Thermodynamics: Week 15

Posted by Travis Wimberly on February 7, 2013 under Commentary, Recaps | Be the First to Comment

Fire Ice Glass

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

If you’re anything like me, this week for the Mavs didn’t “feel” very good. They got rocked by the Thunder (a team they have consistently played very close in years past, even when the Thunder are much more talented), which left a dark underscore on an otherwise successful week. And objectively speaking, it was a successful week: when you’re the 2012-2013 Mavs and you’re several games below .500, a 2-1 week is success. Relatively speaking, anyway.

FIRE

1) Shawn Marion

Since Dirk Nowitzki returned to the lineup, people have suggested that it’s very difficult for him, less than two years removed from an NBA title, to suddenly be surrounded by this current cast of Mavericks. That’s probably true. But if that’s true of Dirk, it’s also undoubtedly true of Shawn Marion, the other remaining rotation player from the Mavs’ 2011 title team. If Marion is carrying that disappointment, though, he’s not showing it on the court. Every night, the man affectionately known as The Matrix is playing his tail off for the blue and white, and his numbers this week show it. He started the week by dropping a double-double in his former stomping grounds in Phoenix (12 points, 11 rebounds); in Oklahoma City, he contributed 23 points on 10-of-14 (71%) shooting and also blocked two shots; finally, against Portland last night, he notched yet another double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds), his 11th of the season. And of course, all those stats accompany Marion’s usual, well-above-average individual defense. Glasses up to the Matrix — a true pro’s pro.

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Setting the Table: Portland Trail Blazers (Game 4)

Posted by Bryan Gutierrez on November 5, 2012 under Previews | Be the First to Comment

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O.J. Mayo, who turned 25 on Monday, and Darren Collison will be half of the exciting duel between the starting guards as the Mavericks host the Portland Trail Blazers. Portland will start Wesley Matthews and early candidate for Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard. The four guards represent a nice peak into the future as all of them are 26 or younger and have tons of potential.

Roddy Beaubois, injured with a sprained left ankle, will once again be a gametime decision for Monday’s game against the Trail Blazers.

Here are some notes for the matchup against Portland.

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 103, Portland Trailblazers 96

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 29, 2011 under Recaps | 6 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-04-29 at 12.29.04 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas82.0125.653.824.431.611.0
Portland117.147.526.635.78.5

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

  • It’s hard to be too shocked over the Mavs’ Game 6 victory given the way they’ve performed in this series, but relief certainly seems apt at this point. Kindly disregard the “playoff demons” pseudo story; that relief has nothing to do with 2006 or 2007, doesn’t feature the word “finally,” and honestly has nothing to do with anything save for this year’s Mavericks and this year’s Blazers. Brandon Roy’s emergence as a factor in this series was rather unlikely to begin with, but his supernatural effectiveness on his home court did introduce some reason for uncertainty. Dallas’ general reluctance to work through Shawn Marion as much as they should have (particularly when Gerald Wallace was off the floor or matched up with someone else) had the potential to create problems if Jasons Kidd and Terry had coinciding poor performances. Dirk Nowitzki’s slightly low shooting percentages in the majority this series weren’t a problem, per se, but could have been. I saw all of these things — along with an evaporating lead, stints of fantastic team defense followed by lackluster stretches, LaMarcus Aldridge facing up and attacking Brendan Haywood, Gerald Wallace being, frankly, dominant in Game 6 — and wondered if Dallas and Portland weren’t due for a Game 7. Apparently they weren’t. The Mavs got the stops they needed (though they essentially played chicken with Wesley Matthews’ three-point stroke to do so –  it’s not a strategy I’d necessarily recommend), and got huge buckets from Kidd, Terry, Marion, and naturally, Dirk. The stars didn’t align to extend the series, the better team did what was necessary and took the ball out of the hands of Portland’s most capable scorers as much as they could, and things unfolded in the manner the first five games of the series predicted they would. It’s great to be wrong.
  • Nowitzki’s point total had the benefit of some late-game padding, but he was sensationally effective in the first half, and…oddly unneeded for most of the second. Nowitzki didn’t score a single point during the Mavs’ third quarter run, as Kidd played a masterful 12 minutes (four points, 2-3 FG, four assists), Terry scored eight points in just over six minutes, Marion cleaned up where he could, and Chandler finished inside. The franchise centerpiece functioned as an effective decoy, as the Mavs managed to build a 17-point lead without Dirk having to lift a finger on offense. There was some good semi-transition action to facilitate Dallas’ flow, but even their halfcourt play during the third quarter gives reason for optimism in the second round; the Mavs need those multiple points of attack if they’re going to hang with the Lakers.
  • The zone is still looking strong. It didn’t “stop” the Blazers’ offense, but it did generate empty possessions. Portland had a lot of trouble hitting any of their jumpers against the zone, and though Dallas naturally went back to their man-to-man coverage, Portland never could find their rhythm against the zone. The shift to man defense came of the Mavs’ own volition, a fact which shouldn’t be overlooked; Dallas was able to control the game with their choice of defensive strategy.
  • Tyson Chandler (nine points, seven rebounds, one block) and Brendan Haywood (zero points, three offensive boards, four total rebounds) again defended LaMarcus Aldridge effectively in the post. Aldridge eventually established a good offensive rhythm by facing up against the Maverick bigs on the wing, but those jumpers and drives are shots Dallas could — and did — live with. Obviously one would prefer that Chandler and Haywood contest those attempts as best they could, but the fact that Dallas almost completely removed Aldridge from the game as a post-threat was, and is, pretty significant.
  • Gerald Wallace (32 points, 10-17 FG, 12 rebounds, one turnover) played a tremendous game, and I’m curious how Dallas would have fared had Wallace been available in the second quarter. Wallace’s back seized up after his initial run, and he retired to the locker room for the duration of the second frame. He returned, naturally (I’ve never known mortal injury to even deter Wallace), but not before the Mavs had outscored his Blazers 33-16 in the second. Wallace had 16 points and six rebounds in the first quarter, seven points and four rebounds in the third, and 12 points and two rebounds in the fourth. Considering how poorly Nicolas Batum and Rudy Fernandez played and have played in this series, Wallace’s 12-minute unavailability could be seen as a back-breaking moment for Portland. Dallas fully recovered from their early deficit during that crucial second quarter, and established the momentum they carried through the third. Playoff “what ifs” are a futile exercise to a degree, but Wallace’s absence was conspicuous, and his production (not to mention his defense) sorely missed.
  • If you’re of the opinion that J.J. Barea may have played a bit too much, I’d encourage you to reconsider. He did introduce some defensive difficulties at times (the Mavs were forced to double down when Barea was being attacked in the post, for example) but he had productive stints in the second and fourth quarters. Seven points, four rebounds, and four assists without a turnover is pretty solid production in a game of this pace, and the quality of looks he generated — particularly in the second quarter — was impressive. Regardless, I’m sure his minutes will dip a bit as Rodrigue Beaubois is reintegrated into the rotation.
  • Pour one out for Portland — the Blazers are a fine team, a well-run organization, and an opponent worthy of respect. They didn’t quite have the depth nor the defense (What on earth happened to the Blazers’ turnover-inducing ways?) to extend the series, but this was a hell of a way to kick off the playoffs, regardless of the outcome. LaMarcus Aldridge is a legitimate star, and taps into the basic basketball desire for a do-it-all big man. Brandon Roy provided the postseason’s best individual narrative blip, and turned in as dominant of a fourth quarter showing as I’ve seen. Gerald Wallace and Wesley Matthews are the kinds of entertaining, effective, and relentless players that any team would be lucky to have. Andre Miller and Marcus Camby are somehow still criminally underrated, and managed to fly under the radar in this series despite making a genuine impact. It’s been another long, trying season for Portland, but for us basketball fans enjoying from afar, it’s been a treat to watch the franchise-wide resilience. Keep on keepin’ on, BlazerNation.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 93, Portland Trailblazers 82

