On Sunday night I rewatched parts of the Mavericks' loss to Memphis. I was at that game on Friday and spent half of my time in the press box genuinely confused at how Dallas was attempting to defend the Grizzlies' front court. I wanted to watch it again to confirm I wasn't crazy, and ... welp.
Here's the problem: Dirk can guard Kosta Koufas. He cannot guard Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph or Jeff Green. Tyson Chandler can guard Koufas, Gasol and Randolph, but he'll struggle against Green. Amar'e Stoudemire isn't going to help much against any of those guys. Al-Farouq Aminu will try his best, God bless him, but he'll struggle to size up all but Green.
Here's an example of one -- sadly -- of the best case scenarios from the game. Even when Randolph and Gasol are both off the floor, the Mavericks still end up with a center (Stoudemire) guarding a wing and a guard (Harris) guarding a forward simply because it's genuinely a better option than playing straight up.
Now let's put Randolph and Gasol back in, and you realize the Mavericks will always be guarding one of them with a sub-optimal defender. To try to make up for this, they usually double the mismatched defender (usually Randolph) the second he catches the ball.
But Randolph has been in the NBA too long to get panicked by the sight of a second defender, and he recorded a Grizzlies-high five assists on Friday as a result. A disciplined defense could still pull this off, but the Mavericks are an odd mismatch of players who too often lose focus or make mistakes as they rotate. In the example below, Devin had just crashed down on Randolph to force the ball out of his hands, but the rest of the defense has decided to use Stan Van Gundy's marvelous "form a f--king wall" method, leaving two wide open 3-point shooters. (I joke because I have no clue what the hell they are actually doing on this possession.)
Even more strange: on Friday, the Mavericks tried doubling with their other big man. It makes a little bit of sense to bring Dirk, I suppose. You see Al-Farouq Aminu slipping into the paint and he's a better defender in there than Dirk is at this point. Still, Randolph isn't fazed and finds Jeff Green, who doesn't have a man within 10 feet of him.
It makes a lot less sense to double with Tyson Chandler, the Mavericks' best rim defender and heart of their defense. Randolph spins away and scores at the basket because nobody's there to challenge him. Teams TRY to take Chandler away from the rim. Don't make their lives easier by doing it by your own initiative.
Unfortunately, the Mavericks are currently heading towards a No. 2 vs. No. 7 showdown with Memphis, something they desperately need to avoid. They match up much better with Houston or Portland, and I'd feel much better about their chances against one of those two in the first round. A series against the Grizzlies would just highlight these mismatches of comical proportions.
The one advantage Dallas has is Rick Carlisle. His strategic basketball mind and willingness to try drastic measures, such as doubling the post with Tyson Chandler, is what makes him such a dangerous playoff coach. By using their four regular season games as a test tube, he may be able to generate enough ideas and put out enough fires to hang with Memphis' killer front line. He did it against the championship-winning Spurs last year, after all.
But it'd be easier on Carlisle to secure a more favorable matchup to begin with, where his coaching magic has a chance to turn the tide rather than delay the inevitable.