Oh, hey, didn't see you there. Just a second, let me just......ah, there we go. Had to get down from that ledge. What was I doing up there?
I just got done watching the Mavericks-Grizzlies game. Nothing. Just enjoying the view.
1) Jason Terry
When the JET is hot, it's a MFFL treat greater than anything not named Dirk Nowitzki. Like last week, JET's numbers in three games this week speak for themselves. Against the Philadelphia 76ers: 30 points on 13-of-18 (72%) shooting, 3-of-5 (60%) from deep, 4 dimes, and the best Mav on the court. Against the Indiana Pacers: 21 points on 8-of-16 (50%) shooting, 1-of-2 from deep, 6 dimes, and the second-best Mav on the court, behind only the eminent Mr. Nowitzki. Against the Memphis Grizzlies: 26 points on 9-of-15 (60%) shooting, 4-of-7 (57%) from deep, 3 rebounds, and once again the Mavs' best player. And actually, when we said a few lines ago that the numbers "speak for themselves," that's not entirely true. Here's what these numbers don't tell you--JET also hit clutch shot after clutch shot this week, perhaps none better than an incredible baseline fadeaway to ice the Pacers.
2) Dirk Nowitzki
Along with Terry, the other half of the NBA's second-highest fourth-quarter scoring duo (12.7 points per game) also had a great week. Dirk turned in a typical efficient performance in Philly, dropping 22 points on 9-of-15 (60%) shooting and pulling down 6 rebounds. He then decimated the Pacers, shooting an incredible 10-of-12 (83%) from the field, 9-of-10 from the foul line, and totaling 29 points. In the week's gut-wrenching finale, Dirk tallied 23 points on 9-of-17 (53%) shooting, including a jumper with 3 seconds left that should have won the game if not for the Grizzlies' Zach Randolph hitting an even more difficult jumper right before the buzzer.
3) Team offense
The Mavs' offense, on fire for several weeks now, is showing no signs of slowing down. This week's point totals: 101 against Philly, 116 against Indiana, 103 against Memphis. The shooting numbers: 53%, 52%, 51%. Team assists: 26, 28, 21. Turnovers were a moderate blemish (15 in each of the three games), but the Mavs are moving the ball very well, finding their spots, and shooting efficiently. Some bad moments (e.g., horrible turnovers against Memphis) aside, this is a beautiful offensive machine presently.
1) Defensive focus (especially in third quarters)
So, about that ledge. The Mavs' third-quarter against Memphis was their worst defensive quarter of the season. It may have been their worst quarter of the season, period. The Grizzlies shot 72% and tallied a ridiculous 41 points (after scoring only 38 the entire first half), while the Mavs look generally uninterested and, to be frank, defensively incompetent. In the span of about 9 minutes, the Grizzlies completely erased the Mavs' 17-point halftime lead. The same problem struck against Philly, although to a lesser extent, as the 76ers put up 33 points and shot 61% in the 3rd frame. But enough with the numbers. Here's a bit of analysis. The Mavs are a very good team. They have great players, they're two-deep at most positions, they're well-coached, and they have veteran leadership. But they aren't good enough to take quarters off, and they aren't good enough to mail in their defensive play just because they're missing a few shots or turning the ball over on the other end. If they do that in the playoffs, even in the first round-- even occasionally--they will lose. But here's the bright side. if they play hard every quarter and act like they give a damn on every possession, they have a shot to beat anyone.
Mavs Moneyball has developed a nice blog-o-media pipeline into the mind of Mavs' coach Rick Carlisle. While it's impossible to know what coach is thinking at all times, we feel fairly comfortable in making a prediction. If Stojakovic doesn't start playing better, especially knocking down his open shots, he won't be starting much longer. The Mavs have options at the SF position, including moving Shawn Marion into the starting lineup (although it's unclear if this option is even on the table for Rick) or giving the spot to new Mav Corey Brewer. Despite his spacing the floor, Stojakovic doesn't offer enough to justify a starting spot if he's not hitting shots at a respectable clip.
3) ...Defensive focus.
Seriously. This is not a new problem. It's not even a new problem this season. It's one thing to suffer from run-of-the-mill runs by the opposition. 6-0, 8-0, these things happen within the ebb-and-flow of any NBA game. But the Mavs' problems with defensive focus and maintaining intensity go far beyond the expected opponent's run. A 41-23 third quarter does not naturally result from the ups and downs of the NBA game. Suddenly giving up 72% shooting to a team that had previously shot 35% for an entire half is not just the (mythical) law of averages at work. What happened last night was the most severe iteration of a recurring problem that the Mavs now have 1.5 months to fix. And it's going to take more than just sticking Tyson Chandler back in the lineup, although that certainly might have helped last night. The Mavs must recommit to the mentality that the other team will earn every point. If the opponent scores 90 or 100 points, which happens frequently in the NBA, it has to be because they hit difficult, well-defended shots. Anything less is unacceptable for a team with the Mavs' aspirations.
Having already stepped down from the ledge, I will now step down from my soapbox. Same time, same place, next Monday. Go Mavs.