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.

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.

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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.

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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 April 27, 2009 under xOther | Read the First Comment

  • Quick announcement right off the bat: Graydon and I will be back today with another live chat at 1 PM CST, so drop by here or 48 Minutes of Hell with your questions and comments about Game 4 or the series.
  • Matt Moore does a little diddy on the Spurs and usage rate.  Parker’s usage and production were expected to jump coming into this series, but Moore’s charts reveal something we’ve been learning slowly over the course of this series: aside from Duncan, he’s been getting absolutely no help.
  • Bethlehem Shoals of the Sporting Blog: “The Spurs have turned into a total enigma over this series with the Mavs. For the team whose strategy over the past decade has involved a healthy dose of consistency and professionalism, this isn’t a good thing. You’d think that bringing the series back home might give them a chance to swing the momentum and maybe start to dig their way out a 3-1 hole. But teams don’t just casually dig their way out of 3-1 holes. Especially not ones as all over the place as these Spurs. Between Manu’s absence and Duncan not really looking himself, maybe it’s best to let them bow out gracefully, and applaud the Mavs for something between an upset and a lucky draw.”
  • Something that isn’t mentioned much but deserves a headline: Antoine Wright has been contributing in a variety of ways all season long, and hasn’t griped once over his role with the team or his place in (or removal from) the starting lineup.  JET’s been lauded for his unselfishness and willingness to come off the bench, but Wright has endured just as much, if not more.  In spite of all the lineup changes, alterations in the rotation, and seemingly random drops in minutes, Wright has kept his head and his play up.
  • Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com: “If Pop decides to single-cover Jet with Roger Mason, as he did early in G4, I think Jet will break out of his slump. The Mavs believe that, too.”  Objections?  Fingers crossed that Pop sticks to his latest strategy of choice.
  • I know it’s just athletes talking to the media, but how can you read quotes from the Spurs and not get that unmistakably professional vibe? (And more here.)
  • David Moore of the Dallas Morning News: “Gush all you want about J.J. Barea. Focus on what Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry have been unable to do. Not nearly enough has been said about what Howard has done. The small forward has been the lone, consistent offensive force for the Mavericks in this series. He’s made the Spurs pay for their stubborn attachment to Nowitzki and Terry. San Antonio has thrown double-teams at Howard along the way, but he’s been able to slip through the defensive cracks to average 19.2 points. His 25 points in the team’s Game 1 victory help set the tone of this series.”
  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: “Outside of the Spurs’ All-Star twosome, no Spurs’ player is averaging more than eight points this postseason. Game 4 was the low-water mark: Parker set a career playoff high with 43 points, Duncan tap-danced with a triple-double — and the Spurs still couldn’t outscore the Mavs. Parker was 18 of 29 from the field, Duncan was 7 of 13. The rest of the team was 6 of 28. ‘Tony and Tim had a huge night, and a lot of us didn’t step up to help out,’ swingman Ime Udoka said. ‘We all felt we let the team down.’ Duncan says there will be no change of plan heading into Game 5 on Tuesday at the AT&T Center. The Spurs can only hope for a change of luck.”

Dallas Mavericks 99, San Antonio Spurs 90

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 26, 2009 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

Photo by AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez.

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“Success is simple. Do what’s right, the right way, at the right time.
-Arnold H. Glasgow

Regardless of how you dress yesterday’s game up with requiems for the Spurs, tie-ins for near-Spurs Jason Kidd and Josh Howard, or woeful depictions of Tony Parker and Tim Duncan as isolated heroes, one singular fact reigns supreme over all else: the Mavs are 3-1 against the Spurs.  Oh, happy day.

Tony Parker (43 points 18-29 FG) and Tim Duncan (25 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists) were nothing short of spectacular, and for once, it wasn’t enough.  Throughout the regular season, the Mavs seemed to lack the firepower to stay competitive without big nights from Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry.  But in this game and in this series, Dallas has done just that.  A complete performance from a supporting cast rumored to be limited…the Mavs may no longer be the Spurs by design, but this type of balanced performance has Spurs written all over it.

Due to my, shall we say, unique viewing experience, it’s probably best to defer to the wise words of others.

