All-Access: Mavs Preseason Goes 'Poof' In OKC
FOREWARD: If you labeled the first matchup as "ugly" or "disjointed" – and we did -- your words of choice likely now veer somewhere towards a more stern outlook.
This was far from championship basketball, and though it was only the preseason, until the furthest ends of the bench fought to make the final score appear respectable, it also gave little in the way of seeds from which optimism could sprout. Again, try to take this all with a grain of salt, as it was a game that didn't count and won't be remembered once the regular season begins. Dirk's words resonate here and bear repeating:
"I think our goal cannot be to be the best team right now. In a week our goal is to get better and also better game to game,'' The UberMan said. "Hopefully by April, May and June we can be back to where we were last year. However, we know we are still a piece of work."
And, if you're desperate for something positive to hang your hat on, look no further than the play of Brandan Wright and Jerome Randle, who brought a spark of life to the listless Mavs … even if it did not come until the fourth quarter.
Here's the highlight package ...
Let's ignore the outcome of the game for a moment to see how a few of its players performed.
FIRST, WHO WASN'T OUT THERE: Jason Terry and Delonte West missed with the same stomach bug that seems to be making its way through the roster. You never want such events to occur – especially if the stomach in question is your own -- but if they have to happen, this is when you'd prefer they do.
It steals from the limited time allotted for the growth of chemistry, fitness and preparedness, but also doesn't keep key contributors from taking the court for a game that matters … or, matters in the standings. Sure, everything matters in its own way, but this carries less weight than "real" games.
Joining Terry and West as a non-participant was Vince Carter. This appears to simply have been a case of rest (and hopefully not that tendinitis acting up) as Dirk and Kidd had rested the game prior … and Kidd did again for the entire second half of this contest.
Again, without key members of their rotation, the Mavs left us a murky picture of where this team may currently stand.
THE NEWCOMERS: With Carter and West not playing, the last of the headlining additions was the brightest: Lamar Odom.
Statistically speaking, this wasn't a great showing. Odom finished with eight points on 3-of-10 shooting, including 2-of-6 behind the 3-point line, three rebounds, one assist and one block. Nothing eye-popping about that, but that's not to say there wasn't anything to like about his performance.
Much as was the case with Chandler, even before the depth of his impact was defined, the tools are on clear display. He can dribble, can attack with the ball in his hands, can pass, can defend, and can be an enforcer.
With 1:20 to play in the third quarter, with the game slipping further and further from reach, Collison set a hard screen on Jerome Randle (who gives a full foot and about 75 pounds to Collison). Randle reacted as Collison's forearm and elbows drifted up towards his face, and a moment later Odom moved with force, raising and then bringing his arms down as he collided with his chest into Collison's back, making clear his opinion on the hard screen.
Odom immediately motioned to the ref asking for a whistle on the Randle collision, and Collison voiced his displeasure with the situation towards Odom. The two of them, Odom and Collison, then shared a few choice words as teammates and refs came between them.
No punches were thrown. No one was injured. Was it beyond the acceptable levels of intensity for the preseason? Perhaps, though no Thunder players seemed to feel that way when Kendrick Perkins was busy scowling at and chesting up to Brendan Haywood in the first quarter, when he earned a personal and technical foul.
Truth be told, we loved this. … in the specific case of LO, we loved him just as Rick predicted we would.
The Mavs were playing without energy, without result and without emotion. Sure, it's the final preseason game and more than a single mind had likely set aside this contest as a mere obstacle that must be endured to get to the season that waits beyond. We're not confusing this with a playoff game, but it was a contest between two teams that should finish near the top of the conference again.
In the face of this near indifferent tone, Odom stood up … a symbolic, "That's enough!" even if only we're labeling it as such. It wasn't OK to be getting their asses handed to them, preseason or not … and, it wasn't OK for anyone to push around the Mavs.
This was a sliver of what made us fall in love with Chandler, and does nothing but aid our current approval of Odom. He's been through this (this being defined as defending a championship) before. He's seen the ferocity teams will throw the way of the reigning champ. And, even if the game doesn't count, the lesson is learned, and the tone can count … for something.
