Dallas Mavericks: Manu Ginobili
A big man in his mid-to-late 30s will continue his pursuit towards another NBA championship. And no, it's not Dirk Nowitzki. Tim Duncan is showing that an older big man can still dominate the game as the 37-year-old has averaged 17.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 34.4 minutes during the Western Conference playoffs. Those numbers are hovering right around Duncan’s season average, which is why he earned first team All-NBA honors.
Both Duncan and Nowitzki are gym rats who have taken care of their bodies through proper nutrition, have slimmed down to sustain the grind of a season and are truly motivated to win. Whether it is Duncan's attack via fundamentals or Nowitzki's jazz-like approach, both have games that get the job done.
It appears Nowitzki is willing to follow Duncan's lead when it comes to his bank account. In what could be his final contract, Duncan re-signed with the Spurs in the summer of 2012 for a three-year deal worth $30 million. The final year of his previous contract had him earning $21 million. Expecting to be the second-highest paid player in the league for the 2013-14 season, Nowitzki has already said he’s willing to take a “significant pay cut” next summer.
"At this point of my career, it's all about competing and winning," Nowitzki said in mid May. "It's not about money. Obviously, [Mark] Cuban took care of me for a long, long time. I always tried to pay him back by playing hard and being here for this franchise, so I don't think we're going to fight over money. I want to compete over these last couple of years. That's going to be the goal."
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It is a given that Dallas needs to load up this summer and start finding more weapons to play alongside Dirk. While it’s still one year away, Nowitzki is showing that he’ll be proactive. The space will allow Dallas to continue their plan to get the team back to contender status.
At 37, Duncan is looking to get another championship ring. Age is just a number. Like Duncan, Nowitzki can use that to his advantage.
Bryan Gutierrez currently covers the Dallas Mavericks for The Two Man Game, an ESPN affiliate blog on the TrueHoop Network. Gutierrez, who has covered the Mavs since 2010, studied journalism and psychology at Texas Tech University.
Vince Carter has earned eight All-Star appearances, the Rookie of the Year award and an Olympic gold medal during a career that has made a strong case for the Hall of Fame.
Carter’s boss would like to nominate him for another honor.
This is the first time in Carter’s 15-year career that he’s been featured in a reserve role, although he came off the bench occasionally last season. Carter has embraced being a sixth man, a role that makes it easier for coach Rick Carlisle to manage the 36-year-old’s minutes but puts Carter in position to make a major impact.
“I told coach from the beginning of the year that I was willing to do whatever and take on any role,” said Carter, who knew the Mavs would need scoring off the bench when former Sixth Man of the Year Jason Terry left for Boston. “Obviously, I’m definitely comfortable in this role. It’s a comfortable role because it’s who I am. I like to make plays and put the ball in the basket and find open guys.”
Carter, who has moved past Hal Greer, Larry Bird and Gary Payton this season to climb to 28th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, can still fill it up. He’s averaging 13.1 points in 25.3 minutes per game. The Mavs are 7-2 when Carter scores at least 20 points, including his 22-point outing in Sunday’s win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Carter is also arguably the most complete player among the Sixth Man of the Year candidates. He’s a smart, unselfish facilitator (2.1 assists per game), solid rebounder (4.0 per game) and an extremely underrated defender. (The Mavs allow 7.5 fewer points per 100 possessions with Carter on the floor than when he sits, according to 82games.com.)
The Mavs’ 29-33 record isn’t a reflection of Carter’s performance. In fact, his plus-minus of plus-151 ranks as the best on the team by 100 points.
Alas, there are too many quality sixth men from contenders for Carter to get serious consideration for the award. The Clippers’ Jamal Crawford, who leads bench players with 17.2 points per game, is considered the favorite in a field that also features the Knicks’ J.R. Smith, Thunder’s Kevin Martin, Warriors’ Jarrett Jack, Jazz’s Gordon Hayward and Spurs’ Manu Ginobili. Add the Hornets’ Ryan Anderson if you want to include a sixth man putting up stellar numbers on a losing squad.
Carter will be an afterthought in the Sixth Man of the Year voting. However, his professionalism and production are greatly appreciated by the Mavs, beginning with the man who signs the checks.
The reality, however, is that Dallas’ 12-year postseason streak is on its deathbed.
Really, there shouldn’t be any shame to that. It was a remarkable run that featured 11 50-win seasons, two Finals appearances and one title. All great things must come to an end.
Granted, the San Antonio Spurs might be an exception to that. They’re about to win 50 games for the 14th consecutive season. The last time the Spurs failed to win at least 50, they celebrated the first of their four NBA titles, parading down the RiverWalk after Tim Duncan’s lockout-shortened sophomore season.
It’s been a hard fall for the Mavs over the past 21 months. They’ve gone from the NBA penthouse, popping a $90,000 champagne bottle in a Miami Beach club while celebrating the franchise’s first title, to the Lone Star State cellar.
And the Mavs have their work cut out for them if they’re going to catch the Rockets, much less the Spurs, anytime soon.
The Spurs' ability to sustain excellence is unparalleled in today’s NBA. That will be tested when Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili call it a career, but it’d be foolish to doubt a franchise with the league’s best coach (Gregg Popovich) working with a brilliant front office.
