It's incredibly premature, and it's only one game, but there were some reasons for optimism in Dallas and concern in LA after the Mavs 99-91 victory on Tuesday.
- The game turned in the third quarter, when the Mavs realized Steve Nash had zero chance of defending Darren Collison whatsoever. Collison had an excellent night -- 17 points on 8-12 shooting, 4 assists, 3 steals -- but that's what you should expect he'll do if he's being defended by the Nash/Steve Blake combination. They might be the two worst defensive PG's in the NBA, which is one of the great flaws in Nash's game: he's so bad on defense that he has to be cross-switched against any above-average PG.
- The problem for LA is that neither of their other two perimeter starters, Kobe or MWP, can defend fast 1's at their age either. With four stars in their starting lineup, the Lakers 5th starter should be a defensive dynamo whose only responsibility on offense is spotting up for jumpers and cutting to the rim. What they don't need is MWP going 1-8 from the floor and turning it over 3 times. If this is all he's going to give them on offense, they're better off playing Devin Ebanks, a 3rd year swingman from West Virginia, who at least gives them someone who can cover Nash defensively.
- As much as I like Delonte West's game, releasing him will end up being the best thing that ever happened to Dallas, if it ensures Rodrigue Beaubois gets consistent playing time. This kid is nice; it's just that (when healthy) Carlisle has been playing favorites and never giving him a fair chance the last few seasons. He's a natural scorer, with a 6'10 wingspan and a good floater, and while he's not a "true" PG, he's as much of one as Collison. He had 5 assists today and did a great job playing the pick-and-pop. I'd like to see him get a lot of minutes at the 2 with Collison at the 1 when Dallas can afford to go small in the backcourt.
- The Mavs two other backup shooting guards, Vince Carter and Dahntay Jones, gave them basically nothing on Tuesday. Dahntay's stat-line wasn't deceiving -- 8 minutes played, 0 points on 0-0 shooting, 2 personal fouls -- that's a good representation of how little impact he had on the game. Jones is a 6'5 31 year old whose lost a step: he's not going to be a defensive stopper, not when Kobe can just shoot over his head. And if he's not giving you above-average defense, all he's doing is buying time on the court until a more effective player can get back in.
- Carter, if anything, was worse. If he's going to be allowed to be a shot-creator and have offense run through him, he can't be shooting 5-12 from the floor. Especially with his shot selection, which was straight garbage. Personally, I could do without the Vince Carter pull-up 3 pointer over two defenders on the pick-and-roll. That's not really a shot the Mavs need to run a play to set up. He's useful when he plays as a secondary playmaker and attacks the rim; when he's taking fade-away jumpers, he needs to be pulled. On the bright side, Reggie Miller thinks he may be the Mavs second-best player because he was once an All-Star, many, many years ago.
- Upfront, the story of the game was Dwight Howard. If it wasn't obvious when he missed several wide-open dunks, he clearly wasn't 100% coming off of back surgery. It's going to take time for him to recover, which is one reason that it's hard to judge the Mavs defense. And if you look at the statistics, LA shot really well -- 49% from the floor. It's just that they shot 12-31 from the free-throw line.
- The cheap flagrant foul Howard gave Brand in the second half is the type of stuff people should be mad at him about. He's too old and he's been in the NBA too many years to make a dumb play like that; you got beat on the play, it happens. What you can't do is take out your frustration and let it become an ego thing, where you end up taking a cheap shot at a minor player for the other team. That's stupid.
- The only shot-blocker on the Mavs right now is Brandan Wright. Everyone else was just fouling and hacking away whenever a Laker got into the paint, which isn't a sustainable defensive strategy. Very few NBA teams are going to shot 38% from the free-throw line over the course of a game. Until Kaman gets back, Dallas is going to be painfully undersized upfront. LA had 15 offensive rebounds on Tuesday.
- Long story short, Brandan Wright needs more minutes! This will probably be a running theme of these recaps. Wright is the Mavs only player who plays above the rim on both sides of the ball: he's a great finisher on the pick-and-roll and dribble penetration, with great hands, long arms and a soft touch. He's 6'10 210 with a 7'4 wingspan and a max vertical of 39.5 (!!) inches -- he's a human fly-swatter on defense who had 3 blocks in 20 minutes of action. The only real concern is his ability to hold up against strong post men who can punish his lack of muscle, and he did a great job against the Lakers. Dallas should use him like New Orleans will use Anthony Davis. You read that right.
- The other "big" name people are going to be talking about tomorrow is Eddy Curry, who the Mavs rolled off the shelf to give them 7 points on 3-7 shooting, including several nifty low-post moves. He does have good foot-work and soft-touch for a 7'0 295 center, but he should be used very sparingly going forward, and only in specific situations. For one, he's an absolute disaster defensively who can't move his feet to save his life and has zero lift in his legs. That's why he had 4 fouls in 17 minutes, which is a pretty outrageous number. And if he's playing for more than a 2-3 minute stretch, his effectiveness is going to quickly move towards zero. Very, very few 295+ pound men can run up and down a 94-feet NBA court; Eddy Curry is not one of them.
- Did anyone else catch the Mike Brown fourth quarter interview where he super did not preesh his big men letting Curry score on them? Like, it really bothered him. That's the type of respect Curry engenders around the league.
- With Dirk out, what Dallas does have going for them are front-court players who can finish off the pick-and-roll: Brand, Marion and Wright all had a lot of success off that, either popping out for a 15-20 foot jumper or curling towards the rim. Whoever is on the slower big man will have a field day with the P/R, either with Collison, Beaubois or Mayo. That should be a staple of the Mavs playbook going forward.
- Another player who figures to be a part of the Mavs front-court rotation is Jae Crowder, who came off the bench to give Dallas 8 points on 3-7 shooting. The first thing we should do is tap the brakes on this Crowder hype train; he got all three shots spotting up off the ball or dribbling into a wide-open jumper. The Lakers veterans probably aren't reading a scouting report on a second-round rookie; I'm guessing they had no idea Crowder could shoot the ball. Let's see what happens in a few weeks when the scouting report gets around the league and teams start playing Crowder for the shot.
- Big Picture:
- For the Lakers, now is not the time to panic. The big concern is the defense, which should be fixed as Howard gets his feet back from under him. When you play in front of the NBA's best shot-blocker, there's no excuse to be giving up a wide-open jumper. Long-term, I think their biggest concern may be giving MWP, whose looked pretty washed up in the last two years, a starter's role. They also need a better back-up that Steve Blake so Mike Brown can give Nash and Kobe their needed rest during the season.
- For the Mavs, there should be cautious optimism about getting off to a good start without Dirk. Upfront, I like the Brand/Wright duo at the 4/5 positions, with Marion getting a lot of time as a small-ball 4 and then Curry using up any spare minutes at the backup 5. That means back-up 3 will have a big role on this team, which is whoever shoots and plays D better out of Crowder and Carter (so I'm thinking the rook). In the back-court, Collison/Mayo look pretty solid, but I'd give Roddy B 25-30+ minutes a night as a combo guard off the bench and then use Jones and Carter for spot minutes on bigger shooting guards. I'd like to see Jared Cunningham win some of those minutes at the backup 2 eventually, but knowing Carlisle's philosophy on playing rookies, he'll probably ride his two used-up veterans into the ground.