My fellow £ers, the time has come for the Spurs' final regular-season matchup with the Dallas Mavericks, and what better way to commemorate it, than with a round-robin version of Fraternizing with the Enemy? Commenting for PoundingtheRock we have SpursFanSteve, silverandblack_davis, CapHill and your very own Coach Abraham. Representing MavsMoneyBall are LJRotter, Bryan Gutierrez, tcat75 and Travis Wimberly. MMB won the coin toss and has chosen to defer, so SFS will be leading off. Steve, take it away.
(If you feel like heading over to see the MMB crowd's thread, behave yourself and go here.)
Hi, LJ, it's SpursfanSteve from over at Pounding the Rock, and I get the privilege of
launching the opening salvo starting the friendly discussion between us Pounders and you nice folks over at Mavs Moneyball. So, where to start? I haven't been watching the Mavs much recently, so I suppose I'll just tell you what I've been noticing about the Spurs. I've got to admit, right now, my Spurs fan confidence is low, to say the least. We haven't been playing well, even in wins, for at least two weeks. But it feels like an eternity. It doesn't appear to be a "talent" issue, unless you count decision making as a talent (it should probably be up there somewhere). Essentially making the right decision when faced with the question- Should I catch and shoot, or drive to the basket?
Choose the one marked "catch and shoot" please
In the Spurs offense, we've always done best when the answer was always understood to be "catch and shoot." However, I've recently seen lots and lots of dribbling from people who are supposed to be 3 point snipers (I'm looking at you, George Hill). When we shoot 3's in rhythm, we tend to shoot them pretty well, and we tend to win games. When we don't, we end up looking sloppy, barely beating bad teams, and losing by 30 to LA/Miami (and probably Dallas). I don't think we necessarily live and die by the three, because, you know, we've still got the Greatest Power Forward of All Time to rely on, even though at this point he's more "life support" than "bread and butter" for us. For example, last game against the Heat, Duncan pretty much made Mark Cuban's BFF Ericka Dampier act a fool every time he got the ball on the low block, or out just past the free throw line for that semi-sweet looking jumper of his.
Speaking of decision making, is the Mavs offense still all Dirk in the half court, Jason Kidd fast break intelligence the rest of the time? I've never seen Kidd make a bad decision on the fast break, although at this point in his career the break ain't exactly fast. The Mavs made some interesting acquisitions recently- namely Peja Stojackovich. When I heard about that, I wasn't exactly scared since he hasn't played defense in 7 years, but then I caught a couple Mavs boxscores and thought "Oh, crap, he remembered how to play". Now he's injured. Speaking of injured, Roddy Beaubois is back. From what I hear, he's supposed to be the Spur killer. Is he going to live up to that billing, or is he just another Jason Terry? He seems to be a bit inconsistent, but he's young so that's expected, right? Is
Jim Carrey Rick Carlisle going to trust him to play in the playoffs? Speaking of Tricky Rick, he recently described the Mavs as soft, which is usually the media's favorite adjective to describe the Mavs. Was that just a motivational ploy, or do you think that's a weakness to be exploited in the playoffs?
Since there are more people with lots more to say, I'm going to leave it at that.
'Ello all, it's LJRotter, and I have the responsibility of being the first responder, and I do not take this job lightly. So prepare to have your mind blown with witty, spot-on analysis of the Mavericks game and how they will match up with the Spurs. Just kidding, I'm essentially the least qualified person to speak on the subject, so I'll answer the questions as best I can and hope that if I suck, one of my guys will cover my arse. Firstly, I shall address your questions regarding the Mavericks' offense as well as the issues of Peja and Roddy. Then, I shall think of something else to say, because I'm clearly writing this on the fly and don't really know what I want to talk about yet. So without further ado...
