Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 22, 2009 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

  • A hardy welcome to Beyond Bowie, the newest blog of the TrueHoop Network.  Beyond Bowie is another one of them Blazer blogs, and it’s penned by Max Handelman and Erik Barmack.
  • Once upon a time, the Spurs wanted Jason Kidd over Tony Parker.
  • Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News: “After 96 minutes of basketball, we don’t know a thing.”
  • If Dampier planned to intimidate Tony Parker with his words, it doesn’t seem to be working.  If Dampier planned to intimidate Tony Parker with a body slam, it could very well be met with a suspension.  Isn’t this whole situation just lovely?
  • Thanks to everyone who stopped by the chat yesterday.  For those who missed out, the game plan is to have another chat after Game 5, during the next travel days.  Save the date.
  • And again, more congratulations to the JET for nabbing Sixth Man honors.  It’s a pretty arbitrary award, but it’s more of a validation for a great player and teammate who put his ego aside for the team’s best interests.

Wake of Game 2 Live Chat

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 21, 2009 under xOther | Read the First Comment

Photo by AP.

Okay, so last night kinda sucked.  That’s okay.  Let’s talk about it.  I had Tony Parker nightmares, and need your help to clear my head.

Graydon Gordian from 48 Minutes of Hell is coming along for the ride.  We’ll be starting up at 2 EST/1 CST, so drop by with some questions and comments if you’d like.

If the chat box does not appear below…Click Here, or try at 48 Minutes of Hell.

San Antonio Spurs 105, Dallas Mavericks 84

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Recaps | 8 Comments to Read

Photo by AP Photo/Eric Gay.

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“Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”
-Gregg Popovich, before this game

Dallas was supposed to repeat a lot of things from their Game 1 performance, but playing miserable defense wasn’t one of them.  Shots on the perimeter were to be strongly contested, Parker’s life was supposed to be as difficult as possible, and the Spurs’ supporting cast was sure to fall back to earth.  None of the above came to fruition, and the only thing sloppier and less effective than the Mavs’ offense was their defense.  Mavericks: you’ve got some ‘splaining to do.

Much like Saturday, the Mavs were hit in the mouth early.  But all the moments in Game 1 where the team seemed gutsy or resilient were vanquished under Tony Parker’s (38 points, 16-22 FG, 8 assists) thumb.  The Mavs trapped, they switched, and they hedged…or at least they engaged in defensive sequences that remotely looked like they should have been those things.  I’m not sure that Parker is ever fully solvable if he has the mind to drive at will and the determination to break a team’s spirit, but it’s certainly possible to slow the guy.  The Mavs couldn’t even accomplish that much, and the myriad of strategies they threw at TP were poorly executed due to technique and personnel.

The defensive ineptitude surely started on the perimeter with Antoine Wright, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, and J.J. Barea, but the interior defense of Brandon Bass, Dirk Nowitzki, and Erick Dampier left plenty to be desired.  The worst part is that it wasn’t just Parker: the perimeter guys had enough trouble staying in front of Roger Mason, and Drew Gooden went Tim Duncan all over Dirk, Damp, and Bass.  Tony Parker’s huge night is simply the one number punchline for how awful the Mavs’ defense was, when in reality they had trouble stopping anyone wearing white.

Part of the blame for Parker’s explosion has to rest on Rick Carlisle’s shoulders.  Frankly, I’m not sure how any team that knew Parker and the Spurs were their opponents could be so ill-prepared to defend the high screen and roll.  The playcall is practically sewn on to the front of San Antonio’s jerseys.  Parker’s quick and intelligent, and to allow him to abuse your defense on the screen like that is simply poor preparation.  Erick Dampier has never been great in that facet of defending big men and it’s arguably the weakest point of Dirk’s defensive repertoire, but both need to do a much better job of hedging and recovering after the screen.  The Mavs were literally running into each other in their scramble to deny Parker the lane.  Embarassing.

But please, don’t be naive enough to hinge this defensive breakdown on Kidd’s shoulders.  And don’t put everything on Barea, or Terry, or Wright, either.  Only with a true team effort can a defense churn out such a wholly and completely miserable display.

Still, give Parker his credit.  Though he had plenty of looks at wide open jumpers, he used every advantage given to him to shape the game with his will.  He converted tough shot after tough shot in the lane, and continued to make defenders look foolish with his game-changing speed and tremendous ability to change directions on a whim.  This is one of the best point guards in the league, and he made sure everyone in Dallas knew that.

To make matters worse, the Mavs overwhelmingly efficient offense nevere showed up.  The Spurs defense was suffocating, with frequent double teams and on-court pressure from angles I didn’t know existed.  The Spurs honed in on every Mav that could potentially give them trouble, and Dirk’s off-night made things pretty difficult.  And by off-night I mean off-night — he airballed a three pointer.  Jason Terry (16 points on 15 shots) found a little breathing room, but just wasn’t quite right offensively.  Josh Howard (3-8 FG, 7 points, 3 rebounds) was nowhere to be found, despite his tremendous performance in Game 1.  Somehow, the Spurs managed to do the unthinkable: they tightened up and negated the offensive impact of every player on the Mavs roster.

Despite all of Dallas’ offensive and defensive flaws, they did manage to make a few runs.  The lead constantly seemed to drift back to the 11-13 range (even as late as the third quarter), occasionally even dipping into single digits.  The Spurs looked like they just couldn’t separate, because every significant increase in the lead was met with an eventual spurt by the Mavs.  But then, they separated.  Boy, did they separate.

Tim Duncan (13 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists) showed up, but frankly he didn’t have to do all that much.  Having a future Hall-of-Famer that can go to work in the post is surprisingly irrelevant when the opposing team’s defense will cede points to anyone holding a roundball.

Gregg Poppovich clearly lied: the Spurs’ coverage of Brandon Bass was much more aggressive.  In Game 1, Bass didn’t so much as smell a double-team, but in Game 2, he had two defenders breathing down his neck every time he caught the ball on the wing.  Barea was apparently enough of a bother to draw the attention of Bruce Bowen, and it pretty much shut Barea down.  J.J. made a few shots, but his attempts in the lane were quickly smothered by all kinds of help defense.  The results weren’t pretty.  The height advantage that Spurs’ defenders have on Barea can make adjusting to him much easier, and last night it limited J.J. from getting anything going inside or penetrating cleanly enough to get out a good pass to the perimeter.

