Dallas Mavericks: Opening Tip
Now comes the Denver Nuggets' Ty Lawson, who didn't look real rusty in his first game back after missing a few weeks because of a fractured rib, tuning up for Wednesday's game against the Mavs with a 31-point, 11-assist performance Monday against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Mavericks point guard Jose Calderon, left, has had trouble this season keeping up with elite point guards such as Steph Curry.
Jose Calderon, who occasionally resembles a bullfighter on defense, would have his hands full with all of these explosive point guards if he could stay close enough to get a paw on them.
"For sure, it's an individual challenge," Calderon said. "You don't want to get beat there by anybody. You're going to play as hard as you can against great players in this league. I feel pretty comfortable. The team has been helping me a lot. This year, some days are going to be a tougher challenge. You feel better or worse. But at the end of the day, it's about team defense."
The Mavs were well aware of Calderon's defensive limitations when they signed him to a four-year, $29 million deal last summer. They considered his lack of lateral quickness a flaw they could live, considering it came in a package with his savvy offensive decision-making and elite perimeter shooting.
Calderon has been as billed for the Mavs, for better and worse. He ranks third in the league in 3-point percentage (44.9) and fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.94-to-1). He also has the worst defensive rating (107.1) among guards on winning teams.
While Calderon is a plus overall, it will be especially difficult to mask his defensive flaws during this stretch, which started with Parker's 22-point, seven-rebound performance Sunday in the Spurs' win.
DALLAS -- So much for the summer discussion about whether Dirk Nowitzki's days as a legitimate go-to guy were over.
All he has done to silence the doubters is bounce back with what might end up being the best shooting season of his surefire Hall of Fame career.
Steve Nash as the only players in NBA history to have multiple such campaigns in their careers. With 23 games to go, Nowitzki is shooting 49.5 percent from the field, 40.3 percent from 3-point range and a league-leading 91.6 percent from free throw line while averaging 21.6 points.
According to one advanced metric, Nowitzki is shooting more efficiently than ever. His effective field goal percentage, which weighs the value of 3-pointers, is a career-best .547. His total shooting percentage, which also takes into account free throws, is .605. That matches the second-best of his 16-year career, tying his MVP season of 2006-07 and behind only the Mavs' 2010-11 title season.
"The guy's a great player," coach Rick Carlisle said. "It shouldn't be shocking that he's having a great year."
Maybe not, but it must be considered at least a mild surprise for Nowitzki to be this efficient after Father Time drew some blood in their fight the past couple of seasons.
The roots of Nowitzki's bounce-back season can be traced to the summer. As Nowitzki worked relentlessly to get in peak physical condition, doing everything in his power to prevent knee problems from sabotaging a third straight season, the Mavs' front office reconstructed his supporting cast.
Nowitzki got sweet revenge by clinching the 2011 title in Miami, crossing off the final line on his NBA legend to-do list, but that doesn’t erase the deep wounds from the Mavs’ meltdown against the Heat in the 2006 Finals.
And there’s still ample bitterness between Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade, the MVPs of those Finals. Nowitzki will never forget Wade’s months-after-the-fact ripping of the big German’s leadership after their first Finals meeting, words Wade had to swallow in 2011, when the Mavs handed the Heat what remains their lone playoff series loss since LeBron James took his talents to South Beach.
“We said hi and that’s about it,” Nowitzki said of his interactions with Wade. “We’re not going to go to dinner or anything.”
With all that history, it’d be fun to pump up Tuesday night’s visit from the Heat as the continuation of an intense rivalry. It just wouldn’t be realistic.
Since Nowitzki and crew chugged champagne in Miami, the Heat is undefeated against the Mavs. Maybe Miami gets a little extra inspiration by looking up in the American Airlines Center rafters and seeing the Mavs’ championship banner. The Heat won by an average of 17 points during its trips to Dallas the last two seasons.
