The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 122, Los Angeles Lakers 86

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 9, 2011 under Recaps | 9 Comments to Read

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TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas92.0132.674.019.220.020.7
Los Angeles93.540.923.230.617.4

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • That, ladies and gents, was one of the most dominant performances in NBA playoff history. Dallas posted an effective field goal percentage of 74.0% — seventy-four percent! — which, according to Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus, was the highest mark in the playoffs by any team of the past two decades.  The Mavs won by 36 points, but the actual margin was even larger; if we adjust the final totals of both teams to the 100-possession standard, Dallas was actually 39.1 points superior on a pace-neutral scale. That’s an absurd, gaudy dominance that nears Bambi vs. Godzilla territory.
  • It was all possible because of the ball movement. Dallas did such an incredible job of finding open space and making the right passes in this series, and as I’ve noted on several occasions, it was that continued work toward the extra pass and the better shot that destroyed any hope L.A. had of mounting an effective defense. The Lakers embarrassed themselves with their inability to stick with the Mavs’ shooters, but they were only put in a position to fail because the passing was so crisp and the cuts were so perfect. Dallas — though they look absolutely brilliant at present — had fallen victim to their own stagnant offensive execution at various times during the regular season, but that’s not even a conceivable outcome with this team right now. Execution is playoff currency, and the way the Mavs created shots on offense was borderline magical. The Lakers were flummoxed by the sight of a moving ball, and incapable of defending pick-and-rolls, flare cuts, or really anyone at all.
  • Not that Dallas’ defense was anything to scoff at, either. Some of the same lethargy that haunted L.A.’s defense crept into their offensive game, but it’s not as if shots went up unchallenged or passes deflected themselves. The Mavs were true defensive aggressors, and forced the Lakers into a 17.4 turnover rate while holding them to a 40.9% effective field goal percentage. Kobe Bryant had a successful first quarter run, but that short burst aside, the Lakers had absolutely no continuity. They scored a bucket here and a bucket there, but the Mavs were scrambling so incredibly well in their half-court defense and demolishing one of the league’s most impressive offensive outfits in the process.
  • There should be no question that the better team won this series because frankly, when the Mavs play like this, they’re better than almost any team in the league. Dallas essentially played a perfect game to cap off an incredible four straight victories, and while there should be understandable doubt regarding the Mavs’ ability to sustain their current roll, the Dallas team of this series was a championship contender and then some.
  • Jason Terry (32 points, 11-14 FG, 9-10 3FG, four assists) was positively stupendous. This wasn’t “one of those nights” or the “hot hand”; on May 8th, 2011, Jason Eugene Terry activated his final Chakra. He reached out and touched the divine. He shifted into another state of consciousness, or was possibly existing simultaneously in two realms, his body a conduit for some greater power. This shooting display was a spiritual experience, the likes of which can change lives and convert men in their heart of hearts. The Lakers didn’t exactly put up much resistance, but the confidence and the consistency in JET’s jumper was otherworldly, or self-actualizing, or centering, or dimension-shifting. I’m not exactly sure which, but one simply knows when they’ve witnessed something miraculous.
  • Peja Stojakovic (21 points, 7-7 FG, 6-6 3FG, three steals) wasn’t too bad, either, and continued in his efforts to make me look like an absolute fool for wondering if he would bear fruit for the Mavs. Stojakovic was perfect from three-point range in six attempts, and like JET, his composure is admirable. He can fire off a corner three even against a hard close-out, and in those situations when he thinks the defense might get the better of him, he doesn’t hesitate to put the ball on the floor or swing it back to the top of the key. Stojakovic is a shooter, but he isn’t exactly consistent with the typical limitations spot-up shooter archetype.
  • The Maverick reserves scored 86 points, matching the Lakers’ collective total. Unreal.
  • Blowout losses do crazy things to people. Like Lamar Odom:

  • And Andrew Bynum:

  • I can understand the argument that Odom’s foul wasn’t quite deserving of the flagrant 2/auto-ejection, but Bynum’s is completely classless, uncalled for, and unacceptable. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t receive a multi-game suspension to kick off the 2011-2012 season for his momentary lapse into insanity. Bynum is typically a pretty reasonable, aware guy, but the sight of J.J. Barea getting yet another uncontested drive to the rim drove him into some kind of madness. Then again, he had mostly himself to blame for Barea’s previous effortless drives, so maybe he was just taking out his frustrations on a mini, Barea-sized avatar of himself. Or, y’know, he just lost his mind.
  • Bynum’s flip-out wasn’t wholly negative though, because it did help Barea (22 points, 9-14 FG, eight assists) — who shared the game’s tri-MVP honors with JET and Peja — score an elusive made bucket on a flagrant foul. Even after taking a huge forearm hit from Bynum, Barea’s floater went up and in, resulting in two points for Dallas, two subsequent free throws, and possession of the ball. Not exactly an everyday occurrence.
  • On a related note, it’s still baffling to me that the Lakers would commit so much pressure at the three-point line to the task of defending Barea with either Tyson Chandler or Brendan Haywood setting a screen. Is it so hard to roll under screens to encourage Barea to shoot jumpers while letting the big man sag in the paint? Chandler and Haywood aren’t going to catch at the free throw line and pop a jumper, and if J.J. concedes in order to take a three, that’s ultimately a good thing for the Laker defense considering the circumstances. Yet L.A.’s defenders got hung up on screens time and time again with Bynum hedging 20 feet from the rim and Pau Gasol unable to leave Dirk Nowitzki. I’m not sure who was responsible for the pick-and-roll blunders for the Lakers, but they empowered Barea as a creator and made him into a significant problem in this series.
  • But let’s take a moment to appreciate just how incredible Barea was in this game and this series. The pick-and-roll opened the door, but it was still up to Barea — who has often functioned as the Mavs’ built-in scapegoat, but has set that honorary title ablaze — to finish his looks and find his teammates. He scored over and around Bynum, he worked for creative passing and scoring angles, and had Terry not connected with an unseen power, he would have been the best guard for either team in Game 4, despite taking the court alongside two surefire Hall-of-Famers.
  • Also: attempting to defend Barea with Ron Artest was hilarious.
  • As were Artest’s offensive pursuits:

