CHICAGO | Two teams headed in opposite directions met at the United Center on Saturday, and there was little indication that the recent trends set by the Mavericks and Bulls are going to change any time soon.
The Mavericks overcame the injuries of both of their rotation centers, beating the Bulls 122-116 with surgeon-like precision of an offense that is humming along so nicely, the denizens of the Staples Center ought to be feeling a little uneasy. The win was Dallas' 11th straight and the Mavs are 11-1 since swinging the trade that brought Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson to the Big D. The Bulls, on the other hand, continue to struggle without Joakim Noah. Chicago has now lost four straight to fall back to the .500 level it took so long to climb past. And with a vicious upcoming schedule, the end of the losing streak, not to mention a hold on an East playoff spot, has become ever so tenuous for the Bulls.
Dallas Mavericks Pace oRTG eFG% oREB% FT/FGA TO% THCH
First Quarter 24 123.1 .609 .111 .087 .041 6.07
Second Quarter 24 150.5 .696 .000 .174 .042 7.19
Third Quarter 22 130.1 .595 .111 .143 .093 5.08
Fourth Quarter 22 125.4 .600 .286 .200 .090 5.70
FIRST HALF 48 136.7 .652 .176 .130 .042 6.63
SECOND HALF 44 127.7 .598 .188 .171 .045 5.19
FINAL 91 133.8 .626 .182 .149 .066 6.01
Chicago Bulls Pace oRTG eFG% oREB% FT/FGA TO% THCH
First Quarter 24 106.7 .400 .429 .067 .082 3.79
Second Quarter 24 121.2 .632 .143 .263 .125 5.77
Third Quarter 22 116.2 .500 .100 .316 .000 5.59
Fourth Quarter 22 161.2 .773 .333 .091 .134 5.66
FIRST HALF 48 113.9 .490 .333 .143 .106 4.78
SECOND HALF 44 139.1 .646 .188 .195 .035 5.56
FINAL 91 127.2 .561 .270 .167 .088 5.20
NOTE: THCH is an estimate of team touches per minute
GAME FLOW COMMENTS
(These are the notes that I typed to myself during the game. Presented as typed ... no attempt at cleaning them up or to provide context.)
FIRST QUARTER: mavs went zone for last 2 min of 1Q, slowed down Bulls' tempo
SECOND QUARTER: james johnson came in early in 2q & flashed a little Tyrus Thomas there, only without the long two-point jumpers ... in 2q, dal isolates dirk on warrick, bulls don't rotate anyone to help ... with Marion on Miller, Dal was really getting a lot of benefit f/ Marion as a help defender ... Miller camped out just inside the top of the key as he is wont to do, but Marion is quick enough to recover and contest the shots, and while Miller is good at putting the ball on the floor from that spot, Dallas' defense did a good job of rotating to prevent that ... hakim warrick could use a jumper, could be a really excellent offensive player with a reliable 15-footer ... 66-54 at haltime, Mavs score 36 in the 2Q as Bulls' bench woes continue
THIRD QUARTER: ... why not go small with Deng, JJ & Warrick against this team? Dallas is a bad matchup for Miller and Bulls aren't getting killed on the boards ... 11 assists from Jason Kidd in first half ... keep coming back to VDN's lack of creativity with his lineups, seems like Bulls are always reacting to other teams' matchup difficulties while VDN doesn't take advantage of the versatility of his forwards ... Dallas uncharacteristically making some unforced errors, Bulls taking advantage by pushing the pace. Timeout Carlisle, Bulls w/i 3 @6:57 of 3Q ... last play before timeout, Deng and Hinrich converted a 2-on-1 break; Hinrich is not as good in those situations as you'd think he'd be, but he gave that up at the right time for a Deng layup ... don't know if it's his knee, but Deng is having a really poor game ... Mavs back in zone @4:20, nearly forced a 24-sec ... still no JJ, no Pargo at all tonight, whoa check that, Pargo just came in @2:12 of 3Q ... Flip is playing the 3 now that Pargo is in. Guess that's creative, but not exactly what I had in mind ... Beaubois is light up the Bulls ... so smooth ... JKidd has 6 pts, 13 ast, 9 reb ... Mavs up 94-80 after 3Q
