Preseason Game 4: Mavs at Cavaliers

Mavericks vs. Cavaliers

Chandler Parsons finished with 19 points as the Mavericks knocked off the Cavaliers 108-102.

Jae Crowder looks to fill void of Mavs’ departing veterans

DALLAS — Although he’s yet to fully carve his own niche in the NBA since entering the league as the 34th overall pick in the 2012 draft, Dallas Mavericks third-year pro Jae Crowder has gradually began to tap into his potential.

The 6-foot-6 versatile swingman has been used in a multitude of ways by Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle through his first two seasons, playing in 78 games in both campaigns while providing production off the Dallas bench. This season, however, the 24-year-old appears ready to step into his own role and out of the shadows of his departing mentors, attempting to fill the void left by Shawn Marion and Vince Carter in free agency.

“It’s a grand opportunity,” Crowder confessed while acknowledging he figures to see the most playing time in his young career this upcoming season. “It’s the best opportunity I’ve had. You know, those guys [Carter and Marion] really taught me a lot coming into it, and I just try to learn from that and build on each year I’ve been here. I think the opportunity is there, and I just have to take it.  Just being a pro on and off the court. You know, those guys are real professionals and they’ve been in the league for a long time. And just seeing how they work and how they operate day in and day out, I’ll never forget it. And I’ll take it from here until the day I retire.”

Backing up Marion at small forward the past two seasons, Crowder was often asked to defend the top perimeter scorers in the league when the four-time All-Star headed to the bench. The former Marquette standout also played alongside Carter in the second unit, learning what it takes to provide instant offense off the bench.

Now, after losing 10 pounds during the offseason while working on his conditioning, Crowder will try to step into a valuable role for the Mavericks this season.

“Physically, I feel great. Coming into camp, I felt 100 percent. You know, physically, I came into camp ready and I lost a little weight. I came in with a good mindset — free and with a free mind. And we’ve been playing hard and getting after it,” Crowder explained.

With Carter vacating the sixth man role in Dallas to join the Memphis Grizzlies this summer, the Mavs may look in Crowder’s direction for production with the reserves. In order to be relied upon in that role, however, Crowder knows he’ll have to step up after admittedly hitting a wall in his first two seasons.

After starting 16 games during his rookie season, Crowder saw a slight dip in his production in Year 2 while finishing ’13-14 averaging 4.6 points, 2.5 rebounds, .8 assists and .8 steals. And despite raising his shooting percent from 38.4 percent to 43.9 percent in a year’s span, Crowder continued to struggle with his outside shot while connecting on only 33.1 percent from behind the three-point arc.

“By Game 50 or 60 my first two years, I had a little drought and I think that kind of was fatigue. That’s why I changed my body a little bit, trying to fight through that as the season goes along,” Crowder explained. “(I lost) 10 more pounds, and that’s right where I want to be. I feel great, I’m flying around, I’m moving well and I’m right where I want to be.”

Still, it’s at the defensive end that Crowder figures to provide the Mavs with the most support while emerging as a lockdown defender that Carlisle can turn to down the stretch of games. And after impressing his head coach with his intensity early in training camp, don’t be surprised if Crowder is called upon to operate as the team’s defensive closer this season.

“He’s in by far the best shape he’s been in, in three years, and he’s been in good shape in other years,” Carlisle said while praising Crowder’s offseason conditioning. “But he’s trimmed down, he’s gotten leaner, he’s committed to a diet that’s really gotten his body composition where it needs to be to be at his best, and he’s just a tireless worker. I mean, he just keeps working on everything with shooting, running and movement stuff. He knows both the three and the four, and he knows the two. And he’s guarded ones, so that versatility is a key factor for us.”

“I feel like it’s a collective effort for all of us and all of us wing players,” Crowder added. “We have to hold our ground with the best scorers in the league. And it’s a collective effort, as we all know. But I just want to make it hard on guys when I match up on Kobe Bryant or LeBron James. Just make it tough on them the whole fourth quarter, and maybe in the fourth quarter those shots aren’t falling for them. You know, it’s a collective effort, but I want to feel like I’m doing my part.”

Note: The Mavericks will return to the practice court before making their first road trip of the preseason, taking on four-time MVP LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday. The game will air at 6:30 p.m. CT on TXA 21.