The Mavs' offense seems to look best when it's fast-paced, transition-based, and Dirk-faced. BAHAHA I'm sorry that was too good to pass up. But really, it's true. We have the incredible good fortune to have one of the best passers in the game in Jason Kidd, and a team that loves to share the ball. So when we can get rebounds and launch up the court, we can rely on the sharp-shooting of our guards and forwards, and every so often chuck the ball up for an alley-oop from our beastly centers and high-flying Beaubois. Yes, it's true that Kidd has lost a bit of his speed, but as they say, when one of your senses (just go with me here) is lost, your other ones become heightened. Kidd has perfected the lob pass, as you can see from our many highlight reels involving monstrous alley-oop dunks from Tyson Chandler. He's also become a legit three-point threat, so when you have him on the court with Dirk and Terry/Barea/Beaubois/Stojakovic, any defense is going to have a difficult time deciding which player to cover.
Which brings me to Peja and Roddy. Peja took a few games to settle into the rhythm of the game, but he's had some stellar shooting that has really boosted our offensive output. It really is a shame that he's hurt, because instead of having time to ease Beaubois back into the game, we're starting him and expecting magic as a result. While he isn't exactly consistently brilliant (in fact, he's had some pathetic turnovers and piss-poor shooting as of late), we still hold out hope that Roddy will deliver
us from evil. The difference between Beaubois and Terry is that Terry is a catch-and-shoot nightmare, but has a tendency to be not so good at creating his own offense. Beaubois is fast as lightning and can slice through defenders, creating shots at will. When he's playing well, that is.
So my question for the next PtR writers is this... what is the deal with Parker?? We all got so excited that he was injured (not really... we just hoped we'd get to play the Spurs without him) and then saw that he jumped right back into the game, barely missing a beat. So is he bionic? Or was he not really that hurt? Or did everyone overreact and say he was gonna be out for weeks when really he was just fine? And also, how is it that the Spurs have made it thus far without being decimated by the injury plague, much as the Mavericks have? Are you guys worried that you're due for a slump, or can the team keep up this winning all the way to the finals?
What's up LJ, Mavericks and Spurs fans? LJRotter is a tough act to follow but I, silverandblack_davis, have enough self-confidence to rival Tim Duncan saying "Game Over" in the 1st quarter of the Spurs' first match up against the MoHeatos. Hopefully this game won't end up like the second meeting with the Heat, where we got blown out by the same 30-points. That way this season's fourth and final installment of Spurs-Mavs will be as heated and exciting as we've come to expect.
Even though I prefer watching other teams through my custom-fitted CIA-programmed silver-and-black lenses, I believe LJ when she says that this Mavericks team likes to share the ball. While it's always fun to assume that Dallas just runs an iso-Dirk offense because he's the star, a freakish long-range shooting big man, and a German still programmed by the defunct Axis Powers to destroy everyone associated with the Allies, he's a pretty good and willing passer. Add to that Jason Kidd, (if it wasn't for him our Richard Jefferson won't be earning All-Star type money) and a veteran coach in Rick Carlisle, and you've got a potent combination of guys who will kick their teammates' asses if they don't subscribe to team basketball.
So, what I'm saying is... the Dallas offense, more than their defense, scares the batshit out of me. Of course they'll miss Caron Butler, but I've always thought he was in the mold of Carmelodrama Anthony, and tended to be a ball-stopper. He's not as good of a catch-and-shoot guy and three-point shooter (43% this season but only through 29 games; 32% for career) like our RJ 2.0 (a similar 43% but through 66 games; 36% for career), and perhaps the Mavs miss him more as a shot-creator. Still, you guys have gotten back Roddy Buckets, a more explosive one-on-one dynamo that also has the ability to wax hot from outside. Then you added Peja, too who, without Bruce Bowen around to rain Psychological Devastation™ down on him, just might break out against us in some games. Tyson Chandler is not exactly chopped liver either, and he has some experience in throwing down alley oops over Duncan's mug since his New Orleans days, and cannot be subjected to Popovich's personal favorite, the Hack-A-Player X Who Shoots Less than 50% in FTs or Just Annoys the Hell Out of Me tactic. It's a devastating strategy mind you, but one we've never been able to pull of against the Mavs because they're such a great free-throw shooting team.