  • Gasol vs. Nowitzki used to seem like an actual argument, but that debate segued into Bryant vs. Nowitzki, and now Nowitzki vs. pretty much anyone. To the victor go the spoils of public opinion, and after championing the Mavs through their improbable sweep, Dirk is walking on sunshine.
  • I doubted the ability of Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood to defend against LaMarcus Aldridge’s versatility, and then doubted their ability to defend against Bynum’s sheer size. I was horribly wrong, and both players have been defensive rock stars. Bynum scored six points and grabbed just six boards in Game 4, his second game in this series where he had both under 10 points and 10 rebounds. Bynum still had a pair of successful performances, but that’s the expectation. He played up to par in two games, and was held far below his expected performance in two others, including the final outing of the Lakers’ season.
  • Oh, by the way: the Mavs happened to make 20 three-pointers (in just 32 attempts), setting a new playoff record. No big deal, just making history over here.
  • Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook found one constant in the Mavs’ three-point shooting aside from the hard work of Terry and Stojakovic: the influence of Dirk Nowitzki. Yet another example of how the man makes things happen, even on a day where his statistical output isn’t quite what you’d expect.
  • Brendan Haywood made two consecutive free throws. That’s an omen of the apocalypse, right?
  • I’m still in disbelief over Gasol’s regression. Nowitzki did a fantastic job of defending him both on the perimeter and in the post, but even with that in mind, the degree to which Gasol was neutralized is startling. He’s been the most important Laker all season long, but throughout both of L.A.’s postseason series he’s failed to be aggressive, failed to execute, failed to make an imprint on the game in almost any regard. Basketball fans will again call him soft, but really, Gasol was just bad; it has nothing to do with his masculinity or his ability to grind in the post or something equally ridiculous, but simply an odd reluctance to assert himself. He was certainly too passive, but also underwhelming even when he did get touches down low or in the high post. I don’t mean to make the man a scapegoat — what ailed the Lakers went far deeper than Pau Gasol — but he was so unbelievably absent from this series.
  • 32 assists on 44 made field goals is pretty insane, as was the fact that the Mavs had assisted on 10 of their first 11 buckets, and had notched 20 dimes by halftime. This is truly unparalleled ball movement.
  • Dallas’ worst quarter in Game 4: a 9-of-17 third frame in which they played L.A. to a draw at 23-all. The Lakers started out the second half with some defensive stops, and for a matter of moments, looked like they actually belonged on the court on Sunday.
  • Jason Kidd deserves a round of applause for 1) his well-publicized ability to impact the game in a variety of ways, and 2) his tremendous defense against Kobe Bryant in this series. Kidd didn’t even rack up all that many assists in Game 4, but he was a contributor during some big Maverick runs (the 10-0 sprint to close the first half, for example) and did those mythical little things.
  • However, it was the Mavs’ additional defensive pressure that really threw Kobe off of his game. Dallas was somehow able to pull off the feat of committing an extra defender against Bryant overtly at times (direct double team) or more subtly at others (a floating defender, waiting to help), and yet still scamper back to cover the open man. Kidd, Stevenson, Stojakovic, Terry, and Barea deserve a ton of credit — they managed to hound Bryant a bit and recover nicely to avoid weak side exploitation.
  • For the sake of finding a silver lining, L.A. did do one thing relatively well: rebound. The Mavs should have dominated the raw rebounding totals given the incredible number of Laker misses. Instead, they took just a 40-39 advantage, thanks largely to L.A.’s 30.6 offensive rebounding rate. I don’t want to glorify a series of missed put-backs in a game that the Lakers essentially forfeited, but at least there was a slight display of effort in creating extra possessions off the glass.
  • Stojakovic was an oddly effective defender in this series. He faced a series of tough assignments created by weird matchups or on switches, but held his own against Bryant, Odom, Artest, and even Bynum and Gasol (via denying entry passes) on occasion. I’d settle for Stojakovic not providing opponents with a clear point of attack, but at various times in this serious he made legitimately beneficial defensive plays.
  • The same is true of Marion, but due to his superior defensive ability, I don’t look at his performance in this series in such rosy terms. Dallas clearly didn’t need huge performances from Marion due to their hot shooting, but he ultimately took the back seat in defending Kobe Bryant to Kidd. Marion still had effective stretches, but just wasn’t quite as good as one may have expected given Marion’s track record in defending elite wing players. Even at this age, he can do better, and if the Mavs play the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals, he’ll have to.
  • The Lakers made five three-pointers in the entire game. The Mavericks made at least four pointers in each quarter, including seven in the second and five in the fourth.
  • I still don’t have the foggiest idea why we didn’t see more of Corey Brewer in this series. DeShawn Stevenson didn’t play all that well on either end of the court, and Brewer is definitely capable of shooting 1-of-5 from three but while providing better slashing, more energy, and better defense. Plus, when opponents are leaving Stevenson to double elsewhere, isn’t that enacting the fear of the offensive burden that Brewer might bring?
  • Haywood grabbed more rebounds in 17 minutes of action (eight) than every Laker except for Gasol (who also had eight).
  • Kudos to the folks running the entertainment at the American Airlines Center. During several rounds of the “BEAT L.A” chants that broke out in Game 4, the folks running the soundboard killed everything. They cut the music, the sound effects, the video clips — they let the fans unleash in support of their team with only silence as the backdrop. The AAC can be characterized by its non-stop audio-visual stimulation (sometimes to the detriment of the basketball experience), but these moments of unadulterated fan fervor were pretty awesome. I know it’s easy for fans to get psyched when their team is on the verge of sweeping the defending champs, but the MFFLs showed up on Sunday and the AAC entertainment staff let them scream to the rafters.
  • Terry’s rapport with the fans is tremendous. You know JET eats up the response to his antics, but the man makes a conscious, ongoing effort to keep the fans involved and energized, even when things like long TV timeouts take away some of the game’s natural momentum. Rather than loiter around the scorer’s table to wipe off his shoes an extra time or do a quick stretch, JET took the court solo to energize the fans. He stalked the sidelines and called to the Maverick faithful. Opposing teams, coaches, and fans may find him irritating, and I can understand their frustration with JET’s posturing. Yet there’s a reason he holds such a special place in the hearts of Mavs fans, and it goes beyond the timely shots and the fourth quarter performance.
  • More record fun: Terry’s nine three-point makes tied an NBA playoff record, but the lopsided nature of the game prevented him from securing that record-breaking three. Drat.
  • This was likely Phil Jackson’s final game as a coach, and it’s a damn shame that his players couldn’t have taken that into consideration when they were spacing on pick-and-roll coverage and practically rotating away from open shooters. Jackson’s the best there ever was, and though this loss likely won’t be even a footnote of a footnote of a footnote on his coaching career, it would have been nice to see his team go out with a bit more fight. For the record, I don’t think Jackson was a victim in this loss or this win-less series; there are a number of technical problems that held L.A. back, and that responsibility falls on the coaching staff. Still, Phil wasn’t supposed to go out like this, and even if the Lakers committed some strategic blunders, the biggest problem in Game 4 was the embarrassing lack of effort.
  • Predictable dynamic of the post-game press conferences: though plenty of questions were lobbed up for both Dirk and JET to answer (they took the podium together), Dirk remained silent while Terry offered his analysis and reflection. In several cases, Nowitzki didn’t even look up; he merely stared straight through the table in front of him during the question and the response both, allowing Terry — ever the talker — to handle every single question purposed for both of them to answer.

Summit Push

Posted by Ian Levy on May 6, 2011 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

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

The story of the Mavericks-Lakers series has already undergone a significant rewrite. In Game 1, the Mavericks applied white-out with surgical precision, erasing a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter to steal a win. They continued their editing in Game 2 using broad strokes of liquid-paper, and erased presumed Laker advantages in propelling themselves to a convincing 12-point win on the road. Both teams will be looking to retake control of the narrative in Game 3 tonight. Even with the next two games being played in Dallas, one would be a fool to not anticipate a tightening of the series. The series should be expected to be closer the rest of the way…but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for Dallas.

