All-Access Mavs: 'Weak' Vs 'Vulnerable'
FOREWARD: For any team and certainly for the Dallas Mavericks, here's a difference between vulnerability and weakness. Without Dirk Nowitzki, there is little doubt that the Dallas Mavericks are vulnerable. What we may be in the process of discovering, however, is that they are not weak.
Before the season began the Mavs touted their vast depth, and 18 games into the season, we have seen the evidence of this. Jason Kidd misses four games. Dallas goes 4-0 in his absence. Now we've got the "Dirk-Out Workout'' as Dirk Nowitzki has missed two games, and the Mavs begin 2-0, even as Vince Carter, who had been a strong contributor thus far, has sat beside him in street clothes.
Even when vulnerable, this team is not weak.
THE NBA HIGHLIGHT PACKAGE: Dig it.
THE PAST HASN'T ALWAYS PASSED: Saturday night we went out of our way to praise Shawn Marion for everything he has provided this team while noting the often-unheralded nature of his impact. Very quickly, any chances of his contributions managing to slide beneath the headlines are vanishing.
By the end of the third quarter, Matrix had set a new season-high in points. By the end of the game, he had matched his highest scoring output as a member of the Mavs with a game-high 29.
Considering he is now averaging 19.3 points, 54.1 field-goal percentage, 8.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.5 steals and only 1.3 turnovers the past four games (including the Suns) we shouldn't be surprised by efficient, even prolific, scoring. However, we doubt many saw his being 4-of-6 behind the arc, as he was Monday night, as a likely outcome.
Against his former team, against the only team he had ever played for while making at least four 3-point attempts, Marion reminded us that the past hasn't always died. Sometimes it's merely hibernated. Jan. 18, 2008 was the last time Marion had made four or more attempts behind the arc … until Jan. 23 2012, that is.
As odd as it sounds, just as odd as it may have felt when Carlisle noted Marion always has the green light to take threes after his first season here (when he felt they wrongly discouraged Marion from those attempts), maybe we shouldn't be completely surprised. True he only made three total in the 2009-10 season, then five in 2010-11, but …
Ok, no … being surprised sounds about right. Thanks in large part to going 4-of-6 Monday night; he is now 5-of-9 in the last four games, good for 55.6 percent.
"He has the green light to shoot 3s," Rick said. "The first year, we discouraged it and it was the wrong thing to do. A guy that has that kind of career and everything, you've got to let him play his game."
On the lighter side, Marion was asked about their play without Dirk and answered as only he can.
"You just have to keep taking baby steps to get to where you want to be,'' Trix said, "and get his stiff ass healthy."
DB.COM 1-ON-1 WITH B-WRIGHT: He's got a touch on offense and a touch for broadcasting, too ...
THE TALE OF TWO HALVES: Lamar Odom once more received the start in Dirk's place. This time he limped from the gate, going scoreless in the first half, missing a pair of field-goal attempts and a pair of free throws. He was sluggish, uninvolved in the offense and generally a fourth referee unable to blow the whistle … seeming to watch the game more than participate in it.
"Lamar struggled in the first half,'' Carlisle said, and he was being gentle. ... at first.
"Lamar got off to such a slow start in the first half that the lineup with Cardinal and Wright and Mahinmi has been a good lineup the last couple games, and their energy really got us back in the game and got us the lead," Carlisle said. "The second half, Lamar got off to a good start and, hey, he earned the right to go back in the game.
"It's the whole accountability thing. You play well, you put it on the coach to get you back in there. You don't play well, your ass is going to be sitting."
Although, LO did quietly tie for the team lead in assists with three. ... struggling.
To begin the third quarter, after smarting his way to a trio of free throws, luring a Suns defender into the air as he flung up a desperation 3-pointer with the shot clock expiring, Odom made only one of the three attempts and it felt like he was set for a poor night, not just a poor half.
