Rondo Finding His Way at the Right Time
Happy New Year and greetings from Boston, where it’s going to be an emotional night as the Mavericks take on the Celtics, just two weeks removed from the trade that sent the last remaining member of the Celtics’ 2008 title team, Rajon Rondo to Dallas. Rondo admits that it’s going to be hard to hold it all together, as he is expected to receive a rousing ovation when he is introduced. But for someone who is dealing with the trauma of a trade for the first time in his life, he seems to be handling everything extremely well. He has been every bit as advertised since coming to Dallas. He has improved the team’s defense. His work on Russell Westbrook and John Wall, two of the most explosive point guards in the NBA, the last two games was exemplary.
And it’s good that Rondo is finding his way because the Mavericks are set to embark on a truly daunting stretch. In January they play 12 of 16 on the road. Indeed they don’t play back to back home games at the American Airlines Center until February 7-11. It’s a stretch of 20 games in which they will play in a different building each night. They have a chance to get off to a good start with the first three games in Boston, Cleveland (minus LeBron James) and Brooklyn. The Mavericks are a perfect 8-0 on the road vs. Eastern Conference teams, and have already won at perhaps the three most difficult spots (Toronto, Washington, and Chicago).
Obviously, since the trade, much of the focus has been on Rondo; how he fits in, is he the final piece to a puzzle? But the offshoot of the trade is that the Mavericks have had to have other people step up. Because while Rondo arrived, Brandan Wright and Jae Crowder departed, and there are minutes to soak up. Well from the deep bench have arrived Charlie Villanueva and Greg Smith to make their presence felt. Villanueva made the team in training camp with his three point shooting, and now with an opportunity to get some minutes has really turned it up. In his last five games he’s averaging 13.2 points on 51 percent shooting including nearly 44 percent from three point range. He’s doing this despite averaging only 17 minutes per game. He has helped to answer the question of who would provide offense off the bench with the departure of Vince Carter to Memphis.
Meanwhile Smith, who had played only 68 minutes all season before the trade, has stepped up into Wright’s spot, and while he doesn’t score the way Wright did, he has rebounded well, soaking up about 15 minutes a night to not completely leave Tyson Chandler out to dry. He has shown a flash of what he did in Houston two years ago as the primary backup before a knee injury derailed much of his 2013-14. It doesn’t mean that the Mavericks aren’t kicking the tires around every available big man (Most notably Southlake resident Jermaine O’Neal, who still says he’s a few weeks away from deciding whether he wants to play this year), but it does mean that Smith might be able to hold the fort until the reinforcement arrives.
Still, all of this comes back to Rondo. How he and Monta Ellis share the ball. How he and Chandler run the pick and roll. How he is able to find Dirk in his sweet spots. And how they all adjust to him, especially his penchant for bounce passes, including ones that skid about 45 feet. So far, not much is different. The Mavericks are averaging 110 points in their last four games, after averaging 100.5 in their first two games after the trade. They had a season low seven turnovers in the rout of Washington.. They’ve shot over 50 percent in two of their last three games. Their ability to force turnovers and get points off those turnovers is at their regular level. In other words, they are holding it together just fine. Just as Rondo will try to do tonight.