The Rockets, who have won only one playoff series since two-time champion Hakeem Olajuwon left town, appear poised to soar again soon.
After three frustrating years of being better than .500 but not good enough to make the playoffs, Houston general manager Daryl Morey made a breakthrough move just before this season started. He acquired the bearded face of the franchise, James Harden, in a blockbuster deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The 23-year-old Harden, who is averaging 26.3 points and 5.7 assists per game, has proved to be a legitimate superstar after getting out of the shadows of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. He’s surrounded by a good, young supporting cast that is locked into reasonable contracts (26-year-old center Omer Asik and 24-year-old point guard Jeremy Lin) or rookie deals (small forward Chandler Parsons, power forward Donatas Motiejunas, power forward Thomas Robinson, etc.).
And the Rockets will have the cap space to be major players in free agency again this summer, when they can potentially acquire a co-star for Harden.
Of course, there are no guarantees for Houston, which will have to fight to stay in the playoff picture with the Los Angeles Lakers making a charge. There have been many young teams that looked great on paper that fizzled out, but Houston has an excellent plan and has already executed several steps.
The Mavs, on the other hand, have a plan that has been publicly questioned by its superstar, the lone player on the roster who is a sure bet to still be a Dallas resident in two years. As Dirk Nowitzki has said several times, this is a big summer for the Mavs.
Much work must be done for the Mavs to approach the high standard they established over the past dozen years.
This isn’t a franchise that will be satisfied to fight for eighth place in the West or settle for third place in the state of Texas.
How it happened: The Mavericks were certainly far more competitive than they were Dec. 23 in San Antonio, where they trailed by as many as 46 before losing by 38. At times, their offense was crisp. They battled the Spurs evenly on the boards. They answered Spurs runs with bursts of their own. They managed to stay in the game much of the time in the first three quarters.
But ultimately, the Spurs have simply played together for too long and have too many good players who are experienced at playing with each other and they coasted to a 111-86 victory.
In his fourth game back after missing the first 27 games, Dirk Nowitzki had eight points while shooting 3-of-9 from the field. He as made 11-of-34 shots (32 percent) since his return, while averaging 7.5 points a game.
Realistically, however, Nowitzki is still in training camp mode and Dallas coach Rick Carlisle warned before the game that judging Nowitzki on a daily basis is a futile exercise. Nowitzki needs at least two more weeks and probably even more than that before he can be close to what he’s been during his career.
The Spurs were led by the big three. Tony Parker had 21 points, Manu Ginobili had 20 and Tim Duncan had 18. Dallas was led by Darren Collison, who was 9-of-13 from the field with 18 points.
What it means: The Mavericks have lost six consecutive games for only the third time in the Mark Cuban era. They leave Monday afternoon for a two-game road trip to Washington and Miami.
Play of the game: The Mavericks trailed 20-6 less than six minutes into the game, but with Elton Brand scoring 10 points and leading the offense, the Mavericks steadily came back. With a little more than three minutes left in the first half, they were within three points, but the Spurs responded with a 13-4 run to close out the half. The final two of those points came on a Ginobili 19-foot jumper with .9 seconds left and punctured any momentum the Mavericks might have had starting the second half.
Stat of the night: Brand had 14 points while making 7-of-11 shots from the field. It was the sixth time in the last nine games Brand had made 50 percent or more of his shots from the field. In his first 15 games, he accomplished that only three times.
In fact, it's almost impossible to attack the rack with less frequency than the Mavs did last season. As a team, they ranked 29th in the league in shots attempted at the rim -- only 21.3 percent of their shot attempts came from point-blank range -- and 28th in shots made at the rim, according to the advanced stats website hoopdata.com.
For a bit of reference, Tyreke Evans led all point guards last season with 7.0 attempts at the rim per game. Tony Parker ranked eighth with 4.6 and Deron Williams ranked 12th with 3.9. Among shooting guards, Dwyane Wade ranked first with 6.7, Manu Ginobili ranked 15th with 2.6 and Terry ranked 39th with 1.7.
The Mavs' newcomers aren't exactly Russell Westbrook (6.1) and Monta Ellis (4.8), but they will deliver a rim show seldom seen in Dallas since Devin Harris, known -- and not always affectionately -- as the one-man fast break, left town in 2008.
Collison, who turned 25 a week ago, last season averaged 2.6 of his 8.7 shot attempts at the rim, ranking 27th in the league. That low number for such a quick point guard is partly a byproduct of an Indiana Pacers offense that revolved around center Roy Hibbert. In each of Collison's two seasons with the Pacers, his attempts at the rim dipped from his 3.5 attempts as a rookie with the New Orleans Hornets in 2009-10. The Mavs believe their offense will enable Collison to increase his attack frequency.
Mayo, 24, ranked 18th last season at 2.4 attempts at the rim (11.2 overall shot attempts) while playing 26.8 minutes a game as Memphis' sixth man. His minutes will likely increase, and perhaps greatly, as a starter in Dallas. He, too, played in an offense geared around big men (Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph). The Mavs' are hopeful their scheme, plus playing with Dirk Nowitzki, will give Mayo significant chances to take his man off the dribble and get to the rim.
