The Return of Dirk (Mavericks 104, WOLVES 97)

As you probably know, the Wolves have twice defeated the defending-champion Mavericks in this short season, each game by a decided margin of victory.  Although I joined the excitement of other Wolves fans about last year’s worst dominating last year’s best, it was impossible not to notice two things about those games:

1) In the first game, Dirk wasn’t Dirk (as Bill Simmons explained yesterday, Dirk showed up for training camp way out of shape, not yet recovering from the championship hangover).

2) In the second game, Dirk wasn’t playing.  (His legs were broken down from playing his way into shape, for the above reason.)

Last night’s game would include neither of those beneficial factors.  After beginning the season 3-5, Dallas had won 12 of its last 18 games, returning to contender form.  After his worst start to a season in over a decade, Dirk had finally caught fire.  In the three games leading up to last night’s, Dirk was averaging over 26 points per game on 61.5 percent shooting.  It appeared as though he’d be the matchup nightmare that fans have grown accustomed to watching.

Last night, the improved Mavericks showed up.  Dirk scored 33 points on 58 percent shooting (11-19) including 4 three-pointers.  He displayed his full bag of tricks, putting together one of the best Target Center performances of the year.  Along with those rainbow threes (is there a player in the league whose shot reaches a higher arc than Dirk?) he had his full array of pivot post moves, including the one-leg step back fadeaway, cashed right over a helpless Kevin Love doing all he could to bother Dirk with physical play. Now that he’s in shape, Dirk is once again the best forward in the game.

The gameflow of this game included a 20 to 6 opening by Dallas, with a huge matchup problem of Luke guarding Vince Carter being exploited as much as possible by Rick Carlisle.  Unable to defend a big, skilled, iso scorer like Vince, Luke should have been yanked immediately in this game.  Instead, he stayed out there until a Minnesota timeout with 5:58 remaining in the 1st, with the Wolves trailing by 10.  Less than a minute later, Jet Terry spelled Carter, an early sign that Carlisle was one step ahead of Adelman on this night.  Terry’s size and style is much-easier defended by a small, quick player like Luke, while Martell Webster (who should have started the game, on Carter) is just the opposite and could have defended the post.

Ricky Rubio’s game was a tale of two halves.  Nothing was working for him in the first.  He turned the ball over and notched his first assist with only a few minutes left before halftime.  In the second half, his typical wizardry and other-worldly court vision were evident as he found cutter after cutter for open layups and dunks.  He had 7 assists in the 2nd Half, helping make the game interesting.  But every time the game got close (Dallas called timeout with 10:34 left in the game, after the Wolves cut it to 3) Jasons Kidd and Terry would hit a shot, or Dirk would go on a run of his own.  The early deficit was too much to overcome against a championship opponent with its big gun firing and hitting all night long.

Kevin Love had a lot of success drawing non-shooting fouls and hitting all of his 14 free throws.  His 32 and 12 kept the game interesting.  But the way he got some of those points, along with 5 turnovers, didn’t really leave the impression that his team belonged on this night. When things resort to making foul-drawing primary, the game looks ugly and beating a team like Dallas will be nearly impossible.

Bullets:

* The “Luke at the 2″ experiment might be nearing its end.  In his last five games, Luke is shooting 34.7 percent from the floor.  He is a combined (-22) in those games, despite the Wolves winning three of them.  Marcus Thornton and Vince Carter, hardly dominant players, have exploited this matchup and this can’t be lost on the Wolves coaching staff.

* Michael Beasley played a nice game off the bench, last night.  He scored 20 points on 8-11 shooting, and had a team-best (+16).

* Wolves had 27 turnovers last night, and only shot 40.5 percent from the field.  So, there is that.

* Wes Johnson shot 0-3 from the floor last night, dropping his FG% to 37.7.  He shot 1-2 from the free-throw line, dropping his FT% to 57.1 percent.

* The NBA’s newest rock star, Jeremy Lin, comes to Target Center tonight for what promises to be an interesting game.  The Knicks are 4-0 since Lin took over the point, and he’s averaging something like 45 points and 25 assists per game (all numbers approximate.)  To my knowledge, Amar’e is still out mourning the tragic loss of his brother, and Melo is still out with a groin injury.  It’ll be Jeremy Lin pick-and-rolls all night long.  Enjoy.

Season Record: 13-14

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