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 26, 2011 under Recaps | 6 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-04-26 at 12.14.32 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas83.0112.042.933.341.714.5
Portland98.845.918.923.714.5

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 known henceforth as the “Oh, the Mavs have Tyson Chandler” Game. TC has been a crucial part of this team all season, and his heralded work on the defensive only constitutes part of his success. This was the full Chandler experience, something unfelt and unseen in the first four games of this series due to foul trouble, a lack of emphasis on establishing Chandler as an offensive option, and TC’s own offensive complacency. Rick Carlisle and the Mavs coaching staff clearly identified that problem and sought to correct it, as Dallas consciously made an effort to get the ball to Chandler early and often. From there, Chandler built on his touches with one of the finest offensive rebounding performances I’ve ever seen, and the most prolific in Maverick playoff history. He was single-handedly responsible for Dallas’ monstrous 41.7 offensive rebounding rate, and demonstrated a complete mastery of the tap-out; every board that Chandler couldn’t claim outright was tipped, pushed, or swatted in the direction of a teammate. On Monday night he was able to secure the board or redirect it to a teammate 13 times in an 83-possession game, which sounds impossible but apparently isn’t. Just insanely effective board work from Chandler on top of great scoring (14 points on four shots) and fantastic post defense.
  • About that defense: Chandler and Brendan Haywood both did a tremendous job of limiting LaMarcus Aldridge in the post, marking the third game in a row that the tandem was able to hold Aldridge to under 43 percent shooting from the field. Aldridge’s point totals have dropped in each game of the series so far: from 27 to 24 to 20 to 18 to most recently, just 12. I wouldn’t expect Aldridge’s scoring production to get any lower than his Game 5 total, but the Mavs’ defensive improvement in that matchup has been remarkable, particularly when considering just how prolific Aldridge was in the first two games of this series and against Dallas in the regular season. Halting Aldridge isn’t always enough, but it’s a valuable foundation for building up the team defense on the whole.
  • Aside from Andre Miller’s mind-boggling drives to the rim and Gerald Wallace’s uncontested opportunities in transition, the Blazers really didn’t have much offensive success at all. Aldridge was, as noted above, limited by terrific defense. Brandon Roy wasn’t given the same free rein to drive and kick that he was in Game 4. Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, and Rudy Fernandez had their opportunities limited against both the Mavs’ oppressive zone and swarming man-to-man configurations. There was little rhythm to anything Portland did on the offensive end, and Dallas refused to bail them out with purposeless fouls and free trips to the free throw line. 98.8 points per 100 possessions is a fantastic defensive mark, and the Mavs rightfully earned it with their effort and execution. This is the kind of performance that renews faith — not only in the fact that Dallas can win another game in this series and advance to the second round, but that they’re capable of competing beyond the ending of this series.
  • Jason Kidd scored four points, but as is usually the case, it didn’t matter. His 14 assists and seven rebounds more than made up for any perceived scoring deficit, and made those three-point-heavy outings to start the series seem like a thing of the past. I’m sure the Mavs are pleased that the offense need not rely so heavily on Kidd for scoring; team-wide scoring balance is just more fun, and having so many players producing efficiently gives Dallas much greater operational latitude. Plus, while those scoring outbursts from Kidd were quite helpful in the Mavs’ early-series cause, Kidd also had a tendency to chase shots. Even veterans are vulnerable to heat checks, and Kidd was attempting two or three rushed attempts a game in an attempt to hold on to whatever jumpshooting magic had enchanted him. Those heat checks are gone — as are most of Kidd’s shots — because the Maverick offense has returned to a more natural state, and is functioning as efficiently as ever.
  • Dirk Nowitzki didn’t allow Portland to double team him. He was incredibly decisive, and on the catch, almost immediately committed to a full-on drive towards the rim or a pull up jumper. There’s a certain elegance to Nowitzki’s slow-motion game; the way he measures up defenders, ball fakes into open space, spins, and counters is an artful dance. Yet when Nowitzki takes this more direct, aggressive approach, he sacrifices a bit of the artfulness in his game in order to maximize production. It’s a shame, but a necessary shame; Dallas needs wins and they need Nowitzki to be highly effective, and attacking the defense before it has a chance to double is a terrific way to achieve both ends.
