Thermodynamics (n.) – the science concerned with the relations between heat and mechanical energy
You wouldn’t know it from the game results (L, W, L, W, L), but the Mavs played at a fairly consistent level for the entire week (at least until the fourth quarter of the final game against Brooklyn). After being wildly inconsistent for most the season, the Mavs seem to have finally leveled out and settled into a groove.
So, if the Mavs were so consistent, why 2-3? Why alternating wins and losses? Well, that’s just the thing — the Mavs’ “consistent” level of play sits pretty much right in the middle of the league. Their season-long ceiling (as opposed to their single-game ceiling, which is largely a function of variance) sits right around the 50th percentile. By playing consistently over several games, then, the Mavs make it very easy to see exactly where they sit in the league pecking order. They’ll beat bad teams regularly (Cleveland); they’ll beat decent teams sometimes (Atlanta); they’ll lose to decent teams sometimes (Brooklyn); and they’ll lose to elite teams almost always (San Antonio and Oklahoma City).
Hence, the week that was.
Week 21 (@Spurs, Cavs, Thunder, @Hawks, Nets)
1) Brandan Wright
Wright’s offensive game is so fluid and efficient, it’s hard to imagine that he could barely get off the bench earlier in the year. Here’s how Wright’s key numbers shook out this week: 10.4 points per game, 24-of-43 (56%) shooting, 6.2 rebounds per game, and 1.0 blocks per game. It’s much more difficult to quantatively measure individual defense, but I thought Wright showed his continued improvement in that area. He’s got a long way to go, but his footwork in the defensive post has improved since November, and he’s being more judicious with his weakside defense (i.e., not wildly jumping around trying to block every single shot instead of boxing out). Wright earned numerous accolades during college while playing in the highly competitive ACC, and it’s easy to see why. His raw talent is undeniable. With hard work and on-point coaching (and I have no reason to suspect both won’t occur), his ceiling is fairly high.
It was a rare site during All-Star weekend as the Dallas Mavericks organization was not really accounted for during the league’s weekend of celebration. You can count Dahntay Jones’ random participation as an assistant to Utah’s Jeremy Evans during the dunk contest, but it was still weird to not see Dirk Nowitzki rubbing shoulders with the league’s elite players in Houston. Prior to this year’s break in Houston, Nowitzki had been part of the last 13 All-Star weekends – as a 3-point shootout participant in two before his 11-year All-Star streak.
Even with that absence during All-Star weekend, Dirk still found a way to have his name mentioned during the break. The mention actually came from an unexpected source, one Michael Jeffrey Jordan. Wright Thompson is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine. Wright took the opportunity to follow Jordan as he’s 50th birthday was approaching and chronicled the interesting story of his life and how he struggles moving forward. It’s highly recommended reading. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, let’s dig in on what MJ said about Dirk.
Thermodynamics (n.) – the science concerned with the relations between heat and mechanical energy
This week’s installment of Thermodynamics won’t be quite as negative as last week’s. For one, the Mavs actually won a game (emphasis on “a”), going 1-4 on the week. For another, they played fairly well in two of their four losses, both of which came against NBA finalists from last season.
But enough of those generalities. Let’s talk details.
This one is easy. Collison had his best week as a Maverick, showing confidence we haven’t seen since the first games of the season. Squaring off against his former UCLA backcourt mate Russell Westbrook, Collison started his week by going 13-of-22 (59%) for 32 points in Oklahoma City. The highlight of his night—and probably the entire NBA week—came at the end of regulation when he nailed a ridiculous, game-tying three. If that’s not enough to convince, here’s more proof that Collison lit it up: when Westbrook was asked about Collison’s performance after the game (a Thunder win, mind you), Westbrook immediately cut off his postgame interview and cussed on his way out of the locker room (credit: AP). As a sidenote, if you’re on a tight budget, I recommend you avoid purchasing Westbrook’s newest book, How to Cope with Minor Frustrations Like An Actual Adult.
Collison used his terrific performance in Oklahoma City as a springboard for a solid week. In all, he shot 35-of-68 (51%), scored 17.2 PPG, and dished out 5.2 APG. These numbers represent a marked improvement from Collison’s previous several weeks. With OJ Mayo’s recent regression — which most Mavs fans expected — Collison’s uptick has been a welcome sight. Now that he’s firmly installed as the Mavs’ starting PG, perhaps these performances will become the norm.
