Tessellating Pieces

Posted by Ian Levy on April 13, 2012 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

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There are just under two weeks and seven games left for the Mavericks before the end of the regular season, time enough for a seemingly infinite number of potential outcomes. While a playoff berth is anything but assured (gulp), it seems like Dallas will at least be present in the first round to begin a title defense in the postseason proper. A year ago, the Mavericks finished the regular season by winning four in a row, then systematically built themselves into a seamless juggernaut through a series of progressively more astounding playoff victories.

Although they don’t have the same components that completed last year’s title run, there still exists on this roster all the raw materials to build a similarly potent contraption. Over the last three and a half months, each of Rick Carlisle’s attempts to rebuild this machine have been derailed by injury, inattention, and periods of inexplicable individual futility. However, the nature of the project has changed with the departure of Lamar Odom.

Odom represented a large and potentially powerful piece of the puzzle, and until it was announced that he and the team were parting ways early last week, there was simply no question of his inclusion. Now that he’s out of the way, the slate is cleared and the job can be begun anew. No more accommodations or allowances need be made; Carlisle has 13 days to dabble and experiment, try new looks and new orientations, and decide what this team will look like when the playoffs finally, and hopefully, arrive.

Here are a few chemistry experiments Carlisle might be interested in trying.

TWIN TOWERS

Odom’s absence leaves a void in the Mavs’ front court, and judging from the two games since, Brandan Wright will be helping to fill that space. On Thursday night against the Warriors, Wright spent most of his playing time strictly as a center and backup to Brendan Haywood. He played admirably in this role crashing the glass, scored on found possessions, and did his best against the wily David Lee. However, on Tuesday night, we had the opportunity to see a few minutes of Wright on the court alongside Ian Mahinmi, which to me is a much more tantalizing possibility.

Mahinmi and Wright have alternated this season in playing backup center minutes, lifting fans with the athleticism and effort, before grounding them with their inexperience and lack of awareness. However a Wright/Mahinmi combo offers some the potential to be a devastating combo if deployed in the right situation.

The two have played just 37 minutes together for the entire season, but some very positive things have happened in those minutes. With both on the floor the Mavericks have posted a Defensive Rating of 77.2, holding their opponents to an effective field goal percentage of 35.7 percent. Stretched (and stretched they would be; 37 minutes isn’t much of a sample size) across an entire season, those numbers would be the best in the league by a wide margin. When Wright and Mahinmi are on the floor together, the Mavs have a total rebound percentage of 56.0 percent with an offensive rebound percentage of 37.5 percent –and accomplished all that defensive and rebounding dominance at a pace of 97.7 possessions per 48 minutes.

That said, having both players the floor together presents some serious problems. Offensive spacing would suffer dramatically, and polished post players like Andrew Bynum, Zach Randolph, and both Gasols would eat either Wright or Mahinmi alive. However, against an athletic up-tempo team like the Thunder, Spurs or Clippers, Wright and Mahinmi could help the Mavericks keep pace, disrupt pick-and-rolls, defend the rim against penetration, and control the glass. Games against the Warriors and Trail Blazers might be the time to try this combo out for an extended period of time and see what it might offer for spot duty in the playoffs.

THREE GUARDS

Small-ball lineups featuring multiple ball-handlers have been a staple of Carlisle’s cross-matching rotations the past few seasons. Vince Carter has played plenty of small forward this year, but what I’m really talking about here is some three-man combination of Delonte West, Jason Kidd, Rodrigue Beaubois and Jason Terry. The one that intrigues me the most would be the West-Beaubois-Terry grouping — that trio hasn’t played a single minute together this season, and while they present the most potential problems at the defensive end, they also present the most interesting combination at the offensive end.

If the playoffs started today, the Mavericks would be matched up in a series with the Los Angeles Lakers. Even with the addition of Ramon Sessions, the Lakers would have struggled against quick, athletic penetrators. West-Beaubois-Terry would allow the Mavericks to keep the floor spaced, attack from multiple angles, and put pressure on Gasol and Bynum to defend the rim. It could end up being a disaster, but almost every other combination of players has been tried by Carlisle this season. With seven games left, it might be worth giving this one a look to see if there’s anything there.

