Dallas Mavericks 95, Houston Rockets 84

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 16, 2009 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

Photo by AP.

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“This is how we do it.”
-Montell Jordan

Congratulations to your Dallas Mavericks, ladies and gents, who have posted a 50 win season in every year this decade.  Maybe 50 is just an arbitrary marker, another number in a game of numbers, but it does represent a prolonged greatness that can be matched by just one other current team.  That other team just so happens to be the Mavs’ first round playoff opponent, the San Antonio Spurs.

For the Mavs, this game was as much about climbing as high as possible in the standings as it was about beating a pretty damn good team in a meaningful game.  Both squads had plenty to play for, but it was the Mavericks, largely considered the inferior team, who came up with the right mix, the right sets, and the right strategies.  Rick Adelman is a Coach of the Year candidate in his own right and I’m actually very fond of this bunch of Rockets.  But last night, Rick Carlisle taught Adelman a thing or two about in-game adjustments, and the Mavs held a hands-on workshop in crunch time execution.

The Mavs’ big names showed up.  Dirk (30 points, 13-23 FG, 15 rebounds) was fantastic, and balanced a fantastic first quarter with a superb second half.  Jason Kidd (11 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists, 3-3 3FG) had another day at the office, and notched a triple double.  Every rebound and assist was impactful, and Kidd’s three-pointers were heartbreakers for the Rox.  The JET took the torch in the fourth quarter, overcoming a trying first half to finish with 23 points on 10-17 shooting.  As a team, the Mavs outscored the Rockets 30-14 in the fourth, a success fueled by Terry’s heroics and aggressive, physical team defense.

Yao Ming (23 points, 9 rebounds, 4 turnovers) gave Erick Dampier fits once again.  Oddly enough, the real defensive success came when Ryan Hollins and Brandon Bass did their best to make Yao’s life hell.  Hollins initially had some trouble, but eventually used his length to front Yao and limit his attempts.  Brandon Bass used every ounce of his strength to make Yao uncomfortable.  Holding, pushing, pulling, and generally ensuring that whatever Yao did was difficult.  As a result, the Rockets’ best player on the floor managed just one shot attempt.  Erick Dampier can do a lot of good against a lot of centers in this league; Yao Ming is not one of them.  I’m glad to see that at least one Mav can have success against him, even if that success doesn’t come with a wow-worthy statistical line.  Bass and Hollins only turned things around with the help of some very aggressive double-teams, and that’s a credit to the Mavs’ entire defensive scheme and Rick Carlisle.  It made too much sense for Yao to pass the ball out and hope for a re-post, and often the interior feed didn’t come.  Single coverage wasn’t working for Dampier or the zone, but the added pressure was enough to significantly limit Yao’s attempts in the fourth.

Aaron Brooks wasn’t the killer he was last time out against Dallas, but Kyle Lowry (15 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 6-7 FT) didn’t mind stepping in to assume the role.  Lowry pulled out every trick in the book on J.J. Barea and Jason Terry, and the Mavs simply didn’t have an answer for his penetration.  The double teams left the defense in a constant state of rotation, and as a result the lane was wide open for dribble-drives.  Lowry took full advantage of that, but simply failed to capitalize on that penetration aside from drawing a few fouls.

But where was Josh Howard?  He was virtually invisible in the first half, and though he managed to chip in 15 points on 4-13 shooting, his offensive contributions were nonexistent outside of a third quarter parade to the line.  8 free throw attempts in a quarter is impressive, but where was he otherwise?  I know he faced two hellish defenders in Ron Artest and Shane Battier, but Josh uncharacteristically failed to get off to a high-scoring start.  But this tells you just how important Josh Howard is to this team: he had a sub-par game and didn’t shoot effectively…and yet he keyed an 11-0 third quarter run that essentially kept the Mavs in the game.  He’s going to have bad games, but if his bad games can come with the silver lining of a one-quarter blitz, the Mavs will be pretty tough to stop.  Dirk in the first, Josh in the third, and JET in the fourth: that’s one hell of a relay.  On top of that, Josh came up limping after hitting the floor hard in the fourth quarter.  Even if you didn’t cherish his in-game exploits, you’ve gotta appreciate the fact that he continued to play on that sore ankle and didn’t say one word about it.  Plenty have questioned the head on Howard’s shoulders, but he doesn’t seem mixed up or confused in the slightest: he’s here to play, and he’s here to help the Mavs win.  Josh, you didn’t have a great game, but I’m still tipping my hat to you.

