Quoteboard: Oklahoma City 107, Dallas 101

Posted by Bryan Gutierrez on March 18, 2013 under Interviews | Be the First to Comment

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In a game that was up for grabs, the Dallas Mavericks once again couldn’t find a way to close the game out as they suffered a 107-101 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Clearly, Dallas got the getting while the getting was good. The Mavericks are 1-11 against the Thunder since beating Oklahoma City in the 2011 Western Conference finals, including last season’s sweep in the first round of the playoffs. Dallas has lost their last 10 games against their northern I-35 rivals.

Oklahoma City’s stars shined brightly against Dallas. Russell Westbrook totaled a game-high 35 points to go along with six rebounds, a game-high six assists and two steals in 37 minutes. Kevin Durant scored 19 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter. He added nine boards and two blocks in 39 minutes.

Dirk Nowitzki made his first eight shots of the game (including his first three 3-point field goal attempts) and recorded 23 points and seven rebounds in 34 minutes against the Thunder. He scored 20-plus points for the seventh time in his last 13 games (10th time this season). Nowitzki finished 8-of-10 (.800) from the field. With the loss, the Mavericks moved to 12-1 all-time when Nowitzki shoots at least 80 percent from the field (minimum 10 field goal attempts). The story of the game will be the fact that Dirk didn’t take a single shot from the field in the entire fourth quarter. His last field goal attempt came with 2:25 left in the third quarter. He wasn’t calling for the ball on every possession, the Thunder tried to blanket him and no one on the Mavericks really could deliver him the ball.

The injury bug once again landed on Roddy Beaubois. After a nice string of games leading up to the game against the Thunder, Beaubois exited the game after fracturing the second metacarpal in his left hand during the second quarter. He is out indefinitely. If the injury is a season-ending one, with free agency looming, this could be the last time Roddy wears a Dallas uniform.

Some notes before the quotes:

- Mike James recorded a season-high 14 points to go along with three rebounds and four assists in 33 minutes (previous high: 13 points vs. Milwaukee Mar. 12). He went 2-of-3 from 3-point range and has now made at least one trey in each of his last nine games. James has shot 18-of-39 (.462) from 3-point range over his last nine games.  He is averaging 9.4 points and 4.1 assists in that span.

- With a steal (his 955th career) at the 7:23 mark of the first quarter, Nowitzki passed Jason Kidd (954) for second place on the Mavericks’ all-time steals list. Nowitzki intercepted a pass thrown by Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and then finished with a dunk on the fast break (from O.J. Mayo). Derek Harper is Dallas’ all-time leader with 1,551 career thefts.

- Elton Brand made his 17th start of the season (847th career) against Oklahoma City on Sunday. It was his first start since Feb. 1 at Phoenix. The Mavericks’ starting lineup on Sunday featured Jae Crowder, Dirk Nowitzki, O.J. Mayo, Mike James and Brand. Dallas used its 21st starting lineup of the season against the Thunder.

Here is the quoteboard for Dallas’ loss to Oklahoma City.

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 101, Oklahoma City Thunder 107