The Mavericks were 18-9 this season in games decided by five points or less. We’ve looked at their performance in the clutch this season at least once before; they were simply one of the best in the league at making the plays needed to pull out a win in hard fought contests. Obviously the Mavs would prefer not to play the Lakers down to the wire, but have to feel confident about their ability to win in such situations should they arise.

The Lakers are in a slightly different situation. Their performance in crunch time has been a persistent topic of discussion this season, specifically due to L.A.’s reliance on Kobe Bryant. Observation and precedent tell us he’s a crunch time all-star and one of the best closers the game has ever seen. Statistics tell a slightly different story. Kobe scores a lot in crunch time situations, but not very efficiently. He averages more assists, but only because he uses more possessions. Relative to shot attempts and turnovers, Kobe isn’t any more likely to share the ball at the end of the game as he is at any other point.

Los Angeles has just two players who have been very efficient in clutch situations this season, and neither is Kobe Bryant. Lamar Odom shot 61.5% in the clutch, Pau Gasol 46.3%. Luckily for the Mavericks, those two players averaged a combined 26.7 FGA/48 in the clutch, while Kobe alone shot 40.2% and averaged 38.8 FGA/48. When you factor in a combined 22.2 FGA/48 in the clutch for Ron Artest and Derek Fisher — who shot 30.8% and 31.3% respectively in such situations — the Mavericks have to feel pretty confident about their ability to outscore the Lakers in late-game scenarios.

I’m sure many of you are sick of this the ongoing debate over Kobe’s clutch performance, but my apologies — I’m not quite done with it. I’m certainly not the first to point this out, but shot selection is a huge factor in his inefficiency. The table below shows the percentage of Kobe’s shots which have come from each location over the past five seasons.

SeasonAt the Rim<10ft.10-15ft.16-23ft.3PTFTA/FGA
200722.4%6.8%10.9%36.7%22.7%0.437
200824.8%7.2%10.2%32.0%24.6%0.439
200920.9%10.5%15.2%33.4%19.6%0.329
201022.6%10.8%18.6%28.0%19.2%0.345
201117.4%15.4%15.9%29.6%21.7%0.356

Kobe is taking roughly the same percentage of his shots from inside of 10 feet. The difference is that a much smaller percentage of them are coming right at the rim; Bryant is more and more reliant on his jumpshooting, which makes him much easier to defend effectively late in games. What makes Kobe so theoretically dangerous is the sheer number of ways that he can punish defenders, but 48,235 career minutes played over 14 seasons have taken some of those options away.

In late-game situations, Kobe’s shot distribution becomes even more rigid. This second table shows his shot breakdown in clutch situations for this regular season, and the small sample from this year’s playoffs:

At the Rim<10ft.10-15ft.16-23ft.3PTFTA/FGA
Regular Season14.0%13.4%14.6%29.9%28.0%0.476
Playoffs15.4%7.7%30.8%15.4%30.8%0.154

He’s certainly confident in his ability to win games with mid-range jumpers. Still, that patter of decision making has made the job of the defense that much easier. Many have credited Bryant’s supreme confidence as the key to his perceived success in the clutch, but oddly enough, the only way for Bryant to break a cycle of inefficiency is to relinquish his ultimate alpha status. Does anyone think that’s a realistic possibility right now? It may be in the future, but I have to imagine it would take significant failure to prepare him for that mental transition.

Despite Kobe’s relative inefficiency in clutch situations, the formula has continued to work for the Lakers, a fact no APBRmetrician can argue with. But it won’t work forever. With the inevitable age-related decline of his athletic abilities, there’s not much Kobe can do to change his shot distribution and maintain a semblance of efficiency. We know where Kobe’s story is going because frankly, the nature of aging doesn’t allow for it to unfold any other way. Bryant’s ability to push the Lakers to victory with contested crunch time jumpers can’t persist forever, and though the critical turning point in L.A.’s late-game performance may still be a ways off, it feels closer than ever.

The Difference: Los Angeles Lakers 96, Dallas Mavericks 91

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 13, 2011 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas89.0102.245.315.132.614.6
Los Angeles107.947.620.526.710.1

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • Dallas had a tough time converting the good shot attempts they snuck by L.A.’s defense, and certainly didn’t help their chances with a handful of cringe-worthy defensive breakdowns. Yet at every turn the Mavs stayed within a competitive range. The Mavs could certainly do far worse than stay with the best team in the league step-for-step, even if the scoreboard was less than favorable by the final buzzer. The effort was there and the execution was solid, but the Mavs aren’t going to win many games against this good of an opponent when their top four guards shoot a combined 11-of-34 from the field. The Lakers played some excellent D, but they weren’t responsible for Rodrigue Beaubois’ missed jumpers, Jason Terry’s blown opportunities, or Jason Kidd’s unfruitful three-point attempts. This was a very winnable game for the Mavs, and their proximity to victory stands for reasons more legitimate than their slim scoring deficit.
  • This is the second game in a row where Shawn Marion (25 points, 11-20 FG, 12 rebounds, seven offensive rebounds, two blocks) has been the best player in a Maverick uniform. On Thursday, Marion did a phenomenal job of defending Carmelo Anthony (who shot 5-of-15 on the night) while dropping 22 and 8, and Marion followed up that performance by reprising his role as a defensive virtuoso (against Kobe Bryant, who finished 6-of-20 from the field) and thoroughly dominating the offensive glass. Dallas went to Marion in the post repeatedly against Bryant, Ron Artest, and others, and Marion was able to score from the block regardless of opponent. On the occasions when the initial hook didn’t fall, Marion followed his shot for a tip-in. Marion shot 20 field goal attempts on the night, and on 15 of those attempts he either made the shot or followed it up with an offensive board. Just incredible work.
  • Unfortunately, Marion’s efforts were countered and then some by the work of the Lakers’ frontline, primarily due to a stellar game from Andrew Bynum (22 points, 9-12 FG, 15 rebounds). He may not be the most consistent interior threat, but Bynum thrived as both a primary post option (against sizable opposition in Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood, no less) and on mop-up duty. Pau Gasol (18 points, 6-14 FG, five rebounds) offered some nice support inside with his usual array of sweeping hooks, and Ron Artest (12 points, 5-8 FG, eight rebounds) added rebounding and efficient low-volume scoring. L.A. won this thing in the paint, and Bynum’s ridiculous effectiveness was the primary reason why.
  • All of which diminishes the impact of Dirk Nowitzki (25 points, 10-19 FG, 10 rebounds, six assists), perhaps unfairly. Nowitzki played a fantastic game, but Marion was more impressive and Bynum more dominant, which puts Dallas’ star in the odd position of being the other big playing effective ball. Still, Nowitzki’s all-around offensive game was, as usual, something to behold. He dropped his trademarked mid-range fadeaways, but also acted as a drive-and-kick player at times; twice Nowitzki drove past smaller defenders and passed out to an open three-point shooter after drawing in the defense, and both of those sequences ended with a make from a corner shooter. Nowitzki was outmatched at times defensively when forced to cover Bynum on a switch, but it’s hard to argue with elite offensive production at such an efficient clip.
  • It’s certainly worth noting that Kobe Bryant suffered a hell of an ankle sprain around the two-minute mark in the third quarter. Bryant was stripped by Marion as he launched upward for a jumper, and came down very awkwardly — and painfully — on his left ankle upon returning to the floor. Bryant called a timeout and left for the locker room, clearly hobbled. He would later return, but it was a heavy moment; according to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, Bryant initially worried that his ankle injury was a season-ender and said he was “scared s***-less.” That didn’t stop Bryant from making some critical plays for the Lakers in the fourth quarter, but if the swelling doesn’t come down it could significantly limit him in the coming weeks.