The Rockets’ offense disappeared when their 7’6” center did.  Say what you will, but it’s not an easy task to cloak a guy like that.  He doesn’t quite fit in the closet.  Part of that was the ridiculous number of close-range shots that simply refused to find the net.  Some people call that an inability to finish and others may call it a series of unlucky bounces, but for last night’s game I call it the difference between a win and a loss.  The fourth quarter was, for the most part, a dog fight, and if you factor in the impact of the half dozen rim-outs the Rockets blew within five feet of the basket, you’re looking at an entirely different ballgame.  Maybe the Mavs did just enough to bother a few of those shots, maybe the Rockets shorted them, or maybe the now deceased brother of a Maverick haunts the arena, altering the game in unexplainable ways.  I just don’t know.  What I do know is that those misses were awfully costly.

Dallas has won five of six.  They overcame a 14-point deficit and beat a Western favorite.  The Mavs have confidence and momentum in spades, but it’s up to them to harness that into something tangible against San Antonio.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Brandon Bass, who played the entire fourth quarter and held Yao Ming to just one attempt over an eight minute stint.  He didn’t have the line, but he had all the impact, especially in comparison to Erick Dampier.  Damp’s heart was in the right place, but he racked up the fouls while Yao racked up the points.  Bass used every weapon he had against Yao in the post, the most effective of which were those two massive guns on his arms.  Maybe there were some fouls in there, but when any player is able to limit an elite center the way that Bass did, help defense or not, it deserves some props.

Oh! The Players You’ll Grow!

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 14, 2009 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

In the NBA, depth is, at once, all things and nothing.  It is overrated and understated.  Assumed and glaringly evident.  Precious and nonessential.  It’s a valuable tool in enduring injuries and the rigors of the regular season, but rarely a true advantage in the playoffs.  And yet, it’s difficult to find favorable playoff positioning without solid depth, regardless of the non-impact it plays on the next level.

This season, the Mavs have had their own fun little adventures in bench depth.  In the past, the Mavs were considered one of the league’s deepest teams: they boasted either DeSegana Diop or Erick Dampier, a productive bench scorer in Jerry Stackhouse, assorted veteran defenders in Adrian Griffin and Devean George, a sparkplug in Darrell Armstrong, and versatility in players like Marquis Daniels.  At the start of 2008-2009, they had Jason Terry, a slightly regressed Diop, an injured Stackhouse, undersized forwards, an undersized point guard, and a few aging pieces.  Things only seemed poised to fall from there, with Diop regression from shot-blocking force to interior waste of space.  Stack’s foot got sick and never got better.  And the rest of the bench unit played like they suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of forty.

Diop is long since gone, with Ryan Hollins and Ryan Hollins taking his place.  It was a trade that seemed largely financially motivated, a desperate attempt to save as much as possible by dealing Diop’s now incredibly generous (previously it was just ‘quite generous’) midlevel contract.  But since that time, Ryan Hollins has bolstered a bench rotation that has impressed time and time again, showing demonstrative growth since those early months.  We wondered where the Mavs would find a filler at center without Diop, but Brandon Bass, James Singleton, and Ryan Hollins have fit the bill.  We wondered how J.J. Barea would be able to get by defensively, but his improvement and Jason Kidd’s defensive versatility give the Mavs plenty of options.  We lamented the lack of size and interior scoring, but Bass and Singleton have been relentless rebounders and effort scorers.  Combine those three with Jason Terry, and you essentially have created a bench from nothing.

Barea’s growth in particular has been remarkable.  At the beginning of this season, I wondered whether Barea wouldn’t be better served as a team’s third point guard, a spark plug to fill to role of the now retired Darrell Armstrong.  His shot came and went, he seemed to get blocked frequently, his passing was often careless, and at 6’0” (yeah, right), he was a huge liability defensively.  Virtually all of those weaknesses have been washed away.  Barea isn’t just a sparkplug, but a bundle of energy able to channel his energy into aggressive drives to the rim that produce scores for himself or others.  He’s developed a heightened court sense, more aware than ever of how the defense will respond to his moves and the moves of his teammates.  It seems petty, but things as simple as picking his spots and being in the right place for a spot-up three have been huge differences in his game.  Barea rarely forces the issue anymore, and is a contributing scorer on a regular basis.  He’s not a great defender, but his counterparts perform at an average level (15.6 PER).  He uses his size as an advantage, drawing offensive fouls on a regular basis.  This is a six-foot, undrafted point guard who has taken his role on the team by the throat, earned every minute on the floor, and excelled.  I don’t know if Barea will ever be a starting caliber point guard in the lig, but as a back-up, the guy has been studly.

Brandon Bass has emerged as a quality rebounder, a strong defender, and a dominant scorer for stretches.  His touch from midrange is feathery soft, and his dunks are solid as a rock.  And, like Barea, he’s picking his spots more carefully.  He’s not playing for a spot in the rotation, he’s playing because he helps the team wins.  Maybe having that security is just what Bass needed, but regardless, Bass’ play on both ends is more disciplined and more effective.

