Preview & Chat: The Dallas Mavericks

Kurt —  March 15, 2009

Olympics Day 8 - Basketball
Records: Lakers 52-13 (1st in the West) Mavericks 40-26 (8th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.8 (1st in league) Mavericks 109.6 (8th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.6 (6th in league) Mavericks 108.0 (15th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Mavericks Jason Kidd, Jose Barea, Antoine Wright, Dirk Nowitzki, Eric “worst contract in the NBA” Dampier

Matadors, baby!!! My alma mater, Cal State Northridge, made the NCAA Tournament. And it is a great story — on Jan. 26 this team was 7-10, (4-5 in conference) when it’s leading scorer got kicked off the team for being a complete idiot. A few weeks later, the team’s point guard was in a car accident that gave him internal injuries and knocked him out for the season. I and a lot of fans had started to write the season off.

But they rallied around Rodrigue Mels, who after a year and a half of uninspired basketball took over the team and started being efficient ad hitting Kobeesque crazy shots. Combine that with a style good for a smallish underdog team — aggressive gambling defense and a shoot first and ask questions later offense — and they got hot. They won the Big West then the two games they needed in the Big West Tournament. This means I’m buying more Northridge gear to wear this week.

The Lakers coming in: One reason the Lakers offense is so good is it gets shots close to the basket. Against the Spurs, the Lakers were 22 of 39 (56%) in the paint. Gasol was 8 of 11. We all see the Lakers offense struggle some when they get away from going inside (or it is taken away from them) and it is because they just become a less efficient offense — when the ball goes inside the Lakers score a high percentage.

A sign of where Lamar Odom’s head is. Or isn’t. In March, he is 5 of 15 from the free throw line.

The Mavericks Coming In: The Mavericks are facing some injury issues, particularly at the three, where Josh Howard and Devean George are out.

Dallas is 7-3 in their last 10 games, the same record as the Lakers, and they are playing a little desperate. Dallas needs these wins – as the 8 seed they would get the Lakers in the first round, but they are only a game and a half our of the division lead and a top-4 seed with home court. And a better first-round matchup. It will not be easy, however, 11 of their remaining 17 games are against teams over .500, and the Mavs have not been a great road team this year. (The remaining Lakers opponents, by the way, have an average winning percentage of .460.)

How are the Mavs getting geared up for the playoffs? I asked Rob of Two Man Game for his thoughts:

I’m not sure that the Mavs’ recent approach is fundamentally different than it has been all season long. They still live and die by jumpshots, which affects their ability to play on both ends. When the shooters disappear, the Mavs’ defensive focus goes with them and things go from bad to worse. So when the Mavs are playing “well,” it typically means that they are uncharacteristically attacking the basket or the shots are falling. When that confidence builds up on the offensive end, this Maverick team really steps it up defensively. The rotations are more crisp, there aren’t as many long rebounds to jump-start opponents’ fast breaks, and the intensity on the glass seems to improve. So it’s not so much that the Mavs are gearing up for the postseason as it is that they’ve enjoyed some good offensive nights recently.

There is one noted area of improvement: in recent wins over Portland and Phoenix, the Mavs have shown more guts than they have all season. The loss to Golden State makes those games seem like distant memories, but it’d be a shame to discount two hard-fought wins. If the Mavs can somehow steal a win in L.A., I’d still consider the trip to be an incredible success. Even showing some defensive progress would be nice, but by now I know better; this team is what it is defensively. I’ll settle for a gutsy, close victory over a true contender, and that type of game will do more for the Mavs than a decisive victory either way.

Long term, the Mavs are at a crossroads, and it will be interesting to see how they handle it. Is this a team that, as owner Mark Cuban believes, is one Gasol-like trade away from contending again? Or is it time to blow it all up and start to rebuild? The Jason Kidd contract comes off the books this summer and the first-reaction thought is to let him walk. But the Mavs are already over the cap and pushing the tax for next year without him. Can they really get a better PG for the mid-level? The position they really need to improve is the three, do they try to go that way with a trade and bring back Kidd cheaply to run the show for a better roster?

