You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
The strategic turn of the game came when the Mavericks — who had been torched by Houston’s perimeter shooting since the early stages of the first quarter — began switching on every pick and roll. The Rockets immediately looked to exploit that fact by involving Brandan Wright (four points, five rebounds) in mandatory switches and then looking to exploit him off the bounce, but Wright did a fantastic job of getting down into a defensive stance and rebuffing dribble penetration. Similarly, Jason Kidd (12 points, 4-7 3FG, eight assists, one turnover) was as brilliant in denying the post as can be expected; Kidd’s ability to handle defensive switches was a huge reason why Dallas was so effective in the Finals, and he was similarly crafty in his fronting of Patrick Patterson and Luis Scola in the fourth. Houston warily tried to attack what they initially perceived as created mismatches, only to fall back into a less aggressive offense and let Dallas switch without penalty. (Additionally: Kidd may have began the game with some defensive lapses, but by the end he was in full-on throwback mode. His effort was pristine and the results spoke for themselves. Even with the postseason right around the corner, it would be hard to ask for anything more from Kidd.)
That said, Dallas’ defensive adjustment came a bit late, or at least their early defensive failures made it so. There were simply far too many conceded jumpers throughout the first three quarters, and unlike Monday’s game against the Jazz, there was no strategic reason to collapse into the middle and leave the perimeter exposed. Goran Dragic (20 points, 8-12 FG, 10 assists, six turnovers) and company initially played the screen game as aggressively as is their wont, and until Rick Carlisle toggled the Mavs into a switch-heavy set, Dallas seemed hopeless against Houston’s outside shooters. The Mavs had still managed to force a good number of turnovers with a swarming interior defense and shading of the passing lanes, but the paint needs to be defended without such a complete disregard for what lies beyond the arc.
Jason Terry’s (19 points, 6-11 FG, 3-6 3FG, three assists, four rebounds, three turnovers) annual rut is apparently well behind him; JET nearly topped 20 points for the third consecutive game, and legitimately altered the course of the contest with his on-court gravity. Even as Dallas’ third-leading scorer, Terry was something of a motivational center. He went on a self-propelled 10-0 run. He attempted to put some early punctuation on the game with an attempted slam. He scored and created and provided all the extracurriculars, as Dallas rallied behind his effort and enthusiasm. It’s not hard to find games in which the Mavericks move one way and Terry moves another, but this contest was marked by their perfect symbiosis.
The Mavs weren’t expected to make much commotion during this year’s abridged free agency, but they’ve already made one move in anticipation of another. The Knicks’ acquisition of Tyson Chandler — originally designed to be an outright free agent signing — has officially been processed as a three-team, sign-and-trade endeavor, scoring Dallas an $11 million trade exception, a protected second round pick (via Washington), and the imminently waivable Andy Rautins. According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, the Mavs are already working to use that traded player exception to acquire Samuel Dalembert on a one-year deal via sign-and-trade with Sacramento.
It’s a lot of hustle and bustle (especially when coupled with Dallas’ signing of Brandan Wright, and likely acquisition on Vince Carter) for a team largely anticipated to stand pat, but it’s worth waiting for the smoke to clear before we take full stock in Dallas’ off-season haul. Trade exceptions, by nature, are transitory tools; they’re only worth what a team is able to gain with them, and we’ll have a better grasp of the yield from the Chandler sign-and-trade as soon as Dalembert makes his decision. The Mavs are hardly the only team pursuing him; Stein also noted that Houston was interested in acquiring Dalembert if the Rockets’ other options fell through, meaning the Mavs’ next play could lean on the reconstruction and upcoming review of the Chris Paul blockbuster.
Jamal Mashburn owns 34 Outback Steakhouses and 37 Papa John’s locations. He also might want to buy the Detroit Pistons, and thinks Michael Jordan’s flu game was mostly hype. Just a Chatty Cathy, that Mash.
Bobby Simmons, once a candidate to join the Mavs’ training camp before being bypassed in favor of Steve Novak and Brian Cardinal, is in camp with the Spurs.
John Hollinger (Insider) forecasts the Mavs’ coming season, which he predicts will bring 48 wins and the 5th seed in the West. Honestly, the relative ranking isn’t a bad as it sounds. The West’s second tier is no cakewalk, and to make matters worse, Hollinger’s qualms (reliance on victories in close games, roster shortcomings, slight drop-off due to age, player utilization, etc.) are legitimate.
Tuesday was the first day of training camp, and all foundational, non-contact work. Apparently — and this is news to me — teams are not allowed to hold more than one contact practice per day. Just some food for thought as the Mavs continue to conduct two-a-days through camp.
Jason Kidd, on Dirk dropping five pounds in the off-season to make it “easier on [his] body, easier on his joints,” (via Mike Fisher): “I think he’s tired of people telling him he’s a ‘power forward.’ I think he wants to get down to 220 so he can be a 2-guard.’’
Dee Brown, Mavs camper (via his Twitter account): “Man I see why J.Kidd has had an hall of fame career amazing player much respect big homie!”
