was good against Dallas this year (put up 16 a game) but I have heard from some San Antonio sources that he just doesn’t fit in well.

Jeff Caplan: The first guy I’m sure is on the tip of everyone’s tongue is George Hill, and we’ll just have to wait and see if he’s available and if he is, how well he can move on that bum right ankle. It’s too bad really. Hill’s had a heckuva year and it’s a shame to see the young guy not at full strength. However, my key role guy is none other than Richard Jefferson. He’s had a tough, tough year. Every time I flipped on a Spurs game, Jefferson was getting the mother lode from Popovich. But Jefferson has played better the last month of the season. He’s really excelled playing with Manu Ginobili, who’s probably the closest thing to a Jason Kidd who helped Jefferson thrive in Jersey. Jefferson is rebounding better, he has good size, and can shoot the 3-ball. If he gets hot, and he can, he can be trouble.


RM: In a perfect world, Rodrigue Beaubous’ cup would overfloweth with minutes and shot attempts, and he’d have all the opportunities in the world. Life’s not only a bit less perfect, but far more complicated; despite all of Beaubois’ strengths, he’s still a rookie with zero playoff experience. J.J. Barea, on the other hand, made a killing last year against the Spurs in the playoffs, and his ability to irritate Tony Parker defensively and penetrate against the Spurs’ D was a big reason why Dallas won decisively. How should Rick Carlisle make sense of the dilemma between a proven pest to the Spurs and the seemingly bottomless scoring potential of the rook?

Zac Crain: As much as I love Roddy, I think Carlisle would be smart to stick with the proven formula. In other words: JJ gets the backup minutes and Beaubois gets spot duty. That said, I think Carlisle needs to have the guts to pull the trigger with Roddy if 1) the Mavs need an energy boost and/or 2) Barea isn’t getting it done. He’ll make mistakes, but I think the positives outweigh the negatives. Plus, he’s one of the few Mavs Pop hasn’t (completely) gameplanned for.

Mark Followill
: Great question and more than anything should give us all a taste of the challenges of the job of NBA head coach. When Roddy had a chance to play backup point recently after his 40 point explosion he didnt play like the dynamic scorer we have seen some nights this year. In terms of being able to run the team for the minutes that Kidd is out I’d have to initially give the nod to Barea and turn to Roddy if JJ struggles. I still maintain Roddy’s greatest success this year has been as a scoring 2 next to Kidd. If coaching is all about putting players in the best spot to be successful then Roddy’s likely role is the x-factor guy who can play next to Kidd and ignite the team and crowd with his ability to score.

Jeff ‘Skin’ Wade: Is this where I’m supposed to employ the “x-factor” cliché? I think Rick Carlisle took the most unnecessary beating from the fan base in his handling of Beaubois. I thought he put him in situations where he thought he’d be successful and he was. I thought he was more careful in situations that were a little more “perilous” because so much was on the line for a veteran team. Looking back, not a lot of wriggle room, was there? Barea isn’t even sniffing Roddy’s talents, but he’s a veteran who has performed well in several clutch situations last season when he earned Rick’s confidence, and then as you noted Rob, against San Antone in the playoffs. In a playoff series, execution is so critical and every possession is at a premium. I think that was one of the reasons Pop tightened the reins on Hill at the end of last season – he was learning the point after playing off the ball in college and he was rookie on top of that. There are plenty of Spurs fans who’ll argue that it was a bad decision. Maybe it was, or maybe it was just residue from his naked pics – who knows? I think that If Rick throws Roddy out there it’ll be with J-Kidd and I think Roddy will have an impact. If it was my team, I’d be willing to go down that particular road if JET or Caron are struggling. I fear that if Roddy gets playoff point minutes, it’ll resemble more of his performance in the home game against the Lakers than the road game at Golden State. I think their sets with Roddy at the one would be too limited to be effective in a playoff series and it’d put enormous pressure on your offense to come from transition opportunities created by stops. And keep in mind that a long first round means Kidd will log heavy minutes, so the minutes may be so limited here that it won’t really matter.

Tim MacMahon: I’d like to see Roddy B. get a stint in the second quarter of each game. If he’s feeling it, let him roll. If not, let him ride the bench. But, since Rick Carlisle refuses to ask for my advice, I expect him to ride pine for the playoffs.

David Lord: Ride the hot hand. Both should (and will) get their chances.

Art Garcia: You roll with what you know, at least at first. Barea has been on this stage and performed well, so if I’m Rick, I’m going with J.J. to in the three-guard look and to back up Kidd. But if Barea struggles, I think we’ve all seen enough from Roddy B to throw him out there. The rookie appears fearless and, if given the chance, could make a big play … for either team.