YINSANITY

I realize this suggestion may cause me to get laughed off the internet, but I think Odom’s departure may also make room for Yi Jianlian to make a meaningful contribution in the playoffs. Yi is best known for the disparity between his production against chairs and his production against NBA players, but he does have a few legitimate basketball skills; he’s a solid rebounder, can move the ball on offense, and most importantly: is a consistent shooter. Although he’s shooting just 38.0 percent on the season, Yi is averaging 1.03 points per possession on spot-up possessions. Looking again at that potential Lakers matchup, it would be nice to be able to keep Gasol away from the rim, and open space for the second unit when Dirk is on the bench. He’s certainly a liability defensively, but no more than Peja Stojakavic was last season, as he was busy shredding the Lakers from the perimeter.

Statistical support for this story from NBA.com.

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

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 110, Sacramento Kings 100

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 11, 2012 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

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Box Score Play-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

[Game-specific advanced stats forthcoming.]

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

  • The steam coming from Rick Carlisle’s ears in the opening minutes may have dissipated by night’s end, but in-game improvement isn’t reason enough to like Dallas’ transition defense. The Kings have the benefit of having three ball-handlers capable of pushing the break, but they were only able to generate easy points on in transition because the Mavs’ effort was decidedly lacking. Things will have to be more consistent against an opponent like Oklahoma City or San Antonio, and fortunately Dallas has some time to remedy their lead feet.
  • That said, when the Mavs actually forced the Kings to execute against a set defense in a half-court setting, things went predictably well. The bigs rotated effectively, none of Sacramento’s three talented perimeter players were allowed to really explode, and although the overall defense wasn’t anything spectacular, I suppose these Mavs might settle for “good enough,” at this juncture.
  • With Lamar Odom erased from Maverick existence, we saw the three components of his piecemeal replacement: an extra dose of Shawn Marion, a dash of Yi Jianlian, and a bit of a different look for Brandan Wright. Wright and Ian Mahinmi have played together sparingly this season, but it seems as though that combination may be a fair bit more common from here on out — if the initial returns are worth much of anything, Wright’s energy should be a valuable resource, even at the cost of spacing. Either way, it seems an appropriate time for Brian Cardinal to be placed firmly behind glass in case of emergencies; the Custodian managed to finally hit a few three-pointers in March, but that 21-percent mark from long-range should still leave Carlisle wary. Cardinal isn’t long removed from being a decent reserve, but his most useful NBA skill — his three-point shooting, particularly from the corners — has either rapidly decayed or temporarily escaped him. I’m not sure the Mavs are really in a position to find out for sure, but they may yet if Carlisle elects to keep their in-game mascot in the rotation going forward.

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The Difference: Golden State Warriors 111, Dallas Mavericks 87

Posted by James Herbert on March 11, 2012 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

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.