The three point disparity wasn’t even there.  Both teams attempted 18 threes, with the Mavs making 6 and the Spurs making 7.  Dallas just got punked in every way possible by the Spurs, be it by means of tremendous defense, offensive penetration, or just Tony Parker.  All the credit for this win goes to Pop and Parker; the coach made every adjustment necessary to take away the most dangerous weapons on the court, stop penetration, and prevent Dallas from rebounding on the offensive end, and Parker just single-handedly decimated the Mavs’ defense.

Closing thoughts:

  • The flagrant foul called on Jason Terry in the second quarter was ridiculous.  But, to be fair, Dirk was getting plenty of calls, and Terry’s drawn foul to end the first half is typically a no-call.  I’m not saying it wasn’t a foul, just that under those circumstances, it’s rarely called.
  • The Mavs used a zone defense that slowed the Spurs down for a few possessions to end the first half, but it didn’t get much play in the second half.  I wouldn’t mind seeing more.
  • Dallas did as much to kill their own momentum as SanAn did to stifle it.  Every time the Mavs’ offense was finally putting something together, JET would launch a quick, contested three, or Josh Howard would over-do it by driving into three defenders without a plan of attack.  These are not smart basketball plays, and though they’re not a reason why you lose by 21, they are reasons why you lose.
  • Don’t forget to stop by for the live chat at 2 EST/1 CST to talk about this one.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: I’m not really sure there is one.  There was no star in the losing cause, no potential savior.  There was no one.  In fact, let’s just give it to Tony Parker.  He was good at basketballing.

A Difficult Glass to Read

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 20, 2009 under Commentary | 2 Comments to Read

Photo by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images.

Game one is in the books, and unfortunately we’re left with more questions than answers.  The glass rests on the table, but whether it’s half-empty or half-full is anybody’s guess.

The Mavs were able to overcome subpar efforts from both Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry to get a win on the road.  I’ve asked for little more from this team all season long, and it’s huge in terms of development and adjustment.  Still, you have to be worried about what the Spurs did to JET and Dirk defensively.

On the bright side, neither player was woefully inefficient.  They weren’t hoisting up prayers or hunting for looks.  But Terry in particular was completely blanketed by Bruce Bowen and friends, and only attempted 8 shots in total.  When was the last time Terry had less than 10 attempts?  If you disregard the February 7th and March 1st games, in which Terry’s minutes were significantly limited due to injury, you have to go all the way back to November 3rd.  The JET tends to get his looks one way or another, but on Saturday night he was practically handcuffed.  J.J. Barea’s success could potentially have a huge impact on JET’s production, depending on Pop’s defensive adjustments.  If Bowen ends up seeing time on Barea rather than Terry, it could provide JET with plenty of opportunities against the less stingy Michael Finley, Tony Parker, and Roger Mason.  But, if Pop decides that Terry, the far worthier threat, deserves the Spurs’ undivided attention, the JET may have to work extra hard, look to draw fouls, or simply be content with hoisting up fewer attempts.

My thought is this: put Terry on the floor in situations where Popovich must make difficult strategic decisions.  If JET, Josh Howard, and Dirk are all on the floor at the same time, who does Bruce Bowen guard?  That of course depends on the rest of the Spurs’ lineup, but it would almost certainly force an inferior defender (or two) to concede points to one of the Mavs’ big scorers.  It doesn’t quite afford Dirk or Josh the rest they need or ease their scoring burden, but it just might be necessary to keep the Mavs’ offense in fifth gear.

Dirk I’m not worried about.  He can get shots off at any time he wants against any defender the Spurs throw at him, and was more limited by foul trouble than anything.  He’ll be there when we need him most.

J.J. gives the Mavs a much-needed extra dimension in their defense against Tony Parker, but it’ll be interesting to see how a game’s worth of film changes that.  Parker is a smart player and Pop is a brilliant coach; the Spurs will surely have new ways to take advantage of Barea’s height and a variety of avenues to increase Parker’s access to the lane.

What’s interesting is that the Mavs weren’t locking down on the Spurs’ shooters, as is their custom.  Tim Duncan and Tony Parker typically go to work, while defenders stick with Finley, Bonner, Mason and the other shooters on the outside.  It’s absolutely crucial in negating the impact of those back-breaking corner threes, and it’s something that the Mavs didn’t do very effectively in the first half of Saturday’s game.  The defense focused on the corners in the second half, and Barea dug up a new way to limit San Antonio’s shooters: stifle Parker’s penetration.  Drive and kick offenses rely on deep penetration to set up open shots, and Parker clearly wasn’t used to being kept up with.  Barea moved his feet and got in TP’s way enough to not only limit Parker’s scoring, but also his ability to dish to the Spurs set up on the perimeter.  That was the real reason why San Antonio’s offense was hindered in the second half of Saturday’s game, but to predict that Barea can repeat his performance with the same success is to ignore Popovich’s genius entirely.

I will say this: for as creative and intelligent as Gregg Poppovich is, J.J. Barea is just as relentless and tenacious.  He’s never had a reputation as a defender, but the guy loves to compete.  You simply don’t make it into the league at 6’0” (in heels) unless you’ve got a little Napoleon in you.

It’s also worth noting that the Spurs shot about as well as they will in this series (11-14 from deep…that’s 78.6%), including 5-5 from three for Michael Finley and 4-7 from three for Roger Mason.  Both are good shooters, but to expect them to continue at that pace would be a tad ridiculous.

So should the Mavs be happy that Terry’s shots that he took went down, or disappointed that he couldn’t get many off to begin with?  Should Dallas be pleased with Barea’s defense on Parker, or concerned about what will happen when Tony figures things out, as great players are wont to do?