However, from that point on Lamar looked like a different player. He was active in the offense, aggressive to the rim and though he passed up a couple of open looks while looking to defer (perhaps looking a smidgen too much), he stepped into the shots he did take without hesitation … and reminded us again of the player we know resides under his skin waiting to come out.
In the second half, Odom scored 11 points, including a pair of timely 3-pointers, along with two rebounds and two assists.
Another point well worth noting, he was on the court to close the game … a first, we think ... and tied Jason Kidd for the team high in assists for the game with five, against zero turnovers.
"I've got aches in places I never had before," Odom said. "I got pains in places I never had before."
No jokes her about pains in the ass, OK?
THE TUPPERWARE LID: DB.com corraled Carlisle to ask about how he monitors minutes -- and about why Dallas is doing it differently than everyone else.
"The bottom line,'' Carlisle told us after the victory, "is that come April or May we want to be able to still walk around under our own power.''
How's that manifesting itself? Dirk's 30.9 minutes leads the team. Entering Monday, nobody else on the club was even that high, with heavy-lifting veterans like Jason Kidd (30.1), Jason Terry (29.2), Shawn Marion (28.5), Delonte West (22.6) Brendan Haywood (21.4) and Lamar Odom (20.9) all, in a sense, easing their way, minutes-wise, into this demanding condensed season.
What makes this notable? Virtually nobody else in the NBA is following the same path.
DB.com made this point to Carlisle in a one-on-one visit late Monday and he wondered inquisitively, "Where you goin' with this?''
So we told him (actually, I told him something I'm sure he already knows, but hey, let's all play along!): Look at the minutes around the league for other standouts:
Entering the week, we said, Kevin Love is at 40 in Minnesota. Dwight Howard is at 38 in Orlando, LaMarcus Aldridge is at 38 in Portland, Derrick Rose is at 37 in Chicago, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are at 37 with the Clippers …
"Well, maybe (our low minutes) are because we've been involved in six blowouts,'' he said unconvincingly. "And with those guys you mention, they're all young guys. Maybe that's why it's different. We're not young guys.''
OK, we volleyed back: Check out the Big 3's with the Lakers and the Heat. The Lakers? Kobe is at 38, Paul Gasol at 37, Andrew Bynum at 35. Miami? LeBron James is at 37, Chris Bosh at 37, Dwyane Wade at 35.
And only then did Rick budge, offering that "bottom line'' line about the Mavs still being able to have legs under them come "April or May'' – which, of course, is playoff time.
We asked Carlisle if the Mavs use some specific monitoring system during a game as the minutes get racked up. Is there some statistical-analysis printout that some staffer feeds the coach? Or does Carlisle simply use feel?
"In this day and age, yes, there are all sorts of stats being handed to a coach, all sorts of information being yelled in his ear, so you are pretty well kept informed about everything,'' he said. "But sometimes, you mix in ‘feel.'
An example, please, Coach?
"Tonight,'' Carlisle told us, "Kidd played too many minutes in the first half. That, I could feel. But we had a need at the time, so we rolled with it.''
This is a Dallas path forged with a built-in understanding of the single pitfall: Spreading out minutes, utilizing depth and believing that a mid-January game is not the be-all can lead to the occasional loss along the way.
But the Mavs are now 11-7; so "occasional'' seems the appropriate word.
Mavs owner Mark Cuban hints that other veterans might also get the "Dirk-Out Workout'' treatment and that Nowitzki's time away from the game floor could extend beyond the planned four games.
"All that matters is that we make the playoffs, and we're healthy and playing our best basketball,'' Cuban said.
So how did it play out this time? While Dirk watched from the bench in a blue sportscoat, Marion did his 29-point damage in just 31 minutes. Terry and Kidd played 32. Odom and Mahinmi played 28. Even with Dirk unavailable, the minutes lid stayed pretty tight.
"Every night,'' Carlisle said, "we're going to need somebody to step up big.''
