TrueHoop: Dallas Mavericks

Should the Mavericks draft Griner?

April, 4, 2013
4/04/13
5:22
PM ET
By Ryan Feldman, ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com

Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsCould Brittney Griner hold her own in the NBA?
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban recently said that he would consider drafting Brittney Griner in the second round of the NBA Draft.

Could Griner play in the NBA? Would it be wise for the Mavericks to use a second-round pick on the Baylor superstar?

Mavericks don’t draft well
Since Cuban became the majority owner of the Mavericks in 2000, the team's 22 draft picks have a grand total of one career All-Star appearance. That was 2003 first-round pick Josh Howard, who was an All-Star in 2007.

Since 1995, the Mavericks are the only NBA franchise whose draft picks have fewer than two combined career All-Star appearances (other than the Bobcats, whose first season was 2004).

The Mavericks have selected 16 players in the second round under Cuban. Of those picks, 10 never played a game in the NBA and just two – Dan Langhi (2000) and Kenny Satterfield (2001) – even scored more than 200 career points.

Those 16 second-round picks have a combined 295 career games and 945 career points. Based on this track record, it appears the Mavericks aren't so great at finding the "sleeper" second-round picks.

The success rate for second-round picks isn't very high league-wide. From 2000 to 2011, only 30 percent (108 of 356) of second-round picks have played at least 100 career games in the NBA.

Griner dominates
Griner is different than most female players in that she can play above the rim. Griner has 18 career dunks, more than every other woman in Division I history combined. Griner dunked three times in one game, while Candace Parker is the only other woman to dunk more than three times in her entire college career.

Griner led all women’s players in points per post-up play, points per play overall, points per play allowed and opponent field-goal percentage this season. She held opponents to 23 percent shooting as an on-ball defender.

Of course, men's college basketball is a completely different game than Griner's competition. Griner doesn't face the same size, athleticism and strength that she would face in the NBA.

But for what it's worth, if Griner posted the same numbers in the men’s game, she would’ve led the country in points per post-up play, points per play allowed and opponent field-goal percentage.

She wouldn’t be the first
If Griner were to be selected, she wouldn't be the first woman ever selected in the NBA Draft. In 1969, Denise Long was selected in the 13th round by the San Francisco Warriors.

Long was a high school player who averaged 62.8 points per game during her senior year. However, the NBA later voided the selection because they felt it was a publicity stunt.

In 1977, Lusia Harris was selected in the seventh round by the New Orleans Jazz. The Delta State star officially became the only woman ever picked in the NBA Draft, although she never actually played in an NBA game.

Heat have tough road against Thunder

June, 14, 2012
6/14/12
9:57
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive

Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesWestbrook joined Michael Jordan as the only players with 25 points and 10 assists in his Finals debut.
The Miami Heat will try and even the series tonight against the Oklahoma City Thunder (ABC and ESPN3, 9 ET), but Elias tells us that Miami may already be in trouble. The Heat now trail in their third different series this postseason, and no team has ever won a title after trailing in three different series in a single postseason.

What's more, in each of their previous two NBA Finals appearances, the Heat lost Game 2 in both series (2006 and 2011). Miami is 4-5 on the road this postseason while averaging just 92.1 points, compared to 99.4 points at home. That road average is crucial, as the Heat are 8-0 this postseason when scoring at least 100 points but just 4-7 this postseason when they fail to reach 100.

Don't Blame James

While LeBron James struggled in the fourth quarter in the Finals last year against the Dallas Mavericks, that was not the case in Game 1 this time around. James ranked first on the team in field goal attempts and free throws in the fourth quarter and tied with Dwyane Wade for the team-high in points and points in the paint. His four free throw attempts were also more than the rest of the Heat combined.

James has also scored at least 25 points in each of his last 11 games, the second-longest streak of scoring 25+ points in his postseason career (had a 17-game streak across the 2008 and 2009 postseason).

Storm Warning

Things certainly look good for the Thunder. Since moving to Oklahoma City entering the 2008-09 season, the Thunder are 3-0 in series when they win Game 1. The Thunder are also 9-0 at home this postseason, and according to Elias, that is tied for the longest home win streak to start a postseason in franchise history. The Seattle SuperSonics started the 1978 postseason also winning nine.

What do the Thunder need to do to win Game 2? The answer lies in the fast break. The Thunder outscored the Heat in fast break points 24-4 in Game 1, marking the team’s second-highest fast break differential this postseason.

Another incredible game by Kevin Durant certainly wouldn't hurt, either. Durant’s 36 points in Game 1 tied the franchise mark for most points in a Finals game, and he also became the fourth-youngest (23 years-257 days) player in NBA history to score at least 35 points in a NBA Finals game.

Teammate Russell Westbrook is also heating up, having recorded at least 20 points and 10 assists in two of his last three games overall. That's impressive, considering he did not record any 20-10 games in his first 13 games this postseason. What's more, Elias says Westbrook is only the second player to record at least 25 points and 10 assists in his Finals debut, alongside Michael Jordan.

Rust versus rest out West

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
11:11
AM ET
By Micah Adams, ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Coming off a pair of 1st-Round sweeps, the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs are each on the front end of series against teams coming off a seven-game series.

The Thunder had eight days off prior to their 29-point demolition of the Los Angeles Lakers (one day of rest) on Monday. The Spurs, who will have had seven days off, open their series Tuesday against the Los Angeles Clippers (one day of rest).

Is it possible for a team to have too much time off between series? At what point does "rest" lend itself to "rust"? If recent history is any indication, "rust" is overrated.

Over the last 15 seasons, teams with at least seven days off are now a perfect 6-0 against teams with just a single day to recover. What's shocking might not be the perfect 6-0 record, but the fact that the games haven't even been close.

