Mavericks Mumblings

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Friday, April 14, 2006

DJ MBenga

When your backstory includes being convicted to death, being recruited from a bus stop and living in a refugee center - Didier (DJ) Ilunga-Mbenga (MBenga) went surprisingly under the radar in his short stint in the Belgian league.

And with Free Agency looming, it's likely DJ MBenga (right) won't find his way back to Texas.

Born again DeSagana Diop has worked himself into the starting lineup with his ferocious defense and died again Erick Dampier still consistently gets minutes as Dallas' strongest big man. The man to set a screen if need, or to pound a player who's getting out of line.

And as fitting as this saying ever was, considering Texas' cowboy heritage, This (team) ain't big enough for the (4) of us". Not forgetting project Pavel Podkolzin who is doing diddily-squat in the D-League, who unfortunately is signed for longer. DJ seems to be the odd man out, some team can offer him just a big a contract as Dallas, but more playing time.

If you were to look at his NBA profile, you'd think he's a worthless scrub - but to the Mavericks fan who bleed blue (lately, it could be green judging by the popularity of the alternatives) every minute he plays is scrutinized and over analysed, like the popular TV show Lost (those who watch know what I'm saying).

Lately, Avery Johnson has made more and more faith in him. In his rookie season, DJ played more than 10 minutes once, and in appeared in a huge 15 games totalling 41 minutes. This season, DJ has almost (read: almost) cracking into the regular rotation.

MBenga was a late bloomer, and I don't mean puberty, because from the looks of it he hasn't stop developing since he was 8, he didn't get into basketball until apparently he was 20 (give or take). To show for that, he has a very raw offensive game which is slowly moving into 13 foot jumpers - he is foul prone and falls for headfakes. So what's to like? Everyone likes the amazingly gifted athlete, throw in the fact he is a foreigner and has an amusing name and he should stick around the NBA for a while.

The Belgian / Congo native was born in the same town as Dikembe Mutombo (something in the water?) and has developed a bond with him. Showing himself as a raw Dikembe, with shotblocking talent, basketball instinct that isn't taught and a tough-rugged attitude, DJ MBenga is progressing in leaps and strides, jumping into play lately.

In the last three games, DJ has played more than ten minutes twice - averaging an extremely respectable 3.2 ppg / 3.2 rpg / .5 bpg in 8 minutes. Don't get too overwhelmed.

So when Dallas is facing the pressures of re-signing starting PG Jason "Jet" Terry, a little Congonese voice should be in the back of their minds reminding them of his potential.

In a league where anyone can turn into a valuable contributor, big athletic men like DJ MBenga should be watched and scouted.

"DJ Mbenga has to stop fouling when he walks in the gym," said coach Johnson.

Did you know?
DJ has a black belt in Tae-Kwan Doe
His career high in blocks is 5 against the New York Knicks

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Game Preview, Dallas @ Phoenix (4.13.06)

MVP candidate Dirk Nowitzki failed to get in done when it mattered the most.

Compare this to last game when he was ice cold in the match and then calmly pulled up a free-throw line jumpshot to put Dallas ahead in the final second.

The 7 foot German sensation came out like like a man possessed, and made the most of a firey start to the game. He breezed his way to an easy (I'm talkin' Jenna Jameson easy) 15 first quarter points, paving the way for Dallas to open up a 27-19 lead.

From there, he scored 14 points (5-14 FG) in the final 3 quarters and couldn't get going when most needed. Dallas moved to one and a half games behind San Antonio for the title of Best in the West and seemingly put the position further out of reach.

Avery Johnson described the match as "one of the most disappointing games that I have been a part of as Maverick coach"

"Just blame me like we always do, blame me." he said.

The Mavericks face the Phoenix Suns tonight, they are 6-4 in back to back games, where they play the final game at the oppositions arena. Dallas is still looking to catch up to the Spurs and if the Mavericks can win their remaining 3 games, the men in black (and white) need to win 3 of 4 to secure the #1 seed (depending on the tiebreaker, in which Dallas' only hope is an injury-depleted Houston defeats San Antonio in the final game).

If these two teams were to meet in the Western Conference Finals, the Mavericks would have home court advantage regardless of what happens tonight. Avery Johnson's boys lead the season series 2-1, but have a better record against their division (13-3 to 10-4), which is the tiebreaker step right after the results of the season series.

As per usual, Steve Nash will run a riot against his former team and when buddies, turn MVP-enemies slug it out tonight it surely will be a game to tune into (on TNT, 10:30). Nash averages 25 points / 8.3 assists / 4.6 rebounds / 4.3 turnovers against them, Dallas needs to try to clamp onto Nash and limit his productiveness. It's unfortunate for Dallas that sophomore Devin Harris is still injured, as he poses a good match up for the long-haired Canadian with his quickness and defensive ability.

The Suns are coming off a 74 point second half against the Kings to change a 17 point deficit to a 13 point victorious margin.

For Dallas to contemplate winning, and sending some-what of a message out to the league to show that Dallas is ready for the playoffs, they need to do a variety of things

They must not get sucked into Phoenix's run and gun style eerily reminiscent of the Showtime Lakers, by doing this they need to focus on; Slowly dribbling the ball up court, Taking time to inbound it, Pounding them, Remember; Long Shots = Long Rebounds, Long Rebounds = Fast breaks, No need for double team as every Sun will burn you from long distance, Attack the basket and hack at the depth (or lack thereof) of the Suns. Simply put, if the Mavericks want to win they need to forget anything they've learnt in the past 4 years

As mentioned, the Suns don't have fantastic depth - they do however have 6-7 offensive juggernauts who can do a variety of things to win you the game. Most recently, Boris Diaw went for a triple double, before that Shawn Marion crashed the boards so hard that Dennis Rodman would of had a tear in his eye (right under his mascara, which would subsequently drip onto his white wedding dress) and had 23/19, and of course Steve Nash; who scored 30 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds in the OT season opener

Dallas needs to control the boards, which is rather obvious, but easier said than done. In the 2 victories they average 54.5 rebounds per game compared to a measly 37 in the recent loss. This could possibly be to Josh Howards absence.

Dirk has overcome obstacles like Bruce Bowen and Ron Artest this season and put together performances that boost his ego. The final stepping stone is a huge performance against Shawn Marion, last year's playoff nemesis. Speaking of confidence, Dallas needs to be feeling the momentum all game tonight - the Suns are a tough team to play, mentally and physical. They will drone all the energy out of you by running rampant like the Bulls (not the Chicago ones, the Spanish ones). And mentally, this scenario will happen at least once tonight - I put my house on it. Dallas will work extremely hard for a lead and then it will be shot down straight away with a barrage of 3 point attacks, and the lead will evaporate faster than Ice in the Sahara.

With Phoenix secured the two seed, the game means more to Dallas than to them. Dallas needs to regain composure after a meltdown against Golden State and needs to get that confidence back up for their first round opponent.

X Factor
Josh Howard, missed the 115 - 107 (loss) game against Phoenix, but against them in the other two game's he's averaging 14.5 rpg and 15.5 points per game. He is the top perimeter defender in the game, and needs to show France that America is still the leader (aka win the individual match up against Diaw)