With Delonte West and Vince Carter coming off the bench and each having averaged 2.3 shot attempts at the rim last season, the Mavs now boast a backcourt that will at least force defenders to be wary of penetration and not just the jumper.
No. 4 San Antonio Spurs
Perhaps no team was lavished upon more last season than the Spurs for their ability to retool on the fly, adjust their on-court philosophy and still manage to remain a top contender. For the second consecutive season, the Spurs owned the West's best regular-season record and extended their string of 50-win seasons to 13 in a row despite the 66-game schedule. They swept the Jazz and Clippers and had a 2-0 lead in the West finals, appearing to be on their way for a shot at a fifth title in the Tim Duncan-Gregg Popovich era. But then the Oklahoma City Thunder rose up to win four in a row. Back to a normal 82-game season, Popovich will no doubt pace his team as he has as the Big Three of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili get older. The Spurs should again hit the 50-win mark, but last season's dominance seems unrealistic. Still, each new season seems to be the last of this group's window of opportunity, only until it's not. Here we go again.
@Spurs 93, Mavs 71
@Mavs 101, Spurs 100 (OT)
@Mavs 106, Spurs 99
@Spurs 104, Mavs 87
This season's games
Dec. 23: @ Spurs
Dec. 30: vs. Spurs
Jan. 25: vs. Spurs
March 14: @ Spurs
Much more with the Mavs than the Spurs, who bring back the Big Three for an 11th consecutive season after Tim Duncan re-upped for three more years. The supporting cast remains the same after the midseason maneuverings that brought back former Spur Stephen Jackson and added Parker's French buddy Boris Diaw. Another Frenchman, 25-year-old Nando Colo, a 6-foot-5 guard who played on the French Olympic team in London, joins the Spurs this season. He's another one of those late international picks San Antonio specializes in, taken 53rd overall in 2009. With the Big Three another year older, including Ginobili having turned 35 in July, the Spurs will rely on the continued improvement of guards Gary Neal and Danny Green and forwards Tiago Splitter and Kawhi Leonard, last season's rookie sensation in South Texas.
How the Mavs match up
The first thing that comes to mind is that Duncan will have to expend energy on defense like never before against the Mavs. San Antonio typically has gotten away with Duncan defending the Mavs' center, who, from Erick Dampier to DeSagana Diop to Brendan Haywood to Tyson Chandler and back to Haywood, has not been an offensive threat. So someone other than Duncan has mostly had the privilege of guarding Dirk Nowitzki. This season if, say, Diaw, draws Dirk, Duncan won't have the luxury of only casually defending the Mavs' center. He will now face Chris Kaman, a legitimate back-to-the-basket threat and the most offensively skilled of the Mavs' long list of 7-foot centers. From a Mavs defensive standpoint, new point guard Darren Collison brings needed speed to combat Parker's penetrations and shooting guard O.J. Mayo and Dahntay Jones will be better equipped to help defend Ginobili than the options -- mainly Shawn Marion -- the Mavs had last season.
No. 5: Denver Nuggets
When U.S. star of stars and Lakers icon Kobe Bryant squeezed Spain foe and L.A. teammate Pau Gasol for an extended embrace after Sunday's gold medal match, surely Bryant whispered in Gasol's ear to savor his stunning survival in Tinseltown and to sharpen his mind the rest of the summer for another championship run -- the one that will even Bryant with Michael Jordan at six.
The Lakers are set to roll out a starting five of Nash, Kobe, Metta World Peace, Gasol and Howard. A cynic might suggest that the first four average nearly 34 years of age and will never hold up. OK, but they collectively bring 27 All-Star Game appearances and three league MVPs. And that fifth guy on the list, Howard, is only 26 and is a six-time All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
With that, here's my early rankings for what should be a remarkably competitive West:
1. Los Angeles Lakers: The big question is if second-year Lakers coach Mike Brown is capable of handling this collection of talent and ego (somewhere in Montana Phil Jackson is contemplating a return). It's not only the two blockbuster moves that should create a more dynamic offense and a more intimidating defense that makes L.A. the favorite in the West, but also quieter moves that bolster the Lakers' previously questionable depth. Antawn Jamison, the 6-foot-9 veteran forward, will be elated to come off the bench and add scoring punch for this bunch (he averaged 17.2 points for Cleveland last season). Soon after Howard signed, the Lakers shrewdly signed free-agent shooting guard Jodie Meeks to shoot 3-balls (37.1 percent last season for Philadelphia) that will come in endless supply with this lineup. Backup point guard Steve Blake is back and so is young, 6-10 forward Jordan Hill, who sparked L.A. with energy and rebounding and even a bit of scoring after coming over at last season's deadline.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder: Hey, we still love these guys. Kevin Durant might win 10 more scoring titles in a row, Russell Westbrook will continue to mature and James Harden and Serge Ibaka only seem to be scratching their potential. So why is it seemingly so easy to rank the West champs behind the Lakers? Because L.A. has double the number of scoring threats and that new defensive stopper in the middle. The Thunder will again rely on the same three scorers: Durant, Westbrook and Harden accounted for nearly 70 percent of the team's scoring last season. Ibaka, at 9.8 points a game, was the closest to averaging in double figures behind the Big Three and then there was significant dropoff to the next high-scorer, L.A. castoff Derek Fisher. Upon his arrival at the deadline, Fisher became the team's fifth-leading scorer and best 3-point option. He won't be back and the Thunder still lack scoring punch off the bench, although the return of Eric Maynor will help. Inside, even with Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder will be as hard-pressed as everyone else to contain Gasol and Howard.