The average margin of victory in those six games is nearly 25 points per game. The only one of those six games to be decided by single digits was Game 1 of last year's Western Conference Finals in which the Dallas Mavericks beat the Thunder by nine after leading by as many as 16 in the fourth quarter.

Just how important is that extra day of rest for the team with the quick turnaround? Whereas teams with a week off are perfect when their opponents have just a single day to recover, they are just 5-7 when their opponents have two or more days of rest while averaging 23.5 fewer points per game.

The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that over the last 10 years, there were six series played between one team coming off a sweep and the other off a seven-game series. Five of those six series were won by the team coming off the sweep, with the lone exception being the Orlando Magic's elimination of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals.

Clippers-Spurs Key Notes

- The team that wins Game 1 of a seven-game series goes on to win 78.2 percent of the time (337-94, including the 1st Round this year).

- This is their first-ever meeting in the postseason.

- The Spurs are 26-2 at home against the Clippers since drafting Tim Duncan. The .929 win percentage is tied for their third-best at home against any team over that span (27-0 vs Golden State Warriors; 14-0 vs Atlanta Hawks).

- To say these teams have differing levels of success in the postseason would be a drastic understatement. Despite being in the NBA for six fewer seasons, the Spurs have more NBA titles (four) than the Clippers have series wins (three). The Spurs have more than four times as many series wins (34) as the Clippers have playoff appearances (eight).

- Much of the focus will be on the matchup between Chris Paul (third in MVP voting) and Tony Parker (fifth in MVP voting). The two have faced off seven times in the postseason, with Parker winning four times. Paul has enjoyed the statistical advantage, averaging 23.7 points per game and 10.7 assists per game (19.4 PPG, 5.7 APG for Parker).

Statistical support for this story given by NBA.com.

Outscoring opponents in the clutch

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
11:57
AM ET
By Henry Abbott, Trevor Ebaugh, Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Mike Brown
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
The last four years he has coached, Mike Brown's teams have led the league.

Basketball geekery has delved into crunch time in various ways.
  • First there was individual field goal percentage. That's where we learned that the players we thought owned crunch time (for instance Kobe Bryant and Chauncey Billups) actually miss a lot.
  • A year ago, we added something new, looking at team offenses. That's a more important measure, assuming you value wins more than highlights. Who cares who gets the bucket, so long as they're on your team? That's where we learned that most teams were about the same, with some exceptions, including Chris Paul's Hornets, which were amazing.

But all that is only part of the picture. Because as much as we love clutch buckets, clutch wins also have a ton to do with defense. If you're going to point to any team as elite in the clutch, that must be included, and now it is.

As John Hollinger has explained, a lot of what teams do in crunch time is likely random. Looking at tiny parts of games creates some wacky results without a lot of predictive value ... anyone who says they know a team will do well in crunch time is likely fibbing. All teams do both well and poorly at different times. But defense may be a bit of an exception. Teams do seem to play defense with a certain consistency late in games.

Using NBA.com data from the last five years (current as of today), from games within five points in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, Trevor Ebaugh of ESPN Stats & Info. dug in and created this pretty Tableau table:



Some of what we noticed:
  • The Cavaliers of LeBron James and Mike Brown were unreal in crunch time, leading the league by a hefty margin for three straight years, with the best performances of any teams in the record. It's easy to see that LeBron James matters here -- once he left for Miami the Cavaliers’ plus/minus plummeted. The Cavs averaged plus-113 with James during those three seasons, and plus one in the two seasons since. Meanwhile, before James, the Heat weren't good in crunch time, but have since become very solid.
  • Mike Brown emerges as an interesting character in crunch time. With James in Cleveland three straight years, and now in Los Angeles after a year off, his teams led the league by this metric every year he has coached in the last half-decade. In this period, neither team has been as good with other coaches, either.
  • The Lakers have by far the best crunch time plus/minus this season (plus-79, the Pacers are second at plus-65). Pau Gasol (plus-78) has been their biggest individual star, followed closely by Andrew Bynum (plus-74). Kobe Bryant ranks third at plus-58. The Lakers achieved this number with the NBA's second-best clutch offense (behind the Magic) and the eighth-best defense.
  • Three teams have shone for five straight years: The Lakers, Celtics and Magic. The Nuggets are flirting with joining that club, too.
  • Superstars matter. Or, at least some do. LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul almost always end the season positive in this regard -- the only exceptions are Paul and Nowitzki this year, which could still change. Other big names, like Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade have had more mixed results.
  • Good teams in general do well in crunch time. The top six teams in crunch time plus/minus this season have already locked up playoff spots, for instance (Lakers, Pacers, Hawks, Magic, Spurs and Bulls). But it's hardly a perfect correlation. In fact, surely a lot of what we're seeing in this chart appears to be simple randomness. The Pacers, terrible for a long time, are suddenly leaders. The Kings are excellent crunch time defenders this season. The Hawks are a solid team that is way better than solid late in games. And plenty of good teams -- the Sixers, the Knicks -- are pretty bad with the game on the line.
  • Over the past half-decade, just two teams, the Knicks and Timberwolves, haven't had a single season in positive territory.
  • The top ten late-game offensive teams this season are the Magic, Lakers, Grizzlies, Bulls, Hawks, Pacers, Rockets, Thunder, Spurs and Knicks.
  • The Pacers are by far this season's best defensive team late in close games. They are followed by the Hawks, Kings (!), Spurs, Heat, Magic, Bulls, Lakers, Thunder and Clippers.
  • The Dallas Mavericks have been very good for the last five years, but also have had the biggest drop-off in crunch time performance, from a league-leading plus-117 last season to an anemic minus-16 this season.
  • The Hawks have been good in crunch time for four straight years.
  • The Spurs and Thunder have been up and down.
  • The Houston Rockets (plus-31) and Memphis Grizzlies (plus-28) are the best crunch time teams this season that have yet to lock up a playoff spot. The Los Angeles Clippers (minus-9) are the only playoff team with a negative clutch plus/minus.