And the Heat were the ones chugging champagne at the end of those seasons, while the Mavs haven’t won a playoff game.
“The last two years, they’re champs,” Nowitzki said. “One year we were the eight seed going into the playoffs and got swept, the next year we didn’t make the playoffs. It’s kind of hard to have a rivalry if we’re not even a playoff team.
“Back in ’06, obviously they beat us; ’11 was a great payback. But those two years are long gone. They’re the best team the last two years. We’ll see if we can still compete with them.”
The Mavs headed into the All-Star break with some major momentum. They won six of their last seven games, capping off that run with a road win against the Indiana Pacers, who have emerged as the Heat’s primary rival.
For the Mavs, Tuesday night is about picking up where they left off, possibly taking another step toward getting back into the playoffs. That's Nowitzki's narrow focus. No sense in sweating a rivalry that seems so long ago.
But the standard is far from the norm. In the last four games, Samuel Dalembert has approached Chandler’s standard. For most of the season, he’s met the norm for Mavs centers.
From the Dept. of Damning With Faint Praise: A strong argument can be made that Dalembert is actually the best bargain among the Mavs’ starting big men during Dirk Nowitzki’s career. The Mavs obviously got their money’s worth from Chandler’s eight-figure salary, but that makes him the bang-for-buck exception.
Other than DeSagana Diop, who wasn’t overpaid by the Mavs until a few years after his part-time starting stint, Dalembert is by far the cheapest starting center the Mavs have had next to Nowitzki. And Dalembert’s numbers stack up pretty well to his predecessors’.
The list of big men who have played with Nowitzki sticks out like a sore thumb (showing their seasons as the Dirk era Mavs’ primary starting center):
1998-99: 8.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 3.2 bpg, .480 FG ($6.75 million)
1999-00: 8.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.5 bpg, .479 FG ($7.56 million)
2000-01: 7.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.8 bpg, .490 FG ($8.37 million)
Mavs memories: The 7-foot-6 Bradley blocked a bunch of shots, but you’ll find many more examples of him ending up on the wrong end of at-the-rim highlights on YouTube. He’s best remembered for being posterized and a lot of painfully awkward offensive possessions.
2001-02: 12.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 0.5 bpg, .462 FG ($18.75 million)
Mavs memories: He was only a center in the wacky world of Nellie, and even then only for a little more than half of the season before he got shipped to Denver as part of a massive deadline deal. Pairing a young Dirk with Howard proved that Nellie really didn’t care a lick about interior defense.
2002-03: 9.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.3 bpg, .518 FG ($7.27 million)
Mavs memories: It took a little more than a year for Nellie to go from envisioning LaFrentz as the key to competing with the Lakers to realizing he was a bad contract Dallas needed to dump. The Mavs actually got some value when they got rid of him, taking Antoine Walker off the Celtics’ hands and flipping him for Jason Terry a year later.
2004-05: 9.2 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 1.4 bpg, .550 FG ($7.7 million)
2006-07: 7.1 ppg, 7.4 ppg, 1.1 bpg, .626 FG ($9.63 million)
2007-08: 6.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.5 bpg, .643 FG ($10.59 million)
2008-09: 5.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.2 bpg, .650 FG ($11.55 million)
2009-10: 6.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.4 bpg, .624 FG ($12.12 million)
Mavs memories: They let Steve Nash go so they could sign this stiff?! Dampier was a more expensive, much less intense version of Kendrick Perkins. At least his contract included a goodbye gift, as the Mavs parlayed his fully nonguaranteed final year into Chandler.
2005-06: 2.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.4 bpg, .470 FG ($1.85 million)
Mavs memories: Did you forget that Diop started more games than Dampier during the Mavs’ first Finals season? The Mavs’ mistake with Diop occurred a couple of summers later, when they gave him a five-year deal for the full midlevel, somehow suckering Charlotte into trading for him after a couple of months of huffing and puffing.
