In the interest of getting some much-needed, early-in-the-week sleep, I’m doing this wrap in two parts–first and second half splits. So the first half is being written at halftime.
1st Half Notes
The first half–and especially the first quarter–was dominated by the Wolves two best healthy players: Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic. [Eds note: In hindsight, I should not have phrased that sentence that way. More on that in the 2nd Half.] Pek showed off a move that he’s clearly been working on with Coach Billy Bayno, the standard jump hook. He buried three of these with his right hand in the opening quarter and finished the half with an impressive 13 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists. It’s hard to understate the importance of this new skill, because as defenders become forced to defend it honestly it will open up his go-to favorite, the drop step. We’ve seen Pek taking a hard right-hand dribble into the paint when defenders cheat to his right (baseline side/left block) shoulder and try jump hooks. He makes them sometimes. What we saw in the first half tonight was on the right block–more of a standard post hook. Pek improves at things. That’s mostly a credit to him but also to Rick Adelman’s coaching staff.
About Kirilenko… He did something in the Olympics that worked frequently. He was doing it again tonight in the 1st Half. It’s a thing that, if his player allowed it to happen on defense, Bob Knight would Lose. His. Shit. over. That is, AK flashes into the lane when his teammate is driving or wheeling around a ball screen. He crosses his defender’s face. Sometimes, his defender has left to help out somewhere else. His timing is impeccable, usually waiting for the instant his defender turns his head and there’s a gap to shoot. When the dribbler ends up stuck, looking for a bailout, Kirilenko is waiting under or around the basket with his hands ready. AK47 had 12 points and 5 boards of his own in the 1st Half.
And last but not least, Alexey Shved brought out his usual tricks in the 2nd Quarter, after a slow start in the first. Shved jumps before he knows what he’s doing with the ball. This isn’t recommended by coaches at any level, but he knows how to do it and it almost always ends with a positive result.
2nd Half Notes
We won! That’s the good news. Of course, we had to lose another good player to injury. With 2:46 remaining in the third quarter Pekovic appeared to step on Vince Carter’s foot and seriously roll his ankle. He went down in a heap and was helped to the locker room. At that point in the game the Wolves were on an 11-4 run that extended their lead to 13. Pekovic had 20 points on 8-13 shooting, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and just 1 turnover. He was a game-best +21. Now, he joins the other best players on the team in street clothes with an injury. I don’t know the extent of the ankle sprain but I doubt very much he plays Wednesday Night against Charlotte. It wouldn’t surprise me if he missed a couple of weeks.
After Pek went down the game was very, very ugly. The Wolves offense sputtered and turnovers ramped up. Thankfully, Dallas could not buy a basket, especially on jumpers. The Mavs shot 29-80 for the game, a measly 36.3 percent. Some of that might be the Wolves playing good defense–Shved and Kirilenko were able to tip or block some of those jumpers–but much of it was just Dallas being off. O.J. Mayo, who has had a fantastic start to the year, had a rough night. He had just 18 points on 7-18 shooting. Vince Carter was even worse with a 1 for 7 stinker and a technical foul and generally-bitchy attitude that added insult to injury. Rookie Jae Crowder, who has generated some buzz by virtue of being a rookie second rounder that gets playing time, shot just 1 for 5 and missed some wide open shots. Dallas played bad.
I can’t wrap this up without mentioning Alexey Shved again though. And his buddy Kirilenko. In the 2nd Half they teamed up on more of those “Shved drives, Andrei cuts” plays that were made famous in London. Shved gets into the lane and does not want to shoot. His fellow countryman knows this and dives down the baseline and finds a seam. Shved jumps, Andrei flashes his hands, the pass is made, two points. Those two have a chemistry. They made up some of the rare pretty plays of the stretch run.
A win against a potential playoff-birth rival is a great thing, but it would feel better had we not lost another integral piece. Hopefully Pek is back soon. If we’re getting greedy, a Friday return versus the Warriors would be great.
Season Record: 5-2
[Corrections: I just realized that I must've been working off of an incomplete box score when I put this together after the game. Final score, Mavericks' team FG% and O.J. Mayo's line are corrected.]