It's always nice to get a win in the NBA, but a home game against a Wizards team without John Wall and Nene on the final game of a road trip is about as automatic as they come. The Mavs got out to a 63-45 halftime lead thanks mainly to some truly inept play from Washington, but the Wizards used a few smart personnel adjustments to nearly get their first win of the season before falling just short at 107-101.
It's really difficult to glean anything from the way the Mavs played in the first half, because the unit Washington had on the floor was 10-72 level bad. They had terrible floor spacing, no one who could consistently get a good shot and weren't trying awfully hard on defense. From a Dallas perspective, it's a good thing they finally turned to their bench in the second half, because otherwise Rick Carlisle would have been rewarded for some head-scratching personnel decisions.
I have no idea what metric he's using to evaluate his big men. Brandan Wright has the highest PER on the team through eight games (22.4), and while that doesn't mean everything, it is more than the PER's of Troy Murphy (4.1) and Elton Brand (11.1) combined. Hollinger sets the formula so an average PER is 15, which means, though the first eight games, Murphy and Brand combined to equal one average NBA player. Which seems appropriate.
If you want a good indicator of how effective Wright can be on offense and what his absence from the rotation means, you can look at the start of the second quarter, when poor Roddy B was out there running pick-and-rolls with Murphy and Bernard James. Those guys are not threats -- defenses don't respect them and it messes up the play. You have to respect Wright's ability to catch, finish over the top of players and hit free throws. He's also the team's leading shot-blocker. These are important things!
I saw the play live that put Wright in the doghouse: it was during third quarter of the Wolves game on Monday when he didn't close out on Dante Cunningham fast enough. Which, fair is fair, was not a great play on his part. But let's keep it reality: how many rotations do Murphy and Brand miss because they are old, undersized and slow? Even Brand's post defense is somewhat overrated: I watched, with my own two eyes, Emeka Okafor bury a 6-foot jump-hook over Brand as if he was a chair. If Wright had allowed that to happen, Carlisle probably would have cut him on the spot.
The whole thing would have been completely overlooked if Randy Wittman stuck with his starting big men: Okafor and Trevor Booker, which has to be the worst front-court in the NBA. Unsurprisingly, that leads to the league's worst record. Okafor is hitting the same wall north of age 30 that eventually gets all undersized big men -- their energy/activity level is lower so it's harder for them to make up for a lack of size. It's what's happening to Brand at the age of 33, but Okafor is far less polished so it's happening earlier. He's shooting 41% from the field, which for a player who operates that close to the goal, is just terrible.
Booker, I don't know all that much about, but from the eye test and the statistic test, I don't see how he's starting over Kevin Seraphin. I've been a fan of Seraphin since watching him play for France at the 2011 EuroBasket: he keyed Washington's comeback in the second half. He's bigger, more skilled and probably a little more athletic than either of the two guys in front of him. He's got a nice post game and he was scoring at Kaman basically at will in the fourth quarter. He can even handle a double team, getting 5 assists tonight. There isn't a whole hell of a lot going on with the Wizards right now; he, at least, has some upside potential.
Kaman had one of his best nights of the season -- 23 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists on 10-12 shooting. If he could play Okafor every night, he'd be out here looking like Bill Walton. Nevertheless, this is what makes having an effective offensive weapon at the 5 so useful: there are so many teams with no counter to that. In contrast, everyone can scrounge up at least one 6'5+ athlete to play perimeter defense. Well, almost everyone.
Jan Vesely, the Flying Czech, was Seraphin's partner in crime upfront during the Wizards comeback. He's a bundle of activity at 6'11 240, which can make him very useful on the defensive end. However, he's a complete lost cause in the half-court: 0 points on 0-1 shooting in 18 minutes. It would be nice to get him in a pick-and-roll situation, but Washington has neither a PG who can effectively run that play or a big man who can space the floor on the opposite side of it. Yeeeesh.
One funny moment: Vesely giving the world's softest and-1 to Kaman in the game's final seconds as the Wizards were trying to keep the game within one possession. Sam Cassell, one of their assistant coaches, was not pleased with that effort. Let's just say that. He wasn't pleased.
The other big concern for Dallas was the play of Darren Collison, who is still the key to this offense as long as Dirk is out. The recent losing streak has coincided with his play falling off a cliff, which continued on Wednesday: 9 points on 2-10 shooting, 5 assists on 3 turnovers. Not end of the world bad, but not the type of play a short-handed Mavs team can get from him and expect to beat good teams. If he doesn't play well in his revenge game on Friday in Indiana, then I'm officially expressing concern for our new PG.
OJ the Juiceman had another rock-solid game tonight, with 25 points on 9-15 shooting as well as 4 assists. He's still better off playing without the ball in his hands though, particularly because he's such a good shooter that defenses have to stay with him all over the court. He saw a lot of the ghost of a Christmas Past -- Jordan Crawford -- on Wednesday. Crawford is a wildly undisciplined player with a shot-selection that has to be seen to be believed, but he's still a lethal 6'4 shooter with a good handle, so he can occasionally bust out 21-point games off the bench like he did against the Mavs. Watch him play and you can appreciate the savvy the Juiceman plays with.
We had a Cartier Martin sighting: Randy Wittman went deep into his bench to give the former Kansas State wing 10 minutes of playing time, the most he's gotten all year. In that time? 14 points on 5-6 shooting. He can spread the floor at least, which might make him more useful than Trevor Ariza. It's funny, the Wizards gave away the No. 10 pick to the Hornets in order to give Ariza and Okafor $21 million this season and I'm not sure I'd want them on my team for free. If you can't shoot (at all) and you're going to start, you had better be a great shot-creator or defensive player to justify being on the floor. Ariza probably doesn't qualify; Okafor definitely doesn't.
I should probably mention the play of No. 3 overall pick Bradley Beal, the only player of any real interest on the Wizards right now. He didn't have a great game, but he plays very under control, which is impressive for such a young and athletic guard. The thing is, I sort of question his ability to get his own shot at an All-Star level. He'll be an excellent player for a long time: he's a phenomenal athlete and a very good shooter (which is a rare combination), but I think Wall would have been better served with a big man who could play. I can't even knock the Vesely pick because that was a brutal draft (though I would have thought a lot about Tobias Harris), but there were a lot of 6'9+ dudes who could play on the board this year. We'll see.
The Big Picture:
The Mavs super easy schedule continues on Friday against a reeling Pacers team that fell to 3-6 on Wednesday and has not been able to replace an injured Danny Granger. You know this is a game Darren Collison circled on the calendar before the season started; that could be fun -- maybe Ian Mahinmi did too! But if Carlisle sticks Brand and/or The Murph Dog on David West, that could be a serious issue. It would be very nice to pull two wins out of this two-game back-to-back in Indiana and Cleveland, but it's going to take a much better effort from both the players and the coaching staff to do so.