Offensive rating: Spurs – 104.6 (6th), Mavericks – 99.1 (22nd)Defensive rating: Spurs – 101.0 (15th), Mavericks – 97.4 (6th)Pace: Spurs – 94.3 (12th), Mavericks – 94.2 (13th)
I don’t know about you but I still haven’t fully recovered from our last game against the Dallas Mavericks on Jan. 29. That game, in case you’ve somehow forgot, was absolutely exhilarating — the Spurs bench, led by Gary Neal and Danny Green, combined for 54 points and nine 3-pointers. Although the Spurs lost in overtime, the bench developed a good rapport with each other and the reciprocity between the bench and starters was strengthened.
Three things to watch
Dallas is struggling. In their last 12 games, they are 4-8. A lot of their losses have predicated on their stunning lack of defense. Prior to this stretch of basketball, the Mavericks were one of the premier defensive teams in the NBA (even without defensive stalwart Tyson Chandler). Yes, a sample size of 12 games is inconsequential when you see their track record of success on defense. But, possibly because the loss of Chandler has proven too much to overcome, their results are telling. The Mavericks have had success in preventing shots at the rim — which are the most efficient shots in basketball — but the rate in which they’ve allowed these shots are being converted into points has increased. Opposing teams have a .684 field goal percentage on these shots. This, and the combination of teams capitalizing from behind the arc, has attributed to the Mavericks 103.7 defensive efficiency in this span. Over an entire season, that would put them as the 24th ranked defense.
Jason Terry. The Spurs need to limit Jason Terry’s production. In their last game, Terry and Vince Carter combined for 55 points. That can’t happen again. The Spurs can live with Dirk Nowitzki’s points — he struggled mightily on Jan. 29, scoring 10 points on 5-14 shooting (.357 FG%) — but cannot realistically expect to win when Terry is also playing well. There is room for optimism, Spurs fans. Terry — 34 points on 14-23 shooting on Jan. 29 — benefited from a few fortuitous baskets. The Spurs are a savvy team. They aren’t an elite team defensively but their philosophy is conducive to the “percentage play.” Allowing 16-23 foot jump shots, over time, is a good “percentage play.” Terry was 6-11 from 16-23 feet, only one of which came from an assist. That tells me that Terry settled for jump shots and Pop will gladly take that dosage of inefficient shot selection compared to a steady diet of patented Nowitzki one-legged fadeaways. Terry is a capable shooter, but not that capable.
Stephen Jackson’s first game. Jackson’s first game should be tonight against the Mavericks. This season he has averaged a modest 10.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3 assists and career low .357 FG%. His usage rate was 22.6 and that was with perennial ball stopper Brandon Jennings at the point. It’ll be interesting to see how his game changes given the talent of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. His usage rate seemed to settle between 22 and 24 percent on the Spurs, representing a low number compared to the leeway he received in Charlotte and Indiana. Jack shouldn’t expect to handle the ball as much on the Spurs, obviously. But he can act as the quasi Manu or TP when they need a breather and that is invaluable. He’s not going to score efficiently but he’s going to create havoc defensively, slash towards the hoop consistently and manufacture more offense than RJ ever did. I’ll take the long jumpers (his percentage of assisted buckets from 16-23 has jumped to 58.8% this year). Plus, this frees up time for rookie standout Kawhi Leonard. I was amazed that RJ accumulated five more minutes per game (28.6 MPG, second only to Parker) than Leonard, who brought considerably more to the table every night.