The Mavericks ended their preseason in spectacular fashion last night.
Houston led by a single point. The clock provided Dallas with a game-winning chance, provided they make a single stop. Brendan Haywood altered a Courtney Lee layup attempt with under five seconds remaining, and Jason Kidd immediately called timeout upon collecting the rebound. What resulted was a bit of a broken exchange; Jason Terry had an open look at a runner on the baseline, but instead forced a pass to Dirk Nowitzki at the free throw line extended. Lee seemingly redeemed his earlier miss by picking off Terry’s misguided pass, but he mistakenly stepped out of bounds with 0.4 seconds remaining. Dallas had just the slightest chance to win their final preseason exhibition, and even that possibility was eclipsed by the presence of the 7’6” Yao Ming, who Houston had conveniently positioned to contest the inbound pass. That Jason Kidd, though…he’s something.
EDIT: Sebastian Pruiti did a terrific job diagramming the sequence for NBA Playbook. Pruiti focused on one of the fundamental aspects of the play’s success: the use of Dirk Nowitzki as a screen-setter. It’s so rare to find a player with Nowitzki’s combination of size (and thus, screening ability) and shooting touch. That makes it incredibly difficult for opponents to both cover the man coming around his screen (in this case, Marion) and cover Dirk. Part of drawing up an effective play is forcing opponents to make tough decisions, and demanding that opposing players instantaneously decide whether to cover a popping Dirk or a cutting Marion is exactly what Carlisle and his staff hope to accomplish.
Regardless of whether Nowitzki wants fanfare or not, the Mavs have launched DFWDigsDirk.com for fans to show support for ze German. Nothing too special, but the Mavs’ official store is offering a 41% discount on all Dirk merch as part of Dirk’s honorary week.
Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News: “…I would be shocked if the Mavericks don’t hang around the hoop and try to get a rebound in the Chris Bosh situation. People have been downplaying Bosh because he may end up being a package deal with LeBron James. But Bosh met early today with Houston GM Daryl Morey and if the Rockets are making a push for Bosh on the basis of pairing him with a perhaps-healthy Yao Ming, the Mavericks can do better than that. If the package deal with LeBron falls through, the Mavericks should be in the hunt for the 6-10 hometown kid, even if he’s a little reluctant to play in his backyard and put that extra pressure on himself. Dirk would help him alleviate it.”
Even though the Mavs may look like a better team on paper, the Rox are far and away the more likely Bosh destination. For one, Houston has a plethora of interesting assets (their own draft picks, the Knicks’ draft picks, young talent, expiring contracts) that could tempt the Raptors in a sign-and-trade, but the bigger issue is Bosh’s willingness to suit up for Houston. He’s a far more natural fit alongside Yao than he is alongside Nowitzki, and don’t think for a second that Chris doesn’t know that. Considering how set he is on playing power forward, he may be the least attainable free agent out there.
Even though the summer’s premier free agents give the Mavs a nice pipe dream to chase, the far more realistic option is an Al Jefferson/Andre Iguodala style trade without the red tape of free agency.
Donnie Nelson clearly prefers veteran free agents to undrafted ones, and for obvious reasons. There are a number of intriguing veteran options to be had on the market for a chunk of the Mavs’ MLE, but I can’t help but wonder: does that also open the door for a D-Leaguer or two?
Caron Butler on Twitter, back on Tuesday a little before midnight: “About to check out twilight ill get back and let you’ll know what’s good holla”
The Houston Rockets visit the Dallas Mavericks
When the Mavs and the Rockets met in the 2005 playoffs, Houston appeared to be on the cusp of elite status. Not only did the wing-center combo of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming make sense on a very basic, basketball level, but McGrady’s offense was an excellent counterpoint to Jeff Van Gundy’s Yao-anchored defense. The rest of the roster was appraised as paper-thin, but solid contributions from a stable of role players sopped up minutes like a Bob Sura-shaped sponge. Houston very nearly downed Dallas in the first round, before an improbable comeback (and a Game 7 dismantling) ended the Rockets’ run before it truly began.
But as people in the future are ought to do, we know now that it was never meant to be. Yao and McGrady have alternated breakdowns, JVG was chased from the head of the bench to the broadcast table, and the rest of the roster has been turned over in its entirety.