Dallas Mavericks 101, Los Angeles Lakers 96

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 25, 2010 under Recaps | 13 Comments to Read

Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images.

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Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.
-Buddha

Beating the Lakers on a Wednesday night in February doesn’t exactly equate to winning the championship, but the Mavs’ 101-96 victory should go a long way in instilling this team with confidence. Caron Butler didn’t even play (thanks to a negative reaction to a medication he was taking), but Mavericks new and old were locked in on the opportunity to defeat the defending champs. And, needless to say at this point, that they did.

In a quite impressive fashion, I might add. The game ended up more or less going down to the wire, but Dallas continues to hang with teams in the first half before taking over in the second. The first two quarters were about matching the Lakers’ offense point for point, but once that offensive rhythm had been established, the Mavs stepped up their defensive game. DeShawn Stevenson got the start in Butler’s place, and in the first half he played excellent man defense on Kobe Bryant. Defending Kobe has historically been a black eye for an otherwise successful franchise (Hey, remember that time he scored 63 points in three quarters against the Mavs? Remember that? Good times!), largely because Dallas has consistently fielded unimpressive defenders or just unimpressive players at the 2. Nellie, Avery, and now Rick Carlisle have tried almost every trick in the book to cut down Kobe’s dominance to manageable levels, but there’s no substitute for great on-ball defense and tremendous help.

That’s where Shawn Marion and Brendan Haywood come in. Stevenson may have put in the work against Kobe early, but Marion was matched up with Bryant for most of the second half. Kobe did go 6-for-12 (with two turnovers) in the second half, but holding him to just six points in the final quarter with the game on the line is an accomplishment in itself. Kobe Bryant lives for that. He’s spent his whole life practicing and preparing for those moments. When he conjures up images of a future fourth quarter in his head, it’s not of him sitting on the bench as the Lakers roll on a 30-point lead. It’s isolation at the three-point line, with Kobe staring down his defender like a predator would its prey.

Kind of like what happened when Kobe took the ball up court with the Lakers down three and just 25 seconds remaining. But when Bryant pulled up for the three-pointer that everyone knew he wanted to take, Marion was there. There was no block and no deflection, but Shawn was there. It’s impossible to say whether his presence was enough to alter Kobe’s shot even by a matter of centimeters, or if Kobe simply missed because the finally honed and prepared tools of an assassin just weren’t sharp enough on this particular night.

Either way, the Mavs’ defense put in the work early and late to make sure Kobe couldn’t put his team over the top. Every screen was met with a Kobe double team, often one that chased him back toward the half-court line with pressure. Every jumper was met with a hand in his face or on the ball, as each Maverick defender was careful to contest without fouling (Kobe shot just two free throws). Kobe’s drives to the basket were funneled to the ready and waiting Brendan Haywood (two of his five blocks were on #24). The Lakers’ best player finished with 20 points on 23 shots, as many turnovers as assists, and all of this despite being hidden on defense on the likes of Stevenson and Marion. If the victory for the Mavs wasn’t in the final margin, it was certainly in their defense on Kobe Bryant.

Oh yeah, and the offense wasn’t so bad either. Dirk Nowitzki (31 points, 10-19 FG, nine rebounds) and Jason Terry (30 points, 10-20 FG, three assists) absolutely scorched what is really a top-notch Laker defense. Terry was brutally effective spotting up along the perimeter, and off the dribble he was cognizant of the need to attack the rim (JET went 4-of-5 from deep in the paint).

The Mavs may be the most effective team in the league at shooting two-point jumpers, but that doesn’t mean they can’t put added pressure on a defense by showing some versatility, and by hopefully putting L.A.’s bigs in foul trouble. The latter wasn’t really the case last night, but the Lakers on the whole did rack up the fouls, and the Mavs were rewarded for their aggressive offense with 26 free throws. Dallas fans have always been blessed in that free throws have never been a concern. There are few players in the Mavs’ rotation that create fan anxiety when they step to the line, and giving Dallas 26 opportunities for free points is going to translate to a lot of free wins…especially when the opponent only shoots 16.

There were times where the offense fell off for minutes at a time, but Dirk and JET were there to right the ship. And then in the back-and-forth fourth, Dirk took over. I wouldn’t call the play calling imaginative per se, but it takes a certain courage for a coach to go through nearly identical sets time and time again. In principle, the plan was this: get Dirk the ball and get out of the way. It was incredibly effective, and on the night, Dirk scored 1.78 points per possession in isolation (16 points on nine isos). For comparison’s sake, Kobe scored just 0.88 points per isolation possession (14 points on 16 isos), a tick below his .98 season average. Dirk made tough shots and he made easy ones, as Dirk goaded Lamar Odom and others into a handful of shooting fouls to complement his assortment of leaners and fadeaways.

The Mavs on the whole only shot 43.8% from the field, but two superhuman performances and a parade to the free throw line were more than enough, thanks to the shackles put on the Lakers’ offense. That will, and should, be the story today. Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry are elite offensive players who can have these kinds of performances. While impressive and noteworthy considering the circumstances, it shouldn’t be completely unexpected. But the effectiveness of the Mavs’ defense against Kobe Bryant not only represents a clear evolution in the greater context of the Mavs vs. Kobe saga, but also the very attribute the Mavs hope will take them deep into the playoffs. Since the Mavs acquired Butler, Haywood, and Stevenson, they’ve played like a quality defensive team. Some of that play has even come without familiarity with the system or the team’s defensive principles. And though the things Caron Butler can do for the Mavs on offense are certainly valuable, it’s the addition of Brendan Haywood and the energy generated by making a trade of this caliber that has translated into wins.

Closing thoughts:

