Mavs Struggle While Challenging Elite

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.

Questions Abound Despite Recent Success in Dallas

Dirk Nowitzki wants to be a Dallas Maverick forever, but also doesn’t want to be chasing a low playoff seed every year either.

The figurative (possibly literal) Bank of Mark Cuban is open, but he doesn’t want to take on bad salary or deviate too far from the flexibility Dallas has built either.

The Mavs have won four straight games including a massive 104-83 victory over the now-powerful Memphis Grizzlies, but that came after four consecutive losses.

So, what does all of this mean? With every step forward so far this year, there has always been an equal or greater step backward. To their credit, the Mavs do appear to be coming together more as of late with their recent wins. Trying not to be too obvious, that is mostly due to the return of Dirk Nowitzki from preseason knee surgery. Not only that, Nowitzki has begun rounding into form and fitting more firmly next to his teammates.

Since circa 2005, the Mavericks simply haven’t had an identity if Nowitzki missed a game for any reason. If he happened to be out for an extended amount of time, things stayed ugly until he found his stride. As has been the case in recent years when Nowitzki returned from injury, Dallas didn’t immediately find their way upon his first few games back this year. Now, this current roster is discovering how to fit their games next to Nowitzki and the 2012-2013 Mavericks are looking a little more like what was expected before the season started. The problem is they are 17-23, in 12th place, and four games out of the last playoff spot. What’s an even bigger issue is Dirk’s further return to form will likely make this team much more formidable as the season progresses, without any postseason return due to missing the playoffs. That leaves the Mavs right where you don’t want to be in the NBA: Standings Purgatory.

Not quite good enough to make the playoffs and not quite bad enough to collect a meaningful pick when it comes to draft time. We’ll call this the “Milwaukee Bucks Zone”, if you will.

That makes me question what the opening of Mark Cuban’s piggy bank actually means. The fact of the matter is that despite how good this Mavs team becomes, it’s a long road ahead in order for them to make the playoffs. That being said, why would Cuban be so eager to potentially add a piece to make his team marginally better, while taking on additional salary and crippling the financial flexibility he so passionately pursued? It’s not that I don’t agree with making a move, I just don’t understand the logic that goes into recalibrating “Plan Powder.”

Obviously, there are a couple exceptions here. If Cuban can find a move out there that makes the Mavs better in the short-term AND protects their long-term cap space, then that is fantastic. If the open doors of “Bank of Cuban” means he can snag a superstar to place next to Dirk, then that would be perfect. But isn’t every team looking for those moves, too? All the time.

Considering what is going on in Sacramento with the Kings and what already happened in Seattle with the Sonics/Thunder, a generous and loyal owner is something that can’t and shouldn’t be taken for granted. The Mavs are currently a flawed team and knowing that Cuban is willing to fix it is encouraging for fans and veterans like Nowitzki and Shawn Marion. For now though, it’s just difficult to know exactly what he means by that.

Mavs Face Season Defining Stretch

A win is always a good thing, but tonight’s victory for the Dallas Mavericks over the Philadelphia 76ers was meaningful for quite a few reasons. The schedule for the Mavs was relatively light to begin the year. That seemed ideal at the time considering Dirk Nowitzki was aiming to return from knee surgery by Thanksgiving. A perfect situation would have been for the young Mavericks to stay afloat against the easier part of the schedule and have Nowitzki back in time for the first round of heavy lifting in the 2012-13 season. The good news is that the Mavs did stay afloat, going 11-10 through their first 21 games. The bad news is that Nowitzki is still on the shelf, with no set date to returns. The worse news is that the Mavs’ schedule reads as such after tonight’s 107-100 win over Philadelphia: vs. Miami, at Memphis, at San Antonio, at Oklahoma City, vs. Denver, and vs. San Antonio.

It would be tough to hand pick a gauntlet much tougher than that.

With no Dirk and little hope being given to the Mavs without him, they will have to play well beyond themselves to save the season. With the given schedule, it is more than possible that Dallas could go 1-6 over that stretch, including tonight’s win against Philadelphia. If that scenario presents itself, then the Mavs would be a frightening 12-19 when the calendar flips to 2013. If that were the case, they’d have to play 29-22 over the rest of the season JUST to get back to .500, a record that won’t get you to the playoffs in the Western Conference.

In the most simple of terms, poor performances over the next six games would be catastrophic for the Mavericks.

