After posting a dominant preseason, the Dallas Mavericks have compiled an impressive 8-4 record (through Monday, November 20). If they keep up this pace, they would finish with around 55 wins and be a definite playoff team. Are the Mavs back? We shall see—it’s a long season. I wrote about the Dallas Mavericks in this month’s issue (see “On the Rebound,”) and suggested that to improve on last year’s record, the team would have to work on defense and rebounding. To see how that effort is coming along, I will chart their progress in those areas each week. Do rebounds and blocks account for wins and losses for this year’s crew? Let’s take a look.
Thursday, January 11, 2001
The Mavericks have struck back after losing three of five two weeks ago to winning four of their last five. All four wins came on the road, where the Mavs enjoy the best road record in the Western Conference at 14-7. The teams top players, Michael Finley and Dirk Nowitzki, have led the charge. Nowitzki was high scorer in three games, Finley in two. But a big boost has come from Shawn Bradley and Christian Laettner, both of whom have played far beneath expectations this season. Bradley pulled down seven boards against Washington in a Mav 103-85 victory in our nation’s capital. Laettner added nine rebounds and fourteen points in a dominating win over the talented Timberwolves in Minnesota.
It’s good to see the team getting a lift from these former do-nothings. With the win over the Timberwolves, the Mavs gained a standings tie with San Antonio in the Midwest Division. Looks like the new year may be a good one for professional basketball in Texas.
Thursday, January 4, 2001
The Mavs have gone only 2-3 in their past five games, with losses to the dominant Lakers and the up-and-down Pistons and Rockets. Michael Finley was the high scorer in four out of the five games, replacing Dirk Nowitzki as the team’s resident gunner. What’s disturbing about Nowitzki relinquishing his “game high scorer” title is his accompanying drop in field goal percentage to 40 percent and the fact that he has only scored two 3-pointers out of sixteen attempts in the past four games. For the Mavs to really succeed, Dirk needs to get his shooting percentage back up to near 50 percent.
In other news, Friday’s game against Toronto will mark the beginning of coach Don Nelson’s absence from the team to fight prostate cancer. His son Donnie will take over during the six to eight weeks his dad will be out. The overriding question is, Will the son forever have to be “Donnie” because his father has dibs on “Don”? The answer is, Probably so, if he wants to distinguish himself in the NBA, even after his father retires. But it’s unfortunate that this very able coach—he assisted Lithuania in it’s near upset of the USA Dream Team last summer in Sydney—is indeed saddled with a first name whose most eminent previous owners include Donny Osmond and New-Kid Donnie Wahlberg. But good luck over the next couple of months, Donnie!
Friday, December 15, 2000
A mixed-bag of a week for the Mavs, who are in the middle of a six-game road trip. It started well with a dominating 99-73 victory over the plummeting New Jersey Nets but turned sour with consecutive losses to Cleveland and Indiana. The Mavericks were outrebounded by a shocking 59-29 margin by the Cavaliers. Shawn Bradley, in 33 minutes, only managed two boards. That’s not going to cut it in the NBA. Despite the rebounds, though, the Mavs only lost by five points, a miracle in its own right. Against the Pacers, another five-point loss, the rebounds were even at 36 each. But Dallas’ defense broke down, allowing Indiana to shoot over 50 percent from the field and 53.8 percent from behind the arc. Defense and rebounding are as key to Dallas’ season as nine-figure sums are to Alex Rodriguez.
Thursday, December 7, 2000
The Mavericks lost three of their four games since our update last week. All were on the road, and two were close losses against some of the best teams in the league, Portland and Los Angeles. Dirk Nowitzki continues to be the story for the Mavericks, leading them in scoring and rebounding in three of the games. His success is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good that Nowitzki is putting up All-Star caliber numbers, but it’s bad that the reason he’s having to rebound so much is because of the atrocious play at center. Christian Laettner, projected as a starter before the season began, was relegated to playing just 4 minutes as the third man off the bench in Tuesday night’s game against the Rockets. The Mavericks’ only other option, Shawn Bradley, started but played only 16 minutes, scoring two points and collecting only three rebounds. That’s just not going to cut it. During that same game, Michael Finley clocked 47 minutes of playing time. (He got only one minute of rest!) Finley’s minutes were supposed to go down this year, but against Portland, Golden State, and L.A., he played 44 minutes in each matchup. He’s currently ranked fourth in minutes (through December 5), but appears to be on his way up.
Though the Mavs have soundly beaten all the teams they were supposed to defeat this year, we are seeing some disturbing trends. Laettner and Loy Vaught are not contributing enough. Finley’s minutes are rising, and Nowitzki is having to do too much. If this keeps up over the course of the season, the Mavs will have trouble staying healthy and continuing their winning ways. But they’ve got some softies coming up. If they prevail handily, perhaps we can relax a little. If they struggle, though, it could be the beginning of the end.
Thursday, November 30, 2000
A slowish week for the Mavericks: a loss to Seattle and wins over Denver and Toronto, all at home. Going into tonight’s game at Portland, Dallas’ record stands at 10-5, their best start since the 1983—1984 season. The Mavs have been buoyed by the outstanding play of Dirk Nowitzki, who has had four double-doubles in the past five games. The swervin’ German has shown an all-around game that could propel him to All-Star status this year.
Once again, rebounding told the story in the loss to Seattle. The Mavs were outrebounded 50-33 (ouch!), including 19-10 on the offensive boards, which added up to lots of second attempts for the Sonics, who outshot the Mavs 90-78. Other than rebounding, the statistics were pretty close in that matchup. The games against Denver and Toronto were Mav blowouts, but in both the Mavs were outrebounded. Denver beat them by four boards, Toronto by an embarrassing twelve. How did Dallas overcome these deficits? By taking care of the ball. Against Toronto, Dallas had only five turnovers (which led to zero Raptor points), while Toronto had sixteen. Toronto only shot 15.4 percent from behind the three-point line, which suggests that they shot themselves out of the game. Of course, that the Raptors didn’t suit up the injured Vince Carter is always a bonus to the opposing team. Against the Nuggets, the Mavs committed only eight turnovers, another outstanding mark, and still managed to haul in 46 rebounds, well above their 39.9 season average. Of course, it helps that the Nuggets were also without Vince Carter, or any other notable player, for that matter. Things get decidedly tougher this week, as our boys go on the road to take on Portland, Golden State, the Lakers, and the Rockets. We’ll see how they fared next week.
Thursday, November 22, 2000
Last week the Mavs played the toughest run of their schedule so far. It was a five-game road trip to the West Coast and included games against Phoenix, Seattle, and Utah. Don Nelson’s boys came out of that stretch 4-1, losing only to Phoenix while picking up wins in Seattle and, incredibly, Utah, where they haven’t won since the 1988-89 season. Despite the improvement, the Mavs are still being outrebounded by their opponents to the tune of five boards a game. However, they are averaging almost seven blocks a game, close to three more than their opponents, suggesting a more effective interior defense. In back-to-back road wins over Seattle and Vancouver (both close contests that the Mavs somewhat stole), Dallas tied Seattle on the boards and roundly outrebounded the Grizzlies 44-36. They were outrebounded by the Jazz on Monday (39-43) but saved by incredible shooting percentages from both inside and beyond the three-point arc. But in being blown out by the Suns last week, the Mavs were positively killed on the boards (45-33). Overall, you can say that as the Mavs rebound, so goes their winning ways: Hit the boards and win. Rebounding heroes so far: Dirk Nowitzki (8.2 rpg) and Greg Buckner (7.1 rpg). Rebounding goat: Christian Laettner (2.7 rpg).