  • PG watch: Rodrigue Beaubois and J.J. Barea split minutes backup up Jason Kidd, but neither offered much in the way of help aside from a monstrous block from Roddy (video forthcoming). Barea had two points and two rebounds in five minutes, but went 1-for-5 from the field and missed some embarrassingly easy looks. Beaubois had two steals and a block, but balanced that defensive production with zero points or assists and three turnovers. Due to the play of Barea/Beaubois and the nature of the game, Kidd played 40 minutes.
  • The Lakers actually shot 48.8% from the field as a team, and if you take out Kobe’s 9-for-23 night, the rest of the team shot 53.3%.
  • Lamar Odom (21 points, seven rebounds, five assists, two steals) was the closest thing to a Maverick-killer, and his timely baskets were the real reason why L.A. was in the game late in the fourth quarter. He’s so hard to match up with when he’s rolling, as power forwards like Dirk are often too slow to handle Odom’s handle and driving ability, and smaller wings are vulnerable to Lamar’s post game. If he were on another, less-stacked squad, I’d say to sick Marion on him. But considering that Marion was focused on stopping Kobe, that wasn’t really an option.
  • Jason Kidd. 14 points and 13 assists. 4-of-9 three-pointers. No big.
  • Andrew Bynum started the game with an eight-point, 4-for-4 first quarter. But Brendan Haywood limited him over the rest of the game to just two points on 1-for-4 shooting, and only three rebounds. It’s actually not all that uncommon based on what we’ve seen of Haywood so far; opposing centers typically get some points in early, but as the game wears on, Brendan’s defense gets better and better. The fact that the Mavs have been playing better second-half defense than first-half defense is obviously not unrelated.
  • I’m still not quite sure how the Mavs get away with playing a smaller lineup against the Lakers, but they did. When L.A. is fielding Fisher-Bryant-Artest-Odom-Gasol, and Dallas is using Kidd-Terry-Marion-Nowitzki-Haywood, how is there not a clear match-up advantage for the bad guys? Shawn Marion, the most natural defender for Ron Artest because of his combination of size, speed, and strength, is on Kobe. That leaves Terry and Kidd to guard Fisher and Artest, which would seem to be a pretty obvious disadvantage for Dallas…especially since it was JET on Artest a surprising amount of the time. But too often the Lakers’ sets would have Ron parked in the corner rather than down on the block, allowing the Mavs to get away with a significantly smaller guard rotation.
  • 13 offensive rebounds for Dallas to just seven for Los Angeles. If you’re looking for where all of the Mavs’ extra free throw attempts came from (both teams finished with 17 turnovers and the Mavs actually attempted two more field goals than the Lakers did), I’d start there.
  • I mentioned Brendan Haywood’s (11 points, nine rebounds, five blocks) defense, but didn’t get a chance to mention his offense. He did an excellent job of creating shots in the post, whereas Erick Dampier traditionally only finishes baskets spoon-fed to him by Jason Kidd. But Brendan showed some consistency and some nice range on his hook shot, and while that’s not going to be a focal point of the offense anytime soon, it’s a welcome addition to a multi-faceted Maverick attack.
  • Pau Gasol (11 points, six rebounds, three assists) was pretty much a non-factor, though that’s mainly a product of the Lakers’ inability to execute than it was a spectacular defensive feat on the Mavericks’ part. Doesn’t the Dirk vs. Pau debate seem silly after a game like this:

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: This one’s a toughie. So many guys played well for the Mavs, but this time around the Gold Star of the Night goes to Shawn Marion. We’ve seen Shawn play some incredible defense against all kinds of scorers this season, but last night’s showing was one of his best performances of the season. More on this to come later (hopefully in video form), but Shawn’s work in the second half was beyond impressive.

Los Angeles Lakers 100, Dallas Mavericks 95

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 14, 2010 under Recaps | 8 Comments to Read

Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOr
Dallas88.0108.047.625.026.08.0
Los Angeles113.650.627.526.212.5

They’re certainly not the protagonists.
-Robert Thompson

Each Maverick game this season has been but another installment in the team’s plotline. There are ups and downs, triumphs and failures, and hopefully, a terrific climax following the rising action late in the playoffs.

But tonight didn’t feel like a Maverick game. Dallas was merely the backdrop of the latest Laker adventure, with the Mavs thrown out of the spotlight in favor of the night’s true protagonists. They showed resolve. They showed savvy. They fought nobly in the face of adversity, displayed teamwork and fellowship, and prevailed. The Mavs were simply the extras in the background while the celebration ensued, a footnote in the epic being written to log the exploits of the reigning champs.

From the very beginning, it seemed as if Dallas was fighting an uphill battle. The Lakers found plenty of early success by jumping on the back of Andrew Bynum (22 points, 8-11 FG, 11 rebounds). Erick Dampier’s (five points, four rebounds, two turnovers) return was supposed to provide a defensive counter to Bynum’s inside presence, but to no avail. Damp couldn’t slow down Bynum, much less stop him, and the interior D went from bad to worse when Dampier picked up two early fouls. Drew Gooden (eight points, five rebounds) is an able big against second units and small lineups, but against a gifted conventional center like Bynum, he could offer little in the way of resistance. The center rotation couldn’t even balance their poor defense with a bit of offense, leaving the rest of the Mavs to counter Bynum’s efficient night.

The defensive problems hardly stopped there. Ron Artest (16 points, 5-5 FG, 11 rebounds) was a bull inside, exploiting Josh Howard in the post with decisive moves and superior size. But perhaps the biggest slap of all came with the Mavs inability to get stops against the Lakers’ reserves; how is that a team of starters for a would-be contender fails to gain ground against a lineup of Jordan Farmar, Shannon Brown, Luke Walton, Josh Powell, and Andrew Bynum? That’s one starter (albeit on this night, a terribly effective one) with two rotation players and two deep reserves, and yet stops were a rarity and easy buckets were nowhere to be found. That is not the kind of team that the Mavs are supposed to struggle against, and though the Lakers’ margin of victory is relatively small, that stretch is surely representative of a larger deficit. The Mavs are struggling.

Kobe Bryant (10 points, two rebounds, one assist) was a virtual non-factor in the first half, as back spasms rendered him an observer on the court. The ball stayed out of his hands, and the Mavs failed to attack him when in the half-court offense. Bryant was matched up Marion, and while Shawn does not have an expansive offensive repertoire, would posting up Bryant be too much to ask? It’s hard for players with hurt backs to guard mobile opponents, but it’s also difficult for them to establish a base, bump, and contest down low. That should have been the Mavs’ primary directive early in the game, but Marion was hardly a factor in Dallas’ first quarter offense.

By the second half, Kobe seemed to be more comfortable. Maybe it was the considerable rest (he didn’t play at all in the second quarter, giving him thirteen minutes of rest in addition to halftime) afforded him by the Laker bench, or perhaps a change in approach by L.A.’s training staff. Or perhaps a recovery of some supernatural nature, a divine right given to the heroes of our story so that they may rise above. Bryant didn’t do much of the heavy lifting, but he managed to suck the air out of American Airlines Center with a go-ahead jumper with 29 seconds remaining. Dirk had just hit the biggest shot of the night to tie the game 95-all, but we should have known that the Mavs were simply setting the stage for their opponents’ victory. Josh Howard later had a chance to send the game to overtime on an open three-pointer, but leather hit nothing but rim. And instead of thinking that the Mavs fell short, all I could think was that the Lakers held on. From the opening tip on, this was their game. It was their story, and they played like it.

