Dallas has played only 20 minutes without Dirk in the series, but in that time the Mavs are a staggering minus-31. At that rate, Dallas would lose a 48-minute game by 74 points. Basically, the Mavs are outplaying the Heat as long as Nowitzki plays, but they're getting killed in his few minutes of rest.
This issue has as much to do with his replacement, Stojakovic, as it does Nowitzki. As good as Peja was in the first two rounds, he was subpar against Oklahoma City and has been downright awful in three Finals games.
One potential counter is to wait until Juwan Howard enters the game before bringing in Stojakovic, providing the Serb with a place to hide on defense. The less obvious move would be to use defensively talented but offensively bereft Corey Brewer in Stojakovic's place.
Corey Brewer plays a brand of basketball I really enjoy. Upbeat, tenacious, constant, nimble, vocal -- his foot is on the gas pedal at all times. And the only measures by which he's not a really good NBA player are measures that ignore defense.
I chastised the Knicks when they let him go earlier this year. They needed perimeter defense, and had it, but let it walk away for nothing. I said at the time that a team with some real stat geeks -- Brewer jumps off the page in sophisticated defensive analysis -- would sign him.
And I was right. The Mavericks are a decade into stat geekery and even have stat geek Roland Beech embedded with the coaching staff at every practice, meeting, film session and game. They not only signed Brewer, but after a bidding war against other geeky teams, they gave him a big, long deal for a guy who had just been cut.
Mark Cuban's dollars believe in Brewer. But does his coach?
For all of the joy Brewer has found in being healthy (he had a string of injuries early in his career), returning to the winning ways he had at Florida (he was a Timberwolf), in having a good contract (being cut makes you consider how easy it is to fall out of the league) he has yet to play one second for Rick Carlisle in the Finals.
And worse still, as Hollinger points out, the guy playing in front of him has been miserable.
In getting to the Finals, Peja Stojakovic has had some great stretches of play. His shooting ability has helped the Mavericks create the space that makes their offense the playoffs' best. And on defense there has usually been a way to hide him.
Against the Heat, however, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Mike Miller, LeBron James, Mario Chalmers -- any and all lick their chops at the sight of Stojakovic. And it's hurting the Mavericks.
Another one of the Mavericks' stat geeks is consultant Wayne Winston, who puts things rather plainly when he says that "Peja has killed the Mavs and Brewer needs to play."
Winston offers as evidence the performance of the 24 different lineups the Mavericks have played in the Finals. All four that include Stojakovic have been miserable. Of the Mavericks' truly bad lineups (at least, those that have seen more than two minutes together), the aggressively bad ones have all included Stojakovic. Three of the four put the Mavericks on pace to lose by about 60. The only lineup he has been on that has been remotely OK is when he played briefly with Nowitzki -- but even then the Mavericks weren't nearly as good as they are when Nowitzki plays with just about any other Maverick instead.
Winston has similar lineup numbers from earlier in the playoffs showing that the Mavericks have been particularly good with Brewer on the floor, and with those in hand Winston predicted Brewer -- who last played May 17 -- would play in Game 3. I asked Carlisle before the game if Brewer might play, and the coach said: "Possibly. He's ready. The one thing he's proven is that he's ready. He did have a very important eight-minute stretch during the Lakers series. He's got to be ready, if needed."
Brewer insists he is, repeating to anybody who asks that he's thrilled to be in the Finals. He's not complaining, and his Twitter account is a study in positivity. But ask him about minutes and all he'll say is "I just want to play!"