Posted by Kirk Henderson on March 17, 2013 under Recaps | 7 Comments to Read

Strike

Box Score — Play-by-Play — Shot Chart — Game Flow

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

  • Expect the lack of shot attempts for Dirk Nowitzki (23 points on 8 of 10 shooting) to become a narrative for the Mavericks in the coming days, though it’s something I’ve been concerned about since Dirk returned to form. Against the Thunder, he started off 8 for 8 from the floor off of a variety of different looks. His final make came at the 8:22 mark of the third quarter. He took two more shots in the quarter, then didn’t have a field goal attempt for the remainder of the game. Credit must go to the Thunder defense, but the responsibility falls to Dirk, the coaching staff and his teammates. His teammates are the biggest problem, as Mike James, Darren Collison, and O.J. Mayo seem bewildered as to how to get the big German the ball. Dirk posts up well, sets good screens and is the league’s most dangerous trailer. He’s had to resort to calling for the ball more and more often this season as his guards don’t seem to see him unless he’s yelling at them. He’s big, he’s blond, he even has an insane beard.  He’s also a former MVP and an NBA Champion. If this team still thinks it can make the playoffs it’s not going to do so on the backs of anyone other than Dirk Nowitzki. Get Dirk the ball.
  • Contrast Dirk’s stat line to that of once and future scoring champion Kevin Durant (31 points, nine rebounds). Prior to the fourth, Dallas had managed to keep Durant in check with 12 points while forcing a variety of turnovers. In the final period, Durant scored 19, taking full advantage of his size mismatch and demanding the ball from Russell Westbrook. In most cases Durant simply got the ball at the top of the key and went to work, very similar to the way Dallas used to use Dirk.
  • The development of Jae Crowder (11 points, four rebounds) has been a roller coaster. I greatly enjoy his man to man defense, but he has brief lapses in judgement that really hurt the Mavericks. Kevin Martin scored two layups on simple back door cuts when Crowder got caught watching the ball. Additionally, each of his turnover were very frustrating to watch; he somehow failed to see a Thunder player between him and his teammate. Each lead to easy fast break points in a tightly contested game.
  • The offensive rebounding from the Thunder, particularly from Serge Ibaka (18 points 16 rebounds including seven offensive) badly hurt the Mavericks. Due to the threat of Russell Westbrook (35 points, six assists), the Dallas big guarding Ibaka was forced to cheat over for additional help defense when Westbrook got a Maverick defender in an isolation situation. As a result, a smaller player usually had to rotate down to try to box out Ibaka which did not work.
  • In recent weeks, I’ve been a big fan of how O.J. Mayo has let the game come to him. He’s made smart choices and put himself and his team in a position to win. Though Mayo didn’t hurt Dallas against the Thunder, his nine points and three assists are not enough from a player many consider to be the second offensive option. Despite his growth as a player this season, he doesn’t give Dallas enough on a consistent basis.
  • We’ve most likely seen the last of Roddy Beaubois in a Dallas Maverick uniform. He broke a bone in hand in a rather strange play involving Kevin Durant. Though he’s out indefinitely at the moment, we here at the Two Man Game wish him a speedy recovery.

Kirk is a member of the Two Man Game family. Follow him on Twitter @KirkSeriousFace for ranting about Dallas basketball, TV, movies, video games, and his dog.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 91, San Antonio Spurs 92

Posted by Kirk Henderson on March 14, 2013 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

Storm Clouds

Box Score — Play-by-Play — Shot Chart — Game Flow

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 was hoping to get to rave about the brilliant play of Brandan Wright (10 points, eight rebounds, two blocks), who had an amazing all-around performance against a top notch front court. But with the sixth Dallas loss by three points or less this season, the missed opportunities against San Antonio are a harsh reminder of why this team is an extreme fringe playoff contender at best. The decision making from an offensive standpoint was baffling. Why is O.J. Mayo pulling up for a jumper on a three on one fast break? Why is Chris Kaman taking the ball up the court on a fast break after a steal? Why doesn’t Dallas get the ball to Dirk more often in the high post like they did during the 2011 Championship run? The Spurs managed to score on the final possession in each of the first three quarters while Dallas was unable to do so a single time. Defensively the Mavericks bickered with each other for much of the first half as seemingly every Dallas player was slow to rotate, particularly in instances of ‘helping the helper’ after a rotation had already occurred  The Mavericks also spent far too much time chasing players around screens as a San Antonio player caught a pass moving towards the rim, forcing Dallas to foul or rotate to help early in possessions. Kahwi Leonard snuck in a back door lay up from a high post feed by Jae Crowder because Crowder’s back was to the ball, a defensive cardinal sin. Tim Duncan (26 points, 19 rebounds) bullied Dallas from pillar to post. Finally, the final shot by Vince Carter left much to be desired. As TMG’s own Bryan Gutierrez pointed out on twitter, behind or tied within three points, Vince Carter has taken the final shot six times to Dirk Nowitzki’s one since Dirk’s return. The main reason for this, I suspect, is that Carlisle knows not a single Maverick guard can reliably get a pass to Dirk. There wasn’t enough time for a Carter-Dirk pick and roll in that situation, and even though Carter is the best in the NBA from that particular spot, the Mavericks have to get something going towards the rim when the margin is a single point. Tim Duncan told David Aldridge in the post game interview that a step back fade away is exactly the shot San Antonio was hoping to force. That Dallas was in this game at all with Dirk, Carter, Mayo and Elton Brand shooting a combined 36% from the field is impressive, but the small mistakes Dallas makes throughout the course of the game keep catching up to them.