Mostly, this feels like it's the tip of the iceberg. There's a lot more to learn about all this, and one of the big questions on the horizon is something Bill James has wrestled with in baseball for quite some time: Is there such a thing as clutch time performers? Are there really players or teams who do better with the game on the line?

That's still not something we know. What we do know is that a lot of what we thought we knew was wrong.

Knicks five alive under Woodson

March, 22, 2012
3/22/12
12:26
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive

Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images
Jeremy Lin drives to the basket in the Knicks' win over the 76ers Wednesday night.
The New York Knicks just want to be like Mike – Woodson that is. The Knicks improved to 5-0 under new head coach Mike Woodson, though Wednesday’s 82-79 win over the Philadelphia 76ers was quite unlike their previous four victories with Woodson at the helm:

• The 3-point margin is the smallest during the win streak; the Knicks had won their previous four games by 22.5 points per game.

• The Knicks shot 2-13 (15 percent) from beyond the arc versus Philadelphia, after making more than 40 percent of their 3-point attempts in their first four games under Woodson.

• New York also struggled on the break Wednesday, scoring just 10 points in transition, compared to an average of 23 transition points per game during the win streak prior to tonight.

Instead, New York pounded the ball inside and crashed the offensive boards to get easy points against Philadelphia. The Knicks outscored the 76ers 32-20 in the paint and 15-5 on second-chance opportunities.

This is just the second time the Knicks have won five games in row following an in-season coaching change, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. In the 1979-80 season, Red Holzman replaced Willis Reed and the Knicks won their next five games en route to a 31-51 final record.

Bulls get bench boost
The Chicago Bulls trailed 69-62 through the first three quarters of their game versus the Toronto Raptors, but used a 20-0 run to outscore the Raptors 32-15 in the final period for the 94-82 win.

The Bulls' reserves came up huge in the fourth quarter with 28 of the team’s 32 points. Kyle Korver and John Lucas combined to shoot 9-for-14 and scored 23 points after going scoreless in the first three quarters.

Three times a charm for Gordon
Ben Gordon
Gordon
Ben Gordon erupted for 45 points, but missed a 21-footer with two seconds left, and the Denver Nuggets escaped with a 116-115 win over the Detroit Pistons.

Gordon converted all nine of his shots from beyond the arc, matching the most made 3-pointers without a miss in a game in NBA history. Gordon also achieved the feat in the 2005-06 season and Latrell Spreewell did it in the 2002-03 season.

Spurs, Lakers keep streaking
The San Antonio Spurs beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 116-100, extending their home win streak over the Timberwolves to 15 games. That is the fourth-longest current home winning streak by one team against an opponent, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Dallas Mavericks, pushing their winning streak over defending NBA champions to six. That streak dates back to a win over the Spurs in April 2008. Elias tells us that streak against defending champions is the longest of its kind in Lakers' franchise history and second longest to the Knicks who won seven straight over defending champions from 1994 to 1996.

Mavericks stop Anthony, reach (finish) line

March, 7, 2012
3/07/12
1:39
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
A seven-and-a-half minute spurt of brilliance wasn’t enough for the New York Knicks to offset 40 minutes of what was a rough watch in their loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night.

Knicks guard Jeremy Lin had his second-worst game as a Knick from a plus-minus perspective. When he was on the floor, despite his 13 points and seven assists, the Knicks were outscored by 11 points. This was a big difference from the 28-point, 14-assist game he had against the Mavericks two weeks ago.

The Knicks made a good chunk of their comeback at the start of the fourth quarter (before the Mavericks' strong finish) with Baron Davis on the floor instead of Lin.

It was also a rough game for Carmelo Anthony, who was 2-for-12 from the field. Video review showed that Anthony was 0-for-5 on jump shots and 0-for-4 on shots around the basket.

Anthony is hitting the former at just a 31 percent clip this season and the latter at 51 percent. In Anthony’s tenure as a Knick last season, he hit those shots at rates of 39 percent and 58 percent, respectively.

The Mavericks had 30 free throw attempts to the Knicks' 23. The Mavericks entered the game sixth-worst in the NBA in free throw attempts per game (21) and had allowed 111 more free throw attempts than they’d taken (the differential ranked fifth-worst in the NBA)

The Mavericks shot 23 fewer free throws than the Thunder in a Monday loss, prompting Jason Kidd to criticize the officiating after the contest.

Of the last nine reigning NBA champs before the Mavericks, none finished a regular season ranked in the bottom 10 in the league in free throw attempt differential.

Bosh return key for Heat
Chris Bosh
Bosh
Chris Bosh returned from a three-game absence to help the Miami Heat pummel the New Jersey Nets. The Heat were 18-for-22, a season-best 82 percent from inside five feet, and outscored the Nets by 20 points in the paint. In the three games without Bosh, the Heat shot 58 percent from inside five feet.

The Heat also grabbed 36 defensive rebounds, two short of their season-high against Charlotte on Dec. 28.

Feats of the Night
Josh Smith scored 27 points in a win over the Indiana Pacers.

That's nothing new. The Hawks are 12-0 this season in games when Smith scores at least 20 points.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the best record this season by a player who scored 20 points in at least 10 games this season..

