Preview & Chat: The Dallas Mavericks

Kurt —  October 30, 2009

Dallas Mavericks vs Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles
Records: Lakers 1-0 Mavericks 0-1
Offensive (pts per 100 poss): Lakers 101.6 Mavericks 100.5
Defensive (pts per 100 poss): Lakers 94.4 Mavericks 112.7
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Mavericks: Jason Kidd, Quinton Ross, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Erick Dampier

The Lakers Coming in: Once again, no Pau Gasol tonight, although he is possible for Sunday against Atlanta. Phil Jackson said something interesting about the team not rushing Gasol back: Ron Artest’s versatility is a key part of what makes that possible.

The one concern coming out of the first game was the play of the bench, which didn’t wow anybody in the preseason, either. Certainly, the return of Gasol, moving Odom to the sixth man role, will help with that. But Sasha got yanked fast after a defensive lapse in the first half Tuesday, Jordan Farmar seemed to really push looking to assert himself (and not always successfully), and DJ Mbenga returned to shooting like it is the regular season. (Yes, DJ hit jumpers in preseason, he does in shoot around too, but that is very different from regular season game action.) We will see tonight if the unit plays better, although to be fair the fourth quarter run that gave the Lakers the win included a number of bench players. Just something to watch.

The Lakers have a six game winning streak against the Mavericks, including a sweep last season.

The Mavericks Coming in: Dallas comes in off a disappointing season opening loss to the Wizards, in part because the Hibachi got hot. That game was won in the backcourt matchup — Dallas starters Kidd and Ross combined for just six points on the night. I asked Rob from Two Man Game a couple questions about that:

1) Marion was not the support for Dirk he was expected to be in game one. Is he still adjusting to the players and system?

There’s no doubt that Marion is still getting his sea legs. And it’s to be expected, honestly. Marion’s adjusting to a minimal offensive role after being (at least, theoretically) more prominent in Miami and Toronto, he’s adjusting to the strengths and weaknesses of his new teammates, he’s adjusting to the offensive and defensive sets, and he’s adjusting to Rick Carlisle. Marion’s incredibly aware on the court, but one of the reasons why his anticipation is so strong is because he understands spacing. He knows when to make the cuts, and he knows when to hit the boards. Those things take time to figure out when you’re playing with a completely different team, and as soon as Marion gets a better grip on the flow of the offense and each player’s spots, I’m sure he’ll shine.

He’s already had some tough critics for a one-game performance, especially considering he really didn’t play that badly. Marion still showed up his positional counterpart, Caron Butler, with some solid defense and a back-to-the-basket game I didn’t really know Shawn had.

2) The Wizards offensive numbers were fantastic, was that a matter of a hot team or bad defense (or a combination)? Was it the Pick-and-roll?

I always want to pick one of the polar answers on these types of questions, but basketball is such a middling sport. I’m not sure anyone expected Gilbert Arenas to get off to the start that he did, and his combination of quickness going to the basket and a pull-up game was a tough cover for the Mavs’ guard corps. Randy Foye and Andray Blatche also came out of relative obscurity to lend a hand in the opening night festivities, and those are, in my mind, the more grievous defensive problems. I can deal with Gil dropping big points, and hey, for that matter, I can deal with a role player getting hot from now and again. There are 82 games, and these are the inevitabilities. But Jason Terry’s defense on Foye was just miserable, and he was getting abused by Foye’s quick cuts and use of picks along the perimeter. Blatche showed more energy in this one game than I’ve ever seen him play with in the NBA, and just abused the Mavs’ bigs with his activity. Everything seemed a bit slow for Dallas, and Blatche took full advantage of the rust en route to a big night on the scoreboard and the offensive glass.

The Mavs’ inability to defend the pick-and-roll has been a recurring theme for the better part of a decade. Though they’re somehow capable of handcuffing San Antonio’s screen game, teams with a quick point guard and a finishing big have most of the ingredients necessary to topple Dallas. Gil and Brendan Haywood proved that theory in the first half ad nausem, ending in not one, not two, but three uncontested Haywood slams. Arenas also had the benefit of some extra room on his jumper, and though he couldn’t stick all of them, they were good looks. Honestly, this is probably the area that separates the Mavs from the true elite. They just don’t have the quickness, the anticipation, or the communication to defend the pick and roll effectively. The Mavs can and will still win plenty of games through their offense, rebounding, and other facets of their defensive game, but they’re at a real disadvantage to teams who know (and can) go to the pick and roll early and often.