2010-11: 10.1 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 1.1 bpg, .654 FG ($12.6 million)
Mavs memories: He didn’t stay long, but he’ll always be loved in Dallas. Chandler was the final piece to the Mavs’ championship puzzle.
2011-12: 5.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.0 bpg, .518 FG ($7.62 million)
Mavs memories: Haywood played a key role as a backup during the Mavs’ march through the West playoff bracket in 2011. But he was so underwhelming as Chandler’s replacement that the Mavs used the amnesty clause on him so they could sign Chris Kaman. Dallas is paying Haywood more than Dalembert this season.
2012-13: 10.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 0.8 bpg, .507 FG ($8 million)
Mavs memories: He had the ugliest .500 beard, and his poor defense was a major reason those whiskers grew so long. Kaman and coach Rick Carlisle don’t exchange Christmas cards.
2013-14: 6.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.1 bpg, .590 FG ($3.7 million)
Mavs memories: If he keeps showing up like he has during the Mavs’ winning streak, his oversleeping incidents will be forgotten. He doesn’t seem so bad compared to most of the other big men in recent Mavs history.
With Devin Harris setting the tempo and Brandan Wright jamming, the bench has been rocking for the Mavs recently.
Since Harris’ season debut, the Mavs’ reserves have averaged 43.8 points in nine games. Only the Brooklyn Nets have a higher scoring bench in that span.
Memphis Grizzlies. “That’s how we feel.”
The trio of sixth man/lead singer Vince Carter, Harris and Wright has formed a bench core worthy of such confidence. Dallas has outscored opponents by 27 points in 66 minutes with those three on the floor together, making them the Mavs’ most productive three-man lineup that doesn’t feature Dirk Nowitzki over the last few weeks.
Nowitzki has been so awesome over the last five games that the bench’s contributions to the Mavs’ 4-1 run have been overshadowed. But the bench’s numbers would pop off the page if the focus wasn’t on the phenomenally efficient hot streak by the Mavs’ lone All-Star.
Carter (11.8 points per game), Wright (11.0) and Harris (10.8) are all scoring in double figures with high shooting percentages over the last five games. Harris and Carter are serving as dual distributors for the second unit, averaging a combined 7.8 assists per game while the Mavs have won four of five.
Carter’s per-game plus-minus (plus-13.2) is off-the-charts outstanding during that span. The three next best on the roster: Nowitzki (plus-8.2), Wright (plus-8.2) and Harris (plus-5.8).
It helps that Nowitzki plays several minutes each half with the second unit, and one of the Mavs’ biggest challenges remains figuring out how to hold the fort while their superstar rests. However, with Harris (toe surgery) and Wright (fractured shoulder) recovered from injuries that sidelined them for long stretches to start the season and Jae Crowder and DeJuan Blair filling dirty-work roles, Dallas has more quality depth than the vast majority of teams.
“Now everybody kind of knows what’s expected of us and we have a feel for each other,” Carter said. “When we come in, we all know what to expect and what to do. I think that’s really helped us.”
The 37-year-old Carter is no longer the spectacular solo artist he was during his "Half Man, Half Amazing" younger years, as was confirmed by his struggles early in the season when Wright and Harris were sidelined. But Carter has benefited tremendously from being paired with his pick-and-roll partner Wright.
Carter’s scoring and shooting numbers are significantly better with Wright’s above-the-rim act than without him. But the most notable difference is his assist numbers: 4.6 per 48 minutes without Wright and 8.4 with him.
“It’s a good combination that’s pretty dangerous,” said Wright, whose chemistry with Carter is especially entertaining on the occasions when he slips the pick and dives to the basket to exploit a cheating defense. “He can come off and shoot and you’ve got to respect that. If you help too much, I’m pretty much wide open at the rim and can make plays.”
Harris gives the Mavs another pick-and-roll creator for the second unit and is a one-man pace-changing machine, which also plays to the strengths of Wright, a big man who can run. Wright has scored 58 points in 96 minutes with Harris in the game.