Kirk is a member of the Two Man Game family. Follow him on Twitter @KirkSeriousFace for ranting about Dallas basketball, TV, movies, video games, and his dog.

 

Thermodynamics: Week 20

Posted by Travis Wimberly on under Commentary, Recaps | Be the First to Comment

Fire Ice
Thermodynamics (n.) – the science concerned with the relations between heat and mechanical energy

An undefeated week. 3-0. Say it aloud, because we’ve had little occasion to celebrate such things this season.

Okay, so admittedly, it was a weak schedule (the Mavs’ three opponents this week have a combined record of 77-115), and two of the games went down to the wire. But let’s keep in mind that we’re talking about the 2012-2013 Mavs, not the Mavs of yesteryear. For this squad, it’s no small feat to win three straight road games against any three NBA teams. And given that this team’s playoff hopes are slim, I for one plan to enjoy the small victories here and there for the remainder of the season.

Week 20 (@Pistons, @Timberwolves, @Bucks)

FIRE

1) Vinsanity

When the Mavs refused to move Vince Carter at the trade deadline, several observers questioned that decision, and perhaps rightfully so. But since then, Carter has made the Mavs’ front office look very prescient. He’s firmly cemented himself as either the Mavs’ second or third-best all-around player (depending on where you would put him relative to Shawn Marion), and he’s done so with excellent efficiency and irreplaceable leadership. This week, Carter averaged exactly 15.0 points per game, shot 18-of-31 (58%) from the field cumulatively, and pulled down 6.3 rebounds per game. That’s terrific, but it hardly tells the full story. Carter’s tenacity and willingness to take (and make) big shots was on full display this week. If you were one of the lucky few who watched the Mavs-Bucks game on NBA League pass with Milwaukee’s broadcast crew, you had the pleasure (as I did) of listening to them bemoan Carter’s bevy of clutch shots late in the fourth quarter. In net points per 100 possessions, three of the Mavs’ four most productive lineups on the season include Carter.  Carter now carries a player-efficiency rating (PER) of 17.7, the third-highest on the Mavs. Guess which Mav ranks number one by that metric?

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 115, Milwaukee Bucks 108

Posted by Connor Huchton on March 12, 2013 under Recaps | Be the First to Comment

Clouds

Box ScorePlay-By-Play – Shot ChartGame Flow

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 have often considered, carefully and confusedly, what it means to be Vince Carter (6-10 FG, 4-6 3PT, 23 points) in 2013. I do not mean to imply that any one person can or should deduce clear meaning from the vast spectrum of another person’s life, but I have attempted do so all the same, if only in a strictly basketball context. Vince Carter’s career screams of exclamation points and external haranguing, the peaks of athleticism and the disgust of lethargy. I do not wish to say that “Vince Carter is all of us” or some other broad declaration, but it is fair to say that in some sense, his basketball career has been a drama, one filled with peaks and obscene valleys. Who he is now, after the central drama has settled and our collective thematic gaze has largely turned elsewhere, may be far more interesting than whoever he was once haphazardly thought to be. Now, he is an afterthought in the basketball world, and quite simply, that’s a shame. A quiet resurgence remains a resurgence, whether or not it is illuminated in the light of public spectacle. Our blunt words do not easily describe a state of solidity, constancy, and quality production with any real subtlety. Because while what Carter is doing and has done for the Mavericks this season would likely be described as “solid” from an outsider perspective, it is more than that. It is a careful reform, a moment of late beauty in a not-so-graceful career, a bloom after the basketball harvest. I believe in 2013 Vince Carter, and that is not something I thought I’d ever say.
  • 13 of Carter’s 23 points came in the fourth quarter, never more needed and artfully given. Carter rises and makes jumpers that he should not, and perhaps that is the beauty of the newly revitalized fourth quarter guru version of him.
  • Dirk Nowitzki (7-13 FG, 19 points, 11 rebounds), played well enough to warrant mention in this space. Of course, he always warrants mention in this space, but I especially enjoy an impressive Dirk rebounding performance.
  • When that exists in conjunction with his stalwart mid-range proficiency, well, that’s simply delightful.
  • Chris Kaman (0-2 FG, and nothing else) registered no stats other than two minutes played in a game in which he started, which is about as odd and inauspicious as a performance gets. I’m not sure if the injury was the cause of his brief stint, but all the same, this might have been one for the record books in terms of nothingness and the infinite beyond.
  • Tonight highlights the Mavericks’ recent trend of sterling offensive performances. This season’s team holds contrast in comparison to teams of years past, as victory often only comes on instances of offensive glory like this. Defensive victories are an unfortunate rarity, but on tenuous nights when the Mavericks make half of their field goal attempts, it doesn’t matter.
  • To close this recap, here is an effective joke and an interesting statistic. We like to cover every demographic here at The Two Man Game.