If there was ever a time for Darren Collison to step up to another level and support new head-Mav OJ Mayo, that time would be now. Collison has been an enigma since Dallas acquired him in the offseason, losing his starting job and finding himself taking up permanent residence in Rick Carlisle’s doghouse. It’s likely none of that will affect Collison’s minutes heading into this stretch, as now-starting point guard Derek Fisher suffered a strained right knee on Tuesday night. If Fisher’s injury is serious, Collison will get the majority of the point guard minutes simply because of the numbers game. Carlisle may not be happy with Collison’s production this season, but he’s simply running out of options at point guard.

Little known NBA fact: Somebody does have to be on the court, dribbling the basketball for each team.

Actually, that may be the theme so far for the Mavs this season. Rick Carlisle has had so little trust in his guards outside of anyone not named after a condiment that he brought in 38-year old Fisher to run his offense. Dallas leads the league in different combinations of starting lineups this year for that exact reason. Carlisle can’t find a lineup he likes with Nowitzki out and he won’t sit around to let the same guys lose games for his franchise. The Mavs may be performing poorly, but Carlisle refuses to let them stand pat.

The irony for Carlisle hits hard during this upcoming, potentially season defining stretch. Over the next twelve days, that same Nowitzki-less roster that he can’t allow himself to trust will be exactly who holds the season in their hands.

Expect some sleepless night for Rick Carlisle during the holidays.

Two Teams Looking For Their Identity

Two different franchises both searching to figure out exactly who they are met at the American Airlines Center on Saturday night. Though both are in a state of flux, their current situations aren’t necessarily due to the same circumstances.

The Dallas Mavericks are still attempting to stay afloat while they wait on the return of superstar power forward Dirk Nowitzki. The frustrating thing for the Mavericks is that the identity they’re looking for can’t possibly be found until Nowitzki starts playing again. OJ Mayo has been tremendous while averaging 22.2 points per game on 50% shooting and Darren Collison has had his moments with 14 points per game complemented with 6.5 assists. The latter of those two has had the spotlight on him recently, as the Mavs’ success is almost directly tied to him playing well.

“When he’s aggressive, we’re a great team,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said of Collison before tipoff on Saturday night. “He doesn’t realize how good of a scorer he is.”

Still, the continuity they want will only come from consistent performances from those players alongside Nowitzki. Obviously, that won’t be possible for at least another few weeks, as Nowitzki announced his return won’t come until well into December

On the other hand, there’s the Los Angeles Lakers. The always well-documented Lakers made waves early this season when they fired Coach Mike Brown after only five games and a 1-4 start. Much was made of Brown’s Princeton offense not fitting his superstar personnel, so Mike D’Antoni of ‘Seven Seconds or Less’ Phoenix Suns fame was brought in. Similarly to the Mavs, the Lakers have the built-in injury excuse as Steve Nash recovers from a fractured leg suffered in the first couple games of the season. Once he returns, the hope is that eventually reuniting D’Antoni with Nash will ignite an offense that includes Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Metta World Peace.

That being said, their offense didn’t appear to be a problem tonight.

Coming into Dallas without a win on the road this season, the Lakers were poised to end that streak. Despite missing their top two point guards, the Lakers had their way with the Mavericks. Los Angeles had their season high in points for a half by dropping 65 in the first two quarters on Saturday. World Peace started the game by making six straight shots to set the tone for how the night would go.

After a few laughable defensive performances from the Mavericks, Rick Carlisle has been more vocal recently about tightening up that end of the floor. The message was not received by his team as they basically allowed the Lakers to do whatever they wanted. After giving up 115 to the Lakers tonight, allowing them to cruise to a 115-89 victory, the Mavericks have allowed 226 total points to their opponents over the last two games. It’s a safe bet that Carlisle will again be quite vocal about defense over the next few days.

Dirk Nowitzki’s eventual return will fix a lot of things for the Mavs. Giving up 113 points per game on the defensive end isn’t one of them. There is quite a bit of work to be done in Dallas if the Mavs plan on making the playoffs in a stacked Western Conference.

New Face Off Against Old In Dallas

In Dallas on Wednesday night, it would’ve been a fair argument for some Dallas Mavericks fans to say they recognized more faces on the opposing team than they did on the Mavs. After a second consecutive offseason overhaul, Dirk Nowitzki currently sidelined after knee surgery, and Shawn Marion remaining as the only key player from the 2011 Championship team, no one would blame Dallas-ites for feeling more familiarity with a New York Knicks roster that now includes Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd.

