The Difference: New Orleans Hornets 93, Dallas Mavericks 92

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 10, 2011 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-03-10 at 12.08.46 PM

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TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
New Orleans106.946.226.925.09.2

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin, only this time that margin is only one point, and the one corresponding bullet is really just a multi-paragraph bit that sticks to one basic theme.

If this were the Mavs’ first questionable performance in some time, this might be an understandable loss. After all, for whatever reason, professional teams are no strangers to letdown in a game like this one; Chris Paul watched from the sidelines, and a team that is so reliant on him for offensive stability seemed dead in the water against a quality club like Dallas. That clearly wasn’t the case, and while a one-point loss after a number of improbable Hornet makes isn’t the most torturous outcome for the Maverick faithful, this performance is an extension of the team’s depressed play of late. The Mavs are considered contenders because of what they’re capable of, but they certainly haven’t been living up to their top billing in recent weeks.

A slow, 82-game march toward the playoffs characteristically consists of wins and losses of most every type. There are blowouts in either direction, heart-breakers, momentum-shifters, near-losses, statement affairs, and everything else one can possibly imagine. Most teams don’t get through the year without experiencing them all, and thus all are a regular part of the in-season cycle. This is different. This is not a single loss or even a single pair of losses. It’s not a dropped game against a star-less team, or an underwhelming performance to wrap up a road trip. This loss is an indictment. It’s an indication of real weakness, and its a reason why I’m still hesitant to put Dallas on the same platform where San Antonio and Los Angeles currently reside.

The Mavs rank 28th in offensive rebounding rate and 13th in defensive rebounding rate, and they allowed themselves — Tyson Chandler aside — to be thoroughly out-muscled and out-hustled to rebound after rebound. That kind of thing doesn’t change against the likes of Tim Duncan, Andrew Bynum, and Pau Gasol, and it’s likely among Rick Carlisle’s concerns for this team moving forward. As strong as they’ve been at times on defense, the Mavs allowed a team with Jarrett Jack as the initiator of its offense to produce at a rate of 106.9 points per 100 possessions, all while Jack cackled with every bucket or assist. Trevor Ariza missed every single one of his 10 field goal attempts, David West shot 5-of-12 from the field and had a respectable but underwhelming 16 points, and the Mavs still didn’t win. Dallas couldn’t quite make it out to the perimeter to contest Marco Belinelli, despite the fact that none of Belinelli’s teammates were really posing that much of a threat. Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler excluded, Dallas just didn’t have the firepower; those who were scoring somewhat efficiently couldn’t create more opportunities against New Orleans’ defense (or else weren’t given the opportunity), and those who tried (Rodrigue Beaubois and Jason Terry, primarily) didn’t have much success. Jason Kidd went 0-fer on seven attempts for good measure.

Wednesday night’s game wasn’t a spectacular failure on either end of the court, but it was an occasion where Dallas ceded too much ground in every regard to a rudderless team. Make no mistake — without Chris Paul, that’s what this Hornets squad becomes, and that’s who got the better of the Mavs. Things were as they should have been at points throughout the game, but the significance of this loss goes well beyond what it means today. Maybe we can all look back at this game in a few months’ time and laugh, but for now it seems a pretty fitting asterisk on the team’s success: this year’s Mavs are very beatable, their defense is strong but not impenetrable, and their offense stable but not universally consistent.

No Game Is an Island: Development Arrested

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 31, 2009 under Previews | 2 Comments to Read

If you had to pick the centerpiece of the Houston Rockets this season, it would probably be Trevor Ariza. Errrr, maybe it would be Aaron Brooks. Or Luis Scola. Or Shane Battier. Or Carl Landry. Or Chuck Hayes. In a vacuum completely devoid of traditional superstars, the redeeming value of the Rockets lies in their disregard for the traditional model. There was no desperation to play Tracy McGrady upon his return, or to make a deal for an overpaid quasi-star. Just a team full of professionals working hard and playing in concert, in part because Trevor Ariza, while good, falls short of great:

You could blame a lot of people for Ariza’s stunted offensive development, but it just seems natural for him to exist in his current state. As a Laker, Ariza’s skill set made him not a Kobe wannabe, but a welcome, unique part of a championship squad. And as a Rocket, Ariza’s physical tools would seemingly allow him to step into Tracy McGrady’s shoes, but his limitations allow him to be something so much more. If you were to pick out the teams of the NBA in the truest sense of the word, the Rockets would certainly be among them. Would that be the case if the divide in traditional statistical production between Ariza and his teammates was more notable? If his high number of shot attempts were a product of anything other than necessity?

Hardly. If Ariza had a more diverse offensive game, it’s probable that the Rockets would be improved as well. But everything we’ve come to know about them this season would be eclipsed by convention. Ariza’s mediocrity (which isn’t meant to be an insult) is part of what makes Houston so unbelievably charming, as if each clanging jumpshot or overambitious drive was only further evidence of Trevor being earnest. The Rockets are only the Rockets because of their delightful limitations, and to expect more of Ariza is to wish death upon the Rox as we know them.

Read my full thoughts on Trevor Ariza, the Houston Rockets, and the beauty of their limitations at Hardwood Paroxysm.

No Game Is an Island: Pleasant Surprises

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 18, 2009 under Previews | Be the First to Comment

The Mavs have pleasantly surprised. Although it might be easy to dig up a Maverick die-hard who had faith in Dallas’ ability to develop a top-notch defense, I think you’d be hard pressed top back that argument with warrant and logic. Expecting such a prolific defensive display could possibly have labeled you as some kind of maniac, or worse, a homer.

