Mavs-Heat Preview: 4 Slumps, 1 Streakbuster

Welcome to tonight's Heat-at-Mavs, where "How Is This Amazing Happening? Happens.'' And what is happening for the 11-4 Mavs? Among other things – not the least of which is Dallas serving as NBA "Streakbusters'' (click in for the full poster, not available in stores) – you find four primary rotation players failing to statistically fulfill their obligations on the court.

Smile

Normally when that happens, you're likely not investigating a team defiling the will of their opponent … or digging deep into the "winning" side of the ledger.

Yet, such is the case with these Mavs. It's been hard to dismiss the fact that Dirk Nowitzki is doing almost all of the recent heavy-lifting on offense … still, there's something refreshing in the nuance of the results.

Study this list at your own risk:

Jason Terry:

Over the last five games, JET is shooting 36.4-percent from the floor, and only 25-percent behind the arc while averaging 12.4 points-per-game.

For a player defined by his offensive contributions, these are numbers far beneath his accustomed levels.

And yet, when the situations have reached their most critical levels, he hasn't disappeared or let his head hang in desperation.

Brendan Haywood:

Given his sporadic playing time that seen him play as many as 28 and as few as 13 minutes in games this season, we'll lift his averages to those accrued per-36-minutes to standardize them with those accumulated throughout his career.

On offense, other than one category (an important, and perhaps revealing one), Big Wood is hovering around or beneath his career worst:

6.9 points-per-36-minutes (career low)

2.0 blocks-per-36-minutes (second lowest of his career)

9.2 PER (career low)

101 Offensive Rating (career low)

9.2-rebounds-per-36-minutes (middle of the road career number)

As for that "perhaps telling" stat, Haywood is shooting a career high 60.5-percent from the floor on a career low number of chances. He's currently getting only five shots per 36 minutes, the lowest of his career. In other words, his efficiency on offense is not suffering, only his opportunities.

And, with Haywood, this may be key. He's shown a direct correlation between his attempts and his level of production.

Ignoring the 2008-09 season in which Haywood played only six games, Big Wood's highest PER numbers have been 18.3 and 17.2 … oddly enough, precisely the two seasons that he gathered his most and second most attempts.

Conversely, his worst PER numbers, including this season, have been 13.7, 13.5 and 9.2 … also his bottom three years in attempts-per-36-minutes.

Setting aside whatever issue caused his one-game suspension that held him out of the win over the Spurs Friday night, perhaps the Mavs simply need to help Haywood to help himself and make a concerted effort to get him those attempts by occasionally delivering the ball with an opportunity to score.

On a side note, this would only seem to affect his offensive production, as his rebound, block and defensive rating numbers show little correlation to his field-goal attempts.

To borrow a line from Fish: Haywood's overall numbers are so bad, maybe he should've suspended himself.

Caron Butler:

On paper, Butler should be the Mavs second or third scoring option. And, on paper he is the Mavs third leading scorer with 12.7 points-per-game. However, it has seldom felt like he's been a reliable top option on offense this season.

Much like Haywood's numbers, peruse these are your own risk:

10.6 PER (second worst of career)

89 Offensive Rating (career low)

38.7-percent shooting (second worst of career)

These numbers clue you in to the fact that Butler is struggling at the offensive end of the court to begin this season. However, it fails to paint a full picture.

Burrowing a little deeper, you find that Caron is taking only 2.6 shot attempts-per-game at the rim, easily his lowest (reaching back to 2006-07). He's also not converting at a high level when getting to the rim, shooting only 43.5-percent.

Pair this with this with the early ineffectiveness of his jump shot, where he's also posting the lowest percentages in the measured time available (2006-07 to present): 23.1-percent between 10-and-15 feet, and 35-percent between 16-and-23 feet.

And, the same portrait becomes a little more defined. Butler isn't getting to the rim, isn't finishing when he gets there and isn't hitting his jump shot.

