Thermodynamics (n.) – the science concerned with the relations between heat and mechanical energy
If you’re anything like me, this week for the Mavs didn’t “feel” very good. They got rocked by the Thunder (a team they have consistently played very close in years past, even when the Thunder are much more talented), which left a dark underscore on an otherwise successful week. And objectively speaking, it was a successful week: when you’re the 2012-2013 Mavs and you’re several games below .500, a 2-1 week is success. Relatively speaking, anyway.
1) Shawn Marion
Since Dirk Nowitzki returned to the lineup, people have suggested that it’s very difficult for him, less than two years removed from an NBA title, to suddenly be surrounded by this current cast of Mavericks. That’s probably true. But if that’s true of Dirk, it’s also undoubtedly true of Shawn Marion, the other remaining rotation player from the Mavs’ 2011 title team. If Marion is carrying that disappointment, though, he’s not showing it on the court. Every night, the man affectionately known as The Matrix is playing his tail off for the blue and white, and his numbers this week show it. He started the week by dropping a double-double in his former stomping grounds in Phoenix (12 points, 11 rebounds); in Oklahoma City, he contributed 23 points on 10-of-14 (71%) shooting and also blocked two shots; finally, against Portland last night, he notched yet another double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds), his 11th of the season. And of course, all those stats accompany Marion’s usual, well-above-average individual defense. Glasses up to the Matrix — a true pro’s pro.
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
Before we all get too riled up about last night’s events, let’s go over one thing, first: the Lakers played pretty poor defense. Good on the Mavs to capitalize, but the story of last night wasn’t Dallas overcoming a titan, but claiming victory over a powerhouse that was a bit off their game. The Mavs deserve credit for their defense in the third quarter, but it’s best not to get carried away with praise for their overall defensive execution, either. Both teams shot and scored well, and the Mavs shot and scored more. A valiant and much-needed win, but no one should be giddy over allowing 120.3 points per 100 possessions. Dallas won against an excellent team, and that’s fantastic. But the defense needs to be better.
And it will be. As Dirk Nowitzki continues to work himself back into game shape and be more and more comfortable on that wobbly knee, his defense will improve. When Tyson Chandler is playing a full game with a clean bill of health (he battled flu-like symptoms last night, and sat out for a portion of the second quarter), the back-line rotations will be crisper. When the team (sans Caron) is back into a rhythm, the elite defense will resurface. These are the kinds of lulls that happen to every team in the regular season, only the Mavs’ recent injuries have acted as a catalyst for their defensive troubles.
Jasons Kidd and Terry combined for 43 points (on 17-of-27 shooting, and 9-of-14 from three, no less) and 17 assists (with just one turnover). L.A. seemed content to leave Kidd open from three, and for the first time in a millennium, he drained his open looks. Terry was more forceful; he curled away from Derek Fisher, sprung for threes in transition, and triggered his trademarked pull-up game. Sustainability always comes to mind when anyone but Dirk springs for a huge scoring night, and this is hardly the kind of production to which Mavs fans should grow accustomed. That said, it was exceptionally well-timed and hopefully acts as a precursor to a progression toward the mean for Kidd and Terry both.
Rick Carlisle elected to have Shawn Marion reprise his role coming off the bench, which left an opening in the starting lineup on the wing. He had tried Terry in that slot in the past, with mixed results. J.J. Barea isn’t an option because he needs to run the point for the second unit. Dominique Jones should be in the running, but Carlisle apparently wasn’t too pleased with his play in the wake of Caron Butler’s injury, and has relegated him to mop-up duty. So naturally, the newest Maverick — Sasha Pavlovic, on the last day of his 10-day contract — was thrown into the starting lineup. Crazier, still: it worked. Pavlovic looks good. He defends well, and last night he mad five of his seven shots from the field to finish with 11 points. He doesn’t have any explosive potential, but Pavlovic is a steady, low-usage vet that the Mavs would be wise to keep around.
As heavily as Carlisle has leaned on Alexis Ajinca and Ian Mahinmi this season, he clearly isn’t ready to give either burn against such a productive front line. DNP-CDs for both of the bench bigs.
Though, as I mentioned before, I think the Mavs deserve credit for their third-quarter run, the substantial turnaround wouldn’t have been possible without Shannon Brown (two points, 1-4 FG, one turnover) and Luke Walton (zero points, 0-5 FG, one turnover). Both players kept the ball away from more capable scorers, and took shots that the Dallas defense was more than willing to give them.
