Saturday, December 29, 2007

Frustrating Week

The Mavericks’ local TV and radio crews were happy to put a positive stamp on the team’s 13-point home win over Atlanta today, but the fact is that after jumping to a 12-0 lead in the first quarter, Dallas barely edged the Hawks the rest of the way. Dallas’ defense in the fourth quarter was as porous as ever, while Dirk shot 1 for 5 for the quarter, and the Hawks’ aggressive defense forced a handful of turnovers and made the Mavericks look timid.

Dallas has many strengths, but in the second half what I saw was (1) Atlanta punishing the Mavericks with blocks and turnovers every time they tried to get into the lane, and (2) Atlanta getting close to the hoop and drawing a foul almost any time they wanted to.

I don’t like to be too harsh on Dallas when they lose a game, and here’s an example of where they don’t deserve much credit for winning. Dallas won, but they looked like they got bullied. Against Utah the other day, when the Jazz tightened up the lane, Dallas settled for (and missed) a series of three-pointers late in the fourth quarter. Tonight they tried harded to get inside, but they couldn’t for the most part. They made enough shots to win, but their performance wasn’t much more impressive than it was against Utah.

As a footnote, the Mavericks deserve to get called out for a lame performance against Cleveland on Thursday night. My brother and I were there in the upper deck, and the effort by the team was abominable, with the lone exception of Nowitzki, who fought for 20 rebounds. No one (Dirk included) could shoot that night, and no one other than Dirk bothered to rebound or defend for most of the game. Just like Utah the night before, any given Cavs’ player could count on an open shot most any time he wanted it. That Cleveland only shot 36 percent (same as Dallas) was the Mavericks’ good fortune, not the result of defensive aggressiveness. In the end LeBron only needed an average performance (with a pair of nice dunks) in order to win on the road.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Dallas or Miami?

OK, setting aside the specific question of Dirk’s play, and whether he has the heart/guts to win a title, let’s talk about the Mavericks as a franchise during the Dirk era. If Dallas somehow wins a championship the next couple of years, this will all be moot, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that they just have three or four more decent playoff runs with Dirk, with maybe one WCF appearance, and that they won’t make it to the finals again.

If that’s what happens, I have two questions:

1) Who would you rather have been a fan of over these past few years and the next couple of years: Dallas or Miami?

2) Who will history have more respect for as a team?

First of all, this question is not about whether the Mavericks have done what they should have done. I think it’s safe to say all of us are disappointed or even angry with the past two seasons. Both Dallas and Miami appear to have been severely flawed, so saying the Mavericks have problems is irrelevant to this question unless you’re also prepared to say that Miami’s problems are no worse.

Of course everyone remembers the title, but Miami also has to contend with being known as one of the worst championship-winning teams ever. The year they won it, they came out of an awful eastern conference and won only because (1) Dallas choked and (2) Dwyane Wade put on one of the most spectacular finals performances that I know of (with some help from the refs, I think everyone would have to admit, but still spectacular). After winning the title, they promptly crumbled as a team.

Dallas, of course, shares part of the shame of Miami’s victory, so that goes against Dallas’ legacy. At the same time, though, Dallas has contended year after year, and just never had enough to get the title. Of course everyone would rather have been Miami the year they won, but I’m talking about the longer term.

So, will commentators 5 years from now speak fondly about a very good Mavericks team that just couldn’t get the title, while shaking their heads at a Miami team that had everything go just right once, but then crumbled? Or will they scorn the very good Mavericks team that couldn’t hold on when it counted, while wondering what might have happened if Dwyane Wade hadn’t gotten injured this past year?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Dirk a Coward?

Jeremy wrote: “Has there been a bigger coward in NBA history than Dirk Nowitzki?”

This is becoming a scripted argument for us, but here goes again.

If you’re talking about how he misses almost every potential game-winning shot, then I would say your criticism is probably fair, although I'd want to check a bunch of other players’ stats in those situations. I hear Kobe’s percentage of makes in those final shots is well south of 50% too.

If you’re saying Dirk was a coward in the Miami series, I’m still not buying it. His game 5 line overall was weak, but he hit a couple of big shots down the stretch, including the potential game-winner with 9 seconds left in overtime. In game 6 he didn't finish as well, but he still ended up with 29 points (10/22 FG, 8/8 FT) and 15 rebounds. That loss had far more to do with Terry and Howard combining to shoot 12 of 41 (29.3%). My post is here, although now I would change a big part of what I wrote to admit that Dirk fouled Wade on the last play of game 5.

I’d also remind you of Dirk’s 50-point game to save the Pheonix series and get the Mavericks into the finals two years ago. (Post is here.) Nothing cowardly about that.

But if by “coward” you’re talking mainly about is last year’s Golden State series and this year’s mediocre start for Dirk, I have a different answer.

I have a lot of sympathy for Dirk because I think he plays like I would if I had his height and shooting touch. I tend to get pushed around on the court, and there's usually nothing I can do about it short of punching someone. I think Dirk is physically unable to do what you need to do when you get pushed around by an NBA athlete. This isn’t so much an excuse as a physical fact; what’s amazing is that he’s gotten as far as he has with that limitation.

This came up here, and in another blog I was reading, this past summer. Specifically, I don't think Dirk has the coordination to channel force into successful moves. Most big players are a lot stronger than he is, so the great ones (Duncan, Shaq) simply don’t have to worry about getting pushed around. Garnett is thin, but he’s also quick, so if someone wants to be shove him, he can just go around them. Dirk can’t do either.

People might ask why Dirk isn’t more like Larry Bird. If anyone can watch this video and still ask that, we need to talk. Bird was not slow, and he had amazing hands; Dirk simply can’t do most of the great stuff he did. (The video will also make you really depressed about today’s NBA.)

To put it another way: if Charles Barkley got mad at someone for trying to push him around, he could push back in such as a way as to get open, controlling his energy and force to get to the basket or put up a good shot. When Bird was getting pushed around he could make a quick spin move to get open, or else he could rely on his phenomenal passing ability. When Dirk pushes back, or tries for a spin move, he mostly just flails, and he either misses the shot or commits an offensive foul. This lack of coordination isn’t unusual, even in the NBA –– it’s just that most players who can’t harness their strength don’t ever have the kind of success Dirk has had, so they never have to deal with being criticized for their limitations.

What does this mean? It means that if Dirk were only 6'-3", he’d be Steve Kerr: a gifted shooter, but not much else. Apart from Dirk’s height, there’s no reason he should be able to get his own shot. I think it’s safe to say that last season was an example of Dirk doing as much with his physical abilities as a player can reasonably do. But because of his unique combination of height and finesse without quickness or strength, success for him simply depends on the refs calling the games tightly so that players can’t push him around. Most of Dirk’s inside game actually consists in drawing fouls, and you can’t count on that in the playoffs.

This all changes when he’s hot from outside -- then there’s no stopping him. But that’s not enough to win in the playoffs.

So is Dirk a coward because of this? You can’t get your own shot against tough athletes; does that make you a coward? OK, let’s get more reasonable. Eduardo Najera can’t get his own shot if a defense decides to shut him down; does that make him a coward? Would you call Steve Kerr a coward for not being able to get open against a tough physical team when the refs are allowing a lot of shoving?

Like I said, there are plenty of other players who could easily be pushed around because of their physical limitations. They just aren’t the ones defenses focus on defending with the game on the line, so they rarely get exposed the way Dirk does.

So say Dirk is weak if you want –– it’s true enough. And it’s also true that he doesn’t have great nerves with the game on the line. Maybe it’s the Mavericks’ fault for counting on him. But I maintain that he does about as much with what he’s got as anyone in the league.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

That Kid was Special

Last night Dallas came back from 17 down against Houston, which gives me an excuse to tell about the best regular-season Maverick game I’ve ever seen.

The game was April 11, 1995, near the end of Jason Kidd’s rookie season and just four days after his first career triple-double. It ended up having probably the wildest ending of any NBA game I’ve ever seen.

For starters, the defending-champion Rockets started the 4th quarter with a 12-point lead, but Dallas made a run and took an 8-point lead with just over a minute left.

If it had ended like that, it would have been a pretty exciting game for Mavericks fans, but then things got crazy. Houston scored 13 points in the last 30 seconds of regulation (capped by a Sam Cassell 3-pointer with 1.9 seconds left) to force overtime. Houston then jumped out quickly at the start of overtime to take a 13-point lead, and it looked like Houston would win after all.

But then, with just a minute left in overtime, Dallas came to life. In that last minute, Dallas scored 14 points, including three three-pointers by Kidd –– who normally was a mediocre jump-shooter at best. One of those shots (I can’t remember which one) was a one-handed sideways miracle heave that Kidd somehow made while leaping across the three-point line to save clock time. The third of those came with 2.5 seconds left, forcing double OT.

Dallas went on to take over at the end of the second OT and finally won 157-147, scoring the last 10 points of the game.

By the end of the game, Kidd had his second career triple-double, with 38 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists and three steals. Dallas and Houston combined for an NBA-record 28 3-pointers for the game, and Kidd had 8 all by himself. The teams also set an NBA record by combining for 46 points in the first OT.

So that's 3 sizeable leads overcome (1 in less than a minute, 1 in less than 30 seconds), 2 buzzer-beating three-pointers, 2 nba records, a triple-double for the rookie Kidd, and a total score (304) that hasn't been topped in the 11 years since that game.

As much as I talk about Dirk, Jason Kidd is still probably my favorite Maverick ever. I went to his first NBA game as a rookie in 1994, where he missed a triple-double by one assist, and I’ve been a fan ever since. It’s sad that Dallas traded him after just two and a half years. (Blame Jim Cleamons for that, if I remember correctly.)

By the way, if anyone knows where I could buy a copy of this game tape, please let me know. Or get it for me for Christmas.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Entertainment vs. Winning

Jeremy wrote: The purpose of a pro basketball team is to make money for its owners. If entertaining basketball were more profitable than winning basketball, every team would play like the Harlem Globetrotters.

I have to disagree. The Globetrotters are only fun to watch for one game every once in awhile. The most entertaining basketball to watch for a whole season is excellence with style. And the most successful basketball (i.e., that wins titles) is excellence with a dominant big man.