The Spurs led the Western Conference in 3-point precision this season, but in a playoff game in which point guard Tony Parker and power forward Tim Duncan needed some help at the offensive end, the team’s ordinarily accurate long-range shooters came up short, long and sideways. The Spurs made only 6 of 23 3-pointers Saturday. Parker made two, and George Hill went 2 for 2. Matt Bonner, who finished eighth in 3-point accuracy at 44 percent, missed all three shots from beyond the arc. Roger Mason Jr., 15th in regular-season accuracy at 42.1 percent, missed both of his. Ime Udoka launched two and missed both. Michael Finley, who shot 41.1 in the regular season, missed four of five. His final long-range attempt, with the Spurs trailing by seven with 36.5 seconds left, got wedged between the basket and the backboard, a fitting, frozen moment that epitomized the long-distance frustration. ‘Me, personally, they all felt good and looked good,’ said Bonner, scoreless for the second time in four games of the series. ‘I felt they were all going in, but they all rattled out.’”
-Mike Monroe, San Antonio Express-News

“I was very disappointed with [the Spurs'] shot selection during the closing stretch. After Michael Finley made a technical free throw with 4:20 left on the clock, the Spurs were down 92-87. After Tony Parker missed 2 free throws with 3:47 left on the clock (and still down by 5), the Spurs took 8 field goal attempts. All 8 were 3-point attempts. Only 1 was made. It was completely unnecessary for the Spurs to begin heaving up outside shots. [The Spurs] needed stops on the defensive end and penetration on the offensive end. [They] produced neither.”
-Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell

“Dirk Nowitzki is nearly 10 points below his season scoring average in the playoffs – and the Dallas Mavericks are still on the verge of easily advancing. ‘People may say Dirk’s not scoring enough, but Dirk is playing the game the right way. Playing patient, not taking any bad shots,’ Dallas guard Jason Kidd said. ‘I don’t think he has to score 30 for us to try to win. You can see that in this series.’ Or even 20.”
-Associated Press

“Tony was unstoppable for most of this game, on offense.  He was 18-29 for 43 points, and had 4 steals.  And that’s what went right for him. As the game went on, however, Tony became something of a liability.  He had 31 points and 3 assists at the half.  He finished the game with 43 points and 3 assists – that’s right, ZERO assists in the second half.  What’s more, he started to turn the ball over.  This is not to say it was all Tony’s fault, though.  He set up Ime, Findog, Mason and Bonner multiple times, but they couldn’t hit the 3.  If those guys are making shots, Tony probably gets a double-double and doesn’t have to wear himself out trying to win the game on his own. Also, in the second half, he wasn’t even trying to get a hand in Kidd’s face on 3-point attempts.  Kidd was 3-7 on those tonight, and at least two of his makes(by my count) were in that second half with Tony just standing there and watching.”
-rikkido, Pounding the Rock

“But it wasn’t just The Others who created a situation that puts the Mavs up 3-1 in this best-of-seven series (with a Tuesday road chance to close this out and advance to Round 2 for the first time since the 2006 Finals). It was The Everybodies. Josh Howard drew plaudits from both locker rooms for his assertive path to 28 points. He made seven of his 14 shots and three of his six 3’s. But the proof of his style in is his other path, the one to the free-throw line. Howard plowed his way to the basket with enough frequency that he earned 13 visits there. And he made 11 of those. ‘Josh was great,’ Jason Kidd said.”
-Mike Fisher, DallasBasketball.com

“Jason Kidd was superb. I have said it before and I will say it again. There are two ways to look at trades, and one is ‘the future’. But the other, ‘the present’ should not be completely ignored. And in the present, there is no question in my head that he has made this a better Mavericks team. I know that won’t help you feel better about 2011, but Jason Kidd has provided such a higher basketball IQ for the squad it is not even funny. He is a basketball genius from the way he thinks the game. He defends with his head, he takes the ball away, he sees passes you don’t see, and I have really found it shocking how he well he shoots the wide-open shots. In this sports age where we only see what a guy doesn’t do, I would like to speak up for Jason Kidd and appreciate what he does do. I swear I have not seen a smarter player in a Mavericks uniform. He just doesn’t ever hurt you with his decisions. And when you have him, all of the sudden, some of your other players who may be less than brilliant between the ears do seem to get smarter.”
-Bob Sturm, Inside Corner