Mike Fisher: Many Mavs-watchers have given up trying to predict Rick’s handling of Roddy B. Many Mavs-watchers have also gone nuts trying to understand it. The end result is obviously positive; Beaubois came from nowhere (oh, OK, Pointe-à-Pitre) to a place where he is statistically the greatest rookie perimeter shooter in NBA history. (Yes, really: at 51.8 FG percent, 40.9 3-pointers percent and 80.8 FT percent, he’s the only rookie guard ever to enter “The 50/40/80 Club.’’

My argument is that represents evidence that this isn’t the normal rookie. My argument continues: Roddy B is literally the only person in that locker room who hasn’t been through these sort of basketball wars – and therefore can be “hammocked’’ by so many teammates, coaches and staffers who have.

If JJB pestered Parker last year (and he did) … think what Roddy B might do?

And then there is this, and it goes beyond record-breaking stats or historical precedents: Other teams cannot guard Roddy B. If I’m Rick, I damn sure give Beaubois a taste of the postseason … and if he holds up in his first minute of play, I’d given him a second minute … and then a third.

Gina Miller
: I think we’ll see Beaubois get very little time.  The mistakes he could make are much more costly now.

Jeff Caplan: You’re right, J.J. was very good last year against the Spurs, averaging 10.0 points and 4.6 points. Kidd averaged 10.0 and 5.6 (of course Kidd outrebounded Barea 30-10 and out-stealed - is that a word? – him 12-2). Barea told me today (Saturday) actually that he doesn’t think the Spurs guard the pick and roll well, especially up top with Dirk setting the pick. He said he picked apart the Spurs that way and got to the rim, which he did. Look, Barea is going to play. He’s a fourth-year guy and has earned the right. As exciting as Beaubois is — and he is exciting — I don’t look for him to have much run. Of course, you say something like that and the unpredictable Rick Carlisle will have him in during crunch time. You never know. I also think back to last season’s series and I wonder if Popovich regrets not letting George Hill off the leash sooner than he did.


RM: Which is more important to the Mavs’ success in this series: Shawn Marion’s (and perhaps DeShawn Stevenson’s) defense against Manu Ginobili, or Brendan Haywood and Erick Dampier’s defense against Tim Duncan?

Zac Crain: Whomever defends Manu. His points (and overall court game) is way more important to the Spurs’ confidence. They feed off him. The fans feed off of him. And the reverse is true: he can get right inside the heads of the Mavs and their fans.

Mark Followill: Again, great question. Winning basketball is best played from the inside out leading me to want to answer Dampier/Haywood vs. Duncan. However I’ve heard Rick Carlisle say the worst thing that can to happen to your defense is to be beaten by dribble penetration. So since Ginobili can do that among his myriad of other skills and the intangibles he brings to the floor as a wily veteran I’ll say it’s Marion et al against Ginobili.

Jeff ‘Skin’ Wade: Slowing down Manu ten times out of ten. He’s been unbelievable.  He’s also far and away the single biggest reason why I seem to fear the Spurs more than anyone else I’ve talked to about it. If Matrix can keep Ginobili from going nuts then I think he’ll be the MVP of the series. But as Marion will tell you, a dude will get his if he gets enough shot attempts. If Ginobil needs a bunch of shot attempts to get his, that’ll be counter-productive to what SA wants to do and I’m sure Marion will have been a big part of that.

Tim MacMahon: Matrix vs. Manu. Duncan had three 25-point games in last season’s series, all of which came in losing efforts. The Spurs took off down the stretch this season when Ginobili got in a groove.

David Lord
: I think Ginobili can turn the series, so give the biggest pep pills to Marion and Stevenson, don’t overlook Butler, and don’t be surprised if Kidd gets the assignment on some key possessions. I don’t think the Spurs have the ability to grind out victories in this series but instead will have to win with flashes of greatness, and these days I think Ginobili has more potential to do the unexpected.

Art Garcia
: Matrix hands down. Manu is balling, so the Mavs need Marion’s length and savvy. Remember, Manu didn’t play in the series last year, so the Mavs didn’t have this issue. I expect El Contusion to be the focus of Dallas’ D.

Mike Fisher
: The Mavs are in many ways built to contend with the Spurs – which means, “build to contend with Duncan.’’ They’ve done it with Damp/Diop and they ought to be able to do it with Damp/Big Wood. (“Contend with’’ being different than “being superior to,’’ of course.)

Duncan really labors up and down the floor these days, that requisite knee brace a tell-tale sign.

But Manu? He’s the guy who can go off with consistency, he’s the only guy on the Spurs right now who can effectively create his own show, and he’s Job One for Marion … in a sense, Marion’s acquisition was “built to contend with the Spurs,’’ too – or, at least, one Spur.