The Suns have the highest combination of excellence and style, which is why people love watching them; unfortunately, you just can’t seem to win in the NBA without a big man (Stoudemire might get there, but who knows?), so their excellence can only get them so far.

Dirk has mostly excellence without much style, but when he's hitting everything from the outside it's still fun to watch, because he can put up so many points so fast. Plus Howard and Terry, and maybe Harris, all play with style, which takes up some of the slack for Dirk. And then Dampier and Diop are enough of a presence in the paint that Dallas has a pretty good shot at a title, too.

The Spurs don’t have much style at all with the exception of Ginobili, which is why everyone complains about watching them. But they obviously have excellence combined with a dominant big man, so they have titles. It’s just that they’re mostly only entertaining for their own fans.

I need to do a post on why I think we like watching pro sports so much. Maybe next week.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Mavs-Cavs game chat, starting around 8pm ET.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Case for Kobe

Although it gets said a lot, It’s not true, strictly speaking, that the purpose of a pro basketball team is to win a championship. We certainly want them to act as if that’s their purpose –– since it’s almost always more fun to watch a successful team play –– but in reality their purpose is to entertain.

In light of this, it’s time to gather support for bringing Kobe to Dallas, for which I have a great rally cry: Make the Regular Season Fun Again.

Last year, the Mavericks were a blast to watch in the regular season. Winning 41 of 45 games can make just about any fan giddy, even while we were all simultaneously terrified of the possible playoff disaster that became reality. This year, there will be none of that. Dallas could win 70, or 80 for that matter, and we’d all still be forced to shrug our shoulders and repeat the mantra: nothing matters till the playoffs.

And while I’m sure the local play-by-play guys will stop harping on it eventually, I live in Massachusetts. That means I only get to see nationally-televized games, where the announcers will talk about it every single time.

That got old last year, and this year it’ll be beaten into the ground with a fury we can hardly imagine.

Not to say we should give up Dirk, even if the Lakers wanted him. Kobe has never proven he can win anything by himself. But alongside another superstar, we might be looking at a different story. So I say, if the Mavericks have a chance to get Kobe and Dirk on the same team, they should give up whatever they have to in order to make it happen. That means package Howard, Harris, and Dampier if you have to. Certainly send Howard and Terry if you get the chance to keep Harris.

Getting Kobe is a great scenario for a fan: personality conflicts would likely disappear, as Kobe would suddenly turn into a great guy, like when Shaq went to Miami or TO came to Dallas. Then there’s the chance of getting to see him score 50 points several times a season, and if he ever finally exploded for 105, he’d do it as a Maverick. (This is like the Rangers getting Nolan Ryan just in time for his 6th and 7th no-hitters, his 5000th strikeout, and his 300th win.)

Can you imagine how much of a relief it will be, when the game is on the line, not to worry that Dirk will miss the big shot and disappoint us once again? Kobe can miss those all season, and at least no one will be saying it’s because he doesn’t have guts. And of course, Kobe has tons of championship experience, and he might genuinely help Dallas’ chances of winning it all some time (or 3 times) in the next few seasons.

But all that’s just gravy. Here’s the real issue: if we don’t trade for Kobe, we’re facing 82 games of the most meaningless basketball any of us can imagine. It’ll be like watching the pre-season out there. And I know we all said the same thing going into last year, but this time it’ll be for real.

Going back to where I started: basketball is supposed to be entertainment. I’m sure there will be exciting individual games, but the real fun of an NBA season comes with arguing with your friends about whether the team has what it takes to win it all, or whether your best player has a shot at MVP. If ever there have been two moot points, they are these two questions for this squad.

So unless the team crumbles early in the season and has to make a big push just to make the playoffs (which would create some drama, at least), there’s no way this group can give us what we’re really looking for. That’s November, December, January, February, March, and April we have to sit through, and I’m not really prepared to do that.

So let’s hear it: Bryant for a Brighter 82.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Heart of a Warrior

This past May I wrote a post suggesting that the idea of having the heart of a champion is overrated in the NBA, largely because it seems that dominant big men (in particular, Shaq and Duncan) have ruled the NBA in recent years simply by virtue of their size and skill. I’ll gladly admit that Jordan won with heart (though having Pippen on the team didn’t hurt), but with most anyone else I have my questions.

However, there clearly are times you can perceive a notable lack of heart (think: Chris Webber), and this is what Dirk has been accused of. This summer I was surprised to find the same conversation about heart going on in a very different forum: Homer’s Iliad, the story of the Trojan War, written more than 2500 years ago.

The Iliad tells the story of the Greeks trying to sack Troy to win back Helen, the stunningly beautiful wife of a Greek soldier, who had been kidnapped by Paris, a prince of Troy.

Over and over again in the story, its characters talk about warriors in the same terms we use to describe athletes. I don’t know what real battle was like in ancient Greece, but people who listened to Homer envisioned mythic warriors who fought face-to-face at close range with sword and spear. They taunted each other aloud as they fought, and they took the weapons and armor of their fallen foes as plunder of war and as marks of honor. (They also held chariot races and boxing matches on the battlefield in honor of fallen comrades, seeking to display their valor in sport as fiercely as they did in battle.)

Centuries later, under the Roman empire, people apparently wanted to witness this kind of glorious battle so badly that they threw gladiators up against each other in the Coliseum, making battle and sport one and the same thing.

Today, we still have our images of great warriors--think Rambo or Jack Bauer--but it seems to me we save most of our warrior language for professional sports. This is where the Big German comes into play, and the light that the Iliad casts on him isn’t favorable.

Dirk, people say, has great skill but lacks heart. In the Iliad, people say the exact same thing about Paris, the prince of Troy who kidnapped Helen from her Greek home and took her as his bride, but who is a better lover than a fighter. A couple of quotes from book 6 will help show what I mean.

The first is spoken by the beautiful Helen, who apparently loved Paris at one point but has grown resentful that the entire city is about to be sacked by the Greeks just because Paris won’t send her home with them. She says,
I wish I had had a good man for a lover
who knew the sharp tongues and just rage of men.
This one--his heart’s unsound, and always will be,
and he will win what he deserves.
The next quote, from Paris’ warrior brother Hektor, is a little more generous:
My strange brother! No man with justice in him
would underrate your handiwork in battle;
you have a powerful arm. But you give way
too easily, and lose interest, lose your will.
What's especially interesting to me here, in light of the Dirk analogy, is that Paris is primarily an archer, which means he shoots from long range but gets accused of lacking the will to fight up close. And even though the Trojans do have their fair share of more forceful warriors (like Hektor), and even though Achilles has a frankly unfair advantage, being divine on his mother’s side, at the end of the day Helen is Paris’s wife, and the battle is his to fight. But instead he largely stays in the background, whereas Achilles becomes the aggressor.

Guess whose side wins the war.

Friday, July 20, 2007

I knew it

An unnamed NBA ref has been caught betting on games he worked? Please let it be Bennett Salvatore...

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hope for next year?

My attitude for next year, since the Golden State series, has been: Screw it. Let the Mavericks coast through the first 4 months of the regular season, then try to turn it on near the end like the Spurs and Shaq’s Lakers. Limit Dirk and Howard to 30 minutes a game for the regular season, and see how they do going into the playoffs rested. Even if it doesn’t work, it couldn’t possibly be as bad as this season, right?

Avery might be ready to try something like that:

Friday, June 1, 2007

Deja Vu?

I better make two disclaimers before I go on with the post: (1) LeBron has the potential to be the greatest player in the history of the NBA; (2) I didn’t watch last night’s game.

But I couldn’t help noticing that in’s experts round-up, no one compared last night’s game to a game last year that was eerily similar. Try this: beginning with 16 minutes left in the game, the team’s star exploded for 29 points to take a 3-2 series lead in the conference finals.

LeBron finished with 48/9/7. In game 5 of last year’s western conference finals against Pheonix, Dirk ended up with 50/12/3 (see my earlier post. The games had important differences: LeBron is a lot younger, has an awful team (the rest of them shot 0/9 in those last 16 minutes), and scored those 29 points in a close game on the road. He also scored the last 25 in a row for his team, including all their points in two consecutive overtimes. Dirk had a lot more help, and his performance quickly turned his game into a rout at home, so there presumably was less pressure on him for a lot of those points.

On the other hand, Dallas had finally beaten San Antonio for the first time ever, and they were trailing by 7 in the fourth quarter, facing the prospect of going back to Phoenix down 3-2. They also were playing a Phoenix team that would have Amare Stoudemire back the next year, which meant there was a very real window closing on their opportunity to get to the finals in a tough conference. Plus Dirk had had questionable playoff performances in recent years, and he was staring at a playoff legacy that could live or die by that series.

I don’t think that I’m just being a Mavs homer to make the comparison between these games. After game 6 against Phoenix last year, Mark Stein wrote, “Dirk Nowitzki has answered all the questions.” Bill Simmons said it was probably time to add Dirk to the NBA Pantheon. After the finals, though, the conversation sounded a lot different.

As for last night’s game, its “specialness” surely was enhanced by the recogniztion that LeBron might become the Greatest Ever, and we just never know when it’s going to happen. For Dirk, people were waiting for him to fail; for LeBron, people are just wondering when he’ll succeed.

In any event, here are the two players’ lines for those final 29 points of their respective games:

LeBron: 16 mins, 11/14 FG, 5/9 FT, 0 rebounds, 0 assists.
Dirk: 14.5 mins 8/10 FG, 10/10 FT, 8 rebounds.

As you may have noticed, Dirk shot better from the field and the line, and he also had a slight, 8-0 edge in rebounding down the stretch. LeBron was literally a scoring machine for the end of the game, but I think it’s also fair to point out that every assist and every rebound by a Cavs player over those last 16 minutes was by someone not named LeBron.

Here’s the thing: James might go on to become the Greatest Ever, and if so this game will be seen as a major starting point. But he has a significant “out”: if the Cavs make it to the finals and get beat 4-1 by the Spurs, no one will be surprised. They’re a bad team, playing in a bad conference against a Pistons team that wakes up every morning and thanks God that they play in the east. In the west, these two teams proably would have been seeded 6th and 7th, and there’s a good chance they wouldn’t have made it out of the first round. (Although perhaps I shouldn’t throw rocks in a glass house.) As great as LeBron was last night, if they hold on to beat Detroit, I’ll still take the Spurs in 6 for the championship, and most of the experts say the same thing.