It's likely we're assigning too much meaning to a play or plays that grew from nothing more than temporary frustration … but in a game where silver linings aren't exactly plush, we'll take it.
CAN'T GO WRONG WITH WRIGHT … OR RANDLE: Odom's stepping up in defense of a teammate wasn't the only positive. We'll add Brandan Wright and Jerome Randle to that list.
With the deficit swollen to 21 as the fourth quarter began, the Mavs bench, led by Wright and Randle dominated the final frame, 30-13.
Randle finished as the Mavs leading scorer with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, hitting both of his attempts behind the arc, to go with two assists and three turnovers. For a guy most assumed was sure training-camp fodder when he signed, Randle is forcing us to notice him. After the signing of Sean Williams is completed (expected to happen Wednesday, at which time he, Randle and Neitzel will scoot up to Frisco for some D-League work) there will be one remaining roster spot. It's not impossible to imagine Randle sneaking into that hole … which is a long way away from where he began such a short time ago.
After missing the first game with illness, we got our first look at Brandan Wright as a Mav in game action … and we came away impressed.
He lacks the bulk to battle a true center, but in a league without many such beasts still roaming the paint, he is an intriguing piece for the power forward rotation … as well as center in certain matchups, or in limited burst.
Wright showed a clever offensive awareness at the edges of the paint, hitting numerous left-handed floaters, either over outstretched defenders or by capitalizing on the spaces he sought out. He finished with 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting and four rebounds in only 16 minutes of action.
KIDDIRK: We got our first glimpse of Dirk and Kidd, and would be remiss if we didn't note the rust present as they combined to shoot 3-of-14, including 1-of-6 behind the arc, but it was nice to see them out there nonetheless.
For these two, we didn't need to see anything more than the fact that they are alive and breathing. Over the course of their careers, they've given us every reason to believe they'll be ready when they need to be.
We also got our first glimpse of a lineup that included all three of the Mavs elite forwards on the court together: Dirk, Odom and Marion.
"It's going to take some time as well," Dirk said of the group's time together on the court. "We had a run there in the second quarter, Lamar, myself and the Matrix and we never played together and that's how it looked. They made like a 10-0 run. We were stagnant a little bit offensively, didn't know what to do. So, that lineup wasn't great today, but it can be a weapon in the future if we get used to each other."
It's an honest assessment, and one that's easy to agree with. Given the talent of these three, it's only an amount of time before they figure out how to coexist on the floor. We just hope they don't need too much time to find that cohesion.
THE DOJO AND THE RODDY B: This isn't an ancient Japanese proverb, but the tale of two youngsters Dallas is likely to rely on as this compressed season unfolds.
"We going to need Roddy and Dominique in this season," Dirk said. "We need some fresh legs. There's a lot of games in a short period of time and we have some older guys obviously, we all know that, and we're going to need some young guys to step in and give us some energy some fresh legs."
This wasn't as impressive as the first contest, but there continued to be signs of progress … even if we had to look at times.
Dominique Jones got the start at shooting guard with Terry, West and Carter all not playing. He again showed an innate ability to fight his way into the paint, but again struggled to finish, an issue that plagued him a season ago. However, he did earn the benefit a few whistles that refused to sound at this time a year ago.
He finished with seven points (1-of-6 field goals, 5-of-6 free throws), four assists, four rebounds, two steals and five turnovers. Solid … other than the turnovers. And he looked like a PG at times, except when the challenge was to stick with Westbrook, a challenge for most anyone.
As was the case with most of the team, there was a willingness to play a little too carefree at times, leading to clumsy turnovers that would be inexcusable in a regular season game, but there are still signs of progress. Value those possessions, son!
"I think Dominique made a step from last year," Dirk said. "He look's poised out there. He looks good. He knows when to drive. He's a good playmaker when he gets into the lane. He shoots the floater, a fine shooter. I like the progress that he made, but like everyone else he has to keep getting better."
While we may still believe his shot needs some work, we've certainly seen evidence of the rest. And since when would we dare not accept Dirk's scouting report?