I was honored to join Rahat Huq (of Red 94) and Tim Varner (of 48 Minutes of Hell) for what we’re hoping will be a bit of a recurring feature: a three-man panel dealing with pertinent, Texas-centric NBA questions. Like it or not, the competitive dynamic between fans of the three Texas teams is very real. The rivalry between the Mavs and Spurs is undeniable, and though the Rockets haven’t butted heads with the Mavs in any kind of formal fashion since 2005, geography alone makes competitive run-ins — among fans and among the two teams — a frequent occurrence.
To have a little fun on that theme, Huq, Varner and myself voiced our picks for the best Texas ballplayer of the last 20 years, the most significant event in Texas basketball over that same timeframe, and the Texas team with the brightest future. Even with the Mavs’ core seemingly on their last legs, the answers to that final question may surprise you:
1. Tim Varner: Dallas. Mark Cuban has the means and the vision to field a competitive team on an annual basis. Cuban is an innovator whose dedication to winning finally brought home a trophy last season. I see that continuing, even after Dirk Nowitzki retires.
2. Rob Mahoney: None of the Texas teams are particularly primed for the long haul, but I’ll go with Dallas. Dirk Nowitzki could contribute in the NBA until he’s 50 if that’s his aim, and the Mavericks have the infrastructure to reboot with relative ease. Mark Cuban, Donnie Nelson, and Rick Carlisle give Dallas the means and savvy to transition quickly, and it doesn’t hurt that the Mavs also have a few young pieces (Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones, Corey Brewer) to fiddle around with.
3. Rahat Huq: I’ll say Dallas. You have to get really bad to get good as titles are won through the draft. Mark Cuban is the only boss from any of these teams to have made public acknowledgment on this point (stated last year at the Sloan Analytics Conference) so I trust he’ll tank when it’s time. Meanwhile, the Rockets are on a track to pick 14th every year and we’re not sure what the Spurs are planning.
The 2007 Mavericks were dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.
Yet now that those Mavs aren’t the only top-seeded team downed improbably by their eighth-seeded opponents in a seven-game series, the retrospective view of Dallas’ failure should be a bit different. Only it isn’t — the San Antonio Spurs, upon their premature dismissal from the postseason, have largely been met with knowing nods and tips of hats. That’s not an inappropriate response given the franchise in question, but it’s certainly a startlingly different response than the one the Mavericks faced in ’07.
In both cases, superior teams were defeated due to the pesky complications of specific matchup problems. Lost amidst all the “better team won” cliché of the San Antonio-Memphis series is the fact that the Spurs lost the series despite their objective superiority. According to Basketball-Reference.com’s series preview, the four most probable results of the series — based on the regular season exploits of both teams — were as follows:
Spurs in 5 (25.4%)
Spurs in 7 (19.7%)
Spurs in 6 (13.3%)
Spurs in 4 (12.9%)
Granted, the series projections based on the post-deadline data alone paint a different picture. But if we view San Antonio’s 82-game season as their total body of work, there was no reason to expect that they might lose in the first round. A 75.7% chance of taking the series is a fairly dominant mark, and yet one that made sense considering the statistical profiles of both clubs. All signs pointed to the Spurs being the better team, just as they pointed to the Mavs being the better team in 2007. The two teams are more kindred in spirit than the response to this latest upset would suggest. The decidedly rosier reaction to the Spurs’ first round flub a bit confusing, to be honest.
San Antonio didn’t lose to a better team, merely one that — when playing within the context of this particular series – looked like the better team. Yet their first round demise has inspired more mourning than mocking, more admiring lament than schadenfreude. Again, these responses are not inappropriate so much as incongruent; I have no qualms with the respectful reaction to the fall of San Antonio in itself, merely with the fact that another damn impressive franchise wasn’t given the same benefit back in 2007.
The Spurs and the Mavs are, sadly, two franchises defined by their echoes. It doesn’t have to be that way, but sports fans make it so with every time they mock the ringless or fetishize the exploits of a former champion. San Antonio has won four titles in the Tim Duncan era, and as such, is generally considered immune to all criticism. They’ve somehow achieved the ends that justify all means and erase all flaws — past, present, and future. Dallas, needless to say, has not been as fortunate. But what separates these two franchises isn’t an ocean. It’s 58 pounds of hardware. It’s memories of seasons four years ago at most recent, 12 years ago at most distant. The Spurs that were eliminated from the playoffs on Friday weren’t champs at all, but the bare remnants of a team that has, throughout its lifetime, accomplished great things.