The Carter-Harris-Wright trio plays a fast-paced, high-flying, fun brand of basketball. They get fans on their feet, like every good band.
This is not a run-of-the-mill game midway through the regular season. The Dallas Mavericks’ visit to Memphis on Wednesday is a game that could loom large in the middle of April, when the Western Conference’s final two or three playoff bids will probably be determined.
“It’s a big game,” Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki said. “You don’t really want to say in February it’s a playoff game, but it definitely will be that kind of intensity.”
All it takes is a quick glance at the West standings to figure out what this game might mean a few months from now. At the moment, the Mavs are a game ahead of the Grizzlies in eighth place and even in the loss column. They've both within striking distance of Golden State and Phoenix.
“They’re a motivated team,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “We’re another motivated team. We’ll lace ‘em up and get ready to go.”
An argument can be made that this game means more for Memphis than it does Dallas. That’s because the Mavs won a couple of home games against the Grizzlies earlier this season, so Dallas can claim the tiebreaker by winning one of its two trips to Memphis.
Just don’t try telling that to the Mavs, who are determined to get back in the playoffs after their 12-year postseason streak was snapped last season.
“All the games are big,” Shawn Marion said.
This is one the Mavs have been anticipating for some time. Nowitzki’s prediction of the Grizzles getting hot once Marc Gasol returned from knee surgery has come true. Memphis has won nine of 11 games with their big man back in the lineup, getting within breath-on-neck distance from the Mavs.
“He’s a huge key to their success,” Nowitzki said of Gasol, who missed one of the Mavs’ wins over the Grizzlies. “They’ve been playing great since he’s been back. They’re a different animal again. They’ve been holding teams to 80s, 90s and that’s how they win games.
“It’s going to be a slugfest. We know that. We’ve got to rebound well. That’s always a big key against them, and it’s going to be a slow-pace, grind-it-out kind of game and we’ll see if we’re ready for it.”
Memphis will be missing point guard Mike Conley, whom Marion calls “the head of the snake” and is sidelined with a sprained ankle. That makes it even more in the Grizzlies’ interest to make this game as gritty and physical as possible.
This is a midseason game with major potential playoff implications. The next Mavs-Grizzlies meeting just might be a win-and-get-in game. It’s scheduled for April 16, the final night of the regular season.
Then again, depending on how the standings shake out, that game might not mean anything. But there’s no doubt about how this one will feel.
“It’s going to be a playoff-type atmosphere,” Nowitzki said. “For sure.”
After all, it started the night before Nowitzki’s longtime mentor arrived in Dallas from Germany, with the Mavericks star scoring 28 points on 10-of-16 shooting against the Detroit Pistons to begin the four-game homestand that ends Monday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers. But Geschwinder’s presence and the supervised extra shooting practice has certainly helped the big German stay hot.
The Holger workouts now are essentially fine-tuning sessions for the sweetest jump-shooting 7-footer in NBA history.
“More just technique stuff. Sometimes just not even moving much,” Nowitzki said. “Stand there and shoot some 3s, shoot some pull-ups, shoot some turnarounds.
“When he’s not here so long, sometimes little mistakes creep in that I just don’t really or can’t really correct myself. Small little hints. It might be, ‘Just get the ball up a little higher. Watch your fingers.’ Small little stuff creeps in, so that’s why he’s always good when he comes over.”
Since Geschwindner landed in Dallas on Tuesday, Nowitzki has put together his first two back-to-back 30-plus-point performances since April 2012. He lit it up for 38 points in Wednesday night’s loss to the Houston Rockets and followed that up with 34 points in Friday’s win over the Sacramento Kings.
The Holger visits always happen twice during the regular season and again in the playoffs. The routine they’ve kept throughout Nowitzki’s 16-year career has been Geschwindner staying for a couple of weeks early in the season and coming back for a couple of weeks around the All-Star break.