Closing thoughts:

  • Dirk Nowitzki (30 points, 11-22 FG, 16 rebounds, two assists) and Jason Kidd (11 points, 3-8 3FG, seven rebounds, 11 assists) were sensational. But Kidd’s timely threes and Dirk’s heroics couldn’t overcome the Mavs’ defensive shortcomings. It was one of those nights where Dirk reminds you of just how fantastic of a player he is, and fittingly so, because Nowitzki notched his 20,000th career point. He’s 38th on the all-time scoring list, and while it’s easy to say that the Dallas Mavericks have never seen another player or scorer like him, I’d venture as far as to say that the NBA hasn’t, either. Dirk is a truly unique talent, a revolutionary, a franchise savior, and one of the best to ever play the game.
  • Jason Terry (seven points, 2-12 FG, three assists) didn’t offer much support, and the offense stalled because of it. Terry is so crucial to the offensive game plan, and when he’s not providing a scoring punch from the bench (especially on a night where Josh Howard moved into the starting lineup), he doesn’t offer much at all. That’s painful considering just how close the Mavs were to a victory, and when considering that the Lakers’ bench outscored the Mavs’ bench by ten points (31-21).
  • Lamar Odom did exactly what the situation called for – he drove to the basket (nine attempts at the rim), set up his teammates (four assists) and hit his open jumpshots (four of five from 16-23 feet). With Kobe stepping into a minor offensive role, somebody needed to use up shots. To Lamar’s credit, he certainly wasn’t passive, and although his 9-20 shooting and three turnovers aren’t terrific in regard to efficiency, it was exactly what the Lakers needed on this night.
  • Early in the game, the Mavs made the decision to put Josh Howard on Ron Artest and Shawn Marion on Kobe Bryant. I don’t meant to beat a dead horse here, but the way that Artest was bullying Josh inside made me wonder if Marion couldn’t do a little better job of standing his ground. Shawn is bigger than Josh and a more adept defender in the post, and putting Josh on Kobe would create more transition situations where Kobe is forced to guard Josh. Even if you don’t buy into the idea of Marion being able to punish Kobe in the post, Howard could at least provide offensive pressure on an ailing Bryant.
  • Two crucial plays that Rick Carlisle highlighted in his press conference took place at the end of the second and third quarters. To close the second, Ron Artest had a look at a running three-pointer, but Dirk Nowitzki mistimed his jump and ended up fouling with .2 seconds on the clock. Ron sank all three free throws, and what could have been a one-point deficit at halftime was four. Then, to close the third, the Mavs gave up an uncontested three to Jordan Farmar, pushing a two-point deficit to five. Both were pretty glaring mental mistakes, worsened by the fact that the clock was working against the Lakers in those situations, and yet they still found ways to get points.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 13, 2010 under xOther | Read the First Comment

  • Kelly Dwyer on the Lakers’ rough night last night: “The Lakers are beat to hell – Ron Artest, Jordan Farmar, and a guy named Kobe Bryant are in pain; Pau Gasol didn’t even play – and they were on the road. Topping that, they’re the champs. The last bit means teams have it out for them. It means teams get up for the best. And while Tim Duncan has never needed an excuse to rule the entire half-court defensively, he easily turned in his best defensive performance of the season against Los Angeles. Every angle was covered.”
  • And just in case you’re not quite getting it, here’s Brian Kamenetzky with a laundry list of Laker injuries: “Start with injuries. L.A.’s entered the game dealing with the slow burn of Kobe Bryant’s fractured right index finger and Pau Gasol’s improving hamstring. Over the ensuing 48 minutes, they added Ron Artest’s right hand- one he spent most of the second half clutching before leaving the game with 4:11 remaining- a hamstring injury for Sasha Vujacic  limiting him to 3:06 of playing time, a sore throat for Adam Morrison…oh, and did I mention Kobe spent the fourth quarter in the locker room getting treatment for back spasms? So easy to overlook the minor details, right?”
  • Josh Howard is expected to play tonight, but Erick Dampier and Tim Thomas are questionable. Dampier could be the biggest blow of all; we’ve had the distinct displeasure of seeing how the Lakers can dissect a Damp-less Maverick defense, and while the Lakers are even more banged up this time around (remember, that horrible loss was without Ron Artest and largely without Pau Gasol), I’d still much prefer it if Damp could find a way onto the floor. Knee effusions aren’t something you want to mess with, but the Mavs need Damp tonight.
  • The Mavs are projected to have a home record of 27-14, which would be among their worst of the decade. The players and coaches are saying all the right things, but this is one of those tricky psychological problems that’s easy to notice but far more difficult to solve.
  • John Hollinger, on Twitter (@johnhollinger): “Southwest Division: Five teams over .500. Entire Eastern Conference: Four teams over .500.” The Grizzlies and the Hornets are making a run at the playoffs, and from where I’m sitting, the Southwest is the best division inbasketball. The other two divisions in the West each boast some impressive teams, but they also have dead weight in the Timberwolves and the Warriors. The worst team in the West is a game over .500, and that’s beyond impressive.
  • Dirk Nowitzki is a hop and a skip (no jump necessary) away from 20,000 career points. Get ready for the standing ovation.

No Game Is an Island: Company Men

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 10, 2009 under Previews | 3 Comments to Read


The Houston Rockets visit the Dallas Mavericks
7:30 CST

When the Mavs and the Rockets met in the 2005 playoffs, Houston appeared to be on the cusp of elite status. Not only did the wing-center combo of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming make sense on a very basic, basketball level, but McGrady’s offense was an excellent counterpoint to Jeff Van Gundy’s Yao-anchored defense. The rest of the roster was appraised as paper-thin, but solid contributions from a stable of role players sopped up minutes like a Bob Sura-shaped sponge. Houston very nearly downed Dallas in the first round, before an improbable comeback (and a Game 7 dismantling) ended the Rockets’ run before it truly began.

But as people in the future are ought to do, we know now that it was never meant to be. Yao and McGrady have alternated breakdowns, JVG was chased from the head of the bench to the broadcast table, and the rest of the roster has been turned over in its entirety.

What’s even more tragic is that for the most part, the Rockets’ “downfall” was instigated by events almost entirely outside of their control. So much hinged on the knees and back of McGrady and the legs of Yao, and that’s a load those bones were not built to bare. A string of unfavorable and unlucky injuries dropped the ceiling on an entire franchise, left two star athletes in limbo at critical points in their careers, and likely cost Van Gundy his job.

Meanwhile, the Mavs have been to the Conference Finals and the NBA Finals. They’ve won 67 games and brought home an MVP award, a Coach of the Year Award, and a 6th Man Award. They defeated the older brother Spurs, took down deserter Steve Nash, and have yet to win less than 50 games. The Mavs have won and accomplished plenty, largely because Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry, the linchpins of execution and chemistry in Dallas, have had sterling health over the last four seasons.

Trade the medical records of Dirk/Terry for that of Yao/McGrady, and the entire Western Conference is radically altered. Not only would the rosters of the Mavs and the Rockets be radically different, but titles would assuredly change hands, reactionary trade moves would be impacted, and who knows what would have happened to Ron Artest.

In spite of all of the injuries that have plagued the Rockets, they’ve won over 50 games in three out of the four years since those fateful 2005 Playoffs. That group of middling peripheral talent was swapped out for a more complete role playing cast under the careful, calculating watch (and maybe calculator watch) of Daryl Morey. The wacky world of advanced statistical analysis has built surprisingly competent teams in Houston, with this year’s outfit being no exception. Despite the fact that most players on the roster shouldn’t be considered a primary or even secondary offensive option, Houston is locked with Dallas for the top spot in the Southwest Division. That’s a hell of a rally for a squad missing their top two players, who also happen to be the floor generals for both ends of the court. With no McGrady or Artest to provide the scoring punch, the Rockets are STILL 8th in the league in offensive rating. And with no Yao inside, the Rockets are STILL in the top half of the league in defensive rating. Those are decent numbers for any team, much less one thought to fall out of the playoff race entirely.

