The Difference: New York Knicks 104, Dallas Mavericks 97

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 20, 2012 under Recaps | 6 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas94.0103.251.921.035.017.7
New York110.653.520.934.116.8

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • Let this game be a healthy reminder: Although the Mavs typically perform quite well in crunch time, their closing execution isn’t infallible. Jason Terry (13 points, 5-13 FG, six assists, seven rebounds) can still fall prey to a simple missed jumper. A weird defensive sequence can still result in an uncontested Tyson Chandler (14 points, 5-7 FG, 10 rebounds, three blocks) dunk. A lot goes on in the waning moments of a close game, and though Dallas performs in those situations at a higher level than most, they’re not immune to games like this — games when all the magic flows through the heart and hands of an opponent, leaving none for that final, improbable comeback.
  • Two things stuck out to me in this particularly wonderful performance from Jeremy Lin (28 points, 11-20 FG, 3-6 3FG, 14 assists, four rebounds, five steals, seven turnovers): his range and his poise. I, like many others, saw Lin’s occasional three-point makes as an aberration. Lin, after all, is only shooting 32 percent from three-point range to date, even with some alleged outliers inflating his percentage. But there’s something to be said about his confidence beyond the arc, and on this occasion among several others, his impressive accuracy. Maybe he’s a bit streaky from long range at this point in his career, but he’s still emerged from the bench with a reasonably formed jumper, capable of putting pressure on opposing defenses and offering him a crucial tool to play off of Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. But Lin’s poise — in the face of Shawn Marion’s length, in the face of scrambled coverages, in the face of heavy defensive pressure, in the face of a ticking clock — is really and truly remarkable. I don’t think the Mavericks failed as a team defense, largely because Lin didn’t fold under any reasonable amount of defensive pressure. Dallas came in with a strategy, Rick Carlisle altered it on the fly, and it still didn’t pan out. Such can be expected when a team sees a white-hot opponent on the court for (essentially) the first time, and such can certainly be the case with a player as resilient as Lin.
  • Also, as a general footnote on Lin: Don’t sweat the turnovers, at least in terms of Lin’s overall development. Those high turnover marks have a habit of popping up for any aggressive young player, particularly when they’re thrust into a dominant offensive role. Pace, position, and ball dominance all play a big role in bringing Lin’s turnover marks to a swell, even though — on a per-possession basis — his overall turnover marks are comparable to that of Rajon Rondo, Ricky Rubio, and Andre Miller. Curbing those turnovers would do a lot for the Knicks’ offense as a whole, but it’s really not much of an issue so long as Lin remains productive overall.

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On The Ground Floor

Posted by Ian Levy on January 24, 2012 under Commentary | 3 Comments to Read

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Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, HoopSpeakU, and a part of The Two Man Game family. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

Every NBA offense begins with the same purpose – put the ball in the basket, preferably repeatedly and in a manner that’s not too straining. The pieces and approaches that are chosen to strive for that goal take an infinite number of forms. Through 18 games, the Mavericks’ offensive form has shape-shifted through a variety of ghastly and ghoulish looks.

This season, the Mavericks have scored 100.3 points per 100 possessions — the league’s 22nd most efficient offense. That’s a drop of 9.4 points per 100 possessions from last season, when they scored 109.7 points per 100 and registered the eighth most efficient offense in the league. The offense has regressed, significantly, in almost every area:

2011-20122010-2011
eFG%47.3%52.5%
TO%14.4%13.6%
ORB%23.6%24.1%
FT/FGA0.2240.222

Taking a look at the four factors, we see a team that’s getting to the line at roughly the same rate (still way below the league average), while shooting less accurately, turning the ball over more often and recovering fewer of their own missed shots. The fact that they’ve been able to start the season by winning 11 of 18 games is a testament to how much defensive compensation they’ve done.

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Necessary Surprise

Posted by Connor Huchton on January 17, 2012 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

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Connor Huchton is a contributor to Hardwood Paroxysm and Rufus On Fire, and beginning today, he’ll be a semi-regular contributor here at The Two Man Game. You can follow Connor on Twitter at @ConnorHuchton.

A daunting problem faced the Dallas Mavericks on the eve of a new season, only months removed from a championship: how would a franchise now at the pinnacle of its existence replace a player that was the key to the team’s surprising 2010-2011 run? The organization had decided to let Tyson Chandler brave the overreaching free agent waters elsewhere, largely for long-term cap reasons, and now lacked assurance at the center position. How could the Mavericks hope to reach any semblance of their recent success without the keystone of a championship defense?

