The Dallas Mavericks have officially crawled out of the terrible category in the NBA. Despite only averaging 13.9 points per game on 41% shooting, Dirk Nowitzki’s return to the lineup and him settling into his standard role has given the Mavs a legitimate on-court identity. With the boost from their superstar, Dallas has improved enough to the point where they’ve won five of their last six games. Coming into tonight they were only three games out of the final playoff spot and showing real signs of life for one of the few times this season.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is the Mavericks need to start showing they can beat elite teams from time to time, especially when it really counts during the final few minutes of games. A win in Los Angeles against the Lakers on the first night of the season seemed to show what this team was made of at the time, but the luster has certainly worn off of that game after the Lakers have unraveled and shown their true colors. Despite hanging close to the end and into overtime with teams like Oklahoma City, Los Angeles (Clippers), and Miami, the Mavericks just haven’t been able to get over the hump of actually being able to finish in those games.
Any astute NBA follower over the last decade will tell you that handling business at the end of games was where Mavericks teams of the past used to thrive. Though some luck is always involved with positive results in those situations, countless use of the trusty Nowitzki/Jason Terry two man game and the steady hand of Jason Kidd at the helm had a bit more to do with their success. Taking care of the ball, proper execution of the offense, and timely stops on defense were a staple of past Dallas Mavericks teams.
Now, two of those three players are gone and the new guard made up of OJ Mayo and Darren Collison need to fill that void and learn the skill of winning, an extremely underappreciated and overlooked quality in the NBA.
The chance to compete with and beat an elite team came tonight against San Antonio, a formidable opponent even without the ageless Tim Duncan or Coach Gregg Popovich, who missed the game. Ironically enough, crumbling in tight games against the Spurs hasn’t been a problem for the Mavs as they came into tonight 0-2 against San Antonio on the year with a 31.5-point average margin of loss. Still, tonight presented an opportunity for this Mavericks team to grow against a top tier team rather than running in the hamster wheel of mediocrity all season.
What a load of wishful thinking that proved to be.
After jumping out to a 26-point lead midway through the third quarter, there was no reason for San Antonio to take it out of cruise control for the rest of the night. Had Duncan played, he would have sat most of the second half anyway during their 113-107 win. After hovering around 30% shooting for much of the first half, the Mavs dug themselves too deep of a hole to get out of. Led by Tony Parker with 23 points and 10 assists and DeJuan Blair, of all people, with 22 points, the Spurs made easy work of the now momentum-less Mavericks. For all of their recent strides in the right direction, Dallas still can’t get exactly what the need against high quality opponents.
For now, it remains life in the hamster wheel for the 2012-2013 Dallas Mavericks.