Then you have Dirk, who's still his same unguardable self minus the flowing hair. At this point I haven't even talked about perennial Spurs fan-favorite Jason Terry yet, but only because I think another one of the Jet's Annual Playoff Self-Destruction Derby can be the only one that saves us if the Spurs do meet the Mavs in the playoffs. Oh yeah, there's that little pest JJ Barea too and "J"-son Kidd's three-point shooting prowess. I almost forgot, you guys have one of our favorite ex-Spurs, Ian "Yawn" Mahinmi who we know is all-too capable of busting out a "Triple Bumble" (double-double + double-digit TOs) on any given night. Let's see... further down the bench, there's a high-paid stiff (Haywood), a high-paid underachiever (Brewer), and The Janitor who, well... let's just say he's getting paid the right amount to do his job. Yep, it's a scary offensive bunch alright.
To answer your amazement about Tony Parker's Dirk-like bionic ability to recover from injury, yes, I agree that Pop's so-called "foie gras and truffles treatment" worked wonders (I suggest giving the same to Roddy Boob-wah when he's playing inconsistently... it's a French thing, I guess). But I think the real reason was that he just wanted to wear that calf sleeve he's been dying to wear since post-girlfriend Eva, whoever she is, bought her one during one of those French holidays where everyone gets a present just for kicks. And of course, in typical Spurs childish "Black Ops" manner (they like to do that and sometimes it annoys the hell out of me), they made that little calf injury look and sound big by calling it a "strained left soleus". If you ask me, maybe the new squeeze's name is Soleus or something like that. She's no Mexican-American, that much I can assure you.
The Spurs have indeed been lucky to avoid getting the injury bug on our stars, but we have been saddled with some injuries to our key bench guys. Matt Bonner, George Hill, Gary Neal and Tiago Splitter have also had their fair share of injuries, and Splitter especially had special treatment sessions where the coaching staff makes him watch marathon episodes of Teletubbies and doing pool work while keeping him away from his cellphone to tweet messages in five different languages. Our coaches are demanding that way. But I digress. The ramped up Spurs offense might have something to do with the health factor too, as it involves A LOT of outside shooting and less banging on the inside, and the tons of easy points generated by steals and fastbreaks. The caveat from this, I would suppose, is now a lot of our players look more and more tired from the increased pace-- as recently shown by the way they sloppily rotate on defense to how shooting forms have been affected .
Nobody's injured, yes, but the fatigue also prevents the system from being effectively executed. As my fellow Spurs fan Steve (wait... did I just separated his username with spaces?) said, this has resulted in barely beating bad teams and getting thrashed by the elites. I'd say this is already our "slump" -- the team is good enough to win over the teams they should be beating, but then continually run into trouble against teams who play excellent the full 48 minutes. Does everyone on the Spurs now need the full foie gras and truffles treatment? That might be getting desperate, but if we get spanked by the Mavs, too, then I better call somebody who knows someone who sells exquisite foie gras and truffles so I can make a profit out of this even when the Spurs keep me worried.
Ohh snap, I just realized now that I talked too much. So I'll end this with my question for the next Moneyball blogger -- whatsitabout the Mavs' defense this season? Has it improved enough to finally take the team over the hump? I know they have the most potent zone defense in the league but will it be as effective to teams who have great ball movement and great shooters, especially in the playoffs. The offense will always be there, yes, but can they stop anyone when it truly matters?
The state of the defense is a well-timed question. Last season, the Mavericks started out with a strong defensive mindset and lost it around Christmas time. This year, it appears that the bottom has fallen off around late January or so. On Feb 4th, after beating Boston 101-97, Dallas allowed 94.6 points per game. In the 18 games since that game against the Celtics, they have allowed 101.3 points per game. It really appears that the offensive mindset has taken over at the expense of the defensive approach. The ball movement and player movement has been solid, but the efficiency with player rotations and getting hands up at defenders has slipped. The defensive mindset is still in place within the coaching staff, but it appears that the team is more focused on trying to outscore teams. This is a team that is used to playing with each other, there are a ton of veterans that have been together for a while. To me, it seems like the team came out of the gate strong and has just slowly taken the foot off the pedal as the season progressed. They're playing a dangerous game by thinking they can flip the switch over the final stretch of games.
