Mavs All-Access: Building Rockets Hate
I never like losing to Houston in anything. Basketball, football, baseball, Yelp reviews, public zoning, strip clubs, anything. That said, this loss doesn’t hurt that bad. Sure, it’s annoying to know that a game flipped on James Harden getting a phantom call on Rondo pulling out the chair on him and then the weakest inbounds foul you’ll ever see. ... Rondo's good defense and Harden's "foul machine'' (Carlisle's words) here ...
In the grand scheme of things I think we all realize that the Mavericks have a much better chance of challenging the Houston Rockets in a playoff series rather than the Memphis Grizzlies. (Power Points addresses that concept here). If you can help assure that they’re your first-round opponent then that’s just good business. Nobody can say that this loss didn’t really bother them out loud but it’s not the worst thing. Houston is ripe for the picking in their current state and the Mavericks exposed a few fatal flaws that the Rockets have before Chandler Parsons exited with 4 minutes left in the third.
If the worst version of Monta didn’t show up and Parsons doesn’t head to the locker room early, the Mavericks probably proceed to demonstrate how to pick the Rockets apart into the fourth quarter. With all the nonsense that took place, the Mavericks still had an open look to tie the game with 30 seconds left. Follow along as I attempt to channel my frustration from a 108-101 loss to Houston that gives them the 3-1 season-series victory.
I’m not saying Rick Carlisle gave up on this game, but Chandler Parsons heading to the locker room early with a wobbly knee and Tyson Chandler only playing 5 minutes in the fourth quarter tell a different story.
Parsons left the game with 4 minutes left in the third quarter and never returned. In the fourth quarter without Parsons on the court, the Mavericks managed 18 points and drew an offensive rating of 76.5 (which is soggy garbage). When Parsons is out, the ball doesn’t move. It’s velcroed to Monta’s hand. 19 field-goal attempts is close to a normal number but the three assists in 12 minutes of basketball is hard to comprehend.
When the Mavericks need good shots late in the game, Chandler Parsons is the guy. Rondo can’t be trusted late because he’s shooting 36% on his free throws for the season. Monta can’t be trusted because once the ball hits his hands it’s not going anywhere else. Parsons has quietly been the guy when the Mavericks need a late bucket and for all the machismo that we applaud Monta for, he’s been lapped in the Late-Game Alpha-Dog role.
Since the All-Star break, Parsons has played 11 minutes of clutch-time basketball and he’s made 6 of his 8 shots taken in that time frame. When you start looking at what collection of offensive players work together you start digging through the Mavericks different lineups. In the many different variations of three-man lineups that the Mavericks have used, Chandler Parsons is a part of 3 of the best 4 offensive lineups in terms of offensive rating (minimum 200 minutes together). Aminu and Parsons are also the best two-man pairing for the Mavericks in terms of net rating on the team.
If there’s any question as to who you want handling the ball late in a game, just realize that Monta Ellis has driven the ball to the basket 237 more times than Chandler Parsons (622 to 385 -- basically 1.6 times more often) but the points generated off of drives per game for the players doesn’t add up to that formula:
*Monta is generating 5.7 points for himself off drives a game and 9.7 for the team overall.
*Parsons is generating 4.0 points for himself off drives a game and 7.0 points for the team off of drives.
Neither of those numbers bear out a 1.6x correlation. Long story short, Parsons should be driving more and have the ball to do so more often. Oh, and by the way, Monta Ellis is averaging two fewer drives to the basket per game this season compared to last season (10.2 to 8.3). Parsons needs nine rebounds Saturday night against visiting Golden State to join that neat "15ppg, 5rpg, 2apg, 1spg, 46%fg, 38%3fg Club'' we’ve been talking about. His three-point percentage did rise thanks to a 3-of-7 effort from beyond the arc, to 38% on the year and 40.3% since the All-Star break.
We'll be watching closely to see how Rick handles his guys on Saturday in a home game against the Warriors that, with Dallas largely locked into 7th, doesn't much matter in the standings but to him, may or may not matter in other ways.
I don’t feel like people remember that it was me asking the question, “Why the hell isn’t Al-Farouq Aminu playing?” ... all the way back in early December. I saw him do these very things when playing for the then-Hornets a few years ago (I had to help produce their pre- and post-game shows for FOX Sports Southwest, so no, I’m not a sick person). He’s always played like this and when it’s not on a good team it’s not very cute. As a former lottery pick, the stuff that he does isn’t appreciated because he’s just a symptom of an underachieving roster ... but on a good team when he’s got a real role he can flourish.
If the Mavericks do get matched up with the Rockets, I feel very good about AFA having a big impact in just about every single playoff game. He just matches up perfectly with Terrence Jones, Corey Brewer and sometimes James Harden. In his last three games, AFA is averaging 7.3ppg, 5.3rpg, 1.7bpg, 1.3apg on 43.8% from the field and 50% from three. He’s doing all of this in just 21 minutes per game.
The thing that impresses me the most is that AFA is in on the top three Mavericks five-man defensive lineups, according to defensive rating (minimum 35 minutes together). In fact, Aminu and Parsons are involved in the Mavs top three defensive lineups. He’s also in on the Mavs' top two rebounding lineups and in every single one of their top three net-rating lineups as well.
I think what we’ve learned is AFA is a certified badass and he and Parsons need to play together more. Compared to league averages, when Aminu is defending an offensive player the opposition shoots -1.3% overall, -2% on two pointers, -9% within 6 feet and -8% within 10 feet.
One non-obvious thing is worrisome about a potential matchup with with the Rockets and that’s transition defense. Houston eclipsed their season average of fast-break points Thursday night by 8. It was mostly Corey Brewer just leaking out and running a 9-route to the basket. The Rockets are relentless in their pursuit of long outlet passes. Yes, the Mavericks can scheme against it by not chasing offensive boards and having Brewer’s defender being more aware of his tendencies, but you can’t get beaten in transition and on the glass and let the other team shoot well from three. There’s no way to win with that formula.
The highlight reel shows some of these ups and downs ...
You’re probably never going to win the rebound battle against the Rockets so let’s address the transition defense and the three-pointers allowed. There’s not a real number that I can throw at you to say “Get your ass back on defense or you’re going to get toasted.” They just have to do it. In the Mavericks last four games, Mavericks opponents are shooting 26 threes a game at a 41.9% clip. This crap has to stop or Houston will gut you for 40+ points a game off of threes alone.
This hurts. James Harden is the NBA’s MVP for this season. I’ve thought about this a lot and battled with it in nearly every game I’ve watched. It’s really down to Steph Curry or James Harden to me, and while I realize Steph Curry’s numbers get dwarfed because he basically doesn’t play in fourth quarters a la Jason White at Oklahoma, it consistently comes back to one point for me, the Houston Rockets have zero damn business flirting with the No. 2 seed in the West. If you take James Harden off of that team I assume they’d be battling New Orleans for the 9 seed considering Howard is healthy. Without Howard they’re not a top ten western team in terms of talent. I hate James Harden and what he’s doing to the game of basketball but I can’t deny that what he’s doing is working. Whether it’s chicken-s or not. It’s winning games and it’s reaching the second seed in one of the best conferences in basketball history.
James Harden is an NBA cheat code good for 55 wins. I hate it. I hate everything.
Here’s today's song, special to Dallas Mavericks fans …
“The important thing for us is to get playing as well as we can play. ... We are going to have to do a lot of things better to get playing better. ... I don’t like to talk about future matchups. I am more focused on what we can do to get ourselves playing better. But (the Rockets) are a tough team. There is a reason they are No. 2 or No. 3 in the West, so we will see what happens.”
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