What’s even more tragic is that for the most part, the Rockets’ “downfall” was instigated by events almost entirely outside of their control. So much hinged on the knees and back of McGrady and the legs of Yao, and that’s a load those bones were not built to bare. A string of unfavorable and unlucky injuries dropped the ceiling on an entire franchise, left two star athletes in limbo at critical points in their careers, and likely cost Van Gundy his job.
Meanwhile, the Mavs have been to the Conference Finals and the NBA Finals. They’ve won 67 games and brought home an MVP award, a Coach of the Year Award, and a 6th Man Award. They defeated the older brother Spurs, took down deserter Steve Nash, and have yet to win less than 50 games. The Mavs have won and accomplished plenty, largely because Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry, the linchpins of execution and chemistry in Dallas, have had sterling health over the last four seasons.
Trade the medical records of Dirk/Terry for that of Yao/McGrady, and the entire Western Conference is radically altered. Not only would the rosters of the Mavs and the Rockets be radically different, but titles would assuredly change hands, reactionary trade moves would be impacted, and who knows what would have happened to Ron Artest.
In spite of all of the injuries that have plagued the Rockets, they’ve won over 50 games in three out of the four years since those fateful 2005 Playoffs. That group of middling peripheral talent was swapped out for a more complete role playing cast under the careful, calculating watch (and maybe calculator watch) of Daryl Morey. The wacky world of advanced statistical analysis has built surprisingly competent teams in Houston, with this year’s outfit being no exception. Despite the fact that most players on the roster shouldn’t be considered a primary or even secondary offensive option, Houston is locked with Dallas for the top spot in the Southwest Division. That’s a hell of a rally for a squad missing their top two players, who also happen to be the floor generals for both ends of the court. With no McGrady or Artest to provide the scoring punch, the Rockets are STILL 8th in the league in offensive rating. And with no Yao inside, the Rockets are STILL in the top half of the league in defensive rating. Those are decent numbers for any team, much less one thought to fall out of the playoff race entirely.
I’d like to think that in the bizarro universe I’ve painted for you, Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson would be able to accomplish the same, or at least a comparable product. Like Morey, both Cuban and Nelson are known for the ingenuity. Combine that innovative side with a willingness to pull the trigger on potential deals, and you have the ingredients necessary to assemble a scrappy, underdog squad. There’s no way of knowing whether Josh Howard and Erick Dampier (and Devin Harris?) could lead a team to the playoffs with a Rockets-esque cast, but I have no hesitation in saying that it would be difficult to put the Mavs and Rockets in better hands.
In a few weeks, I’d hope that this photo is nothing but a Mavericks fan wearing a jersey of a Mavericks player. ‘Quis doesn’t quite solve all of our problems (though he’s certainly better than Antoine Wright), but if the Mavs could ink him to a reasonable deal, I wouldn’t mind using up a chunk of the MLE after some of our other options are exhausted. Then again, I’m a sucker for ‘Quis.
Some absolutely horrible news came out of Houston yesterday: Yao Ming’s problematic foot may cost him the season, and possibly even more than that. The Rox were already looking at a year largely without Tracy McGrady, and Ron Artest is an unrestricted free agent. I won’t even try to dig around in Artest’s head for his intentions, but keeping Ron-Ron in Houston just got a bit tricky.
On a slightly brighter note (and one that has nothing to do with free agency), the Rockets took over operations for the D-League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Not only will there be three D-League squads in Texas (Austin, Frisco, RGV), but all three will be controlled by their respective big league counterparts. We’ve never been the most progressive state in the world, but in the realm of basketball development, Texas is right there on the forefront.