Also, Celtics forward Kevin Garnett had 13 rebounds on Tuesday, which gave him 13,100 for his career. With the 13th rebound he passed Shaquille O'Neal for 12th place on the all-time career rebounds list.

Plus-Minus Note of the Night
Charlotte Bobcats backup center Byron Mullens had eight points and 13 rebounds in Charlotte’s 100-84 win over the Orlando Magic. In the 25 minutes that Mullens was on the court, the Bobcats outscored the Magic by 23 points.

This was the 61st career game for Mullens, but the first in which his plus-minus was in double figures on the positive side.

Tuesday Bullets

March, 6, 2012
3/06/12
4:10
PM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
Archive
  • It's near impossible to stop Chris Paul, but the trend around the league is to use a long, athletic swingman to smother the 6-foot point guard. That tactic has been effective for Golden State and Dallas, which used Dominic McGuire and Shawn Marion, respectively, to slow down Paul and the Clippers. But after reading this excellent post (with a great video of Paul discussing how he attacks taller players), I'm thinking that it takes more than one tall guy with quick feet to shut down CP3.
  • Something new on Jeremy Lin: a stereotype scholar explains how racial stereotypes worked both for and against the Knicks point guard.
  • Unexpected: John Hollinger says the Knicks are playing better defense when DPOY candidate Tyson Chandler sits. Expected: This has a lot to do with Chandler sharing the court with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. (Insider)
  • Brandon Jennings has the foot speed to be a disruptive defender, but coach Scott Skiles would like to see him be a bit more conservative: “The thing that Brandon always has to battle is going for a steal, 'cause he can steal the ball. He had [Lou Williams] all bottled up, six, five left on the shot clock and he went for a steal, Lou went to his right hand and shot a dotted line jump shot. He’s still working on it, he’s just got to battle the urge to gamble when it’s just keep my man in front of me.”
  • Is Chris Bosh better than LeBron James or Dwyane Wade? No. But he may be less dispensable to the Heat's offense. Brian Windhorst reports that Chris Bosh will return to the Heat lineup tonight after missing three games (two of them losses) following the death of his grandmother.
  • The Raptors are fighting hard for new coach Dwane Casey, but it's still important that they lose their fair share of games in order to nab a high lottery pick. So, according to Prospect of Raptors Republic, last night was a perfect game: "The Raptors were outmatched, undermanned, but still somehow managed to put in a scrappy effort and almost won the game, pleasing tank nation while still giving the home fans a reason to show up."
  • D.J. Foster on why the Clippers should be nervous about the postseason:"The best teams in the league force you to pick your poison, but the Clippers don’t really do that — Paul just administers the poison on his own and kills you himself. Eventually though, teams will start doubling Paul as soon as he crosses half court. We’ve seen it before in New Orleans — it’s not that crazy of a thought. They’ll get the ball out of his hands, and if they fail at that, they’ll collapse on him as soon as he moves towards the rim. Defenses will make anyone other than Paul beat them. A good portion of the time Paul will still beat them, but at times it will come down to things like this: Can Blake Griffin hit a mid-range jumper? Can Caron Butler hit the open 3 from the corner? Can Randy Foye make the right decision?
  • Jan Vesely wants in the dunk contest. Anyone whose nickname is "Air Wolf" gets my blessing.
  • Evan Turner's first start of the season didn't go so well. Should he be starting at all?
  • For GQ, Bethlehem Shoals writes that fans give Lamar Odom the benefit of the doubt because he's never been shy about showing an emotional vulnerability that is unusual for professional athletes, but pretty common in most humans.
  • The Charlotte Bobcats are making a legitimate run at being the worst team of all time. Related: Boris Diaw remains hopelessly out of shape, which may mean he's consuming calories equivalent to 200 White Castle burgers a week.
  • Zach Lowe takes on the impossible task of quantifying Rajon Rondo's trade value.
  • Plenty of people want to see Steve Nash get traded to a contender. But moving Robin Lopez might be more beneficial to the Suns.
  • Despite missing Zach Randolph all season, the Grizzlies lurk as a sleeper to once again make a run in the Western Conference playoffs. But to do so, should they make a trade before the deadline?
  • A lot has already happened since the All-Star break. Here's a funny video recap of it all (and some made up stuff, too).

Keys to Sunday's ABC doubleheader

February, 19, 2012
2/19/12
2:45
AM ET
By Micah Adams, ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Mavericks at Knicks – 1 ET on ABC
Despite Friday's loss to the New Orleans Hornets, it’s been a good two weeks for the New York Knicks, who have won seven of eight overall. And while Jeremy Lin has been the toast of New York City, he isn’t the only reason for the Knicks' recent success.

Over their past eight games, the Knicks rank second in the NBA in defensive efficiency, allowing just 93.7 points per 100 possessions. Prior to that, they ranked 11th in that same category.

Their game against the Dallas Mavericks represents the first test in a tough 14-game stretch in which the Knicks will play 11 games against teams with winning records.

Perhaps the biggest key to Sunday's game will be how the Mavericks defend what is suddenly the most pick-and-roll-dependent offense in the NBA.

Since Feb. 4, more than 27 percent of New York’s offensive possessions came via the pick-and-roll, according to video tracking by Synergy Sports. Over the course of the season, that would rank first in the NBA.

Lin in particular has leaned heavily on the pick-and-roll as nearly half of his offensive possessions have come as the P&R ball handler (see chart). Only Steve Nash runs a higher percentage of plays as the P&R ball handler.

Unfortunately for the Knicks, the Mavericks have the league’s top-ranked defense against the pick-and-roll ball handler, allowing just 0.65 points per play and holding opponents to 34 percent shooting.