With only twelve games under his belt, it's not beyond a reasonable doubt to hope these results won't carry on through the entirety of the season. Traveling calls, offensive fouls and other issues, such as his back spasms, have plagued "Tuff Juice," eating at his ability to find a flow.

There's nothing to say he can't turn it around, and he's shown signs of doing just this over the past three games. It's only a quick glimpse of how things have unraveled thus far.

JJ Barea:

When searching for where Barea has struggled, you needn't look far: shooting efficiency.

Barea is far beneath his career norms in both field-goal percentage (33.9) and three-point percentage (13.5). In other statistical categories, he's sitting at almost the precise numbers he's tallied over the past two seasons.

His shot simply isn't falling … and he's averaging a career high in attempts.

Not an ideal combination.

Over the last six games, this has been particularly troublesome. Taking 47 shots, Barea has made only nine (19.1-percent).

Despite all of this, the Mavs are winning. With four members entrenched in their daily rotation playing below their usual standards, they've still managed to start the season strong by winning 11 of their first 15 games, including quality wins over Boston (12-4), Oklahoma City (11-5), New Orleans (12-3) and San Antonio (13-2).

One reason is obvious: the brilliance of Dirk Nowitzki.

Dirk is the second leading scorer in the NBA with 26.3 points-per-game, a total he has reached with an incredible efficiency. Of the other players ranked in the top-10 for scoring, none come close to his 55.3 field-goal percentage. Coming closest is Monta Ellis at 47.9-percent.

With a PER of 25.0, Dirk comes in at number six in the league.

Another may be slightly less so, but remains blatant: Tyson Chandler.

Chandler now has enough offensive attempts to qualify for the league leaders in Offensive Rating, and has promptly jumped to the top of the heap with a rating of 141.6. His PER of 18.6 is second best on the Dallas roster, trailing only Dirk.

On defense, he ranks as the ninth best individual in the NBA with a Defensive Rating of 98.8, a number that also stands as the best on this Mavs team (of players who have accumulated over 100 minutes).

Yet another part of the equation equaling this team's success is something we've been praising since very early in the season, when the numbers and the quotes (remember Rick Carlisle talking about getting this team to play "Mavs Defense") were much more easily dismissed.

This team feels different than those in the recent past. Sure, there have been the clutch late jumpers we've come to expect from a team with such a high level of success in close games. But, walking hand in hand with these has been the ever-present defense.

In the fourth quarter, Dallas holds opponents to a league best 21.6 points, while scoring 23.3 … giving them the fourth best margin of the NBA in the final quarter.

They've done this by matching the physical styles of play teams such as Boston strangle opponents with. They've done it by constricting the effectiveness of one of the league's best offense, San Antonio … who ranked number one in fourth quarter scoring prior to their matchup with Dallas, and currently stand as the number three scoring offense.

In short, they've continued to win by rooting themselves in the fundamentals of the teams that have previously so often given them fits.

If the defense remains sturdy, and can form the foundation of this team's season, the possibilities of what may come to be suddenly bloom ripe and lush with hope.

Now, imagine the same team now standing at 11-4, while enduring the struggles of four key rotation members, should any or even all of those players begin to find their stride. For the moment, as Fish mentioned previously, if you're not basking in what this team is currently enjoying … you're missing out.

There's room for hope. There's breath for optimism. There's time to improve.

Ultimately, nothing has been accomplished - at least not yet - other than a strong start. No goals have been attained, or seen through to completion. But, why not inhale deeply and for one moment find joy in the early ride this team is taking us on?

Only for a moment … for tomorrow brings another challenge, just as tonight brings the 9-7 Miami Heat.

Miami Heat Dallas Mavericks
Carlos Arroyo Jason Kidd
Dwyane Wade DeShawn Stevenson
LeBron James Caron Butler
Chris Bosh Dirk Nowitzki
Zydrunas Ilgauskas Tyson Chandler

(Thanks to DB.com 75-Member Stereolith)

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