But there’s another really important difference between Dirk’s 50 last year and LeBron’s 48 last night, and it’s the really depressing point that my brother brought up. For LeBron, it’s only going to get better from here. Dirk may have already peaked.

Dodged a Bullet

I think maybe the basketball gods were just being merciful to Mavericks fans this year. Can you imagine if we had beaten the Spurs again, gotten to the finals again, and then gotten beat by LeBron just like Wade last year?

My brother says the Mavericks have officially missed their window. Might be.

Friday, May 11, 2007

What is the Heart of a Champion?

OK, so what does it take to have playoff success?

Here’s a fun fact for Mavericks fans. In the 1998 playoffs, Tim Duncan (a rookie) and the Spurs lost in the second round to Utah. Since then, in the seven playoff seasons Duncan has played in (he sat out the ’00 playoffs injured), he has lost in the playoffs to exactly two teams:
  • 1. Shaq’s Lakers
  • 2. Dirk’s Mavericks
Detractors will point out that Duncan was injured for most of last season, but the reports were that his foot felt better when the playoffs came around, and in any event, against Dallas he averaged 32.3 points (on 55.6% FG) and 11.7 rebounds in 42.5 minutes a game. Anyone who watched that series remembers that Duncan was a beast.

What I’m getting at is the question, which my brother Jeremy along with half of America has raised, of whether Dirk has the “heart” to get Dallas a title. It’s quite possible, I guess, that he doesn’t. But a glance at recent NBA champions suggests that heart doesn’t usually get the job done anyway. Here are teams that have gone to the finals in the fifteen years since Bird and Magic last played a full season together:
  • ’06: Heat-Maverics
  • ’05: Spurs-Pistons
  • ’04: Pistons-Lakers
  • ’03: Spurs-Nets
  • ’02: Lakers-Nets
  • ’01: Lakers-Sixers
  • ’00: Lakers-Pacers
  • ’99: Spurs-Knicks
  • ’98: Bulls-Jazz
  • ’97: Bulls-Jazz
  • ’96: Bulls-Sonics
  • ’95: Rockets-Magic
  • ’94: Rockets-Knicks
  • ’93: Bulls-Suns
  • ’92: Bulls-Blazers
First of all, in the past 15 seasons, 15 different teams have reached the finals. That’s half the league, which means it’s not a huge stretch to get there. Mavericks fans had a great run last year, but it hardly makes us special.

But how many teams have won the championship in that span? Six: Heat, Spurs, Pistons, Lakers, Bulls, Rockets. Here are the players that got those teams their titles:
  • Shaq and Wade
  • Duncan
  • Billups and Wallace
  • Shaq and Kobe
  • Jordan and Pippen
  • Hakeem
Other than with the Pistons, it’s pretty obvious why those other teams won championships. Shaq, Duncan, and Jordan, in particular, are probably the three best players to play in the last 15 years––and if anyone were to challenge that claim, Kobe would surely be the next candidate. Hakeem was great, but he was just lucky to hit his prime at the same time that Jordan inexplicably retired for two seasons; otherwise he may well have been another Karl Malone.

Coming back to the question of heart, I think you could safely say that Jordan won his titles with heart––and by being the best basketball playing in the history of humankind. I think you could say that Wade won with heart as well, but you can’t discount the fact that Shaq was on that team; without Shaq, it’s not at all clear that Wade would have had the chance to pull off his heroics.

The other winners? I have a tough time believing that Shaq and Tim Duncan won championships because of their heart. It’s possible they did, of course, but they also happen to be the two biggest, strongest, and quickest post players of their era. And considering that one or the other of them has won 7 of the last 8 championships, you’re going to have a hard time convincing me that every other star in the league has failed to win a title in that span simply because he didn’t have enough heart.

In the last 8 years, Duncan has only lost to Shaq and Dirk; Shaq has only lost to Duncan and the Pistons. The two big guys have basically dominated the league.

Next, here are the players in the last 15 years that led their teams to the finals but didn’t win the title:
  • Dirk
  • Kidd
  • Iverson
  • Mark Jackson / Reggie Miller
  • Ewing
  • Malone/Stockton
  • Payton/Kemp
  • Barkley
  • Drexler
Among those who have gotten to the finals but haven’t won, only Stockton/Malone, Patrick Ewing, and Jason Kidd have done it twice. (Ewing sat out the ’99 finals with an injury, so I suppose his legacy is debatable.)

So the question is, If Dirk doesn’t have enough “heart” to win a championship, who exactly do you want in his place? Who has what it takes?

Call Kobe the MVP if you like, but he hasn’t taken his team deep into the playoffs since Shaq left. We could say the Mavericks shouldn’t have let Nash go, but we all know he hasn’t been to the finals yet. And Kidd went twice, but he did it both times in an Eastern Conference where no team won more than 52 games for two straight years. Iverson and Payton are the only other guys on that list who are still in the league, and it doesn’t look like either of them is headed for a championship soon.

The league is full of veteran stars who have done far less in the playoffs than Dirk: Garnett, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Paul Pierce, Yao Ming, Jermaine O’Neal, Ray Allen. Shawn Marion has been to the WCF twice, but not as the best player on his team.

There are also young players who haven’t had much of a shot at the finals yet: Dwight Howard, Amare (this is only his third trip to the playoffs), Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony. Any one of those guys could theoretically dominate the league in future seasons, but most of them probably won’t.

Even LeBron still hasn’t beaten anyone good in the playoffs. Ten years from now, he might have a handful of rings, but then he might not have any.

Quick note (11:40pm Friday night): I just now read and the dmn blog, both of whom had posts in the last couple of days that are really similar to this one. I just thought I should say I hadn't read either of them when I wrote this. Ok, I said it.

So who’s going to take us there? Go for Jason Kidd and hope he can get the offense back on track before he retires? Get Paul Pierce and hope that all those losing seasons in Boston weren’t his fault?

At the end of the day, here’s what I think you do: you look around the room and say, “OK, somehow we’ve ended up with a league that only has two individuals who you can put on a team and bet on a title, and one of them is fading quickly. Duncan is the other one. Who, then, has (1) beaten Duncan in a playoff series and (2) is under the age of 35?”

One guy raises his hand.

OK, we’ll go with him.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

I love Mike Fisher

Not every day. But this article (“Shame on You”) should be required reading for Mavericks fans.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

We Know Drama

One thing you can say about the Dirk-era Mavs: they have yet to give us a dull playoff season. And frankly, this year lived up to past standards––as awful as the losses were, the Mavericks’ two wins against the Warriors both had a surreal kind of feel that I suspect most teams’ fans don’t get to enjoy on an annual basis.

Either way, here’s my year-by-year run-down of why, win or lose, I love watching Dallas Mavericks playoff basketball.


Dallas––with Dirk, Nash, and Finley––made the playoffs for the first time since ’89-’90. In the first round (a 5-game series), Dallas lost the first two in Utah, but then they turned around and won the next three in a row. In game 5, Dallas overcame a 14-point fourth-quarter lead and took their first lead of the second half on a Calvin Booth layup with 9.8 seconds in the game. I saw this one in a friend’s dorm room in Edwards Hall in Abilene (Binkley, your room, right?), and it was glorious.

In the second round, the thoroughly outmatched Mavericks fell to the Spurs, 4-1. Best moment: in game 4 (with Dallas on the verge of getting swept), Dirk got his front tooth knocked out by a Terry Porter elbow with 4:52 left in the game. He ran directly to the locker room, shoved some gauze in his mouth, and was back on the court after 33 seconds of clock time. Dirk finished with 30 and 9, and Mavericks took the game, 112-108, their only win of the series. The Spurs finished off Dallas in game 5, but not until Dirk had gone for 42 points (14/24 FG, 14/18 FT), 18 rebounds, and 6 steals; Finley shot 1/17 in the blowout loss.

The Mavericks finished the playoff season with a record of 4–1 when facing elimination, 0–5 otherwise.


Dallas swept Minnesota in the first round, only to fall to the top-seeded Kings 4–1 in the second.

Although the Kings series was lop-sided, it was also a showdown between the top two scoring teams in the NBA, and it was a blast to watch. The Mavericks let the Kings get layup after layup, but they almost made up for it with their own offensive barrage. The Kings averaged 112.8 points for the series, the Mavericks 106.8. I watched this series in PTS Hodge Hall, during finals week, with a die-hard Kings fan.

After the series, Mark Cuban announced a new commitment to team defense. Let’s say they had marginal success.


The 3rd-seed Mavericks jumped out to a 3–0 series lead against Portland, only to have the Blazers come back with 3 wins in a row to force game 7. In game 6, the Mavericks’ starting frontcourt of Nowitzki, Bradley, and LaFrentz combined for––I’m not kidding here––13 points and 2 rebounds (both by LaFrentz). In protest, I refused to watch game 7, although I did cave in and watch the last couple of minutes.

In the second round, after losing game 1 ugly to the Kings, the Mavericks bounced back with two of the most astonishing offensive performances I have seen. In game 2, after falling behind 20-10 just 3.5 minutes into the first quarter, Dallas went berserk, outscoring Sacramento 34-20 to end the first quarter leading 44-40. By the end of the half, Dallas had scored an absurd 83 points, and they went on to win in a rout. Nick Van Exel shot 14/19 for 36 points and 6 assists, and Chris Webber injured his knee for the Kings, missing the rest of the series.

Game 3 also went to the Mavericks, this time 141-137 in double overtime. Van Exel went for 40 points and 7 assists, Nash for 31 points and 11 assists, and Dirk for 25 points and 20 rebounds. Dallas eventually took the series in 7 games, with Dirk getting credit for stepping up big in the series clincher. I was in California at the time to see a friend get married, and I watched game 7 in an empty dining room on a college campus.

This brought up the Mavericks’ first appearance in the Western Conference Finals since 1988, facing the Spurs. In game 1, Dallas trailed by 13 at the end of the first quarter, but they ended up rallying, in part by hitting their last 49 free throws of the game. The Spurs shot 48 themselves (missing 17), so it wasn’t exactly lopsided officiating. However, several of the Spurs’ free throws came as a result of Don Nelson’s Hack-a-Bowen strategy, in which he put scrubs into the game to foul Bowen (a horrible free throw shooter) away from the ball and disrupt San Antonio’s offense. It was embarrassing, but Dallas closed the game on a 24–9 run, and Dirk finished with 38 points and 15 rebounds (Duncan had 40 and 15).