If Bass was, in part at least, a known commodity, James Singleton has been this season’s big surprise.  He can’t contribute offensively in just any situation, but his work on the defensive end and on the glass is universally effective.  He’s a big, strong body that can give lots of players trouble, and he plays with an energy that few opponents can match.  He’s 100% effort and a quality look at the 3,4, or 5, which is the kind of defensive versatility the Mavs had no idea they had.

All of this, and the Mavs still have Ryan Hollins and Gerald Green in the oven.

Depth isn’t the be-all and end-all.  But it ain’t nothin’ neither.  When the situation calls for it, a coach needs to be able to rely on his bench to not surrender a lead or the team’s momentum.  I definitely feel that between Terry, Barea, Bass, and Singleton, Carlisle has that.  Would a lack of depth be the Mavs’ vulnerability in the playoffs?  Luckily, we won’t have to find out.

Heard It Through the Grapevine 4-3-09

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 3, 2009 under xOther | 5 Comments to Read

  • Chip Crain of 3 Shades of Blue did the usual position-by-position evaluations of tonight’s Mavs-Grizzlies game.  There weren’t exactly any surprises…until I got to the bench.  Come on, Chip, you’re honestly telling me that a group of Darko, Hamed Haddadi, Greg Buckner, Hakim Warrick, Quinton Ross, and Marko Jaric has an edge over Jason Terry, Brandon Bass, J.J. Barea, James Singleton, and Ryan Hollins?  The Mavs are thin as hell on the bench, but I think this is a tad insulting.  Darko has his moments as an interior defender, Haddadi is going through growing pains, and Warrick is a great energy forward.  But Jason Terry has been incredible, Brandon Bass and J.J. Barea have become more and more comfortable with their roles as the season has gone on, and Singleton and Hollins hold their own in terms of energy big men.  I’d take the Mavs bench, any day.  Or, think about it this way: if both teams traded benches, which team gets better and which team implodes and loses their playoff spot to Phoenix?
  • The Mavs are participants in two of the remaining Mini-Championships.  Considering the Jazz loss last night moved the Mavs within striking distance of the 7 seed, I’d say their head-to-head matchup is going to be kinda big.
  • Mavs fans with any kind of memory would probably never have expected the Dallas Morning News to run an article on alley-oops.  Acquiring Jason Kidd had many of us conjuring images of fast break lobs to Josh Howard and Erick Dampier, but those dreams were quashed as quickly as they came.  Now, the oop has become an interesting surprise of the Mavs’ offense, appearing out of thin air to keep defenses on their toes.  Via Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News, here’s a quote from Ryan Hollins, one of the oopers in question: “Coach has done a great job…He’ll wait for the right moment to call it. We disguise it. We’ll run one action the same way. Jet [Terry] goes over the top, and I set the pick for him. We might run it 10 times the same way. That 11th time, I’m going to set the pick, then roll for the lob. They’re so set on guarding Jet and Dirk, it’s going to be there. It’s an easy bucket if it’s there…If you take that away, then Dirk’s open or Brandon Bass gets an open jumper at the free throw line. He’s not going to miss that shot. It’s just another thing to keep them honest.”
  • A phenomenal interview of Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard by Blazers Edge’s Ben Golliver.  A perfect demonstration of what blogs can offer when given access.  Look out, Donnie and Mark: I might be coming for you next.
  • Frisco wants a D-League team, and I’m all for it, but the plans are being put on hold.  Fingers crossed for you, Frisconians.

Big Yellow Taxi

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 30, 2009 under Commentary | 8 Comments to Read

Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer:

This summer Kidd will become an unrestricted free agent and there’s a good chance that the Cavs will again look into his availability. He has said he wants to remain a Maverick, but Sunday he certainly made it seem like playing alongside James in Cleveland was a viable option. “I could sit and watch from the bench,” Kidd said. “[LeBron] is so talented, he’s going to get guys wide open shots. So we’ll look at free agency and what happens for me next year.” The Cavs are thrilled with point guard Mo Williams, who became an All-Star this year. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for another, especially if Kidd were to accept a more limited role, as he did for Team USA. Though the Cavs have Delonte West and Daniel Gibson who can handle the ball, they don’t have another true point guard on the roster.

Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News:

After Sunday’s loss to James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Kidd said he tries not to think about James calling him and suggesting a reunion next season. The two became friends when they played together for the U.S. Olympic team. “Yeah, that’s a hard call,” Kidd said. “You don’t want to answer the phone. I just have to explore my different options I’m going to have this summer.” Kidd tries not to think about the summer. There’s plenty of season left for the Mavericks. But with the Mavericks playing the Cavaliers, it was inevitable the subject would come up. “I could sit here and watch from the bench,” Kidd said, joking that James plays much the same way he does.