Possible answers presented themselves in various, (albeit less impressive) ways. The Mavericks signed Brandan Wright (a power forward capable of playing center) and Sean Williams to one-year deals as a play for both depth and potential, but made little progress in their other attempts to find a player outside the organization who could serve as a solution to their Chandler-less woes. This left a substantial burden of minutes on foul-prone Brendan Haywood and oft-unused young center Ian Mahinmi.

Prior to this season, Mahinmi struggled to find a place in a rotation — both in Dallas and elsewhere.  Though his minutes per game have risen with every season (3.8, 6.3, and 8.7, respectively), he’s never been able to garner consistent minutes. The issue hasn’t been Mahinmi’s inability to produce – he was actually quite impressive on a per-minute basis in two seasons with the Spurs – but instead an inability to conquer depth as he developed in his first years in the league. After finally carving out a consistent role for himself last season (in his third year in the league) as the Mavericks’ third-string center, an opportunity for a bigger role and ample playing time presented itself to Mahinmi.

In the relatively short period since, Mahinmi has established himself as both a viable and impressive center option for a Mavericks team in desperate need of such a player. Despite a substantial jump in minutes per game, from 8.7 to 19.6, Mahinmi’s efficiency has risen significantly. These improvements aren’t generated from solely one positive change in Mahinmi’s game. Rather, a series of substantial enhancements have raised his PER from last season’s relatively average 13.7 to this season’s impressive 16.5.

The upgrades in Mahinmi’s play begin on the offensive end. The greatest change for Mahinmi has come at the rim, where his shots are most often generated. Mahinmi is making 78.4 percent of his attempts at the rim, up from 67.2 percent last season. Instead of resorting to simply flinging attempts skywards when under duress, Mahinmi appears more relaxed and controlled, and has been able to contort and finish with ease in difficult situations as a result. He’s also made strides a bit further away from the basket, as Mahinmi’s occasional mid-range jumpers have paid dividends against defenses that hardly expect him to be capable of making such a shot. Confidence isn’t unstoppable on its own, but it’s a valuable addition to an improved form and a year of basketball learning.

Though Mahinmi’s defensive improvements are both harder to recognize and less extensive than his offensive contributions, these slight changes can provide key value over the course of a long season. Mahinmi’s total rebounding rate and steal rate have increased by slight margins (along with a decreased foul rate), while his other attributes have remained relatively steady in increased minutes.The Mavericks’ defensive system relies on a strong interior defensive presence. Mahinmi’s increased offensive abilities  have enabled him to stay on the court for longer periods of time, allowing him to provide this defensive presence, a quality essential to the Mavericks’ markedly improved scoring defense in recent games.

The Mavericks find themselves somewhat dependent on Mahinmi, and he has thus far risen to the team’s need. Though small sample size is an oft cry in early season evaluations, the consistency and wide-ranging nature of the beneficial changes in Mahinmi’s game leads one to believe that a full regression to the mean is certainly not imminent. Mahinmi is still a relatively young player, so these developments can hardly be considered unexpected. A “leap” from Mahinmi seemed important to continued Mavericks’ contention before the season began, and that leap has appeared prevalently in the season’s first 12 games. If Mahinmi’s current play proves itself sustainable, as most known measures validate, the Mavericks could find the team’s center play acceptable and the future, both long-term and short-term, brighter than expected.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 99, Toronto Raptors 86

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 30, 2011 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas90.0110.049.338.917.511.1
Toronto95.650.019.413.218.9

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • I won’t fully subscribe to the hyperbole and say that Ian Mahinmi (19 points, 6-6 FG, five rebounds, two blocks) was the best Maverick on the floor on Friday, but he was likely the most active and — at the very least — the most surprisingly effective. Mahinmi did some solid work on the defensive glass, but he impressed most in his cuts to the rim off of pick-and-roll sequences and as a weak side counter to double teams in the post. It was a blast to see Mahinmi provide a legitimate offensive impact, but let’s not go overboard: Mahinmi was only so effective because of the Raptors’ inability to cover for their own defensive overloading.
  • The Mavs managed an efficient offense without offensive flow, effective shooting, or superior ball control. Offensive rebounding was the crutch early (Dallas grabbed an offensive board on 45.5 percent of their misses in the first quarter), and frequent free throw shooting carried them throughout. The shooting finally came around, but only after the Mavericks amassed 37 free-throw attempts in a 90-possession game.
  • Andrea Bargnani (30 points, 11-18 FG, seven rebounds) didn’t look new and improved — he just looked improved. Subtle changes in approach translated into a highly productive and efficient outing for Bargs, as virtually all of the Mavs’ big men struggled to defend him on the perimeter. His pick-and-pop game with Jose Calderon was deadly; Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd both managed to look a step slow in their efforts to defend it, resulting in a disappointing number of wide-open jumpers. Bargnani capitalized, and used his pick-and-roll success as a launchpad for a terrific all-around shooting performance.