I’d like to think that in the bizarro universe I’ve painted for you, Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson would be able to accomplish the same, or at least a comparable product. Like Morey, both Cuban and Nelson are known for the ingenuity. Combine that innovative side with a willingness to pull the trigger on potential deals, and you have the ingredients necessary to assemble a scrappy, underdog squad. There’s no way of knowing whether Josh Howard and Erick Dampier (and Devin Harris?) could lead a team to the playoffs with a Rockets-esque cast, but I have no hesitation in saying that it would be difficult to put the Mavs and Rockets in better hands.

Dallas Mavericks 94, Los Angeles Lakers 80

Posted by Rob Mahoney on October 31, 2009 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOr
Dallas92.0102.244.832.522.518.5
LA Lakers87.043.811.128.320.7

Surprise is the greatest gift which life can grant us.
-Boris Pasternak

Well…did you see that one coming?

You could attribute the Mavs’ biggest (and, well, only) win of the young season to a variety of factors. The first, and in my mind this is almost undeniable, was some favorable refereeing. I hate to play this card and hate even more to have it leave the preview, but the Mavs caught a break or seven last night.

Now, that, in and of itself, wouldn’t have even come close to securing a Mavs’ victory. The more telling display was the aftermath of those…interesting calls. The reigning champs completely unraveled when the balls and calls weren’t bouncing their way, and barking at officials soon became the Lakers’ transition defense of choice. It’s entirely too early in the season to start diagnosing teams, but if I’m a Lakers’ fan, that worries me. There are going to be tough games and there are going to be impossibly tough games, even for the premier squads in the league. You’d like to know that Kobe, Lamar, Ron, and Bynum can keep their heads on straight when the going gets tough. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. And more than anything, that lack of composure is what derailed any chance of a late Lakers comeback.

That, and, oh I don’t know, a completely dominant stretch run by Shawn Marion. In just over two fourth-quarter minutes, Marion alone went on a 8-3 run. As Jason Kidd and J.J. Barea found Marion for an array of runners down the middle of the lane, the Lakers turned the ball over three times and managed just one shot attempt. If I didn’t know better, I would’ve naturally assumed that Jason and Shawn had been long-time teammates, especially when considering that their offensive chemistry elevated them to first offensive option status down the stretch. For a team that has long relied on the dark two man game arts of Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki, that level of confidence and offensive consistency is a godsend. To have it come from Marion, who has been a Maverick for all of a few months, is even more so.

That’s the difference between the two teams who stayed pretty close for an entire half. Whenever the Lakers needed to dig in and find something on offense, their very visible frustration prevented them from operating at their usual level. Whenever the tides turned against the Mavericks, they either held strong on defense or responded with timely offense. The Mavs played far from a perfect game, but it’s nice to see a bit of resourcefulness translate to a huge victory when Dirk and JET couldn’t quite find the bottom of the basket.

Speaking of Dirk, he had a bit of an interesting night. Though his final numbers aren’t awful (21 points, 10 rebounds), his shot clearly isn’t in regular season shape. Dirk warned us that he may start slow, and he’s done just that, shooting just .385 from the field over his first two games. That’s shocking for a super-efficient star like Dirk, who hasn’t shot worse than .459 since his rookie year. But there’s no reason for alarm; it’s no more than a temporary slump, a slight delay in Dirk’s true arrival for the regular season. Plus, with Dirk totaling 55 points over those two affairs (and 24 FTAs!), there’s no real sense of urgency.

In theory, Kobe Bryant should have completely eclipsed the Mavs during Nowitzki’s time in the shadow. But for whatever reason, Bryant disappeared during the game’s crucial third quarter. Kobe went 1 for 6 in the frame, with a whopping zero assist, despite playing all twelve minutes. The Mavs’ defensive efforts in that quarter were a huge reason why Kobe Bryant was sufficiently shackled to just 20 points (6-19 FG), which just so happens to be Kobe’s lowest scoring output against Dallas since 2003. (For the record, Kobe missed all five of his shot attempts while being guarded by Shawn Marion).

Closing thoughts:

  • Kris Humphries (8 points, 7 rebounds) had a productive 20 minutes off the bench. That’s exactly what the Mavs need from him until Drew Gooden (2 points, 0-4 FG, 1 turnover) figures out how to be a Maverick. J.J. Barea also continues to impress, and he continue to put pressure on the defense with 12 points (3-7 FG) and 2 assists.
  • There was an interesting exchange to end the first half, where Humphries appeared to be talking of big game to Kobe Bryant. I fully expected Hump to talk a big game out of Kobe Bryant, but it may have actually added to the frustration that turned out to be Bryant and the Lakers’ downfall.
  • Two games in, the Mavs are making a considerable effort to get the ball inside and to the free throw line. I know it’s been a theoretical point of emphasis for just about every Mavs squad passed, but for 96 minutes it’s been put into practice. If that doesn’t put a smile on your face, I don’t know what will.
  • Jason Terry isn’t taking any of the point guard minutes, but he’s playing like more of a point guard. His shot also has yet to show up for the regular season, but JET is moving the ball as deliberately and effectively as he ever has during his time with the Mavs.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Shawn Marion, for essentially ushering the Mavs into the W column. Shawn’s combination of interior offense and lockdown defense meant all the difference in the fourth quarter, when the Lakers attempted some semblance of a last ditch effort.

No Game Is an Island: Bright Lights, Big City

Posted by Rob Mahoney on October 30, 2009 under Previews | 4 Comments to Read

For those of you that are new around here, “No Game Is an Island” is the game preview feature here at The Two Man Game. Here’s an excerpt of my explanation from the very first installment:

“No [game] is an Island, entire of itself; every [game] is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any [game]’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in [Fan]kind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”
-John Donne, with a little help from yours truly

No Game is an Island will be the gameday previews here at The Two Man Game. The goal is to establish context for each contest; after all, “every game is a part of the main.” Rather than focusing on each individual contest, the emphasis will be on identifying the importance of games in larger contexts, identifying symbolism and archetypes, and declaring the trends and implications of each of these “almost meaningless” regular season battles.  Enjoy.

———–

The Dallas Mavericks visit the Los Angeles Lakers
9:30 CST

Ready or not, the Mavs are hitting the big stage tonight against the reigning champs. Early prediction: Dirk Nowitzki will score, JET will bounce back, Rodrigue Beaubois will not play.

You guys have the distinct privilege of reading Mavs-centric musings on this blog, but let me take a minute to wax Lakers. They are, without doubt, among the most talented teams in the league. But even more interesting than the superlative displays of athletic skill is how that team came to be assembled, and how they operate within the context of that particular team.

Two young guards, with very different stories. Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar don’t typically lead pieces about L.A., but I find it both baffling and awesome that what is probably the best team in basketball doesn’t have a point guard that could even be considered average. Derek Fisher hits corner threes and doesn’t turn the ball over too much, but only finds success these days because of his familiarity with the triangle offense, and with the wants and demands of both Kobe and Phil. Meanwhile, Brown and Farmar share minutes at the back-up point, with the long time L.A.-er Farmar being marginalized by the day. He clearly has talent, and for a spell he seemed the heir apparent for the point guard position based on his ability to hit the open three, swing the ball, and dribble just the right amount. But sometime between his semi-emergence and Adam Morrison’s grand entrance to the City of Angels, Farmar fell out of favor. It wasn’t a drop in his level of play or a public trade demand, but as if some internal cauldron of dissatisfaction had finally boiled over. A decently talented point guard prospect was suddenly going by the wayside, and no one managed a second glance.