Also, watch for whether Lin can limit the turnovers. Lin enters Sunday as the most turnover-prone P&R ball handler in the NBA, coughing it up on nearly 30 percent of his possessions. He will look to manage that number against a Mavericks defense which ranks second in the league in forcing turnovers when defending the pick-and-roll.

Magic at Heat - 3:30 ET on ABC
The second half of the ABC doubleheader pits the Orlando Magic at Miami Heat in their second meeting of the season. Orlando beat Miami 102-89 back on Feb. 8, behind a steady barrage of 3-pointers.

In that game, the Magic set a franchise record for 3-point attempts, finishing 17-for-42 from downtown, and actually attempted more 3-pointers than 2-pointers. In more than 16,000 regular-season games over the past 15 seasons, it was just the fifth time a team took more than half of its shots from beyond the arc.

That Orlando won while relying on its outside shooting is no surprise (see chart) -- 33 percent of the Magic’s total points this season have come from 3-pointers, the highest percentage in the NBA.

For Miami to avenge its loss, it will need to do a better job closing out on the Magic's shooters. In spot-up situations, Orlando ranks third in points per play (1.04) while its effective field goal percentage (53.2) ranks second.

Meanwhile, Miami ranks 23rd in defending spot-up situations while giving up a higher percentage of spot-up looks than any other team in the NBA.

Doubting Dallas

December, 29, 2011
12/29/11
4:57
PM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
Archive
Last year Jason Terry had the audacity to get the Larry O’Brien Trophy etched into bicep.

Last year Tyson Chandler and assistant coach Dwane Casey elevated the Dallas defense to elite levels.

Last year Dallas raced to a blistering 24-5 record before stumbling over Dirk Nowtizki’s twisted knee and limping into the playoffs with a three seed.

Last year the Dallas Mavericks made fools of those who scoffed at the notion of the Mavericks escaping a first round matchup with the feisty and physical Portland Trailblazers.

This year Jason Terry can touch the real life Larry whenever he chooses.

This year Tyson Chandler and Dwane Casey are gone--Chandler for a fat check in the big city and Casey for a long overdue chance to coach his own team.

This year Dallas is 0-2, spanked twice by playoff teams, and faces another hungry foe in the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight.

This year Dallas might not make the playoffs.

---------

NBA Champions often return from the offseason without the sense of urgency and all-consuming drive that took them to the top. Pat Riley called it “the disease of more.” His theory was that after winning a ring, the ultimate team accomplishment, players tend to look inward to their own goals of more playing time, more shots and more money.

It’s always tricky to speculate on the psyche of players thousands of miles away, but even from farflung couches one can see that this Mavericks squad has a severe and perhaps untreatable case of the disease of less--less talent and less belief. With little practice time and a bunch of new players, the Mavericks also have less time to right the ship.

Despite how devotedly Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd bail out the the boat, water will continue to flood the hull.

Riley’s theory is conveniently player-focused. It wasn’t his fault that the players he coached or signed couldn’t muster the requisite competitive zeal. But what is happening in Dallas is a direct result of front office personnel decisions that have almost nothing to do with this season or even last season.

For example Tyson Chandler had the best offensive rating in the NBA during last season’s regular season and playoffs. Simply put: when Chandler was on the court, the Mavericks scored more points per possession than did any other line up on any other team. As you might expect, Dallas’s most consistent defensive lineups also included Chandler.

Was $14.5 million per year over four years too high a price to keep a 29 year old center with 10 years on his injury prone legs? Maybe not, if the goal is to make a great run at winning again this year.

What about Josť Juan Barea, DeShawn Stevenson and Caron Butler--three overpriced (well, not Stevenson) but useful wing players Dallas let walk for nothing. On-court chemistry was an important part of what made Dallas special last year, but keep in mind that the graves of former champions are dug with imprudent signings of replacement value players.

These moves make perfect sense if the off-season goal isn’t to reload for a repeat run at a ring but to scrub your cap sheet in hopes of landing Dwight Howard or Deron Williams in 2012.

That’s probably a wise decision. Williams grew up in Dallas and Howard scribbled the Mavs on his shortlist of places he’d like to play. Nowitzki needs a stud to play with in the twilight of his career, and both would be a fantastic compliment to the sweet-shooting big man. Even if neither ever wear a Maverick uniform, Dallas will still have about $25 mil to bring in better talent next year.

But think about how these decisions must appear to players like Jason Kidd and Lamar Odom.

Kidd is still capable but has spent more time playing against some of the other coaches in the league than he has against the likes of Derrick Rose. He’s old and he’s aware that he doesn’t have many more seasons left. Now he’s toiling in what is in effect a stop-gap season.

Odom went from a perennial contender that always made the big move to put itself in finals contention to a team that is obviously renting him for one season to free up cap space. He’s gone from 6th Man of the Year and rotation player for the league’s best franchise to a player whose primary value is that you don’t have to pay him for more than one year.

Even Nowitzki, he of tireless work ethic, mentioned that his motivation was down following the euphoria of his brilliant playoff run and subsequent slog at the Euros.

In their first two games of the season, the Mavericks’ characteristically sharp passing and incisive offense haven’t just been rusty, but dull.

It’s not possible to quantify spirit, but the their struggles so far are nothing so esoteric as “wanting it.” They just don’t have as many good players and this happened on purpose.

The message that Mark Cuban has been trying to spin is that the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was the impetus for him gutting Mavericks roster. He told Dallas radio that “this is 100 percent about the CBA and understanding the impact it will have on the market."

That may be true, and it may very well be the smart play. But the the message to the entire team and coaching staff was “do your best this year, but your immediate success isn’t really our main concern.”

When, rightly or wrongly, the management views the current season as an afterthought, it must be difficult to muster the focus and passion that make last year’s Mavericks so special.