I’ll tell you around 10 tonight.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under xOther | Read the First Comment

  • Joey from Straight Bangin’ sometimes writes about basketball, but always writes in a way you can’t help but admire.  His post is largely appreciating the Spurs as a team, a franchise, and an entity, but it does paint quite a picture of the current Mavs: “After years of manic tinkering, reactive decisions, and impulsive risks, always trying to be at the leading edge of the industry, Dallas came into this season relative staid, somewhat forgotten, and widely dismissed. Many people thought the Mavs would fail to make the playoffs, and it was generally accepted that the team was this almost grotesque amalgamation of mismatched parts, the ruins of all those hurried decisions and ever changing new directions…The Mavericks, instead, have coalesced, and now play with this assured calm. And don’t mistake calm as a synonym for plodding or boring. It’s not a stylistic designation; it’s one of identity. Suddenly, Dallas just seems to get what it is, and more importantly, it likes itself. I’d imagine that being marginalized was a key component in this odd renaissance of collective self-esteem. The Mavs are much more a team than they have been in the past. Far from a series of players colliding as each seeks out an identity, and far from a group in the throes of constant upheaval, Dallas is actually content to be what it is…Suddenly, Dallas is very much like San Antonio in this regard. And as such, I am suffering this bizarre sort of Stockholm Syndrome. I should hate the Mavericks for stealing away my moments with Pop and Timmy, yet I secretly love Dallas thanks to the identity metamorphosis.”
  • An appraisal from Graydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell: “For the time being, I have few recommendations to give. The theories behind the decisions we made on both ends of the ball remain sound; our difficulties lie in the execution. The most glaring failure was our interior defense: If we limit their points in the paint, we will quickly regain control of the series.”  The Spurs seems to agree, and the Mavs hope to stay a step ahead.
  • Tom Ziller of The Sporting Blog: “For years, analysts have been racing each other pronounce the correct time of death for the Spurs. In the process, they have all been wrong. Pardon me, after watching S.A. dominate the Mavs for more than a half before submitting to incredibly hot shooting, for having a little patience with a team that has proved its power time and time again.”  We’d all be wise to heed Ziller’s advice.  This series is far from over.
  • Tim MacMahon does a wonderful job breaking down the stints of each defender on Tony Parker.  The good news: J.J. Barea.  You knew that already.  The bad news?  Antoine Wright had some serious problems staying in front of Parker, and figures to be a relative non-factor in defending TP.  Don’t worry, Antoine, we have need for you in other places.
  • The Mavs are oozing confidence right now.  Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News: “The Mavericks played the second half Saturday like they knew they were the superior team and were supposed to cart a W off the AT&T Center court. There was no tentativeness.’We knew we could come out here and get the win,” J.J. Barea said. “I’m not going to lie – it was a good feeling. But we still know we’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got to beat them three more times. It’s not an easy task. We’ve got to keep our heads and not get too excited.’”
  • Jakedfw of Mavs Moneyball drops some truth bombs, and they are awfully startling: “The Mavs defense stunk. Sure, the Mavs played some great defense during stretches of the game, but that can’t hide the fact that we gave up nearly 100 points in a game played at a snail’s pace.  To put this game in perspective, the Mavs had a defensive efficiency of 119.8. This is very similar to the defensive efficiency they had in the Utah game on February 5, which was actually a slightly better 118.6. The result of that game where the Mavs played better defense? Well, you may remember it—the Mavs lost by 28, 115-87. And this, in a nutshell, is the scary part of the Mavs this post-season: Their offense has become so spectacularly good that they can play worse defense than in a game they lost by 28 earlier in the season and still win.”
  • Jason Kidd needs some Pepto.  Do we have a problem on our hands?
  • Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News: “Watching Josh Howard torch the Spurs in the first game of the Dallas Mavericks’ postseason Saturday, a few onlookers might have thought they were seeing a story involving renewed dedication, or healing, or obstacles overcome, or even redemption. The problem is Howard thinks all of that is baloney. Told Sunday that teammate Jason Terry complimented the way he’s been able to focus recently, Howard said, ‘Same focus I’ve had since I’ve been in the NBA.’ Asked if his 25-point performance in the Mavericks’ Game 1 victory was a sign that his injured ankle is finally feeling better, Howard said, ‘No, it’s the same.’ When someone mentions the turbulence of his past year — one in which trouble popped up everywhere from talk radio to YouTube — Howard asked, ‘What have I been through?’ And as for the idea that he’s somehow using this postseason as a way to show how determined he is? ‘I was determined last year,’ Howard said, ‘and (expletive) got blown out of proportion.’”  Regardless of where you stand or stood in regard to Howard’s recent past, he’s been turning lots of heads lately.  I’ll raise my glass to the prospect of him turning a few more.
  • I’m not sure I agree with Jean-Jacques Taylor of the Dallas Morning News when he seems to indicate that bench play has been a strength all season long.  I won’t argue that JET has been incredible.  But lest we forget, the bench presented huge problems early in the season.  Who was going to compensate for Josh Howard’s injury?  Who was going to provide scoring on the second unit besides Terry?  Barea and Bass had effective stretches, but there were dark times.  The reserves have emerged in a big way of late, but let’s not fool ourselves by saying that the bench has been a strength the entire season.
  • Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie: “…you’ve got to admit, there are some troubling signs for the Spurs. For all the talk about the Spurs supposedly falling way off defensively during the regular season, let’s get real, this team was fifth in the NBA in defensive efficiency. Now, that’s down from third last season and second in the NBA when they won it all back in 2007, but that’s still a pretty stout year overall. And especially considering Duncan’s ineffectiveness on that end down the stretch, and so many of Manu Ginobili’s minutes being replaced by the hard working but ultimately step-slow Michael Finley. About 130 points per 100 possessions? With Dirk Nowitzki sitting most of the first half? At home? No, the Mavs couldn’t guard the Spurs at times, but they’re supposed to be average defensively. San Antonio’s issues on that end are a lot more troubling.” Dwyer is absolutely right, though.  The Spurs are a step down defensively based on their own ridiculous measuring stick, but this is still an elite team on that end of the ball.  And yet Dallas was able to put together a remarkably efficient game in spite of a sandbag of a first quarter.  If the Mavs lose this series, it’s doubtful that the blame will lie on the offense.  Rather, Michael Finley, Bruce Bowen, and Roger Mason will be standing in the corners, bloody daggers in hand.
  • Somehow I missed Basketball-Reference.com’s preview, but here it is.  And for comparative purposes, here’s the Spurs.
  • Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com: “Well, after JJB’s sweet turn on Saturday (13 points, seven in the final quarter), the Spurs have a decision to make. Bowen on JJB? Then who covers Jet?Parker on JJB? Then how does Tony ever get a blow? Alter the rotation to include young Hill and or old Jacques Vaughn on JJB? Playoff series are all about game-to-game adjustments, and I’m sure Pop will come up with … something. But I’m not sure why he wasn’t able to ‘come up with something’ going into G1. Didn’t he already know JJB was capable of this?”  Well, Pop?  What up?
  • Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm: “The best thing about [Barea] on Parker was that Parker would burn him, and Barea would go right back to work. That’s a big thing to do against the Spurs. They’re effective against everything, but if one thing works 8 out of 10 times, then you look stupid 2 of the 10, you should still do it. Barea risked Parker going to the rack and breaking his ankles to not give him the first step of his explosion.”
  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News relays a question that has never, ever, ever been asked before: “Was Mavericks point guard J.J. Barea the chicken, and center Erick Dampier the egg in Game 1, and which came first?”