It should be noted that the Mavericks have been going since Jan 2 without Caron Butler. His size and athleticism went a long way in making the team closer to complete on the defensive end of the floor. Tyson Chandler is an obvious upgrade in terms of defense, but Butler might be the piece that put it all together. It's not like Butler was a defensive stopper, but he can now be seen as an underrated defender at the wing position and he was a two-way player. Since then, the Mavericks have used Sasha Pavlovic, Peja Stojakovic, DeShawn Stevenson, Brian Cardinal, Shawn Marion and Corey Brewer to fill the position. Shawn Marion had an impressive stretch of games where he had to defend Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant and did a tremendous job against them, so he's shown he can be a two-way player. The Mavericks need Corey Brewer to be that guy though so Marion can go back to the bench and work off of Jason Terry. That rotation really allowed the Mavericks to take off. Brewer is still acclimating to the Mavericks system. The quicker he can get rolling, the better it will be for the Mavericks so he can be the next two-way player.
They also need Rodrigue Beaubois to give them more on the defensive end of the court. He does provide the flashy blocked shot while in transition but as a whole, he does not use his athleticism to his advantage on defense. He tries to use his long wingspan by reaching and he does not move his feet well on defense. Building upper body strength is clearly got to be a point of emphasis for the second year guard in the off-season as he can get bulled over by bigger guards in the post.
The zone defense has really been put on the back burner for several weeks as they have wanted to work on their man defense. Rick Carlisle knows that the team can not be a zone-centered defense. I would expect it to come back in a more prominent feature as the season winds down, but the team will go as far as their man defense takes them. Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban has said that the team needs to work over the final stretch of games on building the playoff focus and making every possession matter. That clearly needs to happen if the Mavericks will have playoff success.
Playoffs? You wanna talk about playoffs? After the Heatles took the Spurs to the woodshed on Monday, many PtRers bemoaned our fate, doubting the Spurs' ability to win a single postseason game. Although this might be a slight overreaction, I admit to keeping a close eye on the standings. Do I believe the Silver & Black can take both the Lakers and the Mavs? Yes. But do I want to see both of those teams in the postseason? Hell no! Those two teams scare me, so feel free to beat up the Lakers in the 2nd round in a long, grueling seven-game series. Of course, this is assuming the standings stay as is, which might be putting the cart before the horse.
Before I get to talking about this Friday's game, I'm going to take a few moments to give some kudos to the Southwest Division. We Spurs' fans like to talk about being under the radar, but dangit, the entire Southwest Division needs to get a little more love. Every other division has at least one team under .300. Heck, our division doesn't even have a team under .500. As of today, half of the Western Conference playoff teams would be from our neck of the woods. That's rather impressive in my books.
It's been over two months since these Texas titans have played, but as detailed above, this is not the same Mavs roster. Will either coach tip his hand? Do we see any new wrinkles to solve potential matchup problems? I'm really curious as to which bench wins out and if Dirk shoots lights out yet again. There's no rhyme or reason why, but I put a lot of stock into how the Spurs look against the Mavs going forward. Another blowout loss might require just a little bit of panicking, but a decent defensive performance (by the Spurs) means a little less drinking on my part.
So as someone who hasn't watched the Mavs much this year, are the first five minutes of the game a good indicator of how the Mavs are going to play? Have the Mavs shown any propensity this year to come back from big deficits or relinquish big leads? And does MMB have any good drinking games we can incorporate over at PtR?
Just look at the last two games are you will quickly realize that the Mavericks first five minutes are not at all an indicator of the game to come. At the seven minute mark, the Mavericks were shooting 10/10 from the field (would go onto 11/11 before finally missing) on Tuesday in a loss against the Trail Blazers, while on Wednesday they were down 19-7 (on their way to a 19 point deficit) just half way through the quarter before dominating the second half. That's really been one of the main storylines of the Mavericks' season. They've been wildly inconsistent. Not necessarily in winning or losing games, but they struggle maintaining leads in games, dominating for quarters and then letting a twenty point lead evaporate in just minutes. They hit shot after shot at times, making some people wonder if this is the best mid range jump shooting team ever, but then the next game seem unable to hit a wide open fifteen footer. Its a puzzling team.
Any way we could get a Mav or two to wear this tonight?