How do two very reputable beat writers cover the exact same event and the exact same quote in such drastically different ways?  Is there really enough subtext in Kidd’s comments to add fuel to everybody’s fire?

Mike Fisher has an eloquent response at DallasBasketball.com:

Eddie’s story doesn’t say that. It says Kidd “laughed” as he was talking of “sitting on the bench” while LeBron starred. But Kidd did not dismiss anything. He did the opposite. He addressed something. And he did so in the wake of a 28-point loss to the very team that is ostensibly planning on courting him. One of the Mavs players visiting Cleveland and leaving the impression that he might want to play there next year? Even if he was just being polite? Now I’m even more tired and more pissed.

I don’t blame him one bit.  That comment is kosher for the routine, casual nature of pre-game questions.  But following one of the Mavs’ worst losses of the season, I’m not sure I want one of the Mavs’ star players laughing at all, much less joking about the possibility of ditching the team in the off-season.

But that’s not the real worry here, is it?

The concern is that just over a year ago, the Mavs’ sent their young starting point guard and two first round picks to New Jersey for a chance to waltz with the venerable Jason Kidd, and there is a realistic chance that they’ll be left with nothing this summer.

From Marc Stein of ESPN.com:

The growing sense in Dallas is that there are only two threats to the Mavericks’ hopes of re-signing Jason Kidd this summer.

Having just turned 36 and facing an unavoidable pay cut from this season’s $21.4 million, Kidd hasn’t dropped a single hint about leaving the team that originally drafted him in 1994, focusing instead on trying to make sure the injury-plagued Mavs reach the postseason, preferably as nothing lower than the West’s No. 7 seed. Dallas certainly needs to keep Kidd after the goods it surrendered to New Jersey in February 2008 to get him — Devin Harris and an unprotected first-round pick in 2010 — but serious interest from either L.A. or Cleveland could be a real threat.

1. Kobe Bryant convincing big-guard-loving Phil Jackson and the Lakers to make a run at his dear friend Kidd with L.A.’s midlevel exception.

2. LeBron James convincing the Cavs to make a run at his dear friend Kidd with their midlevel exception.

…Dallas certainly needs to keep Kidd after the goods it surrendered to New Jersey in February 2008 to get him — Devin Harris and an unprotected first-round pick in 2010 — but serious interest from either L.A. or Cleveland could be a real threat.

Depending on how you prioritize the Mavs’ talent, Kidd could be anywhere from the team’s best player to the third best.  What he does at the point is irreplaceable given the current chips, and finding an acceptable substitute in a timely fashion given the Mavs’ salary cap situation would be nearly impossible.  That’s why, as much as it pains me to say it, the Mavs’ future rests squarely in the hands of Jason Kidd.  If Kidd opts to leave the Mavs this summer, any chance of contention in the near future leaves with him, and the rebuilding plan should go into effect immediately.

Assuming we actually have a rebuilding plan.

It would depress me greatly to see Dirk wearing any uni but Maverick blue, but is it really fair to him to ask him to stick around for a lost cause?  It’s an idea that’s been beat around all season long, but it’s one the Mavericks’ brass may have to confront head-on if Kidd skips town.  The bare bones roster would be significantly crippled, with Jason Terry and Josh Howard as the only other steady producers…if even they could be called that.

The Denver game made one point painfully apparent to me: Jason Terry is no point guard.  His ball-handling under durress is sloppy, and his wayward passes without so much as a hand in his face were inexcusable.  I previously thought that given the Mavs’ system, Terry could man the point alongside a playmaking 2.  Now, I’m not so sure.  His play could be markedly different if he was given a training camp to adjust, but my flirtation with the idea is all but dead.

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg.  Brandon Bass and James Singleton, two of the Mavs’ most important players off the bench, share Kidd’s unrestricted free agent status.  Singleton is coming off his first year with the team, and Bass off his second.  Both were acquired via free agency, so the Mavs don’t possess Bird rights (which would allow them to go over the cap to re-sign) for either player.  Essentially, the team would be left with the mid-level exception and the bi-annual exception to sign Bass, Singleton (assuming he remains in the team’s long-term plans), a replacement point guard (within reason; think Kevin Ollie, Anthony Carter, Marcus Williams, Jason Hart) that pretty much has to be an unrestricted FA (lest their previous team match the offer sheet, as would likely be the case with restricted FAs), as well as Gerald Green and Ryan Hollins.