FOURTH QUARTER: Rose, Flip and Pargo all in for Bulls @ start of 4Q ... Pargo hit a three, time for VDN to yank him ... another J for Pargo. Ride him, Bulls ... another three from Pargo brings Bulls w/i 4; it's 98-94 DAL w/ 7:59 to go ... Carlisle takes timeout; Kidd is back in for Mavs ... 5 quick points for DAL out of timeout--iso for Dirk on Warrick on block; Butler w/ a 3 after Deng sagged off to help on Dirk; Warrick/Dirk matchup is going to kill Bulls on both ends--has VDN tried Deng on Dirk? Warrick seems to struggle when matched against bigs with similar mobility ... Yikes! An ill-thought defensive switch left Pargo isolated on Dirk in the post. Pargo flung his body into dirk like the rabbit guarding the cave in the Holy Grail ... Miller back and guarding Dirk. Dirk scores, Mavs up 10 ... Rose works the baseline like no other guard in the league, not even Ronnie Brewer ... Miller puts it on the floor, brings crowd to feet w/ a dunk, then needlessly bumps Butler off the court when grabbed a def rebound on other end ... Rose with a spectacular drive and scoop finish + foul. He's got 30 points, but Bulls just can't get stops ... Mavs spreading floor with 5 high again, produces Marion layup ... Kidd still needs four points for triple double ... timeout w/ 2:35 to go, Dal up 117-109. Rose has taken over for Bulls, so Pargo really isn't needed, esp. given lack of stops. We'll see if he's still in after TO ... Yep, Pargo still in ... Dal is only up by 8, but w/ 1:47 left, this is over. Mavs don't miss FTs ... Pargo 3 threatens to make it interesting but Dirk nabs long oreb w/ 19 seconds left ... 122-116 mavs final
TAKEAWAYS FROM SATURDAY'S GAME
1. Are the Mavericks missing Jason Terry?
The Mavericks' backcourt depth was on full display in Dallas' second game without Jason Terry. Terry had surgery for a fractured orbital bone last week, though the injury wasn't as serious as it might of been and Terry is expected back in a couple of weeks. In his place, rookie Rodrigue Beaubois scored a career-high 24 points, including 18 in the third quarter. Beaubois showed off his standout quickness in getting whereever he needed to get on the floor, while also displaying a nice midrange shooting stroke. Jose Barea came off the bench for seven points and five assists, as well. As a rookie whose minutes have been up and down, consistency may be an issue for Beaubois, but he showed the potential of filling the void left by Terry's absence very nicely, though Mavs coach Rick Carlisle says it won't be any one player that replaces Terry's production.
"Who's gonna replace all of his stuff with the crowd? I don't know that. Probably nobody. There's only one Jason Terry. In terms of on the court, we're going to have to make up for his absence in a lot of different ways. There's a lot of different guys that are going to have to contribute for us," Carlisle said on the Mavericks broadcast on Friday.
That may be the case, but when you also consider the solid play of DeShawn Stevenson, who played small forward during his time on Saturday, Carlisle has plenty of able bodies to get by without Terry. The Mavericks' depth since their trade with Washington is downright scary.
2. The ex-Wizards are fitting right in.
Speaking of that trade, those ex-Wizards are fitting in quite nicely for the Mavericks. Haywood sat out Saturday night because of lower back tightness, but he, Butler and Stevenson have helped spark Dallas on the defensive end. Since the deal, the Mavericks' Offensive Rating has edged up by a half-point, but their Defensive Rating has dropped by nearly three. Haywood's importance was underscored Saturday. With Erick Dampier's dislocated finger also keeping him out, the Bulls were able to feast in the lane and hold their own off the glass, which has been a problem without Noah.
"The guys in the trade fit well with our personnel, so that's Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban. The credit goes to them," Carlisle said after Saturday's game. "They're veteran guys, two of the three have been through this before where you're kind of going by the seat of your pants, not having a lot of practice time and you've got to pick things up quick.
"When you get a new bunch of guys, it energizes everybody. I think Jason has embraced the challenge of getting these guys integrated. He's been a big part of it because we haven't been able to do a lot of play calling because of the lack of practice time. He just kind of been a facilitator."
According to Stevenson, that process of re-energization has worked both ways.