Again, thoughts from Rob:

Obviously it depends on how big the ‘piece’ is. Any significant Mavs’ move is either going to come via trade in 2009-2010 or 2010 free agency. The 2010 angle seems nearly impossible without some serious cap maneuvering, so I consider it to have a pretty huge asterisk.

The current team has some glaring holes (shooting guard and center, perimeter defense), and unless the additions specifically address those weaknesses it’s hard to see this team becoming a legitimate contender once again. That said, the Mavs don’t need Dwyane Wade to jump into the top tier (although it wouldn’t hurt, that’s for sure). Even one of the 2010 free agents lingering just outside the spotlight could make a huge difference (paging Joe Johnson), provided they occupy one of those problem positions. So in short, I think it’s true. If the Mavs could add a good to great player without giving much up, it could definitely thrust them into contention.

To say that Mavs fans are conflicted wouldn’t cover the half of it. It’s easy to see that the Mavs are aging by the day, and many have already grown impatient with second-tier status. Whether that impatience translates to a desire to blow it up and start over seems to change by the game. If at the heart of the issue is ‘Can the Mavs become elite once again with this group?’, then smaller issues like Josh Howard’s tenuous place on the team and whether it’s fair to give up on Dirk serve as both clarification and complication. It’s not an easy situation to sort through, and the fans are feeling that. Generally speaking, though, I think most of the fans are content to stay with Dirk, trade Josh, and play the 2010 market.

Keys To The Game: Beware of the Ides of March. The Lakers just seem to have the Mavs number, having beaten then five straight times. That includes two wins this season, both by seven points. But the Mavs are a desperate team with a leader who is playing well, this is not going to be an easy game.

One of the key reasons is that the Lakers do a good job on Dirk — he has shot just 12 of 32 in the first two meetings this year against the Lakers. In those games, Gasol was on him most of the time because Bynum was in on Dampier. Tonight things will go to Lamar Odom, who also is long and has some success against Dirk. If that doesn’t work, the Lakers can go with DJ Mbenga on Dampier and move Gasol back over to the four. Nowitzk has been playing well of late, scoring 30 a game the last eight games shooting 51%, but the key is not to let him get too many shots in the paint, make him shoot contested jumpers. If the Lakers can continue to hold him in check it could be a long night for the Mavs.

If the Mavs get into the paint, it is on penetration, they rarely have post plays set up. Dirk likes the ball at the elbow, and they run a lot of pick-and-pop with Kidd or with Terry off the bench (but he often closes out games. The Lakers have to defend that well.

The Lakers must close out on shooters. Must. Close. Out. This is not a great team to play pack-the-paint against.

The Mavs struggle to match up in man-to-man with the Lakers, and in a game I caught some of the other night they went to a lot of zone. I expect the Lakers will see a fair amount of that tonight.

Where you can watch: 12:30 start at Staples, showing on ABC. After reading the comments from the last post, I know you’ll all tune in early to watch that ABC Studio show.

By the way, I am at today’s game, so expect more comments and twitters from me than usual.


Kurt

Posts

225 responses to Preview & Chat: The Dallas Mavericks

  1. RE Ammo playing Sasha’s minutes:

    I’d rather dance with the devil I know, even if he’s slumping. And I say this even though I’m not sure Sasha will (at least this season) reach last year’s levels. I know that playing with a quality big on the floor will help, but I don’t expect Bynum and/or Gasol to be some magical elixir to our bench guards who’ve been struggling. Like Kurt said, these guys need to play to their individual strengths and to the strengths of the team. To me, this means that they need to feed the post more and execute the cuts and motions of the offense that lead to good looks. One thing that is noticeable with our second team (Farmar, Sasha, Luke, Powell, Gasol/Odom) is that the cuts are not as crisp and the screens are not as precise. Phil moved Luke to this unit to help with this, but he’s only one player. I think better screens would generate much cleaner looks for Sasha and Powell while also creating more space for Farmar to either shoot or drive to the basket. Right now it’s just not happening and I hope to see better execution rather than a shakeup with our lineups/rotations.

