Mavs 'Signature' Win - In Rondo's Handwriting
In Sunday's "whimsy-and-beer'' win over OKC, Rajon Rondo defended Russell Westbrook about as well as could be expected of a human basketball player. Westbrook, an All-NBA talent, filled up the stat sheet, tallying 18 points, nine rebounds, nine assists and five steals, but he shot 6-of-23 for the game and Rondo’s ball denial of Westbrook in crucial fourth-quarter possessions — in particular leading to an ill-advised dribble-around-and-shoot by Reggie Jackson — was a display of the defensive upgrade the Mavericks received when they made the trade with Boston.
We wrote numerous times at DB.com prior to the Rondo blockbuster trade that the Mavericks had two glaring weaknesses: 1) they could not keep quick, athletic guards in front of them and 2) they allowed too many open three-pointers. The promising — and entertaining — thing about the team was that even without a bunch of pound-the-boards guys, they were nearly flawless in so many other aspects of basketball. And most obviously, they had an offense that on many nights compensated for those two huge weaknesses.
It was no secret that dynamic guards — of which there are many in the NBA — could feast on the Dallas defense, and to an alarming degree. The Westbrooks, Walls, Dragics, Currys and so on of the world are already having career years. They could count on even better games against Dallas.
With Rondo on the floor that is no longer a given.
His defensive performance against Westbrook was a showcase of what Rondo is capable of when guarding an elite player. What he has over the departed Jameer Nelson (and every other Maverick guard) is the ability to stay in front of even the fastest waterbugs. Even when his man gets past him, he has the recovery quickness to at least stay within the realm the ball rather than giving up what coach Rick Carlisle refers to as "blow-bys'' and leaving the entire defense scrambling. Rondo's ball-denial skills, too, are something you wouldn’t even see attempted by Nelson.
Rondo stepped up again defensively on Tuesday against the gifted John Wall in a 114-87 victory over the Washington Wizards. (Star-Telegram photo credit.) Wall finished the game with 11 points, eight assists and four rebounds, which is nothing to sneeze at, but all below his season averages. He only took seven shots (10 fewer than he took in the team’s first meeting in November). Most of those shots came in the fast break or when he was guarded by Devin Harris, whom for all his quicks, could not seem to keep Wall in front of him.
Ultimately, Rondo has the ability to make the shots difficult for opposing players in crucial moments. That won’t always be enough to prevent the best guards in the league from scoring, but it’s a vast upgrade from Dallas’ previous situation. ... and helps Dallas keep its edge as a clutch-time team. Keep in mind how good Dallas is at everything else. Upgrading from "terrible'' to "average'' might not seem inspiring, but in a context like this, it’s as significant as upgrading from average to best-in-the-league. The Mavericks can compensate for "average.''
The other big flaw for Dallas had been defending the three-point line. There’s a case to be made that the easy guard penetration was contributing to all the open threes for opposing teams. Before the Rondo trade they were the worst team in the league in this area, giving up more than 10 per game.
The jury is still out for the Mavericks’ three-point defense post-Rondo trade. They gave up a lot of open threes against the Suns (13) and the Lakers (11). They’ve been much better in the past two games, however, giving up just nine three-pointers combined to the Thunder and Wizards. ... another reason this pair of victories (part of a three-game win streak for the 23-10 Mavs) can be regarded as "signature.'' Still, until they’ve given up the title of "most three pointers allowed per game,'' it’s fair to call it a work in process.
How it all worked Tuesday, via the official highlight reel, with Rondo notching his 1,000 career steal on an 11-point, five-assist night:
Unfortunately, evidence has pointed towards the trade causing another big issue, or better said, worsening an earlier concern: rebounding. Brandan Wright may not have seemed like a monster on the boards, but as long as he or Tyson Chandler were on the floor, Dallas was a good-enough rebounding team. It’s not quite the same with Charlie Villanueva (as terrific as he's been as a scorer, averaging 13.2 per over the last five) and Greg Smith.
The past three games Dallas has been dominated in the rebound category. Against the Lakers, Thunder and Wizards, Dallas was out-rebounded 164-111. That’s a pretty staggering number. Interestingly enough, Dallas won all three of those games. It’s rare to come up with three wins — two convincing wins at that — while getting killed on the glass like that. Perhaps, rebounding is the new flaw at which the Mavericks are improbably compensating for with excellent play in other areas.
Let’s recap: a month ago the Mavericks had two major flaws. They couldn’t defend quick guards and they left three-point shooters open. These weren’t minor flaws. The Mavericks were terrible in both aspects. They were really, really good at most everything else.
Since making the trade, they have gotten much better at defending quick guards. In fact, they are looking competent, perhaps even pretty good at it. The Rondo backcourt mesh with Monta Ellis (one of six double-figure scorers for Dallas on Tuesday with 20 despite his bum ankle) works. The bench scores. (And some of them will maybe get your "Dirkie'' vote here on DB.com Boards.)
Unfortunately, though, the Mavs traded those aforementioned flaws in for a rebounding deficiency.
One month ago the Dallas Mavericks were very close to having a championship-caliber team. Right now, they are a smidge closer. If the rebounding can improve to, let’s say "average,'' then what Rondo helps Dallas do in overall scoring (the Mavs are now 13-1 when they shoot 50 percent, something they've done more than anybody), on defense (87 points to a good Wiz team?) and in crunch time (Rondo's presence is why Carlisle, as in the Kidd Era, calls so few plays) might all this team to find itself lacking a major weakness. Teams that lack weaknesses are very hard to eliminate the playoffs.
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