The well-documented story of Chandler’s departure is still a heavily debated, open wound in Dallas-Fort Worth. From the Mavs’ end, the basics surrounding Chandler not returning to Dallas after the Championship revolve around the front office not wanting to commit four years and $58 million to a non-scoring center. The merit of the simplicity of that argument is up for debate, but it’s simply the deciding factor from their end.

Things are a bit murkier with Kidd’s Maverick exit. This past offseason, amidst the craziness and disappointment surrounding the Deron Williams free agency decision, Dallas and Kidd supposedly had a three year deal in place. Long story short, Kidd eventually bolted for New York and, at the time, left the Mavs in the dust with massive amounts of uncertainty clouding the franchise.

And Mavs owner Mark Cuban was not happy about it. As a matter of fact, he felt so misled that he eventually ranted his thoughts about retiring Kidd’s number in the American Airlines Center.

“I was more than upset,” Cuban told the Ben and Skin show in August on 103.3, ESPN Radio Dallas. “I thought he was coming (back). I was pissed. J-Kidd’s a big boy, he can do whatever he wants, but you don’t change your mind like that. I’m sure I’ll get over it at some point, but as of right now, I wouldn’t put J-Kidd’s number in the rafters.”

Though seemingly a pretty rash opinion from Cuban, what eventually played out during the offseason may have been best for both sides. Dallas went on to trade center Ian Mahinmi to the Indiana Pacers for young point guard Darren Collison, giving the Mavericks a speedy option at the position that they haven’t had since Devin Harris in 2008. Ironically enough, Harris left town in the trade that acquired Kidd from the New Jersey Nets.

Conversely, Kidd couldn’t have found himself in a better position. The Knicks, loaded with talent and led by Carmelo Anthony, were in need of the veteran leadership that Kidd oozes. Loaded with guards, coach Mike Woodson can pick his spots with Kidd, who is averaging his least minutes per game in, um, ever. Had Kidd stayed in Dallas, he would be playing too many minutes each night and that would limit his effectiveness. Just like the circumstances surrounding Jason Terry’s departure from Dallas, Kidd still had use, but it was just time for a change.

In the end of the day, all parties have moved on from what was in Dallas. The championship happened, it was glorious, and now it’s in the past. As are Kidd and Chandler’s Maverick playing days. The Mavericks chose to go a younger route, which is the exact opposite path the Knicks are currently on, as they have an average age of nearly 33 years and a 35 year old rookie.

The new Mavericks actually pulled off an upset by beating the old Mavericks, I mean the Knicks, Wednesday night 114-111. Kidd had 17 points and 5 assists in 36 minutes and Chandler was his usual solid self with 21 points and 13 rebounds. Would Dallas have been the favorites if Kidd and Chandler were in Mavericks uniforms? Maybe, but the Knicks’ window is now. The Mavericks are willing to sacrifice overall success now to hopefully prop their window open as long as they can.

The ultimate payoff to the decisions made in support of that strategy will only be known with time.

Draft Diamond in Dallas

Things are dull for the Dallas Mavericks right now. There have been some good wins so far in this young season, coupled with some franchise-first losses. OJ Mayo, Darren Collison, and Chris Kaman have lit it up some nights, only to lay eggs in a few recent games. All in all, the beginning of the 2012-2013 season has been about as low-key as any Mavericks season start in over a decade. That’s not necessarily a terrible thing, but just comes with the territory of playing in a football-crazed area of the country without your star player for the first six weeks of the year. Even considering the circumstances, there have been some pretty terrible periods of basketball played by a franchise that has raised their expectations. For the Mavericks, that means they’re now flying under the radar in Dallas.

Despite all that, one Maverick that isn’t going unnoticed is rookie forward Jae Crowder. Looking back though, there was never a chance that Crowder would keep a low profile.

“We knew coming out of Marquette he was ready to play a man’s game because of how they’re coached in that program,” said Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle. “He’s a four year guy, played in a lot of big games and was Big-East Player of the Year. That’s a big deal.”

With his dreadlocks-for-days hair that he ties into a ponytail and endless energy, Crowder was born to be a fan-favorite. Nine games into his career, he is scoring 7.4 points per game with a surprising 39% shooting percentage from beyond the arc. His stats aren’t world beating, but that’s not why he is getting so much individual attention in Dallas right now. In the same way that high expectations for a team’s results affect fan reaction to certain situations, low expectations for a team’s drafting will draw excitement from a fan base when an exciting prospect, any exciting prospect, appears in their midst.