  • I’m still shocked at how little of an impact the size of the Blazer guards has had on the series overall. Those matchups have been problematic for moments, but they’re clearly not go-to options; as much as Miller, Roy, Matthews, and Batum would love to pick on J.J. Barea in the post, Portland just hasn’t gone to that strategy with any frequency. Part of the reason is that Jason Terry has done a fantastic job of fronting, contesting the entry pass, and even bothering shots in the post. He’s been a passable post defender, which is all Dallas really needs him to be; with JET removed as a defensive liability down low and Beaubois still having yet to play a game in this series, Barea is the only clear matchup disadvantage in post-up guard play. Throw in the time that Barea spends guarding Rudy Fernandez (who doesn’t have the frame nor the proficiency to operate from the block), and it’s a bit more difficult for the Blazer guards to post up the Mavs than many — including myself — anticipated.
  • I still don’t understand why the Blazers have been so willing to switch and muddle their matchups. Dallas — particularly due to Jason Kidd’s patience — works diligently to exploit mismatches, and Dirk Nowitzki’s versatility makes those efforts especially worthwhile. Those switches don’t appear to be by design, but it’s certainly curious that they happen so frequently.
  • A really smart, effective game from JET. His three-point stroke was a bit errant (1-of-5 from that range), but he scored 20 points on 18 shots, made smart passes, found open space, and played defense. This wasn’t Terry as Fourth Quarter Hero, but simply Terry doing exactly what his team need him to do in an efficient manner. Jumpers from the short corner don’t make the highlight reel, but you have to appreciate these kinds of performances from JET.
  • Dallas didn’t solve their turnover problems, but they did eliminate Portland’s marginal (a word used as literally as possible) advantage. The offense “improved” by virtue of the defense; the Blazers and Mavs posted identical 14.5 turnover rates, negating any disadvantage that Dallas’ giveaways once held.
  • J.J. Barea had one of his better games of the series, despite scoring just four points on 2-of-6 shooting and picking up a single assist and a turnover to match. It’s just been that kind of series for Barea.
  • Much ado has already been made of a hard screen that Brian Cardinal set on Patty Mills in the closing moments of the game, with the verdict already set in stone. It’s a non-issue, honestly. Cardinal appears to have gotten in a bit of a cheap shot, sure, but Mills was also guilty of that same zeal in his full-court press. Plus, as is usually the case with the biggest hits on screens, the problem is largely one of communication; Mills wasn’t hit so much as blindsided, and the fact that Cardinal put a little more into it than was necessary is really secondary to the fact that no one told Mills he was about to get creamed. Cardinal’s pick was hardly out of line in the grand scheme of things, even though that fact matters little; the Blazers were already frustrated, and it’s understandable that they (and their fans) are looking for a rallying cry after a loss like this one. Now they have it. Remember the hard pick that no one bothered to tell Patty Mills about! Never forget the injustice of a halfcourt screen!

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 22, 2011 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

Kevin Pelton, Basketball Prospectus: “[Nate] McMillan also changed his finishing lineup. While [Brandon] Roy got back on the court when the Blazers needed more shooters and ballhandlers to close out the game, Portland played with its starting lineup most of the stretch run, putting more size and rebounding on the floor. I’m not sure there was a verdict on that decision, as the teams played even during the stretch the Blazers used their starters. Over the course of the season, however, Portland has been much more effective with Aldridge at center and Wallace at power forward in a smaller, quicker unit. Looking ahead to Saturday’s Game Four, the Mavericks can feel good that they had a chance to steal a game in which the Blazers rode their crowd to an early lead. Dallas can also point to missed opportunities at the line, where they shot just 56.5 percent (13 of 23), including an atypical 4-of-7 effort from Nowitzki. Nonetheless, if Roy has found a way to contribute for Portland in this favorable matchup, that might prove the most crucial takeaway of all.”