The NY Daily News is reporting that the Knicks plan to meet up with Jason Kidd to discuss his free agency tomorrow morning. In the back of your mind, note that this is the Daily News. That’s all that really needs to be said on that subject. Still, I don’t doubt the Knicks having some very real interest in Kidd. Ideally (for New York, at least), Kidd could help lure some bigger names to the Big Apple, while running D’Antoni’s offense better than Chris Duhon ever could. The question remains if Kidd wants to put a chance for a championship on hold, despite what could be similar offers coming from contending teams. Kidd could make sense on either the Lakers or the Cavs, and if either team offered him the full midlevel (though L.A.’s tax situation makes the extra salary quite a burden), would Kidd really turn them down to suit up in New York? Of course, let’s not forget the Mavs in all of this; Mark Cuban has made it crystal clear that the Mavs don’t just want Kidd back, they need him back. It’s tough to get a read on exactly how Kidd viewed his most recent stop in Dallas. But supposing there weren’t any ill wills, the Mavs should have the inside track to re-signing Kidd by holding up a bigger check.
So far, the trade market has dictated a bit of a rich-getting-richer, poor-getting-poorer atmosphere. The Spurs get Richard Jefferson while the Bucks save money. The Magic get Vince Carter while the Nets save money and get younger. While I wouldn’t say the Mavs are as rich as Orlando or San Antonio, they can certainly benefit from a similar mindset. Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson have spoken frequently about taking advantage of the opportunities that arise, and the climate seems ripe for the capitalizing.
Retaining Brandon Bass should be, and likely will be, high on the Mavs’ list of priorities. As the Morning News points out, the Mavs can offer Bass a long-term, competitive contract without actually using up their midlevel exception. That would allow Nelson to secure frontcourt depth while also taking aim for a player like Rasheed Wallace or Marcin Gortat. Considering the generally poor cap situation going into 2010, I’d hate to see Bass walk out the door for no compensation whatsoever.
Congratulations to your Dallas Mavericks, ladies and gents, who have posted a 50 win season in every year this decade. Maybe 50 is just an arbitrary marker, another number in a game of numbers, but it does represent a prolonged greatness that can be matched by just one other current team. That other team just so happens to be the Mavs’ first round playoff opponent, the San Antonio Spurs.
For the Mavs, this game was as much about climbing as high as possible in the standings as it was about beating a pretty damn good team in a meaningful game. Both squads had plenty to play for, but it was the Mavericks, largely considered the inferior team, who came up with the right mix, the right sets, and the right strategies. Rick Adelman is a Coach of the Year candidate in his own right and I’m actually very fond of this bunch of Rockets. But last night, Rick Carlisle taught Adelman a thing or two about in-game adjustments, and the Mavs held a hands-on workshop in crunch time execution.
The Mavs’ big names showed up. Dirk (30 points, 13-23 FG, 15 rebounds) was fantastic, and balanced a fantastic first quarter with a superb second half. Jason Kidd (11 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists, 3-3 3FG) had another day at the office, and notched a triple double. Every rebound and assist was impactful, and Kidd’s three-pointers were heartbreakers for the Rox. The JET took the torch in the fourth quarter, overcoming a trying first half to finish with 23 points on 10-17 shooting. As a team, the Mavs outscored the Rockets 30-14 in the fourth, a success fueled by Terry’s heroics and aggressive, physical team defense.
Yao Ming (23 points, 9 rebounds, 4 turnovers) gave Erick Dampier fits once again. Oddly enough, the real defensive success came when Ryan Hollins and Brandon Bass did their best to make Yao’s life hell. Hollins initially had some trouble, but eventually used his length to front Yao and limit his attempts. Brandon Bass used every ounce of his strength to make Yao uncomfortable. Holding, pushing, pulling, and generally ensuring that whatever Yao did was difficult. As a result, the Rockets’ best player on the floor managed just one shot attempt. Erick Dampier can do a lot of good against a lot of centers in this league; Yao Ming is not one of them. I’m glad to see that at least one Mav can have success against him, even if that success doesn’t come with a wow-worthy statistical line. Bass and Hollins only turned things around with the help of some very aggressive double-teams, and that’s a credit to the Mavs’ entire defensive scheme and Rick Carlisle. It made too much sense for Yao to pass the ball out and hope for a re-post, and often the interior feed didn’t come. Single coverage wasn’t working for Dampier or the zone, but the added pressure was enough to significantly limit Yao’s attempts in the fourth.
