Months ago, we were trying to figure out when this Kings team would get it on the road. They were so close and yet so far from figuring out how to close games out. Yes, there was the miracle that happened in Chicago and they’ve been victorious over teams like the Bucks and Knicks on the road. But what about beating a truly elite team in a house other than Arco?
They were always coming up short. There were flashes of being able to hang with and beat the big boys in the NBA on the road. They’d have an inspired half or full game of basketball, only to be undone by one bad stretch in which they made fundamental mistakes like protecting the basket, taking care of the ball and double-teaming the hot hand. They would find a flurry of success near the end only to come up with a respectable looking loss.
Well, after watching them play in Dallas for the second time this year, we’re still watching the same type of team. They still haven’t grown out of this infancy of shooting themselves in the foot when they can just as easily pull out a victory and announce their arrival as a team not to be discounted. There are only so many moral victories you can accumulate while taking on growing numbers in the loss column before enough is enough and they start taking these games.
That’s not to say this wasn’t another moral victory and there isn’t plenty to be proud of with this Kings team. They took arguably one of the top 5 teams in the league and outplayed them for a half. They took their lumps and the Mavs’ run in the second half before making one last ditch effort to steal this game. Tyreke Evans and Carl Landry were good once again. Beno Udrih and Andres Nocioni stepped up when needed and gave the Mavericks fits. And Spencer Hawes continues to rebound like he’s seven feet tall.
First, let’s talk about Tyreke Evans. How many games have we seen this year in which Tyreke seems to be completely dormant and unable to get his game going throughout much of a ball game before finally breaking through in the fourth quarter? Once again, he kept chipping away at the defense all night before being able to impose his will in the second half. In the first quarter, he was forced to be a distributor with the way DeShawn Stevenson defended him with help defense behind him. In the second quarter he was a complete afterthought.
But in the second half, he became extremely aggressive, which was both good and bad at times. He scored 17 of his 20 points after halftime but he also had five of his six turnovers. A couple of the turnovers were just being stripped in the lane as he hesitated to make his move. But he was on the court and primarily responsible for the two big runs that made Dallas sweat a little in this game. A 13-2 run when Tyreke came in made it a five-point game at 95-90. It was significant enough for this team to know they had a shot to win it when most teams would just roll over and take it. The other run was shortly after that, a 9-2 run to bring the score to 102-100 after Tyreke Evans’ 19th and 20th points of the game.
Unfortunately, after that the Kings didn’t score the rest of the game (the final 1:36). Two turnovers and two three-pointers made up the Kings final four possessions of the game, while the Mavs got to the line six times and made all six. The turnovers have been an issue all season and continue to be the crux for this team. 17 turnovers overall for the Kings in this game while the Mavs never really shot themselves in the foot with just eight of their own. That’s a big difference between a hopefully up and coming team like the Kings and an NBA giant like the Mavs.
The thing that helped the Mavericks was that every role player around Dirk Nowitzki did their job. Even with missing Jason Terry and Brendan Haywood (missed the majority of the game with a back strain), other players stepped up off the bench and contributed big minutes to this team. Rodrique Beaubois is a problem in this league. He’s one of the most exciting rookie point guards of the season and that’s with a loaded rookie point guard class dominating the talk of the NBA. He came in, got to the basket at a Tyreke Evans’ level of dominance and made a lot of big plays. Eduardo Najera came in and played great help defense throughout. Shawn Marion, Caron Butler and JJ Barea all did their parts in helping the Mavs secure this victory.
And this is what the Kings role players need to figure out going forward. Beno Udrih was spectacular. His scoring in the first half gave the Kings the lead and his shooting had to be respected all game. He kept the floor spaced in the second half for guys like Tyreke and Landry to operate. Carl Landry was also spectacular once again. You can pretty much pencil him in for 20 points and at least seven rebounds every game. Not to mention the guy can make free throws at a much-needed rate for this Kings team. He’s now made 20 straight free throws over the past four games and has made 88% of his attempts since joining the Kings.
However, I think Andres Nocioni was the most important role player of the night. His numbers don’t reflect the impact he had in this game. You could sense the Kings were in trouble early on because even though they had the lead, Dirk was getting whatever shot he wanted and just couldn’t convert them. In the second half, he started to convert his shots and convert them in volume. But in the fourth quarter, even though he had 15 points on seven shots, Noc made him work like crazy for those shots. When Dirk missed it had more to do with defense rather than the law of averages. Noc was a pest throughout the final period. The problem is Dirk Nowitzki is just better than everybody else at scoring out of the high post.
Where the Kings suffer the most with their role players is the contribution is becoming so inconsistent. Spencer Hawes was great on the boards (nine rebounds; nine or more in four of his last five games) but he wasn’t a scoring threat. Omri Casspi is basically taking a nap in front of the rookie wall right now, waiting for someone else to tear it down for him. Donté Greene jacked up bad shots and missed defensive assignments. After a stretch of great play, Francisco Garcia didn’t make a single shot. When the Kings can put a full team effort together, I think they can be a very formidable opponent.
The problem once again is that until that happens, they have to rely on moral victories instead of getting actual victories. Tonight was another case of that happening.