Beckley Mason is the founder of HoopSpeak. You can follow him on Twitter at @BeckleyMason.

We made LeBron boring

December, 27, 2011
12/27/11
5:42
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
I’ll certainly enjoy Tuesday’s Boston Celtics-Miami Heat game, but it won’t have the deed to my attention span. Last season’s Celtics-Heat opener owned my anticipation, attention and, later, my ruminations. I sat bolt-upright in a musty, saw-dusted sports bar, eyes bulging toward the TV. I interrogated the game for some kind of predictive meaning. I interrogated bar patrons for how they felt about LeBron.

LeBron, the interest generator. His ability to do so has almost come to define him. And yet, there isn’t much current buzz tailing James this season. Much of that is attributable to Lob City’s zeitgeist hijacking. The Heat are a known quantity, whereas nobody quite grasps the ceiling of a Chris Paul-to-Blake Griffin flying trapeze act. The Los Angeles Clippers' season makes for a new story, while the Heat are a sequel.

But there is another interest-sapping factor.

After Sunday’s Dallas Maver-Miami NBA Finals rematch, Brian Windhorst expertly described the empty feeling that came with a superb LeBron James performance:

“But despite the opponent, setting and marquee billing, this exorcised no demons. It was James playing without pressure, a reminder of both how good he is and how bad he was in that series.”

Last season was great fun for Miami, due in part to how seemingly every game was a litmus.

Can this team make the NBA Finals? Is this loss reflective of why these guys are losing losers? Does this win mean they “get it”?

There was a real chasm between those who believed Miami to be fatally flawed and those who thought them a super team. Playoff events dismissed the doubters, right up until the very end. Then, a shocking turn. LeBron faded out, fell apart, shrunk, whatever you want to call it. James was not himself, which according to some, revealed his true self. But if the final word on LBJ is only uttered in June, why should people stick around for the months of noise that precedes it?

The shadow of LeBron's postseason failure used to stir interest in his regular-season exploits. Today, it creates a sense of relative meaninglessness per his in-season accomplishments. In our zeal to make a championship the ultimate referendum on LeBron’s greatness, we’ve stolen intrigue from all that leads to it in this second Heat attempt. We've made him LeBoring.

On that new and improved Heat offense

December, 26, 2011
12/26/11
3:35
PM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
Archive
Over at the Heat Index, Tom Haberstroh describes the play of the game in Sunday’s Heat victory over the Dallas Mavericks. It wasn’t that absurd double alley-oop touch pass between LeBron James and Dwyane Wade but an unremarkable LeBron-led fast break that ended in a Jason Kidd foul:
LeBron, the most explosive player of this generation, created a fast break off a make, which is more astounding once you consider that it was off a make from a 3-point shot -- the opposite of a fast-break trigger. Everyone was already backpedaling to the other side of the floor when Kidd launched his shot from 25 feet out.

It didn’t matter. LeBron blurred past the defense en route to one of his eight transition plays on the day. He scored 17 of his 37 points in transition in the season opener. Last season, LeBron scored 6.1 points per game in transition according to Synergy Sports, a data-tracking service used by NBA teams. He nearly tripled that figure in the season premiere of the Heat’s new “pace and space” offense. With 31 points on fast breaks, the Heat more than doubled their average of 14.2 points from last season.

Easy points? LeBron James on the break? That’s scary stuff for the rest of the league!

It’s all a part of Erik Spoelstra’s new philosophy, which promises to exploit the almost obscene speed advantage that the Heat will carry into just about every contest.

Fans might remember that running off made baskets was a staple of the Suns’ "Seven Seconds or Less" offense, but it was a rarity for last season’s Heat. An increased pace will produce more highlight-reel plays and should open up better scoring opportunities for the Heat’s stars before the defense can get set and gum up driving lanes.

But the emphasis on "pace and space" won’t supplant terrific defense as the cornerstone of the Heat’s identity. After spending much of last season defining defensive responsibilities and perfecting the airtight rotations that suffocated Chicago’s offense in last season’s playoffs, the Heat players enter this season armed with institutional knowledge on the defensive end.

Against the Mavericks, who replaced three of the top seven players from their championship team, that continuity was a killer. In fact, though the Heat employed a new offensive philosophy, it's one that meshes perfectly with their defensive system. As Anthony Macri notes:
The Heat play most possessions as if they are outnumbered, anticipating ball movement, sprinting to meet the ball with the closest defender, and then filling in the backside, rotating, and squeezing off passing lanes.

More than how well their D is playing in a vacuum, however, is how well the Heat are converting to the offensive side of the floor after any change of possession. One of the reasons that conversion to the offensive side is so important to their defensive effort is that it prevents the opponent from ever getting comfortable. The threat of Miami’s offensive conversion is affecting Dallas’ confidence when they have the ball. The Mavericks look tentative, so concerned with getting back defensively that they are taking poor shots and not rebounding the offensive glass as they should.

That it’s harder to hit a jump shot at the end of the shot clock when you know that, make or miss, you’ll have to deal with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade sprinting right back at you is a powerful thought.

Then there’s this part: just creating more possessions is a great thing for a team as talented and fast as the Heat. The faster and crazier the style of play, the more players like Wade, James and even athletic role players like Mario Chalmers can capitalize on broken plays and unsettled situations.

And because there is no team more talented than Miami, adding possessions essentially reduces the likelihood that the other team will score more points.

Think of it this way: if a coin is weighted to land on heads 55 percent of the time, but you only flip the coin 10 times, the results won't be much different than with a normal coin. But flip that thing 110 times, and you're more likely to see a greater number of "heads."

