The Brooklyn Nets & Dallas Mavericks kick off at 8:30 P.M. EST tonight. Here’s three things to watch:
1) Limiting the pick-and-roll. There’s no way around it: Dallas runs a high-octane offense that’s tough to stop. Rajon Rondo or no Rajon Rondo, the Mavericks run pick-and-roll to death, using it both to get points diving towards the basket and spread the floor with spot-up shooters. The Mavericks lead the NBA in points in the pick-and-roll, with their ballhandlers (mostly Monta Ellis) averaging 19.4 points per game, and the roll men averaging an added 8.6[note]All play type information is per the NBA.com’s publicly available data, via Synergy Sports Technology[/note].
The damage doesn’t end there: the Mavericks use the pick-and-roll as one avenue to hit their floor-spreaders, and they rank second in the NBA in points per game from spot-up shooters (25.2). No one has scored more points spot-up shooting this season than Chandler Parsons (listed as questionable), and future Hall of Fame forward Dirk Nowitzki is as dangerous as it gets.[note]One more tidbit that didn’t make it in this preview: Nowitzki is, quite literally, the Mavericks’ only post-up option: he’s taken a full 80 percent of their post-ups, averaging around four per game. Only two other Mavericks players have finished a post-up play more than ten times this season.[/note]
The Nets have struggled to defend pick-and-rolls without Kevin Garnett this season — Lopez is slow to recover and rarely pushes up on screeners, and Plumlee can get caught in no man’s land between defending the roll man and the ballhandler. If the Nets can gameplan to stop Monta Ellis, Tyson Chandler (listed as questionable), and Nowitzki, and prevent the need for an extra defender to step in and open up the floor for Dallas’s shooters — something they haven’t been great at this year — they have a shot.
2) The point guard battle. On one side, there’s Deron Williams, starting for the fourth straight game since the All-Star break. On the other side is Rondo, who was suspended from the team’s game Wednesday after a verbal altercation with head coach Rick Carlisle.
Normally Rondo would have the edge in this battle, but if he & Carlisle aren’t on the same page, this could be an advantage for the Nets; Williams has looked noticeably quicker since the All-Star break and has gotten more shots at the rim. He hasn’t translated that attack mentality into much success shooting yet, but at the very least, Williams could create some disruption.
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3) The rotations. Lionel Hollins has stuck with some long player rotations since the All-Star break: Brook Lopez in particular has played stretches upwards of 16 consecutive minutes, with noticeable fatigue setting in. There’s been some experimentation with different combinations, most notably the team’s four-wide starting lineup that features four wing players (Williams, Brown/Bogdanovic, Alan Anderson, and Joe Johnson).
Against a team like Dallas, who features an incredible all-around scorer in Nowitzki, a rim-diver in Chandler that’s similar to Plumlee, a speedy pick-and-roll maestro in Ellis, and a few shooters that surround them, the Nets will have to find the right combination of players to balance the attack. Plus, given the natural fatigue that sets in on a road back-to-back, Hollins might need to have a quicker hook on his rotation players.