In game 3 against San Antonio, Dallas lost Nowitzki to a knee injury that would sideline him for the rest of the series. Then in game 5, Dallas (trailing the series 3–1) rallied from a 19-point deficit to force a game 6 by outscoring the Spurs in the fourth quarter, 29–10. I watched this with my best friend in the student center at his medical school; with 1:32 left, Dallas had a 13-point lead, and I was still sure they would lose. It’s nice sometimes when expectations get overturned.

In game 6 at home, Dallas opened the fourth quarter with a 69–56 lead. Unforuntately, they proceeded to go from the 10:52 mark to the 2:50 mark (more than eight minutes) without scoring. In the middle of the quarter, Stephen Jackson––yeah, that Stephen Jackson––made back-to-back 3-pointers, and then a couple of minutes later Steve Kerr hit three more of them in four possessions to give the Spurs an 8-point lead. Fortunately, I got to watch this one with good friends at my parents’ house in Texas. Season over.


Despite having reached the Western Conference Finals, and even then losing only after Dirk went down with an injury, in the off-season the Mavericks opted for a big shakeup, trading for Antoine Walker and Antawn Jamison.

The group never quite gelled, and Dallas only won 52 after winning 60 the previous season. In the first round they drew Sacramento, losing 4–1 despite (oddly) outscoring the Kings for the series. The Mavericks’ last three losses were notable in that they each came down to a final possession, and Don Nelson called the play for a different one of the “big three” each time. In game 2, Finley got stripped by Peja Stojakovic while trying to take a tying shot with 11 seconds left. Then in game 4, Nash missed a fall-away at the buzzer that could have sent the game into overtime. And finally, in game 5 Dirk got a good look, with a chance to win at the buzzer, but he missed off the front of the rim.

As discouraging as it was to lose 4-1 after going the western conference finals the year before, these were close games, and the series was good basketball. Marquis Daniels had a nice series, but more importantly the early playoff exit convinced management of the need to get rid of Antoine Walker. Jason Knott and I caught most of this series in the basement of PTS Alexander Hall.


That off-season, the Suns offered Nash the monster contract (which he, of course, took), and the Mavericks made a number of roster changes, somehow turning Antoine Walker into Jason Terry, and Antawn Jamison into Jerry Stackhouse and Devin Harris.

Dallas finished the year 58–24, but because of division realignment they opened the post-season as the 4-seed, facing the 5-seed Rockets. Infuriating as always, Dallas lost the first two games at home to Tracy McGrady’s Rockets, the second one on a long 2-pointer by McGrady just before the buzzer. However, the Mavericks turned around and won the next two in Houston, taking back home court advantage. The home team then won the last three games, with Dallas taking game 7 by an astonishing 40 points, the most lop-sided game 7 in NBA history. Dirk struggled a lot for the series, but Jason Terry stepped up, having a pair of 30-point games to help the Mavericks save the series

In the second round, Dallas drew Phoenix. The Mavericks got ripped to shreds repeatedly by first-time MVP Nash and Amare Stoudemire, as Amare had games of 40, 37, 33, and 30 points, and Nash had games of 48, 39, and 34. In game 6, Dallas led by 16 late in the third quarter, but the Suns quickly got back into the game, tying it early in the fourth. Dallas had a 3-point lead with just 11 seconds left, but Nash hit a wide open 3-pointer to force overtime, and Phoenix took the series.

Somewhere in the midst of this, the wheels came off, with Dirk yelling at Terry and a lot of fans in Dallas very very unhappy. I watched the game alone in the basement of a dorm (not mine) in New Jersey. That was a long night.


This one is still fresh enough in memory that a quick review should be enough. First round was a sweep of Memphis. Second round was perhaps the best 2nd-round playoff series our generation has watched, with three games decided by a total of 4 points, and two other games going into overtime. The western conference finals saw Dallas turning a 2–2 series tie into a 4–2 victory for the Mavericks after Dirk’s 50-point outburst in game 5 at home, followed by a come-from-behind road win in game 6.

After game 6, Marc Stein wrote:
Dirk Nowitzki has answered all the questions. He has hushed every doubt about his playoff toughness, his fourth-quarter clutchness and whether he's sufficiently ruthless to beat his best friend for a spot in the NBA Finals.

All of which means Nowitzki can finally and definitively respond to the question he hears more than any other.
And then in Finals, Dwyane Wade pulled off one of the most remarkable performances in NBA history and won 4 games in a row to turn on 0–2 series deficit into an NBA title in 6 games. In those four wins, Wade averaged 39.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 3.5 assists to take the MVP.

Special thanks to Justin Burton (a Lakers fan) for watching game 5 with me at his house in New Brunswick, NJ, and to James Foster (a Tennessean but an adopted Mavericks fan) for showing up at my place in his Nowitzki jersey for the rest of the series. Also to Josh Ziefle for buying a high-def TV in the middle of the playoffs.

I lost sleep for two weeks after the finals ended (mostly anger because of the officiating), but what a great run.


Holy crap. Polite words can’t describe what this one was like, but it had its moments, and there certainly aren’t any Mavericks fans who will forget it anytime soon. The Nowitzki question is officially re-opened. And Baron Davis had better put up a good showing against Utah in the second round, or I don’t know how I’ll function.

I watched most of this one alone in my living room in Boston, probably without any other Mavericks fans within blocks. My housemates were dutifully supportive, but the best night was game 5, when my friend Kevin Wells stayed up late with me to see the Mavs’ last win.

I don’t know if I’m going to be following next year’s regular season or not. But for crying out loud, bring on the playoffs. Good or bad, Dirk seems to be incapable of giving us anything but insanity, and that’s reason enough to keep watching.

Modern Mavs Playoff History

If anyone is interested, here are links to pages (from and where you can look at how the Mavericks have performed in their playoff runs for the last 7 seasons. Each page has recaps and box scores for every game of the series––a great resource if you’re a stat junkie like me.

Mavericks 3, Jazz 2
Spurs 4, Mavericks 1

Mavericks 3, Timberwolves 0
Kings 4, Mavericks 1

Mavericks 4, Blazers 3
Mavericks 4, Kings 3
Spurs 4, Mavericks 2

Kings 4, Mavericks 1

Mavericks 4, Rockets 3
Suns 4, Mavericks 2

Mavericks 4, Grizzlies 0
Mavericks 4, Spurs 3
Mavericks 4, Suns 2
Heat 4, Mavericks 2

Warriors 4, Mavericks 2

It Could be Much, Much Worse

Whatever anyone wants to say about Dirk, he can take consolation tonight in the fact that he’s not Tracy McGrady.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Et tu, Avery?

Jason Knott wrote:
So what's for next year? 73 wins, sweeps all the way to the finals, up 3-0, 20 point lead in the final quarter, and then a monumental collapse? Or is that too much like last year? What can they do to us?
Jason, I think you’re on to something. To do this to the fans really takes something special.

To start out with, only two teams in any given year even have the opportunity to blow the NBA finals, and at most one succeeds. To lose it to (basically) a single player, when his team includes Antoine Walker and your own team is loaded with talent, is even worse.

And then blowing the first round to the 8 seed is another thing only two teams per season have a shot at. For crying out loud, the Mavericks had been trying for their entire franchise history to get the number 1 seed, and this is the first time they’ve done it. They hadn’t beaten the division rival Spurs in the standings since 1997, and that was only because David Robinson broke his foot and Sean Elliott had to get a kidney transplant; the Spurs ended up 20-62, the Mavericks 24-58.

So for a team pushing 30 years of history (coninciding almost exactly with my life span, incidentally), both their first finals appearance and their first top-seeded playoff series ended in catastrophic fashion.

(My housemates and I were debating this last night, and we decided that catastrophic is worse than disastrous; frankly, it’s the strongest word I can think of right now without using profanity. Actually, we might just have to coin a new word, like maveractic or maybe nowitztrophic.)

You would need to enlist Shakespeare to do justice to the degree of ironic tragedy we have witnessed in the last 10 months. The only think that can top it is if Dirk does indeed win the regular-season MVP and then Nash take the finals MVP.

Actually, Jason, I think that’s the key––the Mavericks can’t do anything worse to us, but Nash can actually go back in time and make a past Mavericks decision worse. That might be what we’re looking at.


Thirty-seven 3-point attempts.

Out-rebounded 53–38.

Two Blocks as a team.

Two of the Warriors’ 5 starters utterly hobbling around the court.

Maurice Ager (3/4 FG) was the only Maverick to make more than half his shots.

And Dirk’s line: 8 points, 2/13 FG, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 0 blocks.

But the problem was deepter than any of that. On offense, Dallas spent 3/4 of their possessions passing the ball around the perimeter. Most of the time the Warriors’ defensive rotation was faster than the Mavericks’ passes. I would think it might have made sense to reverse the pass and drive, but that adjustment wasn’t made.

On defense, it was open 3-pointer after open 3-pointer for the Warriors. They made 46.7% of them.

I think Mo Ager and Austin Croshere are the only Mavericks who shouldn’t feel ashamed of their individual performance after this one, since they at least played hard and contributed about what you’d expect from them. Maybe give a little credit to Devin Harris and his 13 points and 9 assists, not to mention the pressure he put on Baron Davis and his gimpy leg.

Other than that, oh my, it was ugly. It’s hard to tell if the Mavericks were playing without pride, or if they were just out-classed by a better team. Dirk really did look like he was trying most of the time, which is an incredibly scary thought. The Warriors’ defense appeared impenetrable.

There’s just no defense, no excuse for that.

And throw lots and lots of blame on Avery and the coaching staff. The Mavericks are a very fast, very talented team. If you allow your players to just pass the ball around the key for most of the shot-clock and repeatedly toss up 3-pointers––when the season is on the line and you’re making fewer than a third of them––then there is something very, very wrong.

Yikes, I don’t want to read the news tomorrow.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Never Believe Anything You Read On This Blog Again

Or else, never believe anything the people on TV say. But I think it's the first one.

