The teacher and apprentice talk Finals

[Editor's note: Brett breaks down plays for HoopSpeak, Anthony Macri builds up players for Coach David Thorpe's Pro Training Center--Beckley]

Brett Koremenos: Entering Game 5 tonight, I have no idea what to expect. But between the media storylines and the on-court action, questions abound. So wise sage, I need you to help me make a sense of all this madness.

The first thing I’d like to clear up shockingly doesn’t have anything to do with LeBron James. What I want to know is, what do we make of the fact that Dallas has seemed to shoot so poorly after scorching the nets leading up to this series? The Mavs have shot 40 percent or lower in every game with the exception of their Game 2 win. While the Heat defense should definitely be given some credit, holding an offensive force like Dallas a FG% in the high 30s’ twice thus far screams “outlier.”

Are the low shooting percentages a byproduct of how hard this Dallas team is working not just to get an open look against the athletic Heat defense, but also because of the amount of effort they are exerting on the defensive end of the floor? In Game 4 especially, Dallas had a lot of good looks but just couldn’t convert. With the series tied 2-2, how do we view this going forward? Is variance going to catch up to the Heat?  Or is this going to be something the Mavs have to overcome in order to win the series?

Anthony Macri: You say you wonder if Dallas will start shooting the way they did prior to this series, but I would point to that and say these last few games of shooting below average are just the Mavericks coming back down to earth after being so far ahead and above everyone else in the postseason leading up to the series.

While I agree that we will likely see better shooting from the Mavericks, the reality is that a team that mostly shoots jump shots is going to struggle against Miami’s approach.  They constantly force you to put the ball on the deck and attack the rim.  A team like Oklahoma City would actually do better overall against the Heat’s defense, because their attack is predicated on attacking off the bounce.  Dallas just runs into a matchup nightmare – so the real story of this series is not that they are shooting badly, but rather how well they are playing defensively.

Dallas is doing things defensively that most people did not expect from the Mavericks.  They are bumping cutters and using physical, solid blockouts to prevent easy second chances. They are doing at least decently in defensive transition, and they seem to have answers for most of the adjustments that Miami has made on that side of the ball.  I am convinced Dallas will stay close and have a chance to win tonight unless Miami can force and maintain tempo.

Brett: Ugh. You would shift the focus to defense on me. I took the Mike D’Antoni Oath I wouldn’t let the focus head that direction, but now you gave me no choice but to comment on it…..after I follow up on your thoughts about the Dallas shooting struggles.

While we agree with the overall sentiment of the Mavs offense coming back to Earth somewhat, your talk of attacking teams triggered the one thing that keeps tumbling around in the spacious caverns of my mind; J.J. Barea is the true ‘X’ factor of this series. While Dirk (obviously), and to a lesser extent, Tyson Chandler, have been the bell cows for this team thus far, Barea, to me, seems like the guy that could absolutely turn this series on its head.

I chatted with the esteemed Beckley Mason while writing our previews that maximizing Barea’s minutes, particularly against Mike Bibby, was a must for Dallas this series. In Game 4 he missed two finger rolls at the rim and clanked a couple wide-open 3’s. He’s been getting looks lately, now it’s just a matter of conversion. Am I crazy to think that if Dallas is to win this series, J.J. Barea has to produce another game where he just owns the court for 25-30 minutes?

Anthony: “There’s more to the game than shooting.  There’s fundamentals, and defense.” – Norman Dale

I like Barea, I really do.  I think he’s a unique-ish player in this series of super-sized, larger than life athletes.  But I tend to believe humans exalt players with whom they identify, which is my gut on Barea. He is a fun little sparkplug, but you can’t rely on him to win you a series.  I think that misses the bigger picture of what is going on.  We look at Barea and marvel, but in reality, wouldn’t you want anyone slightly quicker than Jason Kidd (in his old age) trying to beat Mike Bibby up and down the floor?  The fact that Barea occupies that role is a happy coincidence of fate, but I don’t think he is the key to Dallas’ championship hopes.

It is hard to be both the star and the X-factor, but it is the place Nowitzki holds in this series.  He is completely unguardable, and therefore the Mavericks will only do as well as him.  No team has relied on a single star more than the Mavericks rely on Nowitzki and been able to win a championship that I can remember, and I do wonder if anyone can say any team ever has.

Brett: I think even Norman Dale would have would have changed his tune after watching Jimmy Chitwood go something like 18/20 against South Bend Central.

I believe that general tendency is true, we do naturally admire the athletes we can identify with. But I don’t think my 5’9” stature is causing me to oversell his importance. I think he’s a top 15 pick-and-roll guard in this league and what you said seemingly undermines what an integral part he played in taking down the Lakers in four games. But, this isn’t about JJ Barea’s worth, it’s about the series.

