We've got lots to talk about this week, as the Mavs played five games in seven days, lost several key players to injury, and suffered their first three-game losing streak of the season. Let's go.
1) Role players stepping up
As discussed more fully below, it was a tough week for the Mavs’ physical health. With several key players missing time, Coach Rick Carlisle looked deep into the roster for additional production. Many players responded admirably. Thrust into the starting lineup for four games, little-used forward Brian Cardinal chipped in almost 7 points per game on 50% shooting from deep. Oft-maligned reserve guard Jose Juan Barea posted a career-high 29 points on 11-of-21 (52%) shooting in the loss at the Milwaukee Bucks. Playing a season-high 32 minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers, regular starter DeShawn Stevenson contributed 21 points on 6-13 (46%) shooting. With forward Caron Butler likely out for an extended period of time, the Mavs’ role players must continue to produce quality minutes.
2) Jason Kidd’s leadership
It’s often hard to quantify Jason Kidd’s impact on the Mavs. He’s not a fantastic shooter (although his three-point shooting is more than adequate), his lateral quickness is subpar and prevents him from effectively defending waterbug guards, he consistently misses easy layups, and he can no longer create offense for himself. But perhaps moreso than any other Mav, Kidd always has his finger on the pulse of the team. When the chips are down and the team needs a lift, Kidd often sends a simple but powerful message: we’re not finished. This week was no different. After giving up a 21-2 run to the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night, Kidd’s determination helped spark a Mavs comeback that made it a competitive game the rest of the way. He finished with a triple-double, notching 12 points, 10 rebounds, and 13 assists. Saturday night, with the Bucks threatening to pull away in the third quarter from a Mavs team missing four of its top eight players, Kidd drilled a three-pointer, collected a defensive rebound, and then promptly drilled another three-pointer, cutting the deficit to two. The Mavs would ultimately fall short, but as has often been the case, Kidd would not let them quit.
3) Shawn Marion
Despite nursing a thigh contusion, Marion had perhaps his best week as a Mav. Against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Marion responded to Dirk’s early exit by contributing 20 points on 10-of-15 shooting and 9 rebounds. In the embarrassing loss to the Toronto Raptors, Marion was again efficient, posting 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting and 5 rebounds. After missing the Milwaukee game due to the aforementioned injury, Marion returned in Cleveland the following night and, despite clearly being in pain, provided a team-high 22 points on 11-of-16 (69%) shooting. Just as Kidd stepped up with his leadership in the face of adversity, Marion stepped up with his play on the court.
1) Team health
If you’re the type to speak conservatively, you might say the Mavs had a "not good" week injury-wise. Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, and Caron Butler all suffered injuries of varying severity, leading the Mavs’ front office to briefly contemplate posting a wanted ad for experienced forwards on Monster.com. Fortunately, Marion’s injury kept him out only one game, and Dirk has sounded optimistic that he’ll return this week. For Butler, on the other hand, things do not look stellar (there goes that conservative speaking again). We don’t yet have official confirmation, but early reports indicate Butler suffered a torn patella tendon during the Mavs’ loss at Milwaukee Saturday night. Discussing the injury afterward, Coach Rick Carlisle was emotional and lauded Butler for walking off the court under his own power. Depending on the severity of the tear, Butler could be out anywhere from two months to the whole season. Either way, it’s surely frustrating for a guy who had found his groove in recent weeks.
2) Jason Terry
Jason Terry started the week in typical Jason Terry fashion---a nonfactor through three quarters in Oklahoma City, then outstanding in the fourth (11 points on 5-of-7 shooting). The next night against Toronto, JET turned in a relatively underwhelming performance, going 8-of-19 (42%) and 2-of-8 from deep. Unfortunately, this mediocre production would look otherworldly compared to JET’s next two games. With Dirk out and the Mavs desperately needing JET’s scoring against San Antonio and Milwaukee, JET went a combined 6-of-31 (19%) for 15 total points. Brutal. On a brighter note, JET ended the week with a nice performance in Cleveland, going 8-of-14 (57%) for 18 points and dishing out 4 assists. Perhaps not coincidentally, this improvement coincided with JET’s return to the starting lineup.
3) Transition defense
In the immortal words of Avery Johnson, "We’ve got to play better trayan-zission DEE-fince." Over five games this week, the Mavs allowed an average of 17 fast-break points. The biggest culprits were the Thunder and the Raptors, who racked up 24 and 25 points on the break, respectively. And those numbers don’t tell the full story. Particularly against Cleveland last night, the Mavs also suffered from several instances in which they got back on defense quickly enough to prevent a fast break, but were promptly bested by transition-induced offensive cross-matches (and perhaps lack of focus), giving up a score less than eight seconds into the shot clock. With Tyson Chandler anchoring the paint, the Mavs have one of the better half-court defenses in the league. Failing to get back in transition completely neutralizes that advantage.
Hopefully next week's Mavericks Hot and Cold will include a Hot item about Dirk Nowitzki returning to the lineup and averaging 40 points per game on 97% shooting. Until then, keep sending good vibes to him and Caron Butler.