    One last point on Sasha. He’s just an inconsistent player. But most bench players are. I get frustrated too, but I also like that he continues to shoot the ball when he’s got an open look. I know that he missed 3 straight jumpers over two consecutive possessions, but he was the open man. I’d be much more worried if he’s passing on wide open looks and moving the ball to another player. That would indicate that he’s completely shaken and no longer worth playing. Believe me, there will be games, in the playoffs, where his shot making will make a difference. Right now, he’s getting 12-15 minutes a game. What he does with them can help us greatly, but really won’t hurt us too much (even in a game like today’s where I would argue it was our defensive slip ups and problems attacking the Mavs zone that bothered us more than a guy missing shots).

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  2. about the PRP, considering the area where an MCL injury happens already is in a place where plenty of blood is available, i don’t think the treatment would’ve made a big difference. If it was an ACL injury where the recovery time is at least a year (as exhibited by Tom Brady and our own Adam Morrison), it probably would shave off a significant part of the recovery time.

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  3. hey darius,
    all good points, I think part of my frustration with sasha was also that his man was JET during that stretch, and the one play where they cut it to 87-85 was when Kidd drove around the right side of the court and under the basket, and appeared to be trapped only to bounce a pass to an open JET sitting in the corner, so I backed up the DVR, and replayed that again in slo-mo, he was Sasha’s man, Sasha turned his head away from JET, watching Kidd, collapsing towards the hoop, ran into a pick, but while this was happening, as soon as he lost sight of JET, he slipped away for that wide open trey from the corner. I have been noticing lately that sasha seems to get burned a lot that way. that was part of my point way back near the head of this thread, if he can’t hit a shot now, can’t he at least work harder on D, focus, pay attention, play smart as he can. so to your point, I felt he was a part of the 20 to 2 run in both missing shots, and poor D.

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  4. chris h,
    I hear you and understand where you’re coming from. Sasha, like Odom and Ariza, really is a help oriented player and can lose his man. In the Spurs game, both Ariza and Sasha consistently left their man in the corner to provide help from both the strong and the weakside. And both of them were burned by Finley, Hill, and Udoka. Today, it was Terry. A lot of that is instincts though and is a tough habit to break. I still say, though, that 20-2 runs happen against units and not one or two players. I am not trying to defend Sasha, I’m just saying that he is the guy we have on our roster and he’s the guy that should be playing. He’s our backup SG and will have to play through his issues, for better or for worse. Ammo (like RadMan, for announcers or writers or commenters that say we miss his shooting or now lack depth) is a SF and not an option for these minutes because his (their) position is already being manned by Ariza and Walton (two guys that Phil trusts). I don’t think we have an alternative option on our roster at this point, so I think we just roll with Sasha. But, like I said earlier, I do hear what you’re saying.

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  5. yeah, all good points darius, and we all know that Phil likes to let his guys play through their ups and downs, (it will pass..)
    and who am I to question the Zen master, as well as the smart guys we have around here…just frustrated and venting.
    I do hope we see him come around, and start believing in himself again. Maybe ol’ B Shaw needs to spend some time with him on (no pun intended) his mechanics.

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  6. Wondahbap – whenever I hear the classic Waltonism (maybe by way of Wooden) “Don’t ever mistake activity for achievement,” I think of Sasha and his ridiculous attempts to press the ball 50 feet away from the basket in this era of ultra-strict handcheck rules.

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  7. My concerns are more about Jordan than Sasha, but it’s the overall defensive tendencies of the 2nd unit that bothers me most. One of Sasha’s defensive weaknesses is helping off his man (when he needs to stay home)–but this a weakness shared by just about every player on our team! Jordan’s problem is that he either goes under screens or doesn’t fight through them. (There was one important sequence were he went under a screen at JET nailed a 3.) Will this change once Bynum is back in the paint?

    What I want to see from Jordan, in the following order, is (1) sound defense, (2) effective dribble penetration that sets up his teammates for high % shots in rhythm, and (3) knocking down jumpers when they become available. Instead I’m seeing a recurring loop of him over-dribbling, forcing bad passes, and getting burned by his man. He’s a high-risk high-reward player when all we need is for him to be solid.