The Mavs return to Dallas to host the Memphis Grizzlies at American Airlines Center on Oct. 20 at 7:30 p.m. CT. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by calling (214) 747-MAVS (6287) or by visiting Mavs.com.

Injury updates presented by Baylor Emergency Medical Centers:
-Monta Ellis, sprained left knee, day-to-day
-Raymond Felton, high right ankle sprain, out at least 10 days

 

Mavs to take strength-in-numbers approach to filling Shawn Marion’s void

DALLAS — For each of the past five seasons there was no question who the Dallas Mavericks would turn to on the defensive end of the floor to help engineer one final stop with the game on the line.

Leaning on four-time All-Star Shawn Marion, the Mavericks had the luxury of turning to their lockdown defender to help shut down the likes of four-time MVP LeBron James and reigning MVP Kevin Durant at the small forward position. Marion’s defensive prowess also allowed Mavs coach Rick Carlisle to utilize cross matchups while sliding the 6-foot-7 versatile forward onto smaller guards when needing a key stop.

However, with Marion signing in Cleveland this summer during free agency, Carlisle and the Mavericks will now have to look elsewhere for reliable perimeter defense, hoping that newcomers Chandler Parsons, Al-Farouq Aminu and Richard Jefferson can all help fill the void.

“Well, Marion was a great player for us and we’ll certainly miss a lot of the great things that he did. But, you know, we feel like we can cover it with strength in numbers now,” Carlisle said Tuesday during the Mavs’ introductory press conference for their new additions. “Chandler is a solid defender. Al-Farouq, you know, coming to our team now, is going to be you of our better perimeter defenders because of his quickness and length. And we’ve got to prepare our guys for those moments when it comes down to one possession one way or another in these games with such slim margins. And when it comes down to that one stop, you know, our guys are going to be ready. Al-Farouq is going to have to be ready and Chandler is going to have to be ready. Richard Jefferson is a new guy … and another guy who’s in the mix, too. The roster looks a lot different, but we still have a lot of the same things that we stress and a lot of the same ideals.”

Sliding into the starting lineup after spending his first three seasons in Houston with the rival Rockets, the 6-9 Parsons will assume Marion’s role in the first unit. He joins the Mavs after producing career-high numbers last season with the Rockets, averaging 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists an outing. But, as the former Florida standout and 38th pick in the 2011 draft admits, his new role will also come along with much more responsibility.

“I’ve just been getting stronger,” Parsons said in anticipation for the new season, “staying in the weight room, getting faster and then just learning from guys like Tyson [Chandler] and these older veteran guys. And we have a great staff that really emphasizes defense. Where I’m coming from, you know, offense was always our main goal. So, now, we’ve got to win games and win championships on the defensive side. I’m totally locked in and dialed in to do that.”

In addition to Parsons, the Mavs also added veteran support with the inking of the 34-year-old Jefferson to help fill Marion’s void. In his 13th season, Jefferson averaged 10.1 points and 2.7 rebounds while starting 78 of his 82 appearances for the Utah Jazz. He’s now expected to add depth to the three spot, backing up Parsons and giving Carlisle a trusted veteran to turn to for stints this season.

Meanwhile, Aminu will be waiting in the wings to add support off the Mavs’ bench this season, likely playing a multitude of roles in Carlisle’s defensive system.

Suiting up in 303 career games during his first four seasons in the league with the Los Angeles Clippers and New Orleans Pelicans, the lanky 6-9 Aminu brings with him averages of 6.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.1 assists.  Last season, Aminu also started 65 of his 80 appearances for the Pelicans and averaged 7.2 points and 6.2 rebounds, giving the Mavericks yet another young contributor in their second unit.

And with hopes of seeing the 24-year-old continue to develop, the Mavs have big plans this season for Aminu at the defensive end of the floor.

“Al was the first call I made when free agency hit,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said.

Cuban added: “He’s been the last two years the best rebounding small forward in the NBA. It’s not even close. You know, it’s kind of like Shawn Marion. Not to compare the two, but sometimes just going to a new location takes you out of the perception that your former team had of you and puts you in a new position to succeed. And I think Al is just going to be a stud. He literally was one of the first calls I made during free agency, because we were hoping that we could get him as kind of a young stud defensively that we can put in. And we think in our system that he’ll be able to produce offensively much better.”