It’s hard to anticipate how the economy will play a role in all of this.  While the cap handcuffs the Cavs and the Lakers from offering big-money deals to Jason Kidd, the anticipated deals for Brandon Bass are a bit more difficult to anticipate.  On one hand, the economic struggles of many of the league’s owners could limit both the length and total value of any offers that Bass, a good not great power forward, gets.  But on the other hand, Mark Cuban is hardly the only opportunistic owner; it seems reasonable that there will be other front offices looking to take advantage of a seller’s market.  Harm could come even if Bass, Singleton, and Hollins (notably 3/4 of the team’s current center rotation) receive such offers without taking them.  For a team on such a tight budget, even driving up the price on the Mavs through competitive offers could still prove damaging.

Say what you will about Kidd, or about the Mavs’ chances with him as their starting point.  But right now, the team needs to hang on to the few assets that they do have, and Kidd is definitely near the top of that list.  We knew that trading for Kidd would limit the Mavericks’ window, but I never would have anticipated that his impending free agency would turn the entire franchise into a game of Kerplunk, potentially as the final straw that would cost the Mavs all the marbles.  No Kidd means no hope, and no hope means no justification for the contracts of Erick Dampier, Jason Terry, and Josh Howard.  That opens up an entirely new can of worms as to where precisely the Mavs go from there, but that seems like a conversation for the day that we lose everything.

Stock your bomb shelters, kids.  We could be due for the fallout.

Denver Nuggets 103, Dallas Mavericks 101

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 29, 2009 under Recaps | Comments are off for this article

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

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We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
-Martin Luther King Jr.

The game was on the line, and the ball in Dirk’s hands.  He let loose from his home, the elbow, but a shot that Dirk has seen fall thousands of times clanked off the rim in a completely uncharacteristic manner, demonstratively different than the typical soft swish or gentle rim-out.  The Mavs fell just short against a nice Nuggets squad in a game that was very much within their grasp.

Is it weird that I feel little regret other than the casual “Well, gosh darn it!” sentiment?

The two cornerstones of the Mavs’ successes this season were completely off their game.  Dirk had 26 and 11, but had just 7 makes in 23 attempts and missed his last 8 shots in the loss.  Jason Terry, despite hitting a few threes to keep the Mavs in the game, was 6-17 from the field.  Instead, all the theatrics came from the unexpecte heroes: J.J. Barea and Ryan Hollins.  Barea hit big bucket after big bucket, and did a truly admirable job when matched up with the bigger, stronger, better, and All-Starsier Chauncey Billups.  Without Barea’s top-notch performance, the Mavs wouldn’t have even sniffed victory.  Ryan Hollins was everywhere defensively, swatting or contesting every look within five feet of the basket.  9 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 blocks is a wonderful night for a player like Hollins, especially when his defensive influence isn’t fully measured by those numbers.

And then there was that Carmelo guy.  He was absolutely brilliant, and though it may shock you to see that he took 29 shots, it shocked me more to discover he missed 11.  He was that good.  His offensive arsenal was in full view, and to me there is no doubt that this guy can carry a team offensively.  Call him a ‘franchise player,’ a ‘leader,’ or neither, but I’ve seen more than enough.  I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but the Mavs missed Devean George.

It may seem like a strange thing to say when the Nuggets shot 56% from the field, but I was pleased with the Mavs non-Carmelo defense.  They played Chauncey Billups masterfully on the pick-and-roll, cutting off his passing angles and putting immediate pressure on him as he came around the screen.  Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen were left floating in oblivion, unable to capitalize on the Mavs’ double teams.  The zone played a key role for the Mavs once again, and helped push a lineup of mostly non-starters above and beyond the Nugs to tighten up the game down the stretch.  It wasn’t perfect, but it forced Denver’s O to stumble, and rebounding wasn’t a problem.  Nicely done, Mavs.

So much in this game went wrong for the Mavs, but so much went right.  Essentially no player aside from Barea and Hollins played notably well, and yet a Mavs team down two starters fought the Nuggets to the wire.  Denver is hardly unbeatable, but they are a good team with some great players.  Carmelo was nigh unguardable, and yet the game was right there for the taking.  It might say something that the game slipped from their clutches, but I’m willing to overlook a different number in the loss column provided this game means something in terms of the Mavs’ team defense, Ryan Hollins’ maturity as a player, and the team’s ability to cope without significant players in the lineup and the usual stud-dom from others.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: J.J. Barea. 22 points (8-12 FG, 5-7 3FG), 4 assists, 2 steals, 1 block.  Far and away the best thing the Mavs had going for them.

Where Have All the Minutes Gone?

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 24, 2009 under Commentary | 4 Comments to Read

The center position is tricky for the Mavs.  Erick Dampier is effective in spots, but the bench lacks a go-to backup center with size for the situations when Damp isn’t bringing the funk.  As such, Brandon Bass, James Singleton, and Ryan Hollins are left filling in the void at center, the few minutes behind Dirk, and very rarely, at the 3.