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  8. I got 4 words for all the pessimists: Calm the frak down. All these things we’ve seen from Luke and Sasha before, its just that the shots were falling and the passes hit their men before. This is statistics; eventually, something non-beneficial is going to occur during any given iteration of any basketball play. Where was the whining when Sasha was hitting crazy jumpers coming off screens at a million miles per hour? What about when Luke was hitting Bynum and Gasol with bounce passes through traffic for dunks? Shots miss and passes get deflected: get over it. For some notes…

    1.) Adventures in the Inaccuracy of the Plus/Minus Statistics, Volume III: Pau Gasol, 12-13, 25 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 assists, +5. DJ Mbenga, 1-2, 2 points, 1 rebound, +6. So, did Mbenga have a better game than Gasol? I rest my case.

    2.) Why the Lakers Won: Lakers, 42-80 for 52.5% shooting, Mavericks, 33-83, 39.8% shooting. Our defense forced them into a lot of bad shots. We especially held down Dirk, who is among the best ever in terms of shooting percentages.

    3.) Why the Lakers Almost Lost: Lakers, 16 TO’s, 15-22 FTM-A, 8-22 3PM-A, Dallas, 11 TO’s, 21-30 FTM-A, 13-34 3PM-A. The Lakers gave up 8 more free throws, turned the ball over 5 more times, and gave up 5 more threes.

    4.) Josh Powell needs some dunking practice. Seriously. Or he needs some more anger in his life. One or the other.

    5.) Given Sasha’s struggles, I would not mind at all giving Shannon Brown some time at the 2-guard. Yea, he’s a little short, but he can literally jump out of the building. He seems comfortable on defense and serviceable on offense, so I wouldn’t mind seeing some late 2nd quarter minutes for Brown.

    6.) We really struggled against their zone until Kobe came in the game. Our guys really should’ve watched Louisville vs. Syracuse; Louisville just cut Syracuse’s zone to ribbons with some quick interior passes.

    7.) Jason Kidd played 46 minutes, wtf?

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  9. 206. Wisegloat,
    Not that I want to respond to every post, but I don’t mind Sasha picking up full court or trying to pester the ballhandler. For one, I think it’s what the coaches are asking of him. And second, he’s pretty good at turning the ball handler and making the opposing offense use valuable time on the shot clock. I think it was Kevin Pelton that first made this point, but the Lakers become a devastating defensive team when they force the opposition to use the clock and then utilize their length and quickness advantages to rotate and contest shots. We really are a good *scrambling* defensive team. It’s those situations where we’re lazy or missing rotations that we suffer from the most.

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  10. In reading through the comments, I’ve seen a tendency to pile on Sasha and Luke for mistakes and missed shots. It would have been almost as easy to apply a similar yardstick to Josh Powell and Lamar Odom.

    Though Lamar seemed to statistically have adequate points (10) and excellent rebound #s (14), he missed 2/3 of his shots–including one of his famous “Oh No!, Dumb” 3 pointers at an especially critical part of the game. He showed such bad judgment near the end of the game, that Phil actually pulled him in favor of Sasha.

    Josh Powell missed several key shots, including what seemed to be a sure “alley oop.” He did little to rally the 2nd unit.

    Luke’s play was so unfortunate, in part, because he was playing with new partners on the second team–his choice. Luke would have looked better with the starting unit. Trevor clearly benefitted from that switch.

    Even though neither Odom nor Powell had especially good games, they probably would not have even looked that good if Josh Howard had been playing.

    Whether it is currently a physical problem or not, Sasha has not ever fully recovered from his early season injury: the machine is out of calibration. He has compensated by improving his pesky defense and taking the ball to the basket. He even dunked on a fast break recently.

    This was obviously a very good game for Trevor, who had a career night, Pau, who may have had his best first half all season, and Kobe, who came to the rescue at the end of the game and restored momentum.

    I’m not blaming any of the Laker players–and I’m delighted with their overall play–especially the defense through most of the game and at the end. The Lakers did WIN the game.