However, with Marion no longer in the fold, the mission of improving at the defensive end will now become a team responsibility, according to Carlisle. And after ranking 20th in the league while allowing 102.4 points a game and 22nd with a 108.7 defensive rating even with Marion on the team last season, the Mavericks will certainly need to improve on that said of the ball during the ’14-15 campaign in order to contend for the championship.

“Offensively, I like our team,” Carlisle confessed. “It’s really going to depend on two things: getting rid of or keeping down catastrophic turnovers that turn into un-defendable baskets, ’cause that affects your defensive numbers, and then it’s how well we’re able to develop a group edge and toughness about the defensive end. Even though we may not have the best individual defenders from top to bottom, this is the challenge where we’ve got to do it as a team.”

Mavs see Chandler Parsons, Al-Farouq Aminu replacing Shawn Marion’s perimeter defense

DALLAS — As one of only two remaining members of the Dallas Mavericks’ 2011 NBA championship team during the ’13-14 campaign, versatile forward Shawn Marion took on plenty of responsibilities last season.

Teaming with 12-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki, Marion helped lead the Mavericks back to the playoffs following a 49-33 run through the 82-game schedule. Marion then saw the Mavs challenge the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs for seven games in their first-round playoff series, setting the stage for the four-time All-Star and defensive spark plug to be in demand when he entered free agency following five seasons in Dallas.

“Man, me and Dirk, we’re bonded together for life. We’re champions,” Marion said prior to entering free agency this summer. “It’s awesome. Dirk is a special player. I’ve gotten to play with him for five years and we’ve done some amazing things on that court together. We’re definitely good friends, and like I said, we’re bonded together for life. … It was great bringing a championship to a city that well deserved it and it was long overdue.”

Despite turning 36 years old on May 7, Marion showed that he still has plenty left in the tank during his 15th season, averaging 10.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.2 steals in his 76 appearances. However, after Marion’s migration to the Cleveland Cavaliers this offseason, the Mavs will now try to replace what the 6-foot-7 veteran provided at the defensive end on a nightly basis.

Signing 25-year-old budding star Chandler Parsons this summer, the Mavericks already expect to see an upgrade in production at the small forward position on the offensive end of the floor. But, after Marion’s defensive versatility allowed him to guard all five positions on the court at times, Parsons will also often be called upon to match up against the opposition’s best offensive options.

Parsons saw steady increases in his numbers during his first three seasons in the league with the Houston Rockets, leading to career-high averages across the board last season of 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.2 steals an outing. But the Mavs also hope to see Parsons excel at the defensive end of the floor while facing off against the likes of four-time MVP LeBron James and reigning MVP Kevin Durant at his position.

“You know, he’s a willing defender,” Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said of Parsons shortly after inking the 6-9 forward to a reported three-year, $46 million offer sheet that Houston declined to match.

He added: “One of the reasons we went after him is one of the things that I do is I talk to all the different NBA scorers that I know and I ask them, ‘Who defended you the best? Who’s the top three?’ And Chandler was on a couple of different lists. He’s not a shutdown defender, but he’s a work-hard defender. He’s an irritant. I think Coach [Rick Carlisle] will do a lot better job with his stances and stuff like that. Coach will get on him, and we do a lot of drills for the little stuff like that.”

While Parsons will assume a heavy load by taking on Marion’s defensive responsibilities in the starting lineup, he should also receive relief from another young veteran that figures to give the Mavs a boost off the bench.

Adding a soon-to-be 24-year-old with great length when they signed Al-Farouq Aminu this summer, the Mavericks supplied quality depth behind Parsons at the three. The Mavs also added to their bench another able defender with a 6-foot-9 frame that can play a multitude of roles in Carlisle’s system.

Entering the league as the eighth overall selection in the 2010 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Clippers, Aminu was quickly shipped after his rookie season in the trade that sent guard Eric Gordon and center Chris Kaman to New Orleans. Aminu then joined the Mavs during free agency this summer after playing 303 career games in his first four seasons, bringing with him averages of 6.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.1 assists.

Aminu’s offensive game would best be described as a work in progress. However, his defensive prowess isn’t in question. And after seeing Marion lead the team in rebounding in two of the last three seasons, the Mavs expect for Aminu to help fill the void left by the departure of the ageless veteran.