Dallas Mavericks 105, Spurs 97

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 19, 2009 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

Photo by AP Photo/Darren Abate.

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“Surprise is the greatest gift which life can grant us.
-Boris Pasternak

The fires of the fourth quarter may forge championship mettle, but the finale was hardly the most important frame in Saturday’s Spurs-Mavs showdown.  What Dallas was able to do in the fourth is remarkable and noteworthy in its own right, but we’d be looking at a very different outcome if not for a fantastic display of Maverick resiliency to finish the first half.

With almost nine minutes remaining in the second quarter, Dirk Nowitzki picked up his third foul, and immediately subbed out.  The Mavs trailed by nine, and things were going from bad to worse.  But a decidedly Dirk-less lineup didn’t seem to mind; Brandon Bass, Josh Howard, Erick Dampier, and Jason Terry managed to not only jack up Dallas’ defensive intensity, but actually trim the lead against the likes of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.  The Mavericks forcibly removed the Spurs’ boot from their throats, rose to their feet, and started swinging.  Every punch didn’t connect, but the fact that the Mavs sans Dirk were able to stand their ground and then some against a clicking San Antonio squad is very indicative of how this Maverick team has evolved.  A few months ago, maybe the Mavs folded in that second quarter.  Maybe the sight of their own shots clanging off the rim would discourage them from bringing the appropriate defensive focus, and the Spurs would go hog wild on a team crippled by the loss of its star due to foul trouble.  That nine minute stretch would be the kiss of death.

Yet here we are, and here the Mavs are, standing tall on their 1-0 series lead.  That second quarter (and, in turn, what it represents) doesn’t mean everything, but it certainly means something.

It’s way too early to judge what will work and what won’t work over the course of this series, but there is one thing I feel very comfortably saying: J.J. Barea defends Tony Parker (24 points, 9-22 FG, 8 assists) more competently than I ever could have imagined.  We know that Barea has the quicks.  The man runs around like his shorts are on fire.  On offense, that typically translates into creative drives and open looks, and on defense, that typically translates into…well, not all that much.  Barea has been a bit of an irritant as a defender, but I don’t know that we’ve seen him truly inhibit a legitimate scoring threat in a meaningful way.  After last night, I can say that no more; Barea didn’t lock down Tony Parker as much as he got under his skin, staying with him step for step, getting all up in his business, and putting those amateur acting lessons with Carl Weathers to work by putting on a one-man show for the zebras.  Does Barea flop?  Oh, most definitely.  He exaggerates the contact, and he does what he has to to sell the call and compensate for his height.  But to angrily classify J.J. as a ‘flopper’ is to ignore the effectiveness of his defense.  He’s not creating contact where there is none, he’s simply putting a flashing neon sign on his back that says “OFF ARM PUSH-OFF!” or “LOOK, A LOWERED SHOULDER!”.

On top of it all, Barea (13 points, 3 assists) came up big on the offensive end.  He was so effective in fact, that he stole fourth quarter minutes away from Jason Kidd and Josh Howard.  As far as I’m concerned, every second was well deserved.  J.J.’s shortcomings were practically invisible, and he confidently drove to the basket at will.  He finished his drives well, but those plays dwarfed in comparison to Barea’s decision making and creation for his teammates.  By the time Barea was more than a blip on the Spurs’ radar, he was taking advantage of all the extra attention by setting up Antoine Wright in the corner or Brandon Bass at the free throw line.  Just beautiful, beautiful basketball.

I don’t expect Barea to hinder Parker consistently, and I don’t expect his bag of tricks to always come up roses.  Parker will bounce back, and with help from the tape and his coaches, he probably won’t fall into the same traps.  But J.J. was able to make Tony overdribble and indecisive, and that tickles me a bit.  Maybe it won’t work every night, but on a night where Dirk and JET aren’t scorching, it was exactly what the Mavs needed.

Brandon Bass (14 points, 7-9 FG, 4 rebounds) was nearly as brilliant, but succeeded without drawing too much attention.  His defense and rebounding were exactly what we’ve come to expect from Bass, and his offense anchored an important stretch for the Mavs in the second quarter.  He played foil to the Spurs’ Drew Gooden, and I’d say that he succeeded greatly in that regard, despite Gooden’s contributions.

Dirk (19 points, 8 rebounds) was good, but was unexpectedly limited.  Some of that credit goes to the Spurs’ defensive pressure, some of it goes to Dirk’s random off half, and the remainder can be chalked up to shot selection.  All kinds of Spurs lined up against #41, and Bruce Bowen and Drew Gooden each had some success.  Like Parker, I wouldn’t necessarily count on Dirk being limited to these numbers again.  But it’s good to know that the Mavs are no longer damsels in distress, waiting for Dirk to put on his cape and save them from the cold, cruel world.

