You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
Back-to-back games against the struggling Milwaukee Bucks and the perpetually befuddled Sacramento Kings weren’t going to test the Mavs’ competitive fiber, but they did end testing the Mavs’ limits. In two straight games, we got to see exactly what kind of dominance this Mavericks team is capable of, and though the level of competition gives these two huge wins a certain disclaimer, demolishing lesser teams does have a decent correlation with long-term success. More importantly: after being on the receiving end of a couple of routs to begin the season, Dallas is finally making legitimate strides in their efforts to create balance.
It’s fantastic and reassuring and all kinds of confusing that the Mavs are able to be this good with Dirk Nowitzki averaging just 12.5 points in the last two games. Some of that is a function of playing time (particularly because of the Mavs’ tendency to work through Nowitzki late in close games), but the marginal nature of Nowitzki’s involvement has been apparent irrelevant of his production. Dirk’s still doing work, he’s just doing substantially less than he did at any point last season.
Congratulations to the Kings, who now have the honor of posting the lowest point total for any Maverick opponent in a half, the lowest point total in a half in Kings franchise history, the lowest point total for a Maverick opponent in a game, the fewest field goals made by a Maverick opponent, the lowest single-game field goal percentage in Kings franchise history, and the lowest single-game field goal percentage mark for any Maverick opponent overall. Gold stars all around.
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
-George Bernard Shaw
It’s the Clippers, but it’s something. After playing three quarters of embarrassing basketball just a night prior against the Hornets, the Mavs turned things around 360 degrees. Dallas started strong, built a double-digit lead and groomed it in the second quarter, and experienced an incredible drop-off in the third before rallying to an utterly dominant finish.
What caused the Mavs’ unexpected let-down to start the second half? Well, Dallas shot 6-for-23 in the quarter, which was the only one in which they didn’t top 50% shooting. Meanwhile, the Clippers seemed to be in a constant state of free throw shooting: LA attempted 16 free throws in the third alone, which is just four short of the number that Dallas attempted in the entire game. The Clips won the turnover margin and the offensive rebounding margin for the quarter, and even though their shooting from the field wasn’t dreadfully effective either, the freebies were enough to erase the Mavs’ fourteen-point lead coming out of halftime. Oh, and who has two German thumbs and was thrown out for mumbling under his breath? This guy:
Maybe the ejection was warranted, or maybe it wasn’t. Who knows? What we do know is that for a ten-minute stretch in the third quarter, the Clippers were incredibly aggressive and the Mavs looked lost. We’ve seen this before, when Dirk’s elbow became better acquainted with Carl Landry’s mouth: when Dirk leaves the game due to abnormal circumstances, the Mavs fall apart. In that contest they pulled it together enough to rally back and force overtime, and in this one they regrouped in between the third and the fourth.
Part of that was because whoever called the initial play of the fourth for the Mavs, either Rick Carlisle or Jason Kidd, set everything ablaze with an old favorite:
It was only the beginning for Rodrigue Beaubois, who finished his 15 minutes of playing time with 10 points and three rebounds. The Mavs don’t have any better options off the bench as a situational scorer, and Beaubois continues to deliver time and time again. Does that me he can take over the back-up point responsibilities and run the team efficiently? Undecided. Most of his time in this game (and this season) has him working off the ball. Nights like these are a clear reminder that Roddy deserves playing time, but with his ability to play the point still in question, something has to give. the minutes have to come from somewhere, and what point do you sacrifice the minutes of the Mavs’ wings in favor of Beaubois?
It wasn’t an issue last night, because Dirk’s ejection gave the Mavs a prime opportunity to go small. Very, very small. When Dallas vaulted into the fourth on the strength of a 22-3 run, they were fielding a lineup of Kidd-Terry-Beaubois-Butler-Haywood. We’ve seen them run the three-guard lineup in the past with Dirk and Dampier, but shifting Butler to the four opened up a unique opportunity for minutes and, apparently, a unique opportunity to blow the top off of the building by pushing the pace.
Beaubois stole the show a bit, but it was Jason Kidd (26 points, 12 assists, six rebounds) that transformed a shaken team into a juggernaut in a matter of minutes. He had 13 points and four assists during tide-receding fourth, triggering the Mavs’ transition attack with his quick outlet passes and defensive rebounding. It was his 37th birthday, and he was a monster.
Unknowingly, the Mavs utilized a three act structure in taking down a most unspectacular foe, making what could have been a cruise control win into a carefully structured dramatic masterpiece. Overdramatic? You betcha. It’s against the Clippers, for blog’s sake. But it’s something.