“He’s been the last two years the best rebounding small forward in the NBA. It’s not even close,” Cuban said in regard to Aminu’s addition during a recent interview with 105.3 FM The Fan. “You know, it’s kind of like Shawn Marion. Not to compare the two, but sometimes just going to a new location takes you out of the perception that your former team had of you and puts you in a new position to succeed. And I think Al is just going to be a stud. He literally was one of the first calls I made during free agency, because we were hoping that we could get him as kind of a young stud defensively that we can put in. And we think in our system that he’ll be able to produce offensively much better.”

Still, the Mavericks will admittedly have a hard time making up for what Marion provided each and every game for five seasons, looking for the two young new additions to help lighten the load.

“You know, Shawn was a key component of not only our current success but bringing a championship here,” Mavs president of basketball operations and GM Donnie Nelson matter-of-factly said.

Positions of need entering draft: small forward

Mavs.com’s Earl K. Sneed takes a look at different directions the Mavs might look to go in leading up to Thursday’s draft.

DALLAS — It was a position of strength over the past few seasons for the Dallas Mavericks. However, with veteran leaders Shawn Marion and Vince Carter set to enter free agency on July 1, the Mavericks head into the offseason with questions at small forward.

Led by Marion’s versatility and defensive prowess in the starting unit, the Mavs showcased plenty of depth at the 3 this season as Carter supplied instant scoring off the bench and second-year standout Jae Crowder emerged as a two-way player. But, with it unclear whether Marion or Carter will return to the team next season, the Mavericks’ brass may look to add a young contributor into the fold via Thursday’s draft.

“We’ll be looking at the draft,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said during his exit interview last month while turning his attention from the 2013-14 season. “I know we don’t have our first-round pick, but we have an early second. That’s an important pick for us and it’s a deep draft, so we’re going to do our homework on that.”

Hoping to re-sign both the 37-year-old Carter and 36-year-old Marion, the Mavericks will attempt to retain the veterans’ services when the two hit the open market. First, the Mavs’ front office may also look to go in a different direction by adding a young forward capable of stepping in and contributing immediately.

Surrendering their first-round pick, the No. 21 selection overall, to Oklahoma City via a top-20 conditional protection in the Lamar Odom trade with the Los Angeles Lakers back in December of 2011, the Mavs will now try to make a splash with two picks in the second round. That puts more importance on landing at least one player that can step in on Day 1 of training camp with the 34th pick overall and 51st selection, assuming the Mavericks stand pat and don’t make a move into the first round.

“I don’t know of any young guys outside of the lottery that are going to be impact players, but it is a deep draft,” president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said in regard to the second round. “You know, the difference between the early 20s and the 40s, I think most NBA guys have that kind of being the same pool of players. So, we’re fairly well-positioned with the [34th] pick. It’s almost like it’s got first-round potential, and then of course we’ve got our later second-round pick. And so we’ll be aggressive as always, whether it’s free agency or the draft, to put the best possible product on the floor next year.”

Mavs vow to be better defensively next season

DALLAS — It was admittedly the Dallas Mavericks’ weakness this season. But, with hopes of keeping this year’s team intact, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle can envision the defensive side of the ball becoming Dallas’ calling card going forward.

Excelling as an offensive juggernaut during the 2013-14 season, the Mavericks ranked eighth in the NBA in points scored while putting up 104.8 an outing. The Mavs also dished out 23.6 assists a game, which was good for sixth as a team.

But it was the defensive side of the ball that would often let the Mavs down, ranking 20th in the league while allowing 102.4 points a contest and 22nd with a 108.7 defensive rating.

“We don’t have a bunch of individual stoppers,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle confessed during the season. “We’ve got [Shawn] Marion, who to me is perennial all-defense, even though he never gets it. And we’ve got [Samuel] Dalembert, who is one of the best rim protectors. Then, on the rest of the team there’s no guys on paper that you’d say is an NBA stopper. We have to do it by showing a crowd, bringing a lot of help and by being really tied together.”

With Marion often guarding the best perimeter scorer for the other team and Dalembert looking to anchor the back line, the Mavericks tried to make up for the deficiencies of the Dallas defense. However, while often getting broken down off dribble penetration, the Mavs would struggle to keep teams from feasting in the painted area.

Entering training camp with nine new faces via the draft and free agency, the Mavs would go on to allow opposing teams to shoot 46.4 percent from the field and 35.9 percent from behind the three-point arc this season, which ranked 22nd and 15th in the league, respectively. Dallas also allowed teams to collect 11.5 offensive rebounds a game, finishing 24th in that department while failing to string together defensive stops.

