Nets try to keep it going vs Dallas

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

November and December seem like a distant memory these days. The Nets were able to continue their red hot January and pay back a bad loss from November with a 101-90 win over the Magic in snowy Brooklyn on Tuesday night. The Nets are 8-1 in January and find themselves in the seventh position in the East and 2.5 games behind division leading Toronto. At this rate, the Nets will be back at .500 soon.

Visiting the Barclays Center this Friday night will be the Dallas Mavericks. After missing the playoffs for the first time in over a decade last season, Dallas finds themselves in the thick of a crowded Western Conference playoff chase. They're in eighth but are coming off a bad loss in Toronto on Wednesday night.

The season so far

What's the story with these teams? Let's check the numbers:

2013-2014

Brooklyn

Dallas

Record

18-22 25-19

Pace

93.56 96.91

Offensive Efficiency

103.1 106.7

Defensive Efficiency

105.2 105.2

Offensive Rebounding percentage

23.4 22.7

Turnover rate

15.4 14.2

Assist rate

16.6 18

Rebound rate

48.6 47.4

Free throw rate

31.8 24

Effective Field Goal percentage

49.9 52.2

Opponent Effective Field Goal percentage

50.5 50.9

The big improvement for Brooklyn this month has been the defense. In the first two months of the year, the Nets were near the bottom of the league in defensive efficiency. However, in nine games this month, they're allowing only 100 points per 100 possessions, good for fourth in the league. A lot of this can be attributed to the improved play of Kevin Garnett. Although he prefers playing power forward (this isn't new), he's done great work at Center. The Nets haven't lost a game he's played this month and are allowing only 87.1 points per 100 possessions when KG is on the court. Not to be undone, he's been shooting 64 percent from the midrange after struggling with his jumper in the early part of the season.

Deron Williams looked pretty good coming off the bench against Orlando. He had nine assists and was very involved running the Nets offense in his 28 minutes off the bench. He might still be on a minutes restriction for this one, but he should see a slight uptick in minutes as he gets more and more comfortable being back.

Joe Johnson will look to keep his good stretch of play going. Over his last seven games, Johnson is shooting 51.6 percent on 118 field goal attempts, 18 three pointers made. Johnson will more than likely be defended by Shawn Marion most of the evening, which leaves Paul Pierce, Williams and other Brooklyn perimeter players with Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon & the other Maverick perimeter players.

For Dallas, Monta Ellis has been having one of his better seasons in a while. Shot selection has always been something to watch for Ellis, and this season has been no different (in fact, Mavs Moneyball has been on the case). He's never been a good three point shooter, and this season has been no exception. He's only shooting 30 percent from deep, but the key difference compared to previous seasons is the amount of threes he's attempted. Over the past couple of seasons, he'd averaged close to four threes a night, but this season he's only attempted two per contest. He's basically attempted the same amount of shots as compared to last year in Milwaukee, but where he's gotten his attempts is different. He's taken more shots inside the painted area and as a result has gotten to the free throw line more often.

The other big acquisition for Dallas in the summer was Jose Calderon. He's putting together another solid offensive season, averaging about 12 points and five assists on 45 percent from three point range. He's having his usual good season on offense, but he's also having his usual bad season on defense. When he's on the court, Dallas is allowing 107 points per 100 possessions compared to 101 when he's not in the game.

Although Dallas has similar defensive numbers to Brooklyn on the season, they haven't had a good month. Teams are scoring 107 points per 100 possessions and have continued to get to the free throw line at will and control the offensive glass. Hal Brown of Mavs Moneyball put the Dallas D under the microscope last night & observes:

Unfortunately, a high-rotation system would rely on Jose or Monta eventually making a very quick switch to a dangerous jump shooter somewhere along the line, which is potentially far more disastrous than allowing an open big man to shoot a two-point jump shot. Similarly, sending Jose or Monta to full-court-press risks having Jose or Monta getting burned before the play even starts.

This poses a problem for the Dallas backcourt in this matchup because Brooklyn employs good three point shooting guards. Williams, Jason Terry, Alan Anderson and Johnson are all average to above average three point shooters.

The Nets will also be visited by a pair of old friends. Devin Harris has returned after missing the early part of the season due to a toe injury. Along with Harris, Vince Carter figures to make an appearance as well. He was struggling early on, but is back to playing at the level that made him a fan favorite in Dallas last season (side note: I wrote a bit about Vinsanity over the summer).

Player to watch: Dirk Nowitzki

It's been another quality season for the former Finals (and regular season) MVP. He dealt with injuries last season and only appeared in 53 games. This year, he's averaging 21 points and five rebounds in 32 minutes a night. He's always been one of the league's efficient shooters & this year has been no exception. He's shooting 47 percent from the floor, including 47.9 percent from the midrange area. He's also been taking the most amount of three pointers per game since the Don Nelson days, taking four a night and making about 40 percent of them.

With Brooklyn going small long, Dirk should look to get in the post early. He has the size advantage over Paul Pierce & will more than likely look to operate in the post at the start of the game. Don't be too surprised if Andrei Kirilenko spends a good part of the night covering Nowitzki. Since his return, Kirilenko has been playing a little over 20 minutes a night as he's worked his way back into the flow of the team after missing a good chunk of the season due to injury. He's got the length to bother Dirk's jumpers and the size to bother him in the post. It'll be interesting to see how Dirk starts this game. He's struggled over the last five games and took the night in Toronto off to rest.

From the Vault

Head back to 2003 & watch Dirk and the Mavericks try to hold off the Trailblazers after blowing a 3-0 series lead.


One other thing ... at halftime, Zac Cullen, the most optimistic of optimistic Nets, fans will truly test that optimism. He will try a halfcourt heave which if successful would see him win $10,000 of Mikhail Prokhorov and Bruce Ratner's money. We wish him well and if you're at Barclays Center, cheer him on!

More reading: Mavs Moneyball

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