Or, for alternate title: Why to Never Trust a Box Score. I ran Dirk’s and Duncan's averages for the first five games of the first round:
  • Dirk: 22.0 pts, 42.0% FG, 11.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.6 blocks, 2.2 turnovers.
  • Duncan: 20.2 pts, 47.3% FG, 10.6 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 2.8 blocks, 2.4 turnovers.
So Duncan has better numbers in assists, blocks, and FG%, and Dirk has better numbers for points, rebounds, steals, and turnovers. Just picking blindly, which set of categories would you rather have the better numbers in? Dirk's, right?.

True, Duncan has a lot more assists, but if you just add up all the stats (a rough but worthwhile measure), Duncan comes out to 39.8, Dirk to 39.6. Throw in Dirk’s 38/46 (82.6%) free throws against Duncan’s 13/22 (59.1%), and you might even say you have a wash.

Unfortunately, that's not what we've been seeing on the court. I only saw a couple of minutes of Duncan from the first round, but I assume he didn't spend large chunks of time stagnating his team's offense by either failing to get open or else hiding in the corner. And then there's the 4–1 advantage for Duncan's team, versus the 2–3 deficit for Dirk's.

Ack, my head is spinning––I want to trust the statistics, but they’re lying to me. Right?

One point back in Dirk’s favor: he has started games quite well this series. Dallas has jumped out to several early leads, and Dirk has been in the center, if I remember correctly, of all of them––driving to the basket, being aggressive, and generally being the player you'd expect. Late in the games he has faded, which has hurt his team, but I think you also have to say that his early play has helped make the Warriors’ second-half runs result in small Golden State leads rather than blowouts.

It’s still infuriating and embarrassing, and we still should demand far more, but his perhaps-better-than-Duncan numbers have not been, strictly speaking, meaningless. (Note: This keeps happening to me: I just saw over at truehoop that Hollinger made a similar comment; I wrote this before I saw it, so I'm sticking with the post.)

But there’s still a question: If Dirk has a couple of big games and Dallas somehow takes the series, how do you evaluate Dirk? Do the bad games offset the good ones? Can we be proud that he won 4 even if he lost 3 ugly? This might all be moot in a few hours (if Dallas’ season ends tonight), but I want to throw it open here.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Now That Was Shocking

I wanted to rip my hair out every time Dick Stockton talked about how “shocking” the Warriors’ comeback was. Sorry to be cynical, but the first thing I saw that shocked me was the Warriors missing 8 consecutive shots to close the game.

It’s offical: nothing that happens in game 6 could shock anyone, short of a 70-point game from Baron or Dirk. Other than that, either team could win by 30, and I would not be in the least surprised.

Once More, with Feeling

Let’s start with some nice things about Dirk.

First, the bad news: on offense, he’s at 20.0 pts and 2.3 assists per game, on 40.9% shooting. To get those up to his season average tonight, he’d have to score 43 on 18/24 FG and 8 assists. That’s a stretch.

On the other hand, his defensive numbers have been really good: 11.5 rebounds, 2.5 steals, 1.8 blocks. That’s up from 8.9, 0.7, and 0.8. Overall, if you just add up his stats (points + rebounds + assists + steals + blocks), Dirk is down about 0.3, from 38.4 in the regular season to 38.1 in the playoffs.

So what I see is a frustrated guy who’s getting flustered on offense, but is making up some of it on defense.

But my brother Jeremy raised what seems like a fair question: Has there ever before been a guy whose entire career was riding on a single game?

Never Underestimate a Team Like the Warriors

OK, so I’m sitting here pondering how the Mavericks could still take the series.

People have talked a lot about Dirk getting on track, and that’s certainly an important point––not only does he have to start scoring for Dallas to win the series, but he’s practically bound to start scoring, since he’s had four games in a row where he hasn’t. My brother Jeremy made a comment recently about the Mavericks being a horse that has to run from behind. I think you have to pin that on Dirk, since he’s the consistent thread over their last 6 playoffs.

Here’s something that occurs to me: in Dirk’s career, Dallas has never been a heavy favorite to win a championship until their last two playoff series, and they've crumbled in both of them. When they have nothing to lose, they can do some remarkable things. But faced with the pressure of living up to what they know (at least in theory) that they’re capable of, they have gone oh-for-one, and they’re on the verge of oh-for-two.

So the two key questions are: Are they far enough behind for a switch to flip? And are they too far behind for it to matter?

Acknowledging that Dallas is utterly responsible for making something happen the rest of this series, there is one other possibility for the Mavericks winning in 7: Golden State could still, quite plausibly, experience a total melt-down, and come apart at the seams. had a story last week suggesting this, and truehoop puts things in perspective as well. And I think it’s true: Golden State clearly has got a ton of talent, but they’re also (1) injury-prone and (2) full of head-cases; well, we only know that Jackson is nuts, but there’s also a look in Davis’ eyes, and something about the perpetual creepy grin on his face, to where nothing he would do could surprise me. This series, for Golden State, depends on these guys holding it together. But that’s not a given.

This sounds like a really lame cop-out, and perhaps it is, but everyone knows psychology is part of the game. If being tough were just physical, then no one would ever blame a player for not being tough enough, right?

The fact is, it’s really difficult to maintain intensity and composure at the same time. Ask Jason Terry about punching Michael Finley in the playoffs last year, and then getting suspended for a game the Mavericks lost. Ask Jackson and Davis how they got themselves thrown out of the game last weekend. Ask Dirk why he looks like he’s ready to punch someone when he gets knocked to the ground but doesn’t get a foul call––and then looks like a beaten child when he can’t come up with any way to channel his aggression.

Back to the Mavericks: tonight will be the defining moment for these guys for a long, long time if they lose. Dirk, Terry, and Howard, unless one of them explodes for 40 or something, will never live down a home defeat tonight, and neither will Avery, unless/until they win a championship some other season.

My prediction: I’m not going to guess whether Dirk will start scoring or not, but unless Dallas wins in a blow-out, I’m putting my money on him taking 30 shots, make-or-miss. No way he gets more than 3 assists. And throw in 16 rebounds for good measure.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Murky View from the Other Side

The detachment strategy only sort of worked. I think I’ll be able to sleep tonight, but I still feel queasy.

The first must-win of the playoffs

Note: if you’re looking for my testimonial about how I’ve taken my heart back from the Mavericks, it’s the next post down

10:34 PM ET: Don’t trust them! They’ll only break your heart! (Mavs up 21–12)

10:35 PM ET: Reggie Miller just said that Dirk is showing up tonight, in contrast to past games. Perhaps. But in game three he made his first 3 shots scored Dallas’ first 8 points, all in the first three-and-a-half minutes of thee game. After that, he shot 4 of 13. We’ll see how this goes.

10:40 PM ET: I can’t believe we drew Dick Stockton as the announcer again. Reggie Miller makes it a little better.

10:49 PT ET: (Dallas up 30–21) Anyone else notice that Dallas had early leads in both their losses so far, but not in their one win?

11:02 PM ET: I wonder if Dirk is falling down needlessly over and over again, or if the refs just aren’t calling anything.

11:08 PM ET: Bad form, Avery: you can’t go after the refs about an illegal move by Golden State when you’re on the road. It just feeds the crowd.

11:13 PM ET: With the camera panning the cheering crowd, Dick Stockton just said: “Barnes and Terry separated…but here they are––time out on the floor!” I have no idea what that means.

11:15 PM ET: Why does he get to do that? Terry starts to lose control of the ball, and Matt Barnes barrels into him, diving for the ball––no call.

11:23 PM ET: I just heard this exchange:
  • Stockton: “This is the first game where the Warriors aren’t playing their style.”
  • Miller: “And they’re only down three.”
  • Stockton: “And the Mavericks deserve the credit.”

I Don’t Believe

My apologies to readers who aren’t into theology, but this post is going to be a cross-over into my other passion.

Of course, you can hardly follow the NBA these days without knowing a little bit of church talk: Nike’s pushing the Second Coming, King James had “Witness” t-shirts last year, which Mavs fans parodied with “Nowitzness” t-shirts (I own one) for last year’s playoffs. Dwyane Wade even suggested a couple of weeks back that he wanted to pull off a resurrection of his shoulder in celebration of Easter.

But along with Dirk and Avery, I want to talk about Abraham, Isaac, and Søren Kierkegaard. An odd mix, I know, but I swear it’ll make sense in a minute.

For those who aren’t obsessed with the Bible like I am, Abraham was the patriarch of the Jewish people, the man to whom God gave a son (Isaac) in his old age, in fulfillment of a promise to make Abraham into a great nation. Isaac was Abraham’s only son, and in the context of the Bible he’s the link between Abraham and the entire people of Israel, and ultimately Jesus.

But God decided to test Abraham, and so God asked him to sacrifice Isaac on an altar. Fortunately, God stopped Abraham from going through with it, but only once he had Isaac bound on the altar and the knife in his hand. As a result, Abraham is extolled for his obedience and faith.

It’s a horrific story, and Kierkegaard’s book about it is appropriately titled Fear and Trembling. His basic point is, if that’s what faith is, then we probably shouldn’t be too glib about saying we have faith. I think he’s got a pretty good point.

One of the central arguments of Kierkegaard’s book is that faith has to be a paradox. Abraham had to believe both (1) that he was going to kill Isaac as God had commanded, and (2) that God would still use Isaac to make Abraham into a great nation. It didn’t seem to make sense, but that’s what faith required.

If Abraham had only believed one of those two things, he wouldn’t have had faith: if he thought God was going to stop him, then it wouldn’t be a real test; and if he thought that he was losing Isaac for good, then he wouldn’t have believed God’s promise.

And what’s worse, if Abraham had thought he was losing Isaac for good, then he wouldn’t have been able to receive him back with joy. The reason why is, the only way Abraham could have resigned himself to losing Isaac would have been by loving Isaac less, and to make that kind of break––to really resign that you will kill your son––is not something that you can simply undo once the crisis is past. Abraham, Kierkegaard argues, never would have been the same.

Which brings me to my point.

As far as I can tell, I have officially resigned myself to the Mavericks losing this playoff series. In contrast to the Warriors fans and their t-shirts, I don’t believe. Of course the Mavericks aren’t worthy of the kind of trust that Abraham put in God. But if the Mavericks are my Isaac, my object of devotion that I’m afraid of losing, then I have officially resigned them as lost.