The same idea applies here. If the Heat are better 55 percent of the time, they want more “times” so that advantage can bear itself out.

It won’t always go so smoothly as it did for the Heat in their Chrismas Day massacre of the Mavericks. But unlike the Suns of Steve Nash’s halcyon days, Miami boasts an elite defense that will win games all by itself.

The key is whether pace and space truly become the team’s philosophy, or buzzwords uttered in postgame news conferences. A philosophy isn’t a sometimes thing. It’s doctrinal and defined.

Last season the Heat's catchphrase was "skirmish," a term for the incendiary but brief stretches of play in which the Heat created loads of deflections, turnovers and fast-break points. What the Mavericks saw was more like a siege.

The sample size is minuscule, but it's worth wondering if any team can withstand such an avalanche of intensity and purpose.

Beckley writes and edits the TrueHoop Network Blog HoopSpeak. Follow him on Twitter at @BeckleyMason

Heat get revenge, run to victory over Mavs

December, 25, 2011
12/25/11
6:53
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
LeBron James finishes at the rim in the Heat's 105-94 win over Dallas.
The Miami Heat left no doubt that they intend to bring a championship trophy to South Beach this season, dominating the Dallas Mavericks in a rematch from last year’s NBA Finals from start to finish with a convincing 105-94 victory at the American Airlines Center.

Dallas outscored the Heat 28-9 in the final quarter to keep themselves from suffering one of the worst losses in a season opener by a defending NBA champion. The Elias Sports Bureau reports that the record is 42 points by the Heat in first game of the 2006-07 season.

Miami showcased its new up-tempo offense, outscoring the Mavericks 31-10 on the break. Last season the Heat averaged only 14.2 fastbreak points per game and reached the 31-point mark just once, when they had 34 fastbreak points in a 93-89 loss to the Chicago Bulls in February.

The Heat had 101 possessions in the game, well above their 2010-11 season average of 93.2, which ranked 21st in the league. The Heat's 101 possessions tied for their third-most in a regulation game over the last two seasons.

The Heat’s swarming defense led to transition opportunities on the other end. Miami forced 17 turnovers, including nine of the live-ball variety. The Heat scored 12 points in transition off of those live-ball turnovers and 17 points off of 11 missed shots, two of which were blocked.

The Heat’s transition game also led to a flurry of easy baskets inside as Miami made 22-of-37 field goals in the paint, outscoring Dallas 44-28 down low. Because the Heat were able to get to the rim with so much success, they attempted only seven shots from beyond the arc, their fewest in a game since October 30, 2009 at the Indiana Pacers.

Miami struggled to hit outside shots against Dallas, making just 9-of-32 jump shots (28 percent) and averaging just 0.66 points per play on those field goals. Last season the Heat scored 0.96 points per play on jumpers, seventh-best in the NBA, while shooting over 40 percent from the floor.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade reminded the rest of the league why they might be the NBA’s best duo, combining for 63 of the Heat’s 105 points. James set a franchise record for most points in a season opener with 37; Wade added 26 points, which matches his personal best in the team’s first game.

No other Heat player scored in double figures as Chris Bosh was held to just four points, his fewest in a game that he played at least 20 minutes since December 19, 2004 when he was with the Toronto Raptors. Bosh missed all five of his jumpers more than five feet from the basket.

With the win, the Heat snapped a 14-game regular season losing streak to the Mavericks. That was the franchise’s longest active losing streak versus a single opponent and the third-longest all-time, according to Elias.

What 2 Watch 4: NBA Season Preview

December, 24, 2011
12/24/11
12:00
PM ET
By Micah Adams and Jason Starrett, ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
With the season set to tip-off on Christmas Day, here are four major statistical storylines to keep a close eye on:

Can the Mavericks repeat?
With the departure of Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson, the Dallas Mavericks will be the first defending champion since the 1998-99 Bulls to lose three of its top seven in minutes played from the previous season’s NBA Finals.

Added to the mix are Lamar Odom and Vince Carter. In Odom, the Mavericks added an incredibly efficient half-court scorer according to our video-tracking friends at Synergy Sports. Among all qualified forwards, he ranked third in the NBA in points per play in the half court, trailing only Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki.

Carter is also a good fit. Last season, only five teams scored more points on spot-up shots. In 2010-11 Carter ranked in the Top 25 in the NBA in field goal attempts per game, field goal percentage and points per game on spot-up shots.


How does Chris Paul improve the Clippers?
As a pick-and-roll ball handler last season, Chris Paul ranked sixth in the NBA in points per play among the 103 players with at least 100 pick-and-roll plays. As a team the Los Angeles Clippers ranked 17th in pick-and-roll efficiency while Paul’s old team in New Orleans ranked seventh.
Chris Paul
Paul
Look for Paul to help improve the Clippers jump-shooting woes as well. Last season the Clippers shot just 35.1 pct on jump shots which ranked dead last in the NBA. Paul ranked 20th in jump shot FG attempts, but did so with great efficiency, connecting on 44 percent. Of the 19 players which took more jumpers, only Dirk Nowitzki, Stephen Curry and Ray Allen shot a better percentage.

While the loss of Eric Gordon hurts, consider this: accounting for three-pointers, Gordon had a 48.5 adjusted FG pct on jump shots... worse than both Paul (49.8) and Chauncey Billups (52.7).


Will youth be served in Oklahoma City?
While James Harden and Serge Ibaka continue to improve, the main focus is on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Durant is looking to become the first player since Michael Jordan in 1997-98 to lead the league in scoring three straight seasons. Westbrook meanwhile is coming off a 2010-11 season in which he emerged as one of the league’s best finishers at the rim, ranking sixth in points scored within three feet.