“Popovich had started Bruce Bowen in place of Roger Mason in an effort to counteract the spark J.J. Barea has given Dallas as a starter. Now Popovich is running out of games and options. The Spurs have to hope Parker and Duncan can carry them. ‘It’s obvious that’s what we need to do,’ Popovich said. ‘Those guys have to have the ball as much as possible to score. Sure, we hope that other people step up and make shots and make plays. It didn’t happen enough tonight, but it wasn’t for lack of effort.’”
-Brad Townsend, Dallas Morning News

“Ryan Hollins guarding Tim Duncan. For 19 minutes. I know Mavs followers liked the idea, and we’ve reported that Jet liked it so much he begged Carlisle to give it a shot before the start of the series. But for Carlisle to give him 19 minutes? Against Duncan? Brass ones. ‘Was I surprised?’ Duncan said, repeating a postgame question and then noting that Hollins ‘is a young buck and he is very athletic and he was all over the place.’ So. … ‘No, I was not surprised.’”
-Mike Fisher, DallasBasketball.com

A Difficult Glass to Read

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 20, 2009 under Commentary | 2 Comments to Read

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

Game one is in the books, and unfortunately we’re left with more questions than answers.  The glass rests on the table, but whether it’s half-empty or half-full is anybody’s guess.

The Mavs were able to overcome subpar efforts from both Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry to get a win on the road.  I’ve asked for little more from this team all season long, and it’s huge in terms of development and adjustment.  Still, you have to be worried about what the Spurs did to JET and Dirk defensively.

On the bright side, neither player was woefully inefficient.  They weren’t hoisting up prayers or hunting for looks.  But Terry in particular was completely blanketed by Bruce Bowen and friends, and only attempted 8 shots in total.  When was the last time Terry had less than 10 attempts?  If you disregard the February 7th and March 1st games, in which Terry’s minutes were significantly limited due to injury, you have to go all the way back to November 3rd.  The JET tends to get his looks one way or another, but on Saturday night he was practically handcuffed.  J.J. Barea’s success could potentially have a huge impact on JET’s production, depending on Pop’s defensive adjustments.  If Bowen ends up seeing time on Barea rather than Terry, it could provide JET with plenty of opportunities against the less stingy Michael Finley, Tony Parker, and Roger Mason.  But, if Pop decides that Terry, the far worthier threat, deserves the Spurs’ undivided attention, the JET may have to work extra hard, look to draw fouls, or simply be content with hoisting up fewer attempts.

My thought is this: put Terry on the floor in situations where Popovich must make difficult strategic decisions.  If JET, Josh Howard, and Dirk are all on the floor at the same time, who does Bruce Bowen guard?  That of course depends on the rest of the Spurs’ lineup, but it would almost certainly force an inferior defender (or two) to concede points to one of the Mavs’ big scorers.  It doesn’t quite afford Dirk or Josh the rest they need or ease their scoring burden, but it just might be necessary to keep the Mavs’ offense in fifth gear.

Dirk I’m not worried about.  He can get shots off at any time he wants against any defender the Spurs throw at him, and was more limited by foul trouble than anything.  He’ll be there when we need him most.

J.J. gives the Mavs a much-needed extra dimension in their defense against Tony Parker, but it’ll be interesting to see how a game’s worth of film changes that.  Parker is a smart player and Pop is a brilliant coach; the Spurs will surely have new ways to take advantage of Barea’s height and a variety of avenues to increase Parker’s access to the lane.

What’s interesting is that the Mavs weren’t locking down on the Spurs’ shooters, as is their custom.  Tim Duncan and Tony Parker typically go to work, while defenders stick with Finley, Bonner, Mason and the other shooters on the outside.  It’s absolutely crucial in negating the impact of those back-breaking corner threes, and it’s something that the Mavs didn’t do very effectively in the first half of Saturday’s game.  The defense focused on the corners in the second half, and Barea dug up a new way to limit San Antonio’s shooters: stifle Parker’s penetration.  Drive and kick offenses rely on deep penetration to set up open shots, and Parker clearly wasn’t used to being kept up with.  Barea moved his feet and got in TP’s way enough to not only limit Parker’s scoring, but also his ability to dish to the Spurs set up on the perimeter.  That was the real reason why San Antonio’s offense was hindered in the second half of Saturday’s game, but to predict that Barea can repeat his performance with the same success is to ignore Popovich’s genius entirely.