Ben Golliver, Blazersedge: “Portland’s initial push came courtesy of Matthews, who practically refused to talk about his individual play after leading Portland with 25 points on 8-12 shooting. Thankfully, LaMarcus Aldridge was there to do it for him. ‘I think every game [this series] the team that’s won it has had someone play really, really well,’ Aldridge said. ‘Tonight it was Wesley.’ There’s been so much to like about Aldridge’s maturation this season but that quote is near the top. Aldridge, Matthews and everyone else with a pulse in the Rose Garden knows that the bulk of the headlines are going to Brandon Roy, who finished with 16 crucial points off the bench to help push Portland over the hump. But it was Matthews’ hot shooting that got Portland up early. 16 points in the first quarter. 22 points in the first half. Good shot selection (even including the heat checks, which you know are coming). Solid defense throughout the game on top of it. That Aldridge would single out Matthews with praise — despite his own success on the night and the mountain of questions about Roy — is a moment that will endure. Credit where credit is due. Recognition and rewards for those who have earned it.”

Tim MacMahon (and Ben Rogers), ESPN Dallas: “An object thrown from the Rose Garden stands hit Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban in the face during Thursday night’s Game 3 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. The incident occurred midway through the fourth quarter after Cuban had been interacting with the fans in the section behind the Mavericks’ bench. Cuban was not injured. ‘I don’t know what it was, but something hit me in the face,’ said Cuban, who encouraged fans to boo him more by putting his hand by his ear. Extra security was assigned to the area behind the Mavericks’ bench for the remainder of the game. There were no other issues.”

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The Difference: Portland Trailblazers 97, Dallas Mavericks 92

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Recaps | Be the First to Comment

Screen shot 2011-04-22 at 5.40.56 AM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas85.0108.258.119.118.918.8
Portland114.153.322.718.910.6

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

  • Frustration is a natural precipitate of playoff basketball; combining two competitive entities in elemental form creates not only an expected solution, but a necessary, balancing byproduct. The glow of a win must stand against its opposite, so as Portland goes one way in victory, Dallas goes another. The Mavs are frustrated. Rick Carlisle is frustrated. You’re probably frustrated. There are plenty of reasons to be after Game 3, with the lost potential of a commanding 3-0 series lead perhaps chief among them. Many will point to questionable officiating (with a certain video replay call made in error as only the most obvious example). Others, perhaps, to lost opportunities at the free throw line. Yet the most frustrating aspect of all was a return to normalcy for both teams in the turnover column. Dallas ranked 21st in the league in turnover rate this season, while Portland ranked second in opponent’s turnover rate. That combination seemed highly reactive from the start, and yet the turnover battle was hardly an important part of the series narrative prior to Thursday’s game. Then Jason Kidd turned the ball over three times in the first quarter, reestablishing the season-long Maverick tradition of surrendering possessions midstream. Dallas posted a turnover rate of 18.8, their highest of the series and significantly more damaging than Portland’s 10.6 mark. Every reckless move fed the possibility of a Maverick loss, ultimately leaving the whole evening plump with the potential for disappointment. It’s just one loss, but it’s one loss that could have effectively ended the Blazers had the Mavs not participated in their own temporary demise.
  • As unfortunate as this loss was, those numerous frustrations aren’t guaranteed to persist; this one lost opportunity is no reason for legitimate despondency, considering how well Dallas played even in defeat. The Mavs can find solace in the fact that they generally worked their way into favorable shots, even after Jason Kidd (eight points, 3-9 FG, three assists, six rebounds, five turnovers) and Peja Stojakovic (seven points, 3-7 FG, three rebounds) returned to earth. Dirk Nowitzki (25 points, 10-21 FG, nine rebounds) was able to shoot a decent percentage from the field for the first time all series. Portland’s offensive rebounding was held to a reasonable level. Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum contributed during a crucial fourth quarter run, but were largely unproductive on offense. Even with the loss, there’s a lot to work with and plenty to look forward to in Game 4.
  • For a night, Jason Terry (27 points, 10-13 FG, 5-7 3FG, seven assists) walked on air. JET had played productive minutes in both Games 1 and 2, but his performance in Game 3 stands among the best by any player in this series thus far. Terry was the Mavs’ one consistent source of points, and he expertly used his defensive draw to set up teammates for easy scores. Just productive, heady play from a big-time playoff performer. Terry was able to fuel Maverick runs and keep the team afloat when the offense struggled, and while it’s a damn shame that Dallas couldn’t take full advantage of JET’s excellence, it was a treat to see Terry in optimal form.
  • Fittingly, JET was balanced by his positional counterparts; Wesley Matthews (25 points, 8-12 FG, 4-6 3FG, three assists) and Brandon Roy (16 points, 6-10 FG, four assists) were both fantastic for the Blazers, and together accounted for over half of Portland’s points. Roy will draw the primarily of the attention, as he transformed from self-pitying distraction to valuable contributor almost overnight. However, Matthews’ combination of three-point range, driving ability, and aggressive defense offers the greater long-term concern. Roy may have had a profound impact on this particular game, but he’s not at a point where he can be trusted to do the same on Saturday, much less for the rest of the series. Matthews, on the other hand, stays relatively constant in his effort, even if not his production. He can be a difference-maker with his hustle and defense alone, and when he’s dropping 25 on efficient shooting as well, he presents a rather substantial problem.
  • The Mavs’ defense was stifled by the Blazers’ impressive shot-making (as was the case with the Blazers’ D and the Mavs’ shot-making as well), but Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler did incredible individual defensive work against LaMarcus Aldridge. LMA still managed to get his, and several of his buckets were quite timely. That said, a few big baskets don’t erase Aldridge’s less efficient overall line; he may have scored a bit and even kept Chandler off the court by putting him in foul trouble, but his presence was significantly less taxing on the Dallas defense than it has been in games past. 30 minutes of Haywood typically isn’t conducive to effective play, but he filled in for Chandler admirably.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 20, 2011 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

Jeff Caplan, ESPN Dallas: “In the first three quarters of both games, Nowitzki has scored 29 total points on 10-of-31 shooting and 9-0f-9 from the free throw line. In the fourth quarter, however, Nowitzki’s numbers are mesmerizing: 32 points on 6-of-11 shooting — 1-of-1 from 3-point range — and 19-of-21 from the free throw line. And he’s earning every one of them, pounding his body inside, absorbing contact and finishing strong. ‘This team is going to keep fighting,’ Nowitzki said. ‘I’m going to keep fighting.’”