Still, the Mavericks acknowledge that there’s room for improvement, vowing to recommit to the defensive side of the ball next season.

“We’ve got to continue to take pride in defense, keep guys in front of us and do a better job, starting with me and with all of us,” Dalembert said. “You know, we just have to do a better job. It’s not just specific people, it’s all of us as a group and as a team. We can score. I mean, we can see that we can score, but we’ve got to start holding opponents.”

However, with two of their better perimeter defenders set to enter free agency on July 1, the Mavs could have a much different look next season.

Hoping to re-sign Marion for his versatility and ability to defend multiple positions, the Mavericks’ brass will certainly make it a priority to meet with the 15-year veteran as soon as free agency begins. The same could be said for reserve guard Devin Harris, who stepped up on the defensive end in the Mavs’ second unit after battling back from offseason toe surgery.

And according to Carlisle, with less upheaval of the roster, the Mavs are fully capable of becoming a better defensive team next season.

“You know, defensively, we’ll be better next year,” the coach explained. “You know, again, I thought nine new guys was a challenging thing. The way Dalembert finished the season the last two months was really encouraging for next year, and yes, that’s another reason why Marion is important. And I think if we can get Devin Harris back next year and have him from start to finish, he’s one of our better defenders as well. So, we’ll keep working in that area and it will be a priority for us.”

DeJuan Blair provided Mavs with gritty play, toughness this season

DALLAS — Although he wasn’t the most heralded offseason signing for the Dallas Mavericks last summer, big man DeJuan Blair would eventually show his value to the team when it mattered most.

Finding himself in the doghouse during his fourth and final season in San Antonio, Blair would go from starting 150 combined games the three previous years to just 16 during the 2012-13 campaign. He then looked to exact some revenge on his former team during the Mavericks’ first-round playoff series against the Spurs, emerging as a key contributor off the Dallas bench to help push the top-seeded squad to seven games.

“He did a (heck) of a job out there,” teammate Shawn Marion said of Blair’s impact during the series. “He made his presence felt inside. He was getting some great rebounds. He has some unbelievable hands for his size. He might not be as big as most bigs in the league, but he is very active and he uses his body very well.”

“Tons of activity and [Blair] brings us a real physical presence,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle added. “He clears out a lot of space in there.”

Sharing time with first-string center Samuel Dalembert and fellow big man Brandan Wright at the 5 spot, Blair would start 13 of his 78 appearances this season while averaging 6.4 points and 4.7 rebounds an outing during his 15.6 minutes per game. The undersized Blair also connected on 53.4 percent from the field, quickly earning the confidence of his teammates and Carlisle.

But it was Blair’s production in the playoffs that may have garnered the most attention while also impressing Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, providing the Mavericks with grittiness and toughness inside during the heated first-round series.

Averaging 6.7 points and 6.2 rebounds in just 13.5 minutes of action during the series, Blair also collected a team-best 2.0 steals a contest on the defensive end. Blair’s presence was also sorely missed in Game 5 of the series while he served a one-game suspension for kicking Spurs center Tiago Splitter in the head, leading to a 109-103 defeat for the Mavs.

Still, after putting up a fight against his former team, Blair left the court feeling like he had vindicated his exit from San Antonio while Popovich and 14-time All-Star Tim Duncan praised the former Pittsburgh standout’s play at the conclusion of the series.

“He just said, ‘Way to hand it to us,’ Blair recalled Popovich telling him as the two embraced following Game 7. “He said, ‘Way to hand it to us in our rear end.’ That’s what he said. … I still have respect for all of them, but it didn’t work out (in San Antonio), so I had to go somewhere else. It was a fun series. I had a good time.

“[Duncan] said he was proud of me, too, and just keep going. And he was happy for me, you know, and that’s what everybody was saying. Just coming out and playing like I did was great.”

But where does Blair, who is just 25 years old, go from there?

Entering free agency for the second straight offseason, the 6-foot-7 big man hopes to return to the Mavericks as the team tries to take another step forward next season. However, with Dalembert and Wright already signed through next year, it remains to be seen if Blair’s services will again be called upon in Dallas.

“I think I did a good job this season and this series, playing hard and playing how I know how,” Blair said after the Mavericks were eliminated from the playoffs. “Hopefully I can come back to Dallas and we can get another shot at it.

“I think I can bring that energy and toughness,” he added, “more toughness to our team. We’ve just got to click as a team.”