Big performances, yes. Big minutes, apparently not. Until April or May, anyway.
Carlisle's presser with the rest of the media:
TWO FLAGRANTS, WITH A TWIST AND A SPATULA: There were two flagrant fouls assessed within just over two minutes of each other in the fourth quarter, both involving Sebastian Telfair.
The first came when Telfair attacked the rim and met with Brian Cardinal, as many have before him. Cardinal introduced himself with a hard foul, worthy of the Flagrant 1 it drew. We do not contest the fairness of the call, rather we agree with it, but must note the peculiar manner in which Telfair seemed to spin in the opposite direction than that of the force being imposed upon him by Cardinal.
In other words, it was a hard foul. It deserved a Flagrant 1 penalty. But, there was undoubtedly a high degree of "selling" the call as well.
Moments later, when Roddy Beaubois leaked out for what was going to be a breakaway dunk or layup, Telfair raced down the court to meet him in the air where he would take a hard swipe with his right arm that connected with nothing but Roddy B's forehead. There was force in the swing, likely fed by some degree of frustration with having been the recipient of a flagrant only minutes before, but considering where the swipe landed, it was also worthy of the Flagrant 2 called, automatically ejecting Telfair from the game.
All of this to say, we're not sure what Alvin Gentry was arguing when he seemed to contest the call against Telfair. Gentry, there's a replay screen right above your head. You can't miss it. It's HUGE! Check it out.
Perhaps more than the foul, many (both inside and out of the Mavs organization) were looking to see how Roddy B would react to the foul. Would he show some toughness? Would he wilt?
The immediate results were good. Roddy B made both free throws. Then, on the bonus offensive possession from the flagrant, made a nice assist to Odom. On the next defensive play, he went inside to block a Jared Dudley attempt at the side of the rim.
This was the "tough" reaction most wanted to see, with no sign of tepidness. We would point out that Roddy B never again ventured into the paint for a field-goal attempt, but, then again, he'd taken only one previous to it – a floater just inside the free-throw line that he missed – making that a separate issue.
"He's gotten so much tougher in two-and-a-half years,'' Carlisle said. "His first year you would have needed a spatula to get him off the ground. Honestly, he fell in a heap every time he got touched. He took a lot of heat from his teammates, he took a lot of heat from the coaches, and he's raised his level of toughness quantum over that period of time.''
Also of note with Roddy, he had a terrible mini-stretch in the first quarter involving a pair of turnovers in 21 seconds, followed by a dumb, soft foul on a breakaway by Grant Hill, resulting in an And-1 attempt … and Carlisle left him in the game.
We say it's worth note simply because he was left in the game, a rarity after such mistakes in the past.
Rick's overall evaluation: "I liked Roddy tonight. "Nights like tonight where maybe the shots aren't going in and there's a couple of uncharacteristic offensive mistakes, he stayed into the game mentally and he was in a stance and he was a positive factor for us.''
Roddy B's overall self-evaluation: "I'm tougher, but I can get tougher for sure. I'm getting tougher every day. Just because I've been here. My first year it was new for me to play against big guys like this. Obviously, with the contact, that was tough. Now, with all the practices, I get used to it.''
More from Roddy B ...
THE NUMBERS GAME: The Big Calculator ...
• Phoenix offense: 22nd in pace at 91.23 per. Odd that a Nash-led team would operate so slow. ... The Suns are 19th in points in transition at 18.85 per game but were held to less than half of that, eight, by the Mavs D. ... Phoenix also takes the majority of their shots from the outside. In fact they are bottom five in the league in points in the paint and average distance per shot per Synergysports. Tonight they managed 36 points in the paint and the Mavs surrendered 17 offensive rebounds.