4. San Antonio Spurs: The dream season of a year ago spiraled after taking a 2-0 lead on the Thunder in the West finals. It only gets tougher for Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, who played at an MVP level last season, to get back to the Finals, a place they haven't been since 2007. Still, considering how Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford re-tooled the franchise on the fly, both in roster and style, the Spurs, who won 50 games last season, will again be a contender. In-season deals that sent out Richard Jefferson and brought in Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw were shrewd. Youngsters Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter will continue to improve.
5. Denver Nuggets: George Karl should have a lot of fun coaching this team, assuming he can keep center JaVale McGee relatively focused on most nights and always running in the direction of the right hoop. The 7-foot youngster has produced his share of laugh-out-loud bloopers, but he also showed in the playoffs against the Lakers that with time and patience he just might become a force to be reckoned with in this league. The up-tempo Nuggets helped to facilitate the Dwight Howard-to-L.A. trade by taking on Philadelphia 76ers All-Star and Olympian Andre Iguodala, 28, and sending off Al Harrington and Arron Afflalo. Adding Iguodala to a group that includes Ty Lawson, Andre Miller, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried and Corey Brewer should make for some fun times. Denver also brings back improving 7-1 center Timofey Mozgov and signed young power forward Anthony Randolph.
6. Dallas Mavericks: One of the most consistent and predictable outfits in all of basketball over the last dozen years is suddenly the mystery team of the league. If you lived under a rock from June 13, 2011, until now you won't recognize the Mavs outside of recently married Dirk Nowitzki and perennial bachelor Shawn Marion. It's going to take time for this team to come together, but there is intriguing potential here with Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo in the backcourt and Chris Kaman and Elton Brand joining Nowitzki, now 34 and coming off his first brush with Father Time, in the front court. Dallas failed to land Deron Williams, but recovered with a mix of speed and youth in the backcourt and a front court that is obviously not the most mobile, but is as savvy and crafty at scoring the ball as any the Mavs have fielded during their 12-year playoff run. Depth is questionable. There certainly isn't a scorer like Jason Terry to provide instant offense off the bench, but Delonte West, Vince Carter, Dahntay Jones, Brand and a rookies Jae Crowder and Bernard James are capable of being a solid backup group.
8. Memphis Grizzlies: A team that struggled to shoot the 3-ball last season lost its most prolific bomber in Mayo and replaced him with Jerryd Bayless and Wayne Ellington. The Grizz will continue to be a tough matchup because of their size and skill up front with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, and they still possess a strong starting five with Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Rudy Gay. But Memphis finished 20th in the league in scoring last season and it doesn't appear it will be any easier for them to put up points. Never mind the mental recuperation after last season's choke job in Game 1 of their playoff series with the Clippers and then being unable to bury a banged-up Paul and Griffin in Game 7 at home.
Utah Jazz: This could easily round into a playoff team with an upgraded backcourt of Mo Williams and Randy Foye. Gordon Hayward has breakout potential and a front line that includes Derrick Favors, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Enes Kanter will be rough and tough inside.
Portland Trail Blazers: Former Mavs assistant Terry Stotts takes over a roster that includes All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, J.J. Hickson and a two top-11 draft picks in point guard Damian Lillard and center Meyers Leonard.
Golden State Warriors: There's some nice pieces here with Stephen Curry, Andrew Bogut, Klay Thompson, David Lee, Jarrett Jack and rookies Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green. But are there enough pieces to crash into the top eight for the first time since 2007?
Phoenix Suns: Had Mayo opted to come aboard, the re-tooling in the wake of face-of-the-franchise Steve Nash leaving would have looked a lot better. As it is, the Suns reclaimed PG Goran Dragic to replace Nash and added Luis Scola to Marcin Gortat up front.
New Orleans Hornets: From bust after Chris Paul left to boom after winning the lottery and selecting Anthony Davis with the No. 1 pick and Austin Rivers at No. 10. New Orleans also re-signed big-time scorer Eric Gordon and sharpshooter Ryan Anderson as a new era officially begins.
Sacramento Kings: The team might be staying in Sacramento for the time being, but there's not a tremendous amount to get excited about as far as ending a six-year playoff drought. Jimmer Fredette needs a big year to complement DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans and Isaiah Thomas.
Houston Rockets: Jeremy Lin has his work cut out. GM Daryl Morey's maneuverings to land Howard failed and he's left with a hodgepodge roster that includes some nice-looking rookies and former Bulls backup center and defensive force Omer Asik.
|Mavs F Dirk Nowitzki says he's too old to stay with a rebuilding franchise but couldn't imagine himself leaving the city of Dallas. |
"I think San Antonio's going to do it, just because they've got one more home game," he said during Tuesday's appearance on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM's "Galloway & Company." "They really came on strong late in the season and they snatched home-court advantage away from OKC. So, I got to think just by that there is a little slight advantage. But honestly, both teams are good enough to win on the opponent's floor, so I would give a slight advantage to San Antonio, but, man, OKC is looking really good."
