DALLAS -- The conversation was dribble penetration, breaking down a defender and getting into the lane to either finish at the rack or kick it out to a shooter.
"[Jason] Kidd’s a penetrator, Jet’s a penetrator, Marion penetrates," Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "When Dirk can catch the ball in the lane, that’s penetration. When our bigs role and can catch the ball in the lane, that’s penetration, so it comes in different forms."
There is a certain amount of truth to Carlisle's statement, but really, who's fooling who? None of those players rival the consistent threat to create and get in the paint as at least one player on every contender: Kobe Bryant, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose.
"I like to shoot jumpers, we all know that," Dirk Nowitzki said. "Jet loves jumpers. And Peja. And Kidd at this stage is a spot-up shooter and a great playmaker, but not really a paint kind of guy. We need guys off the screen-and-roll to get in the paint and J.J. was unbelievable with that before the [All-Star] break. Roddy is going to do the same thing."
Lack of penetration killed the Mavs in the first-round playoff loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Without it, defenses can load up Nowitzki and stick on the perimeter shooters. The Spurs turned the Mavs' offense into a stagnant mess that struggled to score 90 points. There was zero flow, nothing came easy and nothing came inside.
It's what's made Roddy Beaubois' long-delayed return such an excruciating wait and so necessary.
With that said, does the Dallas Mavericks' playoff success ultimately hinge on the ability of their two 6-foot and under guards getting in the paint?
"Those guys are going to be important without question, but penetration comes from every position," Carlisle said. "It doesn’t just come from the guys playing the backup point position."
The Mavs don't score a lot of points in the paint. When the jumpers are falling as they have been during the Mavs' latest hot streak of 14 wins in 15 games, the offense looks great. But, their inability to get in the paint as has been the case in numerous playoff series is a killer. Dallas ranks near the bottom of the league in points in the paint this season, but Carlisle said the team typically meets the number of penetrations they set as a goal for each game, although they want to take whatever that number is higher.
"I would say it’s a must to do a better job of getting in the paint, especially in the playoffs when the defense is a lot better," said the 5-foot-11 J.J. Barea, who is averaging a career-high 9.3 points and has scored well above that for nearly two months. "But, we still got to be a lot tougher than we’ve shown in the past defensive-wise, rebounding-wise. Getting into the paint is a must. We’ve got to be doing that."
The Mavs have two additional weapons this season they believe improve the offensive dynamics. Center Tyson Chandler can be an alley-oop machine and can be a pick-and-roll weapon the Mavs haven't had from that position. Peja Stojakovic ranks fourth on the NBA's all-time 3-point list and joins dangerous perimeter shooters in Nowitzki, Terry and Kidd, who, as everyone knows, has turned himself into an above-average spot-up 3-point shooter.
The belief is that penetration from Beaubois and Barea, each of whom are averaging about 20 minutes a game and have handled the ball frequently in the halfcourt when on the floor with Kidd, can drive, force defenses to collapse and leave multiple snipers to take aim.
"The good thing is when Peja’s out there, Jet’s out there and myself is out there, they got to give up something," Nowitzki said. "They’re going to give up some paint looks. Tyson’s been phenomenal rolling to the basket so they've got to honor that because you just have to throw it anywhere near the backboard and he’s going to catch it. We have a lot of weapons out there and that’s why we’ve been scoring over 100 basically every night. We won’t shoot the ball well every night, but two of the four or five shooters are going to show up."
No one with the Mavs wants to load such heavy pressure on Barea and Beaubois by saying their abilities to get in the paint and score or kick it out will determine how far the Mavs can go in the playoffs. Many other factors will also play into their ultimate survival or failure, but it's also not all that far from the truth.
"It's key, I’m not going to try to kid anybody about that," Carlisle said. "But, penetration is not only being able to line up a guy one-on-one and being able to beat him. It’s being able to get the stops and rebounds to get transition where we can get our shooters spotted up and that opens up space. And it comes in other forms -- post-ups, rim-runs, rolls to the basket, playing random flow basketball. The number of times we get the in the paint, we track all that stuff. When we get there a lot we win. And when other teams get there a lot we lose."