Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Don't sell Shawn Marion short
By Jeff Caplan ESPNDallas.com
DALLAS -- The Oklahoma City Thunder's ultra-dynamic All-Star duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook raised their shooting percentages this season to career highs.
Durant hit for 49.6 percent; Westbrook for 45.7. In seizing a 2-0 first-round series lead over the Dallas Mavericks, Durant has stumbled to 34.1 percent; Westbrook has rocketed to 52.3.
There's one: The Matrix.
Through two playoff games, Shawn Marion has helped hold Kevin Durant to more than 15 percent below his regular-season shooting percentage.
Mavs small forward Shawn Marion is again applying defensive clamps to one of the league's top scorers -- in fact, the No. 1 scorer the past three seasons. The 6-foot-7 Marion might give up four good inches to the incredibly long-limbed Durant, and a decade-plus on the birth certificate, but there's nothing old about the game Marion is delivering in this series.
He has been so good in forcing Durant into 15-of-44 shooting -- which to Marion's frustration includes, as he put it, the "tough-ass shot, lucky bounce" Game 1 winner that overshadowed Durant's 10-of-27 night -- that Mavs coach Rick Carlisle hasn't ruled out shifting Marion at times onto the explosive Westbrook during Thursday's Game 3 in Dallas.
The problem with moving Marion is the damage Durant might inflict on any other Mavs defender. A small sample size in Games 1 and 2 doesn't bode well for Dallas, no matter how undefendable Westbrook might be for the Mavs' backcourt.
Marion, who finished an unheralded eighth in Defensive Player of the Year voting released Wednesday, has picked up his game at the other end, too. He's averaging 16.0 points on 52.2 percent shooting -- including an eye-rubbing 4-of-9 from beyond the 3-point arc -- and a team-high 8.0 rebounds. He's bettered his season stats of 10.6 and 7.4, making Durant earn his keep at both ends of the floor.
"His all-around game is essential to our success," Carlisle said.
Marion turns 34 on Monday and hopes to be celebrating his birthday in Oklahoma City while preparing for Game 5 that night. If not, it would mean the defending champs were swept out of the first round.
If only the Mavs could clone The Matrix.
It's a somewhat ironic thought considering the Mavs could be prepared to amnesty their second-most productive player. The amnesty options are either Marion, who continues his finest season in Dallas on the heels of his brilliant championship run, or underachieving starting center Brendan Haywood. It's a decision that will have to be made if No. 1 free-agent-target-to-be Deron Williams signs with Dallas this summer.
Even if the former The Colony star chooses to be the face of the new Brooklyn Nets instead of the heir apparent with his hometown team, the Mavs' amnesty card could still be in play. It depends on how owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson proceed with rebuilding the team at the start of Dirk Nowitzki's twilight years and how much cap space they need to create.
Written into the new collective bargaining agreement, the amnesty clause allows a team to waive one player and eliminate his contract for salary-cap and luxury tax purposes. The team remains on the hook for the remaining salary of the player, who is put in a waiver system for teams under the salary cap to bid on. If the player is not taken, he becomes a free agent.
This could be Marion's fate, but in no way should it be. Marion has two more years on his deal at about $18 million. Haywood still has three guaranteed seasons at about $28 million.
If the Mavs are concerned they'd be left without a big body to patrol the paint next season if Haywood were to be jettisoned, it certainly would be a lesser issue than cutting out their heart and soul one summer after letting Tyson Chandler go.
Haywood's on-again, off-again motor earned him diminished minutes as this regular season dwindled and he logged fewer than 10 minutes in Monday's Game 2 loss, finishing without a rebound. He was benched for the start of the second half and hasn't played in crunch time of either game this series.
"Trix is an all-around defensive weapon," Nowitzki said. "He's guarded 1s, 2s, 3s and 4s this year. He's long, he can move his feet, contest shots and he's still strong enough to guard some 4s. So to us, he's definitely our defensive player of the year."
Marion is also as agitated as he's been all year with the Mavs facing an early critical juncture in their title defense. He quickly left Tuesday's practice to avoid another round of questions from the media.
He was hot while talking after Game 2, sweat dripping down his forehead even though he had just showered and dressed. He fumed that the Mavs had again lost a game that was within their grasp, repeating the theme from Game 1 that they never should have been in that position in the first place.
Marion was exasperated that Durant, just 5-of-17 from the floor, walked to the free throw line 16 times, made 14 and after two games is averaging what on the surface would seem to be a gaudy 25.5 points a game.
As frustrations rise with the stakes for the defending champs, perhaps Marion put his state of mind best prior to Game 2. It's unlikely it has changed.
"I'm a warrior, I'm a competitor," Marion said. "I play both ends of the floor and, s---, let's go. Let's go."