For most of the last decade, the Mavericks were annually one of the best teams in the NBA at winning close games. They consistently outperformed their point differential, primarily because of a stellar record in games decided by 5 points or less. None other than Professor Hollinger himself called it a statistical outlier. I swear this happened, but it seems many, many years ago now. Monday night goes down as a brutal 105-101 home loss to a Hawks team that could have easily been beaten. For those keeping track at home, the Mavs are now 22-29, 5 full games out of the No. 8 seed.
I'd hate to pin this all on O.J. Mayo, but he sure does seem to have a knack for coughing up the ball in important moments, doesn't he? The play-by-play says it all: 0:23 seconds, Mayo bad pass (Devin Harris steals). 0:14 seconds, Mayo bad pass (Jeff Teague steals). His role in the last two minutes should probably just be spotting up and spacing the floor, but it's not like the Mavs other options on the perimeter inspire much confidence either.
One thing I like is playing Dirk more in the high post and the top of the key. To post up Dirk successfully, you need guards who can control the tempo of the game, get the team into a set, make a post entry pass and then cut away from the ball to give him enough space to operate. At least when he's setting screens above the free-throw line, the threat of Dirk's jumper is creating a ton of space for his teammates and he has to deal with a lot less clutter.
Dirk had one of his best offensive games all season (24 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists on 8-14 shooting), but he probably gave up as many points as he scored tonight. I could have used a lot less of Dirk guarding Josh Smith 1-on-1. I know the book on Smith is to let him hoist 20-footers, but he's a good enough shooter that he can make them when he's wide open. He pretty much had his way with the Mavs front-line: 26/13/6 on 10-15 shooting.
Smith and Horford have great on-court chemistry. That's two talented big men who can pass and shoot and know where to look for each other on the floor. Smith caught Brandan Wright sleeping in the fourth quarter with a gorgeous bullet pass to Horford for a dunk. They aren't a good match-up for Dallas because Dirk really has no business guarding either one. I'm surprised he wasn't being hidden on Anthony Tolliver more often.
Tolliver has to be the captain of the "he's still in the league!?" team. He's not an offensive threat and he's not really capable of defending anyone either. He used to be a good three-point shooter, but that's somewhat abandoned him over the last two years. Atlanta has a nice two-man core of Horford and Smith and some dangerous guards on the perimeter, but they have ZERO depth on their front-court. I can find a better NBDL player than Anthony Tolliver; I'm sure of it.
The Mavs got back in the game in the second quarter, when they took advantage of Larry Drew keeping Horford chained to the bench with 2 fouls. Things were getting so bad for the Hawks they were letting Ivan Johnson go 1-on-1 trying to score. Atlanta could really use a small forward, but they traded Marvin Williams away in the off-season for "flexibility". And what exactly did they get for Joe Johnson? More flexibility?
I'm honestly curious what the Mavs and the Hawks plan to do with this flexibility in the off-season. Apparently neither is all that eager to give Josh Smith a max contract, which isn't unreasonable. If Dwight Howard gets healthy and decides he doesn't want to play for the Lakers, I guess these two teams are in position to jump in. Other than that though, what are the moves out there that make them better than what they were two years ago? Basketball players actually "worthy" of a max contract don't exactly grow on trees.
Atlanta didn't come to Dallas in last year's lockout-shortened season, so fans at the AAC got their first chance in awhile to witness two former Maverick greats: Devin Harris and DeShawn Stevenson. Stevenson played 5 minutes, went 0-1 from the floor and didn't get much of a response from the crowd. How quickly they forget! Harris had a respectable all-around game, including the crucial steal in the final moments, but clearly the days of him making All-Star teams have come and gone. He reminds me a bit of Darren Collison, in that he's a fairly inconsistent shooter and decision-maker who depends on raw speed to bail him out. The difference is that he's 6'3 185 instead of 6'0 165.
Collison had a solid 14/5/10 stat-line, but he got filleted by Teague pretty badly on defense. Teague, by the way, went with the No. 19 overall pick in the 2009 Draft, two spots ahead of Collison and six spots ahead of Roddy B. This is what can happen when you decide to pay attention in the latter stages of the first round! Teague is a restricted free agent this off-season. I don't know if Atlanta is going to re-sign him though, as it doesn't sound like they can afford to use their cap flexibility on good basketball players.
Speaking of the Roddy B, did my eyes deceive me or was he doing a fairly respectable job of running point in the second half and finding the open man? 5 assists on 0 turnovers isn't a bad line. Of course, with Rodrigue, it's always something. Today it was his jumper, which he had zero confidence in, particularly after an ugly air ball off the pull-up. He seems to take a lot of contested 2's a few feet inside the three-point line, which isn't going to help your shooting percentages if you are struggling.
Vince Carter was his usual maddening himself on Monday as well. This is a revealing stat: he went 4-5 from the three-point line and 4-10 from the field. When he's spotting up off others penetration and looking to move the ball, he's very dangerous. But when he's trying to go 1-on-1 off the dribble, good things usually aren't happening. Vince just doesn't seem to have the best grasp of shot selection, which is rather impressive considering how long he's been in the league. His first two shots against Kyle Korver were two of the more wilder heaves you'll ever see in an NBA game.
The other Mavs reserve who had a strong performance was Brandan Wright. His length and activity helped change the game in the fourth quarter and he had a typically productive game statistically: 11 points and 5 boards on 5-6 shooting in only 20 minutes. However, his lack of defensive awareness in the final minutes really hurt Dallas. He's probably best used as a 3rd big man who can play against more limited big men on the opponent's bench. He'd look pretty good in that role in Atlanta, for example.
Wright does need minutes, but so do Elton Brand and Sarge James. To me, Chris Kaman is the obvious odd man out of that bunch. The ball moves a lot more when he's off the floor and the team is way more athletic. Dallas is now 3-4 since his concussion, but that's against a fairly tough part of their schedule and, to me at least, the team seems to have found (somewhat) of a groove in the last two weeks.
I almost forgot this sequence, but it was too fitting not to mention. With the game close in the fourth quarter, Elton Brand somehow managed to find himself leading a 3-on-1 fast break. He had an open lane to the basket, but he ended up air-balling a wide-open lay-up. It was some pretty sad stuff, honestly. Elton Brand used to be a pretty awesome basketball player! I hate that Dallas has become the last stop before the glue factory for seemingly every 10+ year veteran trying to hang on in the league as long as he possibly can.
The Big Picture:
Sacramento comes into town on Wednesday for the final game before the All-Star break. In the NBA, that game is like the last day of school, everyone's just ready to book it out of town. There's a pretty good chance the Kings will fold up the tents if the Mavs hit them with a run early. I'm not sure it really matters at this point, but Dallas does seem determined to play out the string over the last few months.