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.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Garbage Time

Dallas left four fifths of a playoff-calibre starting lineup off the floor tonight, and the rest of the roster still managed to blow out the Timberwolves, who were playing without Garnett and who still have a chance to fall behind Sacramento, Portland, New York, and maybe even Charlotte and Seattle for better draft odds, if they can just lose a few more games.

Who do you put in for garbage time (which was most of the second half) when Mo Ager has already played 20+ minutes?

Must have been a painful one to watch, despite the win. Anyone catch it on tv?

In the meantime, Dallas hits 65 wins (see my previous post), a number that has only been matched or topped in the last 30 years by Shaq’s Lakers (once), MJ’s Bulls (three times), Magic’s Lakers (once), Bird’s Celtics (once), and Moses Malone’s Sixers (once). If Dallas wins one more, scratch everyone from that list except the Bulls, Shaq’s Lakers, and the Celtics.

All seven teams won the title that year.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

There is nothing left for us here

Here’s a depressing fact: the last time Dallas beat a top-tier team (50-win pace or better) was at Utah on January 9. That’s not entirely their fault, since they’ve only played two games since then against that level of team with that team’s full lineup on the court (both against Phoenix), but Dallas did lose both. So you could say that, aside from an uncanny consistency in beating mediocre and bad teams, Dallas hasn’t shown us all that much in the past three months.

What’s more, with Dallas winning at Portland tonight, their magic number (Dallas wins plus Phoenix losses) for clinching the west is at one. That means the rest of the season should be true coasting. To put it in concrete terms, Maurice Ager played 25 minutes tonight against Portland; Dirk played 26.

And even if the upcoming games against San Antonio and Utah will matter to those teams, they won’t matter much to Dallas. Look for Dirk, Howard, and Terry to average a handful of minutes, and look for pressure to fade away. If Dallas wins against those teams, it still won’t be because they needed to. Whatever happens from here on out, it isn’t likely to tell us anything about the team.

Watching the way the Mavericks have played lately, with narrow victories over Sacramento, New York, and Milwaukee, plus last night’s loss to the Nuggets––and all of it with Dirk’s stats slipping––it’s hard to know what kind of Dallas team will show up for the playoffs. So as fans who want to take the pulse of our team daily, we pretty much have to wait until April 21 before we get any new data. For me, it’ll be a long two weeks.

It seems to me, the playoffs are going to be an entirely new season for this team. Momentum, unless they win their last 8 in a row, probably isn’t going to be a factor, which suggests Dallas will have to play themselves back into team form during their first-series round, hopefully against the Clippers rather than the Warriors.

The goods news is, this is the same personnel that are now 63–13, so if you’re looking for a group capable of getting their act together, this is the one. They’re still angry about last years playoffs, they’re still the group (most of them) that won game 7 on the road against the Spurs in last year’s playoffs, and they’ve still got Dirk and his career playoff averages of 25.7 points (currently on the top-10 all-time list) and 11.1 rebounds.

Friday, April 6, 2007


Just to mix things up, instead of saying positive things about the Mavericks, tonight I’m going to say a bunch of negative things (none of them particularly new or original) about the next best two teams in the league––who played each other in San Antonio tonight (the Spurs won 92–85).

Truehoop had a post today about how any real nba fan likes to watch the Suns play. My money says no one enjoyed watching them play the Spurs tonight. Halfway through the fourth, Bowen got a technical after Nash clubbed him and drew blood but Bowen got called for the foul. Steve Kerr commented, “That might have been the most exciting play of the game.”

The Spurs whine more than any team in the league. Bruce Bowen and Manu Ginobili sandwiched James Jones and threw him to the ground on a loose ball, after which both of them did the bit where they hold their hands out and look at the ref in disbelief when they heard the whistle.

Steve Nash pushes off all the time when he’s dribbling.

When Bowen guards a player face-to-face on the perimeter, he puts his entire body up against theirs with his arms outstretched around them; if everyone was allowed to do that, the game couldn’t be played.

Boris Diaw is my least favorite player in the nba. To my mind, he's the stereotypical frenchman with the perpetual sneer and utter contempt for everyone else on the court. Not that all french people are like that; Tony Parker, from what I can tell, is one of the classier players in the league.

Michael Finley has exactly one move. You know the one.

Raja Bell is a jerk.

With about four minutes left in the game, the Spurs’ offensive execution disappeared, and the Suns looked scary for the first time all game.

With two minutes left and the Spurs with the ball, Phoenix intentionally fouled Duncan to put him on the line. Duncan missed both, but he got a huge block against Barbosa the next time down the court.

With 55 seconds left in the game and the Suns trailing by five, Nash tried an awkward bounce pass between the legs of Tim Duncan. The ball made it through cleanly, but it completely surprised Amare Stoudemire, who turned just in time to watch it go out of bounds. The next time down the court, trailing by seven with 30 seconds left, Nash missed a wide-open 3-pointer. In addition to the late turnover, followed by the missed shot, Nash finished the game 6 of 14 for 20 points, just 7 assists, 4 rebounds, and 6 turnovers.