And as a result, if the Mavericks do come through against Golden State, I don’t think I’ll be able to receive them back with joy. This season is dead to me, whether the slaughter really ends up happening or not. I might keep watching games (and I’ll probably keep blogging, too), and who knows––they might still win the title this year; but I won’t be enjoying it the way I would if I had had faith all along. I’ll probably watch Sunday’s game, but I bet I could study instead, and not think much of it.

It’s a trade-off I decided to make. I can’t stand the kind of anger and frustration that messed with my sleep after last year’s finals, so on Friday night I turned off a little switch in my heart. It’s going to take a lot of emotional energy for me to finish my papers this semester, and I am not going down with this team.

If the Mavericks win it all this year, a True Believer is going to have to email me and tell me how it feels. There may indeed be a resurrection of this team that looks dead, but I won’t be a Nowitzness to it.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Difference In Game 3

The Warriors’ offense played on a bigger court than the Mavericks’ tonight.

Blame Dirk, blame a supposed lack of Dallas effort, or whatever, but I say that the Mavericks got blown out because Golden State was playing on a bigger court.

When Dallas was on offense, the lane was totally clogged with Warriors defenders, and yet there were no Mavericks open on the perimeter. There was nowhere for the Mavericks to go: if they went to the rim, they usually got blocked because the Warriors’ defenders were already right there. And yet Dallas never managed to get open shots on the perimeter.

When the Warriors were on offense, the court was completely spread with no one in the lane. Whoever had the ball just took his defender off the dribble, at which point the entire Dallas defense collapsed into the lane. They were usually too late, which meant the guy with the ball (usually Richardson or Davis) got to the rim for the layup. But if they did stop the drive, all four guys on the perimeter were open. If the driver kicked the ball out to one of them, all of the Mavericks’ defenders had their momentum moving toward the lane, so there was no chance to get back out and pressure the shooter. If they did run at the shooter, he could just make a simple head fake and then dribble in for an uncontested 15-footer. This happened almost every time down the court.

This is the nba, which means that most any guard or small forward can go around his defender off the dribble in a one-on-one matchup. Certainly the Warrriors have three or four players who can do it. Dallas let the Warriors get them in that position every time the Warriors had the ball.

Look at the box score: Dallas was barely behind in rebounding, they had just a couple more turnovers than Golden State, both teams hit the same number of free thows, and both teams shot atrociously from the 3-point line. The difference was points in the paint, and from watching the game it was obvious that on defense, Dallas never had anyone in the paint.

For the Warriors, the court was wide open; for the Mavericks it wasn’t. Good luck winning a game that way.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Mavs-Warriors Game 3

Blogging tonight’s game. I'll keep an eye on comments, so feel free to jump in.

10:46 PM ET: Heat-Bulls game is still on. Wade worked hard and got the Heat back in the game, and then Antoine Walker happened. He commited an offensive charge at one end of the court with about 40 seconds left, then committed a flagrant foul at the other end of the court to personally hand the game back to the Bulls. You have to love Antoine virtually giving away the Heat’s season with Wade on the court.

10:53 PM ET: Dirk’s playing aggressive on defense. Great to see.

10:54 PM ET: Josh Howard is getting to the middle of the lane whenever he wants. He just had a nice spin move for a bucket.

11:00 PM ET: Howard is a beast. He just got a steal, then an offensive rebound of his own shot and a bucket in the span of 10 seconds.

11:01 PM ET: Diop is not getting the job done defending the basket.

11:17 PM ET: I haven’t been watching that closely (talking to my brother on the phone), but It’s getting ugly.

11:21 PM ET: That was a crazy play.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Dirk Still MVP

Jeremy might totally disagree with me on this, but I say Dirk is still MVP, even though in Wednesday’s game he managed about the kind of performance you’d expect from Kurt Thomas on a good night. And even though on Sunday he managed about what you’d expect of Kurt Thomas on a bad night (at least scoring––he did have 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks, and 2 steals.)

And the simple, often-repeated, reason is obvious: if Dallas gets through this series with the Warriors, they’re going to play Houston or Utah in the second round instead of San Antonio or Phoenix. And they took the first seed over a hot Phoenix team largely because Dirk was really good often enough to get it for them.

All that said, for the playoffs I love the attitude that Howard and Terry bring to the court. And wow––Devin Harris showed some guts on Wednesday too. Whatever the first two games looked like, this team is really, really good, and it’s going to be tough for any team to beat them.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Game 2, second half

I’m starting a new post for the second half of Mavs-Warriors game 2. You can see my first half comments below.

10:53 PM ET: Mavs fans have rarely hoped more earnestly that Barkley is right about something: he just said (at the half) that Dallas will take the series 4–1.

11:14 PM ET: Warriors back up by 2, three possessions into the second half. It might not get any better than this…

11:16 PM ET: One point that will hopefully look up for the second half: Dallas shot 0/8 three-pointers in the first half; it’s unlikely they’ll match that for the rest of the game.

11:19 PM ET: I think Dirk must be weaker than Stephen Jackson; that’s the only possible explanation for why he isn’t posting him up.

11:22 PM ET: Dirk has no idea what to do on offense right now. He looks like I do during a pickup game––setting a pick here, blocking out my man there, but not really having any impact on the game at all, except hopefully to force the other team to guard someone.

11:29 PM ET: Dirk just shot an out-of-rhythm 2-pointer with both feet on the 3-point line. Inexplicable.

11:33 PM ET: Well, there wasn't a flagrant foul by the mid-point of the second quarter, but there was almost a fight at the mid-point of the third quarter.

11:35 PM ET: I don’t know what Devin Harris is thinking to make a tough bounce pass to Diop in the lane. (It got fumbled away.)

11:36 PM ET: At least Dirk hits his free throws. I think he has more points off of technical free throws and junk fouls than he does off of actual offense.

11:43 PM ET: Now the Warriors are jawing at the refs. I like it.

11:49 PM ET: Wow. Baron Davis just whacked both of Jerry Stackhouse’s arms at the elbow on a lay-up, and then complained about the call until he got tossed. He should have watched the game where Duncan got tossed a couple of weeks back.

12:16 PM ET: The crowd just started chanting ‘MVP’ with Dirk shooting free throws. I wonder if that makes him feel better or worse. Actually, I’m betting Dirk is just glad Dallas won, both because he wants the win, and because it’ll take a little bit of heat off him.

12:26 PM ET: And, the Mavericks have ended a 6-game playoff losing streak. Now, if they can just imitate the beginning of the regular season and win 12 in a row again, they’ll be in the finals…

Better So Far


8:48 PM ET: Have to love the first minute and a half: Terry and Harris both have a steal, and Howard and Nowitzki have both knocked someone to the ground––without a foul call.

9:52 PM ET: Well, Devin Harris wants to win, anyway.

9:58 PM ET: Dick Stockton again has no idea what’s going on. He just got the teams mixed up, and earlier he said the Warriors “could take the lead here” when they were already up.

10:01 PM ET: I wonder if the Mavericks will guard Stephen Jackson some possession this game…

10:06 PM ET: The refs are really letting them play. I’d predict we’ll have a flagrant foul by the 6 minute mark of the second quarter.

10:12 PM ET: The Mavericks have no idea what they’re doing on defense. Everytime the Warriors come down the court, there’s someone on the perrimeter unguarded.

10:21 PM ET: Josh Howard needs to drop it about this foul call. You’re not going to lose the game because of one turnover; you’re going to lose because you're losing focus.

10:23 PM ET: I think the 7th player of the game just got knocked to the floor.

10:24 PM ET: The Mavericks are taking everything to the rim, which is a good thing. They’re also leaving Dirk on the bench, which is an interesting move. Frankly, these Mavericks are good enough to beat Golden State without Dirk, so if the way the Warriors guard him is going to disrupt the whole game, who know?

10:28 PM ET: Going back to Howard disputing the foul call: the biggest problem for Dallas right now is that the Warriors have no respect for them, and it lets them just abuse Dallas physically. Complaining about foul calls is not going to earn that respect back.

10:30 PM ET: Howard and Dirk have both missed a free throw already. What, do they think this is the regular season? Do they think they’re playing Memphis again?

10:31 PM ET: Dirk with a block. (Stockton attributed it to Diop.)

10:32 PM ET: The Mavericks have this play where one of their offensive players has the ball on the wing, and they pass it to DeSagana Diop at the top of the key, almost as if he could do something with it there. It always just stalls the offense and lets the Warriors get their defense reset. I wonder why Avery has them do that so often?

10:33 PM ET: Dallas just took a 5-point lead. I’ll try to remember this feeling so that I won’t fell like I wasted my time watching if the Mavericks lose.

10:38 PM ET: Make that 9 guys who have been knocked to the floor.

10:40 PM ET: Mavericks up 4. I have no idea how they’re winning right now.

10:48 PM ET: I honestly think Dick Stockton is starting to lose his mind.

The Small Game

Call this the corollary to my post called The Big Game, in which I defend Dirk (in comparison with Tim Duncan) on how he shows up for deciding games of playoff series. Dirk’s Mavericks are 4-0 in game 7’s, 5-0 if you count a game 5 back when the opening rounds were shorter. Duncan’s Spurs are only 1-1 in such series.

Now for the catch: there’s a good reason Duncan’s Spurs have only played two game 7’s, and it’s that they quickly put away the teams they’re supposed to beat. The only game 7 Duncan lost was against last year’s Mavericks. The game 7 he won was a couple of years ago against the Pistons, to win the championship. Then consider that San Antonio has only ever lost 4 playoff series that Duncan was playing in: last year’s Mavericks, Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers (twice), and Stockton and Malone’s Jazz; all four of those squads went on to the finals.

The point is, in all of their other series, when they were playing inferior teams, San Antonio won quickly; they never let inferior teams get past 6 games.

Contrast that with Dirk’s Mavericks, who in past years have taken seven games to beat both the 7th-seeded Blazers, and the 5th-seeded (but 7 games behind Dallas in the standings) Rockets.

Once the Mavericks are facing elimination, they’re a pretty solid 9–6 (60.0%). However, in playoff games where they aren’t facing elimination, Dirk’s Mavericks are an anemic 30–35 (46.2%). And in the first games of playoff series, they’re an embarrassing 5–9 (35.7%); 2003 is the only year they’ve won more than half of their series-opening games.