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  11. Darius-
    Your point about the 2nd unit not making cuts and the ball movement red flagged something I have noticed about the Lakers. Like you said they are not setting hard screens. If you look at Boston, they extend their elbows, hold the defender, and do all these other things during the screen that referees tend to not call. The result, wide open looks for Ray Allen who tends to drain those money shots.

    I understand teams know our offense just as well as we do, so maybe players cheat over screen or under. But that does not give an excuse to execute a solid screen. It is the little fundamental things like setting your defender up for the screen that allows you to utilize it.

    Just my bone to pick with the current Lakers.

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  12. The Dude Abides March 15, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    All excellent points made on both sides of the Sasha issue. He does need to press the ballhandler without falling, and he does need to keep track of his man if his man is a knock-down shooter. It’s so easy to just stay with your guy if all he’s doing is spotting up. Dallas wasn’t running that many screens for Terry, so why were our guards so worried about helping on a guy like Kidd, who almost never penetrates to score…especially when the guy they’re leaving is Terry? Guys, know your opponents.

    One more point to make re Ammo’s defense: if he’s guarding backup twos, then in the West playoffs we’re talking about Ginobili or Mason for SA, J.R. Smith for DEN, Ronnie Price or Kyle Korver for UTA, Rudy for POR, Terry for DAL, and Von Wafer for HOU. [Shudder]. The only backup two guard who might not completely torch him would be MoPete of the Hornets.

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  13. Exactly what Sasha is going through is one reason that I thought a moniker was not appropriate. One should only receive a nickname when they have statistics that help the team consistently. Or, they have hit a big shot in a big game (see Derek Fisher .04) or Robert Horry’s three!

    Sasha disappeared last year in the finals and has yet to do anything worth mentioning this season. In case anyone has lost count there are less than 20 games left to play in the regular season.

    He has had ample time to be a contributor four plus years and the best year that we got out of him was a contract year?

    Come on! He steps on the floor and shoots a pull up jumper. Then when the Lakers were down he shot the ball three consecutive times wide open and could not hit a shot. I bet Luke would have hit one of three and he is not even considered a shooter.

    So quick to dump on Luke, who is very serviceable in the triangle, yet allow Sasha (Not the Machine) Sasha to get off with lame excuses of a year long slump.

    And defensively, he is fouling more than being a pesk to the opposing team.

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  14. The Dude Abides March 15, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    196, 201 re PRP–My main point is that there really isn’t any downside risk to PRP when compared to rest/rehab. All you’re doing is putting a teaspoon-sized amount of your own blood into a centrifuge that separates out the platelets, then reinjecting the platelets into the injured area. If it doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work and you don’t miss any significant rehab time. If it only works a little, then you can shave one or two weeks off your recovery time. That’s two-thirds to one and one-half playoff series. And if it works really well, you can shorten your recovery by 30-40%, especially if you undergo more than one PRP procedure.

    As for the MCL, yes it’s a large ligament and there’s already a decent amount of blood there, but PRP is basically supercharging the healing qualities of that blood, and that’s my whole point. Low risk, high reward.

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  15. PRP does sound relatively risk free; could it increase swelling and thus affect the wound aversely? Can’t think of much, but then again I’m an econ major.

    Also, Bynum’s YOUNG. Not like Ward who may have a lot of mileage and young athletes’ blood’s probably pretty supercharged with stuff anyway.

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  16. The Dude Abides March 16, 2009 at 3:23 am

    212. Ugh. I meant “press the ballhandler without fouling.” Don’t know where that came from.

    215. “PRP does sound relatively risk free; could it increase swelling and thus affect the wound aversely?”

    That’s what I’ve been thinking too, so I would expect that when you’re looking at an 8 to 12 week period of recovery, you could wait two or three weeks after the injury for the swelling to go down, then do the procedure.

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  17. Dude,

    I think you’ve coined a new term. “The Dunleavy” or “Their Dunleavy”. As in: “Ever since the Thunder fired their Dunleavy before the all star break, their young team has played much better.”

    “Although conflicted due to the history their Dunleavy had with the team both as a player and coach, the Sixers fired the Dunleavy and is now a play-off bound team to be reckoned with.”