Though 2009 pick Roddy Beaubois is currently contributing to this Mavs team, Dallas hasn’t seen a legitimate All Star caliber player come up through the draft since the Mavs acquired Josh Howard in the now famous and fabled 2003 draft. For a franchise that has seen the likes of Maurice Ager, Nick Fezekas, Shan Foster, and Dominique Jones come through the Mavs’ system in recent years, even the slightest glimpse of potential, like that shown by Crowder so far this season, creates a buzz amongst Mavs fans.

With that being said, what is to be expected from Jae Crowder? When Beaubois showed flashes his rookie year, most notably in the 2010 Playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs, reason was thrown to the wind. Maverick officials and fans alike claimed Beaubois was finally the ‘Robin’ Dallas was waiting for the place next to Dirk Nowitzki’s ‘Batman’. Fair or not, expectations skyrocketed for Beaubois and needless to say, it hasn’t worked out as expected.

So, again, how should the expectations for the 34th overall pick in the 2013 be handled? Despite his useful play so far, the tag as a second rounder should make it easier on Crowder. As it stands now, with the injury problems Dallas is currently suffering through, Crowder is a part time starter at small or power forward who has a high-energy motor and can hit three pointers with regularity. As the season progresses, he will turn into the backup for Shawn Marion at the three.

Is playing 12-15 minutes at the three spot on a solid NBA team good production for a rookie second rounder? Of course.

Can Crowder fill that role for these Mavericks? Definitely.

That’s how simple it can and should be for Jae Crowder this year. Expectations can become a burden when they get out of control and fans lose perspective. Taking Crowder for what he is now, without looking down the road and applying those hopes to this year, will keep Mavs fans in a happy place with the rookie.

As for other aspects of the seasos, well… no promises.

Mavericks Remain A Mystery

With so much currently new and unfamiliar with the 2012-2013 Dallas Mavericks, it’s tough for anyone to have answers right now.

After jumping on the season quickly by winning four of their first five games, Dallas has since lost those good vibes that came with the 4-1 start by dropping three consecutive games. Despite two of those losses coming on the road, losing to the Charlotte Bobcats for the first time in franchise history was the breaking point that quickly sent the 4-4 Mavs into their first mini-tailspin of the year.

During that Charlotte game in particular, the young, Nowitzki-less, Marion-less Mavs made far too many mistakes down the stretch, which led to them coughing up a more-than-winnable game. Over the course of the last few years, starting with the acquisition of Jason Kidd in 2008, the Mavericks have prided themselves on finishing close games in a smart way and not beating themselves when it mattered most.

In Charlotte, Kidd wasn’t there and mistakes were. Darren Collison, Kidd’s replacement at point guard, was the biggest culprit in the final minutes, making multiple mistakes on the break, missing easy lay ups early in the shot clock, and committing costly turnovers.

Collison has advantages over Kidd in so many ways it gets tough to keep count sometimes. He’s quicker, faster, can score easier, guard quicker point guards, and so on. Still, the Basketball-Jedi mind of Jason Kidd will be something that the Mavericks will miss at times over the course of the season. The return of veterans will hopefully help with that, but until then the games must go on with the roster as currently constructed.

“We’ve got to make sure these guys are ready to play,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said with a ‘no-excuses’ attitude.  “We all own it.”

Still, nothing can truly be judged with this team until Shawn Marion and Dirk Nowitzki come back from their injuries and fall back into their customary roles. Specifically with Collison and OJ Mayo, there have been some roller coaster moments, some significant peaks accompanied with a fair share of valleys.

Regardless, almost all of their performances are meaningless until the Mavericks are at full strength and the newcomers show they can successfully and efficiently play alongside Nowitzki. This is one of the primary reasons why finding out Nowitzki would miss significant time was such bad news, obviously behind missing the actual production the Big German provides.

OJ Mayo has been absolutely torrid from behind the arc, shooting at a 61% clip so far this season. That’s fantastic for the Mavs, but worthless if he can’t keep his shooting rhythm and efficiency up after getting fewer shots upon Nowitzki’s return. Darren Collison is averaging 14 points a game on 51% shooting, but his true value will come from being a consistent weapon while playing off of Nowitzki in the two man game. He’ll have to adjust his game to fit that mold in the heat of the regular season.