Erick Dampier (10 points, 11 rebounds) showed exactly how valuable he can be in a series against a player of Tim Duncan’s skill set.  Duncan’s line was far from shabby (27 points, 13-24 FG, 9 rebounds), but Damp bothered Duncan just enough to cause a few of those misses, and his aggressive board-work earned him more than a few buckets and earned his team a few possessions.  On some nights it’s hard to appreciate Dampier, and on others he is completely infuriating.  But he usually shows up to play against the biggest of the big, and though the box score may not agree, Dampier was very effective against Duncan and co. last night.

I’ll end it with one more player note: Josh Howard (25 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists) has officially found himself.  Some of his shots were hunted and a few jumpers were clearly forced.  Still, Josh took over the third quarter (in case you didn’t get the memo, the third quarter is the new first quarter) offensively and displayed his wonderfully high activity level on defense.  The “X-Factor” was exquisite, and Josh’s ankle troubles seemed a distant memory.  Just to make sure, Josh took an early seat on the bench, sitting for the entire fourth quarter.

More to come later today on the surprising (Barea’s defense) and disturbing (Spurs’ three pointers) trends from Game 1.

Closing thoughts:

  • Michael Finley was unbelievable.  He finished with 19 points on 5-5 shooting from three, and several of those attempts were from well beyond the line.  Fortunately for the Mavs, Fin seems destined to fall back down to Earth.  It’s just the way he is.  But, it’s more symptomatic of the real problem: the Mavs simply were not sticking to the Spurs’ shooters.  That could be a problem.
  • Jason Terry turned in a subpar night with just 12 points.  I think it’s safe to say that he has Gregg Popovich’s attention, because all kinds of Spurs were playing denial D on Terry all night long.
  • One game down, and still no sign of George Hill, the Spur who has the best chance of limiting Barea.  If Pop continues his hard stance on not playing Hill and the Spurs lose the series, he could be facing a summer of annoying, repetitive questions.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to…come on, man, it’s J.J.  He was a stud in the fourth quarter, and was actually the most effective point guard on the offensive end.  That’s right, better than Kidd.  Barea’s willingness to set up his teammates made the game easy, and his ability to finish in the lane with fakes and floaters kept the defense on their toes.  Keeping my fingers crossed that this is only the beginning.

The Official Two Man Game Official Dallas Mavericks Versus San Antonio Spurs Official Playoff Preview for the Official 2008-2009 Official Post-Season

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 18, 2009 under Commentary, Previews | 7 Comments to Read

Let’s get this out of the way upfront: I think the Mavs will win this series in six games.

Now that you know the ending, let’s see how we got there.

It’s almost frightening how little we actually have to go on for this series.  The Mavs have been without Josh Howard for most of the season, and the decisive hammer of Manu Ginobili’s prolonged absence didn’t fall until late in the season.  That restricts this version of the Mavs to just one single regular season contest against these Spurs.  It seemed pretty meaningful around March, but does that one game really set the precedent for a series of complex strategies, extremely specific approaches, and series-long adjustments?

We shouldn’t throw out the one piece of evidence that we have on these grounds, but just don’t expect an instant replay every time out. Unless you expect Tony Parker to go for 35+, because that’s something we’re going to have to get used to.

Manu Ginobili’s injury is going to hurt the Spurs, and it’s going to hurt them a lot.  But this is the playoffs, and Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Gregg Popovich are going to bring their A+ game.  That’s just the way the Spurs roll.  So I fully expect TP and Timmy to step up their games and almost fully compensate for Manu’s lost production.  The problem lies in the fact that in doing so, they’ll have to completely force the issue, dominate the offense, and probably tire themselves out.  For two teams that have a history of taking games to the wire and potentially beyond, that’s gonna be a wee bit important.

For everybody that’s hoping for Tim Duncan’s ever-so-slightly injured knee to suddenly explode, think again.  I know he doesn’t have that much playoff experience under his belt, but that young man’s going to be pretty darn good some day.  And you know what?  Odds are he is going to blitz Erick Dampier, Brandon Bass, and whoever else is unlucky enough to guard him.  That’s just how he do.  The key with Duncan is to make his work as difficult as possible.  Dampier isn’t an ideal match for Duncan defensively, but he’s the best we’ve got.  He has to bother TD enough to sandbag that field goal percentage, put a hand in his face, and make Duncan really go to work.  He’ll get his, but it won’t be easy.

With Parker, I don’t even know where to begin.  Antoine Wright, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Josh Howard, and J.J. Barea will likely all get their shot, and I don’t think any will have much success.  The best strategy is to try to give Parker space, and force him to make jumper after jumper.  But giving a player like Parker that kind of space is pretty counterproductive.  He’ll simply rear back and charge full speed ahead into the lane, using that extra space to generate the momentum to get right to the cup.  Parker is a helluva finisher, and on top of that he’s a master of theatrics.  It’s practically a lost cause.  But what is there the Mavs can do, really?  Hopefully the length of Howard and Wright can bother Parker for stretches, but I’m not counting on it.  The key is to find a way to endure the onslaught, and strike back with some vigor on the offensive end.  Duncan and Parker can’t do everything, and they will make mistakes.  The Mavs just need to force a few extra mistakes, pressure as much as possible, and limit the contributions of the rest of the bunch.  That and pray that Parker doesn’t go into God-mode.

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

When you look at this series, it’s easy to focus on the 2006 pieces; it’s Dirk, Josh, and JET vs. Parker and Duncan.  But save a big of your attention for Jason Kidd, who just so happens to be an incredible point guard.  I doubt that Kidd will have another big scoring night against the Spurs.  Most of his points figure to come off of spot-up threes.  But what Kidd does is open the floodgates for the Mavs that aren’t always creating for themselves.  Erick Dampier is suddenly throwing down oops.  J.J. Barea is getting wide open looks at threes.  Brandon Bass is fed in just the right place in the post.  James Singleton catches a bullet pass right under the basket.  These are things often overlooked, but none of it happens without Kidd.  The volume scoring is going to come from the brightest of stars, but Kidd is chipping in 6 points here and 8 points there by setting up the ‘other’ Mavs with easy buckets.  Huge.