I couldn’t agree with you more about Nowitzki. Dallas has been awful without him on the floor and that in itself has shown the intense degree to the Mavs rely on him. I think the thing that has been very interesting to note is how well he has adapted to the style of play this series. Against OKC, he lived with destroying Ibaka the mid-post with his series of fakes, spins and other assorted tricks and bested Collison mainly by a steady diet of jumpers in the pinch post. Against Miami, he’s sought up transition opportunities from his trail post spot and has been much more aggressive putting the ball on the deck and driving to the rim against the an aggressive Heat defense looking to crowd him on the catch.

So while this makes me sick to my stomach to utter, can they Heat contain him and the Dallas offense well enough to win two more games? Is there a defensive scheme they still have left to try in an effort to stop him?

Anthony: Never forget what set up Chitwood’s final shot – a trap just over halfcourt (that’s why it’s called the coffin corner) followed by a steal!  By the way, does anyone remember what play they run for Chitwood at the end of Hoosiers?  “Get it to Jimmy at the top of the key, then spread the floor.”  Sounds like Rick Carlisle’s playcalling for Nowitzki at the end of games.  I picture Carlisle drawing up a different play, maybe for Terry, and Nowitzki looking up and saying, “I’ll make it.”

We can agree to disagree on Barea – but don’t hyperbolize what he did to Los Angeles. That team would struggle against any small guard with quickness simply because they had no matchup. Barea again just fit the role nicely.  Now back to business.

I completely agree that this postseason has shown off all the things that make Nowitzki great. He has dissected and attacked each different defensive variation with aplomb.  He has been stellar.  I don’t think length bothers him anywhere near as much as speed however.  I’d want to send speed his way if I could – unfortunately, I’m not sure the Heat really have what I’d be looking for.  Guys like Tony Allen, Andre Iguodala, and Corey Brewer would be players I’d consider putting on him.  LeBron fits this mold, but I tend to think Nowitzki is really good at drawing fouls against single defenders, and I’d hesitate in putting LeBron in that position for a long period of time.

I actually think the best way to attack Nowitzki is to mostly forget about him and attack his teammates.  I would look to choke off production from nearly everyone else on the floor.  If Nowitzki gets 40, so be it, but I’m going to work on making sure the rest of his team shoots less than 40%. You just tip your cap to him if he is able to do it, but I’d be more focused on stopping the rest of them and improving my offensive flow than on stopping just one guy.

Brett: Maybe during the lockout we can have another conversation centered around finding 15 guards that are better pick and roll players than Barea.

In our first disagreement, I actually think the Heat have the optimal strategy against him with the exception that I think they do, in fact, need to switch LeBron onto him more. But overall, they have rotated defenders on Dirk, changed the timing and location of their doubles and have used their athleticism to rotate out of the traps and closeout effectively. The best way to beat Dirk is to make him a low efficiency scorer. He proved with “the Fever Game” that he’s going to get his points, but the question is, how inefficient can you make that process?

With that said, here’s the final question, can you give me two or three things that we can look at or expect to see over the course of these final three games?

Anthony: I have three things for you:

  1. The Heat will blow out the Mavericks in one of the next two games.  If it gets to Game 7, I expect that game to go to the wire.  But Miami will assert itself either tonight or (more likely) in Game 6, and will beat Dallas by 12 points or more.  They are simply too talented not to have that happen at least once.
  2. If Dallas doesn’t win tonight, they lose the series guaranteed.  But if they win tonight, that does not guarantee they will win the series.  This might seem intuitive, but the Mavericks need to give themselves every chance in the world at winning one of the final two games.  While it is true the series could be 3-1 in favor of the Mavs right now, it could also easily be 3-1 in favor of the Miami Heat.  The reality is that neither team has proven to possess a great edge in this series, and so Dallas needs to continue to put itself in a position to steal games – they can’t think they have a chance of overpowering the Heat at any point.
  3. The Mavericks will prove, whether it be by winning the series outright, or by making it extremely competitive throughout, that it is possible in “today’s NBA” (whatever that means) for a team to build a solid supporting cast around one superstar and ride it to championship contention.  Smart coaching, good chemistry, a healthy dose of work & experience, and one mega-stud can get the job done – you don’t need to bring two or three superstars together to have a chance at grabbing the trophy.

Brett: Anthony, there is simply nothing else I can add to that. Beckley is now most likely going to fire me for being embarrassed on the website by your overwhelming insight.  But in all seriousness, thanks for taking the time to drop some knowledge on us at HoopSpeak and we hope to have you back soon!

Twitter: @Koremenos & @CoachMacri


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