Over the years, San Antonio has garnered universal respect through the consistent rebuking of public doubt. Every time a new season or playoff series began, the Spurs had to prove themselves all over again. They were too old. They didn’t have the depth. They were too limited on offense. Some of those points were valid, but over the years that hardly mattered; the Spurs answered their critics with great regular season marks and long playoff runs, even though they were often presumed to be defeated before they even had a chance to compete. As odd as it was, we were all waiting for the day the Spurs would finally fall, and their refusal to abide by the limits of mortal teams only fueled the legend of their excellence.
Only this time, basketball fans have relented. They’ve abandoned the adversarial framework that built up San Antonio’s mythical empire in the first place, and though that concession may benefit the Spurs’ public image, such a shift is of no good to the general discourse.
We know that the Mavs’ 2007 loss to the ‘We Believe’ Warriors is viewed as chokery. Dallas has the unfortunate characterization of being a “regular season team,” as a decade’s worth of work has not resulted in a single championship ring.
I’m also quite certain that had this year’s Lakers — the reigning back-to-back NBA champs, mind you — lost in 6 games to the Hornets in the first round, it would be universally regarded as an embarrassing and derisible failure. They would be considered “soft,” and everyone from Pau Gasol to Kobe Bryant to Phil Jackson would be questioned.
The team that “hasn’t won anything,” was mocked for continuing their ringless trajectory, and the team that has won everything (including those affirming championship rings) would be ripped to pieces for their inability to make it out of the first round. So where, exactly, does that put the Spurs? They’re somehow given the full respect of a champion but without any of the baggage, perhaps the only No. 1 seed in the modern era capable of losing a first-round series with minimal heckling. Many readers and writers of the narrative seem to have things jumbled; highly successful regular season teams are otherwise taunted for the playoff shortcomings regardless of a championship pedigree, yet San Antonio remains untarnished.
To reiterate one final time: as an organization, a team, and a basketball concept, the Spurs deserve respect. I just see no compelling reason why their failures exist on a different plane from those of all other teams, or why the context of this loss is so unique as to be treated with reverence. Sports fans have nothing if not the selective enforcement of their own personal rules, but all I ask for is the slightest bit of logical consistency.
In the days following the the Mavs’ most dominant showing this season, we’re all forced to reconcile the difference between what lies beyond and what lay before perhaps the most enigmatic elite team in the league. Even after their complete dismantling of Golden State on Monday, something still separates Dallas from the likes of L.A., Boston, Chicago, Miami, and perhaps even San Antonio (though Tim Duncan’s injury has managed to muddle up optimal projections for that team’s future); of all the contenders, the Mavs are the only team relying heavily on past — and I mean ancient, really — performance to bolster their championship credentials.
Dallas’ defensive regression may be incremental, but this month their performance on that end of the court has reached startling new lows. Prior to that impressive game against the Warriors, the Mavs played below average defense (by league standards, not merely their own) in eight of the previous 10 games. They allowed potent and limited offenses alike to put up impressive numbers, and lost half of those 10 games in the process. The offense is rolling, but the gains on that end clearly haven’t offset the step back the Mavs have taken defensively.
Is that enough to disqualify the Mavs as contenders? Should anyone still have faith in this team to produce despite the fact that their top-flight defense hasn’t really been there for months? Are things as dire as they seem? Is it really that bad?
If I can channel sirs Kevin Devine and Andy Hull for a moment: If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t have to ask.
We know the Mavs have the potential to be great because we’ve seen it with our own eyes, but it takes a suspension of empirical data to expectthat team to suddenly show up over the next few weeks or at the start of the playoffs. It’s not that they’re incapable; clearly Dallas can play elite defense and score at a rate that puts them as one of the best overall clubs in the NBA. Yet trusting the Mavs to do anything other than what they’ve done lately requires a leap of faith that many likely won’t be comfortable taking. Even teams like the Lakers and Celtics, who come with their own warning labels but also the spoils of playoff runs past, hold a significant empirical advantage over the Mavs in terms of their ability to “flip the switch.” At least those teams have made a sudden, noteworthy change in past years to propel themselves toward the title. Dallas has no such precedent on which to reflect and rely, only a body of early-season defensive work that hardly seems relevant at this point.