Jason Quick, The Oregonian: “Brandon Roy has fought through a lot of things in his career, but never has he had to do what he did Tuesday in Dallas during Game 2 of the Trail Blazers’ first-round series. Brandon Roy, the face of the franchise, had to fight off tears. ‘There was a point in the first half, and I was thinking ‘You better not cry,’ Roy said. ‘I mean, serious. I mean, there was a moment where I felt really sorry for myself. Then I was like, nah, you can’t be sorry for yourself. I’m a grown man, but there was a moment there that I felt sorry for myself. Especially when I think I can still help…I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little hurt, or disappointed,’ Roy said. ‘But the biggest thing is to keep moving, to try and keep my spirits up. But it’s tough man. I just…I just always thought I would be treated better. That was a little disappointing for me.’”

Ben Golliver, Eye on Basketball: “Roy has maintained for the last month that his struggles are mental and that his knees feel fine after arthroscopic surgery earlier this season. He’s also talked at length, since before the surgeries, about his need to adjust his game to accomodate his physical changes. There is a clear disconnect for Roy. While his knees feel good that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s the player he once was, nor even a productive player. A lack of swelling or pain doesn’t equal 25 points a night, or 10 points a night. Or, even, a single point on Tuesday night. Playing without pain doesn’t mean he’s playing well. Those two have long gone hand in hand for Roy in the past, but that simply hasn’t been the case for months now. When Roy says his struggles are purely mental, he’s either kidding himself or he hasn’t fully come to terms with his current abilities. Scouts, former players, media observers and fans see a player whose quickness and power off the dribble have disappeared, a player whose ball fake and dribble combinations no longer mesmerize, a player whose lift is gone, a player who has been a defensive liability — slow laterally, slow to rotate, slow to close out — for the entire season, and a player whose confidence is clearly shaken. ”

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Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 18, 2011 under xOther | 2 Comments to Read

Kelly Dwyer, Ball Don’t Lie: “You’ve got to love the way the playoffs move every dial back to zero. Sure, the Trail Blazers might be the deeper team in this series. They might be more talented, and they might match up in a way that could have the Mavs ending their season five or six games from now, but … make it happen, cap’ain. Go ahead and take all those well-researched “should bes,” and turn them into a win, Portland. Because while we were right to point out how much this series seems to tilt in Portland’s favor, the Blazers still had to go out and guard Dirk Nowitzki…It hurts to see Dallas more than double you up from the line, but [Nate] McMillan has to be happy with the fact that his team played the Mavericks to a near stand-off despite a middling, 100 points per 100 possessions performance. Dallas was at home, and needed Jason Kidd to hit six three-pointers to pull away. Dallas will no doubt improve upon this game, but there’s only so much improving you can do on Jason Kidd hitting six of 10 treys. And best for McMillan? Portland will improve by leaps and bounds from here on out. Or, they ‘should’ improve. It’s still on paper for Portland, at this point.”

Ben Golliver, Eye on Basketball: “The most head-scratching coaching decision of this game — and arguably of Portland’s season — came when Nate McMillan opted to play guard Brandon Roy the entire fourth quarter instead of starting guard Wesley Matthews, fellow reserve Rudy Fernandez or center Marcus Camby. Just once in the last month has Roy played more than 26 minutes — a recent home win over the Lakers — and nothing about his recent play suggests he should be playing the crunch time minutes in this series…What’s even more confusing, though, is that McMillan has almost always turned to Matthews late in games recently when the Blazers have held the lead late. Portland led 72-66 with less than six minutes to go, the perfect situation to swap Roy for Matthews to slam the door shut. Not only is Matthews a superior defender, he’s also a superior outside shooter (Matthews has shot 40.7% from deep this season while Roy has shot 33.3%). As a team, Portland shot 2-16 from deep on the night , including 1-7 in the final quarter. While Matthews struggled early with turnovers, he certainly has shown this season that he deserves more than 19 minutes and three shots. Even if McMillan decided Matthews simply didn’t have it going in the pressure-packed situation that is Game 1, he had other options. Rudy Fernandez, although not a true impact player on Saturday, had six points, two rebounds and one assist in 18 minutes. If not Fernandez, then going back to a larger lineup — with Marcus Camby in the middle — would have been another option. While that would likely have led to easier double teams and more congestion for LaMarcus Aldridge — who was excellent on the evening, finishing with 27 points and six boards — Camby, who 18 rebounds in 29 minutes, would have been a difference-maker on the boards late, as Dallas center Tyson Chandler’s four fourth-quarter rebounds were huge in extending Dallas possessions and ending Portland possessions. Really, this was about Anybody But Roy. He finished 1-7 on the evening for two points and played exactly how recent history suggested he would play: flat, over-thinking and not in tune with a flowing offensive team concept. What’s more, it was a departure from the usual rotation necessitating an adjustment from all of his teammates late in the game.”