On an individual basis, let’s look at what the Spurs have defensively.  Roger Mason Jr. is likely guarding Terry, Michael Finley and Bruce Bowen will take turns with Howard, and Matt Bonner/whoever else Pop digs up will draw the short straw with Dirk.  How is any of that beneficial for San Antonio?  Each of those three Mavs is fully capable of eclipsing their counterparts and more, and seems poised to do so based on each Spur’s defensive inadequacies.  Mason is a nice player and a great shooter, but lacks the discipline to effectively hound the JET.  Bowen has lost a step since he’s lost a step, and even then Howard gave him trouble.  Michael Finley is Michael Finley, and try as he might, those legs are spry no longer.

The Spurs Dilemma in 2006 was this: Bruce Bowen couldn’t guard both Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard at once, and whoever was free of Bowen’s shadowing went off.  Howard knew just how to attack the Spurs inside with his array of post-ups and runners, and when Bowen was switched on him, the Mavs went straight to Dirk at the elbow.  This year’s model shares that in common with the Spurs of old, but with one notable exception: Bruce Bowen just isn’t the lockdown defender he used to be.  If Bowen can’t significantly limit the production of one of the two, and another Spur doesn’t have unexpected defensive success, how exactly does San Antonio hope to stop the Maverick attack?

I will say this: to his credit, Matt Bonner has played Dirk unusually well.  He’s big but not too strong, not particularly quick or athletic, and doesn’t seem to have any specific attributes that fit the bill for the thorn in Dirk’s side.  But he doesn’t give up ground, doesn’t fall for Dirk’s fakes, and holds his own.  Unfortunately for Bonner and the Spurs, that’s not enough.  Without Manu storming from the stables, the Spurs will need to completely clamp down on at least one of Dallas’ big scorers.  Their best shot just so happens to be against one of the most deadly and resilient scorers in the league today, and one who isn’t going to go down quietly against San Antone.

The bench play will need to be enormous if Dallas wants to take the series.  J.J. has shown flashes of Devin Harris in him, exactly the kind of quick, penetrating point guard that has given the Spurs trouble in the past.  Brandon Bass has the midrange shot and the quickness in the post to give Tim Duncan a headache, not to mention enough strength to bully a bit.  James Singleton and Ryan Hollins will have their turn, and whatever they can offer could make for advantage – Mavs.  I doubt very much that you’ll walk away saying that Brandon Bass won or lost this series, but that doesn’t make his contributions any less important.  These two teams have such incredible players at the top that they’ll trade blow for blow all series long.  Establishing and reaping the benefits of the players farther down the chain of command is where the series could very well be decided.  Of course that could very well work against the Mavs, if the Spurs can get their peripherals in a groove and negate the impact of the Mavs’ reserves.  In J.J. and Bass we trust.

The Mavs have to hope that home court advantage doesn’t come into effect.  Take care of business at home, and steal some momentum on the road.  A potential game seven would be where everything favors the Spurs: an army of clutch performers, one of the best strategists and motivators in the game, and a roaring home crowd.  I’m not sure the Mavs would be able to overcome.  But if all goes according to plan, it hopefully won’t have to come to that.

Photo by Dustin Chapman.

Pop’s impact cannot be denied.  I’ve got nothing for respect for the Spurs’ ringleader, and am sincerely jealous of his beard-growing abilities.  But for just one second, let’s show Rick Carlisle some love.  Carlisle has shown exactly the kind of creativity and adaptability that every team should want of its coach, and what he’s lacked in motivational polish he’s made up for in his willingness to try anything and everything to get the Mavs a win.  He’s not Popovich.  His ring-less fingers make that painfully apparent.  But Carlisle is no scrub.  He knows what he’s doing, he’s been here before, and he draws one mean out-of-bounds play.  The coaching advantage undoubtedly goes San Antonio’s way, but the margin may be slight enough to have its impact discounted.

Carlisle (and the rest of the Mavs staff, notably Darrell Armstrong) will have quite a task in managing Josh Howard’s…situation.  Howard hasn’t shown any signs of reverting to his jumpshot-happy self, but Carlisle needs to ensure that it stays that way.  Howard’s understanding of his role in the offense will be absolutely paramount if the Mavs are going to make it out of this series alive, and that requires Josh and the coaching staff to be fully in sync, from head to ankle.  Health is only a subplot.  Howard is going to be slightly limited, and that’s something the Mavs will have to deal with.  Off-days in between games will nurse tender joints, and there’s nothing an ice pack, a band-aid, and some good ol’ fashioned aspirin can’t fix, right?

Making playoff picks is tough because there are so many internal forces at work.  But for once, my job seems easy.  My gut, my heart, and my head are all telling me Mavs in six.  The series is close enough to be a toss-up, but every force in this universe tells me the Mavs are going to pull it out.  File these thoughts away as the delusions of a Mavs fan if you’d like, but I’ve got a feeling.  And a thought.  And an instinct.  All together that has to amount for something.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 17, 2009 under xOther | 3 Comments to Read