Aaron Brooks wasn’t the killer he was last time out against Dallas, but Kyle Lowry (15 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 6-7 FT) didn’t mind stepping in to assume the role. Lowry pulled out every trick in the book on J.J. Barea and Jason Terry, and the Mavs simply didn’t have an answer for his penetration. The double teams left the defense in a constant state of rotation, and as a result the lane was wide open for dribble-drives. Lowry took full advantage of that, but simply failed to capitalize on that penetration aside from drawing a few fouls.
But where was Josh Howard? He was virtually invisible in the first half, and though he managed to chip in 15 points on 4-13 shooting, his offensive contributions were nonexistent outside of a third quarter parade to the line. 8 free throw attempts in a quarter is impressive, but where was he otherwise? I know he faced two hellish defenders in Ron Artest and Shane Battier, but Josh uncharacteristically failed to get off to a high-scoring start. But this tells you just how important Josh Howard is to this team: he had a sub-par game and didn’t shoot effectively…and yet he keyed an 11-0 third quarter run that essentially kept the Mavs in the game. He’s going to have bad games, but if his bad games can come with the silver lining of a one-quarter blitz, the Mavs will be pretty tough to stop. Dirk in the first, Josh in the third, and JET in the fourth: that’s one hell of a relay. On top of that, Josh came up limping after hitting the floor hard in the fourth quarter. Even if you didn’t cherish his in-game exploits, you’ve gotta appreciate the fact that he continued to play on that sore ankle and didn’t say one word about it. Plenty have questioned the head on Howard’s shoulders, but he doesn’t seem mixed up or confused in the slightest: he’s here to play, and he’s here to help the Mavs win. Josh, you didn’t have a great game, but I’m still tipping my hat to you.
The Rockets’ offense disappeared when their 7’6” center did. Say what you will, but it’s not an easy task to cloak a guy like that. He doesn’t quite fit in the closet. Part of that was the ridiculous number of close-range shots that simply refused to find the net. Some people call that an inability to finish and others may call it a series of unlucky bounces, but for last night’s game I call it the difference between a win and a loss. The fourth quarter was, for the most part, a dog fight, and if you factor in the impact of the half dozen rim-outs the Rockets blew within five feet of the basket, you’re looking at an entirely different ballgame. Maybe the Mavs did just enough to bother a few of those shots, maybe the Rockets shorted them, or maybe the now deceased brother of a Maverick haunts the arena, altering the game in unexplainable ways. I just don’t know. What I do know is that those misses were awfully costly.
Dallas has won five of six. They overcame a 14-point deficit and beat a Western favorite. The Mavs have confidence and momentum in spades, but it’s up to them to harness that into something tangible against San Antonio.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Brandon Bass, who played the entire fourth quarter and held Yao Ming to just one attempt over an eight minute stint. He didn’t have the line, but he had all the impact, especially in comparison to Erick Dampier. Damp’s heart was in the right place, but he racked up the fouls while Yao racked up the points. Bass used every weapon he had against Yao in the post, the most effective of which were those two massive guns on his arms. Maybe there were some fouls in there, but when any player is able to limit an elite center the way that Bass did, help defense or not, it deserves some props.
You know the story by now: based on the outcomes of the Dallas-Houston, San Antonio-New Orleans, and Denver-Portland games tonight, the Mavs could be seeded anywhere from 6 to Z and will be playing either the Rockets, the Spurs, or the Nuggets.
Who do you guys want to see in the first round? Against any of those three opponents the Mavs would almost certainly be underdogs, but at least they’re not the Lakers.
I’m not afraid of Denver necessarily, if for no other reason than a twisted psychological justification of this paper tiger vibe I’ve gotten from the Nugs all season. Maybe somewhere, in my heart of hearts, I think Carmelo may be cursed. Or maybe I just don’t like Kenyon Martin. The Nuggets are drawing plenty of attention as a dark horse, but inexplicably, my gut says otherwise. Chauncey Billups has turned the team around, Carmelo Anthony is a phenomenal scorer, and Nene has ben incredible this season, but something about that team doesn’t sit right with me.