As for the game at hand, Roddy Beaubois will be a big wrinkle if he plays like he has the past two games. Lisa has talked about him finally getting on track and Bryan talked about his ability to play very good defense (even with Ellis's gaudy stat line from Wednesday, I felt as if Beaubois made him take really tough shots that went in anyway). The thing he does that no other Maverick does, though, is explode into the lane. Its so normal for the Spurs to see Parker (and Manu and Hill, at times) just living in the lane, but that is a sight that the Mavericks have not since they traded Devin Harris away. Kidd is not a penetrator anymore, Terry has lost his explosiveness, and Dirk is amazing and does draw doubles, but his first step has diminished significantly. Roddy, though, is just an athletic freak. Like Parker, there's nothing you can do to stop him from blowing by his man and getting into the lane, and once he's in there, Roddy has the ability to hit crazy layups or kick it out to the aforementioned mid range jump shooting Mavs. Of course, going back to the inconsistency, Roddy is also just as likely to make a wild wrap around pass to no one or force up an ill-advised contested floater, or worse, fall in love with his three point shot instead of pump faking and putting it on the floor. Spurs fans should hope that that's the Roddy they see on Friday.
It seems that I'll have the last word among the PtR staffers, so I'll be ranging far and wide to cover all that's been discussed already.
Bryan admits that over the last 18 games, the Mavericks have been giving up nearly 7 points per game more than they had been prior to February 4th. As someone who previously went on record as stating that I'd gladly fear Dallas' newfound commitment to defense when they carried it all the way through an entire playoff series, I must say that I'm somewhat gratified. But I find that I can't be quite as insufferable as I'd prefer to, because: a) the Spurs' defense hasn't been anything to be very proud about lately, and b) I'm still anxious that as soon as the first 82 games are complete, something will click and the D that Allas has long lacked will rear it's frightful head up on my TV and slap my potential "Told ya so" right back into my mug. So, I'll remain dubious but prepared, and leave it at that. As to Beaubois' difficulties defending other guards in the post, don't bother worrying; the number of times I've seen Spurs guards post up all season can be counted on your fingers.
At the risk of setting up Beaubois to have a career night, I'll admit that I'm glad he's back and healthy for this game, and not in the good sportsmanship I-always-want-our-oppenents-to-be-at-full-strength way. No, I'm glad to see Roddy in the Dallas rotation because it'll mean less playing time for none other than the Spur-destroyer himself, one JJ Barea. He always seems to do as he pleases against S.A. and I'm ready to take my chances with anyone, or anything, that keeps him glued to the bench.
Not that kind of glue, JJ
tcat75 mentioned Kidd's not being much of a penetrator anymore, but it still seems like he gets into the teeth of the defense often enough to be troublesome. Does that happen exclusively on the break, or is it a function of the offense that springs him into a place where he can carve up defenses with his passing? Over eight assists per game isn't anything to wipe your nose on, and even though he's lost a step or dozen, he still finds a way to keep from being too big a defensive liability, which is really annoying. How does he do that?
Lisa brought up the injury bug that flew through north Texas this season, and it's been tough on you guys for sure. But the main thing that I'm wondering about is whether it's at all realistic for Butler to return before the season is over. Yeah, Parker came back ahead of schedule, but that was really just a recovery from a glorified calf bruise. Caron tore his patella tendon in January, and is starting to make noises about coming back for the playoffs! I'm not even going to get into whether he it's a good idea for his body or not; would it be a good thing for the team's chemistry? We all saw what happened to Orlando in the 2009 Finals when Jameer Nelson came back early. I still think that series would've gone to seven games (and maybe have even been WON by the Magic) if SVG had decided against bringing him back with the team rolling the way it was.
Finally, Just glancing at Dallas' last 10 games, I notice that they've lost the last 4 they've had against Western Conference playoff teams, and every one of them was a nail-biter. Dropping four games by an average of 2.5 points? I know stats lie all the time, but that just makes me shudder. What can you tell me from having watched the games? Was it just a fluke thing, or is it something you're concerned about: losing all of those close ones?
Ladies and gentlemen, it's that time. Coming at you live from beautiful downtown Seattle, Washington, I've been asked to punctuate this inspired pre-game conversation with some final thoughts. I'll begin by thanking all our contributors above for their thoughtful comments and questions. And because our friends from Pounding the Rock have been so cordial during this exchange, allow me to reciprocate: Spurs are going down tomorrow. By like 60. Dirk with 55 points on 97% shooting. Book it.