All three give the Mavs something unique: Brandon Bass provides scoring and strength, James Singleton provides defense and rebounding, and Ryan Hollins provides size and athleticism.  But while they all have their own individual strengths, each is flawed in a way that prevents them from grabbing a stranglehold on the backup 5.  Rick Carlisle’ had to use some creativity in his rotations to get the most out of this bunch, and he doesn’t seem to have settled on any concrete rotation, even 70 games in.  Take a look at the minutes of each of the four centers on the Mavs roster charted over the course of the season:

Erick Dampier:

Brandon Bass:

James Singleton:

Ryan Hollins (minutes as a Maverick only):

More to come this week on concrete rotation vs. fluid rotation, but what do you guys think of this?  Singleton’s minutes have been especially troubling, considering that he’s done little to merit random DNPs or drops of 15 minutes or more.  Superficially, Bass’ minutes seem to be the most consistent of the bunch, while Hollins’ goes from contributor to benchwarmer by the day.

You are an enigma, Carlisle.  But I will solve you.

Heard It Through the Grapevine 3-24-09

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under xOther | 3 Comments to Read

  • Did you know that Jason Terry is averaging more points per game off the bench than any player in the last 19 years?
  • Eric Celeste of InsideCorner: “About a month ago, I was listening to Carlisle  in a post-game interview and I was struck by how the most banal questions seemed to irritate him. Not because they were boring, but because he construed them as negative. I chalked it up to him being tired or annoyed or whatnot. Then I read Richie Whitt’s column over at Sportatorium where he details another Carlisle incident, this time with official voice of the Mavs (VOTM) Chuck Cooperstein…I think Phil Jackson spends as much time mocking the media as anyone. But the difference is that his mocking, nearly disgusted demeanor doesn’t carry onto the court. It seems to me that Carlisle’s uptight, I’m-smarter-than-the-room attitude is evident on the sidelines. It even smacks of late-era Avery at times, which is quite scary. And if you haven’t proven yourself, I do think the troops are less likely to cut you slack if it appears you can be derailed by a simple question regarding the negatives to be addressed in an ugly win against an inferior team. (Which is what happened with Coop.)…Will Carlisle’s attitude and cockiness become a problem, like it was with Avery?”  I’m gonna take a crack at this one.  Just like Eric mentioned, Phil Jackson is a prime example of coaches who frequently disrespect  the media but still rock at what they do.  Gregg Popovich is yet another example.  Just because you go all wiseguy in front of the cameras or a mic doesn’t seem to be that much of an indicator of coaching success.  There are two important factors that could affect the team’s performance, though: first, if, as Eric notes, that demeanor and attitude carries over to the locker room.  It’s hard to say how Carlisle deals with his team behind closed doors, and those who do know would likely never speak on the record about it.  So all we have there is conjecture.  The second thing is the nature of that attitude.  Avery is the more overt, yelling at his players til they either defend with tenacity or their ears bleed.  Carlisle’s approach, while potentially equally piercing in nature, is infinitely more subtle.  I know it seems obvious, but there really is something to the volume.
  • Happy 36th birthday to Jason Kidd.  I got you some argyle socks.
  • I try to pay Young Master Hollins a compliment by appreciating where his head was, and he goes and makes me look like an idiot by saying this (via Tim MacMahon of the DMN Mavs Blog): “‘Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players in the game, and I think sometimes he has issues trusting his teammates,’ said Hollins, who probably saw a lot of Lakers games while playing college ball at UCLA. ‘Maybe we catch them off guard, kind of get Kobe into playing a little one-on-one or doing a little too much, I think we’ve got a shot at them definitely.’”
  • Most Mavs’ tickets will be reduced in price between $4-$8 next season.

Heard It Through the Grapevine 3-23-09

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 23, 2009 under xOther | 8 Comments to Read

  • Don’t look now, but the Mavs might have to climb even higher than 7th if they want to play the Spurs in the first round; last night the Rockets beat the Spurs to overtake the division lead and the 2 seed in the West.  Right now that means close to nothing, but keep in mind that the Rox could be an unexpected wrench in the works of the Mavs’ playoff positioning.
  • A young, raw player that seems to perfectly understand his role?  Shocker!  From David Moore of the DMN Mavs Blog: “‘I just want to bring energy to the game whether it’s dunking, running the floor or blocking shots,’ Hollins said. ‘That’s my style of play…It’s simple with this team. I just need to play hard, give energy and be a defensive presence. I’m starting to feel a lot more comfortable out there. I’m getting a chemistry with my teammates.’”
  • David Moore of the Dallas Morning News definitely has the Mavs’ piece of the day: “Too often this season the Mavericks pout on defense when shots don’t fall. Shots didn’t fall against the Hawks or Pacers. And there was no pouting. The Mavericks overcame a 17-point deficit in Atlanta and remained competitive deep into the fourth quarter because they fought on defense. The Mavericks rarely win when held to less than 44 percent from the field, yet they beat the Pacers while shooting 42.2 percent because their defense was strong.”
  • More from Moore: “‘If we want to beat anybody in the playoffs, we need a healthy Josh,’ forward Dirk Nowitzki said. ‘There’s no question. We need his slicing, his ability to do something on the weak side…Without him, it’s going to be tough to win.’”

