Maybe the Mavs are no longer true contenders, but for the first time in a long while, they’re themselves. With Avery and with the meltdowns went the Mavs’ identity as mini-Spurs, and the Mavericks were finally forced to decide who they really are. Bethlehem Shoals explains:
…But with the series headed back to Dallas, tied 1-1, the Mavs should be feeling pretty darn good about themselves right about now. Not because they stole one from San Antonio on the road, thus giving them some mathematically encouraging chance of advancing. No, the Mavericks should be relieved that they’re back where they belong in the order of the universe: feisty, possibly crazy, underdogs staring down their own imminent death. With that one win, the Mavs went from failed empire to lovable insurgents. Just like things used to be.
That trip to the Finals, the upset at the hands of Nellie and his banshee Warriors, last season’s unceremonious loss to a Hornets team they were expected to unmask … all this was a bad dream, an attempt to be something this franchise never could be. Think about the wild ride that preceded it: A tech zillionaire purchases one of the most benighted franchises in all of pro sports. He enlists the services of the most certifiably weird head coach the league has ever seen. And then, together with a giant jump-shooting German, an alt-rock Canadian point guard, a stoic swingman left over from the Perot years, and anyone else the owner felt like throwing money at, they set out to conquer the league. They had some epic shoot-outs with the Kings, another arriviste squad with some weird ideas about style. Cuban continued to be, depending on how you saw it, the most entertaining or the most meddlesome owner this side of Jerry Jones. It was like Three J’s never happened.
“Y’all just mad. Because today, you suckers got served.”
-David, You Got Served
They most certainly did.
It’s a refreshing feeling to be on this end of a savage beatdown. I don’t have to explain away an embarassment, or throw a breakdown under the microscope. I think I like it.
The Mavs could have allowed the Suns to create a bit too much significance out of the final five games of the season. Hell, they could have at least let Phoenix make a game out this singular contest, dubbed by Grant Hill as the team’s ‘World Cup.’ But for whatever reason, the Mavs weren’t in a generous mood. They stabbed the Suns right in the heart, twisted it, and twisted it some more. This wasn’t a demonstration of killer instinct, but rather, a will to annihilate. It wasn’t just a destruction of the Suns’ playoff chances, it was a complete eradication of hope and confidence. Behold, ladies and gentlemen, the puddle of disappointment that lays where the mighty Suns once stood. The Mavs didn’t start Phoenix’s downfall, but they have likely dealt the finishing blow and inked the death certificate.
The Mavs’ weapon of choice in the duel between man and turnstyle was the three-pointer. The Mavs shot a ridiculous 15-25 from three (compared to the Suns’ 6-21). It was a product of a hotter-than-hot shooting night from three, but also spectacular shot selection and a complete failure on the Suns’ part to put a hand in anybody’s face. Dallas wasn’t particularly great in their contests defensively, but Phoenix certainly helped their cause with an off-night (the Suns’ starters shot a combined 1-8 from deep). This isn’t exactly the type of scoring output we can expect night-in and night-out from the Mavs. They just don’t have that kind of shooting consistency from beyond the arc. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it, and giggle with delight whenever a Maverick moneyball rips through the net.
One of the reasons why the Mavs suddenly displayed unbelieveable shooting efficiency was Jason Kidd, who had already notched 16 assists by halftime. Kidd’s court sense was uncanny; he was finding shooters all over the court and opening things up for easy baskets inside. On top of that, this game was perhaps the first on the season that Kidd’s post-up game was completely dominant. Steve Nash and Leandro Barbosa didn’t stand a chance against Kidd backing them down in the lane, and on four straight offensive possesssions in the first quarter, Kidd created ten points (two buckets of his own, two threes on dishes to Terry in the corner). The Suns’ inability to counter Kidd’s work in the post caused them to shift to a zone, which cleared the skies for the long-range attack. Kidd was brilliant, and his offensive significance in this game cannot be understated. 19 points (6-8 FG), 20 assists, just 2 turnovers, +29 overall. Cue applause.
