Mavs All-Access: What's Wrong With Dallas?
There are things in this life that I can begrudgingly put up with. Long voicemails from relatives, “service fees” and even people sprinting into the elevator before the persons exiting can step out (a zombie better damn well be chasing you if you’re one of these rush-into-the-elevator people). Things I can’t tolerate are sleepwalking through 43 minutes of a game and losing to Josh Smith and the Houston Rockets.
The Mavericks are in a bad way and there are no simple solutions. The mojo is off. The spacing is off. The bench scoring has vanished like a poltergeist. January just won’t end. The Mavericks now have their first four-game losing streak since January 2013.
So, with Houston 99, Dallas 94 as the latest guinea pig ... what the hell's going on here?
James Harden is a repulsive player. He’s the guy at pick-up hoops who would get cleaned out 'round about the third time he came flying into the lane with knees and feet aimed at the defender.
James Harden wouldn’t exist in the 80’s or 90’s of the NBA. His limbs would be nothing but casts 365 days out of the year. But with the way the game has evolved and the bend towards offensive prowess, he exists in this perfect space where a pudgy 6-5 shooting guard that’s built like a Mack truck can get a call anytime he feels the need simply by barreling into a defender and kneeing them in the abdomen.
For maybe the first time since Harden has been a member of the Rockets, the officials called a game in which he played against the Mavericks correctly. Harden was whistled for two offensive fouls and one flagrant late in the game (I’ll forgive the elbow directly to Dirk’s dome because they tightened up after that). If the tables were turned and that style of flagrant was applied onto Harden’s neck and head he would have acted like he have just been shot by a fifty-caliber gun and wallowed around on the hardwood for at least two minutes.
I don’t talk about officiating if it is avoidable but the majority of the time when the Mavericks play Houston ... it is not avoidable. My greatest fear is that with Harden’s success there will be an entire generation of players that will come up imitating his brand of chicken-s basketball. One officiating crew out of the dozens that have done Mavs-Rockets games got it right (props to David Guthrie, Marat Kogut and Derrick Stafford).
But isn’t it sad that you basically tell if it’s going a competitive game early in the second quarter depending on how much wild-ass crap the officials are letting Harden get away with? On Wednesday they did a good job and the game came down to actual on-court execution, leaving the Mavericks with multiple opportunities to tie or take the lead. James Harden’s 17 points weren’t the problem last night. In fact, I agree with Fish when he says that "it's like a raindrop in a desert but Rondo's D on Harden is something of value.'' I'll get to Rondo overall below, though ... And I'll note that even if we think we've solved a problem in terms of guarding Harden ... there were and are plenty of other problems.
When Brandan Wright was traded it was obvious that the Mavericks bench would fall victim to some regression from their astronomical numbers of early in the season. Nobody could have projected that it would just altogether stop contributing.
Prior to the Rondo-Wright deal, the Mavericks bench was averaging 36.5 points per, good for 10th in the league and a 114.2 offensive rating. Since December 19 they’re contributing 30.9 points per for 21st in the league and an offensive rating of 104.2.
I don’t want to show you these next numbers because of fear of ruining your entire weekend but this is my job. During this four-game losing skid the Mavericks bench is averaging 20.8 points per (29th in the NBA), while shooting 32.1 percent (30th in the NBA) and averaging 11.5 rebounds per game (28th) while losing on the scoreboard by a minus-3.5 margin.
In Houston it was no different. The Rockets bench outscored the Mavericks bench 47-18 and out-rebounded them by a difference of five.
The Mavericks bench has flatlined. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are other shakeups on the horizon even after Jermaine O’Neal.
One man has actually been contributing in a positive way from the bench and that’s "The Chief,'' Al-Farouq Aminu. He’s made a collection of Brandan Wright-esque plays in the last few games and he’s quietly been the best bench player for the Mavericks of the last two weeks. Aminu is averaging just under 18 minutes a game with 5.3 points, 4.5 boards and 2.3 blocks over his last five games. The best part is his 93.9 defensive rating and 19.4-percent defensive rebound nuymber in the last five.
Additionally, over the last five games, players that Farouq is defending are shooting 27.6 percent from the field. ... 27.6! That’s 18 percentage points south of average. The six blocks from last night are definitely a key part of that stat. While Dwight Powell also counts as a bench "discovery,'' no other player on the Mavericks roster is playing with the intensity on both ends that AFA is. His 10-point, seven-board, six-block effort in Houston might earn him some more court time.
And yeah, that might be among the solutions. Especially for that "sleepwalking'' thing.
The Mavericks shot on par with Houston and actually out-rebounded a team for the first time since we first started talking about deflated footballs. So, why did they lose? There’s one very simple reason and the causation is 24 turnovers (their most on the season by a margin of four).
The Mavericks never matched the Rockets' defensive intensity until well into the fourth quarter. Houston was denying entry passes and routinely beating offensive players to their spots on the floor. They came with multiple traps on Dirk and Parsons and everybody just kind of stood around like a foul was obviously coming. The Mavs just refused to speed up their internal clock and committed five or more turnovers in every single quarter.
They napped through the first 43 minutes of the game and left the outcome up to perfect late-game execution that didn’t come. (Again.) They’ve done this for a while now. In the midst of their zombie walk through the first three quarters of these games it appears as if just "getting the deficit within three points'' registers as a win. They’ve been letting the flow of the game dictate their mentality as if they’re riding the lazy river into the second half of the season.