Bradford Doolittle, Basketball Prospectus: “The Blazers got plenty of mileage from LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored 27 points in 40:39 despite foul trouble. In fact, the Blazers’ bigs had a big night, as Marcus Camby grabbed 18 rebounds in 29:02 and handed out five assists. However, Camby was absent down the stretch, getting just 1:16 in the final period while Nowitzki went to town. For that matter, Wesley Matthews, one of Portland’s crunch performers this season, played just 25 seconds in the final period. Meanwhile, the ghost acting the part of Brandon Roy played all but one second of the fourth quarter. Roy went scoreless in the period and scored just two points on 1-of-7 shooting in 26:22 for the game. If you’re scratching your head on that one, join the club.”

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The Official Two Man Game Official Dallas Mavericks Versus Portland Trailblazers Official Playoff Preview for the Official 2010-2011 Official NBA Post-Season

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 14, 2011 under Commentary, Previews | 27 Comments to Read

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Dallas’ playoff opponent is finally set in stone. Thanks to a Maverick win and Kobe Bryant’s ongoing crusade to burn the city of Sacramento to the ground, the Mavs will face off with the formidable Portland Trailblazers in the first found of the postseason. Rejoice, and be worried; this matchup is terrific for basketball fans but should be uncomfortable to the Maverick faithful, a conflict of identities for those who appreciate both the game and this particular team. We’re in for a fantastic series, but a hell of an opponent stands between Dallas and the second round.

The Mavericks are a better team than the Blazers by virtually every objective measure; win percentage, efficiency differential, point differential, Pythagorean win percentage, and the simple rating system all favor Dallas. In terms of their season-long numbers, the Mavs have outperformed the Blazers on both ends of the court, and enjoy all of the statistical trimmings that come with that superior level of performance. However, the fact that Dallas is a better team only matters tangentially. Playoff series’ are so much more dependent on the ways in which teams succeed than just how successful those teams are, a fact surely not lost on Mavs fans. This outcome of this series won’t be determined by determining the better team, but merely the more effective one given this specific matchup.

Dallas and Portland faced off four times during the regular season, but reading too much into the outcome of those four contests can be a bit misleading; the Blazers thoroughly dominated their latest game against the Mavs, for example, but Tyson Chandler’s absence hardly makes it a representative sample. The same can be said of the exclusion of Dirk Nowitzki and Brandon Roy in previous games, the mid-season acquisition of Gerald Wallace, and the unavailability of Caron Butler — we have four games’ worth of competition between the two teams, but little to speak of in the way of legitimate macro-level assessment.

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So instead, the most prudent way to predict the performance of both teams is to look at smaller factors which could potentially turn the series. In my eyes, Portland creates particular problems for Dallas through their combination of versatile forwards and sizable guards. LaMarcus Aldridge — who averaged 27.8 points on 51% shooting against Dallas this season — is a huge part of the problem, and acts as a catalyst of sorts for the Blazers to exploit the Mavs on a number of levels. Regardless of whether Marcus Camby is on the floor, Rick Carlisle has largely opted to defend Aldridge with either Tyson Chandler or Brendan Haywood. Carlisle’s decision is understandable; putting Dirk Nowitzki on Aldridge wouldn’t present any kind of advantage (and needlessly puts Dirk at risk for foul trouble), and Shawn Marion doesn’t have the size to contend with Aldridge in the post. That leaves Chandler and Haywood as the most logical defensive options, as both are long enough to contest Aldridge’s shot and strong enough to fight him for position down low. Neither has been tremendously successful in stopping Aldridge in the post thus far this season, but they provide the best theoretical counters considering the Mavs’ lack of alternatives.

If that potential mismatch in Portland’s favor isn’t enough, more problems start to arise when we weigh Aldridge’s other abilities. Not only is Portland’s new frontman skilled in operating from either block, but he’s a credible mid-range shooter and a constant threat to slip toward the basket for a lob. Aldridge’s combination of size, range, and mobility makes him an incredibly difficult cover, and with Dallas’ assumed defensive configuration, his ability to put up points is only the first of several concerns introduced by his very presence. Defensive rebounding is also a legitimate issue, as Aldridge is able to pull one of the Mavs’ strongest rebounders away from the basket by stepping out to the perimeter. That not only limits the rebounding impact of Chandler and Haywood while Aldridge is on the court, but opens up more opportunities for the Blazers — one of the strongest offensive rebounding teams in the league — to attack the glass. Dallas is normally strong on the defensive glass, but it’s no coincidence that some of their worst rebounding performances of the season have come against Portland (the Blazers grabbed more than 27.9 percent of available offensive boards in three of the four games, with the only outlier being the quasi-blowout in the most recent game).

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Even more problematic is what that same range does for Dallas’ defensive spacing. Every successful defensive scheme relies on bigs who are able to rotate from across the court and contest shots around the rim, but Aldridge’s ability to knock down an open 18-footer makes it far more difficult for Chandler or Haywood to leave him and rotate into the paint. Without consistent help on the back line (Nowitzki tries, but Dirks will be Dirks), the Mavs’ perimeter defenders are in trouble; one misstep could lead to an uncontested layup or a trip to the free throw line, and Jason Terry, J.J. Barea, and Rodrigue Beaubois certainly commit their share of defensive blunders. Plus, Aldridge’s ability to space the floor opens up the opportunity for the Blazer guards to set up against their undersized opponents on the block. Brandon Roy and Andre Miller are skilled post-up threats capable of both scoring and making plays, and together with Wesley Matthews and Rudy Fernandez, the Blazer guard corps towers over the Mavs’ backcourt.

