In years past I've always been cognizant that not everybody celebrates Christmas or even gets to take it off. One of the worst things about working holidays is that everything else shuts down and you can't do squat. You can probably count the number of people blogging on December 25th on one hand...one that's been stuck in a running combine to boot. For all of the lonely, holiday-abstaining workaholics out there I always made up something to talk about on Christmas, just so they'd have some new material. But lo and behold, the Blazers have gotten important enough to merit a game on Christmas! No invented topics! Here's a preview for everybody to enjoy between the ham and presents (or between twiddling the thumbs and watching the clock, whichever).
A Look at the Mavericks
The Mavericks come into this game with a 16-11 record but that's kind of deceiving. They started the season losing 7 of 9 games, making them look like their time had come. In reality that early-season schedule was tough. The teams that defeated them were mostly of the Houston/Cleveland/L*kers/Orlando variety. There's no shame in that. Not everybody can run off strings of wins while playing a brutal schedule. Only teams with fantastic looking bloggers even stand a chance.
Since the schedule evened out for them the Mavericks have won 14 of 18. Their four losses in the last five weeks pretty much all came when they lost their minds and let the opponent score a number over 100 big enough to be considered legal in 48 of 50 states. (A couple games they let the opponent get far enough over 100 by a number large enough to make you middle aged.) Basically anytime the opponent hasn't scored 115+ the Mavericks have won. That makes them hot. And we're not just talking Ben Golliver hot--though that would be plenty enough. We're talking AnntheFan's smoldering look at Travis Outlaw hot. We're talking Jorga goosing Lamarcus Aldridge hot. We're talking SergioFTW rubbing lotion on our backup point guard on a Tenerife beach hot.
OK, maybe that last one went too far.
But they're hot. Really hot.
The Mavs are cruising through the schedule behind the scoring of Dirk Nowitzki, who notches 26 per game on average. He's actually shooting the lowest percentage in his last four years or so but he's attempting way more shots and thus ratcheting up the old point-o-meter. He grabs 9 boards per game too. Dirk's wingman is Jason Terry. All but given up for dead early on in the year he's now averaging 47% shooting and scoring 21 per game. Josh Howard completes the main trio, scoring 18 with 6 rebounds. Together that's 65+ of the Mavericks' 100 point average. These three don't fool around. And by "don't fool around" I mean "don't let anybody else shoot". Well...that's not exactly true. Who else do you want taking regular shots besides them?
Accompanying the Big Three and making sure everybody gets a steady diet of shots is veteran Jason Kidd. He's averaging 9 points and 8 assists plus 2.5 steals. He's as much of a catalyst as ever and is actually shooting well (very well from distance) this year. The Carlisle system agrees with him and he carries a huge amount of responsibility in it.
After that the Mavs really go 10 deep if not 12. Everybody else on their roster averages between 11 and 23 minutes per game (just not all in the same game). Erick Dampier is having a great rebounding season and is putting the ball in the hole in Przybilla-like fashion. Brandon Bass is a dangerous interior scorer. Jose Juan Barea, DeSagana Diop, Devean George...they have a talented, experienced bench. If there's any hole it's at shooting guard, especially when Terry is having trouble defending.
As expected the Mavs are a decent scoring team, though their shooting is more towards the middle of the road than it was in their glory days. They make up for it by getting up a ton of shots. Somewhat surprising is how quickly Rick Carlisle has restored their defensive game, an area which suffered as Avery Johnson lost their ear. Carlisle is a fine defensive coach and he's got the Mavs reading, rotating, and rebounding well enough to limit opponents to 98 points per game even with all of those shots going up. Their defensive rebounding is impressive, as is their willingness to share the ball. Their three-point shooting not so much. This isn't a fancy, splashy team. This is basic percentage basketball.
Keys to the Game
1. The best way to stop the Mavericks is to stop the ball from moving. Even though they have great scorers their game breaks down if those scorers go one-on-one all the time. You eliminate Jason Kidd's effectiveness plus take the other scorers out of the game. There probably shouldn't be a lot of double-teaming tonight from Portland. Just stay in front of your man and don't let him break down your defense so you have to rotate to fix it, leaving avenues for the pass. If Nowitzki wants to put up 40 shots, let him. He might beat you that way but that's better than getting overwhelmed by the whole team.
2. This will be a titanic struggle on the boards. It feels like whoever controls the glass will control the game.
3. Brandon Roy should be able to push hard against this team. They'll likely have to bring help, in which case we can do to them what they're trying to do to us: find the seams and beat them with the pass and cut.
4. Clog the middle and force this team to shoot over the top.
5. Most nights our second unit gains an advantage for us. Tonight they're going to have to play well in order to stay even. This can't be an off-night for Sergio, Rudy, and Travis.
Interesting fact...this game features the two worst free-throw defending teams in the league, Dallas at 29th (allowing 80.95% at the line) and Portland at 30th (allowing 81.3%). We all know the cause: bad coaching. I don't see how Nate and Rick keep their jobs in the face of stats like that. Don't they ever drill free-throw defense in practice? The neglect is criminal.
In addition to your analysis of tonight's game, feel free to share your best free-throw defense techniques. Perhaps the Blazers will learn something.
Check out the Mavs' point of view at MavsMoneyball.
Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here.