After seeing Nowitzki struggle on the Mavs’ last road trip, when he averaged only 17.5 points on 39.4 percent shooting in two games and sat out another one to get some rest, Geschwindner decided to move up his midseason trip a bit.
“He surprised me,” said Nowitzki, who is averaging 33.3 points on 60.7 percent shooting during this homestand. “He kind of showed up out of nowhere.”
There is a comfort level that comes with the workouts under the supervision of a mentor Nowitzki has known most of his life. There’s also a psychological effect, although not nearly as big as it used to be.
“Way better when I was younger,” Nowitzki said. “Sometimes he made me feel a lot more confident. Now, I think in games I can do better adjustments now than I could 10-12 years ago. If I have a bad shooting first half, I think I can adjust a little better with experience now than I did 10 years ago, but it’s still good to always have him, get some shots up and get in that old routine I’ve been doing my whole career.”
It’s hard to argue with the results.
The presence of Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas’ lone All-Star, has a major positive impact on the plus-minus of every single player in the Mavs’ rotation. The numbers indicate that Ellis, who is averaging 19.4 points and 5.9 assists while shooting a respectable 46.0 percent from the floor, has the opposite effect despite his impressive individual numbers.
Just the stats, using net ratings (points per 100 possessions):
With Ellis: plus-1.8
Without Ellis: plus-9.9
With Ellis: minus-1.1
Without Ellis: minus-0.8
With Ellis: minus-0.7
Without Ellis: plus-13.1
With Ellis: minus-0.5
Without Ellis: plus-12.4
With Ellis: minus-4.3
Without Ellis: plus-3.2
With Ellis: plus-0.4
Without Ellis: plus-5.0
With Ellis: minus-1.9
Without Ellis: plus-12.2
With Ellis: plus-8.4
Without Ellis: plus-10.2
With Ellis: minus-0.9
Without Ellis: plus-10.8
With Ellis: minus-16.7
Without Ellis: plus-13.1
What do the Mavs make of those numbers? Essentially, they see them as confirming the obvious about Nowitzki’s value to the Mavs, rather than revealing anything negative about Ellis.
“We’re really asking [Ellis] to play in some of the most difficult circumstances,” coach Rick Carlisle said.
In other words, almost all of Ellis’ minutes come against the opponent’s starters or when Nowitzki is not on the court.
The Mavs’ rotation is designed to limit the wear and tear on the 35-year-old Nowitzki as much as possible despite him being Dallas’ focal point. Nowitzki routinely rests midway through the first and third quarters, coming out of the game much earlier than most stars. He checks back in three or four minutes later, when Ellis usually gets a breather.
Carlisle never wants Ellis and Nowitzki both on the bench for meaningful minutes. That means the vast majority of Ellis’ time being paired with Nowitzki, whether it’s starting halves or closing games, is against the opponents’ best players. Ellis -- and Marion, whose two-man lineup numbers have a similar trend -- rarely are on the floor with Nowitzki against reserves.
That, the Mavs believe, explains why Nowitzki’s net rating is so much better without Ellis. The Mavs feast when their 12-time All-Star is on the floor against second units.
Sixth man Carter has such a poor net rating when paired with Ellis in large part because most of their time together comes during the toughest minutes for the Mavs. Those are the stints of three or four minutes in every first and third quarter when Nowitzki sits while the opponents’ stars are still on the floor.
“The challenge is non-Dirk lineups. Not Monta lineups,” Mavs owner/analytics pioneer Mark Cuban said via email.
The Mavs other massive challenge, of course, is finding a way to stop opponents from lighting up the scoreboard. And it should be noted that it tends to be especially difficult with Ellis on the court.
For instance, the Mavs allow 107.4 points per 100 possessions when Nowitzki and Ellis play together. Only the Utah Jazz (107.5) have a worse overall defensive rating this season. But that figure drops to 98.1 when Nowitzki plays without Ellis, a defensive rating that would rank third in the league.