Portland not only has that specific size advantage, but has shown in their last two games against Dallas that they fully intend to exploit it. Ultimately, the Mavs are put in a position in which fielding any of their crucial but diminutive guards — the aforementioned Terry, Barea, and Beaubois — invites an easy post-up opportunity for either Roy or Miller. The three-guard lineup is even more vulnerable, further limiting Carlisle’s rotational options. Terry and Barea will play, but we could be left pondering ways to keep them off the floor, particularly if either player fails to produce on offense.

Carlisle may adjust by redistributing minutes, but Corey Brewer and DeShawn Stevenson seem to be his only alternatives, and I’m not sure either is likely to actually play significant minutes. In a way, this is all an extension from last year’s playoffs: Terry is almost certain to be an on-court mainstay, and even more certain to be on the court to close games — even when his replacement makes intuitive sense. Last year, it was Beaubois, who ripped up the court in Game 6 against the Spurs before grabbing a seat prematurely, who could have replaced JET. This season, if Terry isn’t on his offensive game, it may make more sense for him to sit for defensive reasons. He isn’t uniquely responsible for Dallas’ potential defensive troubles, but he’s the undersized guard most likely to log the most playing time. The decision to slash the minutes of a player like JET is an immensely difficult one, and it may not even be the correct one. But those guard matchups could end up doing a lot of damage, and one can only hope that Carlisle has some counter — either in scheme or personnel — up his sleeve.

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For their part, the Mavs don’t have a unique matchup advantage other than the fact that they employ Dirk Nowitzki, and that as a team they have the ability to hit shots of all kinds with consistency. That last fact should be especially evident against Portland’s relatively poor shooting defense; for all their defensive versatility and long-armed wings, the Blazers rank 22nd in effective field goal percentage allowed. Dirk Nowitzki will have his work cut out for him grappling with Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum (among others), but I nonetheless anticipate him having an MVP-type series. There’s only so much a defender can do. Wallace and Batum are sure to put in good work on D, but Nowitzki is that efficient, that prolific, that deadly. Expect consistently excellent work from the block, the wing, and the elbow, as Dirk turns in more typically stellar postseason numbers.

Dallas’ perimeter shooters should also be in for a field day. According to Synergy Sports Technology, the Blazers rank 25th in the league in their defense of spot-up jumpers on a per possession basis, while the Maverick shooters rank sixth in their points scored per spot-up possession. This is where being a “jumpshooting team” comes in handy; spot-up jumpshots are a substantial part — 22.7 percent — of the Dallas offense, and happen to be one of Portland’s greatest defensive weaknesses. Let there be a turkey in every pot and a kick-out for every shooter — it’s gonna be a feast from the outside.

To hone in a bit: Portland ranks in the bottom 10 in three-point shooting defense — a big reason why both their points per spot up possession allowed and their opponents’ effective field goal percentage are so high. The Mavs have four consistent perimeter marksmen (Terry, Stevenson, Brian Cardinal, Peja Stojakovic) outside of Nowitzki, and any who sees the floor should find open looks with some regularity. The problem is how many of those shooters will actually see notable time; Stevenson could end up starting, but he’d been out of the rotation for a while before his unearthing on Wednesday. His role is uncertain, to say the least. Cardinal could be left off the playoff roster altogether if Rick Carlisle elects to bring Brewer along for the postseason, and even if Cardinal does make the playoff roster, Dallas rarely plays him and Nowitzki at the same time, which would limit his potential application.

Regardless, Terry, Stojakovic, Jason Kidd, and J.J. Barea should have room to fire from outside. They may not always convert (particularly in the case of the latter two), but those openings are nonetheless an important part of Dallas’ advantage. The opportunities will be there, so it’s on the usually efficient Mavs to hit their shots.

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Dallas shouldn’t have too much of a problem scoring, but they may have some issues in setting up a fluid offense. As counter-intuitive as that sounds, consider this: the Blazers are as good as any team in the league at creating turnovers, but as noted above, they don’t contest shots well at all. One shouldn’t expect some freewheeling Maverick attack, but once the ball gets to Nowitzki or Marion in the post (where they can either score or execute a basic kick-out), to a shooter off a curl via a Kidd assist, or to Terry or Barea to run the pick-and-roll, all should be right with the world. The problem is in the intermediary, those moments between the first and second options in a set where Kidd tries to thread an overly ambitious pass, Terry attempts to create off the dribble in vain, or a non-ball-handler ends up uncomfortably holding the rock as the shot clock dwindles. If the Mavs establish their play actions and work through them without trying to do too much, they shouldn’t have much of a problem on the offensive end at all. If they panic or rush rather than work through their options patiently, then Wallace, Miller, Matthews, and Fernandez will furiously swarm the ball like leather-eating piranhas.

With that in mind, this series feels like a shootout. Portland isn’t a particularly sound defensive team, and Dallas’ defense doesn’t seem poised to be particularly effective based on the matchup and their recent performance. The point totals may not soar due to neither team being a true fast-breaking outfit, but this is a series of offensive prowess unless the Mavs can prove otherwise. One defensive scheme isn’t enough, either; Nate McMillan is a smart, flexible coach, and he’ll have his players adapt to any single counter the Mavs utilize. Dallas will need multiple responses to both Aldridge and the Blazer guards, and somehow not neglect Wallace and Batum in the process. It’s doable, but difficult.