Houston, on the other hand, is a bit frightening. I’m not sure that anyone on the planet wants to play against Ron Artest for a playoff series, much less Artest with the likes of Shane Battier by his side and Yao Ming on his back. They have all the pieces to dominate almost every Mav defensively, even if it does mean matching the merely average defender Luis Scola on Dirk. It’s not that the Mavs can’t beat the Rockets, because they can. I’m just not too sure they would. Yao’s too tough of a cover for Damp, Jason Terry and Josh Howard could be smothered on the wings, and essentially the Mavs would be hinged on Dirk going hogwild. He’s fully capable, but could he do it four times out of seven?
San Antonio, for me, is where the intrigue lies. They’re a good team, but a wounded one. On top of that, as I’ve said time and time again, the Mavs were built to beat the Spurs. Dirk, Josh, and JET pose a lot of problems for the Spurs’ defense, and if Tony Parker’s penetration is halted in the slightest, the Mavs have a good shot.
Regardless, the Mavs have a shot at a series, which is more than we could have said if they were locked in 8th. I’d prefer to steer clear of the Rox, but come what may. Personally, I’m hoping for a Mavs win and a Spurs win tonight, setting up another Mavs-Spurs classic.
So, LET’S GO MAVS. And, for once and once only, LET’S GO SPURS.
The Dallas Mavericks visit the Houston Rockets
T-Mac’s out, Rafer just got traded, and it’s doubtful that Kyle Lowry and Brian Cook will have cleared their physicals by gametime. Trap game? You bet.
The Mavs are playing well, and could end up getting ahead of themselves. Yao Ming historically has done well against Erick Dampier, and shackled Damp from accomplishing much of anything. Ron Artest is still the game’s premier wing defender, and he’ll make Josh Howard’s (and maybe Dirk’s) life a living hell. At this point in the game, the Dallas Mavericks are a better team than the Houston Rockets. But if you’ve watched the Mavs this season, you should know that that fact might not stop them from blowing this one.
Or maybe those were the old Mavs. One could only hope. Was it really so easy? Hand the reins to Kidd, hire Darrell Armstrong, and call it a day? The defensive problems still linger, but the rotations have been better, the individual efforts have been stronger, and the rebounds are triggering the offense. The offense stagnates at times, but I credit that more to the absence of Terry than any serious strategic flaw. But after months and months of deliberation about who to trade and who to blame, I’m still watching the Mavs with a cautious eye. Good things rarely come so easy.
This may seem like a contradictory message from my morning mantra. It is, in a sense. It’s hard to trust this team, and so I’m left in an awkward middle ground; the Mavs have shown enough life to spark my hopes, but they’ve waffled on their potential so many times this season that I should know better. Still, in my heart of hearts, I want this team to be great. I want the Mavs to rise up the Western ladder. I want them to go out tonight and punk the Rockets. I’m even hopeful that all of those things are possible. We won’t have a good litmus test until Terry returns, but in the meantime let’s get this party started, shall we?
Everybody loves rankings. Everybody hates rankings. It’s just the way of the world. Still, I am now finding myself falling into the trap of getting baited into a response.
So I’m going to just say a few things, keep this brief, and hopefully avoid sounding like some deranged homer:
Bill Simmons’ yearly “Trade Value” column emerged today, with Dirk at #13. I’m actually 100% okay with that, considering that both age and salary matter. Though I’ve gotta warn you, Sports Guy: Josh Howard pot jokes aren’t exactly topical anymore.
Former NBAer Eddie Johnson blogs for HoopsHype, and decided to rank the top 25 players in the league (via DMN Mavs Blog). Dirk pops in at 12. 12 isn’t so bad, but I’m not yet convinced that our man should be anywhere out of the top ten just yet, especially considering who Johnson has ranked just above Nowitzki: Paul Pierce, Chris Bosh, and Tony Parker. Hard to argue with LeBron, Kobe, and the like, although an argument could be made for Dirk over Yao Ming. Still, I think Yao’s placement has merit. Pierce, Bosh, and Parker? Notsomuch.
In summary: OMG U IDIOTS DIRK IS THE BEST PLAYER EVER AND COULD BEAT UP KOBE AND LEBRON IS A CHOKER AND WADE IS SUCH A FLOPPER THE REFS AND STERN TOTALLY RIGGED THAT SERIES I WOULDNT TRADE DIRK FOR ANY OF THESE LOSERS