Game 7 Preview: Mavericks vs. Blazers

A Look at the Mavericks

If you want to know why the Mavericks are having a horrific start to their season you need look no further than one stat.  Last year they gave up an average of 93.1 points per game.  This year through five games that average is 105.2.  That's a twelve point difference.  No amount of scoring is going to make up for it.  The Mavericks never did have a host of impressive defenders but somehow last year they pulled it together, worked as a team, and made people miss.  Whether they've lost their fire, lost their hunger, or just assumed that after last year's ground-breaking NBA Finals appearance this year was going to be a breeze, they've bequeathed themselves the worst start in the league this year.  Marc Cuban better put on a fake moustache and get himself back in that huddle quick.

Even so, the Mavericks are still a veteran team and a potential offensive juggernaut.  If the last three years have taught us anything, it's don't mess with Dirk Nowitzki.  Inside, outside, upside-down, he will drop at least 25 on your without thinking.  He'll rebound, he'll pass a little, and this is all with a man in his face.  It's doubtful Zach will be guarding him full-time, but whoever does will have their hands full.  Nearly the entire supporting cast from last year's finals returns, including big-scoring guards Jason Terry and Jerry Stackhouse.  A bit of good news for the Blazers:  Dallas' second-leading scorer, Josh Howard, has a sprained ankle and will be out.  (Makes it even with Roy being hobbled.)  Dallas plays 11 guys in the regular rotation but none of them are having much success scoring besides the ones we've already mentioned.  Centers Dampier and Diop will grab some offensive rebounds and Diop will block the occasional shot, but they're a little slow and not usually game changers.  Devin Harris provides a dash of speed and athleticism in the backcourt.  Unless veterans Austin Croshere or Anthony Johnson pull a big game out of nowhere, that's about it.  When they're playing great you only notice the good side and these guys look all-world.  When they falter the resulting microscope reveals a fair amount of flaws.

The only things the Mavericks are doing reasonably well right now are a little bit of offensive rebounding and making the few free throws they shoot.  The list of things going wrong is enormous.  They're not distributing the ball.  They're giving up more steals and turnovers than they create.  Their assist-to-turnover ratio is hovering around 1, which for an offensively-minded team is pretty poor.  They are not drawing fouls and they run a deficit of 7 free throw attempts per game to their opponents.  Worst of all they're letting the opposition shoot an incredible 51% from the field, 44% from the three-point line.  

Last year we saw the best of the Dallas Mavericks' potential all at once, so far this year we're seeing the worst.  But we're less than 10% into the season and you know that's not going to last forever.  One of these games they're going to wake up again and if it's tonight, Portland can't match them.  They're capable of flat-out outscoring any non-Phoenix team in the league, and despite the improvements we're still near the bottom of the league in points scored to begin with.  It would almost be better for us to have them coming in undefeated and overlooking us than on a losing binge and looking to right the ship, but you get what you get.

Things I'd like to see:

  1.  We're going to have to score to stay in this game.  They are letting their opponents do whatever they want.  Our "whatever" is the same as it has been since Game 1:  cut, drive, pound it inside and draw free throws.  Do not stall the ball.  Do not shoot jumpers without penetrating first, even if you're open.  If they collapse, pass it out to Webster, Dixon, or whoever for an open shot.
  2.  Much like the Blazers last year, the Mavericks rely on backcourt players who are short for their positions.  Our guards should take advantage when they can.  Shoot over them, pass over them, post them up.  I assume Zach will make hay but our backcourt must support him tonight.
  3.  On defense, let anybody score but Dirk.  The Mavs have some reasonably good shooters and some awfully bad ones, but Nowitzki is the only one who can take you down single-handedly.  Zach may not guard him straight up, but he can be used to double, as can our small forwards.  Getting the ball out of Dirk's hands may not shut down their offense, but it puts it in peril.
  4.  Continuing on that point:  whoever Dirk is guarding should be driving or posting.  If that's Zach, more to the good, but if it's Outlaw or Magloire run some plays through them.  We have a lot better chance with him on the pines.
  5.  The more Dampier and Diop are on the floor, the better it's likely to be for us.  I'm more scared of Dallas' small lineup than their big guys.  If we have to go big and plodding to make that happen, so be it.  I'd rather win 88-82 with a +12 rebound advantage than lose 106-100.
  6.  Advice to JJ:  Don't let Devin Harris drive past you too often.
  7.  Do not make them angry.  Remember the "roach" thing and how that inspired us.  The thought of losing to us may similarly inspire them.  Don't add any fuel to the fire.  If they get down in this game they're going to feel a lot of pressure.  Let them self-destruct and hit their season low if they're going to.  Let them work it all out in a team meeting tomorrow.  Tonight just keep your eyes open, keep your mouth shut, and play.
Despite their troubles, this is either the best or second best (Clippers) team we've played all season.  This is a real, big-league club.  Nobody would be shocked to see them lay a 30-point whooping on us.  These other wins have been really nice, but they're still mostly "nice considering who we are".  If we did have any hopes of being a really good team this year, a team that challenged for a playoff spot, this would be the kind of game we'd need to win.  Kicking them when they're down would be pretty sweet.  But as anyone who's watched the Friday the 13th movies can tell you, even if you get a few blows in early it doesn't always work out well in the end.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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