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Which is why I regretfully predict that the Blazers will win in seven games. It’s not an easy call; these Mavs are skilled and can theoretically execute on both ends. I just think Portland’s mismatches will prove a bit too problematic. I think Jason Kidd won’t be quite as effective as the Mavs need him to be. I think Dirk Nowitzki and LaMarcus Aldridge will both be tremendous, and the rest of both teams will be left to tip the balance. I think the Blazers can hide Brandon Roy too easily on defense, which lets him stay on the court long enough to cause a problem. I think Wallace and Batum may only hinder Nowitzki, but they’re capable of significantly limiting Marion. I think that there is a distinct possibility that the Mavs win this series, but there are just too many concerns to consider it the most likely outcome.

The Mavs are the better team in this series. Sometimes that just isn’t enough.

Here’s to hoping I’m wrong.

The Difference: Portland Trailblazers 104, Dallas Mavericks 96

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 4, 2011 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas88.0109.155.027.115.214.8
Portland118.256.828.812.512.5

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

  • First things first: this game was neither as close as the final score suggests, nor is it the end of the world. It’s one game in a season, albeit a slightly troubling one given the Mavs’ current slope. If Dallas was exhausted after a nine-day, six-game road trip (a doozie even by standards of the typically rigorous NBA regular season schedule), they sure looked it. Maybe their effort — irrelevant of scheduling — just wasn’t there. Maybe this was just “one of those games.” All we know is that the Mavs didn’t have it in them to play 48 minutes of coherent basketball, and that is never a good thing. Assume whatever you’d like about these Mavs and their effort level, but the best they could do in Sunday’s game was tread water.
  • Dirk Nowitzki’s (16 points, 5-12 FG, five rebounds) impact was suppressed, Jason Terry (four points, 1-6 FG) was absolutely bottled, and Jason Kidd (0-6 FG, four assists, two turnovers) was utterly useless in orchestrating the offense. Yet in the game’s final balance, it was still Dallas’ D that caused the biggest problems. The ease with which the Blazers were able to cut to the rim and the brutal effectiveness of basic drive-and-kick action are far more troubling than any Maverick player failing to make shots. Everything looked easy for the Blazers, and while that’s a testament to the talented, productive crew on Portland’s roster, it also helps when uncontested drives to the rim, frequent trips to the foul line, and open three-pointers are common results of simple play execution.
  • On a related note: If the Mavs had a fatal flaw in Sunday’s game, it was their transition defense. Not only did Dallas’ defenders not pick up the ball-handler early enough in each transition sequence, but the lack of effort in getting back on defense overall was startling. I don’t think Gerald Wallace (19 points, 8-10 FG, eight rebounds, three assists, three steals, three turnovers) minded much, but the Mavs’ reluctance to defend the transition game without even the slightest competence should keep Rick Carlisle up at night.
  • Of all of Portland’s killer runs, the most painful had to be a back-breaking 7-0 sprint just after the Mavs had scored eight straight to cut their deficit to 13 with six minutes remaining. Climbing out of a 13-point hole in six minutes is improbable, sure, but the Blazers made it impossible with a swift response that put the game completely out of reach.
  • Shawn Marion (19 points, 8-11 FG, five rebounds) was terrific. He slid into open space, created lanes to receive passes, and generated quality attempts. He seemed to be clicking on a level that the rest of the Mavs simply couldn’t access, in large part due to an energy that far exceeded that of any of his teammates. Shawn Marion was the best Maverick on the floor on Sunday, and while that’s terrific in its own way, in this case the gulf between Marion and his teammates was created by both parties.
  • Brendan Haywood (five points, 11 rebounds, three offensive boards) was able to play strong individual defense on LaMarcus Aldridge (18 points, 9-17 FG, eight rebounds), who has become something of a terror for the Mavs and the league at large. No Mav — including Haywood — rotated well in order to establish a successful team concept on defense, but if nothing else, we know that Haywood can provide the length and size necessary to curtail Aldridge’s production should these teams meet in a playoff series. Tyson Chandler sat this one out to nurse a minor back injury, but Haywood showed well in his stead by sticking Aldridge and picking up a ton of boards.
  • Rodrigue Beaubois (18 points, 6-12 FG, four assists, two turnovers) is in an odd position. For the relevant minutes he played in last night’s game (read: before garbage time), I thought Beaubois played well on the offensive end. Picked up too many fouls on D by playing as young players so often do (biting on pump fakes, hand-checking Brandon Roy, etc.), but he did well as a shot-creator with the ball in his hands. The only problem was that both Beaubois and his teammates missed some very makeable shots. Missed opportunities have a way of making a stat line go sour, and though Beaubois was able to throw up nine points in a hurry with the game more or less decided, I think some will still — wrongfully — see this game as further proof of some alleged unreliability. I don’t buy it, and frankly, I don’t buy a lot of the oddly negative evaluations of Beaubois’ play this season. More on that later.
  • J.J. Barea (12 points, 5-10 FG, three assists, two turnovers) did a terrific job of giving the Mavs a scoring punch in limited minutes, but there’s also a reason that his raw plus-minus was a -1 for the night in spite of his offensive production. Barea is perhaps most emblematic of the specific problems that this Portland team causes from a matchup perspective; between Andre Miller, Wesley Matthews, Brandon Roy, and Rudy Fernandez, the Mavs’ backcourt is undersized at almost every turn. To make matters worse: Miller, Matthews, and Roy understand how to exploit their size advantage on drives and down on the block, which puts a pretty unique pressure on the Mavs’ defense when Dallas trots out smaller lineups. There is no Blazer regular whom Barea can reasonably be expected to defend, and yet Dallas still needs him on the court for his dribble penetration. Should be interesting to see what happens with the Blazer guards should these teams meet in a playoff series.