  • There aren’t a lot of positives to take from a loss like this, except for the fact that it’s probably not all that representative of anything. The reality: the Mavs are now the third team this season to lose all three games of a back-to-back-to-back. At 23-20, they’ve dropped eight of ten and would occupy the West’s final playoff spot if the season ended today. Fortunately, the season doesn’t end today. This brutal stretch of nine games in 12 nights is over and I’m closer to the Mark Cuban “these losses are meaningless” school of thought than the “Dallas is a disaster” stance that clean-shaven Sam Mitchell took on NBA TV Friday night. Brendan Haywood will be back soon, Delonte West after that, and we’ll look for incremental improvements over the next month or so.
  • Oh, Jason Kidd will be back soon, too. He was a late scratch. No need to play the soon-to-be 39-year-old on three straight nights. This meant we were treated to a starting backcourt of Jason Terry and Dominique Jones, with Rodrigue Beaubois and Vince Carter theoretically adding scoring punch off the bench. For JET, it was his first start since last January. For Jones, it was the first of his career. Also, this was Terry’s 1000th career regular season game.
  • For the second night in a row, Dallas looked old and slow and fell behind early to a non-playoff team. The Warriors scored the first six points of the game and Rick Carlisle took his first timeout with 6:31 left in the first, down 11-5. The Mavs’ legs were dragging from the opening tip, while the Warriors, who hadn’t played since Wednesday, were full of energy, even if it wasn’t always channeled correctly. The Mavs started the first quarter shooting 2-13 and finished it 6-22.
  • That energy I talked about? Much of it came from Ekpe Udoh, who was running and jumping and contesting shots all over the place. Early in the first, he challenged a Dirk Nowitzki jumper, then blocked Ian Mahinmi’s follow attempt. He blocked a Nowitzki shot a few possessions later. He should become a Serge Ibaka-like league-wide fan favorite as soon as the Warriors are relevant.
  • The first quarter wasn’t all one-sided and it wasn’t just the Mavericks being sloppy — both teams had six turnovers in the opening frame. After that timeout with 6:31 left, Rodrigue Beaubois and Lamar Odom checked in. Both immediately hit threes and tied the game at 11. But in the last 3:31, Golden State went on a 13-2 run. For the rest of the game, Dallas was playing catch-up.

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The Difference: Sacramento Kings 110, Dallas Mavericks 97

Posted by Holly MacKenzie on March 10, 2012 under Recaps | Be the First to Comment

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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.

  • It figures that the game I pick to recap is a blowout. Disclaimer before we go any further: I am a huge Isaiah Thomas fan. I will try to temper this as we talk about what went wrong with the Mavericks in Sacramento. It wasn’t pretty, people. Not even a little bit.
  • A rough start really doomed Dallas. The team had five of their 17 turnovers in the first quarter, including four of them in the first four minutes of the game. Sacramento took advantage, scoring nine points off of those turnovers in the opening session. The Kings jumped out to a lead quickly, leaving the Mavs to play catch up all night.
  • After finding himself on the bench at the end of the Suns game on Thursday night, Jason Terry (game-high 23 points, 10-for-18 fgs) was looking to get himself going early against the Kings, and was one of the bright spots for the Mavs offensively in the first half. He kept the Mavs in it by coming up with a bucket to temper the crowd every time the Kings seemed to be on the verge of really blowing things open.
  • While Dirk Nowitzki started off 2-for-2 from the floor, the team didn’t make it a point to get the ball to him in the first quarter and things went downhill from there as Dirk wasn’t ever able to get going. He shot 1-for-5 in the second quarter, 2-for-4 in the third and then 0-2 in the fourth. He finished with 13 points on 5-for-13 shooting in 29 minutes of action.
  • The Mavericks just looked sluggish tonight. Perhaps they were tired from last night’s loss to the Suns, but their defense wasn’t doing them any favours against the Kings. A five-point swing for the Kings: Jason Thompson gets his own offensive rebound, finds Chuck Hayes open under the hoop for an easy two. Next possession:Francisco Garcia steals the ball from Nowitzki (Mavs turnover #6) and finds John Salmons for a three.

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The Difference: Oklahoma City Thunder 95, Dallas Mavericks 91

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 6, 2012 under Recaps | 4 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas92.098.948.211.922.516.3
Oklahoma City103.343.443.434.116.1

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

  • The closing moments of Monday night’s game offered a disturbing bit of possibility — Jason Terry may no longer be the player who simply does well in clutch situations, but one who demands that the ball go through him. Dallas’ final two offensive possessions were relatively basic high pick-and-roll sets involving Terry and Dirk Nowitzki, and on both occasions JET refused to hit an open Nowitzki on the three-point line (where Nowitzki had only made four of his six attempts on the night) in the name of calling his own number. If Terry were in a position where he had a lane or a step on his defender, that’s a perfectly acceptable decision. Yet in this particular game neither was the case; Terry didn’t necessarily break the play(s), but he sure as hell hijacked it.