He should know. The Thunder rode the Mavs out of the first round in four games, handing Nowitzki the wrong side of the broom for the first time in his career.
Nowitzki's had his classic battles with the Spurs, including the amazing Game 7 in the 2006 semifinals that propelled Dallas to its first NBA Finals. It was a Spurs team that still included the Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, yet, as Nowitzki pointed out, it is an entirely different style of ball those boys are playing these days, and the reigning NBA Finals MVP says all credit goes to this season's Coach of the Year, Gregg Popovich.
"To me, he's the best coach in the league, he's a genius on both ends of the floor," Nowitzki said. "The adjustment that he goes through -- at the beginning they win all their championships with defense, and he saw where the game's going; the game is going to free-flowing and more movement, you need basically four shooters on the floor at all times, and he's the man, he made it all happen.
"With [general manager] R.C. Buford helping him, finding people left and right. I mean, they draft people in the second round that nobody gives them a shot and they turn them into players. They have an amazing franchise and they really do a great job finding people that play well in their system and Pop makes them believe in their system. They're really fun to watch, they're rolling."
Dirk said he's ready to get this series going now, but unfortunately we'll have to wait until the end of the weekend. So, he's got the Spurs getting back to the NBA Finals for the first time in five seasons, but he's looking for the thing to go the distance, strictly from an entertainment standpoint.
"It's going to be spectacular. Hopefully, it's going to be a long series and we can all watch some great basketball," Nowitzki said. "The whole thing is full of great matchups. Just off the bench with Ginobili and [James] Harden going at it, the two point guards, obviously [Russell] Westbrook was phenomenal against us all series, but Parker is having a phenomenal year, probably in the prime of his career and Duncan is still looking really good this year. And now they got another week off to rest everybody.
"So, it's going to be an incredible series to watch."
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The Spurs, winners of 18 in a row and headed back to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2008 after sweeping the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers, have put on a clinic this postseason in championship passing. No team is throwing the rock around with such exacting precision and spectacularly devastating results.
Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are combining for nearly 12 assists a game. Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson are combining for more than seven. And that still leaves five or so assists unaccounted for.
The Spurs' dynamic and often artistic offense -- the only one generating more than 100 points a game in the playoffs (102.5), better than three more points a game than their likely West finals opponent Oklahoma City Thunder -- has reminded just what the re-tooled Mavs lost in a year's time.
Dallas was the No. 1 passing team in the Western Conference last postseason and the best of the four 2011 conference finals teams, having averaged 20.1 assists a game. The Spurs are blowing that mark out of the water, averaging 24.1. They've assisted on 193 of 308 baskets (62.7 percent) in eight playoff games and they were even better in the just completed sweep of the Clips, assisting on nearly seven of every 10 buckets (107 of 154, 69.4 percent).
During this truncated regular season, the Mavs were rarely at full strength -- including the game's all-time second-leading assist man Jason Kidd missing multiple games three different times with back, calf and groin injuries -- and finished 15th in assists. And they regressed further in the four-game sweep at the hands of the Thunder.
The Mavs rank 15th among the 16 playoff teams in assists. Kidd averaged 6.0, but only Jason Terry (3.8) averaged more than 2.0 a game as the team averaged just 15.5 assists in the four games. OKC, not known as a high assist team led by high-scoring point guard Russell Westbrook, out-assisted the Mavs on average by two a game.
San Antonio, meanwhile, is whipping the ball around which such proficiency that no one else is even close. The Celtics rank second at 21.9 assists a game led by triple-double threat Rajon Rondo. The Spurs' two playoff victims averaged 6.25 fewer assists a game, and that includes perennial All-Star point guard Chris Paul.
Of course, players have to make baskets for assists to be racked up. And no one can match the Spurs in that category either. Even Mavs owner Mark Cuban prior to the start of the playoffs questioned whether the 3-ball-happy Spurs could live that way in the postseason. They can and have. San Antonio is killing it from the 3-point arc to the tune of 42.3 percent with six players shooting at least 43 percent from downtown. The Clips are the next best at 37.8.
Overall, San Antonio is shooting a whopping 49.1 percent with the resurgent Duncan hitting running hooks and jumpers from seemingly every angle for a team-best 54.0 percent.
The Mavs shot the 3-pointer fairly well in the first round (37.2 percent) but overall made just 40.4 percent of their shots, not terribly far off from their disappointing regular-season shooting of 44.3 percent that ranked 19th in the league.
The Dallas Mavericks have no objections, and that likely includes Jason Terry, who finished third in the voting.
The last game Harden played, he schooled the Mavs with one drive to the rim after another, scoring 15 of his game-high 29 points in the fourth quarter of the Game 4 clincher.
Harden, the third overall pick in the 2009 draft out of Arizona State, led all NBA reserves in scoring (16.8 points per game) in helping Oklahoma City finish with the NBA’s third-best record (47-19). The Thunder await the winner of the Denver Nuggets-Los Angeles Lakers series in the West semifinals.
