Warning: The following analysis of Dallas' 97-95 loss at San Antonio on Wedneday is for serious Mavs fans only. ...
Gregg Popovich and Avery Johnson share this theory that when a team is missing its star, that team becomes even more dangerous. Something about the “other guys stepping up,’’ or some such jibber-jabber. Mavs voice Mark Followill joins their side, reminding that ex-Dallas boss Dick Motta harbored a similar thought. “The Wounded Tiger’’ Theory, I believe it was.
I’ve always thought it ridiculous; why don’t the guys who suddenly play at a high level simply play at that high level all the time? But now, with the theory having passed the test Wednesday in San Antonio? With Coach Pop’s Spurs – forced to face their archrivals from Dallas without Hall-of-Famer Tim Duncan – securing an important 97-95 over the Mavs?
I’m buying it. Hell, right about now, I’ll buy anything. (Marie Osmond dolls on QVC, here I come!) I’m frustrated enough that I'm about ready to demand the Mavs commit completely to the theory and apply it by telling a “star’’ or two to remain in street clothes for the next few games. Or at least to tell somebody – anybody! – to “step up.’’
Let’s attempt a detailed examination of the performances of all the Mavs’ somebodies:
DIRK NOWITZKI: Maybe all the blemishes are painted over if Dirk hits a relatively open potential game-winning 3 from the corner at the buzzer. Watch that play again – Mavs down one point with 2 seconds left – and see Nowitzki giving effort, fighting through a Spur body-block to go baseline to the open spot. He was the second option on the play; Dallas’ top option was to try to tie the game inside. But he was a terrific option, Manu Ginobili’s defense hardly a factor.
“They messed up their switches and I was wide open,’’ Dirk said. “I had a good look. It’s a shot I gotta make.’’
From coach Avery Johnson: “It was a stone-cold wide-open 3 for him. We thought it was going down.’’
Added Jason Terry: “Nine times out of 10, he’s going to make that shot. ‘’
At this moment, I’m left only wanting so much to share those expectations. Nine-of-10? Try 4-of-11, for 15 rather inconsequential points. Dirk was denied his spots and his shots by Bruce Bowen, and that can happen; Bowen is a perennial finalist for NBA Defensive Player of the Year. But Nowitzki was also being pushed around, and hooked, and grabbed, and yes, body-blocked, by little Tony Parker. A couple of times, even littler Jacques Vaughn found himself matched up with the 7-foot German with Dallas unable to take advantage.
Along with weeping at , I watched the game twice. Dirk’s problems – and they are substantial – are not from a lack of effort. He is struggling because the adjustment to this new role is an uphill one. (Want an open 3 from Dirk right now? It’s got to be due to a defensive breakdown or because he pulls up in transition.) He is struggling because he’s being out-physicalled by men a foot shorter than him.
“We should’ve won tonight,’’ Nowitzki concluded, “but we didn’t. … Hopefully, we as a team, and I, will get better month-by-month and be there at the end.’’
Again, at this moment, I want so much to share those expectations.
DEVIN HARRIS: The upside: Devin Harris is officially the only guy on the Mavs rosters of the last four seasons capable of defending the pick-and-roll. His quickness in making the switch will cause teams to cease running it when he’s involved.
The downside: Everything else.
The much-anticipated Devin-vs.-Tony Parker duel – which went Devin’s direction in a big way in Dallas 105-92 win over the Spurs on Nov. 15 – devolved into The Tony Parker Show. SA’s lightning-quick point guard scored 23, teaming with Manu Ginobili for 60 of the Spurs’ 97 points. Devin countered by shooting 2-of-11. He didn’t control the pace (SA scored 23 points off turnovers) and in the clutch, he was given only a sniff of playing time.
“He just didn’t have it tonight,’’ Avery said of Devin. “He hasn’t played well lately. We need him to snap out of it.’’
I admit: It’s tiresome writing one story about how Devin should be on the All-Star ballot on the same day I’m writing a story about how Devin played just 26 minutes in one of the most important games of the early season.
However, it remains my contention that Harris is gifted enough to deserve to play his way through mistakes. What, we’re better off with him sitting and JJ Barea playing? C’mon, Avery, Devin was really so bad that he deserved nary a chance in the second half?