Roddy Beaubois didn't play poorly on offense, though he seemed to "float'' at times … and he wasn't bad on defense after a couple of early mistakes, that again seemed to come from an almost lackadaisical coasting (drifing too far from his man and out of position sort of mistakes). It's hard to get too angry with one player for this approach when it seemed to permeate almost everyone until the bench warriors made their push in the fourth quarter, but it's still not a great sight.
Forget watching the OKC dunk. Who cares? Let's instead watch some Mavs sloppiness and some Roddy B hustle and hope one of those gets eliminated:
Roddy B finished with eight points on 3-of-5 shooting, two assists and one turnover.
ANOTHER SIDE EFFECT OF CHANDLER BEING GONE: Many of us remember the Spurs saying they paid no defensive attention to Erick Dampier and/or Brendan Haywood two seasons ago as the Mavs were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. The defender assigned to the center position would roam to help on others and were rarely punished for it.
Tyson Chandler made this impossible for defenses to do, as he would capitalize on such treatment by getting himself in position for an easy dunk, by bounce pass or alley-oop. Unfortunately, without Chandler, we noticed the Thunder often leaving Haywood to help on others … likely knowing that if Haywood caught a pass beneath the rim they simply needed to foul him and dare him to sink some free throws.
Haywood and the Mavs must find a way to combat this issue in the post-Chandler era.
Of course, if Haywood plays as uninspired as he did on this night, it may be an issue that takes care of itself … as we find out how defenses deal with Mahinmi and Williams with Haywood on the bench.
Perkins is a legitimate center, and in his slimmed-down form, a definite player of note. Had Haywood shut him down (on the glass and on the scoreboard) and been absent at the other end, it would be easy to consider it a win. That wasn't the case. Perkins put up nine points and eight rebounds in only 20 minutes, while Big Wood scored zero points and grabbed only two rebounds.
The Mavs must get more than this from Haywood – more intensity, better hands, more and better everything -- if they are to contend.
QUOTABLE: Please don't read too much into it. Those guys, they rested a lot of guys.'' -- Kevin Durant.
MAVSELLANEOUS: Wright and Drew Neitzel posted the best plus/minus on the Mavs, each at +18 … Dominique Jones had the worst with a -26, though Jason Kidd was the only starter to not post a double-digit negative plus/minus at -7 … Neitzel and Randle combined to go 3-of-4 on 3-pointers, the rest of the Mavs were 3-of-17 … Mahinmi had a game-high nine rebounds … though the Thunder doubled the Mavs on the offensive glass 16-8 … Odom, Dirk and Kidd combined to shoot 6-of-24 or 25 percent or the same number Kobe Bryant shot as the Lakers won Game 7 of the 2010 Finals. ... In the third quarter the OKC run extended to 36-9 and the blowout was on ... The Mavs were badly outrebounded in this one 51-39, extending the trend from last season's WCF. ... Yes, if we squint we can see the Randle/Barea comparisons. ...
OH, YEAH. KD'S ONE-LEGGED EURO LEANBACK: In Sunday's OKC-at-Dallas preseason game, Kevin Durant unveiled a Dirk Tribute of sorts with his own One-Legged Euro Lean-Back:
Here's KD's explanation of the Dirk-like move ...
THE FINAL WORD: The sky isn't falling and we shouldn't put too much weight in a preseason game. We do worry that these Mavs will essentially be playing with each other for the first time on Christmas Day as they face a Heat team that will be hungry for revenge … moments after watching Dallas raise their championship banner to the rafters of the AAC.
While we don't fear for the season, feeling that the Mavs will make the playoffs and anything can happen from there, but there has to be at least a hint of fear that a slow start could be in the cards. And, if that is the case, the situation Jason Kidd expressed a desire to avoid will unfold … in a shortened season Dallas could be playing catch up from the start.
Yet, we'll set aside our fears and embrace the fact that the season is about to begin. The banner will be raised (and the Mavs are advising that people get to their seats by 1 PM on Sunday as the banner raising should start by 1:10), and the Mavs first championship defense will commence.
It's hard not to at least be a little excited … right?