And a few older bullets from an edition of the Grapevine that accidentally went unpublished:
Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News, with the off-handed downside of Alexis Ajinca’s upside: “The Mavericks have been intrigued by the way Ajinca has worked out the past month or so. Coach Rick Carlislehas watched some of the workouts and especially likes the fact that Ajinca is closer to 7-1.”
The three players most commonly linked to the Mavs are all wings: Kevin Martin, Andre Iguodala, and Caron Butler. The Mavs’ interest is said to flow in that order, meaning that acquiring Butler may very well be a back-up plan. It’s definitely an option, but hardly the option.
As my ESPN.com colleague Chad Ford wrote Thursday, Washington’s preference is moving Butler ahead of team statesman Antawn Jamison, who has been chased hard by Cleveland since last season and with particular vigor since the Cavs lost out to Charlotte in the trade race to acquire Stephen Jackson.
On the surface, a Jamison-to-Cleveland trade would seem somewhat irrelevant to the Mavs; a team in the opposite conference would get stronger by preying off of another team in the opposite conference, with none of the Mavs’ rumored targets directly compromised. But consider this: Cleveland is supposedly aggressively pursuing Antawn Jamison via trade, while the Mavs supposedly have something of a Josh Howard-Caron Butler swap on the back-burner. Though Washington may prefer to move Butler, they may not be in a position to move both Butler and Jamison. Trading away all of the talent opens up quite the can of worms, and the Wiz will have a rough go of it drawing season ticket holders and free agents alike if there are no ballers of note left in D.C. by summer.
If Jamison is indeed item 1-A on the Cavs’ agenda, it could put the Mavs in a tough spot: either Dallas strives for a possibly more attainable target in Butler (remember, Sacramento is still unwilling to move Kevin Martin and Andre Iguodala likely has Samuel Dalembert tied to his ankle as a salary anchor), or could miss out entirely if the Mavs’ other plans fall through and Cleveland scores Jamison. It’s a bit premature for the Mavs to jump on a deal for Butler, but there’s definite reason for the decision-makers in Dallas to have their ear to the ground for tremors out of Cleveland.
Jason Kidd on his progressions for that game-winning inbounds pass (via Eddie Sefko): “It’s going to be Dirk or Jet on that play…Jet was wide-open and we have a lot of confidence in him doing the right thing and he did…He was plan A, because I saw he was wide open. Dirk was plan B, C and D after that.”
The Oklahoman conducted a poll of active NBA players, asking them which of their peers has the highest basketball IQ. Kobe Bryant, somewhat predictably, received the most votes. But second? Jason Kidd. (via Skeets)
Jeff ‘Skin’ Wade cuts the Mavs a little slack: “Fans, players, especially coaches – nobody likes excuses. But the Mavericks find themselves in the odd position of defending their wins. If you lose a game and talk about the injuries you’re enduring, you get beat up for dropping a lame excuse. But are injuries a good excuse for not winning in a convincing fashion? Case in point – the Mavericks went into the fourth quarter against the 76ers up 78-72 but were already at an 11-board deficit with 12 minutes to go. So what does Carlisle decide to do for the majority of the fourth quarter? Roll with a three-guard lineup and fall back into a 2-3 zone against a big Philly lineup that amplified the mauling of the Mavs on the glass to the tune of 18-6 in the final frame. Is that the ideal scenario the Mavericks front office and coaching staff envisioned heading into the season? Of course not. But that dream scenario wasn’t available with Josh Howard and Quinton Ross in street clothes, Shawn Marion hobbled with a bum ankle that stiffens up on him, Tim Thomas several hours removed from a trip to the chiropractor and Erick Dampier available for limited minutes on his first night back after missing the past two weeks. So the Mavs went small – very small – and survived.”
Another look at Samuel Dalembert’s possible last-second slip-up.
This tweet from Brandon Jennings has been sitting, tabbed away in my browser for awhile now, waiting for a Grapevine as an excuse to share it: “the best PG i played against so far is Jkidd. like the dude is still good. dude just runs the team.”
“Winning isn’t always finishing first. Sometimes winning is just finishing.”
It’s easy to start with what went wrong against the Sixers, but one thing certainly went right: with the game on the line, the Mavs got the ball into the hands of a proven killer, put him in his comfort zone on the floor, and just watched as a relentless 76ers comeback was wiped away by a gentle splash of the net. Yet again, the Mavs were in a position to demoralize their opponents, the plucky, hard-working, but outclassed Philadelphia 76ers. And yet again, they capitalized.
The fact that Jason Terry was able to create his first clutch imprint of the season is icing on the cake. A shot like that (combined with JET’s clutch pedigree) establishes and diversifies the Mavs’ options in close games, which can only be a good thing.
Also: if you’re Willie Green, do you find solace in the fact that you blanked Jason Terry to the best of your ability and contested the shot well? Or do you find depression in the realization that it wasn’t good enough?
Based on the execution in the first half, it shouldn’t have ever come down to JET. The Mavs played a half of completely balanced basketball, holding the Sixers to 33% shooting while shooting 50% themselves, keeping pace in the rebounding battle, and maintaining the edge in the turnover margin. Provided they kept playing solid basketball, the Mavs had provided themselves enough of a cushion to coast to an easy victory.