The only players whose defensive ratings are worse without Ellis than with him are Calderon and Marion, and those are small sample sizes of fewer than 100 minutes.
It stands to reason that Ellis’ defensive woes are a factor in this two-man lineup phenomenon. Just not nearly as much of a factor as the Dirk dynamic, which is why the Dallas decision-makers defend Ellis.
They know the 30-year-old guard will need some time to play his way into shape and sharpen up his game after missing the first half of the season while rehabilitating from summer toe surgery. However, the Mavs have relatively high hopes for the impact Harris can make as the primary backup at both guard spots.
Is it asking too much for Harris to make the kind of contributions that he did in 2005-06?
You might remember Harris starting the majority of the Mavs’ playoff games while they made their first Finals appearance, but he came off the bench during the regular season, averaging 9.9 points and 3.2 assists in 22.8 minutes per game. Harris might not have the same quickness and explosiveness he did as a 22-year-old in his second NBA season, but that kind of production shouldn’t be considered unrealistic.
His role will be awfully similar. Harris, who has primarily been a starter since that season, is once again a change-of-pace point guard who will also see significant time at shooting guard. He’s immediately the Mavs’ best defensive guard, faint as that praise might be, and considers it his duty to push the pace, particularly when he’s paired with fellow speedsters Monta Ellis and Shane Larkin.
“I’m definitely going to try to speed the game up,” Harris said before his season debut Saturday night. “I think we’re one of the last teams in fast-break points. My goal is to try to impact that along with defensively being sound.”
The hope is that Harris’ presence allows Rick Carlisle to reduce Ellis’ heavy workload. Jose Calderon's minutes could also be cut, especially against elite offensive point guards.
Harris had a decent debut despite the Mavs’ lopsided loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, scoring six points and dishing out two assists while playing 17:24. It’ll probably take a couple of weeks for Carlisle to figure out exactly how Harris fits in the rotation, but he checked in for Calderon at the 3:22 mark of the first quarter and slid to shooting guard a couple of minutes later when Larkin came in for Ellis.
“He’s worked hard and he did well considering this is the first game, it’s been months and this is a major surgery,” Carlisle said. “It speaks to how hard he’s worked. This game gave us an opportunity to get him what would be considered at this extended minutes. His workouts have been intense, he’s done well with them and he hasn’t had any setbacks.
“He’s a guy that can help us for sure.”
It would be bad enough to blow big leads against a team led by Chris Paul. But the fact the Los Angeles Clippers' comebacks from 17-point deficits occurred with Darren Collison on the court makes them even more bitter pills to swallow.
It's almost enough to make you wonder how much the Mavs really upgraded at point guard by signing Jose Calderon to a four-year, $29 million deal this summer. Actually, it was more than enough for a couple of particularly annoying Collison apologists to troll me about it on Twitter, prompting me to agree to crunch some numbers for an unbiased comparison.
Truth be told, it's tough to make a statistical case that Calderon is much better than Collison was during his one-season stint in Dallas. It's especially difficult to do with traditional stats.
Collison averaged 12.0 points, 5.1 assists, 2.1 turnovers and 1.2 steals while shooting 47.1 percent from the field for the Mavs. Calderon's numbers this season: 12.1 points, 4.8 assists, 1.2 turnovers and 1.2 steals, shooting 46.7 shooting percentage. The biggest differences are the reduced turnovers and improved 3-point shooting (Calderon .467, Collison .353).
Wise decision, as it turned out.
But the Mavs are among the eight teams who expressed exploratory interest in Bynum after he cleared waivers, ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports. Why would the Mavs have any interest in Bynum now after passing on him this summer?
At this point, there would be no negotiating. The Mavs have no cap space and have used all their exceptions, so all they can offer is the minimum. If Bynum gets a better offer, good for him.