The Mavs are good, and at this juncture I think it’s still quite likely that they’ll win a first round playoff series against even a pretty formidable lower-seeded foe. But this team has a lot to prove before anyone should believe in their chances beyond that. A title-winning outfit is certainly within Dallas’ range of performance, but that outcome is anything but reliable. Don’t get me wrong: no team is likely to win the championship from a statistical standpoint — even the favorite is merely more likely to win than the opposition, while the field still takes the cake. Still, the Mavs have done so little in the last month to suggest that they have a reserved space on the top shelf. They’re grouped with L.A. and San Antonio as the West’s contenders because of their record and opinion formulated during the first few months of the season, but Dallas hasn’t played like a contender since January. The Mavs may not be quite as mediocre as their recent record suggests, but mere potential doesn’t warrant any benefit of the doubt.
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 Mavericks used to be a low-turnover team, but this season has featured a startling number of giveaways (Dallas ranks 17th in turnover rate, far from the elite status they’ve held in that category over the last few years) and last night stood as a comical representation of the team’s inability to control the ball. There were passes to no one in particular. By my count, Maverick players dribbled the ball off their own feet at least three times. So it was for the entire evening, as Dallas committed unforced error after unforced error. San Antonio obviously deserves credit for capitalizing on the Mavericks’ mistakes, but the home team dug their own grave in many respects.
Rodrigue Beaubois (eight points, 4-11 FG, three rebounds, three turnovers) may have been an effective defender against Andre Miller and Monta Ellis, but Tony Parker (33 points, 14-22, four rebounds, three assists) had a field day against him. It didn’t help that Tyson Chandler was in foul trouble throughout the game and that Brendan Haywood only decided to play effective D in the second half, but Beaubois just couldn’t stick Parker in half-court settings nor did he — and this is one of the weaker elements of Beaubois’ defensive game at this point — get back in order to adequately defend in transition. Parker is dangerous in any context, but particularly so when given a full head of steam. He had that on the break, obviously, but Parker was also able to drive effectively after shedding Beaubois around screens. Guarding either Parker or Manu Ginobili seems like a miserable task, but Beaubois — and his help — will need to be better in that area if Dallas has any chance of topping San Antonio at some point in the playoffs.
This game seemed a bit familiar. Dirk Nowitzki was incredible, but lacked the high-volume scoring help necessary to put Dallas over the top. The Mavs had their moments on offense and defense, but always seemed a step behind. Tim Duncan (22 points, 8-13 FG, eight rebounds, two steals, three blocks) still scored efficiently, even though Dallas had capable defenders in front of him at all times. San Antonio put a lot of pressure on the Mavs’ ball-handlers, and they buckled. The margin between these two teams really isn’t that large, but over the last two seasons the Spurs have held a definite edge. I’m not sure how likely that would be to change if these two clubs were to meet in the postseason, as this game seemed like a natural extension of last year’s first round playoff series.
Shawn Marion suffered a right wrist injury that kept him from playing in the second half. X-rays on the wrist were negative — which is great news, because Dallas can’t afford to lose anyone at this point — but the Mavs certainly missed Marion over the final 24 minutes. Frequent double-teams deterred the Mavs from working through Nowitzki as much as they should have in the first half, but Marion carried the offense in the meantime. San Antonio doesn’t really have a good defensive counter for Marion, so he went to work in the post against Ginobili and a cast of smaller guards, and drove into the paint from the weak side after some nice ball reversals. His runners and hooks won’t fall every night, they did on this one, and the Mavs sure could have benefited from his offensive production in the second half. That said: Marion wasn’t exactly at his defensive finest, as he completely blew his coverage of Ginobili on multiple occasions. It’s nights like these that make one wonder how Dallas was ever an elite defensive team at all.
To those who still cling to the fourth quarter as all-important, take a look back at the tape of the first quarter from this game. Sure, the Mavs could have played better in the fourth, but this game was lost in the first frame.
Good to know that using Dirk in high screen-and-roll action at the top of the key still works as an antidote to double-teaming. Nowitzki created a mismatch almost every time he set a high pick for Kidd, Terry, Barea, or Beaubois, either by causing the guard to switch onto him or baiting another defender to slide over in order to help. From that point, Nowitzki would simply begin backing down his defender, and turn to fire over them (while spinning away from incoming help on some occasions) from the free throw line. Dallas lost, but this approach (in addition to Marion’s post-ups, the shots created from Beaubois’ penetration, and other stratagems) does offer some hope of how the Mavs might counter a team like the Spurs in the future. There were blunders aplenty, but it’s not as if this game didn’t give Dallas something to work with.