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The Difference: Los Angeles Lakers 96, Dallas Mavericks 91

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 23, 2012 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas88.0103.444.417.839.611.0
Los Angeles109.151.340.837.015.9

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

  • The Mavs are undoubtedly disappointed in their collective inability to capitalize on the opportunities presented them, but ultimately, this was a pretty commendable effort. Lamar Odom, Delonte West, and Rodrigue Beaubois were out of the lineup, leaving Brian Cardinal (three points, 1-4 FG) and Yi Jianlian (four points, 2-3 FG) to play significant minutes. Pau Gasol played solid defense on Dirk Nowitzki (25 points, 9-22 FG, 12 rebounds), and prevented him from dominating offensively. Dallas shot .250 from beyond the arc, and .400 from the field overall. Yet both teams were deadlocked virtually every step of the way in the second half, a literalization of the seeding battle between Western Conference teams. The Mavs and Lakers are both talented teams capable of making the Western Conference Finals, and the same could be said of about half a dozen other clubs. It’s all going to come down to minor differences in record and the random resulting matchups, much like this particular game was ultimately determined by a thin margin and specific matchup advantages.
  • Even in a season of spectacular defensive performances, this may be Shawn Marion’s showpiece. Kobe Bryant (15 points, 4-15 FG, four assists, five rebounds, seven turnovers) is among the toughest covers in the league, but Marion blanketed him step for step, forced him into tough, contested shots, and goaded Bryant into taking long three-pointers born of frustration. You can’t ask for better primary defense on an opponent’s top offensive player, and though Gasol (24 points, 11-18 FG, nine rebounds, four assists, five turnovers) and Andrew Bynum (19 points, 6-10 FG, 14 rebounds, three assists) were able to make up for Kobe’s shackles with highly efficient interior play, Marion’s defense alone gave the Mavs a legitimate chance to win this game. (On a related note: No Maverick needs the All-Star break more than Shawn Marion. I wish him a long weekend of nonexistent mornings, catnaps, and time away from the court.)

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 89, Boston Celtics 73

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 21, 2012 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas94.096.744.415.725.09.5
Boston79.343.914.911.417.7

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

  • The Celtics’ availability issues started out crippling and ended up comical; if it weren’t bad enough that Rajon Rondo (suspended), Kevin Garnett (personal reasons), and Brandon Bass (knee) were nixed from the game at the start, Jermaine O’Neal (wrist) and Chris Wilcox (groin) left in the third quarter and did not return. That left the Celtics reeling with all kinds of crazy lineup combinations, and completely incapable of mounting a comeback run using their typical offensive and defensive alignments.
  • Then again, considering how O’Neal and Wilcox plodded through their pick-and-roll recoveries on Dirk Nowitzki, maybe a delayed absence was for the best from Boston’s perspective. Nowitzki was focused from opening tip and quick to fire, but each of his ball screens secured him an ocean of open space. A make is virtually guaranteed for any competent NBA shooter who is able to catch, square up, and fire off a jumper without even the slightest hint of duress; under those same conditions, a shooter as as accurate and highly utilized as Nowitzki apparently rattles off 26 points in 30 minutes. Without having Garnett around to at least attempt to check Dirk, Boston was fairly helpless.
  • Dominique Jones, making dreams come true:

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 122, Phoenix Suns 99

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 31, 2012 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas95.0128.463.220.727.89.5
Phoenix104.251.325.017.111.9

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

  • So much of this brilliant offensive outing was built on the strength of the Mavs’ multi-angle drive-and-kick game. Initial penetration would draw defensive attention and lead to a kick to the corner, which would lead to a close-out and more dribble penetration and an ensuing kick-out from the wing, which would lead to an open three-pointer above the break. That cycle of dribble action may make it seem like the Mavs were getting nowhere, but having so may consecutive opportunities to put pressure on the opposing defense is hugely beneficial. Hence the scoreboard.
  • Which isn’t to say that the Mavs didn’t work the ball in other, less direct ways. Dallas’ ball movement was as crisp around the perimeter as it was from the inside out; despite the fact that everyone seemed to be connecting on their three-point attempts, the Mavs willingly rotated the ball around the perimeter to fully scramble the Suns’ defense and manufacture wide open attempts. They could have settled — in a sense — for good shots rather than great ones, but the ball never stuck to a single hot hand.
  • The basketball gods gave the Mavericks a gift: On the second night of a back-to-back — and following a hard-fought overtime game against the San Antonio Spurs — Dallas was given a crack at the struggling Phoenix Suns. Even better: They were given a crack at the struggling Phoenix Suns sans the one player that the Suns can never afford to lose. Again, hence the scoreboard.