Gina Miller
: The defense on Ginobili.  Duncan is still Duncan, despite what I feel, is in a bit of a decline.  He can drop 20 & 10 but that’s almost a given.  Ginobili has been so strong from San Antonio recently and such a part of their late-season surge this year that he’s the one the Mavs need to focus on containing.

Jeff Caplan: Manu, Manu, Manu. Duncan is going to get his. We know that. But, Manu is dynamic. He can get to the rim and the free throw line, he’s draining the 3 and making everyone around him better. There are few guys that can twist and turn and contort and do the things he does with his body and convert at the bucket. The guy is totally confident and ridiculously dangerous. Shawn Marion has his work cut out for him on the defensive end, but Marion also makes a good point: you’ve got to make Ginobili sweat on the defensive end. That responsibility likely falls with Caron Butler.


RM: San Antonio has never really been able to match up with Dirk, and this season has, more or less, been the same (28.8 PPG and 8.5 RPG in four games vs. SA this season). Which Spur defender has the best chance of making Nowitzki’s life difficult?

Zac Crain: No one. It’s true. He can only stop himself. Bruce Bowen had a decent run, but even he fell off. Maybe, maybe, Antonio McDyess, but I only see that working for short stretches, if at all. Best bet? Making Dirk work on D.

Mark Followill: The best defenders historically against Dirk has been the tall, mobile defenders like Lamar Odom or back in the day Sheed. The other style of defense that has had some success against him is to use a SG/SF type who is quick and can crowd Dirk and get up under his arms. Since the Spurs definitely don’t have the former, the closest player the Spurs have to the latter and who has a rep as a defender would be someone like Keith Bogans so perhaps Pop could try to use him in a Bowen like capacity. While you noted the number of points per game that Dirk scored against the Spurs this year he only shot 40.4% against them. The more likely way to replicate that is not by the play of a single defender but by running multiple defenders at him as the Spurs have often done recently.

Jeff ‘Skin’ Wade: They don’t have the type of rangy athlete most known for giving Dirk fits, though some of that has been debunked over the years by the way Dallas moves him around depending on the match-up.  The best example I can give you within the course of one game is how differently they utilize Dirk when he’s checked by Mehmet Okur versus when he’s covered by Andrei Kirilenko.  For all the credit Stephen Jackson has received for “stopping” Dirk, nobody seems to recall that in every time he’s defended Dirk since that dreadful series, #41 has just murdered him in the post.  Problem is Dirk doesn’t pass that well out of the post on double teams.  I’d say it depends on how the game is officiated. If it’s “no autopsy, no foul” vibe, then I think it’s Bonner. If they’re going to call actual fouls they way they’re supposed to, then I’d say McDyess is best-equipped and Bonner will foul out in short order. But I’d say Dirk is far and away San Antonio’s biggest worry as they don’t have the right guys to slow him.

Tim MacMahon: Can I go with Gregg Popovich? The Spurs will need some X’s and O’s wizardry to keep Dirk down. If I have to pick a player, it’s Tim Duncan, but that’s asking a lot of an aging star who has had knee problems

David Lord: Frankly, none whatsoever. The Spurs simply have no defender that can do much to match up with Dirk. If I’m Pop, I’m resigned to the fact that Dirk will get his no matter what I do, and instead try to focus on keeping players like Butler, Marion, Terry and Kidd held completely in check.

Art Garcia: Not sure if that guys exists with Bruce Bowen gone. McDyess may be the early call since he’s clearly more comfortable away from the basket than Duncan. The Spurs’ plan may be to double Dirk and force someone else to beat them.

Mike Fisher: Pop has tried to double-team The UberMan at times in the past, and as a reward, the other weapons – and they are substantial – has jumped up to beat him … while Dirk still gets his 30 points. Last year that meant J-Ho and Barea; this year it can mean Caron, Jet, Kidd, Marion … weapons!

San Antonio will change it up, but I think there is logic to assigning one guy to Dirk (it’s often been that Bonner Character) and conceding him his points … and then hoping that Dallas’ other weaponry is contained.

Gina Miller: Dirk will see a combination of defenders but McDyess and Bonner will give him the most hell, in my opinion.

Jeff Caplan: None. It will take a gang effort and Popovich will probably bring it. Dirk is preparing for it (he calls Popovich a defensive genius). The one stat not listed next to his 28.8 ppg is his 40.4 percent shooting against the Spurs this season, Dirk’s worst perecentage against Western Conference teams. Antonio McDyess and Matt Bonner get the official tag as Dirk defenders, but the Spurs will bring double teams. The big key for the Mavs is how well Jason Kidd shoots the 3-ball now (and I still have to wipe my eyes every time he hits one, which is like every time). If Dirk can pass out of the double team effectively and Kidd continues his 40 percent thing from the arc, the Mavs are in good shape.


RM: Describe this series in one word.

Zac Crain: Inevitable.