I will say this: for as creative and intelligent as Gregg Poppovich is, J.J. Barea is just as relentless and tenacious.  He’s never had a reputation as a defender, but the guy loves to compete.  You simply don’t make it into the league at 6’0” (in heels) unless you’ve got a little Napoleon in you.

It’s also worth noting that the Spurs shot about as well as they will in this series (11-14 from deep…that’s 78.6%), including 5-5 from three for Michael Finley and 4-7 from three for Roger Mason.  Both are good shooters, but to expect them to continue at that pace would be a tad ridiculous.

So should the Mavs be happy that Terry’s shots that he took went down, or disappointed that he couldn’t get many off to begin with?  Should Dallas be pleased with Barea’s defense on Parker, or concerned about what will happen when Tony figures things out, as great players are wont to do?

I’ll tell you around 10 tonight.

The Official Two Man Game Official Dallas Mavericks Versus San Antonio Spurs Official Playoff Preview for the Official 2008-2009 Official Post-Season

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 18, 2009 under Commentary, Previews | 7 Comments to Read

Let’s get this out of the way upfront: I think the Mavs will win this series in six games.

Now that you know the ending, let’s see how we got there.

It’s almost frightening how little we actually have to go on for this series.  The Mavs have been without Josh Howard for most of the season, and the decisive hammer of Manu Ginobili’s prolonged absence didn’t fall until late in the season.  That restricts this version of the Mavs to just one single regular season contest against these Spurs.  It seemed pretty meaningful around March, but does that one game really set the precedent for a series of complex strategies, extremely specific approaches, and series-long adjustments?

We shouldn’t throw out the one piece of evidence that we have on these grounds, but just don’t expect an instant replay every time out. Unless you expect Tony Parker to go for 35+, because that’s something we’re going to have to get used to.

Manu Ginobili’s injury is going to hurt the Spurs, and it’s going to hurt them a lot.  But this is the playoffs, and Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Gregg Popovich are going to bring their A+ game.  That’s just the way the Spurs roll.  So I fully expect TP and Timmy to step up their games and almost fully compensate for Manu’s lost production.  The problem lies in the fact that in doing so, they’ll have to completely force the issue, dominate the offense, and probably tire themselves out.  For two teams that have a history of taking games to the wire and potentially beyond, that’s gonna be a wee bit important.

For everybody that’s hoping for Tim Duncan’s ever-so-slightly injured knee to suddenly explode, think again.  I know he doesn’t have that much playoff experience under his belt, but that young man’s going to be pretty darn good some day.  And you know what?  Odds are he is going to blitz Erick Dampier, Brandon Bass, and whoever else is unlucky enough to guard him.  That’s just how he do.  The key with Duncan is to make his work as difficult as possible.  Dampier isn’t an ideal match for Duncan defensively, but he’s the best we’ve got.  He has to bother TD enough to sandbag that field goal percentage, put a hand in his face, and make Duncan really go to work.  He’ll get his, but it won’t be easy.

With Parker, I don’t even know where to begin.  Antoine Wright, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Josh Howard, and J.J. Barea will likely all get their shot, and I don’t think any will have much success.  The best strategy is to try to give Parker space, and force him to make jumper after jumper.  But giving a player like Parker that kind of space is pretty counterproductive.  He’ll simply rear back and charge full speed ahead into the lane, using that extra space to generate the momentum to get right to the cup.  Parker is a helluva finisher, and on top of that he’s a master of theatrics.  It’s practically a lost cause.  But what is there the Mavs can do, really?  Hopefully the length of Howard and Wright can bother Parker for stretches, but I’m not counting on it.  The key is to find a way to endure the onslaught, and strike back with some vigor on the offensive end.  Duncan and Parker can’t do everything, and they will make mistakes.  The Mavs just need to force a few extra mistakes, pressure as much as possible, and limit the contributions of the rest of the bunch.  That and pray that Parker doesn’t go into God-mode.

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

When you look at this series, it’s easy to focus on the 2006 pieces; it’s Dirk, Josh, and JET vs. Parker and Duncan.  But save a big of your attention for Jason Kidd, who just so happens to be an incredible point guard.  I doubt that Kidd will have another big scoring night against the Spurs.  Most of his points figure to come off of spot-up threes.  But what Kidd does is open the floodgates for the Mavs that aren’t always creating for themselves.  Erick Dampier is suddenly throwing down oops.  J.J. Barea is getting wide open looks at threes.  Brandon Bass is fed in just the right place in the post.  James Singleton catches a bullet pass right under the basket.  These are things often overlooked, but none of it happens without Kidd.  The volume scoring is going to come from the brightest of stars, but Kidd is chipping in 6 points here and 8 points there by setting up the ‘other’ Mavs with easy buckets.  Huge.