  • Mavs-Spurs: “one of the best current rivalries in sports.”  (Relive a bit of the rivalry here.)I’m sure fans of college sports would have a few things to say about that, but this is about competing cores, not competing colors.  Who cares what shade of blue you wear?  The Mavs and the Spurs are a great rivalry because they play each other well, they play each other evenly, and they’ve met in the playoffs a handful of times.  This is players vs. players, not school vs. school; that makes all the difference.
  • Hint – if you want to really catch my attention and then have your basketball opinions flippantly disregarded until the end of time, all you have to do is say one sentence: Dirk Nowitzki is not good in the playoffs.
  • Breaking down the Mavs’ offense with X’s and O’s of Basketball, including this pretty bold statement: “With the added benefit of not having to travel a far distance, and knowing the Spurs intimately (this goes both ways though), I think one could make the argument that it would be an upset if the Spurs won this series.”  I don’t know that there’s any true upset in this series either way, but that’s definitely an interesting thought.
  • Art Garcia’s preview.
  • Check out my predictions, and the predictions of all kinds of bloggers on the Blogger Smackdown.  For the record: Lakers in 5, Nuggets in 6, Mavs in 6, Blazers in 7.  Cavs in 4, Celtics in 6, Hawks in 6, Magic in 6.
  • Missed this one after the Rockets game.  Ron Artest, via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: “When I was with him, I had a lot of problems…He really showed a lot of genuine care for me… He always came over and made sure I was OK, talked to me, made sure my family was OK. … He knew I was an emotional kid. He always took time out to make sure I was all right. It was just unfortunate I wasn’t really listening…He taught me a lot. He taught me how to play intelligent basketball, taught me a lot about defense.”
  • Everything seems to indicate that George Hill will not see much, if any, playoff action for the Spurs.  I tend to side with Skeets’ comments on The Basketball Jones: Hill could be a valuable defensive piece against Jason Terry.  He’s quick enough to keep pace, and as a rookie he’s still very malleable to Pop’s “don’t ever leave your man, ever” commands.  I feel bad for you, George, but I’m kinda glad you’ve got a comfy seat on the pine.
  • Tom Ziller talks Mavs-Spurs at FanHouse: “To me, it’s a tug-of-war between Duncan’s constant power and Dirk’s fireworks. Each have won old battles — these are hardened soldiers who have done this before and just might do it again. But in the end, I can’t ignore the clip-on-loop of Parker dribbling by Kidd. If any opponent made Kidd a liability on defense … well, that’d be New Orleans. (See: last year.) But if there’s a No. 2, it’s San Antonio. Parker is too fast, too smart, too good for Kidd, and I think the next couple weeks will bear that out.”  It’s a bit tough to argue against that kind of logic.
  • Marc Stein of ESPN.com, on what he likes about the Mavs’ chances: “What’s even better than the history that tells us the Mavericks are one of just two teams this decade to win a playoff series against the Spurs when Duncan is playing? The strong finish. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen one from the Mavs. ‘I think the last two years,’ Mavs sixth man Jason Terry says, ‘we kind of lost steam going into the playoffs.’”
  • Mario Elie thinks the Mavs are like the ’95 champion Rockets.  Umm…right.
  • David Moore of the Dallas Morning News: “No one will say it out loud. Even if you lured a player into an inflammatory quote, he would quickly deny it. But don’t be fooled. This matchup with San Antonio is what the Mavericks wanted.”  Glad to hear we’re all on the same page.

There Are Other People on the Planet

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 16, 2009 under Commentary | 5 Comments to Read

And some of them even happen to watch the Mavs.  That’s why I went through the trouble of reaching out to Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com and Zac Crain of D Magazine’s sports blog, Inside Corner, to get their opinions on a variety of topics anchored around the upcoming Mavs-Spurs throwdown.  Without further ado:
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Rob Mahoney: The Mavs draw San Antonio in the first round.  Good thing or a bad thing?  Would you have preferred the Mavs get a shot at Denver or Houston?  Or was San Antonio the team at the center of your dartboard down the final stretch of games?

Zac Crain, Inside Corner: The two teams I targeted about a month ago were Portland and San Antonio. Portland: partially (and we’re talking, like, 5 percent) because they weren’t playoff-tested, but mostly because the Mavs had played them extremely well all season. San Antonio: because they’re the Spurs and the Mavs are the Mavs. Dallas isn’t the same team that beat ‘em in 7 in 2006, but the ghost of that squad is still there, and for that reason, you throw out the regular season records and expect them to fight it out all the way. SA is the one team in the league that still thinks of the Mavs in pre-2007 terms. (For the most part.)

I didn’t want Denver (the Mavs just don’t match up that well) and Houston, well, I think it would have been an interesting series, but I would have given Dallas less of puncher’s chance than they have against the Spurs. All that said, I am a bit worried about the fan base’s overly enthusiastic reception to the Spurs series. Not saying don’t be optimistic. I’m saying: cautiously optimistic.

Mike Fisher, DallasBasketball.com: I agree with Popovich (generally a wise move with it comes to basketball if not hirsute styling) on this one. And I’ll quote Jason Garrett circa mid-1990’s, too: “I do not concern myself with those things that are beyond my control.’’

I did consider Houston to be the most wobbly of those three teams. But. … combine the big brains of Pop and Redball and, basically, it’s a waste of time to worry about such things – unless, I guess, you are Avery Johnson’s 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks skipping blindly off the side of the Golden Gate Bridge.

RM: Which match-up, besides Dirk v. Bonner, presents the greatest advantage for the Mavs?  And likewise, which match-up is the most advantageous for the Spurs?

Mike Fisher, DallasBasketball.com: “Dirk vs. Bonner’’! I loved that episode of “Growing Pains’’!

I’m not sure the Mavs really have a singular mano-a-mano matchup that deserves to be ranked anywhere near the aforementioned. Sorry. As I noted in an analysis piece on Wednesday, Josh Howard is so frequently touted as an “X-Factor’’ that now even J-Ho himself is calling himself that. But an “X-Factor’’ seems to be, by definition, something of an “unknown,’’ a “surprise,’’ a “what-if.’’

And “what-if’s’’ don’t qualify as advantages I’m willing to bet on.

Zac Crain, Inside Corner: I’ll start with the second question: Tony Parker vs. anyone they throw at him. I just don’t see them really shutting him down in the slightest. An Antoine-then J.J.-then Kidd rotation might work against Deron Williams or Chris Paul, because those guys can pass and are willing to. Parker just wants to get to the hoop. As for the Mavs: I think Josh could go off against Finley. And they don’t really have a stopper coming off the bench. Big IF here: IF Josh’s ankle doesn’t give out.

RM: Which non-JET Mavs bench player has the biggest impact on this series?

Zac Crain, Inside Corner: J.J. Barea, for the same reasons the Spurs had so much trouble with Devin Harris: he’s quick, an aggressive penetrator, and a creative finisher. I think there is at least one game where he is the next day’s headline. Dark horse: Brandon Bass, because he’s the most athletic big man on both sides, and the Spurs are a bit creaky up front.