Harden received 584 of a possible 595 points, including 115 of a possible 119 first-place votes, from a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada. Lou Williams, who led the Philadelphia 76ers in scoring (14.9 ppg) despite not starting a single game, finished second with 231 points. Terry was a distant third with 81 points (20 second-place votes, 21 third-place votes).
Terry averaged 15.1 points per game during the season, shooting 43 percent overall and 37.8 percent from beyond the arc. His scoring average dipped to 13.8 in the first-round playoff loss. Terry, 34, now heads into free agency after eight seasons in Dallas.
Denver's Al Harrington finished fourth, and San Antonio's Manu Ginobili was fifth.
No ranting about feeling like a rag doll.
Vince Carter playing every second of the fourth quarters (and three overtimes) in the last two games while starter Shawn Marion watched from the bench.
“We’re trying to win games right now,” Marion said. “They had a good rhythm going. I think that’s all it was.”
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle was similarly dismissive to a question on the subject: “You guys are making too much of this. It’s not a big deal. It’s not a big deal.”
It’s not a big deal because Marion isn’t sweating it. Especially not after Carter played a critical role in Wednesday’s comeback win over the Rockets, scoring seven of his season-high 23 points in the fourth quarter.
“They had everything going and coach didn’t want to change it up,” Marion said. “That’s OK. It’s a matter sometimes of circumstances and the way the game is going.”
It’s also not a big deal because it isn’t likely to last long enough to become a trend. The Mavs probably won’t be able to afford to have Marion serving as a spectator when the game is on the line during the playoffs.
Maybe the Mavs can get away with it against the Clippers. But that’s about it among teams that they’ll see in the Western Conference playoffs.
|Mavs coach Rick Carlisle dishes on the state of his team now that they've clinched a playoff spot. He also talks about Delonte West's "West willy" and why he's gone with Vince Carter over Shawn Marion in the last couple of games. |
A case can be made for using Carter in crunch time. He has a history of hitting big shots and ranks in a class with Kobe Bryant and a couple of teammates (Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry) among active players with the most career buckets in fourth quarters. His perimeter shooting spaces the floor, and his ability to create puts another offensive initiator on the floor for the Mavs.
However, there’s a shiny gold trophy in the case (or Mark Cuban’s kitchen) that gives credibility to Marion’s importance on the closing unit.
The Mavs’ miracle comebacks over the Thunder and Heat would have been impossible without the Matrix’s lockdown defense on Durant and LeBron James. He was a critical component for the best closing team in basketball last season.
For whatever reason, the Mavs have been mediocre closers this season. If Marion isn’t part of the solution, it’s a pretty safe bet that the Mavs will be making tee times in mid-May.
THE GOOD: Los Angeles Clippers (currently No. 4)
How they have played: The Mavs are 1-2 against the Clips, who won the first matchup at home, 91-89, without Chris Paul. But Dirk Nowitzki shot horribly, Mo Williams went off for 26 points and Chauncey Billups (out for the season) hit a game-winning buzzer-beater. The Mavs took the second game at home, 96-92, with both teams healthy with the exception of Billups. Dirk didn't shoot well again, but went 11-of-15 from the line. The third game might have been the Mavs' most disappointing performance of the year. They failed to show up, shot 39 percent and were embarrassed on the boards in a 94-75 home loss.
How Dirk has played: Nowitzki shot just 38 percent in the three games, but he's getting to the foul line a lot. Blake Griffin's athleticism always creates a tough matchup and defensive specialist Kenyon Martin adds an edge the Mavs are quite familiar with from his Denver days. The numbers don't tell the whole story though. Only Nowitzki, Brendan Haywood and Shawn Marion started all three games against the Clips.
How the Mavs will fare: Most agree this is probably their most favorable matchup, but nothing is a lock for the defending champions. If Dallas wants to move into the second round, they'll have to be on their toes when it comes to transition defense and find a way to get others beside Nowitzki involved in the offense.
THE BAD: Los Angeles Lakers (currently No. 3)
How they have played: The Mavs are 0-4 against the Lakers, but three of those could have gone either way. Shawn Marion is as good as anyone in the league checking Kobe Bryant, but the Pau Gasol-Andrew Bynum connection has averaging 36.8 points a game Injuries skewed games for both teams. Bryant's best game, a 30-point performance in the 109-93 win in Dallas, came with Marion sitting out.
How Dirk has played: He's averaging a double-double with 24 points and 10.3 rebounds, but shooting just 30 percent from beyond the arc.
How the Mavs fare: This matchup heavily rides on the health of Kobe. Nothing will keep him out of the playoffs, and he is expected to return on Friday. But if his sore left shin continues be a problem, the Mavs might catch a break. If he comes back healthy and refreshed after averaging a whopping 38.5 minutes a game, don't count on much rust from the league's leading scorer. Even if he does struggle with his shot, Gasol and Bynum have played lights-out against Dallas.
