Mavs Have Finesse But Jazz Can Get Physical

Philip Maymin
Basketball News Services 

Tonight's Dallas game between the Mavericks and the Jazz means a lot more to Utah than it does to Dallas. If Dallas prevails, all they will be able to say is that they downed yet another lottery or near-lottery team. But if Utah prevails, they draw ever closer to their dream of making it to the Western Conference playoffs. Tonight's game will be a battle between the finesse and fast pace of small ball where the only thing rarer than game-stopping whistles are missed shots, and the physical and scrappy play of Sloan ball where the only thing more common than fouls is rebounds.

With their small lineup, Dallas has two main advantages, and one subsidiary advantage. The two main ones are that they pass the ball well and are brilliantly effective offensively. All five can and do shoot the threes, run the floor, and break down their opponents one-on-one. And above all else, they pass the ball to the open man. In other words, the burden will be on Utah to try to defend them. Their subsidiary advantage, and perhaps the real reason head coach Don Nelson went to small ball, is that Antoine Walker is playing closer to the post. No one in Boston was ever able to figure out how to get the notoriously wandering power forward to get into and stay in the paint rather than prowl the perimeter, and it took all season for Nelson to figure out the latest gimmick.

He made Walker a point center. Now he's got no choice but to stay near the basket, at least a lot more than he used to.

From an offensive point of view, it's a brilliant move, but his defensive liability has not been fully tested yet against any big Western center. Tonight he will have to defend Greg Ostertag, the epitome of bang-it-out, grind-it-down, pick-and-roll play. If he gets position on Walker, he will be getting the ball from one of Utah's many point guards. On the flip side, Walker will likely be able to easily abuse Ostertag as he can run circles around him. The questions for tonight's game are: will their defense be able to contain Utah? And will their offense still be able to function against the aggressive physical style of the Jazz?

If Dallas scores more than 100 points tonight, chances are they will win. If they don't, chances are they will lose, as it would indicate the Jazz were able to muscle them into a slow-paced game.

For Dallas, they are playing for either the fifth or sixth spot, and can go no lower and no higher, unless the Spurs lose all of their remaining games and Dallas wins all of theirs. They will likely face either the Lakers or the Spurs in the first round, as it is a tight race for the top four spots, and there is an outside chance the Kings or the Wolves could slip to third or fourth place as well.

Either way, tonight's game will be a good barometer of how well the Mavs can play against physical teams, a checkup they sorely need in this last week of regular season games.

The Mavs host the Utah Jazz tonight at 7:30pm. The game will be shown on Fox Sports South West and NBA League Pass.

Dirk Nowitzki met with Nike representatives yesterday. A new shoe is due out soon.

With his recent flurry of double-digit assists games, Steve Nash has moved into a tie with Stephon Marbury for second-most assists per game in the league, at 7.3 assists. Jason Kidd averages the most, at 9.4 assists per game.

Josh Howard
(hamstring) had negative MRIs on Friday, played 27 minutes on Saturday and 15 minutes on Tuesday, and is listed as day-to-day. He doesn't expect to miss any more action.Tony Delk(ankle),Tariq Abdul-Wahad (knee), andJon Stefansson(ankle) are all on the injured list.


Eddie Sefko ofThe Dallas Morning News writes: And the interesting thing about small ball is that it actually doesn't offend the big guys – at least not anymore."I've actually played more since we went to small ball than I did before," said the 7-6 Bradley, who is coming off a strong, 10-minute showing against Seattle on Tuesday. It figures. Only in Don Nelson's system could the tallest player in the league function well in something called small ball. And Walker, too. The point-forward experiment failed. But point-center is working out much better. It has gotten Walker closer to the basket, where he is quicker than most opponents. And he has not yet been exploited by super-sized centers, although the Mavericks haven't seen any of the top power players in the Western Conference yet since switching to small ball. "It's different, but it's been fun," Walker said. "I'm just glad to do something that is helping the team win. We needed to get some confidence and some momentum heading into the playoffs."

Eddie Sefko ofThe Dallas Morning News previews tonight's game: ANDREI KIRILENKO VS. DIRK NOWITZKI They probably won't guard each other a lot, but how each goes often dictates how his team goes.Nowitzki has been rolling of late with at least 21 points in 12 consecutive games. Kirilenko is keeping the Jazz's playoff hopes alive with his all-around game. He's leading the Jazz in points, rebounds, steals and blocks and is third in assists. The third-year Russian is a strong candidate for the league's most-improved award.

Art Garcia ofThe Ft. Worth Star-Telegram writes: Chances are if you're a Maverick and you're open, Steve Nash is going to find you.The point guard has strung together five consecutive games of double-digit assists, capped by 14 in Tuesday's 118-108 victory over Seattle. Perhaps not so coincidentally, the Mavericks are 5-0 during Nash's career-best run. Nash is looking to make it six straight on both counts tonight against Utah, the finale of a five-game homestand. "He's playing like a pro," said Michael Finley, Nash's backcourt mate for the past six years. "When I say that, I mean he's coming in and lacing up his shoes, and going in there and giving a day's work. It doesn't seem like he busts a sweat. He's going in, scoring when he has to [and] getting everybody involved by distributing it."