Heard It Through the Grapevine 3-20-09

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 20, 2009 under xOther | 2 Comments to Read

Recap coming a bit later, as soon as I can get around to it on my DVR.

  • Erick Dampier, the great basketball strategist (via Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News): “‘As a veteran team, we have to recognize when we keep missing shots, we’ve got to drive the ball and create something easy or get fouled,’ said center Erick Dampier, who watched the long-range assault from the bench with a sore knee…‘It’s hard for us to get back into games when we keep launching those shots, and they’re not going in and we’re not getting any easy buckets.’”  Damp missed last night’s game, and is considered day-to-day.
  • It couldn’t be working…could it?
  • Jim Reeves of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, showing some optimism: “…didn’t former coach Avery Johnson tell us that it was “a miracle” that last season’s team won that many games? Get ready for Miracle II. Get ready for the Mavs, over these final 14 games, to move up from the No. 8 seed and a first-round playoff matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers to at least seventh, maybe even sixth. Obviously the Mavs, ousted the last two years in the first round by Golden State and then New Orleans, don’t want the Lakers in the first round. But we’ve seen them play with the Spurs, and they could beat either Portland or a Tracy McGrady-less Houston in a first-round matchup. So as infuriating as the Mavs have been, as ragged as they’ve seemed at times in losing to inferior teams, in failing to show up against teams with two or three key players missing, this team might have a surprise or two left for us yet.”
  • Let’s play a little question and answer with our old pal Randy Galloway of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.  Why don’t you start us off, Randy?: “Beyond a cranky basketball knee in his playing days, this guy didn’t have a “disability.” What he had was a powerful addiction. An addiction to cocaine, booze and even McIlhenny Tabasco Sauce, which when used to excess caused Roy to miss games with a bad stomach. Frivolous lawsuits are nothing new in this country, but how can a stone-cold drug addict get a financial settlement 20 years later by hiding behind an otherwise important piece of legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act?”  Because addiction is one of the disabilities protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  You can argue if addiction is a disability all you like (I’m skeptical, myself, and as usual, context means everything), but there definitely seems to be legal precedent.
  • Brett LaGree of Hoopinion: “Now, it wasn’t strictly a case of Dallas* missing open shots. Atlanta did some good things defensively, none more important than frustrating Dirk Nowitzki with physical defense. Certainly, on a different night with a different officiating crew Nowitzki would have attempted more than four free throws. Last night, though, the Hawks figured out that they could bang with Nowitzki before and after he received the ball in the high post, and, to their credit, they took full advantage even gaining the benefit of three points on technical fouls drawn as a direct result of defense on Nowitzki that he and Rick Carlisle found unduly restrictive.

    *It might have strictly been a case of Jason Terry missing open shots.

  • Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com gushes about Ryan Hollins’ night:  “I give you Ryan Hollins, forced into starting (for just the third time in his three-year career) and forced into playing 33 minutes (a career high) because Erick Dampier DNP’ed with a swollen knee. What did the 7-foot jumping jack do right? Pretty much everything, and I’m not exaggerating. He waved for the ball when he was open (and as his confidence grew, he waved for it when he wasn’t). He was an alley-oop/dunkin’ machine, scoring 13 points (yes, another career high). He challenged Atlanta drives and he was highly effective as a roaming perimeter trap defender. When he had five fouls, played smart to remain in the game for one more long stretch of minutes before finally fouling out.”

Dallas Mavericks 122, Phoenix Suns 117

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

Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images.

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“I’M WALKIN’ ON SUNSHINE, WHOA-OH, AND DON’T IT FEEL GOOD? YEAH.”
-Katrina, Katrina and the Waves

Last night was, in the opinion of this humble writer, the most important Mavs win all season.  Bar none.  Yeah.

Yet I’m in a very dark place knowing that a motivated, rested Blazers team is lurking in the shadows this evening, ready to ruin everything.  But let’s get to that later, eh?