On an individual basis, let’s look at what the Spurs have defensively.  Roger Mason Jr. is likely guarding Terry, Michael Finley and Bruce Bowen will take turns with Howard, and Matt Bonner/whoever else Pop digs up will draw the short straw with Dirk.  How is any of that beneficial for San Antonio?  Each of those three Mavs is fully capable of eclipsing their counterparts and more, and seems poised to do so based on each Spur’s defensive inadequacies.  Mason is a nice player and a great shooter, but lacks the discipline to effectively hound the JET.  Bowen has lost a step since he’s lost a step, and even then Howard gave him trouble.  Michael Finley is Michael Finley, and try as he might, those legs are spry no longer.

The Spurs Dilemma in 2006 was this: Bruce Bowen couldn’t guard both Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard at once, and whoever was free of Bowen’s shadowing went off.  Howard knew just how to attack the Spurs inside with his array of post-ups and runners, and when Bowen was switched on him, the Mavs went straight to Dirk at the elbow.  This year’s model shares that in common with the Spurs of old, but with one notable exception: Bruce Bowen just isn’t the lockdown defender he used to be.  If Bowen can’t significantly limit the production of one of the two, and another Spur doesn’t have unexpected defensive success, how exactly does San Antonio hope to stop the Maverick attack?

I will say this: to his credit, Matt Bonner has played Dirk unusually well.  He’s big but not too strong, not particularly quick or athletic, and doesn’t seem to have any specific attributes that fit the bill for the thorn in Dirk’s side.  But he doesn’t give up ground, doesn’t fall for Dirk’s fakes, and holds his own.  Unfortunately for Bonner and the Spurs, that’s not enough.  Without Manu storming from the stables, the Spurs will need to completely clamp down on at least one of Dallas’ big scorers.  Their best shot just so happens to be against one of the most deadly and resilient scorers in the league today, and one who isn’t going to go down quietly against San Antone.

The bench play will need to be enormous if Dallas wants to take the series.  J.J. has shown flashes of Devin Harris in him, exactly the kind of quick, penetrating point guard that has given the Spurs trouble in the past.  Brandon Bass has the midrange shot and the quickness in the post to give Tim Duncan a headache, not to mention enough strength to bully a bit.  James Singleton and Ryan Hollins will have their turn, and whatever they can offer could make for advantage – Mavs.  I doubt very much that you’ll walk away saying that Brandon Bass won or lost this series, but that doesn’t make his contributions any less important.  These two teams have such incredible players at the top that they’ll trade blow for blow all series long.  Establishing and reaping the benefits of the players farther down the chain of command is where the series could very well be decided.  Of course that could very well work against the Mavs, if the Spurs can get their peripherals in a groove and negate the impact of the Mavs’ reserves.  In J.J. and Bass we trust.

The Mavs have to hope that home court advantage doesn’t come into effect.  Take care of business at home, and steal some momentum on the road.  A potential game seven would be where everything favors the Spurs: an army of clutch performers, one of the best strategists and motivators in the game, and a roaring home crowd.  I’m not sure the Mavs would be able to overcome.  But if all goes according to plan, it hopefully won’t have to come to that.

Photo by Dustin Chapman.

Pop’s impact cannot be denied.  I’ve got nothing for respect for the Spurs’ ringleader, and am sincerely jealous of his beard-growing abilities.  But for just one second, let’s show Rick Carlisle some love.  Carlisle has shown exactly the kind of creativity and adaptability that every team should want of its coach, and what he’s lacked in motivational polish he’s made up for in his willingness to try anything and everything to get the Mavs a win.  He’s not Popovich.  His ring-less fingers make that painfully apparent.  But Carlisle is no scrub.  He knows what he’s doing, he’s been here before, and he draws one mean out-of-bounds play.  The coaching advantage undoubtedly goes San Antonio’s way, but the margin may be slight enough to have its impact discounted.

