Mavs Bench Helps Stomp Clippers
With panic having crept in for the Mavs it might seem like do-or-die time, but for Dallas to have any shot in late April the starters’ minutes have to remain managed. So ...
Evidence has shown the Dallas Mavericks’ bench to be average this season. They are 12th in bench scoring at 34.9 points per game. They have been one of the more efficient three-point shooting second units in the NBA as the Mavs can count on about 12 points per game from three pointers made by non-starters. But for most of the season they have been killed on the boards. Upon trading Brandan Wright (and even at times before that) the team has looked like a train wreck as soon as Tyson Chandler leaves the floor. The Mavs’ bench has accounted for only 14.2 rebounds per game, which is good for 22nd in the league. The addition of Amar’e Stoudemire has remedied that problem to an extent and should continue to do so.
Also worth considering: Injuries to starters have hurt the Mavericks’ bench at times lately. Chandler, Rajon Rondo (DMNews photo) and Chandler Parsons have all missed multiple games in the past few months. The domino effect of starters being unavailable is that it weakens the second unit because bench players are inserted into the starting lineup.
Dallas has struggled to win games for the better part of two months. Going into Friday's visit from the Clips, they had slipped from the fourth seed all the way to the seventh seed. With a gauntlet of playoff-caliber opponents rounding out the last month or so of the schedule, the gut reaction is to say it is time to start treating every game like a playoff game.
It says here that in a sense, that would be ill-advised.
A healthy and energized starting lineup is the only hope the Mavericks will have of competing against any team they might face in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. Without that, it could be a quick and disappointing postseason.
At the moment, Tyson Chandler is not healthy; Rick Carlisle said last Tuesday that he knows Chandler is less than 100 percent. Dirk Nowitzki is anything but energized. His defensive effort has been at an embarrassing level and his shot-making is below what everyone has come to expect of him. Monta Ellis is quite possibly feeling the effects of playing every game through various aliments this season. Ellis would play every minute of every game if he could find a coach that would allow it.
The Mavericks may need those players to be playing right now, but those players need assurance that they can rest without everything crumbling to the ground. They need every minute on the bench their teammates can afford them.
Rest is still monumentally important.
With a mostly healthy roster the Mavericks have a potentially formidable second unit that can consist of Devin Harris, Stoudemire, Al-Farouq Aminu, Richard Jefferson, Charlie Villanueva and J.J. Barea. With the exception of Harris and Stoudemire (and perhaps Aminu depending on the matchup) all of these players will see a decrease in minutes when the playoffs come around. These players were not signed or traded for with the expectation that they would be making critical plays in the NBA Finals (though if that happens, all the better). They were acquired to allow the Mavericks to play at a high level throughout the course of a long 82-game schedule.
The lack of a healthy roster for much of the post-Rondo trade season has cost the Mavericks bench chemistry. They were able to acquire players like Villanueva, Barea and Jefferson because other teams did not see a great level of value in them. But while the Mavericks’ starters seem to need to rediscover their individual value, the Mavericks’ bench needs to become greater than a sum of their parts.
Friday night’s 129-99 victory over the Clippers was a huge leap in that direction. Dallas (42025) received 61 points from their bench. Their bench outrebounded the Clippers’ bench 17-6.
Villanueva’s 19 points off of 8-15 shooting and five rebounds led the way. Barea and Harris each scored 15 points. Chris Paul only scored 11.
“The Clippers are a very good team, what they bring,'' Charlie V said, aware these two teams may have to bring it again in the spring. "That’s going to be a team we will be battling maybe later down the road, so I’m glad we were able to get this win. But, man, the guys played well tonight.”
The Clippers are an example of a team with a mostly ineffective bench especially without Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford who both missed the game due to injury. This is likely to haunt them in the playoffs if any of their three stars (including Griffin) are to get into foul trouble.
The starters also played well for the Mavs. Parsons’ 22 points, five rebounds and four assists was a promising sign for the Dallas offense. And Rondo's orchestration was the talk of the postgame locker room, as he pitched in with seven assists, four points, four rebounds and four steals.
"The trust is becoming more and more better between coach and I,'' said Rondo. It's tough to give a guy keys to the car when he first gets there. ... I think this is the best I've been, as far as the playcalling, since I've been here. ... I knew the right plays to call."
That said, it was clear that the Mavericks’ enjoyed an advantage Friday night by the competence of their bench versus the Clippers. It was a simple advantage. Dallas brought players into the game who could penetrate, shoot, defend and hustle. The Clippers brought in players who could mostly just hustle and they didn’t hustle quite enough.
It was one of the first times in weeks that the Mavericks possessed a noticeable advantage over a championship-caliber team.
“I think everyone was disappointed after the last home game,'' Tyson said, reflecting back on that "cheating-the-game'' debacle against Cleveland. "I think it was something that we needed; there were a lot of issues that needed to be addressed. It caught guys’ attention, (we) came in and battled hard in practice, and got things together. ... got things right. We showed them on the court how good we can be, when things are executed the right way.”
Barea and Villanueva have their weaknesses on the court – most noticeably, defense — but Barea and Harris are both relentless in their probing of the opponents' D, which should open things up for a shot-maker like Villanueva. Aminu is a defensive Band-Aid and an impact player who can energize a unit with fresh legs. Stoudemire has been the most efficient bench rebounder Dallas has had since Wright and he’s a constant threat for post scoring.
All those guys mean lots of candidates for "The Dirkie.'' You are invited to cast your vote here. All those guys also deserve praise from the boss.
"We were due to play better, to compete better,'' said Carlisle, who is now in sole possession of second place on the Mavericks all-time wins list (at 330, behind Nellie's 339), passing Dick Motta. "The challenge now is to sustain."
What is sustainable? What is attainable? Dallas moves to a half-game behind the Clips for fifth in the West and a half-game ahead of San Antonio for sixth in the West. This thing feels righted suddenly, and success in the playoffs will depend on maximum production from one of the more talented starting lineups in the NBA. But that production is unlikely to be attainable unless the bench work can be sustainable ... as demonstrated in what will hopefully be remembered as an important, West-race-tightening win over the Clippers.
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