    This even can be applied on a temporary basis:

    “Having blown a 7 point lead with 55 seconds to go in regulation and an 8 point lead in the first OT in their eventual triple OT loss to the Heat, Utah’s Dunleavy intentionally got himself thrown out in the 1st quarter to get his team fired up without avail.”

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  18. My earlier comment notwithstanding, I’m still fairly high on Sasha. Despite the fact that his shot hasn’t been falling with last year’s regularity, I think he’s still figured out ways to contribute with his ballhandling, defense, and playmaking. I don’t fault him for taking and missing the open shots he was getting last game – hopefully next time he takes a bit more time, as some of those shots looked rushed coming out of his hand.

    I just wish that he would pick and choose his spots to hyperactively harass the ball-handler so as to avoid drawing those cheap ticky-tack fouls that NBA refs love calling so much (that lame foul that Brandon Roy drew in the Portland game comes to mind). But, like you say Darius, that could just be what the coaches tell him to do everytime.

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  19. 174- The Mavs made their run against most of the starters at the end of the 3rd because the starters began to mess around and try to get “cool” shots and passess off. We do this against teams wayyy to early, but usually get away with it.

    217- Looks like Odom was just having one of his breif spells of brillance because is really struggling again.. Do you think he picks it back up before playoffs?

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  20. The way I see it, the bench’s struggles is a direct effect of Bynum going out:

    Bench + Pau/Drew + LO = Success

    Bench + Pau = Not so much
    (especially since they refuse to give him the ball, instead opting for fade away jumpers and the like)

    Also – Drew’s impact on the defensive end cannot be overstated. The Laker world will be a better place when he’s back. I’d still prefer to bring him off the bench however. We should milk the Gasol-LO-Kobe combination as much as possible, since it’s incredibly effective.

    Towards the end of the regular season, I hope to see Drew taking over quite a bit of Pau’s minutes. Pau barely had any rest this summer (he has tp do more for Spain than Kobe does for the US for obvious reasons, and he’s a bigger body), and even though he’s incredibly durable for a big man – he’s still a big man. Unless he gets some pre-playoffs rest, there’s a definate risk that he’ll fade a little bit towards the end.

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  21. The Dude Abides March 16, 2009 at 8:49 am

    217, 221–Tom Ziller at Sactown Royalty asked all the commenters to stop dropping so many F-bombs in the comments…so they all agreed to substitute “Natt” every time they want to use the F-bomb. So in their game comments you would see stuff like, “Come on Kings, plays some natting defense. Natt!”

    Somehow I don’t think Kenny Natt will be their coach next season. We have been very lucky to have such an owner as Jerry Buss all these years.

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  22. Stringing these notes together with the previous post discussion about announcers, anyone have a clue why JVG-Breen-Jackson didn’t mention how badly the bench played compared to the starters?

    If you wanted a quick summary of yesterday’s game, no question it’s that the Lakers’ starters outplayed the Mavs, but the bench let the Mavs back in the game, particularly with a huge run in the end 3rd/start 4th. Phil brought the starters back in the game a little earlier than usual b/c the game situation, they took over and finished off the Mavs. But the announcers didn’t point this out. There’s no unspoken rule against calling out the bench. I liked when JVG called out the awful Mavs D on one of Pau’s easy first half baskets. It struck me as really weird that no announcer mentioned this.

    Also, I vote to ease up on Sasha’s shooting. Bench players only get a few shots, so their FG% will tend to be really good or really bad. He did go 2-2 against SA. I agree with the posters who are more concerned with Sasha and Jordan’s D. They need to stop helping so much and shut down open 3’s.

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  23. Shaister42,

    Some of the open 3’s are a product of the strong side trap the Lakers will play, but there are also a lot of 3’s given up by cheating in on the weak side for no reason (Sasha is great at this). It just makes no sense to cheat in when you cannot make a play by helping out, instead you get burned for a 3. Especially when your guy ONLY want to shoot 3’s (Eddie House, Jason Terry).

    Regarding JVG’s comment about the Mavs D. I thought it was funny. See comment #40.

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  24. Fun game to be at, it got so loud in Staples during the comeback that never should have been needed.

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