Enter Shannon Brown. Brown was a B-lister in the swap of mega-stars Adam Morrison and Vladamir Radmonovic, and it wasn’t until he stood on the STAPLES floor that he was truly appreciated for what he is: a high-flying, tough defending point guard that may seem limited in most basketball contexts, but could actually be remarkably good within Jackson’s (err, Tex Winter’s) triangle. He’s already greatly improved as a 3-point shooter, and Brown’s status as a defensive stand-out is what earns him brownie points with the coaching staff. Oh, and by the way, the dude can rock the damn rim. But from the perspective of Farmar, who by all indications is hard-working, well-serving, good guy athlete, Brown has to play the villain. There can only be one main man (even if, for the moment, neither qualifies), and Los Angeles just isn’t big enough for the two of them. Both are very talented, but they couldn’t be more different, and the powers that be have aligned those two teammates firmly in opposition to each other.

Just for fun, contrast with Lamar Odom and Ron Artest. They’re a couple of old pals, but their paths have taken them across the league and back. For Lamar, he’s faced a lifetime of disappointed fans who were looking for the all the wrong things. On top of that, his personal story may be one of the NBA’s darkest but also brightest, as a guy so undeserving of tragedy was written into the middle of one with a smile on his face. But Lamar’s basketball story has long echoed with the natural resentment of the “talent gone wrong” theme, if for no other reason than versatility upstaging dominance. He took a lap around the league by going coast to coast from L.A. to Miami, and his career came geographically full circle with his “return” to the Lakers. But as these stories are ought to do, Lamar’s career didn’t turn up roses the second he suited up purple and gold. There were trials. There were troubles. There were trade rumors and fights, quotes tossed here and there, and emotional responses. It seems so trite to say that Odom is happily ever after with a championship trophy, but that ‘Ship was redemption for him more than anyone. We’ve known that Kobe Bryant was good, and that if he had more talent around him, he could win. Boom, Pau Gasol, game-set-match. We knew that Pau was good, but some questioned his toughness after his disappearance in the Finals prior. He proved that and then some against the beastly bigs of the playoffs, but that was less a narrative than a one-line argument. L.O.’s story is much more complex, but he came up in a big way against Orlando. The reason the Lakers won wasn’t merely because they were a better team, but because Lamar Odom’s versatility overcame the powers of conventional wisdom. Andrew Bynum represents that wisdom, and as a traditional center, Bynum faltered. He was borderline useless. It was only through Odom’s characteristically off-kilter game that the Lakers were able to take what was rightfully theirs.

It’s only fitting that in the aftermath of Odom’s ultimate redemption, his friend Ron Artest is there to share in the glory and maybe earn some of his own. Artest, too, has seen his way around the league, with the Bulls and the Pacers, the Kings and the Rockets. He’s been labeled a stopper, a scorer, a winner, a malcontent, a lunatic, and a million other things in between. Ron’s basketball story has long echoed with the natural resentment of the “talent gone wrong” theme, if for no other reason than unpredictability upstaging dominance. Ron’s story with the Lakers obviously has yet to be written, but to me it smells eerily like Odom’s. But rather than crafting a L.A.-centric novel, Ron opted to begin his story elsewhere, building up to the climax in cities and systems around the league before taking a final act in the best way he knows how: with all eyes on him. Like Farmar and Brown, Odom and Artest are the same. They more or less play the same position, and they share characteristics if not outright struggles. But these guys are friends. Los Angeles has always had room for one more, even if people thought the Lakers did not.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 17, 2009 under xOther | 3 Comments to Read

  • Mavs-Spurs: “one of the best current rivalries in sports.”  (Relive a bit of the rivalry here.)I’m sure fans of college sports would have a few things to say about that, but this is about competing cores, not competing colors.  Who cares what shade of blue you wear?  The Mavs and the Spurs are a great rivalry because they play each other well, they play each other evenly, and they’ve met in the playoffs a handful of times.  This is players vs. players, not school vs. school; that makes all the difference.
  • Hint – if you want to really catch my attention and then have your basketball opinions flippantly disregarded until the end of time, all you have to do is say one sentence: Dirk Nowitzki is not good in the playoffs.
  • Breaking down the Mavs’ offense with X’s and O’s of Basketball, including this pretty bold statement: “With the added benefit of not having to travel a far distance, and knowing the Spurs intimately (this goes both ways though), I think one could make the argument that it would be an upset if the Spurs won this series.”  I don’t know that there’s any true upset in this series either way, but that’s definitely an interesting thought.
  • Art Garcia’s preview.
  • Check out my predictions, and the predictions of all kinds of bloggers on the Blogger Smackdown.  For the record: Lakers in 5, Nuggets in 6, Mavs in 6, Blazers in 7.  Cavs in 4, Celtics in 6, Hawks in 6, Magic in 6.
  • Missed this one after the Rockets game.  Ron Artest, via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: “When I was with him, I had a lot of problems…He really showed a lot of genuine care for me… He always came over and made sure I was OK, talked to me, made sure my family was OK. … He knew I was an emotional kid. He always took time out to make sure I was all right. It was just unfortunate I wasn’t really listening…He taught me a lot. He taught me how to play intelligent basketball, taught me a lot about defense.”
  • Everything seems to indicate that George Hill will not see much, if any, playoff action for the Spurs.  I tend to side with Skeets’ comments on The Basketball Jones: Hill could be a valuable defensive piece against Jason Terry.  He’s quick enough to keep pace, and as a rookie he’s still very malleable to Pop’s “don’t ever leave your man, ever” commands.  I feel bad for you, George, but I’m kinda glad you’ve got a comfy seat on the pine.
  • Tom Ziller talks Mavs-Spurs at FanHouse: “To me, it’s a tug-of-war between Duncan’s constant power and Dirk’s fireworks. Each have won old battles — these are hardened soldiers who have done this before and just might do it again. But in the end, I can’t ignore the clip-on-loop of Parker dribbling by Kidd. If any opponent made Kidd a liability on defense … well, that’d be New Orleans. (See: last year.) But if there’s a No. 2, it’s San Antonio. Parker is too fast, too smart, too good for Kidd, and I think the next couple weeks will bear that out.”  It’s a bit tough to argue against that kind of logic.
  • Marc Stein of ESPN.com, on what he likes about the Mavs’ chances: “What’s even better than the history that tells us the Mavericks are one of just two teams this decade to win a playoff series against the Spurs when Duncan is playing? The strong finish. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen one from the Mavs. ‘I think the last two years,’ Mavs sixth man Jason Terry says, ‘we kind of lost steam going into the playoffs.’”
  • Mario Elie thinks the Mavs are like the ’95 champion Rockets.  Umm…right.
  • David Moore of the Dallas Morning News: “No one will say it out loud. Even if you lured a player into an inflammatory quote, he would quickly deny it. But don’t be fooled. This matchup with San Antonio is what the Mavericks wanted.”  Glad to hear we’re all on the same page.