JERRY STACKHOUSE: As Avery is presently running things, Stack is the Anti-Devin. No volume of poor shot selection, no amount of sloppy play, no pile of evidence that Jerry is no longer a viable defensive player, can convince the coach that the 33-year-old be ordered to slide down that bench. Stack launched nine shots. He made two. He played 32 minutes. That puts him at 33 percent shooting while being given 27 minutes. How many good teams allow their seventh man 27 to 32 minutes so he can make one of every three shots?
BRANDON BASS: “The Animal’’ has been nothing short of “incredible’’ – Avery’s word for some of his contributions Wednesday -- in his first extended time as an NBA player. Here, Bass posted a career-high 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting. He had six rebounds and a block.He gave the Mavs an inside presence down the stretch (though I remain concerned about an over-reliance on an inexperienced 6-8 “center.’’) On one key possession, he was assigned to guard Manu outside, a real compliment. A real mistake. … but a real compliment.
Most notable, though: In this game – and it’s not the first time – Bass joined Josh Howard as Dallas’ go-to guy. The Mavs actually seemed to run theirhalf-court offense through him. What we don’t know yet: Is that a sign of newfound Mavs strength? Or a sign of unanticipated Mavs weakness?
DeSAGANA DIOP AND ERICK DAMPIER: It’s not always fair to lump them together; in Monday’s win at Chicago, for instance, each center made his own distinct and positive impression. But against San Antonio – which decided in Duncan’s absence to play a version of SmallBall – Diop and Damp were reduced to being one guy. One ineffective guy.
And the person who did the reducing was Avery Johnson.
Diop played 21 minutes off the bench. Damp started but played just 12. Why? Because, as usual, we allowed the opponent to dictate the lineup matches.
The Mavs own a rare NBA commodity: Quality depth at center. And we forfeit it to a team with its only quality center in street clothes. Blecch.
JJ BAREA: I continue to be mystified as to why he gets key minutes. At one point in the second quarter, Avery went with a quintet of Diop, Bass, Stack, Jet and JJB, which seemed. … desperate. I take JJB’s three minutes of burn – yes, even just three minutes -- as being a slap at Devin and his ineffectiveness, but Jose, who is nursing a bum shoulder, was in way over his head here.
TRENTON HASSELL: If my notes are correct. … He played 10 seconds against the Bulls on Monday. In the Spurs game, he played 16 seconds. I’m not going to pretend I’m a Trenton Hassell Authority, but isn’t this a guy who a couple of weeks ago was starting, was helping control the likes of LeBron and T-Mac? Wouldn’t he have been a viable option against a Manu Ginobili 37-point night?
OK, so Hassell was the defender of record when Dallas blew an assignment and let Manu hit a 3 to end the third period. And OK, so Avery was pissed about it.
"Those kind of little breakdowns are very disappointing," Avery said. "Once the guys get sick and tired of having the same breakdowns over and over again, like I am, then we'll have some consistency."
But is the man designated to handle Manu. … and then goofs. … is he suddenly NOT the man who should ever be designated again?
JOSH HOWARD: “We played one-on-one, we trapped him, we even put three guys on him,’’ said Avery, explaining the attempts to control Manu.
I don’t mean to oversimplify things here. Nor do I want to undersell J-Ho’s line of 22 points and nine rebounds. But don’t we fancy Josh Howard to be our version of Bruce Bowen, our defensive stopper? Ginobili did it all, and this being the NBA, hey, sometimes a guy is unstoppable. But I think Josh is working to find a balance between the demands on him offensively (where he is suddenly the Mavs’ No. 1 option, especially at the beginning of games, when he apparently shoots himself onto the court via a cannon) and the demands on him defensively (which result in, well, Avery mandating a triple-team against Manu Ginobili.)
JASON TERRY: “Right now,’’ Avery said, “Jet’s the only (point guard) doing the job for us.’’
Jet (20 points) took over in the fourth, scoring 10 points – 10 straight, actually – to pull the Mavs back into the thing. His anticipatory steal of an inbounds pass and ensuing dunk was a momentum-grabber. He was given the clear-out opportunity on the possible final possession and flew by Parker into the lane, only to have his floater swatted away by Francisco Elson. (That attempt proceeded Dirk’s last-gasp.)
“We had a chance to win it,’’ Terry said, “and you can’t ask for much more than that. That’s the NBA. You gotta take the good with the bad.’’
Man-for-man, the 12-7 Mavs’ performance in San Antonio was just that: The good with the bad.