Right now, the only thing that can really be measured by watching these Mavs is the win-loss record while waiting for their big time players to return. Until then, the hope is that OJ Mayo keeps making shots and Darren Collison continues scoring at an efficient rate…and then that they keep doing exactly that once Dirk Nowitzki returns.

Is that too much to ask?

Mavericks Still Have Plenty To Learn

Even veteran teams never stop learning lessons.

In what I am deeming as divine action rather than a simple coincidence, the pilot episode of FX’s ‘Sons of Anarchy’ appeared on my DVR the night before the Dallas Mavericks would see their season come to a crashing end by losing Game Four against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Allow me to explain.

In the first scene of that pilot episode, Sons of Anarchy main characters Jax Teller and Clay Morrow are in a discussion on how to “clean up” an accident that took place in the town their Motorcycle Club essentially runs. During that chat, the following interaction takes place:

Teller: “It ain’t easy being king.”
Morrow: “You remember that.”

During the 2012 NBA season, the Dallas Mavericks found out exactly how difficult it is to be “king.” After going through everything they had throughout their careers, long-in-the-tooth NBA veterans Jason Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, and Shawn Marion had supposedly finally seen it all by winning their first championship last season.

Apparently, there was still one more lesson the basketball Gods had in store for them: “It ain’t easy being king.”

That wasn’t quite how the organization pictured it. Though it shouldn’t be used as a complete scapegoat for the season, the biggest cloud of negativity hanging over this disastrous year was caused by everything Lamar Odom did, or didn’t do, during his time in Dallas. Though no Mavericks still on the roster from 2011 had any experience in defending a championship, Odom did. Twice. He had experienced both successfully and unsuccessfully defending a championship and was supposed to be a source for the Mavericks to go to in order to know if they were on the right track throughout the season, all while utilizing his unique skill-set.

Instead, the Odom experiment went about as poorly as it could. Amongst the many things that took a negative turn this season, the failure of the Odom experiment was an absolute catastrophe.

Needless to say, the season didn’t exactly go how the Dallas Mavericks had hoped. A massive roster shake up is one thing, but dealing with it during a year in which a championship is to be defended slowly became unacceptable for most Mavs watchers. It’s easy to overreact now, but hold out judgment on the decision to jettison players from the championship team. Time and what the Mavericks’ front office does with the additional salary cap room will ultimately tell us if it was the right or wrong call. Still, winning is expected in Dallas now and things turned sour for the fans as it became more and more clear that 2012 wouldn’t end that way.

That was the case for Mavs’ coach Rick Carlisle as well.

“As great as the championship run was, there always comes a time when you have to look forward,” Carlisle said. “That’s where things are at now.”

Expectations are built when championships are won. Though it can be debated whether or not Carlisle, Nowitzki, and the rest were given a fair shake to mount their defense, a team must face the music upon failing to meet those newfound expectations. Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder made sure to promptly haul through Maverick expectations like I used to speed through the middle school parking lot next to my high school (before the speed bumps). As is the case when the Nowitzki-era Mavericks fall short in the postseason, there is now a ton of second guessing and additional questions that need answering.

Will Deron Williams sign with the Mavericks, as essentially promised by the Mavs when dismissing much of the 2011 roster? What is going to happen with Terry and Kidd? Will the amnesty be utilized? If it is, will it be used on Marion, Brendan Haywood, or another? Will Rick Carlisle be back? What is ‘Plan B’ and ‘Plan C’ if Williams opts for another NBA route?

There aren’t answers to any of those questions right now, but there soon will be as the playoffs end and the offseason progresses. One thing the Mavs won’t have to worry about, however, is repeating. That burden will fall on someone else, perhaps even on the same Thunder who kicked the Mavs so easily to the curb. Then it will be their turn to learn the lesson the Mavericks now know.

It’s not so easy living large the top.

Mavericks Falter In Cliché Must-Win Game

The Dallas Mavericks faced quite a few issues with the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first two games of their playoff series, both of which they lost.

Surprisingly, one of those issues was not Kevin Durant. Durant still scored 25.5 points per game, but all of that came on 34% shooting. Superstar caliber players like Durant will always get their points, but it’s just a matter of making them work for it and Shawn Marion was making him do just that.

For the Mavericks, the frightening part about Durant’s sluggish start was that the Thunder were still able to win both games in Oklahoma City.

With an already tough task in front of them, the Mavs were hoping to keep Durant in his mini-slump just to make their series deficit surmountable.

