Brendan Haywood and Delonte West aren’t stars, but their absence from the Dallas Mavericks lineup has been noticeable, which is rather ironic considering both players' contributions on the court don’t usually show up in the stat line.
Both players are key pieces in the Mavs’ defensive rotation: West is the team’s best perimeter defender, and Haywood is the defensive anchor in the middle of the paint.
While the Mavericks' defense hasn’t suffered much during the pair’s mid-season absences—West has been out since mid-February with a broken finger and Haywood has missed much of March with knee issues—as they still rate seventh in the league in points allowed a game.
On Wednesday, in a 109-93 loss to Los Angeles, the Mavericks were exposed on the defensive end of the floor. Kobe Bryant scored 30 points, but that’s okay. The key to beating the Lakers is slowing Bryant down and shutting down the rest of the roster, which, as you can see in the final score, they failed to do.
Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum had a field day inside the paint without Haywood’s presence there to protect it, combining for 39 points and 16 rebounds.
But the real catalyst was on the perimeter for the Lakers, in the form of newly-acquired point guard Ramon Sessions. Sessions provides the Lakers with a quick presence on the perimeter who can create his own shot by driving to the basket, something they sorely lacked when Derek Fisher ran the point.
Sessions sliced and diced his way through the Mavericks defense, snaking his way into the lane and causing havoc with his ability to finish at the bucket and find the open man on the perimeter when help slid over to cover him.
Rodrigue Beaubois had the defensive assignment for most of the game, but he is just not adept enough yet on the defensive end to handle someone that crafty. At the beginning of the year that would have been West’s cover, and with his quickness and intensity on the defensive end, Session's night could have been much different, instead of 17 point, nine assist outburst he enjoyed.
Friday night against San Antonio was much the same. The Mavericks failed to contain a quick guard on the outside, and defend an All-Star inside.
Both Manu Ginoblli and Tim Duncan had solid games against Dallas in a 104-87 win for the Southwest division leaders.
Ginoblli had a substandard game per his usual numbers, putting up only 11 points, but he did also add seven assists, most of which came off of drives and dishes past Beaubois, something that West does a much better job of defending.
Duncan also had a good game, scoring 15 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. He also took young Mavericks’ center Ian Mahinmi to school down low, with his array of post moves and his knack for being in the perfect rebounding position. His fundamental work on the block exposed Mahinmi, and forced him into foul trouble for most of the game.
Mahinmi has been a great fill-in for Haywood in his absence. He packs an offensive punch and is coming around as an overall player. However, he is still nowhere near the defensive presence that the former Tar Heel Haywood is, and that was never more noticeable than in the loss to San Antonio.
Both Haywood and West are expected to miss a few more games, but are inching closer to a return and should be back by late March or at the latest early April, barring no major setbacks.
The pair’s return cannot come soon enough for the Mavs' defense.