Timing is Everything

Posted by Bryan Gutierrez on under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

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You can look at what the Mavs have to do if team X, Y and Z have a certain record over their last remaining games. You can do that, but all that really matter is what the Mavs do on their own over the last 20 games of the season. Win as many games as you can and the rest will sort itself out. Dirk Nowitzki is firmly back and showing signs he can be the old Dirk that everyone remembers. O.J. Mayo has shown that he actually can be a creator and facilitator, despite what his coach said just over a week ago. Shawn Marion is still known as the defensive stopper for the team. Elton Brand is going to do his part to be the defensive anchor and a presence off the bench. Despite the team’s record, Vince Carter is going to continue to be a massive bargain for the Mavs by showing he’s one the league’s best reserves off the bench.

Dallas has an elite coach, veteran leadership and pride that they will rely heavily on as they make their final push for a playoff spot. There is one player though that could really put them over the top and really put their push into overdrive.

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What Could Have Been

Posted by Bryan Gutierrez on March 8, 2013 under Rumors | 2 Comments to Read

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Mark Cuban spoke on ESPN Dallas Radio 103.3 FM the day after the trade deadline. Of the numerous things he discussed, he mentioned that the Mavericks were close to landing a superstar. “It was crazy,” Cuban said the day after the deadline on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM. “We thought we had a bunch of things done, literally a bunch of things done. We had teams get cold feet at the last minute. … Things that would have used cap room next year, would have had money next year, that were high-dollar guys, difference-maker guys.” Many people (sarcastic people) suggested that the players initials were BS (think about it and you’ll get it).

Reports today now suggest Cuban wasn’t fibbing. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported on Friday that the Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics were on the verge of a blockbuster deal at the trade deadline.

In a three-way deal that would’ve secured Josh Smith and surrendered Paul Pierce to Dallas, Atlanta wanted Boston’s first-round draft pick, too.

The Celtics were in talks to send Paul Pierce to Dallas at the trade deadline.

Dallas had constructed a package that included Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright and Dahntay Jones to Atlanta, with the Mavericks and Hawks exchanging positions in the 2013 NBA draft.

Nevertheless, Boston wouldn’t relent on the pick and the deal died on meeting-room grease boards in three cities.

Well, that’s something, isn’t it? Atlanta would have gotten the pieces they needed for a rebuilding project. Boston would have gotten a new superstar. The pieces on Dallas’ end don’t exactly match up in terms of finances, so other pieces would likely need to be involved in that suggested offer. It likely wouldn’t be pieces of a major consequence. Clearly Dallas and Atlanta were on board, but Boston was the team that put things to a halt. What would acquiring Paul Pierce mean to the Mavericks?

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Thermodynamics: Week 19

Posted by Travis Wimberly on under Commentary, Recaps | Be the First to Comment

Fire Ice
Thermodynamics (n.) – the science concerned with the relations between heat and mechanical energy

The Mavs’ level of play this week was all over the map. From game to game, quarter to quarter, and even timeout to timeout, the Mavs showcased the level of frightening inconsistency we’ve seen pretty much all year. Really, the week was a perfectly framed microcosm of the basic “hot/cold” concept behind this weekly Thermodynamics column. They were hot. Then they were cold. Then they were hot again — unless they were still cold.

