DONUT 1: Lingering in the fog of that sting can come the realization or acceptance of weaknesses that must be addressed. While it's possible a momentary hitch has interrupted the rhythm of team in a sport where rhythm can mean so much, carrying the implied promise that a solution may be found in nothing more than reuniting with harmony (and health), weaknesses are not to be ignored.
Yes, we're being harsh on the morning after a 104-96 win that vaults Dallas to 50 wins. (For the 11th straight season, an accomplishment matched only by Russell's Celtics, Magic's Lakers and Duncan's Spurs.)
We are in complete disagreement with mainstream thought that has 11X50 as "tiresome.'' We're with Jason Kidd, who says, "That's very impressive for a franchise to be able to do that. That just shows that the owner and management have something special here.''
But Rick Carlisle is looking for "aggression with discretion''?
We can do that.
So we'll say it: Forget the T'Wolves. Go back to the SA game. Because against the Spurs, such a weakness may have presented itself … again.
DONUT 2: San Antonio is blessed with a four-guard rotation where three of the four hold some degree of both speed and physicality in their toolbox. Tony Parker may not be known as a particularly physical player, but he has enough speed to remain a deadly threat by penetrating at will, and the skill and/or athleticism to finish in a crowded lane … as we saw repeatedly against a suddenly porous Dallas defense (often minus the "crowded lane'' part).
Manu Ginobili, George Hill and Gary Neal (not as quick as either Ginobili or Hill, but still holder of an offensive skill that must be defended as he hits 41 percent of his threes) can all play a physical brand of basketball. They can lean on their opponent when needed and harass them at both ends of the floor.
That group last night? Not what we are all looking for.
Kidd didn't score and committed a loopy turnover late. Jet did score (nine in the fourth) but his impatience pushed him into settling for 3's. JJB was solid enough with six assists as his minutes were whittled to an about-right 15. And Roddy B got the hook after a sloppy pass and 1-of-5 shooting.
DONUT 4: At a glance the difference between this group and what the Spurs throw at you is clear. Where San Antonio yields three possible two-way threats capable of an intensely physical style of play, Dallas has one: Kidd … and age (Happy 38th Birthday this week!) has redefined his peak effectiveness to guarding a different position than he fills on offense. (And that assumes Kidd actually makes a basket.)
Rarely are Terry, Barea or Roddy B going to hold a size advantage on the player opposing them, and none deliver a physically imposing style at either end of the court. As a trio, they have an average listed height of 6-1, and a weight of 180. Not exactly intimidating.
It is possible for quickness to combat the strengths of size, but it requires capitalizing on NBA rules designed to assist aggressive guards willing to consistently attack … thus converting defensive physicality into fouls.
DONUT 5: Jason Terry is a jump shooter, generally a pretty good one. Yet, he doesn't get to the rim with regularity (taking only 1.8 of his 13.9 field-goal attempts per game at the rim).
DONUT 6: JJ Barea has shown a willingness to attack the paint, taking 33.3 percent of his shots at the rim (according to Hoopdata, the highest percentage among the Dallas guards), but he again finds height an issue, as he hits 58.8 percent of those attempts (not bad, but still ranking him 71st among guards who have played at least 30 games and average 15-plus minutes while taking no less than one attempt per game at the rim). He's shown bursts of productivity against the Spurs, but can be neutralized by mindful interior defense, which becomes much more prevalent in the playoffs.
In other words, JJB seems like he gets his interior shots swatted away more than occasionally.
DONUT 7: Roddy Beaubois is a blur in the open court, where he creates most of his 2.8 attempts per game at the rim (the most of the Dallas guards), but has shown a quick acceptance to settling for jumpers – something even Dirk Nowitzki gently criticized him for this week.
DONUT 8: None have shown a consistent and effective ability to drive fear into the interior of a defense, and none are able to back a defender down and overpower them. (Or in Kidd's case, back them down and finish.)
This leaves the Mavs vulnerable to teams proficient in hardnosed, physical play from the guard position … a trait common in the teams currently slotted to fill out the Western playoff seeds.
The Lakers have Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown. Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, James Harden are on the Thunder. Arron Afflalo and J.R. Smith play for the Nuggets, and though Raymond Felton isn't tall, his listed weight of 205 gives him 20 pounds on each of the Mavs guards not named Kidd. The Blazers have Andre Miller, Brandon Roy and Wesley Matthews.
The Hornets and Grizzlies don't have quite the size advantage, but do have players who can play with a rough style, especially when matched up with smaller guards.
DONUT 9: Dallas has the ability to defeat backcourt size, and has been able to avoid "soft" play for the bulk of the season … making it stand out all the more when it is displayed, as Rick Carlisle was quick to point out after the Hornets game that saw Marion and Dirk shoved from the court without response.
They have the ability, but must either hope Peja Stojakovic, Terry, Dirk and others are honed in from the perimeter, or must demand their guards embrace a higher level of aggression. We're not asking for unbridled, and unintelligent, attacks … rather, we'll reapply Carlisle's demands of Tyson Chandler's defense … we want, and the Mavs need, aggression with discretion.
Reapply … rinse … and repeat:
Aggression with Discretion.
Last night against Minnesota, Rick mentioned before the game that Dallas isn't going to be a "big, bruising'' team.
Understood. But that doesn't mean Dallas has to be the bruisee, either.
DONUT 10: If a team is going to play physically, either match it (which the roster makes difficult with the current guard rotation), or turn it against them by forcing them to foul in order to stop you. Play "hard" by getting up and making them do it again should they send you to the floor, if you don't or can't directly return the favor.
DONUT 11: Another solution may present itself if the Mavs can get fully healthy. If Shawn Marion and Peja can take over the small forward duties, Stevenson will be allowed to return to his natural shooting guard position … though this opens a new tangle of issues with the handling of minutes.
As we noted on this week's DB.com Mavs Podcast (with Fish, Followill and Bacsik), when you start fishing for solutions you end up mentioning Kidd and Jet AND Beaubois AND Barea AND maybe DeShawn AND maybe Brewer … and that's not a realistic use of a playoff roster. (Again, we saw this last night: Marion started and Peja came off the bench in what Carlisle termed a "competition'' for the starting job. Both guys fared well ... but it pushed DeShawn completely out of the rotation, as he got four seconds of burn.)
DONUT 12: The Spurs may have shown a blueprint to slowing down the Mavs offense with physical play against the guards, but that doesn't mean the Mavs must allow others to exploit it. The Dallas Mavericks must simply take the necessary steps to shift a possible weakness into a strength.
That puts it on the relatively smallish shoulders of that primary guard rotation -- Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, JJ Barea and Roddy Beaubois – to either be something they are not (more physical in nature) or the best of what they are (which, we hope, is something other than "soft'').