As the Mavericks run and gun all over the court to the tune of the 7th fastest pace in the NBA and 33 fast break points in their game last night, you just have to sit back and shake your head.
The Mavericks have made a couple attempts to emphasize pace over the past years, but never quite like this 2012-13 season. Rick Carlisle talks wanting his team to push it constantly. The players want to get out and run all over teams. In the locker room before games, you can even see pace rankings circled and underlined on a whiteboard. It's a crucial part of the Mavericks plan this season.
It made sense to start the season. Darren Collison is a speedster who doesn't finish well amongst traffic. O.J. Mayo is an aggressive attacker in the fast break setting and can find room for an occasional PUJIT, too. It's a backcourt that can get some quick baskets for a team here and there.
Still, the biggest reason, or so I thought, was the absence of Dirk. Without the German wunderkind for the first 27 games (what a dark, ugly 27 games that was), the Mavericks had a half-court offense that was really in shambles. Considering it centered around O.J. Mayo pick and rolls and Chris Kaman post-ups, it's more likely Taylor Swift will find a stable relationship than see any type of offensive continuity on a night-to-night basis.
Well, shocker. They never did get in an offensive rhythm (although Swift had no success either, so I guess it was just a lose/lose situation). There's a reason the Mavericks rank 7th in pace but just 18th in offensive efficiency.
But enter Dirk, the magical elixir to all the Maverick problems, finally back and in the past few games starting to really look like himself. While the full-court up-and-down tempo was a fun gimmick to try to sustain a struggling offensive, surely Carlisle would pack it back into his bag of tricks, nice and neat next to his zone defense and the three-guard lineup, for the next time he'd have to fall back on it out of desperation.
Not so. The Mavericks are running just as much as ever -- WITH the normally slow and plodding Dirk Nowitzki and Elton Brand taking over the primary front court responsibilities (knock on wood that Carlisle doesn't suddenly change his mind with EB). The team's buying in, and it's working.
That's why we're seeing Dirk running down in transition and having no hesitation pulling the trigger from the elbow with no defenders around him. Against Minnesota, he had a fast break dunk. Read that again. Dirk beat not only his man, but several others down the court to receive the feed from Collison and jam the ball with one hand. When's the last time that happened?
Turnovers have slowly moved to becoming a non-issue, too. Collison and Mayo have been primarily responsible for initiating the fast breaks, at the cost of committing careless turnovers and mindless throw-aways. All of a sudden, they're learning to keep things more under control while still picking the right times to aggressively attack the basket. The Mavericks have committed less than 14 turnovers in eight straight games now.
Like I said, you just have to sit back and shake your head. Sure, put Brandan Wright and Bernard James in the backcourt and it'd make sense to be talking about this team being fantastic in the open court. And yet, with minimal contributions from either of the two mobile, high-flying big men, the Mavericks have still put together on of the better running teams in the NBA. Older vets like Carter, Dirk, Kaman and Brand aren't suppose to be running the Minnesota Timberwolves off the floor, and yet they had no answers as the Mavericks pushed the ball seemingly at will.
Besides the players buying in, though, this quick paced success the Mavericks are employing boils down to one other key factor: the Mavericks are finally playing some defense and grabbing the boards. Rebounding problems still rear their head from time to time, but this team looks so much more committed to the defensive side of the ball.
It's kind of amazing the style of play Carlisle has got this team succeeding with. This team is not built like a prototypical fast-break-til-they-break team, but it's somehow been working. Tonight, the Mavericks face off against the Houston Rockets, the team with the fastest pace in the NBA this season. But you know, they always say fight fire with fire...