But the Rockets have been a surprise in a completely different way. Whereas underestimating the Dallas defense was natural given the personnel (a supposedly slowing Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion, and the near-liabilities turned competent defenders, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry), the Rockets were underestimated due to a complete oversight of the power of a basketball cooperative. Each player compensates for the weakness of another, and though high-level talent separates Houston from the West’s elite, we all should have expected competence from a batch of skilled, highly-motivated ballplayers:

I don’t know if you heard, but over the Summer, the Houston Rockets essentially swapped Ron Artest for Trevor Ariza. The former is a bit of a wildcard, known for ill-advised 3s, elite perimeter defense, and something about snake eggs. The latter is a superb athlete, a tremendous wing defender, and an emerging shooting threat.

So why is it that the Houston Rockets were so woefully underestimated coming into the season, when the only significant difference between last year’s playoff team and this year’s would-be playoff time is the (occasionally bad) shot creating abilities of Artest?

I…I don’t know. Count me among the many that refused to acknowledge Houston’s potential. I didn’t see where the points were going to come from, even if Ariza is a young, talented player on a perfectly reasonable salary. Call me crazy, but I wasn’t sold on Aaron Brooks’ ability to score consistently, much less run an offense. And I saw some problems among their rotation of bigs, which had fallen to three productive if undersized power forwards in the absence of Yao Ming. Not only is none of that true, but we’ve seen virtually the opposite.

Read my thoughts on the Rockets in their entirety on Hardwood Paroxysm.

Dallas Mavericks 121, Houston Rockets 103

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 11, 2009 under Recaps | 6 Comments to Read

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE/Getty Images.

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People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.
-Zig Ziglar

Though it may not bode well for your blood pressure or the items being thrown at your television set, the Mavs are definitely making things interesting. We’re just seven games into the season and they’ve already found just about every possible way to win. They shot the lights out against Toronto, they put up a fine, combined offensive/defensive effort against Los Angeles, Dirk had an impressive one-man show against Utah, and finally, they overcame the 17-point handicap the Mavs gave the Rockets in the first half last night.

That first quarter was brutal. Aaron Brooks and Luis Scola combined for 24 points on 9 of 11 shooting, and the Rockets were picking apart the Mavs’ D with timely offensive boards and sharp interior passing. Say what you will about the talent level of this Houston team, but they’re smart players with good instincts, and their basketball savvy was more than evident during the opening quarter surge. It took a few minutes for them to get into rhythm, but once Brooks started triggering the fast break, the Mavs looked done. Dallas was caught in a bit of a dilemma: hitting the offensive boards would likely translate to more possessions against an undersized Houston squad, but doing so would allow Brooks to jog, skip, or crab walk his way to a free fast break layup. It’s a tough call, and the Mavs clearly deliberated between both options in the first half, before somehow opting to do both in the second.

Something just clicked. After a 10-4 second quarter run, the Rockets managed just one other run of note: a quick 5-0 burst in the fourth, when the game had more or less been decided. The Mavs, on the other hand, rode their momentum going into halftime, and haven’t bothered to disembark since. They rattled off the following runs without answer from the Rockets: 12-3, 10-1, 8-0, 12-4, 8-3. That’s how days are won and dreams are made, kids.

The defense was just as impressive after the internal trigger. The Rockets shot just 11 for 36 in the second half, as virtually every offensive threat was neutralized. Aaron Brooks’ speed was negated by Kidd’s defense, which guided Brooks directly into the help D. Trevor Ariza (9 points, 3-10 FG, 5 rebounds) was completely bottled by Shawn Marion. Luis Scola, Carl Landry, and David Andersen were cut off from smooth interior feeds, instead being forced to take long jumpers or create for themselves by backing down the Mavs’ interior defenders. Dallas was suddenly able to both secure offensive rebounds and halt Houston’s fast break opportunities, leaving the Rox in a bit of a rut.

Jason Terry (24 points, 7-8 FG, 1-1 3FG, 9-9 FT, 3 assists) was absolutely brilliant. He looked and played like a man with a mission, as JET clearly had redemption on the line in his own personal game against the ghost of free throws past. You can’t ask for a better scoring night off the bench.

Erick Dampier deserves a paragraph all to himself, but I’m getting there. Just wait.

Closing thoughts:

  • The Mavs showed no hesitation in using the three guard lineup down the stretch in the fourth. Jason Kidd, J.J. Barea, and Jason Terry were all on the floor when this one was carefully put away, giving Josh Howard plenty of time to rest that bum ankle.
  • Erick Dampier. Seriously.
  • Though the three guard look dealt the final blows against the Rockets, it’s worth noting that the starters did most of the heavy lifting for the Mavs. They were responsible for the 22-3 run bridging the second and third quarters…y’know, the run that completely flipped the game on its head.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to, without question, Erick Dampier. JET was spectacular, Kidd was patient, Marion was aggressive, and Dirk was Dirk, but you absolutely cannot argue with the force of nature formerly known as Ericka. He was an absolute monster (14 points, 20 rebounds, 3 blocks, 6-6 FG, 2-2 FT), and made his presence felt with all the contract year might he could muster. Honestly, I don’t care what Damp’s motivations are. If he’s playing for a new deal, that’s just awesome. If he’s having some sort of mid-life crisis, that’s awesome, too. But as long as Damp keeps rockin’ the rim, setting huge picks, and altering the game with defense and rebounding, I have absolutely no objections.