Perhaps the biggest concern with the Thunder is the potential for an alpha-dog dispute. Durant was the unquestioned go-to guy down the stretch during the regular season, an assumption which was then challenged by Westbrook during the postseason (see chart).

Regardless of who takes the big shots, an improvement on their combined 3-26 effort would surely bring OKC closer to a title.

Bigger impact on the East: Richard Hamilton or Tyson Chandler?
While many presume we won’t know anything new about the Miami Heat until the playoffs, the same can’t be said for the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks who added major pieces in Richard Hamilton and Tyson Chandler.

The Bulls brought in Hamilton to take the place of Keith Bogans, who despite starting all 82 games, averaged just 4.4 PPG which was the fewest among all players with at least 50 starts. With Derrick Rose having the second-highest usage rate in the NBA last season, scoring without the ball is an essential skill for all other Bulls players. Among guards, Hamilton has the fifth-most assisted FG on shots beyond 15 feet over the last three seasons.

Chandler’s most significant responsibility will be to improve a Knicks interior defense which allowed opponents to shoot 45.3 percent on post ups last season (21st in the NBA). On post up plays in which he played single coverage, Chandler held opponents to 41.4 pct shooting. That is at least 5 points better than any of the players who saw minutes at center for the Knicks last season.

Dirk shines again in 4th, brings home title

June, 13, 2011
6/13/11
12:31
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive
For the first time in NBA history, the Larry O’Brien Trophy is headed to Dallas.

The Dallas Mavericks defeated the Miami Heat 105-95, becoming the fourth franchise in the past 20 postseasons to claim their first NBA title (2006 Heat, 1999 San Antonio Spurs and 1994 Houston Rockets).

They became the fifth team to win the NBA title as a No. 3 seed or lower since the current NBA playoff format began in 1984.

Jason Terry led the Mavericks with a game-high 27 points off the bench, scoring 19 in the first half.

Terry tied for the most points off the bench by a player in a series-clinching NBA Finals win since the NBA-ABA merger, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Manu Ginobili had 27 points when the Spurs beat the Cleveland Cavaliers (and LeBron James) in 2007.

Dirk Nowitzki
Nowitzki
Despite shooting 9-of-27 from the field in the series clincher, Dirk Nowitzki finished with 21 points including 10 in the fourth quarter.

Such efforts down the stretch, in addition to his overall performance for the series, earned Nowitzki the NBA Finals MVP. Nowitzki is just the fourth player born outside the U.S. to win the Finals MVP.

Nowitzki entered this postseason having scored 22,792 points in the regular season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the fourth-most by a player at the time of his first NBA title, trailing only Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, and West.

LeBron James led Miami with 21 points and Dwyane Wade added 17 points, but the two combined for 11 of the Heat's 17 turnovers.

For the series, James and Wade combined for 62 fourth-quarter points. Nowitzki, by himself, scored a total of 62 points in the fourth quarter of the series.

While James had a better showing in the fourth quarter in Game 6 than in previous games, his overall scoring was still well below his standards.

He finished with a 17.8 scoring average for the series, 8.9 points worse than what he averaged during the regular season (26.7).

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 8.9 points per game differential is the largest dropoff from the regular season to the NBA Finals in NBA history (among players who averaged at least 25 PPG during the regular season).

Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle improves to 11-3 all-time in potential series-clinching games, the best record in such games in NBA history (min. 10 games).

Carlisle joins Pat Riley (1982 Lakers) as the only coaches in the last 30 seasons to win an NBA title in their Finals coaching debut with a team that had a worse regular season record than its opponent.

And at 38 years old Jason Kidd became the second-oldest player to start in and win the NBA Finals. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was older. He won in 1987 and 1988 with the Lakers at ages 39 and 40.

Kidd and Nowitzki become the fifth and sixth players in NBA history to win their first NBA title after already making 10 or more All-Star teams.

The others? Jerry West, Kevin Garnett, Oscar Robertson and Elvin Hayes.

LeBron disappearing in crunch time

June, 10, 2011
6/10/11
10:00
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
With 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists last night, LeBron James posted his seventh playoff triple-double, his second in a losing effort.

It was the first Finals triple-double for James, who is the fifth losing player with a triple-double in the Finals, joining a Hall-of-Fame list with Jason Kidd, Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

Despite playing 46 minutes and putting up a triple-double, James struggled in Game 5, particularly with Dwyane Wade on the court. In the 31 minutes he played with Wade, James scored nine points on 4-of-13 shooting. In 14 minutes without Wade, James hit 4-of-6 shots and had eight points.

Adding Chris Bosh to the mix made things worse for the Miami Heat. He played 26 minutes with both James and Wade on the court, and Miami had a points differential of -14 in that time. Without Wade, the Heat were outscored by a single point with James and Bosh on the floor. During the three minutes when James was the sole member of the trio in the game, Miami outscored Dallas by five points.

Regardless of who is on the floor in the Finals, James has struggled in the fourth quarter, scoring a total of 11 points. His average of 2.2 fourth-quarter points per game in the Finals is far below his average of 7.6 points in the first three rounds.

Despite playing all 24 minutes in the fourth quarter of Games 4 and 5, James had only two total points, making him Miami’s fifth-leading scorer in that span, trailing Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller, along with Wade and Bosh. James does have half of the team’s five assists in the last two fourth quarters.

Perhaps most startling of all is LeBron James’ crunch-time absence in a series that has seen all five games decided late. When the score has been within five points in the last five minutes, James has yet to score in the series, missing all seven shots. Those numbers contrast sharply with Dirk Nowitzki's 26 crunch-time points on 8-13 shooting, not to mention the 34-point difference in plus-minus.

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