• Phoenix Defense: As interiorly-challenged as Phoenix is on offense, they are in the top 5 in points in the paint at 18.56 per game and also top 5 in average distance of opponent's shot. The Mavs overcame that tonight with 38 points in the paint as they enjoyed strong performances from their centers. ... Phoenix is top 10 in 3pt fg defense at 32.6% and Dallas would finish near that mark at 32% on 8-25 shooting from deep. Ironically, that's actually an improvement for Dallas, who came in averaging 30.2% from range. ... The Suns are bottom 3 in the league on the boards across offensive and defensive metrics and 29th in differential at -3.74 per. This would not hold to form as Phoenix out-rebounded Dallas 52-42, including a 17-12 advantage on the offensive glass. ... Steve Nash is No. 1 in the league in assists per game and he would best that mark with 12 tonight to go along with eight points on 2-9 shooting.
• Bench Production: Dallas averages 44.7 bench points per game this season, slightly below what their starters are averaging at 47.2 ppg. That means Dallas gets 49% of its total offensive output from the reserves, tops in the league.
• Halftime Edge: The Mavs have led at half in 10/11 victories this year ... Led 49-46 at half in this one, and won.
• Balance on Offense: In the absence of Dirk, and to a lesser extent, Carter, it will be imperative for Dallas to get production from all parts of the roster. In this one, Dallas enjoyed five players in double-figures. The ball movement was also on display, with 23 assists as a team (season average is a pedestrian 20.7) while only turning the ball over 12 times (avg of 15). Protecting the ball and making the extra pass to keep all involved will be key to surviving this time without The UberMan.
MAVSELLANEOUS: On the subject of controlling minutes, check out the Suns boxscore. Hill played 24. Gortat played 37. Nash played 36. That's how the rest of the NBA is doing it. That's not how Carlisle and the Mavs are doing it. .. Dirk, reflecting on not suiting up in New Orleans: "Just sitting there and I didn't even get dressed before the game was just awkward,'' he said. "Watching the guys change into their uniforms and me just sitting there with no uniform was just a different experience. But it's something that I have to go through to get better and get back to where I want to go.'' ... Nashie was in town, so Cuban felt obligated to answer (the same old) questions about losing him to Phoenix in free agency in 2004. "If you would have told me Steve would have been playing eight years later I would have bet any amount of money you'd be wrong,'' Cuban said. "But ... The thing about Steve is his discipline. I knew he was disciplined, but I thought he would fall apart before it mattered. I give him a lot of credit. He proved me definitely wrong.'' ... Since the new year, J-Kidd is a mess from the arc: 5-of-39 from deep, good for 13. He had company Monday as Odom shot an airball from long-range and Roddy B shot a 3-pointer that was both an airball and a curveball. He shanked it.
THE CENTERS: Brendan Haywood and Ian Mahinmi continue to surpass all but the most optimistic of expectations for the Mavs center rotation this season.
Haywood has been a defensive force in the paint, and added a bit of offense. He finished with 10 points and six rebounds in only 19:28 of playing time.
Mahinmi had 17 points – earning 12 free-throw attempts, making nine of them -- nine rebounds and three blocks.
Some simply math and you see 27 points, 15 rebounds, three blocks and three assists from a position that thought to be thin at best as the season began.
Dallas, and most teams, will take this any night of the season from their two centers. The only trouble, really, came from getting Kicked in The Gortats (as Phoenix' center put up a 19-point, 17-rebound effort).
THE FINAL WORD: The Mavs are 11-4 in their last 15 games, with two of those losses coming in the final seconds. They've now held 15 straight opponents under 100 points, and 11 of those 15 below 90. Add to the fact that seven of those 15 hit less than 40-percent of their shots and you have the markings of a very good defense.
Regardless of who isn't playing, the guys who are on the court are getting it done. For the time being, the Mavs are not only surviving with core contributors are out, they are thriving at 6-0 without one of Jason Kidd or Dirk Nowitzki in the lineup.
Next up, let's get some rings. Thirty-one seconds of craftsmanship to get you ready ...