Fat chance.

Not that the Thunder are unbeatable when Durant plays up to his normally high standards, but his 15 quick points in the first quarter shocked the Mavs who found themselves back on their heels in the blink of an eye. Going into the series, the Mavericks actually expected these vintage Durant performances while hoping to keep talented, but easily frustrated point guard Russell Westbrook’s scoring down. Their plan could not have been more opposite as Westbrook was the one with the hot hand coming into Thursday night averaging 28.0 points per game with a sterling 50% shooting percentage.

If both Durant and Westbrook are performing at a high rate, their opponent faces quite a climb no matter who they are.

Despite being down 0-2 and not technically facing an actual elimination game Thursday night, all teams down two games to none in the playoffs essentially face an elimination game considering a team has never come back from that 0-3 hole in the history of the NBA playoffs. That’s a feat that the Mavericks came into tonight having no interest in trying to overcome.

Unluckily for the Mavericks, the Thunder didn’t care.

After Kevin Durant (31 points, 11-of-15 shooting) quickly jumped back into his elite form, Westbrook (20 points, 8-of-19 shooting) followed suit with his highly effective mid-range game and the Mavs had no answer in the crushing 95-79 loss.

They had no answer from Dirk Nowitzki, no answer from Jason Terry, and no answer from anyone else.

The 2012 Oklahoma City Thunder are simply a better team than the 2012 Dallas Mavericks, meaning the Mavs would have to play nearly error free to have a chance of winning the series. Games 1 and 2 followed that pattern even though the Mavericks fell just short, but Game 3 was a pure comedy of errors.

Whether it was the combined 34% shooting, the porous defense of their three-point line, or the inability to force the Thunder to commit any more than six turnovers, the Mavs had plenty of problems tonight that they could point to for their demise. While all of that is true and had a hand in the Mavs falling into an 0-3 hole, the main reason is because the Thunder are simply the more talented team. The series between these rivals last year aren’t even comparable due to the roster turnover and the improvements Oklahoma City’s young stars have made.

There is obviously still the chance of a miracle from the Mavs, who now have the unenviable task of have to win four straight games against the Western Conference’s two-seed in order to take the series. Considering the Mavericks are now an amazing 1-8 against the Thunder this season counting the preseason, it may not be a good bet to make.

Mavs On The Brink Against A Better Team

Queue up Al Pacino’s locker room speech from Any Given Day because this Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder playoff matchup has fully proven the ‘Game of Inches’ theory. The inches went Kevin Durant’s way in Game 1 and didn’t for Dirk Nowitzki in Game 2.

And now the Thunder are up two games to none with full control.

By using the crazy concept of mathematics, this series appears close on many levels. Only separated by four points over two games, the pace and scoring has been nearly identical so far with the Thunder scoring 99 and 102 points and the Mavericks with 98 and 99 points, respectively.

Despite a run last night where the Thunder led by double digits for a short period of time, the first couple of games have been stocked full of ties, lead changes, and play closer than the distance between Dirk Nowitzki’s elbow and Russell Westbrook’s face. That’s what tends to happen in a rivalry of teams who know each other so well and let there be no doubt, this Oklahoma-Texas duo has quickly become a rivalry.

Shocking, I know.

Still, despite the numbers, how close actually are these two teams? There is a reason the Thunder are the two-seed and the Mavericks are the seven: The Oklahoma City Thunder are better than Dallas this year. They’re better than most anyone. The Mavs aren’t underdogs like in so many (all?) of their series in last year’s playoffs, they’re the actual inferior team this time around. There’s nothing wrong with that as upsets happen all the time, but it means their margin for error is extremely slim and they’ll have to work harder for everything they get.

Specifically, the dispersion of scoring causes stress for one team and is a non-issue for the other. On Oklahoma City, Kevin Durant can shoot 5-17 in Game 1 and Russell Westbrook or James Harden can be consistently counted on to contribute in a scoring role. When scoring can be so easily relied upon by a few, good things begin to happen for that team. Guys like Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and, my God, Derek Fisher can get on scoring rolls that makes the opponent feel like their collective sky is falling.

Everything seems to come so easier for the better team who has things rolling. We saw it last year in Dallas.

Right now on the Mavericks, a 5-17 shooting night for Dirk Nowitzki would almost certainly bury Dallas on that night. Jason Terry has proven he can be that additional scorer, but with defenses rolling to him late in the game, it’s Nowitzki or bust so far.

