At first glance, the Oklahoma City Thunder's first-round sweep of the Dallas Mavericks in May might seem pretty convincing. But if you look a bit closer (or if you watched the games), you see that three of the four games were single-digit losses for the Mavericks. Game 3 was a 3-point loss (102-99) and Game 4 was decided by a single point (99-98).
It would be hard to make the argument that Tyson Chandler wouldn't have made a difference in those games. The Mavs played the eventual finalists tough but simply didn't have enough talent surrounding Dirk Nowitzki to defend their 2011 championship.
Fast forward to now and one has to wonder if even the arrival of Deron Williams to pair with a healthy Nowitzki would make these Mavs contenders again. The hardest position to staff in the NBA is a difference maker at center. They had one. He wanted to stay. They showed him the door, and at this point it's probable that Mavs fans will spend the next 10 years tracking ping pong balls and thinking how nice it would have been to take a shot at a second championship in the final healthy year of Dirk's prime.
Meanwhile the Hawks are also beneficiaries of Dallas' largesse, having received another of Dallas' championship starters, DeShawn Stevenson, in the Joe Johnson deal. Stevenson looks to be headed for a starting spot at either shooting guard or small forward for these Hawks, although he posted only a modest 6 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists in 20 minutes tonight.
Tonight's starters Al Horford, Anthony Tolliver, Josh Smith, Devin Harris and Kyle Korver feasted on a Dallas starting unit missing Nowitzki and starting center Chris Kaman. Korver at +12 had the worst +/- among the starters.
Among reserves, Ivan Johnson had a nice game with 13 points and 7 rebounds and Anthony Morrow shot 3-for-7 to crack double figures (10 points) in just 17 minutes. Lou Williams had another rough shooting night (3-for-11, 13 points), and although Mike Scott led the Hawks with 17 points on perfect 6-for-6 shooting, Dallas outscored Atlanta while either player was on the floor.
Meanwhile Damion James played only 16 minutes and did not appear in the first half, but continued his absurd production when he got his chance. I previously mentioned that James was averaging about 5 defensive rebounds in limited minutes during the preseason. His line for tonight: 10 points and 7 rebounds (5 defensive). If he's able to maintain this rate of production during the regular season, he will be among the top small forwards in the league in rebound rate.
In less-promising news, James Anderson was -12 in 6 minutes playing in garbage time against Dallas' 3rd string. Johan Petro (-11 in 7 minutes) looked just as bad, at one point throwing a bad pass then not bothering to hustle back on defense. Anderson will likely be cut in the next few days and if Petro is on the active roster when the regular season starts, I may retire this blog.