Dallas has gone in to a “Win Now” mode — the five players who logged the most court time in the season opener (Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, and Erick Dampier) are all at least 31 years old. Which is why a loss to the Lakers and going 0-2 could play to the insecurities of that team and its fan base.

Quinton Ross is starting at the two because Josh Howard is out with a lingering ankle injury following off-season surgery.

Dirk Nowitzki apparently worked on his back-to-the-basket game this summer. I’ll be curious to see if the try to use it. Like the Lakers with Gasol, it makes sense to put him on the block like that against the teams with smaller fours, but with the Lakers size that is less of an easy basket.

The focus this past training camp for the Mavericks was getting better on defense, something they apparently did not carry over into the first regular season game. However, expect them to be a lot more focused on that end of the court tonight. Ross will get the majority of Kobe time, but others will have a chance.

One guy to watch on Dallas, if he gets in the game, is the rookie from France Rodrigue Beaubois. I was fortunate to see him a couple times at Summer League and he was one of the guys everybody wanted to watch — he is lightning quick, can pass and wasn’t a bad finisher. He is still learning how to harness all that into the NBA game, but he could be very good.

Blogs and Links: To learn more about Dallas, check out The Two Man Game.

Also, live chat as ESPN tonight if you want to go by, just log on here any time after the early game starts.

For those of you stat nuts out there, a new site to check out is Hoopdata, which tracks a lot of information including a lot of the expected advanced stats as well as charges drawn, shot locations, assist locations and more. It has stats from the last three seasons as well as this one. It’s too early to read anything into statistics for this year, but the site is well worth checking out.

Excerpts of the may never be released Tim Donaghy book are out, and I thought wondahbap made a great point in the comments.

Donaghy really didn’t tell us anything we don’t know. Some of you think it may change the way you view the game, but like the change of the “traveling” rule, it really shouldn’t change anything.

How many people here play(ed) basketball? How many times have you felt your team isn’t getting a fair whistle, but instead of whining, you tell your teammates to play through it and adjust to the whistle? The best team will, and that’s why they are better. That is what makes the difference between a good amateur player, and a good professional. Adjustments. Why do you think Kobe is as great as he is? Because when the money is on the line, he can score with defenders draped all over him, he can hit big shots in hostile environments, and make his free throws. The Lakers were the best road team last year because they could handle, good or bad, whatever the refs gave them and adjust.

Finally, a trivia question: Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki are two of the three NBA players who have averaged at least 20 points per game the last nine seasons. Who is the third? (Answer at the bottom of the post.)

Off Topic Question of the Day: Anybody using Google Wave? Thoughts?

Keys to game: While we were all watching the Lakers get their rings a couple nights back, Gilbert Arenas was carving up the Dallas defense on the way to a Wizards win. Dallas has long struggled to cover good shooting guards/small forwards, and apparently that has not changed. So this could be another very good night for those of you with Kobe on your fantasy team — he has scored at least 25 points against Dallas in 16 of the last 17 meetings between these teams, and has 40 or more five times.

One guy the Lakers need to watch off the bench is Jason Terry, who last year had the highest shooting percentage in the league on two-point jump shots (49.2%). He has killed the Lakers before with the midrange, you can’t help off him.

Odom, who has been playing with amazing confidence, will start on Dirk, but expect Artest and Powell likely to get some time. Obviously, slowing him is a key.

Transition defense will be important — Kidd is not as fast as he was but he still makes fantastic decisions in transition. Also, with Marion on the wing, he has a good option to dish to. Also, in his pregame interview at Lakers.com, assistant coach Jim Cleamons said that Kidd becomes a dangerous three-point shooter late in the clock — when he does not have an option to pass — and that the Lakers need to be aware of that and be there to contest the shot.

Where you can watch: This is an ESPN broadcast, starting at 7:30 Pacific.

The trivia answer: Vince Carter.

Kurt

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