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The Dallas Mavericks' preferred starting lineup hasn’t had much time to play together. It’s been 307 exceptionally subpar minutes to this point in the season (overall +0.5 points, which is second-worst among lineups that have played 30+ minutes together).
The Mavericks starters have had two different stretches of seven straight uninterrupted games in a row and that’s the longest they’ve played together consistently. The returns haven’t been pretty and one can assume that they just haven’t had enough time together. That experiment will have to be a worry for another night because Monday marked another “interrupted” contest.
With Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler still ailing, it was a realistic fear that the Mavericks could lose their third straight game and follow their second-worst loss of the season (against Brooklyn) with another disastrous defeat.
When we assessed the Mavs depth chart we assumed that strength-in-numbers would be put to use overwhelming other teams' second units ... not keeping this thing afloat. But this is the situation they were in. Luckily, Rajon Rondo remembered he’s still an exceptionally skilled basketball player as he did a number on the Pelicans before they realized what was happening.
A game that started with the right trigger (turbo boost) mashed down eventually settled and the undermanned Pelicans succumbed to the supremely talented yet undermanned Mavericks by the count of 102-93.
If it weren’t for the subtle hints around the edges like the behind-the-back-fake-pass layup and the top-spin passes we might not have been able to recognize Rajon Rondo here.
What in the crap was that?
It looked like Rajon had gotten into the leftover Halloween candy. The Mavs ran a curl-screen for him (which I haven’t seen) on the left elbow and he popped the jumper and it was clearly on from there. Rondo proceeded to go all Bill-Duke-from-"Predator'' ... just sawing down the rain forest with bullets.
When the tally was made it read "13 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the first,'' which would be an above-average Rondo output for most entire games. He looked like he was moving in double time. I counted nine field goal attempts from Rondo within 10 feet on the night. That’s roughly half of his per-game average in his time with the Mavericks (4.9 per game with Mavs). What we witnessed here was something that I honestly thought was gone from Rondo’s arsenal.
Breaking the defense down off the dribble and beating defenders to the hoop with his quickness was something I assumed would only live with pre-knee-injury Rondo. If this is the answer for what has turned the Mavericks offense into an average unit? I for one am very pleased.
This takes the stop-down, contentious-playcalling aspect out of the equation. When Rondo is asked to halt the offensive flow and diagnose a set it hasn’t really gone so well. If Rondo can prove that he’ll commit to getting to the basket and isn’t afraid to take a foul and head to the line then defenses will start shrinking to keep him out of the paint. That opens up everything.
"Rondo played a really good all-around game and a good floor game,'' said coach Rick Carlisle, who noted that he's encouraging Rondo to try to get to the line after having worked with the coaching staff and with Holger. "The great thing right now is all our guys are really working with him, and he's working with them. And we're just going to stick with it.''
On the other end there was a noticeable furlough on the behalf of Tyreke Evans once Rondo was assigned to him after the first quarter. That was kind of expected but the new offensive wrinkle of Madman Rondo was not anticipated because there was zero evidence of it in his previous 26 games as a Maverick. Was this is his best game with the Mavericks? Probably not. That Boston game was pretty insane ... but this might prove to be the most important if the Mavericks have found a new toy in Rondo. ... for the run, for the playoffs, and as David Lord astutely notes, for the cap and roster implications of the future.
I’ve talked to a large number of Mavericks media members and Mavericks fans since the Rondo trade and no matter what metric they use to justify the trade they always come back to two things:
One, that you can’t win anything if you’re not top-10 in defensive rating (I think you know my feelings about that.)
Two, that the simple addition of Rondo is to thank for the much-improved defense. I’m really not trying to block any of Rajon’s shine but if you think a team goes from bottom-third to top-10 in defense because of one player who is playing less than 30 minutes a night you’re insane.
What keeps getting overlooked is the fact that with Brandan Wright not on the team following the trade, Rick was forced to play Al-Farouq Aminu.
Of the Mavericks lineups that have played 40+ minutes together, AFA is involved in all of the top four. He’s also involved in five of the top six defensive rating lineups (Rondo is only in one). Since he’s been getting real minutes (January 14th) AFA’s earned a 97.5 defensive rating and a plus +8.8 overall.
Rondo since joining the Mavs is a 99.9 defensive rating for a +4.1 net rating.
Obviously, the two things don’t exist in separate vacuums, but like usual, I just want you to look at the whole picture. Rondo has been good but the drastic difference you’re witnessing is basically just the absence of Jameer Nelson and his 42-percent-allowed-on-defended-3-pointers as a Maverick.
Here’s a very quotable and easy-to-understand stat for AFA’s defensive prowess: the league average on shots within 10 feet of the basket is 55.3 percent. AFA is only allowing 36.1 percent on such shots for a nifty -19.1-percent differential on defended shots.
Just taking a pause to recognize that Luke Babbitt looks like a goblin. No, no, he looks like your cousin that listens to "System Of A Down.'' No, no, he looks like the uncoolest Allman Brothers roadie.
No, no, he looks like Jack White’s prom picture.
"We came out of the (halftime) locker room,'' Carlisle said, "with a lot of fire, a lot of attitude and a real disposition. The bottom line is we've got to play the entire 48 that way.''
We've got more Quoteboard from inside the locker room here.
It was really cool to see Amar’e Stoudemire show glimpses of the guy that scared the water out of the league as a 22-year-old pterodactyl. Alexis Ajinca worked him a few times in the post in the first half but STAT got more than his in return (seriously, Ajinca. What the hell? We gave you a ring and then you go somewhere else and play like a real person).
It seemed like Devin Harris found a new buddy in Stoudemire to rain hell on opposing defenses via pick-and-roll assisting on a couple Stoudemire finishes. Some of the biggest 50-50 balls were turned into Mavericks possessions thanks to Amar’e diving on the floor.
Amar’e’s first game as a Maverick might have been more efficient (14 points in 11 minutes) but this was his finest all-around effort in his four games of seeing action. Stoudemire finished with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting with four rebounds and two steals and assists. His presence was definitely felt. I can’t remember saying that about any other bench big man not named Brandan Wright.
"It's taking a little time,'' said Amar'e, "but I'm definitely getting more comfortable, offensively and defensively as well. As the season goes on and as I continue to practice more and kind of get with the guys I'm sure I can get more comfortable.''
For what has become a non-spectacular, pedestrian game to expect from Monta Ellis ... it sure was needed. The Pelicans crawled within six points late in the fourth quarter and the entirety of the AAC knew Monta was about to go for the finishing move ... yet nobody could do anything about it. Monta scored eight crucial points in the fourth frame, knocking down all four of his free throws in an effort that’s just become routine. Monta (who finished with 20) is actually shooting better from the field and from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter and hasn’t missed a free throw the entire season in a clutch situation (five minutes left/within five points).
I think we need to recognize and appreciate what Richard Jefferson is doing in his role when called upon to start. Instead of being a hindrance, he’s had a very positive effect on the starting lineup.
Check out these averages from Jefferson as a starter: 11.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 48.6-percent shooting and 46.2 percent from 3.
None of that mentions that he isn’t scared to go flying at the rim against anybody looking to put you on a Vine.
OK ... a lot of the time it doesn’t work out ... but he does draw a ton of fouls and even shakes up a game when the other team starts running. I shudder to think where this thing would be without the consistent efficient production of Richard Jefferson when he has been called upon.
"Those things are contagious,'' RJ said, "When guys play good defense, when guys drive, when guys make the extra pass, those are things in the game of basketball that are really contagious.''
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