"No question," Stevenson said emphatically. "We had 18 or 19 wins before the trade and now we're on a team that's second in the West. We're playing well and playing together."
Stevenson has been the unsung element of the trade, but his inclusion gives Dallas a bonafide perimeter stopper, a role that Quinton Ross filled before being included in the deal with Washington. Stevenson, of course, gained his most notoriety by challenging LeBron James in some memorable playoff battles both on the court and through the media. Now that he's in the other conference, he vows not to engage in a verbal tete-a-tete with a certain megastar in L.A., should the Mavs run up against the Lakers in the postseason and Stevenson is called upon to become Dallas' designated Kobe stopper.
"That's what I do, I guard people, but I don't want to get in a heated battle with anybody--especially Kobe Bryant. I think of Kobe as a Hall-of-Fame legend," Stevenson said. "I respect him a lot, but at the same time I'm going to go out there and play against him hard, just like I would against LeBron or anybody else. That rivalry was personal, it's done and over with, and you won't hear anything from me about (Kobe)."
3. Bulls are entering the danger zone.
After dropping all three games at home this week, the Bulls have fallen back to break even, and in a week, Chicago has gone from challenging fifth-place Toronto to looking over its shoulder at ninth-place Charlotte. The schedule doesn't get any easier, to say the least. Utah visits Chicago on Tuesday. Then the Bulls hit the road to play Orlando, Miami and Memphis, before returning home to face Cleveland. That had the media wizards in the bowels of the United Center speculating just how long the Bulls' four-game skid is going to stretch, quite a change in atmosphere for a single week.
Chicago coach Vinny Del Negro coach has struggled with his substitution patterns all season, but it's gotten worse since Noah was injured. On Saturday, Del Negro inserted seldom-used rookie James Johnson to begin the second quarter. Johnson hit a three-pointer, came over on weakside help to reject a layup by Dallas' Jose Barea, grabbed the rebound and sprinted the floor for a layup, which he rimmed out. He also drew a foul while working against Dirk Nowitzki one-on-one. He was at that point the most active Bull on the floor and I thought to myself that he looked like Tyrus Thomas’ better half. Then, after 4:17 of court time, Del Negro replaced Johnson with a struggling and hobbled Luol Deng. Johnson did not play again.
"He did a good job," Del Negro said of Johnson afterwards. "His minutes have been up and down, and I thought he did well."
Del Negro waited until late in the third quarter to give Jannero Pargo his first minutes on Saturday. Pargo was on fire, scoring 11 points before cooling off in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, Derrick Rose, who scored 34 points on 22 shots, had taken over the Chicago offense and seemed to be scoring or assisting on every trip down the floor. At the other end, the Bulls simply could not get stops. Yet, even though Pargo had cooled off and the Bulls' defense was porous, Del Negro stuck with Pargo till the end of the game.
4. Long twos aren't so bad ... if you make them.
The Mavericks are a jump-shooting team. They hit long twos (best percentage in the league) and threes and also lead the league in free-throw percentage. The offense is built around spreading the floor and there is almost a complete lack of posting, unless a mismatch presents itself for Nowitzki. Many plays unfold without any Mavericks under the free-throw line. Because of a heavy travel schedule, the Mavericks haven't had much practice time since overhauling their roster, so Carlisle said they aren't really even calling many specific plays. Instead, he's put everything on the shoulders of Jason Kidd, who had 15 assists on Saturday, to make the engine hum. And Dallas is humming--Saturday's 48-minute offensive clinic was the most impressive I've seen this season.
5. Have the Mavericks become the Lakers' prime challenger?
The win brought Dallas within 3 1/2 games of the Lakers, who play Sunday in Orlando. Suddenly, the Mavericks look poised to make a run at the top seed in the Western Conference. Given the Mavericks' play of late, some breaks in their remaining schedule and the road-heavy finishing docket of the Lakers, this race has suddenly become very interesting. And let's not forget Denver and Utah, who remain right on Dallas' heels. With less than a quarter of the season to go, the race for the power seeds is on in the West and given the overall strength of the conference, there are going to be some great games to watch down the stretch.
You can go back and read my in-game comments and get future Tweets at twitter.com/@bbdoolittle.
Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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