Of course, I jest. Truth be told, tomorrow's game will be very challenging for the Mavs. This will be their second benchmark game in less than a week against their primary Western Conference competition, and to be honest, I'm not overflowing with optimism. But I'm also not overflowing with defeatism. I am, however, overflowing with Guinness.
Our friend jollyrogerwilco (JRW) noted above his skepticism about the Mavs purportedly "improved" defense this season. This is because our friend JRW is a smart, smart cat. Here's the truth about the Mavs' defense: it's mediocre. And chances are it will remain mediocre in the playoffs. "But Travis," you say, "What about Tyson Chandler anchoring the middle and igniting a newfound defensive mentality for Los Mavs?" First off, as much as I like Chandler (and I do), let's take a step back and look and what he really is. He is not an elite one-on-one post defender. He's a good weak-side shot-blocker (and more importantly, shot-"alterer"), and he's a fireball of unrelenting energy, but one man does not a team defense make. We've heard the KG-to-Boston comparison before, but here's the problem---unlike the 2008 Celtics, the Mavs do not have the backcourt personnel to be a truly elite defensive team. Jason Kidd is a crafty veteran defender, especially in crunch time, but his first defensive step is far too slow to guard the quickest of the quick. Jason Terry's effort is usually there, but he's a 33-year-old 6'2" (if we're generous) tweener guard. At his best, he covers his physical limitations with good effort and veteran savvy. At his worst, he's a sieve. But the bottom line is, your center is your defensive anchor, not your entire defense. Chandler can't do it all. Even your early-decade Spurs, with a spry Tim Duncan, relied on more than just his blocking ten shots a game (although he could do that) to be an elite defensive team. They got contributions from all over the floor, especially defensive pest and flying-dragon-kick-to-your-face specialist Bruce Bowen.
And here's something else. Losing Caron Butler has hurt the Mavs' defense, perhaps more than you might think. Before he went out, the Mavs' defensive efficiency was about 103. Since then, it's ballooned to 109. Some would argue this is correlation, not causation. Perhaps. I tend to think to the contrary. Butler, despite not being an elite defender, was an integral cog in the team defense. He allowed the Mavs to have a sensible SF rotation, and he is one of the only true two-way players on the entire roster. Perhaps he'll come back for the playoffs, but that would be pretty miraculous. Although JRW is right to mention Jameer Nelson (who, by the way, suffered that injury at the hands of former Mav great Ericka Dampier), I think the bigger problem there was Coach Ron Jeremy's mismanaging of Jameer when he brought him back. If Caron is ready to go at any point, I trust Rick Carlisle to integrate him properly. Although I'm quite sure not all Mavs fans would share my confidence....
I laughed quite a bit to myself when I read JRW's remark about how he preferred Rodrigue Beaubois to take playing time away from Jose Juan Barea. Not because it's a ridiculous thing to say, but because that sentiment is so contrary to the idiosyncrasies of the Mavs fanbase. Suggest to a Mavs fan that Barea should play over Beaubois, and you are liable to receive a quizzical stare. My take? Beaubois has infinitely more upside, but at this point in their careers, they both have an important part to play in the Mavs' rotation. Which is to say that if you're expecting Barea to get DNP-CD's during the playoffs, I've got some nice beachfront property in Kansas you might be interested in.
Back to tomorrow's game. Here's my quick last look. These are two very, very good teams. One through ten, the Mavs are more talented. In fact, they might be considerably more talented, and that's without Butler. But the Spurs have two advantages: 1) their top 3 players are better than anyone on the Mavs other than Dirk, and 2) they have the best coach in the NBA. Still, they've yet to beat the real Mavs this year. Sure, those two wins against the Dirk-less Mavs count the same in the standings, but they don't mean much for projecting future outcomes.
So what will happen tomorrow? The game will come down to whether the Mavs can string together some stops against that potent Spurs offense, particularly on elbow pick-and-rolls with Manu and Tony. I like the Mavs by about 3, mostly due to home-court advantage, but this one could go either way. And regardless how it plays out, it's yet another mark in the book for this fantastic Texas rivalry.