Shawn Marion (22 points, 10-13 FG, four rebounds) played a fantastic game, but he was more reliant on the Lakers’ lax defense than anyone. Marion exploited the Lakers’ interior D with cuts and post-ups off of switches, and while he should still be able to do the same on most nights against typical opponents, a finely tuned defense can take away those looks far more easily than Terry’s pull-up game or Kidd’s three-pointers. Marion’s presence is still important; defense will be forced to account for him when he dives into the lane or sets up on the block against a smaller opponent. This kind of box score production isn’t Marion’s regular, but his intangible impact can be just as profound on a nightly basis.
A bit of an oddity: both teams shot so well from the field (62.5 eFG% and 58 eFG% for the Mavs and Lakers respectively) that neither got to the line all that much. Contrary to popular belief, L.A. doesn’t attempt a lion’s share off free throws (they’re a below average team in free throw rate). Still, they get the free throw line about three times as often as they did last night. Defense, officiating, whatever the cause — a bit strange.
Kidd, Pavlovic, and DeShawn Stevenson (as well as Jason Terry on some zone possessions) all did an admirable job on Kobe Bryant, but it doesn’t matter. He shoots over you, he drives around you, and he finds his teammates. Then he finishes the night with 21 points on 18 shots along with 10 assists, and probably has nightmares about those eight shots he missed and his few giveaways. You don’t need me to tell you, but the man is damn good at what he does.
“They’re certainly not the protagonists.”
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.
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.
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
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.
The Mavs don’t have a very good track record when it comes to finding value late in the draft, though selecting Josh Howard with the final pick in the first round back in 2003. But the stakes have never been higher, with the Mavs’ few young assets weighing their options in free agency and the Mavs’ 2010 pick in the hands of the New Jersey Nets. This one counts big time, and it’s up to the management and the scouting team to find the diamond in the rough.
It’s tough, but hardly impossible. Quality players pass right under the noses of many a team year after year, leaving latent value late in the draft. The Mavs pick at 22, which is just a shade closer to the lottery than to the Mavs’ customary position at the draft’s tail.
Here are the picks at 22 this decade:
2008 – Courtney Lee
2007 – Jared Dudley
2006 – Marcus Williams
2005 – Jarrett Jack
2004 – Viktor Khryapa
2003 – Zoran Planinic
2002 – Casey Jacobsen
2001 – Jeryl Sasser
2000 – Donnell Harvey
Three of those players (Courtney Lee, Jared Dudley, Jarrett Jack) have shown rotation player chops. Lee is the most notable as the starting 2 guard of an impressive Orlando team just one win away from the Finals. In fact, if the Mavs could magically re-draft Lee this year, they’d be in pretty good shape.
Just for fun, here are picks in the late first round (20+) :
Courtney Lee (22)
Nicolas Batum (25)
Wilson Chandler (23)
Rudy Fernandez (24)
Aaron Brooks (26)
Renaldo Balkman (20)
Rajon Rondo (21)
Kyle Lowry (23)
Shannon Brown (25)
Jordan Farmar (26)
Jarrett Jack (20)
Nate Robinson (21)
Francisco Garcia (23)
Jason Maxiell (26)
Linas Kleiza (27)
David Lee (30)
Jameer Nelson (20)
Delonte West (24)
Kevin Martin (26)
Boris Diaw (21)
Travis Outlaw (23)
Kendrick Perkins (27)
Leandro Barbosa (28)
Josh Howard (29)
Tayshaun Prince (23)
Nenad Krstic (24)
John Salmons (26)
It’s certainly worth noting that even the 2005 draft, predicted to be a weak draft class among pundits and largely looked at as a failure in comparison to its contemporaries, still produced productive players late in the first round. Blake Griffin is no Tim Duncan and the consolation prizes may have their flaws, but that doesn’t mean true commodities can’t be found late in the first.
Next week I’ll start examining potential picks for the Mavs, starting with those rumored and confirmed to have scheduled workouts with the team. Some of those players seem poised for success on the pro level, and others may not even be top competitors in the D-League. As fans, we can only hope that MGMT not only makes the right decision in assessing the talent of a potential pick, but also in picking talented players to fill holes in the Mavs’ rotation.