Thursday, May 14, 2009

Not to Panic

Following an NBA team or any team can be an emotional roller coaster. It's a natural reaction to want immediate change when you see something not end up how you wanted it to end. So I can understand Mavericks fans who want Cuban to blow up this team. Despite their best efforts, they lost in five games to the Denver Nuggets.

Were the Nugs a better team then the Mavs in this post season? Of course. They won the series quite handily--though, if the Mavs don't clank several free throws and actually put a body on Melo in the final few minutes, this series would be heading back to Dallas for a game 6. So let's not overreact and say blow it up. Mavs fans need to cool out on the idea that the Nugs had vastly superior talent. They did have more talent, after all, Linas Kleiza saw 47 total minutes of action, none of which came in the decisive game 5.

But they didn't have waaay more talent. Let's not forget certain factors here.

First and foremost, Dirk Nowitzki was THE MAN. Hands down the best player in this series, no apologies to a lights out Carmelo. Melo had the benefit of playing with Billups who created a lot for everyone, including #15. Dirk, on the vast majority of his buckets, got them himself. Sure, Kidd was out there playing, but he was too busy passing up easy layup opportunities and instead spent his time jumping up in the air and trying to find someone to pass to as he was coming down. Everyone calls Dirk a choke artist because of his failures in the Finals and his early exit against the Warriors, but few people talk about his clutchness against the Spurs and the Suns and in playoffs in general. You can add this series to his admittedly impeccable post season resume. The Big German averaged 35 points, 11.6 rebounds, 4 assists, and a block on 53 percent shooting, 39 percent from three and 92 percent from the line. Don't get it twisted...those are Larry Bird-like numbers.

Another major factor is that Josh Howard was playing on two gimpy ankles. He gave it his best shot, even managed a gritty 14 points in the final game, but he was shooting threes with his arms and had absolutely no lift. For his career he's been around 35 percent from the great beyond. This series? He went 1-15. Also, a completely healthy Howard defensively slows Melo down a lot more than a gimpy Howard. I'm not saying he would have shut Melo down, not really possible anymore, but there's no way Melo averages 30 for the series if Howard is healthy.

Remember the job Howard did against Dwyane Wade in the 06 Finals? Now, before you start laughing and telling me that Wade was Jordan-esque in his one and only finals, look at some of the facts. Again, history has a weird way of being remembered. First of all, kid shot 97 free throws in six contests. 97! That's 16 attempts per game. That's only ten less than the Mavs averaged as a team. Sure, there are many benefits to playing alongside a healthy and motivated Shaquille O'Neal, but we all remember numerous phantom fouls called. And even with all the freebie points he was given, he only made 75 of them...for a ho-hum 77 percent. Sure, Wade averaged 35 points a game, but he shot below his season average (47 to 49 percent) and had two horrific games to start the series shooting 38 percent thanks to the defense of Howard. That kind of defense was sorely missed against the Nugs. Howard just couldn't rotate or move his feet like we know he's capable of. He'll be 30 next year, but he doesn't rely completely on his athleticism and could be solid for at least the remainder of his contract. Cuban was right not to trade him when everyone was clamoring for him to and he'll be right to keep him this off season too.

The disappearance of Jason Terry was perhaps the Mavericks greatest weakness. Dude couldn't find it in either round. After shooting 46 percent for the season, the Jet (you know, I am rescinding this name from Jason Terry...only Kenny Smith deserves the title)...Terry shot a putrid 39 percent.

So, if Howard is at full strength and Terry hits, uh, I dunno, 41 percent of his shots, then we're looking at a different series.

Still, are these Mavs good enought to win it all? Probably not. As Kevin Garnett has taught us...Anything is possible...but without a legitimate center, the Mavs are going to struggle to defend. Cuban said he's willing to pay the luxury tax if it makes sense. Says he wants to do something big this off season. Is he perhaps eyeing someone like Tyson Chandler? Or does he want a bigger fish like Chris Bosh? Marion, Odom, and Boozer will most likely be free agents. And don't sniff at Zaza Pachulia and Anderson Varejao. Either would instantly upgrade the Mavs defense, toughness and hustle.

Bottom line is, the Mavs don't need a vast overhall. If Kidd resigns for closer to the midlevel, then all this team really needs is a defensive-minded center. That might be easier to say then to achieve, but it's not like the squad is in complete shambles. It's unfortunate that injuries are a reality, because who knows how good this team would have been if Howard had been healthy.

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