THE UGLY: Oklahoma City Thunder (currently No. 2)
How they have played: The Mavs are 1-3 against the Thunder and the ugly fact that the youthful Thunder found ways to pull games out late is concerning considering the Mavs prided themselves on such heroics during their championship run, and especially so against OKC in the West Finals. Kevin Durant stole the first meeting with a 3-point buzzer-beater at OKC in third game of the season. The Mavs looked great in one of their best all-around wins of the season, 100-87, soon after in the second game at home. The Thunder returned to Dallas a month later and returned the favor. But the Mavs were severely shorthanded without Jason Kidd, Brendan Haywood and Lamar Odom. Durant and Russell Westbrook struggled in the season finale, but the Thunder defense shut down the Mavs in the final minutes to win at OKC.
How Dirk played: Nowitzki was solid if not spectacular against the Mavs' Red River rival. He shot 44 percent and averaged 22.5 points per game. We haven't seen him be "championship Dirk" consistently this season, but the German torched the Thunder for 32.2 points per game in last year's playoff series.
How they fare: The Thunder have struggled late in the season, and losing the top seed to San Antonio wouldn't be any help to their momentum. The Mavs have held Westbrook and Durant below their season averages in scoring. The problem is that no one but Dirk can score consistently against the Thunder.
THE UGLY II: San Antonio Spurs (currently No. 1)
How they have played: It's hard to imagine the Mavs are 2-2 against San Antonio because Dirk has not played well in three of the four games. The Spurs embarrassed Dallas 93-71 in the first game without Manu Ginobli and with a barrage of 3-pointers, which became a theme against Dallas. In the final game of the series, a shorthanded Spurs squad did it again to the Mavs by 17 points, playing without Tony Parker. The Mavs coughed up a huge lead in the second game at home and won in OT after Danny Green's buzzer-beater was reversed by replay and the game went to an extra five minutes.
How Dirk played: In the third game of the series, a 106-99 win, he had a team-high 27 points. In the other three games, he scored 10.6 points per game on an abysmal 13-of-46 shooting.
How they fare: The Spurs have successfully mixed young, athletic newcomers with the Big Three and have arguably been the most consistent team in the NBA. Jason Terry has been great against the Spurs this season, but they'll need Dirk to find his rhythm to get past this potential first-round foe.
Vince Carter’s role in the Mavs’ revamped, Lamar Odom-less rotation is clear. He comes off the bench at small forward, allowing Shawn Marion to slide to power forward when Dirk Nowitzki comes off the floor.
The question is whether Carter or Marion will join the Mavs’ closer committee of Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry during crunch time.
Coach Rick Carlisle’s answer in Utah was Carter, who played every minute during the fourth quarter and three overtime periods. That put three of the four most prolific active fourth-quarter scorers on the floor for the Mavs, as only Kobe Bryant has more career buckets in the final frame than Nowitzki, Terry and Carter. Carter also ranks below only Bryant and Nowitzki for game-winning shots made among active players.
Of course, it should be noted that the 35-year-old Carter’s production has dipped the most by far of that closer quartet.
Carter hit a couple of big shots – a pair of 3-pointers that were critical in forcing the first overtime – but those were the only shots he hit in the fourth quarter and overtimes of the loss to the Jazz. Meanwhile, the Mavs’ most valuable defender watched from the bench.
Carlisle, as tends to be the case, was vague about the reasoning for his decision to play Carter instead of Marion with the game on the line. He mentioned that Carter was playing well, leaving out the fact that Marion didn’t appear to have much in the tank, registering only four points and two rebounds in 23:51 during the Mavs’ fourth game in five nights.
Carlisle’s decision also could have been influenced by the Jazz’s lack of an elite wing scorer. It’s hard to envision Carlisle opting for Carter over Marion in crunch time when Dallas needs to defend someone like Bryant, Manu Ginobili or Kevin Durant during the first round of the playoffs.
Mavs' spot in the standings: They’re sitting in seventh, a half-game behind the Rockets and a half-game ahead of the Nuggets. Dallas is 1 ½ games ahead of the Suns and two games ahead of the Jazz.
Spurs 114, Jazz 104: Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili combined for 51 points in the first-place Spurs’ 11th straight win. Utah guards Earl Watson (knee) and C.J. Miles (calf) left the game due to injuries.
Thunder 91, Raptors 75: Oklahoma City went on a 24-0 run in the second half to turn a close game into a comfortable win.
Rockets 104, Kings 87: Courtney Lee scored 25 points to lead the Rockets in point guard Kyle Lowry’s return after missing 15 games due to a bacterial infection.
Lakers at Hornets
Thunder at Bucks
Clippers at Grizzlies
Warriors at Nuggets
Suns at Timberwolves
Spurs at Jazz
Rockets at Trail Blazers
If the playoffs started today: Mavs vs. Thunder
DALLAS -- The NBA has issued the Defensive Player of the Year award since the 1982-83 season. In the 1988-89 season the league might as well have renamed it the Defensive Big Man of the Year award.
The lone small forward ever to be named Defensive Player of the Year was the formerly named Ron Artest on Rick Carlisle's 2003-04 Indiana Pacers.
Is a second one lurking?
The Dallas Mavericks certainly think so. Owner Mark Cuban has trumpeted the tireless work of 6-foot-7 veteran Shawn Marion for more than a month. Carlisle has not been far behind. On Friday night, with Marion missing his third and final game with a sore left knee likely caused to a large degree by his maxed-out defensive responsibilities, Carlisle said Marion is "probably the Defensive Player of the Year this year."