So by the standards Dirk is typically held up to, Nash can’t win the mvp now, since he had a mediocre overall performance and choked at the end of a big game. And it was a big game: the Suns’ lead over San Antonio is down to two games, and the Spurs have the tie-breaker.

After the game, Charles Barkley declared the Spurs the best team in the league, because they play the best defense and also rebound, but Kenny Smith made a nice point in response: he said that the Spurs match up well against Phoenix, the Suns match up well against Dallas, and the Mavericks match up well against San Antonio. So it depends who you play.

That’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but it works in the Mavericks’ favor for what it’s worth: Phoenix will probably get knocked off by the Spurs in the second round, which would put the preferable opponent of the two (the Spurs) in the Mavericks’ playoff path. I think Jeremy’s going to say I’m crazy to prefer playing San Anotonio over Phoenix, but we’ll see.

The most important thing about tonight’s game: Dallas is now 6.5 games ahead of Phoenix with a magic number of two.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Have the Mavericks already peaked?

As depressing as Sunday's loss was, I feel justified in pointing out that Dallas has still won 9 of their last 10 (90%), 26 of their last 29 (89.7%), 34 of their last 38 (89.5%), and 47 of their last 52 (90.4%).

The idea of peaking too early is obviously still scary after Detroit's meltdown in last year's playoffs following their 64 regular-season wins. But these numbers suggest that if Dallas already peaked, their drop-off has been exceedingly slight. And, of course, the slight drop-off is when compared to the best run in the history of professional sports. So we shouldn't worry too much about Dallas yet. (Worry about Amare, perhaps, but don't worry about Dallas.)

To come at it from another angle, it's true that Dallas wasn't able to match their undefeated February with an undefeated March. (See my earlier post for their month-by-month record.) However, they did finish out March at a healthy 13-2 (86.7%), which means you could say that for the past two months they averaged one loss per month.

To move to another point, if the best thing that's happened to the Mavericks in the past month is the distance they've gained on Phoenix in the standings, the second best thing that's happened is the distance the Spurs have placed between themselves and the Jazz. The thought that San Antonio could take care of Phoenix in the playoffs without Dallas ever having to see them is extremely appealing to me. If you'd hate to get beat by the Spurs in the playoffs, you'd really hate to get beat by the Suns.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Getting angry

5:48pm ET
Remember last season in the playoffs when Tim Thomas blew Dirk a kiss, and Dirk went off for 50 points? Well, he just got undercut by Shawn Marion on a jump-shot, and he looks pretty angry. My money says, with Dallas down 10 and seven minutes left, here’s where we’ll find out what he’s made of––if he gets back in the game.

6:39pm ET
And...Dirk did, basically, absolutely nothing. A couple of offensive rebounds, a couple of missed shots, and a little bit of hobbling around the court. His sprained ankle was a nice complement to Josh Howard’s busted forehead, as the Suns literally added injury to insult.

And whatever you think of Dirk’s awful shooting game (21 points on 6/18 with 6 rebounds and 6 assists), Dallas has a far scarier statistic to reckon with: in their past two games, Stoudemire and Marion have combined to shoot 41 of 54 (75.9%) against the Mavericks.

Last game, Dallas made up for their porous defense and mediocre shooting with 27 offensive rebounds, miraculously taking the game down to the wire in overtime despite a huge deficit in field goal percentage. Today the rebounding was even, and Dallas didn’t have a prayer.

Just for kicks, here are the Suns’ player-by-player field goals today, from best to worst:

Marion: 8/10 (80%)
Stoudemire: 10/13 (76.9%)
Diaw: 6/9 (66.7%)
Nash: 7/11 (63.6%)
Barbosa: 10/17 (58.8%)
Jones: 2/4 (50%)
Bell: 3/7 (42.9%)

So seven different Suns shot, and only Raja Bell hit fewer than 50%. And Bell’s makes were all 3-pointers, which means he still managed 9 points on just 7 shot attempts.

You can’t really even say that any of the Suns was particularly dominant; everyone on the team scored more or less whenever they wanted. And it wasn’t just off assists from Nash (who had a less-than-gaudy 11); Amare and Diaw posted up one-on-one and regularly got layups.

Dallas put up some nice numbers themselves for most of the game to stayed competetive, but it’s obviously a rare night that anyone can beat the Suns without getting stops.

The only consolation I can see is that Dampier, who had 11 offensive rebounds the last time these teams played, was out of the lineup. That left Dallas with only DeSagana Diop, which meant they played 22 minutes without a true center in the lineup. A lot of the easy buckets Amare and Diaw got were on mismatches agains the likes of Jason Terry. But they also scored easily enough when Diop was in, so that hardly explains away the problem.

Here’s my thought: maybe if the two teams meet in the playoffs, Kevin Willis––who has the biggest biceps in the history of the NBA––will break Amare’s arm going for a block; if Dallas doesn’t figure something out defensive––or else utterly dominate the offensive boards––that might be their best shot at beating these guys.