This game was one step beyond small ball - this was tiny ball. Without Nene, Washington might be the smallest team in the league and they beat the Mavs at their own game for most of the night, spreading them out, running pick-and-rolls and hoisting up 3's as fast as they could take them. They were playing on turbo and pushing the ball at every possible chance. I'm not sure I've seen a team play faster at the AAC this season - they were sprinting down the floor after makes or misses, although it's hard to call whatever Jared Dudley was doing sprinting. More like a slow and steady jog like he was running the first leg of a marathon.
The fundamental problem for the Mavs normal line-ups was that they couldn't punish the Wizards for how ridiculously small they were playing. Dallas wants to be the smaller and faster team especially on their 2nd unit, where they play 4-out with a bunch of PG's and try to pick apart bigger and slower teams on the pick-and-roll. They got a taste of their own medicine tonight against a Washington team that was playing Jared Dudley and Dejuan Blair at the 5. There were times in this game where Dirk was the only player above 6'7 on the floor and we aren't just talking in the middle of the 2nd quarter - this was crunch time in an NBA game and it looked like something out of the Filipino leagues where they have a maximum height limit.
Dallas didn't get back into the game until they decided to fight fire with fire in the 4Q, playing super-small line-ups that featured 3 PG's (none of them over 6'1), Wesley Matthews at the 4 and either Dirk or Dwight Powell at the 5. I get the feeling that a lot of small teams are like teams who press in college - they hate to go up against people who play their own style back at them. There's nothing a team that presses hates more than getting pressed because their entire team is set up to exploit the dynamic against a half-court oriented team that doesn't want to get into a breakneck style of play. The Mavs didn't like when the Wizards went small against them and the Wizards didn't like when the Mavs went tiny against them.
With Golden State doing what they are doing, the natural question is whether this type of game is the future of the NBA. It was certainly entertaining, although the lack of defense being played by either team would be enough to cause Rick Carlisle to lose the rest of his hair. What I think it really shows is what happens to big men if they don't have the game to either A) exploit smaller players or B) play a guard-oriented game.
- Marcin Gortat is a good player but he's not a guy you just want to pound the ball into the box into on a mismatch. He's more of a pick-and-pop guy who can attack a close-out and serve as a hub in the offense who occasionally scores with this back to the basket. The Mavs would have been perfectly happy with him demanding post-ups against 4's like Dirk and Powell.
- It was the same story with Zaza. For all the many strengths of his game, demanding the ball in the post and guarding out on the perimeter aren't two of them. John Wall got switched on Zaza in the pick-and-roll and the resulting comedy of errors that was the Mavs trying to enter the ball into him resulted in a turnover. The two C's were basically keeping each other in the game but when one coach took one out the other had no choice but to follow.
- Prime Dirk would have dropped 40+ points on the Wizards easily. He had one sequence against Jared Dudley where he remembered that he was 7'0 and that if Dudley was going to press up on him on D he could Big Boy his way to the rim. For the most part, though, the game was much too fast for him. The Wizards were playing at such a frenetic pace that it was hard for him to get into a rhythm and they were absolutely demolishing him on the pick-and-roll, which was my primary fear for Dirk this season.
The strategy the Mavs have been using with Dirk this season is for him to drop back as far as possible in order to give up the long 2 and then send enough help to where they can pack the paint and force teams to beat them from the perimeter. What they've been really good at is choosing the right guys to leave open. The problem on Saturday was that all the Wizards were making their shots so there was no one they could leave open.
- Washington was 51.8% from the field and 45.3% from 3, which might seem unsustainable except all those shots were wide open. John Wall could get into the Mavs defense whenever he wanted and then kick it out for an open shooter and his guys were all able to take advantage. Dallas decided that Otto Porter and Ramon Sessions were going to beat them and they did. Sometimes you just got to tip your hat.
A few other observations:
- John Wall is one of the players whose really worth seeing in person. He's just so incredibly fast that the game comes easy to him. There were a few times where he really did cut through the Mavs defense like a knife through butter. He's one of those guys whose always reading the floor because the primary defender has no chance of staying with him anyway. You need to be longer and faster than someone to lock them up and there isn't a player in the NBA whose longer and faster than Wall.
- For as fast as Wall is, Jared Dudley is every bit as slow. He might legitimately be the slowest person in the league. There was one sequence when he tried to hedge a pick-and-roll and he was moving so slow that Harris took one dribble and went right around him. Dudley is like Draymond Green if he had absolutely no athletic ability.
- Otto Porter had 28 points on 18 shots but it's not like he had a great game where he did a bunch of different things on the court. He just hit a bunch of wide-open shots, including a lot of long 2's.
- Kelly Oubre should be a good player eventually because he's got that money combination of length, athleticism and shooting ability. He even has a bit of burst off the dribble that should allow him to get by a lot of NBA defenders, especially if they have to respect his jumper. The problem is that he's an incredibly raw player at this stage in his career who has no idea what he's doing out there or how to consistently impact the game at the NBA level. Oubre is a guy who would have really benefited from an extra year of college because it's not like he was tearing up the NCAA at Kansas. It's hard to blame him for taking the money but his career has an incredibly wide range of outcomes at the moment because it's all about how much work he's going to put in to improve his game. He has a good foundation. What he does with it from here is on him.
- The Mavs really, really missed Deron Williams, who was out a stomach ailment. Williams has quietly been their best player this season. He's big enough to play as a SG in two-PG line-ups while not compromising their defense and he's their best shot-creator with Dirk aging and with Chandler Parsons and Wesley Matthews still recovering from off-season surgeries. He controls the tempo of the game, sets up everyone else and spaces the floor. The only thing he's lacking is raw speed and that has been minimized by the Mavs sliding him down a position for most of the game.
- The Charlie Villanueva experience, for as fun as it has been, might be coming to an end. He will still have value as an instant offense 3-point shooter off the bench but he's so bad on defense and he's such a one-dimensional player that it's hard to have him out there for any amount of time if he's not cooking from 3. In his first defensive possession of the game, the Wizards ran a pick-and-roll at him, he couldn't really move his feet to keep up and they they swung the ball back around the perimeter and he rather lazily closed out and gave up the open shot. It was that kind of night for Charlie 3.
- It's not getting a lot of play nationally but Chandler Parsons has been terrible all season since coming back from a knee surgery which the Mavs claim was not that big a deal but I find very hard to believe at this point. He was -21 in 23 minutes tonight and that didn't seem like a coincidence. He just has no lift in his legs and it is affecting every part of his game. He can't move on the perimeter, he can't finish at the rim and he can't even knock down open shots. There are nights where the minute factor isn't even a concern and the Mavs can't have him out there for any amount of time because he is killing the team. It's almost getting to the point where I wonder if he wouldn't be better off shutting it down for awhile and getting himself 100% healthy before trying to get the grind of the NBA season. The amazing is the team is playing as well as they have been considering how little they are getting out of the guy whose supposed to be their best player. What this team needs more than anything else is what a healthy Chandler Parsons provides. What I'm worried about is when exactly we are going to see that guy.