Mike Fisher, DallasBasketball.com: I say it’s whichever Mav big man Carlisle decides to pull out of his “Be-Ready’’ Bag. Erick Dampier will get the first (and second, and third) crack at Duncan. But somebody else is going to get 20 minutes at center. Will Bass and Hollins tag-team him like they did Yao on Wednesday? Isn’t Singleton long, athletic, frustrating and just enough of a perimeter threat to trouble Timmy? Is it time to pull the Dirk-as-center idea out of year-long mothballs?

Whatever the Mavs do here will be a fateful decision – one way or the other.

RM: What will give the Mavs the most trouble in this series?  (You can go with players, strategies, a certain element that the Spurs excel at, etc.)

Mike Fisher, DallasBasketball.com: Enduring the pain of employing a “Let-Parker-Do-His-Damage’’ philosophy.

It kinda worked against CP3, who is the same sort of uncontrollable waterbug as Parker is. And heck, Kidd, Wright, JJB, whomever. … they aren’t going to actually stop offensive-minded rabbit PGs. So keep Parker from creating inside, keep a lid on his more controllable teammates, and grimace as Parker goes for 30-plus in three or four or five of the upcoming games.

And hope it ain’t enough.

Zac Crain, Inside Corner: Two things, one of which I mentioned before. They can’t stop Parker. And I’m not positive a “let TP get his” game plan helps much, because they don’t really rely on his setting up his teammates. Two: the corner three, which the Spurs have turned into an art form, and which the Mavs have never especially defended well.

RM: Describe this series in one word.

Zac Crain, Inside Corner: Familiar

Mike Fisher, DallasBasketball.com: Can “9X50’’ be one word?

“9X50’’ is the little T-shirt-worthy equation we coined at DB.com to celebrate what the Mavs have done with playoff appearances and 50-win seasons. The only team in Dallas’ class in those two categories? The Spurs, of course.

9X50. A celebration. For both franchises. For a couple more weeks, anyway.

RM: And the big one: prediction time.  Who ya got?

Zac Crain, Inside Corner: Mavs in six.

Mike Fisher, DallasBasketball.com: The Mavs’ logic? “As good as we are at home, all we have to do is steal one in San Antonio!’’

The Spurs’ logic? “As good as WE are, period, we don’t have to STEAL anything!’’

I’m a journalist — I’ve got the Press Pass in the band of my fedora and everything — but I’m also a fan. (I’d also like to note that I’m a bitch, I’m a lover, I’m a child, I’m a mother, I’m a sinner, I’m a saint). The fan satisfaction I’d get from Dallas winning would be matched by the journalist satisfaction I’d get from correctly predicting the upset.

Mavs in seven.

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A big thanks to Zac and Fish for playing along, and be sure to check out their other work at DallasBasketball.com and Inside Corner.  And don’t worry, you’ll get plenty of my thoughts on the series soon enough.

Dallas Mavericks 107, San Antonio Spurs 102

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 5, 2009 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

“We live in the present, we dream of the future and we learn eternal truths from the past.”
-Madame Chiang Kai-Shek

It wasn’t a blow-out, but that was some kind of victory.  Err, at least I think it was.

Again, my duties as a full-time blogger and part-time intramural basketballer came into direct conflict, and the final IM game of the season prevented me from watching the second half.  By now, you guys know the drill: fill in the blanks.  What did the Mavs do to lockdown Roger Mason in the 2nd?  It looks like Dampier played some swell defense on Duncan, but does the box score deceive me?  What on earth got into Josh Howard?

Here are my thoughts from the footage of the game that I did actually see:

It wouldn’t be right if I started with anyone but Josh Howard (29 points, 10-15 FG, 4-5 3FG, 7 rebounds).  He was grimacing notably in the first half as he trotted up and down the court, but his bum ankle didn’t prevent him from being assertive with his moves or consistent with his shooting stroke.  Just the fact that he played sent a message, and going off for 12 straight Maverick points in the first quarter blared that message through a megaphone.  The new-old Josh isn’t having a ‘coming-out party,’ (he’s been playing active, focused basketball for a few games now), but it’s good to reap the benefits of a flashback Josh performance against our old friends the Spurs.

Erick Dampier (9 points, 4 rebounds, 4 blocks) really does a great job of playing Tim Duncan (19 points, 7-21 FG, -10 [+/-]) on a regular basis.  A team as thin up front as the Mavs is never going to come close to shackling Duncan, but going back to 2006 Damp’s efforts have been admirable.  Sometimes it looks like he’s not aggressive, but in truth, Damp employs a combination of solid fundamental defense, brute strength, and a conscious desire to avoid putting Duncan on the foul line.  Dampier finished with 4 blocks for the night, and though the defense didn’t pick up until after the first quarter, it was a great effort…from my understanding.

Roger Mason.  My goodness.  There was a point in the first half where I wasn’t worried about Tim Duncan or Tony Parker, but how on earth the Mavs were going to stop the pick-and-pop with Kurt Thomas and Roger Mason.  I wish I were kidding.  Dirk, Brandon Bass, and Jason Terry were all doing a miserable job on that front defensively, and Mason and Thomas just would not miss their midrange looks.  Credit to Rick Carlisle; the defensive execution improved dramatically out of seemingly every timeout.  The rotations improved, screens were hedged, and all seemed right with the world.  That said, I’d like to see a better defensive effort from Jason Terry.  The way Roger Mason used and abused him in the first 2 quarters is inexcusable, and if that’s the way he’s going to play Manu Ginobili, we wouldn’t stand a chance.

Thank you, Jason Kidd.  We all know that you’re not going to stop Tony Parker, and you probably won’t even come close.  But if you can produce like you did last night against the better point guards of the league (17 points, 6-10 FG, 3-5 3FG, 9 assists, 7 rebounds), the effects of your counterpart’s production are softened.  Parker did score 37 points, but that 37 points is less meaningful than if Kidd had another 6-4-5 night.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to…Dirk Nowitzki?  Erick Dampier?  Jason Kidd?  Josh Howard?  Rick Carlisle?  Aww hell, this one goes to everyone.  A great team effort to pull out a close win against a good Spurs team, and a great momentum-builder going into New Orleans tonight.