Drew Gooden (26 points, 20 rebounds) came to play. He would have had a double-double with points and offensive rebounds alone, and while he doesn’t harbor ill will towards the team for his current circumstances, don’t think for a second that he didn’t want to turn a few heads during his grand return. Gooden went 8-for-21 from the field, but made up for his poor shooting by grabbing his own offensive boards and leading the Clips’ free throw assault (10-of-10 from the line).
Erick Dampier started in place of Brendan Haywood, though it’s still unclear whether it was to jump-start Damp or as a message to Haywood. Either way, Haywood was not only more effective, but more engaged. He finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.
Caron Butler is struggling. Really struggling. Four points and six rebounds on 2-of-9 shooting for him last night, which is the kind of stat line that had Josh Howard scapegoated all over the internet. I’m glad he had the sense to halt his attempts at single digits, but the Mavs are going to need more from Butler on offense, especially if Dirk is unexpectedly out of the lineup.
Don’t underestimate the importance of the Mavs’ first half. Good execution and energy, which is important regardless of opponent. We’ve seen this team sleepwalk through first quarters before, and it’s a good thing to see them ready to perform from opening tip.
Another culprit of the Mavs’ third quarter struggles: transition defense. Jump shots led to transition opportunities, which is what you get with this team. But the same transition D problem that plagued them against New Orleans reared its ugly head in the third. When the Mavs started getting back on defense and set up in the zone, the Clippers’ pace and production slowed down considerably.
The Mavs’ third quarter implosion and fourth quarter explosion were almost instantaneous. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Dallas’ 14-point civilization was constructed, burned, and pillaged by nightfall, reimagined, and built anew by morning light.
Dirk only played 19 minutes before his ejection, but he neared point-per-minute status with his 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting. He did a great job of creating and making his usually “difficult” shots, but Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood also did a tremendous job of freeing up Nowitzki with screens.
Travis Outlaw still likes to take Travis Outlaw shots.
The Mavs don’t have a very good track record when it comes to finding value late in the draft, though selecting Josh Howard with the final pick in the first round back in 2003. But the stakes have never been higher, with the Mavs’ few young assets weighing their options in free agency and the Mavs’ 2010 pick in the hands of the New Jersey Nets. This one counts big time, and it’s up to the management and the scouting team to find the diamond in the rough.
It’s tough, but hardly impossible. Quality players pass right under the noses of many a team year after year, leaving latent value late in the draft. The Mavs pick at 22, which is just a shade closer to the lottery than to the Mavs’ customary position at the draft’s tail.
Here are the picks at 22 this decade:
2008 – Courtney Lee
2007 – Jared Dudley
2006 – Marcus Williams
2005 – Jarrett Jack
2004 – Viktor Khryapa
2003 – Zoran Planinic
2002 – Casey Jacobsen
2001 – Jeryl Sasser
2000 – Donnell Harvey
Three of those players (Courtney Lee, Jared Dudley, Jarrett Jack) have shown rotation player chops. Lee is the most notable as the starting 2 guard of an impressive Orlando team just one win away from the Finals. In fact, if the Mavs could magically re-draft Lee this year, they’d be in pretty good shape.
Just for fun, here are picks in the late first round (20+) :
Courtney Lee (22)
Nicolas Batum (25)
Wilson Chandler (23)
Rudy Fernandez (24)
Aaron Brooks (26)
Renaldo Balkman (20)
Rajon Rondo (21)
Kyle Lowry (23)
Shannon Brown (25)
Jordan Farmar (26)
Jarrett Jack (20)
Nate Robinson (21)
Francisco Garcia (23)
Jason Maxiell (26)
Linas Kleiza (27)
David Lee (30)
Jameer Nelson (20)
Delonte West (24)
Kevin Martin (26)
Boris Diaw (21)
Travis Outlaw (23)
Kendrick Perkins (27)
Leandro Barbosa (28)
Josh Howard (29)
Tayshaun Prince (23)
Nenad Krstic (24)
John Salmons (26)
It’s certainly worth noting that even the 2005 draft, predicted to be a weak draft class among pundits and largely looked at as a failure in comparison to its contemporaries, still produced productive players late in the first round. Blake Griffin is no Tim Duncan and the consolation prizes may have their flaws, but that doesn’t mean true commodities can’t be found late in the first.
Next week I’ll start examining potential picks for the Mavs, starting with those rumored and confirmed to have scheduled workouts with the team. Some of those players seem poised for success on the pro level, and others may not even be top competitors in the D-League. As fans, we can only hope that MGMT not only makes the right decision in assessing the talent of a potential pick, but also in picking talented players to fill holes in the Mavs’ rotation.