D.C. Council Opening Statements: Wizards vs Mavericks, Game 29
On New Year’s Day 2013, these Wizards were getting set to face these same Dallas Mavericks. That evening, the Mavericks won, pushing their record to 13-19 over the 4-25 Wizards. Dallas used a 35-19 advantage in the third quarter to take the game, 103-94. A presumably angry Wizards fan also tossed their Bradley Beal bobblehead down from the upper level that night; luckily no one got hurt.
A year later, these are two rather different teams. Not drastic, but different. Then, Dallas featured the now-departed O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman, and Darren Collison in the starting lineup. Elton Brand, Dahntay Jones, and Rodrique Beaubois came off the bench and are also now gone. The leftovers include Dirk Nowitzki, who also came off the bench in the Dallas win, Shawn Marion, and Vince Carter—44 years of NBA experience between them. Second-year player Jae Crowder is also still around.
The John Wall-less Wizards started Garrett Temple, Bradley Beal, Martell Webster, Nene, and Emeka Okafor a year ago today. Okafor has been replaced with Marcin Gortat, Wall and Trevor Ariza are now healthy, and otherwise, the departed Wizards who got run that January 1 evening include Shelvin Mack, Cartier Martin, and Jordan Crawford.
The Mavs have remade themselves by adding Monta Ellis, Samuel Dalembert, Jose Calderon, DeJuan Blair, and a handful of other young players. The Wizards have mostly reshuffled the chairs on the deck, hoping that self-improvement and player development become more of a difference-maker this season. The Mavericks, having already beaten the Wizards on their home turf this season, 105-95, begin 2014 with a 18-13 record that holds eighth place in the West. The Wizards are an even .500, 14-14, and have the fourth-best record in the East (fifth seed behind the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors).
Teams: Wizards vs Mavericks
Time: 6:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Verizon Center, Washington, DC
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/THE FAN-FM 106.7
Spread: Wizards fav’d by 2 points
Wizards tickets … anyone?
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Q #1: Outside of Monta Ellis, who is making me eat an appetizer of crow so far this season (I’m part of a rather large club, surely), who’s been the most pleasant surprise for the Mavs this season?
@kirkseriousface: Two players. First is DeJuan Blair. He’s been a revelation, even to Maverick fans. He’s 6-foot-6 on a good day and is stealing real minutes at center on a NBA playoff contention team. His ability to finish in traffic, pass out of the double teams, and get steals has kept Dallas in games they were out of at this point last season. Dallas uses a lineup with Blair, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter as the front court players that actually works. No player over 6-foot-7 in that bunch. It’s crazy. Blair has found a role and excels at it on an almost nightly basis.
The other player has to be Dirk Nowitzki. The 2011-12 version of Dirk came out of shape and on a championship high (he expected the season to be canceled by all reports). That grind wore one of his knees down. Then he started the 2012-13 season on the bench as he recovered from knee surgery, his first real surgery ever. The rehab was hard and he came back too soon and never looked right despite all his efforts. In Mavsland we secretly worried that he was old. This season, he’s proving that he’s not done (21 points on 49 percent shooting). He still doesn’t rebound very well, but he’s moving so much better on either side of the ball. Against the Timberwolves on Monday he had a transition dunk that he flushed HARD. I can’t say I expected to see this sort of athleticism from Dirk ever again.
Q #2: OK, so which Maverick has been the most disappointing?
@kirkseriousface: Vince Carter, easily. It’s a bit unfair to label a nearly 37-year-old swing man “disappointing” but he’s just not played well this season. Part of it is that he’s been without Brandan Wright for a large part of the year and those two have a connection which elevates both players. The other part of it is his role. When Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon are on the bench, Carter’s been forced into the role of primary playmaker because rookies Shane Larkin and Gal Mekel have been wildly inconsistent. Despite his ability to pass and finish tough shots, he shouldn’t be running at the rim five times a game hunting for a foul. His best role is the fourth or fifth option in the offense, where he can stand and shoot open jumpers. But so far that hasn’t been his role very often this season.
Q #3a: Can you assess how the minutes of Dirk Nowitzki have been managed thus far? The Wizards are in a similar situation with Nene, but perhaps not as much since Dirk has only missed one game and Nene has missed seven, and he’s probably due to miss another week’s worth of games at some point soon.
@kirkseriousface: Great question. This has been a topic in Mavsland that not a lot of fans understand. Coach Rick Carlisle loves process as much as he does results and with a player of Dirk’s age, he has to be smart in managing his minutes. Dallas started the season with eight of nine back-to-backs, which often meant that if Dirk strayed from his rotation schedule on the first night, the impact was evident on the second night. I’d venture to say that the rotations are working as Dirk continues to look and play like a near All-Star. The effect on games is evident, though, because Dallas has a frustrating tendency to tighten up when Dirk leaves for his scheduled rests in the third and fourth quarters.
Q #3b: With the former MVP, does he look like he has it in him to carry a postseason charge on his back?
@kirkseriousface: A tentative yes with two main caveats. Firstly, health is playing such a huge role this season and Dallas was bit by the bug early with Brandan Wright missing games and Devin Harris yet to see court action. Second, if Dallas does make the playoffs, whether they have any sort of success will depend more on the matchup than on Dirk. OKC, for example, has beaten Dallas something like 13 of the last 14 games since the 2011 Western Conference finals. Houston and even Golden State are better match-ups for the Mavericks. But heck, even getting to the playoffs is going to be quite the feat. The Mavs are 18-13 and are the eighth seed at the moment.
Q #4: After losing four in a row, the Wizards have won five of their last six games, so which lineups have worked?