The Rockets guards were making it difficult for the Mavericks to even swing the ball and they never adjusted their pace or made them pay for being over-aggressive. They did, however, try to get "fancy'' (Dirk's derogatory word) and they did try to throw an inanely stupid inbounds pass to nowhere.
The first three quarters of games have to matter. I have no idea why this team plays as if they can flip a switch or as if Monta will save them late because they’re 6-17 when trailing after three quarters and 23-0 when leading after three frames. It feels like the unconscious sentiment of “if our shots are falling we’ll put it on this team but if not we’ll go with the flow” has crept in and become a theme.
"Flow'' isn’t working. The January swoon is in full effect.
Raise your hand if you’re starting to doubt this whole Rondo thing.
Thank you for your courage.
The dribble-to-the-elbow-and-try-a-crazy-pass offense isn’t working. The majority of the time a simple swing pass will do. In the simplest way of the describing the game, Rondo just can’t be a disaster on the offensive end of the court. The Mavs are good enough to survive him being bad on certain nights. You just can’t be a landfill.
Wednesday night’s 0-for-7 with six assists and five turnovers effort was vomit. I mean, isn’t this whole "fitting in'' thing supposed to be getting better not worse?
As bad as the Mavs bench has been, the offense is actually substantially better with Rondo on the bench. The offensive rating with Rondo on the court has been 107.8 and with him off it’s been 113.8. That should never be the case for your starting point guard. Rondo has been as big of a problem as anything else in this four-game slide whether Rick wants to admit it or not. He’s been a minus-3.8 while on the court over the last four games and has been exceptionally ineffective distributing the ball with just a 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio (it’s routinely 2.8-to-1).
Also, where has this "rebounding Rondo'' we heard about been? Prior to the trade he was averaging 7.5 boards a game and since then he’s averaged 5.3 per game.
Rondo is the epitome of what is wrong with the Mavericks right now. There are too many one-way players and they aren’t being blended correctly with the guys that possess the opposite skillset.
That's not a "sky-is-falling'' take. It's not a alarmist take. And I'm not saying all of this is non-fixable. But let's not pretend it's anything but a big problem. And let's recognize that short of getting this fixed, little else in this season matters in terms of Dallas achieving its goals.
Is Monta Ellis the hero that the Mavericks need when they’re white walking through weeks at a time or is he a crutch?
Let me preface this by saying that he’s doing nothing wrong. When the rope starts to slip there has to be one guy that grabs it. But why does it always have to be Monta?
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that after his incredible third quarter in which he scored 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting and single handedly saved the Mavs' hopes of competing that were just dangling off the ledge that the next quarter they scored 16 points and shot 26.3 percent.
This is more of a Rick problem than a Monta problem for me.
When an offensively-skilled player goes an entire quarter without touching the basketball you literally forget what the ball feels like and how to concentrate your motion according to the weight of the ball. We simply don’t have the time in this article but sometime in the future I plan on charting the Mavericks success in any quarter following one in which Monta takes six-plus shots. Rick needs to know that the other players on the court are checking out on both ends when they’re unengaged for multiple minutes at a time on the offensive end.
Again, not Ellis' fault. Heck, he even did the right, gutsy thing at game's end, drawing a foul (that wasn't called) even though the entire Houston gym knew he was the only guy who was going to take the shot. And one of the reasons we all know it is because we watch other Mavs stand around and watch.
As poorly as the Dallas Mavericks played through the majority of this game they still had a chance to win it late in the fourth quarter. If Tyson makes one his free throws after the Harden flagrant foul then the Mavericks possess the ball with a chance to tie or win.
But he missed them both. And then Dallas couldn't figure out how to inbounds a ball again.
And you know what? This actually makes me hopeful, because it's just got to be fluky. It's in this team's DNA to make free throws. And its in the DNA of every middle-school basketball team to throw an inbounds pass.
Fixable! Which puts me in a better mood. So here's your song:
What’s getting lost in this losing streak and sleepwalking is that Chandler Parsons has been phenomenal in his last seven games. He’s averaging 17.1 points on 54.9 percent shooting and 47.2 percent from three and in Houston he even managed to pull down more than one rebound(!!!!). Parsons looks to be feeling the moments when it’s time for him to engage offensively much better than he has the entire season.
It’s a shame that it’s coming in a stretch where the team is dazing out for halves at a time.
So there you have it. The Houston loss IS the collection of Mavs problems, in a nutshell.
And some solutions are in there, too. Cut the sleepwalking. And Rondo's unnecessarily "fancy'' passing (which causes other guys to mimic it). Get bench help, even if it means from somewhere else than the existing bench. Be aware of Monta's burden. Take stock in Parsons' rightful spot on the pecking order. Crank up the "clutch.''
Nothing has been ruined here seeing as the Mavericks still have a three game cushion on that 8 seed but the bar had risen to challenging for home court in the playoffs. A nice three-game winning streak (starting tonight in Miami against the Wade-less, Deng-less Heat, with Fish and the gang on it at 6:30 with "Mavs Live'' on FOX Sports Southwest) would do wonders to vault the Mavericks back into that atmosphere but they can’t play like they aren’t keeping score in the first three quarters ... because they are. Just please let us get to the All-Star break without cratering.
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