“That’s not a banking issue,” Mark Cuban said. “It’s not to say we wouldn’t consider him. But we’ll look at everybody and make a determination. Any free agent, we can only offer them the minimum. Any free agent.”
Cuban claimed he hadn’t studied film of Bynum from his brief Cleveland tenure. It’s not exactly impressive viewing, as Bynum averaged 8.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocks while shooting only 41.9 percent in 20 minutes per game.
But this isn’t a matter of whether the 7-foot, 300-ish-pound Bynum can get back in All-Star form. The question is whether he would be an upgrade to the Mavs’ roster.
In other words, would you rather take a flyer on 26-year-old Bynum with his bad knees and baggage or keep 28-year-old fourth-string center Bernard James as the 15th man on the roster?
There’s at least the possibility that Bynum could fill the Mavs’ void at starting center at some point. And, if you’re discussing Dallas’ needs, that’s a pretty good place to start given Samuel Dalembert’s unsurprising inconsistency.
“Depends on which Sam we have,” Cuban said. “If we have the Sam of [Friday] night, we’re good. If we have the Sam that isn’t as on key as he was [Friday] night, it’s different. Again, we’re always being opportunistic. Wherever we can improve our team, we will.”
Of course, a strong argument can be made that the risk of bringing Bynum to Dallas outweighs the reward. He’s been a high-drama, no-impact player at his last two stops and was often a pain during his productive days with the Los Angeles Lakers.
But this would be a relationship of convenience, not a marriage. If it doesn’t work out, oh well. At least it wouldn’t be as messy as the Mavs’ recent breakups with ex-Lakers.
It certainly wouldn’t help fill the huge hole in the Mavs’ rotation caused by Marion's absence due to a badly bruised right shoulder and ribs. The Mavs know for certain that Marion won’t be joining them in New Orleans for Friday’s game, so they better figure out how they can do a reasonable job of replacing him.
With Marion, the Mavs are below average defensively and bad rebounding. Without him ... well, the initial results were really ugly.
“If he’s not here, we’ve got to have other guys step up,” said coach Rick Carlisle, who isn’t certain when Marion might be ready to play again. “At this point, we’re getting into mid-January. There’s going to be many games missed all around the league. We’ve got to have other guys ready to step forward.”
That definitely did not happen in Wednesday’s lopsided loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
Wayne Ellington was a nonfactor in his first start for the Mavs. He scored five points in 11 minutes, but his buckets came in garbage time. He had no rebounds, assists, blocks or steals.
In fairness to Ellington, he hadn’t practice much at small forward. And his offensive game, which essentially consists of shooting open jumpers and moving the ball, could use some WD-40 after riding pine for most of the season.
“It’s tough,” Ellington said. “It’s very tough, especially for a guy that shoots the basketball. It’s tough to get in a rhythm. You’re not really getting much game action or playing much, but that’s something I’ve got to get better at myself.”
Jae Crowder, who played 27 minutes, wasn’t much more impactful. He had five points and only one rebound in 27 minutes, almost 10 more than his norm.
It’d be silly to blame Marion’s absence for the blowout loss, considering the Spurs’ average margin of victory during their seven-game winning streak in the series is 17 points. However, there’s no doubt that Dallas desperately missed a guy who is their leading rebounder, best defender, averages 11.3 points per game and plays significant minutes at both forward positions.
The Spurs exploited the weaknesses created by Marion’s absence. Tony Parker, the All-Star point guard the Mavs typically ask Marion to defend, torched Dallas for 25 points despite playing only three quarters. Dallas got absolutely dominated on the glass, being outrebounded by a 55-32 margin.
It won’t necessarily get a whole lot easier during this weekend’s home-and-home back-to-back against the New Orleans Pelicans. Remember that the Pelicans had a ridiculous 58-38 rebounding edge in the Mavs’ previous trip to the Big Easy this season, and that was with Marion in the lineup and New Orleans star power forward Anthony Davis out. Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday lit it up for 26 points and nine assists in that game, which the Mavs somehow still won. (UPDATE: The Pelicans announced Friday morning that Holiday is out indefinitely with a stress fracture.)