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 116, Utah Jazz 101

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 28, 2012 under Recaps | 7 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas88.0131.861.626.838.28.9
Utah114.849.426.227.98.8

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

  • Rodrigue Beaubois (22 points, 9-15 FG, 3-5 3FG, seven assists, six rebounds, four blocks, two turnovers) is such a fascinating player to watch that Rick Carlisle, unprompted, crafted a persona for Beaubois as entertainer. Even with that in mind, this particular performance may be the promising guard’s finest work — as a competitor, as an entertainer, or in virtually any other role you would seek to assign him. It wasn’t Beaubois’ most prolific game nor his most significant, but never has Beaubois created such a profound impact without caveat. There are no “buts” or asterisks; Beaubois was tremendous, as he flashed every angle of his high-scoring potential with impressive drives, cuts, and jumpers. With so many elements of his game tuned to precision, Beaubois finally found his way. Mais il arriva que le petit prince, ayant longtemps marché à travers les sables, les rocs et les neiges, découvrit enfin une route. Et les routes vont toutes chez les hommes. “Bonjour, dit-il.” C’était un jardin fleuri de roses.
  • If I may gush further: Beaubois’ full-speed reads on pick and rolls were a thing of absolute beauty. He previously would approach such sequences as strictly a two-man game, but with experience, Beaubois’ scope has widened. He sees the baseline cutter and the open spot-up shooter — the men that, in the flurry of addressing their compromise in coverage, the defense has forgotten. Beaubois may always be a scorer first and foremost, but this was a fantastic passing display on a night when it was sorely needed.
  • This game completely exploded in the fourth quarter. Dallas had managed to protect a meager lead prior to the final frame, but Utah was still very much within range of a win due to their effectiveness on the interior. Then, the Mavs snatched the possibility of a Jazz win away without much notice or remorse, and what had once been a very reasonable affair grew into a walk-off victory for Dallas in a matter of minutes. It’s good to see the Mavs close out a game so dominantly, but it’s even better to see a previously struggling offense put together four consecutive quarters of 28 points or more.

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The Difference: Minnesota Timberwolves 105, Dallas Mavericks 90

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 25, 2012 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas96.093.844.210.524.611.6
Minnesota109.450.042.919.314.1

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

  • Ricky Rubio (17 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds, four steals, seven turnovers) did a terrific job of getting the Wolves good looks both inside and out, be he hardly did all the work. Minnesota’s bigs fought hard to get good interior position and create contact once they received the entry pass, and the perimeter players worked diligently for a slice of open floor. The Wolves’ offensive success was hardly constant, but they at least seemed to know what worked and what didn’t, and sought to capitalize on their in-game strengths. Dallas, despite being a team of mismatch creation and utilization, didn’t quite share in that approach.
  • That said, there was a time in this game when the Mavs were pushing the pace not only as a means of getting easy transition buckets, but also forcing opponents to scramble into mismatches. On one particular first-quarter possession, Rubio was mismatched on Lamar Odom, giving Delonte West a chance to pull the ball out for a fake entry look before darting a pass to a wide open Brendan Haywood for an easy dunk. Haywood’s defender had snuck away to help on Odom, and West had correctly identified not only the mismatch, but its ripple effect.
  • The most succinct explanation possible for why the Mavs withered away on offense: they settled. Rarely is it so simple, but Minnesota applied defensive pressure, and Dallas recoiled. No rally. No response. There were simply too many pull-up threes and too many lazy sets. The Mavs tried to speed up their futile comeback attempt with quick jumpers early in the shot clock, but bricked pretty much every “momentum-changing” shot they attempted. I guess they did speed things up in a sense, merely not in the direction that they intended.

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