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The Difference: Oklahoma City Thunder 104, Dallas Mavericks 102

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Recaps | 7 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas95.0107.447.218.930.412.6
Oklahoma City109.563.538.120.027.4

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • Moral victories may be the panacea of foolish NBA fans, but I have a very hard time classifying this absurd 48 minutes of Mavericks basketball as anything but. Just days removed from getting trounced by the Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets in back-to-back home games, the Mavs were right back where they were last May: fighting down to the wire with an impressive Oklahoma City Thunder team, scraping together runs for a chance to take the game.
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Interstitial Space

Posted by Ian Levy on December 29, 2011 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

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Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, HoopSpeakU, and a part of The Two Man Game family. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

The first two games of the Mavericks’ title defense have been ugly — like “Eric Stoltz in Mask” ugly. After two games the Mavericks have an Offensive Rating of 93.8 (26th in the league) and a Defensive Rating of 110.4 (23rd in the league). Both numbers are a huge disappointment, especially when viewed in the context of what was accomplished last season. For now, though, we’ll set aside defensive concerns and focus on efficient scoring.

Ball movement and offensive execution were the premium fuel that drove the Mavs through the playoffs last year. During the regular season, the Mavericks recorded an assist on 63.7 percent of their made baskets — the highest rate in the league. Through their first two losses, they’ve recorded 38 assists on 73 made baskets, good for just 52.1 percent. That mark would have ranked dead last in the league last season. But this is just a symptom, not the disease; the Mavericks are moving the ball, just not to the right spots. When the ball does end up in the right place, the movement of bodies has often ensured that an open shot no longer resides there.

On some level, early season difficulties are understandable. But some big questions remain: Why, with abbreviated training camp and new faces being the standard around the league, have the Mavericks’ struggles have seemed uniquely harsh? Are we  watching kinks that can be worked out, or more worrisome and fundamental changes from the glorious contraption we witnessed last season?

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The Difference: Miami Heat 105, Dallas Mavericks 94

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 25, 2011 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas100.094.043.328.018.217.0
Miami105.051.332.139.522.0

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

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The Official The Two Man Game Official Dallas Mavericks Official Season Preview for the Official 2011-2012 NBA Season

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 23, 2011 under Commentary, Previews | 3 Comments to Read

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The excruciating introduction to the regular season is finally over: the defending NBA champs are set to take the court again in short order, both for their own benefit and our considerable entertainment. If nothing else, this year promises all kinds of intrigue; the Mavs have lost some notable players, but in their place have added a star, some capable veterans, and a few interesting projects. Donnie Nelson has infused his team with youth and flexibility while maintaining a promising financial outlook, and though Rick Carlisle will have a seemingly infinite number of possibilities and lineups to sort through and fully comprehend, we have the pleasure of watching an expert chemist at work.

The Mavs a truly bizarre roster, but if anyone can optimize the rotation, it’s Carlisle. We may not know exactly what Rick has in mind in terms of terms of minutes distribution or even the starting lineup, but he’ll tinker throughout the season and adjust according to fit and performance. Then, the playoffs will come and he’ll continue to tweak and alter the rotation as he sees fit. There will never be a depth chart with fully dried ink, but the regular season should give us all a fairly good idea of the roles in which Carlisle prefers to see certain players, and the frequency with which certain lineups. It’s all fluid, but the freedom of matchup movement is the very mechanism that has elevated Carlisle close to the top of his profession. He finds and exploits mismatches, and this roster may give him more mismatch potential than any he’s ever coached.

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Now in Session

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 22, 2011 under Commentary | 6 Comments to Read

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This year’s preseason campaign may be more important than the lead-in exhibitions of a standard season, but there’s still only so much that can be digested from a mere prologue. Still, we can glean hints of the year to come, even in the context of games that don’t matter. With that, here are eight observations from the Mavs’ two preseason games against the Oklahoma City Thunder, laced with a nice balance of optimism and gloom:

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Turning the Crank

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 11, 2011 under News, Roster Moves | 6 Comments to Read

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Things…appear to have taken a bit of a turn.

According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, the possible three-team deal that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers is now dead, and Lamar Odom — who was set to go to New Orleans as a part of the transaction — will instead be sent to Dallas in exchange for the traded player exception created by Dallas in the Tyson Chandler deal. Or, in a less convoluted way: the Mavs have turned the inevitable, gainless departure of a prized free agent into the reigning Sixth Man of the Year.

No matter how you slice or dice that transaction, you’ll arrive at the same conclusion: that’s a hell of a move.

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