Marion’s absence makes the Mavs’ biggest weaknesses worse. The Mavs have to figure out how to mask those flaws and win anyway.
The Mavs are 6-2 in games played by Wright, who missed the first six weeks of the season while recovering from a nondisplaced fracture in his left shoulder. That team success is clearly not coincidental.
Wright is averaging 11.4 points on 75 percent shooting, 3.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 19.7 minutes per game, numbers that are comparable to his production once he returned to the rotation on a regular basis late last season, when the springy center/forward played a key role in the Mavs closing a .500 season with a 15-8 run.
But it takes a little digging into the basketball dork numbers to get a real feel for Wright’s impact.
Wright is averaging a plus-minus of plus-5.5 and has only been a minus once this season (the blowout loss to the Phoenix Suns). His net rating (offensive points per 100 possessions minus defensive points per 100 possessions) is a team-best plus-13.8.
Wright is part of the Mavs’ most efficient five-man lineup (minimum 20 minutes). The fivesome of Vince Carter, Jae Crowder, Shane Larkin, Dirk Nowitzki and Wright has a net rating plus-41.9 in 21 minutes, outscoring opponents by a total of 21 points.
“We’re going to keep working on our end-of-game stuff,” coach Rick Carlisle said, “but our best players are going to be touching it a lot.”
That means Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, a duo that combined to score the Mavs’ final 19 points in a win over the Charlotte Bobcats, final 14 points in a win over the Portland Trail Blazers and final 11 points in a loss to the Golden State Warriors.
Would the Mavs like to be more balanced late in tight games? Not really. They’re just fine with a steady diet of Dirk/Monta until the opponent forces them to do something else.
“If we weren’t, you’d be like, ‘Well, shouldn’t we go to it more? That pick-and-roll is unstoppable,’” owner Mark Cuban said. “So that’s what we do. We go to it until it’s stopped.”
The Mavs are confident they can make it hard on opponents to pick other poisons by putting a couple of perimeter threats on the floor with their two best players. For example, the New Orleans Pelicans forced the ball out of the Mavs stars’ hands, and Jose Calderon made them pay by drilling a couple of clutch 3-pointers.
“We’ll be ready if they start helping on them,” Calderon said. “But if they don’t help and they can score, I’m good for that. So hopefully they can keep on scoring, but I think having Vince [Carter] on one side and me on one side, [opponents] have to make decisions. We have to be ready to make that shot if the pass is coming, but they’re making shots.
“They’re doing really good lately, so let’s keep it that way.”
It was tough enough for Dalembert, who was so excited to sign with a team he felt needed him this summer, to be stripped of his starting job. Bad got worse for the big man Saturday night, when he got a DNP-CD against the Milwaukee Bucks, the team he couldn’t wait to leave after last season.
Dalembert isn’t sulking and pouting about his individual situation. He’s trying to find solutions, which means putting in extra work. He was the last player to leave the Mavericks’ locker room after the win over the Bucks because he got in a postgame workout, and he returned to the American Airlines Center on the team’s off day Sunday.
This isn’t a case of another demoted starter taking a passive-aggressive approach, as Chris Kaman did last season, only to later moan about coach Rick Carlisle’s “mind games.” The problem is the results look awfully familiar at this point.
“I think Sam’s the exact opposite,” owner Mark Cuban said. “Sam is trying to figure out how to contribute. I think he’s disappointed with himself. I don’t think he thinks he’s playing well and he wants to get better. Chris was completely different. ... Sam will get better.”
If Dalembert doesn’t get better, he won’t get many minutes. That’s clear after the high-impact return of Brandan Wright, who had 19 points on 9-of-10 shooting and six rebounds in 19 minutes during his season debut, coming off the bench behind DeJuan Blair.
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