Fortunately, all of that makes it especially easy to write this week’s installment.

Week 19 (@Nets, @Rockets, Rockets)

FIRE

1) OJ Mayo

In the early part of this season, Mayo had pretty much camped out a permanent spot on this “hot” list. Since late December, though, I’ve had exceedingly few occasions to applaud him for a solid week’s worth of games. This week, he finally played consistently enough to earn this spot. He was far from perfect, but you could credibly argue that he had the best week of any Mav. He scored 17 points on 6-of-12 (50%) shooting in Brooklyn, including 3-of-4 (75%) from deep. One of those threes came late in the fourth quarter amidst a big Nets rally, and effectively stemmed the tide long enough for the Mavs to hold on for an impressive road win. Mayo’s performance a few nights later in Houston was a mixed bag; he was terrific offensively, netting 18 points on 6-of-9 (67%) shooting to go with four assists and a steal, but he was a huge part of the Mavs’ pathetically woeful defensive effort. Call that game a wash. A few nights later in Dallas, Mayo played much better against the Rockets — so well, in fact, that Rick Carlisle called it Mayo’s best game of the year. That may be a bit of rhetoric, but it’s not preposterous. Mayo contributed just 13 points in the Rockets rematch, but he was absolutely stellar otherwise: six rebounds, 12 assists, and zero turnovers. Mayo consistently made the right play and was singlehandedly responsible for creating a significant portion of the Mavs’ offense. Especially considering his lackluster performance in recent weeks prior, Mayo shined rather brightly this week.

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The Four Ingredients

Posted by David Hopkins on March 5, 2013 under Commentary | 9 Comments to Read

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“Victory must now be mine or Galactus shall not fight again.” — Galactus, Devourer of Worlds

Last week I wrote about Dirk Nowitzki, his legacy and his future. Do the past two years represent the sudden decline of Nowitzki? Should fans recalibrate their expectations? Or are these two years statistical outliers with a bum knee to blame? Like most things, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. Regardless, there is no denying that the future inevitable departure of Nowitzki has been a concern as fans watch the season unfold. And as much as we’d like to put everything on Nowitkzi’s shoulders, he isn’t the only factor in making the Mavs a great franchise. When looking at the long-term health of this franchise, I would suggest that there are four ingredients.

1. Young talent
2. Reliable veterans
3. An All-Star “Go To” Player
4. Trustworthy management, ownership, and coaching

In the young talent category, the jury is still out. For players born in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, the Mavs have: Rodrigue Beaubois, Darren Collison, Jae Crowder, Jared Cunningham, Bernard James, Dominique Jones, O.J. Mayo, Anthony Morrow, and Brandan Wright. Young players aren’t just the replacements for the old team. They are valuable trade assets. They offer the greatest potential for improvement and growth. I believe in O.J. Mayo, and I’d be happy if he signed a long-term contract with the Mavs. The question is money, but I can’t imagine shooting guards are in such high demand that another franchise would overpay for him. Darren Collison? I just don’t know. When you look at his advanced stats, he’s actually slightly better than O.J. Mayo. However, I don’t trust him to run an offense. The rookie class isn’t too bad. Crowder and James are encouraging. This isn’t Cunningham’s year, but who knows how he’ll do once given a chance? Rodrigue Beaubois and Dominique Jones are a disappointment. I believe Brandan Wright is a better player than his minutes and stats suggest.