Shaquille O’Neal is supposed to be the Suns’ safety net. When the shots stop falling, Shaq is supposed to allow them to pound it inside and carry the load on his back. That he was not on Sunday. 14 points (6-9 FG) and 7 rebounds isn’t a bad night by any means, but it was certainly a forgettable one that was miserably timed. Erick Dampier, Ryan Hollins, and Brandon Bass fought valiantly in the paint, both to secure position and deny Shaq shots altogether. Shaq could have been a huge thorn in the Mavs’ side, and could have severely damaged the Mavs’ lead. Instead, Dallas ran him off the floor, made him a defensive liability, and limited his offensive impact. Allowing 116 points rarely seems like defensive success, but the Mavs’ ability to make Shaq a non-factor is definitely a self-standing victory.
Dirk was creeping around, quietly dealing body blows to the Suns all game long to the tune of 28 points (on 10 of 12 shooting!) in just 29 minutes. His midrange work was impeccable as always, but he had great movement off the ball as well, and finished well around the basket. Offensive games don’t get much better from Dirk, and yet most of the viewing audience was none the wiser.
It’s worth noting that J.J. Barea got the start over Antoine Wright at shooting guard, and did not disappoint. Having another ball handler on the floor during the game’s crucial early stretches (a hot start against the Suns can do wonders for a team’s confidence going into the final three quarters) helped tremendously, and J.J.’s aggressiveness offensively was incredibly valuable. Barea’s partner in crime, Brandon Bass,was tremendous. He had 18 points, 4 rebounds, and was +29 on a night where most of his minutes came lined up against Shaq. He was trying to tear down the rim as usual, and Shaq looked lost as Bass whizzed by him and slammed down alley-oops behind him.
Honestly, I could go down the roster and single out almost every Maverick for praise. Josh Howard had another nice offensive night, with 24 points and 4 rebounds, but was equally instrumental defensively. Jason Terry seemed automatic on his way to 18 points, including 4-6 on 3FG. James Singleton, Ryan Hollins, Antoine Wright, and Erick Dampier all gave tremendous effort and impacted the game in their usual ways, only with exaggerated results. From top to bottom, the Suns got creamed.
Sometimes it’s easier to just go by the numbers:
81 points in one half of basketball. 140 points total.
Lowest quarter output: a measly 26.
82 points scored on 34 team assists, and 48 points off of Kidd’s 20 assists.
Sunday was a good day. Playoffs, here we come.
Oh, and this:
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to, surprise, surprise, Jason Kidd. He put on his shorts one leg at a time, and then dominated everyone who guarded him, spearheaded the Mavs’ offense, put up epic numbers, and overtook Magic for the 3rd spot among all-time assist leaders. Well done, sir.
The Dallas Mavericks visit the Phoenix Suns
Something is wrong with Steve Nash.
Terry Porter’s system, Shaq’s presence, and D’Antoni’s departure all weighed on him, to no one’s surprise. But it’s time that we all face the grim reality that this is not the same Nash we’ve seen the previous four seasons in Phoenix, or in the previous four seasons in Dallas.
But let’s go back for a minute. One of the critical things to understand about Nash’s departure was that it was more of a perfect signing for Phoenix and less of a huge mistake for Dallas. The Mavs made their offer, a reasonable one, and Nash chose the extra contract year and extra money over a chance to continue to build upon the foundation with the Mavs and play with his pal Dirk. “It’s a business,” I’ll have you know. Nash was a cricial part of the Mavs’ success up until that point, but there was still enough talent on the team to move forward without him, and enough cap space to hedge his loss. Think about Phoenix, though. Nash was perfect champion of D’Antoni’s offense, and no other point guard in the league would even compare as a substitute. Think of the point guards of 2004-2005; was there any point guard in the league (aside from, ironically, Jason Kidd) who could have even approached what Nash did for the Suns that year? And even if the Suns had somehow landed Kidd, the Phoenix cast-off, wouldn’t his inability to score have crippled him in a way that Nash never was? Nash wasn’t just a great acquisition for the Suns, he was the perfect acquisition for the Suns. That’s why I’m sure it’s devastating for Suns fans to witness what Nash is becoming.
