In case you thought life without Dirk Nowitzki would be easy, a tough 113-94 loss to the Jazz on Wednesday night should be a reminder of how quickly the worm can turn for superstar-less teams in the NBA. Playing in Salt Lake City on the second night of a back-to-back is never easy, but the match-up with Utah is particularly bad for a Dallas team that is very thin upfront. The Jazz, who have a legit four big rotation, including the bruising tandem of Derrick Favors (6'10 250) and Enes Kanter (6'11 265), brutalized the Mavs on the glass, out-rebounding them 61-40, including 20 offensive rebounds.
The game got out of hand in the third, when Dallas missed a long string of jumpers and allowed Utah to get out in the fast break. The Jazz did a great job of finding their shooters (Mo Williams, Randy Foye, Marvin Williams) in transition and they ran the Mavs off the court to the tune of a 37-13 quarter. That's where Dirk's absence is really felt: they have no one else they can pound the ball inside too and slow the pace of the game. Darren Collison and OJ Mayo were two of the main culprits in terms of letting the Mavs get off kilter offensively, which made Carlisle's reluctance to pull them in the second half somewhat puzzling.
If you look at the stats of the new Dallas backcourt, it doesn't appear that the first two games are a fluke: Collison is much better at getting his own shot than Mayo. He's got more burst than OJ the Juiceman, who really struggles to blow by defenders if they're crowding him. Last season, Collison took 29% of his shots in the paint compared to 20% for Mayo and he has a much healthier career shooting percentage as well (46% to 43%). Collison is a great one-man fast break and he can really take advantage of weak defensive PG's, as he did in LA and Utah, but he's much better looking for his own shot than running a team.
I see how Carlisle be messing with Roddy B's minutes. While the game got completely out of hand in the third, he kept Collison in almost the entire quarter and put him right back in at the start of the fourth. Beaubois is probably the best pick/and/roll guard on the Mavs, and the only times he got a chance to run it were with Bernard James and Eddy Curry. Collison's scoring is nice, but I really think they should be going small with him at the 2 and Roddy B at the 1 when possible. None of the Dallas 2 guards -- OJ the Juiceman, Vince Carter or Dahntay Jones -- has exactly been demanding floor time with their play so far.
Vinsanity is definitely still a useful player at the age of 35, but he needs to be on a fairly short leash, i.e. more like the one Carlisle has Roddy B on. When he's posting up smaller defenders, attacking the rim and knocking down open shots, he can be very useful, but when he's bricking up garbage from all over the court, which he is wont to do, than he can put up stat-lines like Wednesday's: 3-12 shooting, 5 personal fouls.
I'm fairly surprised by the Utah's coaching staff reluctance to play Alec Burks, but on the whole, this team fits a lot better than last year's, as they've brought in a lot of shooters to spread the floor around their big men. Going forward, I think they'll be more effective playing their two young big men, who are much better defensively and still give you most of the offense of the Al Jefferson/Paul Millsapp duo. However, as SBN's Utah blogger talked about in his Q&A with us, that might be a big chemistry issue that hangs over their team all year, especially since both veteran big men are in the last year of their contracts and eyeing a big payday.
Playing against a hulking Jazz front-line, Brandan Wright showed all the pluses and minuses of his game on Wednesday. With a preposterously long and lean frame, he can jump right over essentially anyone in the NBA before shooting -- which is why he was a hyper-efficient 7/8 from the floor with 15 points.That length makes him an excellent shot-blocker, but it also give him a high center of gravity, making it very difficult for him to wrestle in the paint for boards, which Utah exploited. Big picture, LA and Utah are two of the toughest match-ups for Wright in the NBA, and if he can play this well against them, he could have an absolute break-out season in 2012-2013.
The Eddy Curry Experience may not be "running" much longer, as Carlisle quickly pulled him for Bernard James on Wednesday. Curry's inability to do much of anything without the ball in his hands makes him a liability in a real basketball game. James, meanwhile, looked capable of hanging in an NBA paint at 6'10 240. He's got a great background story, and as a 27-year old who played in Leonard Hamilton's intense defensive schemes at Florida State, he should be able to step in right away. Long-term, I think he'll stick in the NBA as a very effective back-up 5 and he should be in the Mavs rotation, at least until Kaman is at full strength. His 6/6 mark from the free-throw line is very encouraging, although his form isn't all that pretty.
The Mavs other two rookies, on the other hand, had a real welcome to the NBA moment in Salt Lake. Jae Crowder's 3-11 stat-line certainly isn't pretty, but what's really discouraging is only 3 rebounds in 22 minutes. He's drawing comparisons to Millsap; Millsap without the boards isn't all that much. Crowder is really small for a 4 at 6'6 240, and if he's not rebounding, all he's doing out there is hitting open shots and playing individual defense as a tweener forward.
Jared Cunningham had a very underwhelming NBA debut, where he was victimized by refs basically hazing him. Rookies have to "earn the calls" as they say. Not much to report about his 6 minutes of action in garbage time, but there were two things that worry me based on what I saw from him at Oregon State: he was generally the best athlete on the floor in college, which won't be the case in the NBA, and the jumper wasn't a strength of his game in Corvallis, which is a concern if he won't be playing with the ball in his hands much with the Mavs.
On a down note, if you had any doubt as to the coaching staff's opinion of Dominique Jones, playing him 1 minute on a night when they were trying to scrounge up any combination of players is a pretty telling indicator. I can't say I disagree with them on this one: his lack of shooting ability or athleticism is pretty hard to overcome for a 6'4 shooting guard. I hope he's saving his paycheck this year, because I'm not sure he'll be getting many more in the NBA.
Elton Brand (2-8 from the floor) and Shawn Marion (2-7) were not very effective on the second night of a back-to-back. Something to keep an eye on down the road.
The Big Picture:
A 1-1 split on the road is about as much as you could have expected from this Dallas team. Now, they return for a crucial 3-game home-stand (Charlotte on Saturday, Portland on Monday, Toronto on Wednesday) which gives them a lot of chances to bank some wins while they wait for Dirk to return.