Carlisle (and the rest of the Mavs staff, notably Darrell Armstrong) will have quite a task in managing Josh Howard’s…situation.  Howard hasn’t shown any signs of reverting to his jumpshot-happy self, but Carlisle needs to ensure that it stays that way.  Howard’s understanding of his role in the offense will be absolutely paramount if the Mavs are going to make it out of this series alive, and that requires Josh and the coaching staff to be fully in sync, from head to ankle.  Health is only a subplot.  Howard is going to be slightly limited, and that’s something the Mavs will have to deal with.  Off-days in between games will nurse tender joints, and there’s nothing an ice pack, a band-aid, and some good ol’ fashioned aspirin can’t fix, right?

Making playoff picks is tough because there are so many internal forces at work.  But for once, my job seems easy.  My gut, my heart, and my head are all telling me Mavs in six.  The series is close enough to be a toss-up, but every force in this universe tells me the Mavs are going to pull it out.  File these thoughts away as the delusions of a Mavs fan if you’d like, but I’ve got a feeling.  And a thought.  And an instinct.  All together that has to amount for something.

Dallas Mavericks 107, San Antonio Spurs 102

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 5, 2009 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

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“We live in the present, we dream of the future and we learn eternal truths from the past.”
-Madame Chiang Kai-Shek

It wasn’t a blow-out, but that was some kind of victory.  Err, at least I think it was.

Again, my duties as a full-time blogger and part-time intramural basketballer came into direct conflict, and the final IM game of the season prevented me from watching the second half.  By now, you guys know the drill: fill in the blanks.  What did the Mavs do to lockdown Roger Mason in the 2nd?  It looks like Dampier played some swell defense on Duncan, but does the box score deceive me?  What on earth got into Josh Howard?

Here are my thoughts from the footage of the game that I did actually see:

It wouldn’t be right if I started with anyone but Josh Howard (29 points, 10-15 FG, 4-5 3FG, 7 rebounds).  He was grimacing notably in the first half as he trotted up and down the court, but his bum ankle didn’t prevent him from being assertive with his moves or consistent with his shooting stroke.  Just the fact that he played sent a message, and going off for 12 straight Maverick points in the first quarter blared that message through a megaphone.  The new-old Josh isn’t having a ‘coming-out party,’ (he’s been playing active, focused basketball for a few games now), but it’s good to reap the benefits of a flashback Josh performance against our old friends the Spurs.

Erick Dampier (9 points, 4 rebounds, 4 blocks) really does a great job of playing Tim Duncan (19 points, 7-21 FG, -10 [+/-]) on a regular basis.  A team as thin up front as the Mavs is never going to come close to shackling Duncan, but going back to 2006 Damp’s efforts have been admirable.  Sometimes it looks like he’s not aggressive, but in truth, Damp employs a combination of solid fundamental defense, brute strength, and a conscious desire to avoid putting Duncan on the foul line.  Dampier finished with 4 blocks for the night, and though the defense didn’t pick up until after the first quarter, it was a great effort…from my understanding.

Roger Mason.  My goodness.  There was a point in the first half where I wasn’t worried about Tim Duncan or Tony Parker, but how on earth the Mavs were going to stop the pick-and-pop with Kurt Thomas and Roger Mason.  I wish I were kidding.  Dirk, Brandon Bass, and Jason Terry were all doing a miserable job on that front defensively, and Mason and Thomas just would not miss their midrange looks.  Credit to Rick Carlisle; the defensive execution improved dramatically out of seemingly every timeout.  The rotations improved, screens were hedged, and all seemed right with the world.  That said, I’d like to see a better defensive effort from Jason Terry.  The way Roger Mason used and abused him in the first 2 quarters is inexcusable, and if that’s the way he’s going to play Manu Ginobili, we wouldn’t stand a chance.

Thank you, Jason Kidd.  We all know that you’re not going to stop Tony Parker, and you probably won’t even come close.  But if you can produce like you did last night against the better point guards of the league (17 points, 6-10 FG, 3-5 3FG, 9 assists, 7 rebounds), the effects of your counterpart’s production are softened.  Parker did score 37 points, but that 37 points is less meaningful than if Kidd had another 6-4-5 night.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to…Dirk Nowitzki?  Erick Dampier?  Jason Kidd?  Josh Howard?  Rick Carlisle?  Aww hell, this one goes to everyone.  A great team effort to pull out a close win against a good Spurs team, and a great momentum-builder going into New Orleans tonight.