The Mavs finally got a win against the horrible Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night, largely behind the efforts of a rejuvenated Monta Ellis, who had 31 points in 38 minutes, including 26 in the second half, 5 threes, and 3 assists. Chandler Parsons looked ok in his return with 11 points on 5-11 shooting and 6 rebounds, plus a couple very nice highlight plays. Dirk, sadly, was a -1 in his time on the floor. Rondo finished with 8 points on 4-10 shooting but 9 assists.
The Lakers were led by Carlos Boozer (who had 17 points on 15 shots) and Jordan Clarkson (13 points on 13 shots)
The Mavs came into this Lakers game -- the game that they desperately needed to do well in to get much needed forward momentum after five games straight of abysmal play -- and came out flat. They only led by one after the first, and were tied at halftime. Chandler Parons led the team in scoring at the half with 9, and Dirk had 7, but Parsons was 1-4 from 3 in a game where the long range shooting was spotty at best, and Dirk was similarly bad from long range.
Amar'e had the best first half of anyone by far, drawing four fouls almost immediately upon entering, playing decent D, and moving the offense well with himself as a post cog. Unfortunately for the team, his contribution, while appreciated, was small, and no one else brought much to the table.
It's not like this team was getting blown out or anything either, but the Lakers are horrible, and the Mavs were playing to their level. It wasn't a good look.
The Mavs came out at halftime and it didn't get any better: the Lakers immediately went on a run, finding themselves up by as many as 7 in only 3 and a half minutes. It really didn't get any better through the rest of the third, the Mavs got down by as much as 9 overall, and as much as the Lakers were the beneficiary of some crazy shots, the Mavericks couldn't score even against the Lakers D and the Lakers (sometimes) could against Dallas'.
Luckily, Monta went crazy at the end of the third quarter, hitting late jumpshot after jumpshot to get the Mavs back into the game, looking like his pre-injury self.
The Mavs did end up winning, thanks to an 11-0 run at the end of the game sparked by Al-Farouq Aminu and Rajon Rondo. Being as bad as they Lakers are typically comes with consequences like, being able to stay with teams but not win games. The Mavs have been bad, and they were awful tonight, but they have the talent to pull away from teams like the Lakers, and that's what happened.
- Everyone's noted that the Mavs' defense has improved lately, but it seemed like that was most true of the halfcourt defense (which was fine, though less good tonight than it has been), but the transition defense was a horrific mess. Part of it is that the Mavs players weren't getting back -- Dirk's old and tired, Tyson has too far to travel, Rondo is just not much of a runner, and Monta's hurt -- but a bigger part I think is that teams are leaving the Mavs completely open from three because they know the Mavs can't make any shots. The result is that the Mavs are taking and bricking long shots they can't make, and the Lakers were getting long rebounds. That's the key. The Mavericks couldn't make a shot, and the Lakers were getting head starts thanks to the long rebounds from the missed 3's. Horrible offense has defensive consequences.
- Speaking of the defense, the Mavs' rotations on the pick and roll were awful after the third quarter, and it's not a coincidence that they got exacerbated while Amar'e was on the floor. Amar'e is a good individual defender and he's good at being a body in front of the rim (and underrated skill) but he just can't rotate to a perimeter player, or make a second rotation to a big. That kind of problem cascades around and leaves driving lanes and open threes. The Lakers looked awful because they're an awful team, but they also looked better than they usually do. Most Lakers fans will tell you that.
- It still feels wrong to harp too much on the defense though, because the offense is THE problem. That is still true. The Mavericks just played the 2nd worst defense in the league by a mile and they still looked incompetent at scoring. This was supposed to be the game where they figured their stuff out again, and they just couldn't. Teams have figured them out: defenses go under every single screen, and the Mavs then can't get around defenders or into the paint and so they take the open 3's, which they can't make, and the opposing teams get open layups in transition, and...It starts and ends with the team's inability to shoot. They can't make shots, so they have no space, so passes don't work and shots at the rim are too hard. That's it. That's the end. Those principles still apply against the Lakers.
- Perhaps the biggest concern that this game displayed is related to the last point, which is that these problems are not a matter of the Mavs' talent not being up to par, or of Dallas not matching up against good teams, or not small exploitable problems that go away against bad teams who can't exploit them. This team has huge, fundamental, rippable cracks. The issues here go deep. They're exploitable by anyone and everyone who's an NBA player, it doesn't take elite teams and players to figure out how to take advantage of this team. That doesn't mean that the problems aren't fixable, quite the opposite. But it does mean that they can't just hide the issues. They need to fix the team in a core, deep way. That'll take time that the team might not have. The end of the game really doesn't matter. The Mavs looked horrific against a team at the most tank-ful. That's a bad sign.
- Monta's explosion in the third was such a sight for sore eyes, on the bright side. He's still taking too many jumpshots and struggling to find good passes, but we haven't seen him score like he did tonight in weeks. He hit five freaking threes for 31 points, 26 second half points, was a +8, and was generally awesome. Who knows if he's actually better from injury and his slump, he might not be, but he was tonight, and that's all we needed to see for a glimmer of hope.
- The Mavs made their big run with a Rondo-Ellis-Parsons-Aminu-Tyson lineup, which is probably easily the best lineup on the team. It's the only lineup the Mavs can run out that has defense at every position, rebounding, and something like in offense. It's full of enough athleticism to get transition buckets behind big stops, and with Monta and Parsons at Aminu at the four they can (kind of not really) stretch the floor a bit. Aminu in particular was incredible tonight, a real monster. This is a lineup to watch going forward, and hope we see more of. That Dirk is not a part of that lineup is incredibly sad.
- There's something really weird about the boxscore from that game but it's hard to know what exactly to make of it. The Mavs' second leading scorer was Dirk with only 12 freaking points, which is such a bizarre thing that the Mavs could win with their second leading scorer having 12. So on the one hand, it feels dangerous that Dallas was left to rely on Monta hero ball to win a game agains the Lakers. But on the other hand, it's nice that Monta was capable of playing hero ball again, and it's a sign of an otherwise balanced lineup that everyone else spread out the scoring. So take from that what you will.
- Parsons looked pretty good in his return, which is encouraging, given how desperately this team needs him. Going 1-5 from 3 was a horrible sign, admittedly -- especially because they need him to be a 40% 3 point shooter really badly -- but he was the creative secondary playmaker he's been which, even without shooting, can be instrumental in creating the space they need.