The Mavs and the Suns couldn’t stop each other last night, as evidenced by the Mavs’ 53.4% shooting and the Suns’ 55.2% shooting.  But the Mavs got the big plays when it mattered, weren’t shy about letting Dirk dominate in the second half, and took advantage of nearly every free throw attempt (18-20 as a team from the line).  This was far from a great defensive effort by the Mavs, but as a team they showed more poise and guts down the stretch than we’ve seen from them all season.  Everyone came up big, and the Mavs overcame the absence of Josh Howard to put away a desperate team with its back against the wall.

Dirk was an artist.  He made all of us forget about his 4-13 first half with a monstrous second (he finished with 34 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocks).  He defined high post brilliance with his arsenal of shot fakes and spins, and Matt Barnes was stranded by his coach and his teammates as the Mavs milked the iso for everything it was worth.  If the look was there, he took it.  If the look wasn’t there, he took it. He took everything that Matt Barnes had ever held dear in his life, set it on fire, and swished the J.  There are nights where a player is unstoppable, and there are nights where Dirk is something else entirely.  Those are great nights to be a Mavs fan.

When the double teams finally came, Dirk dished it off to an open Kidd, who hit two consecutive threes to ice the game.  Beautiful.  Kidd was 4-8 from deep and really hit the boards hard, seemingly converting every long rebound into a fast break or a seamless progression into the half-court offense.  Though, it should be mentioned that as good as Kidd was, he struggled defensively…again.  Putting Kidd on Steve Nash was clearly not a desirable option; Jason Terry and J.J. Barea both provided better alternatives.

The Mavs went to the three-guard lineup to start the game (only with Wright instead of Terry), and it paid off.  Devean George has his moments, but in general I prefer Barea’s penetration and mentality, even if he does present his own unique defensive problems and has a tendancy to overdo things.  His effort in Phoenix gave me all the evidence I need, as his early point-per-minute rate eventually culminated in a 16 point night with 4 assists as garnish, and a nice scoop of +14 to top it all off.  Barea agitated Nash on the defensive end by crowding him, and gave the Mavs exactly what they needed against a Suns squad that just couldn’t match their firepower.

Jason Terry was more than back, exemplifying everything that I love so much about his game.  His defense wasn’t always there, but the effort was, and his performance on that end was much easier to swallow when balanced by a 25 point performance on 18 shots with just 1 turnover.  He shot just 3-10 from three-point range, but he seemed damn near unguardable for a good portion of the game, and he’s gaining confidence with that injured left hand by the minute.

The Suns couldn’t guard Dirk, they couldn’t guard JET, and they couldn’t guard…Brandon Bass.  Bass was active and involved in the offense, hitting his face-up looks and playing the offensive glass.  If and when Bass develops a true back-to-the-basket game that doesn’t involve only taking jump shots, I will jump for joy and possibly buy a Bass jersey.  In the meantime, I’ll still be really excited, hope the Mavs resign him in the offseason, and maybe still buy that jersey.

Ryan Hollins gave the Mavs an unexpected shot in the arm when Erick Dampier picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter.  I expected James Singleton or Brandon Bass to try their hand at guarding Shaq, but Carlisle thought differently.  Good thing, too, because the Mavs turned in a +18 performance with Hollins sprinting like a seven-foot gazelle with rocket boots down the middle of the floor, keeping the defense focused on the paint and even scoring six of his own.  His defense on Shaq was far from perfect (by my count, Shaq scored six on him on rudimentary post seal moves), but he was active in denying O’Neal the ball on a night where no one else could stop him (Shaq finished 9-10, but 10 is the important number there) and made the Suns pay for not being able to keep up with him.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is why Ryan Hollins can be an asset for the Mavs.  He’s not as strong as Erick Dampier nor as disciplined defensively, but he gives the team a completely different dimension that they’ve never had before.  Scoff at it all you like, but that’s something.

Closing thoughts:

  • The Suns were basically cheated out of a possession after a Maverick bucket, when the Phoenix timekeepers reset the shot clock to just 15 seconds rather than 24.  Very odd.
  • In the second quarter, Dirk attempted the world’s ugliest running hook shot.  I appreciate the effort, big guy, but when you talked about how that shot is different in practices than in games, you weren’t kidding.
  • Congrats to Shaq, who climbed to 6th on the career scoring list with a bizarre double-clutch layup on a Dampier foul.
  • The Suns broadcast team made a note that Lou Amundson is the Phoenix equivalent of James Singleton.  Thoughts?

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night should go to Dirk, who was all kinds of spectacular.  But since he gets it pretty much every other game, I’m going to show some love to Ryan Hollins instead.  Hollins keyed a stretch in the third quarter that included a 9-0 run and a 6-0 run to give Dallas the lead for good.  The way he not only minimalized the loss of Erick Dampier due to foul trouble but actually capitalized was surprising in the best possible way.  6 points and 4 rebounds doesn’t exactly grab you, but this guy changed the fricking game.  Mad props, yo.