Once More, With Feeling: The Four Factors – An in-depth statistical look at how the Mavs performed last season in each of the game’s most important statistical categories, and how they’ll likely stack up in the coming year.
WEEI preview – Helping out over at WEEI’s Boston Celtics blog, in which I address just how sober the Mavericks’ chances are of overtaking the Lakers this season.
Also, if I may:
If you’re following me on Twitter, you probably already know this, but in addition to my work here, at Hardwood Paroxysm, and at ProBasketballTalk, I’ve also joined the New York Times’ Off the Dribble Blog as a contributor. Keep an eye out there for some more of my general NBA work, though I’m sure the Mavs will inevitably pop up from time to time.
Matt Moore and I recently launched Voice on the Floor, an NBA audio blog (striving to be an NPR for the NBA, in a way) that has been a blast so far. It primarily consists of extended interviews from Moore, as well as spoken word essays from myself and various contributors. I’m very excited about the project and its potential, so I hope you guys will tag along.
Dirk Nowitzki on Tyson Chandler (via Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com): “He’s just so unbelievably active, I’ve never seen anything like it…He’s got to be the best runner at the 5 position and one of the most athletic 5’s right now in this league…he covers a lot of ground out there and he’s plugging holes for us defensively.”
Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer: “Turnovers were this team’s flaw all last season, and nothing changed in the season-opener. Twenty-one turnovers led to 28 Dallas points. As a tennis guy (no double-fault is good, but some are far worse than others), I buy Larry Brown’s principle that there are acceptable turnovers (daring passes, intended to make for easy baskets, that just don’t work out), and unacceptable turnovers (lazy ballhandling at mid-court that leads to easy opponent scores). Wednesday the vast majority of the turnovers were the ones that scorch you. Especially so with a Jason Kidd pushing the ball for the other team.”
Chris Tomasson, NBA FanHouse: “Once again, Nowitzki has a picture of the Larry O’Brien Trophy in his locker to serve as his motivation. ‘That’s been there for a while,’ said Nowitzki, who signed a four-year contract last summer after becoming a free agent. ‘It’s going to basically stay there hopefully for the next four years. Hopefully, I’ll get one before then, and I’ll take it down. Or I’ll leave it up until I get a second one. That’s really what it’s all about now. I don’t think I personally have to prove or achieve anything (other than) just winning the ring. So that’s what I’m working on.’”
Tom Haberstroh broke down the league’s 10 most untradeable contracts (Insider), and our very own Shawn Marion (four years, $32.2 million remaining on his deal) made the list at no. 10: “Already 32 years old, the veteran small forward will almost undoubtedly enact his $9 million player option in 2013-14, when he’ll be 36. Mavs owner Mark Cuban can probably stomach the $32.2 million outstanding on his deal, but that doesn’t mean it was a wise contract in the first place.” DeSagana Diop (three years, $20.8 million remaining) also made the list at no. 7.
The Mavs will play an outdoor preseason game against the Suns on Saturday night, but Dirk Nowitzki won’t.
They’re a few days old by this point, but there was plenty of Dallas love in the annual NBA GM survey. Among the most significant: 11.5% of GMs (tied for 3rd) think Dwane Casey is the league’s top assistant coach, 28.6% (T-1st) think Dirk is the best at his position (which marks the first year of Dirk’s career that Tim Duncan wasn’t the leading vote-getter), and 21.4% (1st) think that Rodrigue Beaubois is the international player most likely to have a breakout season.
John Stockton is the prototype for aging NBA players hoping to remain productive, and Jason Kidd hopes to follow in his footsteps as he continues to play on the brink of 40. Brendan Haywood chimes in: “He takes good care of his body and he’s a consummate professional. He can play forever.”
Michael Lee of the Washington Post, on Josh Howard’s recovery from a left knee injury: “His improvement has been such a revelation that the Wizards may soon see him on the floor in the next few weeks. ‘If you watch him on the floor doing skeleton runs, you’d think that he could play that night. He’s pretty advanced. A lot more advanced than what we thought, but we’re going to take our time,’ Coach Flip Saunders said. ‘I would anticipate that he’ll probably facilitate things in the next two or three weeks. We’ll kind of take our time and see where we are at. We’re not going to push him back, but we’re not going to push him to get there. We’re going to make sure he’s back close to 100 percent.’”