Nash’s deciline has been subtle, especially in contrast with the doomsday scenario that prevented Mark Cuban from re-signing Nash that summer (I hear it involved Nash’s back bursting into flame). He was already an underwhelming defender, but is rapidly approaching the worst defensive points in the league. Of course it’s not an issue of effort for a player of Nash’s caliber and work ethic, but the odds just aren’t in his favor against opposition that is routinely faster and stronger than him. His defensive fall-off hasn’t bothered me, probably because I never expected him to excel on that end. Where Nash has suddenly become mortal, however, is on the offensive end, where he once made his living as a wizard. No more are those nifty runners or fadeaways, which seem to find more rim every time I watch the Suns. The half step that Nash has lost with age has been a silent enemy of his game, denying him the space he needs to fully utilize his magic touch. Bounce passes are picked off, he shoots more spot-up shots than ever, and though Phoenix is returning back to their old ways under Alvin Gentry, Nash isn’t coming back.
If you’ve glanced at the box scores of Nash’s recent efforts, you probably think I’m insane. In the last five games, he’s scored over 20 points, shot over 50% (70%+ twice), and averaged 9.4 assists. Same ol’ Steve, and all that. But watch him tonight. He’ll push the ball up and down the floor, but you’ll see him force one too many passes, fail to beat his man off the dribble en route to the basket, and sigh when the break slows and he feeds Shaq time after time. For all the fuss that was made over Nash’s work on the break, some of his most beautiful passes and incredible plays were made in the half-court or on the secondary break, where he would feed a trailer coming down the lane, thread a needle between three sets of limbs, or effortlessly float a fadeaway jumper just over the defender’s outstretched arms. That’s where the Suns have changed, and in turn, where Nash has changed. As long as the Suns continue to run, the numbers will be there to make me look like a moron. But watching the games, Steve Nash has the look of an aging star who has has been broken one too many times, by the Spurs, by the institution, and by the fates themselves.
Nash still has plenty of basketball left, and I’ve seen him smile more in the past half month than in the season’s first three combined. That doesn’t mean that what’s done can be undone, whether the villain is the changes around him or the changes within.
Still stinging a bit from last night, especially because we just gave it away. Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie highlights the key possession of the final minutes: “To me, the key was one final sequence that saw Pierce nail a spinning turnaround jumper at one end, followed by Dirk Nowitzki given the opportunity to hit nearly the same jumper at the top of the key on Dallas’ next possession. Problem was, Dirk didn’t release. He pump-faked, his elbow caught Pierce, and whether or not you agree with the foul, the issue is the shot wasn’t going in. Should have taken the shot. Should have followed Pierce’s lead.Dirk, who the Celtics coveted in the 1998 Draft (they had to settle for the Truth), finished with 37 points, but on a limited team even playing at home, you have to play nearly perfect in order to beat the champs…Not going to rip on Dallas, though. They lost to a better team, even given the better team’s mitigating circumstances.”
Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News on the Mavs potential trade plans: “If the Mavericks do anything between now and the deadline, look for it to be for depth, with an emphasis on ballhandling or shooting. The Mavericks have positioned themselves solidly in the Western Conference and have learned how to play well with each other. Those are qualities that should not be taken lightly, because they’re not always easy to come by.”
I have a tremendous amount of respect for Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus, and that’s probably why I was completely caught off-guard by his choices for the Sixth Man Award. Terry seems automatic in my mind, but Pelton has him at 3rd behind Manu Ginobili and Andrei Kirilenko. Also, Pelton snubs Dirk from the All-NBA teams, but somehow includes Devin Harris, Jameer Nelson, Chris Bosh, and Danny Granger. (Position does play a part, but Pelton lists Kobe Bryant as a forward in order to put Chris Paul, Kobe, and Dwyane Wade on the first team. All three of those players are deserving, but is that reason enough to essentially give Dirk’s spot to the likes of Jameer Nelson?)