@Truth_About_It: The recent starting lineup over the last six games that has quote, unquote “worked” has actually been minus-4 over 87 minutes—Wall, Beal, Ariza, Booker, and Gortat. The second most-used lineup over the past six games—Wall, Webster, Ariza, Nene, and Gortat—has also been minus-4 over their 20 minutes together. It’s the former starting lineup of Wall, Beal, Ariza, Nene, and Gortat, used third-most at 15 minutes, which has found the most success: plus-21.
The non-Wall lineup that fought back early in the fourth quarter against Detroit on Monday—Temple, Webster, Porter, Seraphin, and Nene—has seen 11 minutes over two games (in the last six games) and fielded a plus-1. Replace Seraphin with Vesely with the same remaining four players and that 5-man unit has also been a plus-1 over the last six games (15 total minutes).
Nene not starting has hurt the play of the starting lineup, obviously. But right now, he is serving the greater good in coming off the bench and, along with Martell Webster, increasing the effectiveness of other mix-and-mashed Wiz pups. But the reality is that in the ideal, Nene starts and the Wizards have competent point guard play off the bench, along with more player development out of longstanding draft picks, to hold down the court when Wall and others need rest. Fingers could point to the failed signing of Eric Maynor, leaving Wittman with no other choice. Question is, will not starting Nene become sustainable?
[stats via NBA.com/stats]
A) Does Mark Cuban somehow recover his inner Mark Cuban and eventually make a free agent/trade splash to assist with the sunsetting of or transition from Dirk Nowitzki?
@kirkseriousface: Only if Dirk wants it, as he, Kobe, and KG all have “no trade clauses.” Dirk will resign in Dallas this year unless something drastic happens, but the real story is wondering how much he signs for. He already took one pay cut in 2010 when he signed a four-year, $80 million deal, when he was eligible for a four-year, $96 million deal. The general speculation is he signs a two-to-three-year deal at $10 million a year, but I have a sneaky feeling he drops that to $8 million or less just because he wants to give his team options. Whatever he does though, Dirk’s a Maverick for life.
B) Or does he somehow say that he learned a ‘lesson’ from missing out on the Dwight Howard / Deron Williams chase and play things differently in the future? (In fact, hasn’t he already said that not getting Deron was a good thing … and thus far, his hindsight would appear to be righter by the day?)
@kirkseriousface: No. It drives me crazy but no. It’s so ironic, looking back now, that Cuban spent the better part of the 2000s chasing a unicorn of a big man capable of playing next to Dirk and taking the pressure off. He found one in Chandler and let him walk. It was a bad move, in my opinion, but the past is the past. I think the main lesson he learned is that cap space in and of itself is not an asset. He prides himself on thinking that the Mavericks have a plan that no one else could beat, but Dallas ended up with nothing and wasted two years of Dirk. At least this current team is competitive even if a contract like Jose Calderon’s (signed four years for $28 million) will look insane in three years.
Dallas will eventually have to crash and burn. But here’s an interesting part of all this. In December of 2011, the Mavericks “traded” away Tyson Chandler to the Knicks in place of a huge cap exception. They then used that exception and a conditional No. 1 pick to the Lakers in exchange for Lamar Odom. That pick then went to Houston when they traded for Jordan Hill. The pick then went to OKC in the James Harden trade. The pick is top-20 protected every year until 2018. So if the Mavericks finish outside the top 10, the pick reverts to them. Looking at the way the team is structured and the depth of the West, there’s a real chance Dallas could crash the very year they don’t own their first round pick. So things might get weird in Dallas for a while.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle on how different this Wizards team looks than the team they saw on November 12, 2013:
“Well, they’ve gotten better. They’re a young team. Their coaching staff is doing all the right things. They’re playing consistently hard, they’re doing the little things well and consistently. And when you win five out of six, it shows. And, I think in the East they see the opportunity to keep moving up. So they’re a tough team.”
Carlisle on facing the dangerous combination of John Wall and Washington’s 3-point shooters:
“Wall’s a guy that gets guys a lot of open 3s, so somehow we’ve got to try to keep him slowed down a little bit, keep him out of that deep lane penetration so he can’t get those easy kick-outs to Beal and Ariza and Webster and the other guys that shoot ‘em. It’s a tough task, because he could well be the fastest guy in the league from end to end. Very elusive. He draws contact. He does a good job of selling fouls. Last game he shot 15 free throws, so keeping him somewhat under control is really key.”
Carlisle on the ability of his frontline to combat the pick-and-roll action of John Wall and Marcin Gortat (or Nene):
“That’s a tough situation to deal with because of Wall’s quickness. Now he’s shooting the midrange shot and he’s shooting 3s, at times behind screens.
“And Gortat is a guy that we’ve always liked. We signed him to an offer sheet* five years ago and Orlando matched. One of the things we thought he could do was be an effective midrange shooter in this league, and he is … he’s become that. And one of the things tonight, which is a key, is we’ve got to take away his open 14-to-16-foot shots.
“But they’re tough. It’s tough with Gortat in there. It’s tough when they put Nene in it, Nene can shoot, too. You put a big guy in who’s got to deal with one of the quickest guys in the game, too.”
* [Note: Dallas signed Gortat to a five-year, $35 million offer sheet in July 2009.]
Wizards coach Randy Wittman on Garrett Temple’s play over the past couple of games in filling the backup point guard role:
“One thing I know is that when I put [Garrett Temple] in, he’s going to defend. He’s going to play hard. He’s not going to make a lot of mistakes. And that’s important from the standpoint when you’re dealing with the point guard position, almost every night you’re dealing with a high-quality offensive player. And he’s really come in and established that he’s going to defend and give us a big lift there. And as I told him, just run the club from an offensive standpoint, making sure we’re in something and not in a situation where we’re freelancing … having some structure when he’s in the game. And I think he’s getting a good feel for that.”