All of this explains how Dirk’s Mavericks have a winning record (8–6) for playoff series but a losing record (39–40 entering this season) in playoff games.

The good news is, these Mavericks have never lost a series after losing game 1 at home. Before Sunday night’s embarrassment, they had blown their home court advantage in the first game of a series three times: to Sacramento in 2003, to Houston in 2005, and to Phoenix last year. In the Houston series, Dallas lost their first two in a row at home. But Dallas went on to win all three of those series. In fact, the only playoff series Dirk’s Mavericks have lost with homecourt advantage is last year’s finals.

All that is to say, these guys don’t exactly put people away. Dirk’s numbers in game 1’s are solid (25.5 points, 44.9% FG, 12.2 rebounds), but his teams seem to lack fire in those games. And what’s worse, in recent years teams have found that Dirk is easy to fluster. However, he’s also very good at making adjustments. (See “Dirk's best bounce-back games” on this site.) And by the end of the series, when gimmicks have run out and ability is what remains, Dirk usually turns out fine.

There are no guarantees (cf. last year’s finals), but we should confidently expect that Dirk will be a different player in Wednesday night’s game. Expect him to be better prepared to pass out of double teams, and expect Terry and Howard to scorch the Warriors with open jumpers all night.

I’m not saying I’m really looking forward to watching the game, but I find consolation in knowing that history at least means something.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

I’m really not enjoying this

Some thoughts on the first half of Mavericks-Warriors game 1:
  • What an ugly, unpleasant first half to watch. Golden State at 33% FG, the Mavericks at 29%. Dirk was only 3 of 11, but no one on the team hit half their shots. And it’s not as if the Mavericks were just missing jump shots. Layup after layup rimmed out.
  • A lot of it seemed to be because the Warriors played rough on them, but there were several shots Dallas had no reason not to hit.
  • Dirk especially suffered from the rough defense, as he has occasionally. He’s not bulky enough to outmuscle people, and he’s not quick enough to just run around someone who guards him too tight.
  • Barkley criticized the Mavericks for changing their lineup to match Golden State. According to sportscaster orthodoxy, you should always impose your will on the other team, and Barkley thought a team that won 67 games shouldn’t change their lineup because of the 8th seed. There’s some truth to that, of course, but if I remember correctly, Avery Johnson adjusted the starting lineups during the season in order to win 67 games. Still, I’d rather see Dampier on the court.
  • I think the Warriors blocked 3 Mavericks jump shots in the first half. Ugly.
  • What an awful, awful announcing pair. Fratello isn’t great, and I think there was something wrong with Dick Stockton tonight. Coming into the second half there was a video glitch, and then it sounded like his mind just started to wander.
  • As annoying as it is to see Dirk play badly, I really don’t mind if the Mavericks have to sit him to win. The Warriors are a gimmicky team, so I say do whatever beats them and move on with the post-season.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Big Game

Those who have been reading along know that I’m a staunch Dirk defender, even though he doesn’t often hit the big shot at the buzzer, and even though (or maybe especially because) it’s been so maddening to follow his teams over the years.

But I was curious about whether he really does fail to show in big games, like people claim, and I thought the best thing I could do is compare him with Tim Duncan, widely considered the greatest power forward in the history of the game. And since we want big games, I decided to only look at how the two players have performed in the playoffs.

A couple of admissions up front:
  • There’s no denying that Duncan is a lot better at winning than Dirk is. Duncan has three rings (and an 18-5 series record) in eight playoff seasons, and Dirk has no ring in six seasons, with an 8-5 series record. (The wcf series in 2003, where Dirk sat out the last three games with a bum knee, counts for Duncan but not against Dirk.)
  • Duncan has far outplayed Dirk defensively over the years, and he also has a lot more assists. In fact, in two of the games I look at below, Duncan had a triple-double, something Dirk has never done in any nba game.
  • On the other hand, I think Dirk’s undefeated record in game 7’s (5-0 if you count the game 5 win against Utah in 2001) is pretty impressive. (Duncan’s is 1-1.)
All that said, here are their career playoff averages:
  • Dirk: 76 games, 42.4 minutes, 25.7 points (44.9% FG), 11.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists.
  • Duncan: 118 games, 40.7 minutes, 24.1 points (50.5% FG), 12.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists.
There’s nothing startling in those numbers. Dirk scores more, but with a lower field goal percentage, and Duncan gets more rebounds and assists. For both players, their playoff numbers are higher than their regular season numbers for minutes, points, and rebounds, but lower in field goal percentage. Duncan’s assists and blocks also increase in the playoffs.

But what about the really big games? I decided to do a box score comparison of the deciding games for the playoff series that Dirk and Duncan have played in. These are, almost by definition, the biggest games––the ones where a team won or lost their playoff series.

And just to be fair, since Dirk didn’t play any playoff games his first two seasons (i.e., when he was still inexperienced), I’ll exempt Duncan’s first two seasons (which would have hurt his cause slightly) from the numbers I’m going to crunch. What we end up with is all the series-clinching games Dirk and Duncan have played in since the 2001 playoffs.

Here are Dirk’s lines (FG made/attempted for points/rebounds):
  • 2001: Mavs (3) over Jazz (2); Dirk 3/11 for 18/4
  • 2001: Spurs (4) over Mavs (1); Dirk 14/24 for 42/18

  • 2002: Mavs (3) over Wolves (0); Dirk 11/17 for 39/17
  • 2002: Kings (4) over Mavs (1); Dirk 13/25 for 32/12

  • 2003: Mavs (4) over Blazers (3); Dirk 12/21 for 31/11
  • 2003: Mavs (4) over Kings (3); Dirk 12/20 for 30/19
  • 2003: Spurs (4) over Mavs (2); Dirk didn't play last 3 games

  • 2004: Kings (4) over Mavs (1); Dirk 11/23 for 31/14

  • 2005: Mavs (4) over Rockets (3); Dirk 5/14 for 14/14
  • 2005: Suns (4) over Mavs (2); Dirk 9/25 for 28/13

  • 2006: Mavs (4) over Grizzlies (0); Dirk 12/21 for 27/7
  • 2006: Mavs (4) over Spurs (3); Dirk 11/20 for 37/15
  • 2006: Mavs (4) over Suns (2); Dirk 8/20 for 24/10
  • 2006: Heat (4) over Mavs (2); Dirk 10/22 for 29/15
Now Duncan’s lines:
  • 2001: Spurs (3) over Wolves (1); Duncan 8/23 for 24/16
  • 2001: Spurs (4) over Mavs (1); Duncan 12/25 for 32/20
  • 2001: Lakers (4) over Spurs (0); Duncan 5/10 for 15/7

  • 2002: Spurs (4) over Sonics (1); Duncan 9/19 for 23/9
  • 2002: Lakers (4) over Spurs (1); Duncan 11/23 for 34/25

  • 2003: Spurs (4) over Suns (2); Duncan 4/12 for 15/20 (+10 ast)
  • 2003: Spurs (4) over Lakers (2); Duncan 16/25 for 37/16
  • 2003: Spurs (4) over Mavs (2); Duncan 8/20 for 18/11
  • 2003: Spurs (4) over Nets (2); Duncan 9/19 for 21/20 (+10 ast)

  • 2004: Spurs (4) over Grizzlies (0); Duncan 10/18 for 22/13
  • 2004: Lakers (4) over Spurs (2); Duncan 7/18 for 20/11

  • 2005: Spurs (4) over Nuggets (1); Duncan 13/23 for 39/14
  • 2005: Spurs (4) over Sonics (2); Duncan 6/21 for 26/9
  • 2005: Spurs (4) over Suns (1); Duncan 14/24 for 31/15
  • 2005: Spurs (4) over Pistons (3); Duncan 10/27 for 25/11

  • 2006: Spurs (4) over Kings (2); Duncan 6/8 for 15/6
  • 2006: Mavs (4) over Spurs (3); Duncan 12/24 for 41/15
That’s a lot of numbers, but now for the averages in these games:

Dirk: 49.8% FG, 29.4 points, 13.0 rebounds
Duncan: 47.2% FG, 25.8 points, 14.0 rebounds

Dirk has Duncan by 3.6 points a game, and Duncan has Dirk by 1 rebound. And even though Duncan’s career playoff FG% is higher than Dirk’s, in the biggest games Dirk’s jumps from 44.9% to 49.8%, while Duncan’s drops from 50.5% to 47.2%.

What killed Dirk’s reputation was the 2005 playoffs, where Dallas almost lost to Houston in the first round, and then lost to Phoenix in the second round amid a team chemistry melt-down. Dirk shot only 34% that game (even though he still managed 28 points on 25 shots), and he’s had trouble living it down.

If you notice, Dirk’s two worst lines of the bunch were in games where Dallas actually won, one of them by forty points. In the five series where Dirk has played in Dallas’ final loss, his worst point total is 28, and his worst rebounding total is 12. Say what you want, but he does not let his team go down without a fight.

Obviously, in the end you’d still rather have Duncan, whose teams have won the championship in 3 of the 8 seasons he’s played in the playoffs.

But for the big games Dallas has played, I think Mavericks fans have good reason to feel good about Dirk and his 29/13 on 50% FG. He still needs to learn how to win it all, but history says he does step up.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


OK, here they are, the 9 best regular seasons in NBA history:
’95-’96: Bulls (72-10)

’71-’72: Lakers (69-13)
’96-’97: Bulls (69-13)

’66-’67: 76ers (68-13)
’72-’73: Celtics (68-14)

’85-’86: Celtics (67-15)
’91-’92: Bulls (67-15)
’99-’00: Lakers (67-15)
’06-’07: Mavericks (67-15)
That means the Mavericks just tied the 6th best season ever.

Interesting to consider the stars of the other teams:
Sounds kind of funny, doesn’t it? Let’s hope it doesn’t still sound funny five years from now (or, more to the point, two months from now).

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Take it, Bill

I hate to punt like this, but Bill Simmons hasn’t written much about the NBA in awhile, and his LVP to MVP columns are the best reading out there this week:

Part One
Part Two

A warning: he’s not exactly pro-Dirk, and I found myself racking my brain toward the end to figure out who his mvp was. His choice is not compelling.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Words can hardly describe

What a great game.

