Practice Report: Rick Carlisle

Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle looks ahead to Sunday's matchup against the Bucks, what they learned from facing them earlier in the week, focusing on transition defense and more.

Quick rematches in the NBA are a pretty rare occurrence, and they’re almost impossible to predict. An old adage in the NFL is it’s tough to beat the same team twice in a season, and while the same doesn’t necessarily always hold true in the NBA, it certainly does when the two games are played less than a week apart from each other.

Tonight’s game between the Mavs and Bucks, however, is completely different than the contest the two teams fought out Wednesday evening in Milwaukee. For starters, Dirk Nowitzki didn’t even suit up that night, as Dallas was on the second night of a back-to-back after beating the Bulls in double overtime a day prior. To be fair, the Bucks, too, had just played the night before, a three-point loss in Cleveland. They were also playing without regular rotation man Ersan Ilyasova for the first time, and he is expected to miss tonight’s game with a mild concussion after taking a blow to the face Tuesday night against the Cavaliers.

You’d almost expect it to be the same exact game when two teams are playing again so immediately, but that’s anything but the case tonight. Every NBA game is unique enough as it is, and considering the rest the teams have had and Nowitzki’s presence alone, this tilt is going to be a horse of a different color.

OFFENSE
Mavs Offense Bucks Defense
Points/100 poss. 113.2 (1) 100.3 (7)
eFG% 52.9 (4) 49.4 (12)
TOV% 12.0 (3) 17.0 (3)
Off/Def Reb% 26.6 (T-9) 72.5 (28)
FT/FGA .277 (18) .311 (22)

It’s crazy to think that the 106 points Dallas scored Friday night tied for the team’s lowest offensive output in almost two weeks, but that gives you a good indication of what level this offense is playing at right now. The Bucks’ defense gave Dallas all it wanted Wednesday night, but two X factors decided that two-point victory: Tyson Chandler grabbed 10 offensive rebounds by himself and the Bucks do not have Monta Ellis.

I still can’t get over how statistically quirky it is that the Bucks are such a good offensive rebounding team yet rank 28th in defensive rebounding percentage. The Mavs won Wednesday’s rebounding battle 46-39, including 17-8 on the offensive glass. That’s an absurd amount of second chances, and if Dallas can approach anywhere near that number again tonight, you have to like the Mavs’ chances. Dallas averages 14.5 second chance points per game this season, tied for 6th in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Bucks allow 14.6 points per game themselves, 3rd-most in the league. This offense is simply too good to receive that many opportunities at the basket.

The obvious difference-maker Wednesday night was Ellis, whose back-to-back late-game heroics gave Dallas a 2-0 record against Chicago and Milwaukee. However, Rick Carlisle said he’d like to take some of the offensive load off of Monta’s shoulders and spread it around elsewhere. If I had to guess, he’s talking about Dirk Nowitzki, who’s been in a mini-slump for a few games now. If he’s going to break out, it could very well be tonight. The Bucks start Jabari Parker at power forward, a very good rookie but one who just doesn’t have the size to regularly contest Dirk’s shots. (Who does?) Without Ilyasova, the Bucks don’t have any height off the bench, either, with 6′ 7″ stretch four Khris Middleton as the tallest non-center off the pine.

I’m interested in seeing if Bucks head coach Jason Kidd puts second-year sensation Giannis Antetokounmpo on Nowitzki at all tonight. “The Greek Freak” is 6′ 10″ and skinny as a rail, but his wingspan is at least 7′ 3″ and his hands are nearly 10 inches long. He has insane length, and that combined with his quickness and natural ball instincts could make for an interesting battle should he have to guard Dirk. Kidd sent relentless double-teams Dirk’s way last season when he was coaching the Brooklyn Nets, but that team’s makeup was completely different than this Bucks squad, so I’m not sure that will be the case. Besides, Dallas has too many offensive options elsewhere to risk doubling Dirk all game long, as Kidd found out Wednesday night. If you want to stop Nowitzki, then Ellis, Parsons, Chandler, Wright, Nelson, Harris, Barea, and everyone else will beat you.

DEFENSE
Mavs Defense Bucks Offense
Points/100 poss. 104.4 (18) 101.4 (21)
eFG% 51.7 (26) 49.6 (18)
TOV% 18.3 (1) 17.4 (28)
Off/Def Reb% 71.1 (29) 27.6 (3)
FT/FGA .283 (15) .267 (24)

Where Carlisle wants to see the most improvement tonight is on the defensive end. The Bucks will test the Mavericks in different ways than the Suns did on Friday night. Namely, Milwaukee scores fewer than 20 percent of its points on three-pointers this season, one of just eight teams in the league which can make that claim. However, the Bucks drive to the rim more than even the Suns do, per SportVU — their 29.7 rim drives per contest ties for sixth in the NBA. (Dallas leads at 33.0.) Between Brandon Knight, Antetokounmpo, OJ Mayo, Parker, and Jerryd Bayless off the bench, Milwaukee has plenty of players capable of taking defenders off the bounce. They key for the Mavericks is to have strong rotations to three-point shooters and closing them out in such a way that prevents drives off of pump fakes. Easier said than done in this league, but that’s been the Mavs’ Achilles heel this season.

Take the time to watch Antetokounmpo. He’s one of the more interesting players in the league not just because of his freakish size, but because of how he’s used. Kidd threw him out at point guard in the preseason, but he can also play center. He’s not quite to the point where he’s effective at all five positions, and he might never be, but the fact that he has the versatility to even try is impressive in and of itself. There aren’t many players like him. He’s still learning the game, and he’s still not a game-breaking player, but he can certainly change a game, and that counts for something.

Another player to watch on this team is Parker, the No. 2 pick in the 2014 Draft. Kidd uses him as a small-ball power forward, but he has the skillset of a small forward. Dirk will have to guard him, as Parsons will likely be the player to check Giannis. Parker is billed as a Carmelo Anthony-type forward, a guy with size who can score in all sorts of different ways. Obviously he’s not anywhere near as polished as Melo at this point in his development, but he still shows flashes. The Bucks are an exciting team with a bunch of talented young players. Basically anywhere you look, you’re seeing a potential future All-Star. Heck, Brandon Knight might make the All-Star team this season.

Every game is different, especially when dealing with such a young team. Dallas is angry after Friday’s loss, and the Bucks are angry after Wednesday’s loss to the Mavs. What more could you ask for in a game? Neither team wants to drop this one, and when you factor in Kidd’s return to the AAC, the matchup is even more intriguing.

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