On Monday, Carlisle upped the ante: "I think he’s a frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year because of his versatility and because of his impact on our team. We lose [Tyson] Chandler and we’re still the No. 1 defensive team in the Western Conference on points per possession. That doesn’t happen without Marion and what he’s doing guarding multiple positions."
The operative word is "multiple." Marion has always been the man to defend top opposing wings like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant. This season, particularly when guard Delonte West was lost to a fractured finger on Feb. 15, Marion became Mr. Everything to a defense that had already lost its heart and soul from the championship team in Chandler -- the third-place finisher in last season's DPOY voting -- and plugged in newcomers and somehow just kept on ticking.
"We’re the No. 1 defensive team in the Western Conference largely because of how he’s guarded guys individually," Carlisle said. "He always has the best player, and a lot of times he’ll have a guy like [Ty] Lawson or like [Goran] Dragic, who’s a key guy not only scoring, but getting other guys involved. He’s just been phenomenal."
During the stretch from West's injury to the All-Star break, the 33-year-old Marion was tasked with chasing, in order: Lawson, Ricky Rubio, 6-foot-11 power forward and All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Paul, Lawson again, Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams, Jeremy Lin, Paul Pierce and finally Kobe Bryant.
And throughout this physically demanding shortended season, Marion's assignments read like an NBA who's who list, from Deron Williams and Steve Nash to Paul Millsap and Michael Beasley; from Manu Ginobili and Russell Westbrook to Caron Butler and Carmelo Anthony.
Of all those offensive weapons, advanced analytics, which make it possible to break down matchups possession by possession, tell us that Marion's opponents have shot 34 percent against him.
Take Kobe as just one example. In two games, Marion held the league's leading scorer to an average of 14.5 points on less than 28 percent shooting. In last Wednesday's game against the Lakers in which Marion's knee kept him out, Kobe hit for 30 points on 11-of-18 shooting (61.1 percent).
On Monday, Marion mostly deflected credit while processing his coach's praise.
"That speaks a lot about me and my teammates because it’s not just one person out there, it’s all of us collectively," Marion said. "So, hey, I’m just doing what I got to do to help the team the best way I can."
Of course, it's easy to understand why power forwards, and particularly centers, have dominated this award. Blocked shots and rebounding and team scoring averages are in your face to see and tally up and measure against other players and teams. While clearly centers can be great defenders -- and there's a long list of them -- so much of a center's job comes in the form of help defense and not the grinding, every possession work of a mano-a-mano, on-ball defensive stopper such as Marion.
"It is what it is," Marion said. "It’s sad sometimes that people don’t really sit back and really look at what you’re doing sometimes. But it is what it is. I just got to continue to do what I got to do."
Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard leads the NBA in rebounds (14.8 per game) and is tied for second in total blocked shots with 108, numbers that dwarf Marion's 6.9 rebounds and 26 blocked shots, and the Magic rank fourth in the NBA in scoring defense. A massive, 6-foot-11 specimen who patrols the paint with humbling ferocity, Howard is a leading candidate to win the award for a fourth consecutive season. Only Ben Wallace and Dikembe Mutombo lay claim to four trophies, but neither did it four years in a row.
Marion has never even been selected to an all-defensive team, although he probably should have been at some point during his eight full seasons playing on those high-powered Phoenix Suns squads.
"At the time where I was doing it before, we scored so many damn points, didn’t nobody care," Marion said. "They wanted to focus on something else."
Marion's defensive run with Dallas really started last season and began to gain recognition during the playoffs when he bounced from Gerald Wallace, Brandon Roy and Aldridge to Kobe to Westbrook and Durant and finally to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
So maybe if Marion's capable of continuing this level of 'D' for another 16 games, just maybe the focus will turn to a small forward doing one big defensive job.
"It’s what it’s about," Marion said of being in the DPOY conversation. "Everybody’s got personal goals that you want to accomplish throughout your career and legacies that you want to leave behind. I think that would definitely be a great piece to it."
103.3 FM ESPN PODCASTS
Play Podcast Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett at Mavericks media day to discuss his expectations for the upcoming season.
Play Podcast Mark Cuban joins Galloway and Company to discuss the Mavericks' new GM Gersson Rosas and much more.
Play Podcast Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss Mark Cuban's comments from Las Vegas about the Mavericks' offseason, how he sees the team without Dwight Howard and more.
Play Podcast Marc Stein joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why the Mavericks didn't want to match Cleveland's offer to Andrew Bynum, what's next for the Mavs and the possibility of Dirk Nowitzki ending his career elsewhere.
Play Podcast Jeff Platt fires quick-hitters at Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon in the weekly sports standoff about Andrew Bynum, the Mavs' current backcourt, a potential Nelson Cruz suspension and more.
Play Podcast ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why she thinks Andrew Bynum got a bad rap in Los Angeles and how he would fit in with the Mavericks.
Play Podcast Buy, sell or hold? If Dwight Howard goes to another team, what are the Mavs' options? The guys take a look at a list of potential fallback options.
Play Podcast ESPN's Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the latest news on the Mavericks' meeting with Dwight Howard.