Jason Kidd (22 points, 11 assists, six rebounds, four steals, three blocks, 5 for 8 from 3-point land) was reason #1 why everything was rosy at halftime. Kidd brought the heat early and often, connecting on three of his four 3-point attempts in the first en route to a 13-point, 4-assist first quarter. If leaving Kidd open on the perimeter was a strategic decision on the part of Eddie Jordan, it came back to haunt him. That quarter (and this game) was Kidd’s most prolific scoring display of the season, and the early momentum gained from his sudden outburst was a huge factor in determining how the first half would play out. As Philly adjusted to the threat of Kidd’s offense, the passing lanes opened up for the Mavs. Dallas registered 18 assists in the first half, compared to Philadelphia’s seven.
But Terry’s soul-draining shot may have been the only thing to go according to plan in the second half. Not only did the Sixers crank up their attack in the second half, but they toed a line between assertiveness and control. On offense, Philadelphia found a rhythm, but their moves were deliberate and controlled. Every offensive sequence didn’t unfold smoothly, but the Sixers, a relatively limited offensive team, never quite seemed out of sorts in the second half. I’m not sure if their gusto was due to a rousing locker room speech or if they simply picked up on the Mavs’ vulnerability, but their performance was pretty inspired.
Effort definitely played a role, and the Sixers exposed the Mavs on the boards. For the second game in a row, the Mavs struggled to rebound, and the 60-37 rebounding deficit was every bit as bad as it sounds. Dallas managed just 12 rebounds in the entire second half, which is an unacceptable number against any opponent, much less a poor rebounding team like the Sixers. Philadelphia ranks 24th in the league in rebound rate (“the percentage of missed shots that a team rebounds”), and yet the Sixer bigs dominated Dallas on the glass. Samuel Dalembert (19 rebounds), Thaddeus Young (7), Elton Brand (10), and Jason Smith (7) combined for 43 rebounds. Erick Dampier (1), Dirk Nowitzki (6), Drew Gooden (10), and James Singleton (1) combined for just 18. It’s tough to wrap your head around, and though Damp played limited minutes in his return, it doesn’t excuse the Mavs’ overall effort in terms of rebounding.
Last night’s game was conclusive evidence of the fact that when you outwork your opponent, good things are bound to happen. That is, unless you’re a results-oriented win-loss type of guy, in which the moral of the story is that regardless of how hard you work or how much you probably deserve to win, Jason Terry will stomp repeatedly on all of your hard work. Then he’ll go home and sleep like a baby.
As mentioned above, Erick Dampier made his return to the lineup last night. His mysterious illness is still, well, a mystery. Although his box score production was rather empty (three points, just one rebound, and one turnover), I liked what I saw from the Maverick defense with Dampier on the floor. It’s not like the Sixers have Monta Ellis, but the rim is better protected with Dampier in the game. Period.
J.J. Barea had a hell of a game. His 11-point 6-assist night is no doubt dwarfed by Kidd’s performance, but the playmaking and outside shooting of Barea were crucial in balancing the Maverick attack. J.J.’s night turned the three guard lineup into a productive bunch once again, as the trio of Kidd-Barea-Terry were responsible for all but one bucket during a 14-3 run in the second quarter.
Shawn Marion was moving with an obvious limp by the end of the game. That didn’t stop him from playing good defense on Andre Iguodala, but it’s something to keep in mind. Marion put together an unremarkable (14 points, 5 rebounds) but efficient (6-10 FG) offensive night, but in a game where every bucket counts, his contributions were much appreciated.
Kris Humphries (DNP-CD), Tim Thomas (DNP-CD), Quinton Ross (back), and Josh Howard (ankle) didn’t play for the Mavs. Although the latter is a foregone conclusion at this point, it’s unclear why Hump and Tim didn’t play. James Singleton was the primary beneficiary of the shift in the rotation. Singleton has averaged 15.7 minutes per game over the last three contests, up from just 4.4 minutes in the 15 games prior.
Iguodala got a pretty decent look to tie/win the game after Terry’s dagger…but it might have been intercepted by Samuel Dalembert. Dalembert clearly thought the shot was short, but from every angle of the shot I’ve seen (a whopping one), it looks like Iggy’s jumper had at least a chance of falling. So pat on the back for the big fella, and I hope he got a rebound (or a steal?) for that grab.
I got through this entire recap without really giving Dirk Nowitzki (28 points, 11-26 FG, zero turnovers) his due for another big scoring night. Dirk’s excellence is just assumed at this point, which is a testament to exactly how good he’s been this season.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to, without question, Jason Kidd. Terry’s shot was huge, but Kidd’s outstanding first quarter deserves an accolade, even if it’s only a sticker. Efficient scoring and solid defense went hand-in-hand for Kidd in the first, and the results for Kidd and the Mavs were simply brilliant. Kidd’s night was beyond vintage; Jason combined his usual court vision and D with uncanny accuracy as a spot-up shooter. It was quite a night for the future Hall-of-Famer, even in the context of his long and illustrious career.