This team may have been able to survive without Dirk, but it doesn't look like they can hold up without him AND Shawn Marion. They're now 0-3 without their best two players, and after a respectable loss to the Knicks on Friday, the wheels have completely come off. There was an unseemly loss to the Bobcats on Saturday and now a 90-82 loss to a Wolves team even more short-handed than Dallas.
Minnesota didn't have their starting PF or their starting PG. They didn't have their starting SG, their backup PG or their primary reserve at the SG and the SF either. Their starting C was injured midway through the third quarter. Rick Adelman emptied out his entire bench and nearly ran Andrei Kirilenko (44:15) and Luke Ridnour (40:36) into the ground ... and the Mavs were barely in the game!
The problem, right now, starts with the offense. Without Dirk and Marion, Dallas is running offense primarily through Darren Collison, OJ the Juiceman and Chris the Kaveman. Collison could not get around Ridnour, which was really surprising, and he had a devil of a time finishing in the paint against a Wolves team without a great shot-blocker, which is worrisome. If he wasn't being bailed out on some out of control drives by the refs, who, in my opinion, were horrible from the jump, his stat-line would be even worse.
Kaman, meanwhile, may need to get the same treatment Vince Carter should be getting: if he's taking a fade-away jumper, he's being fined. For some reason, he tried to play like Dirk in the first half, and the result was a 5-15 stat-line that was every bit as brutal as it sounds. He was air balling 18-foot fade-aways and throwing up garbage that had really no prayer of getting in. Let's stick to the post-ups and the drop-steps, big fella. If you're taking a 15-foot jumper, it better be because you're open.
What's even more mind-boggling in the context of their offensive struggles is Rick Carlisle's refusal to play two guys who are legitimately dangerous on that side of the ball -- Rodrigue Beaubois and Brandan Wright. While Vince has free license to barrel his way into the lane and actively harm the team (1-7), Roddy B is playing like he's on the world's shortest leash and not really looking for his shot at all. Wright, meanwhile, hardly even got a chance to play on Wednesday: he misses one rotation on Cunningham in the third quarter and he's chained to the bench the rest of the game. Instead, Mavs fans got to watch the greatness that is Troy Murphy miss a rotation essentially every time down the floor.
Carlisle got himself kicked out of the game in the fourth quarter for arguing what was one of many weak calls (to be fair, against both teams) made by the refs tonight. Really, he could have been ejected for technical fouls against common sense like giving the Murph Dog 25 minutes on Monday. News flash to the Dallas coaching staff: there's a reason this guy was out of the NBA when you signed him. He's actively harmful defensively, his jumper (2-6) isn't falling (in fact it's very flat, which tells you he's not getting lift in his legs because either A. he's not in shape and/or B. he's done) and his rebounding isn't all that great either. He should be a spot player to be used in specific match-ups, not a guy who has to get minutes on a nightly basis.
Here's a fun fact: Roddy B had the best +/- on the team last night at +13. Even without scoring while going 0-3 from the field (yes, this is the guy, not Vince, who needs to be on a short leash offensively), he really impacted the game -- 7 assists on 2 turnovers, 3 rebounds and 2 steals -- and he got the team back in the game by being a one-man fast break at the end of the first half. That is, before Vince decided to make one of the dumbest personal fouls I've ever seen -- reaching across Luke Ridnour (!) with 0.2 seconds left (!!), 60 feet from the basket (!!!) while the Wolves were in the penalty (!!!!). If you've been following the Mavs over the last two years, I don't need to tell you how Carlisle reacted to that turn of events or what would have happened if Roddy B had committed that foul.
On the other end of the floor, you got a good look at what a legitimately great NBA coach (Rick Adelman) does. He quickly pegged Dante Cunningham (32:55) and Alexey Shved (33:09) as the two most effective players on his bench and he ran, from the jump, his offense through the player (AK-47) with the best matchup.
With Marion gone, Jae Crowder got the assignment on AK-47, and if you want to know why I'm not all that jazzed over our second-round hero, this game was why. He can knock down open 3's, which is useful, but at 6'6 240, who is he defending? He's dramatically undersized to play the 4 and he doesn't really seem like that great of a perimeter defender. He's also not rebounding, which has to change if he's going to stay on the floor.
Cunningham, meanwhile, was a bit of a revelation. That was as impressive a game I've seen him play in his entire career. He's everything we wish Elton Brand could be: at 6'8 230, he's got a live body and can play at both the 4 and the 5 in a pinch, step-out and hit a 15-jumper (6-9), grab some boards (8) and be a cog in the offense (2 assists). It's still a little too early to be worried about dude's stats, but take a look at Elton's stats this season. I'm going to start worrying.
The guy on Minnesota I really like is Shved, their 23-year old Russian combo guard. I liked him as the main ball-handler for Russia in the Olympics and I was even more impressed in person. He's got a great-looking outside shot, an excellent feel for the game and he's a good athlete at 6'6 182. He can play the 1 and the 2 on both sides of the ball at a fairly high level. Neither the Juiceman nor Collison could get good looks against Shved. I could see him making a real run at the Sixth Man of the Year. That 3-year $10 million contract is going to be one of the best moves David Kahn has ever made.
The Big Picture:
The big key for this team is the play of Darren Collison, and he's got to start playing better if they're going to stay competitive without Dirk and Marion. They've got a tough home game Wednesday against the Pacers, his old team, so he should be pretty fired up to go 1-on-1 with George Hill. Either way, the scouting report has started to get out on the new-look Mavs; let's see how they respond. Carlisle can feel free to start playing Roddy B and Brandan Wright at any time.