This one was surreal for me, not least because I watched the whole thing on video tape after getting home from my Sunday afternoon reading group. Fast-forwarding through timeouts and free throws already changes the feel for the game, but on top of everything else, I can honestly say that I’ve never experienced an end of a game like I did this one.

I should say at the outset that I’ll stand by my claim that this game didn't tell us anything in particular about the Mavericks. I love the win, and 66 wins puts the Mavericks in a different historical category than 65 (now they’re top 10 all-time), so I'm thrilled about that. But even aside from the lack of postseason implications this one had for the Mavericks, Tim Duncan’s absurd ejection late in the third quarter surely gave Dallas a huge advantage.

Duncan got called for his second technical of the game for clapping and laughing at a foul call while sitting on the bench. The showed the whole replay, and he didn’t speak a single word. I'm not sure I've ever seen something like that in my life, and I wonder if it means David Stern phoned in that Dallas needs to win 68 this year.

But even if both teams claimed that the game didn’t mean anything to them, they played as if it did, and I loved it. Some thoughts:
  • At halftime, Tony Parker called the game a “great practice for the playoffs” and it was still better than every other game played in the NBA this week.
  • Avery announced before the game that no one would play more than 26 minutes, and then he caved in probably, oh, half-way through the first quarter. Dirk, Howard, Diop, Terry, and Harris played 37, 37, 34, 32, and 31 minutes. My guess is, Avery was expecting a laid-back game, but the players on both sides had something different in mind.
  • The crowd in Dallas loved it.
  • The play after the second Duncan technical, Josh Howard completely threw his body into Fabricio Oberto and got the call against Oberto.
  • Devin Harris got to the rim whenever he wanted to; at one point he also hit a 3, and then took a charge on the next play.
  • Jerry Stackhouse hit his shot over whoever was guarding him.
  • There were hard fouls.
  • ABC showed big chunks of the game with the sliding camera that lets you see how fast the players are really moving; I don’t know if I want it all the time, but it gives the game a great feel.
  • Guys on both teams hit their open shots.
  • The Mavericks contested every Spurs shot at the rim.
  • Both teams played good defense and scored a lot for most of the game.
  • Dirk has hit 666 field goals this year. He’s exactly one make over 50% for the season.
  • There was an 8 second violation on Tony Parker on a normal possession with no one guarding him.
  • Francisco Elson airballed an open 17-footer.
  • The Spurs have one guy named Francisco, and another guy named Fabricio. They also got 10 minutes from a guy named Jacque.
And then we get to the end, which I especially enjoyed. Dallas had been down by about 3 for most of the fourth quarter. Then Dirk hits a jumper with 1:15 left to tie it for the first time in the fourth quarter. Then Greg Buckner––Greg Buckner!––strips Manu Ginibili and goes coast to coast for the lead with 50 seconds left. A couple of plays later, Jerry Stackhouse misses 1 of 2 free throws (and the one that goes in barely goes in) with 10 seconds left and a chance to take a 4-point lead. (Sound familar to anyone?)

So there’s 10.8 seconds left, with the Mavericks up three, and the Spurs inbound the ball to Michael Finley, and then –– the screen literally fades to black, after which WCVB-TV meteorologist Dick Albert comes on and explains that Boston is going to receive heavy rains and possible flooding tonight. After a commercial breaks that follows, the 6 o’clock news starts.

I kid you not. The Boston ABC affiliate preempted the last 10 seconds of Mavericks–Spurs in order to start the local news broadcast on time.

And I didn’t care. I was frankly thrilled, and got a good laugh out of it, because I hadn’t thought the game could get any stranger.

Just to make one last point: on the pre-game show Jon Barry repeated a little piece of nonsense that I've heard from about 6 different commentators this year. He said that the Manu Ginobili foul on Dirk on the “last play” of game 7 last year is the only reason the Mavericks beat the Spurs.

Obviously that foul was huge, and based on the replay (the three minute mark on this youtube clip) Dirk is lucky that he didn’t get called for an offensive foul before he got to the rim. Lots of things needed to go right for the Mavericks to win that game, and there was certainly some luck (not to mention favorable officiating) involved.

But the Ginobili foul happened with 21.6 seconds left. If Dirk makes the layup with no foul call, Dallas is within one, they foul the Spurs on the inbounds, and then even if the Spurs hit both free throws, Dallas gets the ball in the exact same position with 20 seconds left.

I can only assume that none of these commentators ever actually watch the replay before they say these things, but honestly––what are they thinking when they say things like that? Dallas gets within one with 20 seconds left, and you say the only reason they won is because there was a foul on the play? There’s no chance Tony Parker hits 2 free-throws and then Jason Terry hits a clutch 3 for the tie? And as for how the game actually played out: what about Manu Ginobili’s missed layup after Dirk’s free throw? And how about the non-call on the last play when Duncan got the offensive rebound and Dirk got credit for blocking Duncan’s shot even though it looked like a hack?

And for crying out loud, how about overtime, when the Mavericks outscored the Spurs 15–7 on 4/6 FG and 7/8 FT? And professional commentators are still saying the only reason Dallas beat San Antonio was because of the Ginobili foul? I even heard Charles Barkley say it a couple of weeks back.

All I can think of is that after someone said it earlier this season, no one checked the replay to make sure it was an accurate assessment of the game’s end, and then everyone else just repeated it as if it were true and obvious.

It’s just one more piece of the national TV sportscaster orthodoxy that has developed for talking about the Mavericks this year: all they care about now is the title; Avery Johnson has really helped them develop a commitment to defense; Dirk and Nash are in a two-man race for MVP, but Dirk gets the nod because Dallas has the better record; Josh Howard has developed into one of the best two-way players in the game; and my favorite: Mark Jackson said tonight that Devin Harris is “probably one of the quickest guards, with the basketball, in the nba.” Glad to see he’ll go out on a limb with something like that.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Why this argument is nonsense

Jemele Hill had an article for this past week that I think is utter nonsense. For starters, she spends almost half of the article assuming that people want to give the MVP to Dirk because Nash has too many, as opposed to, say, because Dirk has led the Mavericks to one of the best seasons in the history of the NBA.

But anyway, although bashing on a bad argument isn’t that great a use of time in and of itself, Hill’s article gives me the chance to raise some questions about Dirk’s shot at MVP. Here she addresses a typical argument for mvp that she says should be reconsidered:
The MVP should go to the best player on the best team. Generally, I believe this. In the last 25 years, the MVPs have come from teams that have won 50 games or more. But you can't use that as absolute criteria. The Pistons had the best regular-season record in the NBA last year, but voters were correct in not awarding Chauncey Billups the MVP. You couldn't look at the Pistons and discern if Billups really was the most important piece, proving that the best player isn't always on the best team.

This year's Mavericks team poses a similar problem. No question Dirk is a superstar, but is he the real reason the Mavericks have shrugged off last year's NBA Finals meltdown? Or does that credit belong to coach Avery Johnson?
How do people get away with writing this stuff? The Pistons were strikingly abnormal in having a great regular-season record without having a particular player who stood out above the others. That’s why the coaches gave them four all-stars last year, to recognize the value of their team play.

Dirk is precisely the opposite of that. While his teammates are excellent, he is clearly the star of the team. He’s 11th in the league in scoring, and 16th in rebounding––not hugely impressive stats––but more important, he’s 6th in the league in ESPN’s player ratings, which measures all a player’s stats put together. Dallas’ next best is Josh Howard, at 45th. And in Hollinger’s PER rating system, Dirk is even better, ranked second for the season, behind only Dwyane Wade.

Yeah, Josh Howard is hugely important to the Mavericks, but no one in the past 30 years has won 65+ with just a bunch of Josh Howards. And Avery Johnson is something very special, but a coach can’t win 65 games by himself: Phil Jackson didn’t do it except when he had Jordan or Shaq, and Pat Riley didn’t do except when he had Magic. No, to win 65, you have to have a Dirk––he’s clearly the best player on his team, and one of the very best in the league.

What’s more, Dallas isn’t just barely the best team in the NBA. By record, they’re head-and-shoulders above everyone else for the season. San Antonio is playing great, but for the season as a whole they haven’t been anywhere close to Dallas. Phoenix has played extraordinarily well too, but then they lost all those games when Nash was out.

Which brings me to my next point. The poor play of Phoenix when Nash was injured should hurt Nash’s MVP chances, not help them. Just to be clear: the MVP is about achievement––the value you did have for your team––not what you would have done for them if only back spasms hadn’t sidelined you for a week here or there. Isn’t the ability to stay healthy part of a player’s value? Or to put it another way: Nash with back spasms isn’t as valuable as Nash without back spasms would be, right? This isn’t saying Nash is any less of a player, just that the MVP is about the entire season, and the results for the entire season are becoming increasingly clear. If Dallas weren’t there, Nash would probably be MVP; but they are, and he’s not.

So at the end of the day, Dallas––for the season as a whole––really is the better team, by virtue of having won a lot more games than Phoenix. And history bears out (see my previous post) that you don’t win 65 games on a fluke. Maybe Phoenix is playing better going into the playoffs, but for the season Dallas outplayed them. The Mavericks put together the performances necessary to win 65 games, and the Suns (who played just as hard) were unable to.

Which brings us back to the principle that Hill suggests Dirk-supporters are following too rigidly: The MVP should go to the best player on the best team. Obviously she’s right that we shouldn’t follow that rule to a fault. But in this case, Dirk is clearly the best player on clearly the best team. In fact, a situation like this with a clear-cut best player on a clear-cut best team is precisely where the rule she’s attacking is most appropriate to follow.

As I’ve said before, this whole thing is nothing but disrespect due to Dirk’s mediocre play in the finals last year. Even though that’s not really supposed to affect MVP ballots, it’s certainly understandable if it does. But those same people have to defend why Nash has never beaten San Antonio in the playoffs like Dirk’s Mavericks did last year, and why the Suns have never been to the NBA finals, even the year they were totally healthy and had the league’s best regular-season record. That, it seems to me, levels the playing field between these two guys and forces us to focus on this season.

And if this season is the only one in question, then no smokescreen of nonsense arguments should be able to obscure that Dirk should be MVP.