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 103, Houston Rockets 136

Posted by Connor Huchton on March 4, 2013 under Recaps | Be the First to Comment

Clouds

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

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

  • If you focus on three of this game’s four quarters, what appears is another close loss to a good team.
  • But if you stumble across the dreaded third quarter, the worst of quarters known to man or woman (other than the 2003 Not-Centennial Quarter of A Quarter), things become impossibly bleak.
  • The Rockets outscored the Mavericks 44-17 over the course of a 12-minute period. Yes, the Mavericks allowed 44 points.
  • That 44-point mark is the most the Mavericks have allowed in a single quarter this season, and hopefully that record will hold for the remaining 23 games.
  • As faulty as single-game plus-minus is in the realm of statistics, the fact that every Houston starter had a +26 or better speaks volumes about the way Dallas began a tumultuous second-half.
  • Speaking of +/- and other symbols, tonight held a certain sadness beyond the final score.
  • The sterling career of consummate professional Shawn Marion experienced a slight tarnish, as he posted the worst plus-minus of his career, at -35.
  • So what went wrong? Such a wide-ranging question is difficult to quantify with a simple answer, but it begins with perimeter defense, a prevalent issue for the Mavericks all season, and never more so than tonight.
  • Chandler Parsons (12-13 FG, 6-7 3PT, 32 points) isn’t the greatest jump-shooter to grace this storied Earth, but he is enough of a well-rounded player to seize countless open opportunities.
  • Such opportunities came in spades tonight, especially from the aforementioned perimeter, as he made open looks that the Mavericks were so confusingly willing to allow him, especially in the late second and third quarters.
  • When you allow an opposing NBA team to take 34 three-pointers, you are almost assured to lose.
  • When the team in question is the three-point shooting-oriented Rockets, things are even more likely to go badly.
  • In the third quarter, a quick glance at the shot chart and a review of the game tape reveals a simple truth.
  • That truth is this: Over the course of those fateful minutes, the Rockets took an almost impossible number of three-pointers and lay-ups.
  • Those two types of shots, while broadly described, are definitively the most efficient shot types in the game of basketball.
  • A team that manages to primarily attempt those shot types will likely win, and the Rockets are such a team.
  • Esteemed GM Daryl Morey has often alluded to as much, and I’d guess he’s quite happy with how well the team’s methodology surged into the limelight as the game proceeded.
  • That methodology led to the following results in the 44-point third quarter, by my count:
  • A) 7-8 FG at the rim   B) 1-2 FG on mid-range jumpers C) 6-10 3PT from three
  • A defense that allows an opponent to generate those levels of shot discrepancies will always fail, and so the Mavericks did.
  • It was apparent with every passing play that the Mavericks could not find a cohesive defensive strategy: either they overcommitted to the perimeter or allowed far too much room for Jeremy Lin (8-14 FG, 21 points, nine assists), James Harden (5-10 FG, 4-8 3PT, 21 points, seven assists), and Parsons to operate, despite all three being known dangerous quantities from beyond the arc.
  • Harden, in particular, was allowed far too much room to pull-up or spot-up throughout the game.
  • An example that comes to mind is in the middle of the third quarter. Harden is given too much room off an Omer Asik (4-6 FG, 10 points, 10 rebounds) screen, he penetrates into the lane easily, and then dishes to an open Parsons.
  • Vince Carter (4-8 FG, 2-5 3PT, 12 points, four rebounds) goes to close on Parsons, but his contest is hardly one at all.
  • It’s a half-hearted hand wave in the general direction of Parsons, but not a movement that would affect a solid, tall three-point shooter.
  • Now, the fault of a play like this, and the countless similar plays that followed and preceded it in this game, is not solely on Carter or any particular player.
  • It’s a systematic breakdown, apart from any single Maverick, coupled with mediocre individual defense on the part of Marion (atypical), Carter, and Brandan Wright (5-8 FG, 12 points, three rebounds), who didn’t step up to affect Harden in a significant way.
  • Such an occasion is symptomatic of the night, and fairly representative of the Mavericks’ defense over the course of this wayward season.
  • I’d like to finish this (hopefully) comprehensive missive by briefly discussing a single offensive facet.
  • By facet, I’m referencing the tepid play of Dirk Nowitzki (2-8 FG, 8 points, four assists, four rebounds) in tonight’s game.
  • After such a strong stretch of production over the last five contests, Dirk struggled mightily tonight.
  • My issue is not with the shots Dirk took (it rarely is), but with the lack of focus around him offensively, both due to his choices and the team’s various distributors. The Mavericks aren’t going to win many games when Dirk takes only eight shots over the course of 27 minutes, especially if none of those looks are three-pointers and few of them fall into the categories of “easy” or “within the flow of the game”.
  • They certainly didn’t win this one, and time is swiftly escaping the sporadic squad’s grasp with only 23 games and a fading dream left to hold.