Birds of a Feather

Are you a Mavericks fan? Are you tired of waiting for the shooting to come around? Were you teased into thinking it was finally starting to do that before Wednesday’s game against the Hawks? Well, I’ve got just the news you don’t want to hear: the shooting woes were back and better than ever, as Dallas followed the form of its leader and shot a miserable 36 percent from the field. Birds of a feather flock together. As for the Hawks, their feathers would have been flying all over American Airlines Center if the Mavs had shot even halfway-respectably from the field. This was a game that should have been a win.

That isn’t to suggest that the Hawks are bad, not by any stretch. The teams entered play Wednesday night with identical 13-9 records, and Atlanta is coming off of a very nice season a year ago in which they won 60 games, including 19 in a row at one point. I expected this to be a well-contested game, and it was. Neither team ever led by more than six points, and there were a total of 20 lead changes and 11 ties. The teams scratched and clawed at each other the whole way through, with the Hawks just coming out on top despite facing a team that only connected on 36 of 100 shots from the field.

The Hawks were much more efficient, knocking down 48.1 percent of their shots. How is it possible that teams with such a huge shooting differential stayed neck-and-neck the whole way? Zaza Pachulia mostly, but in more general terms, offensive rebounds. The Mavericks are far from a good second-chance team this season, and that isn’t likely to change, but against the Hawks they couldn’t be stopped. Zaza grabbed seven offensive boards to go with his 17 overall, and the team as a whole came up with a ridiculous 20 to Atlanta’s six.

Dominating on the offensive glass is always a good sign for a team, but when they shoot so terribly from the field, the numbers can get a little misleading. The disappointing part of the shooting performance is that the Mavericks have been trending up lately. Following Wednesday’s game, Dallas is sitting at 44.1 percent on the season as a team, good for 18th in the league. With that being said, the number had been rising of late. They shot 45.1 percent against the Knicks, 50 percent on the nose against the Wizards, and 45.7 percent against both the Rockets and Trail Blazers in the games before that. The shooting was coming around, damn it. There’s nothing quite as discouraging as posting the worst field goal percentage of the season after such a promising run.

On most nights, it’s only a matter of time before Dirk Nowitzki finds his stroke. He doesn’t always come out firing on all cylinders, but at some point they start to drop if he keeps getting opportunities. Many times opposing defenses are too locked in on him for those opportunities to come up, but they did against Atlanta repeatedly, and the big German just couldn’t ever get it working. He finished just 6-for-20, including a dismal 1-for-8 from downtown, and none of his teammates were able to pick him up. Of the starters, only Pachulia shot better than 40 percent, and he only got five attempts. Deron Williams had another well-rounded performance, scoring 18 points to go with 7 rebounds and 6 assists, and Dwight Powell had his moments off the bench with 14 points and 6 rebounds, but overall, yuck.

The first quarter of the season has been a strange one for Dallas. On the one hand, they’re holding on with a solid 13-10 record, which puts them right in the thick of things in the West. On the other hand, their flaws are so clear-cut by this point that it’s just about impossible to imagine them making it deep into the playoffs. This news wouldn’t surprise any realistic MFFL coming into the season, and there will be plenty of fun on the way, but this is a team that has repeatedly failed to prove they can stay with higher-quality opponents.

A rematch against the still-hobbled Wizards awaits, and the Mavericks need another 50 percent performance against them to make up for the effort they put forth against the Hawks.


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