Mark Followill: Bitterness.

Jeff ‘Skin’ Wade: Draining.

Tim MacMahon
: Again.

David Lord: Desperation.

Art Garcia
: Familiar.

Mike Fisher: “Two-seed.’’ This is why they played 82. To establish an advantage. Dallas has done that by achieving the No. 2 seed – which I argue is the third-greatest team accomplishment in the NBA this year.

Gina Mille
r: Rugged.

Jeff Caplan: Unpredictable.


RM: Prediction time: who ya got?

Zac Crain: Mavs in six. Duncan can’t turn it on like he used to for a full series, Parker is still out of sync, and Manu can win a game or two by himself, but not a series.

Mark Followill
: Mavs in 7.

Jeff ‘Skin’ Wade: I think Dallas in six and I think all the games will be close.

Tim MacMahon
: Mavs in six.

David Lord: Dallas in 6.

Art Garcia: As I wrote in my NBA.com series preview, I’m expecting a return to the rivalry’s bitter roots … and the Mavs in six.

Mike Fisher: Mavs in six. Last year, the Mavs were a No. 6 seed and the Spurs were a No. 3 … and the Mavs cruised. This year, San Antonio is calling itself “improved’’ yet drops to a No. 7 seed, while the 10X50 Mavs move up to No. 2.

Dallas has moved up … and in six games, will move on.

Gina Miller: Mavs in 6.  They clinch in San Antonio for the 2nd straight postseason.

Jeff Caplan: Mavs in 7.

——————–

A huge thank you to everyone for being kind enough to participate, and be sure to visit their respective sites and Twitter feeds for more of their thoughts on the Mavs.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 15, 2009 under xOther | 11 Comments to Read

  • The usual pleasantries to Jared Wade and the newest TrueHoop Network blog, Eight Points, Nine Seconds.  An explanation of the blog’s name shouldn’t be necessary for die-hard NBAers.  As noted on TrueHoop, Wade also fills out the TrueHoop Network roster.  Big ups to Kevin Arnovitz
  • Bethlehem Shoals of The Baseline: “The Mavs have to be devastated, at least insofar as a franchise has emotions like a person. [Marcin] Gortat wasn’t the cornerstone of their new look, but he certained anchored it. Now that team has gone from improved, albeit out of necessity in the West, to a far shakier proposition. While Marcin Gortat isn’t a star, yanking him away just might ruin the modest renaissance on the horizon in Dallas.”
  • Kevin Arnovitz names Rodrigue Beaubois to his Summer League “Halfway Home” Awards.  
  • Gil LeBreton of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram doesn’t pull any punches in his discussion of Donnie Nelson’s flub on Marcin Gortat: “For me it’s hard not to come back to Nelson on this. A guy who’s been in the league for most of his life shouldn’t have his pants taken down in public like this…Cuban or not, the general manager is supposed to be able to work the NBA buddy network, not get snookered by it. Before submitting an offer sheet, doesn’t a good GM weigh the original team’s intentions? If I were Nelson and Smith had openly misled me, I’d be telling the whole world about it. Since Nelson isn’t, however, we have to presume the same things that ESPN’s John Hollinger did, that this is a classic case of Lucy snatching the football from Charlie Brown. For Cuban to let that go with a shrug and a ‘We’ll just move to Plan B,’ is hard to believe…He probably won’t fire Nelson, not in the middle of a busy NBA summer and not without having someone ready to take Donnie’s place. But after this episode he’d better, at least, be thinking about it.”  Look, I know this situation really, really sucks for everyone around the Mavs.  But it’s not like Nellie Jr. lobbed a low-ball offer down there and waited for it to come back and hit him in the face.  Nelson offered the most money the Mavs were able to offer, and the Magic decided to match.  The situation with Bass was sorely and surely mishandled, but you don’t fire your GM over Brandon Bass.
  • The Mavs are listed as having interest in Ike Diogu, another undersized 4 who could potentially fill the void left by Brandon Bass.  Provided Diogu comes at a decent price, I’ve got no problem adding some frontcourt depth and some inside scoring.
  • If there was a window for signing Lamar Odom, it’s wide open now.  But write this down on a post-it and stick it in your pocket for later: the Mavs’ best chance of getting Odom (assuming of course, that their reported interest is legitimate) remains a sign-and-trade.  That would require the Lakers having some semblance on a reason to play ball, and if Mitch Kupchak’s patience with Odom has truly worn thin, he may be an unwilling partner.  So essentially, the Mavs’ chances of obtaining Odom hinge on putting together an attractive offer for the Lakers, or finding a team with ample cap space to play facilitator.
  • For those of you interested in pointing and laughing at members of the Spurs, I guess you may be able to find some joy in the latest episode of Richard Jefferson’s personal life.  Dude is as cold as ice.