Eddie Sefko, with a quote that you would have never heard from Avery Johnson: “‘I told the players they fought their hearts out and really deserved to win,’ coach Rick Carlisle said. ‘I’m going to take the blame for this. When you sit in this chair, there are times you have to be man enough to say you blew it.’” Mike Fisher has a slightly more colorful quote.
This Jason Kidd discussion got me thinking: what would Mavs fans think of a swap of Jason Kidd for Steve Nash? Nash still has plenty of support in Dallas and his sudden deterioration seems more a product of a defeated spirit and incompatible system than a physical breakdown. The salaries make this trade almost impossible, so this slightly lopsided monstrosity was the best I could do. Supposing Phoenix goes into salary-clearing mode, I think they could do worse.
Chad Ford investigates ways to solve the nice little abomination they have going in Phoenix, and among the myriad of solutions he offers is a Kidd-Shaq swap. The idea hinges primarily on Jason Terry being able to play the point and well, and well, that doesn’t seem like much of an option right now.
Tim MacMahon with a friendly reminder that Dirk is clutchy-clutch-clutch. He scored 14 points in overtime, after learning that the team’s second best player would be missing some time.
Mavs Moneyball has the postgame transcripts from the Bulls game. Praise for Kidd, lament for Terry, awe at Dirk’s finish, and high hopes for Barea.
Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News sums up the Maverick tendencies nicely prior to the win in Chicago: “As many steps as they take upward, they never seem to go anywhere. They can attribute it directly to their desire defensively, or lack of it.”
Steve Nash reminisces a bit about life with Dirk, some what ifs, and of course some relatively less imporant blurbs on the Suns, getting older, and the like. On second-guessing his departure fromDallas, from Marc Stein’s Weekend Dime: “I think it would have been great. I know it would have been great, but how much time can you spend looking back? We’ve already played two-thirds of the time [apart] that we played together.”
It’s a sign of the times…or so I’ve heard. Both Steve Nash and Jason Kidd won’t be playing in this year’s All-Star game, a slightly more official changing of the guard. Is that really the case? If Kidd were still in New Jersey, in a situation where the ball is in his hands more often and he’s fighting Rajon Rondo and Mo Williams for a spot on the team rather than Brandon Roy and Chauncey Billups, is there any doubt that he’d be considered one of the favorites? Kidd may be a shadow of his former self and a step slower, but he’s still quite a point guard and probably All-Star caliber when the offense is truly going through him. And what of Nash? Supposing D’Antoni was still spending his working days with the Suns, wouldn’t the ‘Seven Seconds or Less’-inspired Nash be primed for All-Star candidacy? There’s no doubt that Chris Paul has stolen the point guard show, and some of the other young poing guards out there are pretty incredible. But the old-timers are out there to remind us that more often than not, All-Star berths are decided by circumstance.
The battle for the starting shooting guard appears to be over, with a battle-weary Antoine Wright standing above the metaphorical corpses of Gerald Green, Devean George, J.J. Barea, and, depending on how you look at it, Jason Terry. From Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: ” “He’s done the things we need him to do,” Carlisle said. “He brings us some solid defense. Offensively, he can do some playmaking from the position. He continues to shoot the ball better…This is sort of what we had projected. Earlier, it didn’t quite go like it has. He’s done well.” Wright has battled back this season from a strained left groin injury and even stayed in the lineup through the four-game losing streak earlier this month. It seems the coaches have settled on him as the starter until Wright gives them a reason for a change. So far, he hasn’t.”
A great quote of Jason Terry from the same Sefko article: “We don’t want to peak too early, which, obviously, we haven’t done.” If the Heat taught the Mavs anything in 2006, isn’t it that a team that sometimes struggles in the regular season can still be dangerous if they’re playing their best basketball at the right time?
In general I don’t like to delight in the injuries of others. It’s tacky. But it should still be of interest to Mavs fans that Utah’s Andrei Kirilenko will undergo ankle surgery today, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. Carlos Boozer still has yet to return, and Kirilenko is definitely an important piece for Utah. The Jazz have already faced pretty considerable adversity this season because of injury, but AK does a lot of good things on the court on both ends. It certainly doesn’t make their games any easier, and it could be a break for the other teams in the Western playoff race.