So far, by a few inches, that hasn’t been enough.

Still, we’re not done here. Thanks to Rick Carlisle’s adjustments and overall mastery of anything Thunder coach Scott Brooks is capable of, the Mavericks are a tough matchup for the Thunder who can’t seem to gain consistent separation from their seven-seed counterparts. They’re beating the Mavericks, but Rick Carlisle, along with Nowitzki, deserves massive praise for not allowing this to get out of hand.

It’s not quite smoke and mirrors, but Carlisle certainly isn’t working with the same group he has in 2011. He and the Mavs have had very little margin for error, but coming home for two game on Thursday and Saturday will crack that window open a bit more.

They’ll need it, too. Counting the preseason, playoffs, and regular season, the Mavericks are just 1-7 against the Thunder this year. Considering that, it will be quite a tall order to take four of five games from Oklahoma City over the next few days to win the series. It may feel like the Mavericks barely lost the first two games, but they need to make some drastic adjustments to turn their fortunes around. They can start with a return to their ball movement oriented offense and someone stepping into a consistent scoring role next to Terry and Nowitzki in order to pull off the relative miracle.

And perhaps a center can show up for Dallas, as well.

It starts on Thursday in Dallas where the Mavericks face their first must-win game of the season. The inches, among other things, need to start falling in the favor of the Mavs.

Was Letting Chandler Walk The Right Move?

Tyson Chandler will be named the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year this afternoon. Remember him? You may have a faint recollection of the man who became the defensive anchor for the Dallas Mavericks last season as they won their first ever championship.

Much has happened in Mavs Land since that title was on and alas, Tyson Chandler eventually went on to free agency and fell to the New York Knicks. The Knicks are the team for which Chandler is winning the award for today, not the Mavericks. That’s an obvious fact, but also a painful reality for many who wanted Chandler to be a Maverick for life.

Chandler receiving the award today has thrown gasoline on the fiery debate of whether or not the Mavs should have brought the center back with a ‘do what it takes’ attitude, but it’s important to understand the reasoning and line of thinking the Mavericks used when making that decision.

With the Mavericks down 0-2 right now in the First Round of the playoffs to the Oklahoma City Thunder, panic clouds over the future of the franchise are settling over Dallas. Hindsight cries about how the Mavs should have re-signed the center are a half-panic, half-uninformed opinion. Taking the broad approach of looking beyond the current playoffs situation, the Mavericks made the decision to let Tyson Chandler walk away for reasons beyond today, tomorrow, and even a few years down the road.

If the Mavericks had signed Chandler to the four-year and $58 million contract that the Knicks offered him, the future of the franchise would have been locked-in without any room to maneuver, while also placing the Mavs into deep luxury tax territory. The new agreed upon CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) places a much harsher penalty on teams who pay luxury tax, so the Mavericks would have been committed to an aging, offensively limited player who handcuffed moves in the future and they would have been paying ungodly amounts of money in order to do it.

The Mavericks know what Tyson Chandler is capable of as a player and they never for a minute believed he wasn’t capable of winning the Defensive Player of the Year award, but they simply didn’t believe an investment of around $14 million a year for an older, injury-prone center was worth it.

Sure, Chandler could eventually prove that the Mavericks made the wrong decision, but that can only be done over time. What Chandler did this year or any awards he receives today are irrelevant as the Mavs’ front office always believed he was capable of this, just not long term. Before rushing to a judgment that is formed in an instant, monitor the next few years and watch what the Mavericks do with their additional financial flexibility, the kind of success they have, how productive Tyson Chandler is as he ages into his current contract, and how the Knicks fare with his albatross of a contract.

Only then can the decision of the Mavericks be fairly ruled upon.

Mavericks Secure A Spot In The Playoffs

It wasn’t easy, but it’s official.

The Dallas Mavericks clinched a playoff spot for the 12th consecutive year on Thursday night by virtue of the Houston Rocket’s loss in New Orleans to the lowly Hornets. While seeding hasn’t yet been decided, qualifying for the playoffs this season has been nothing short of a chore for the Mavs. That may be acceptable for most teams in the league, but it’s not exactly how the world champions planned on defending their title.

Granted, the departure of center Tyson Chandler and guard JJ Barea among other key pieces made it virtually impossible to compete at the same level as last year, but one of the things a team looks forward to so much following a championship is a ‘defend-your-crown’ type of feeling all year. That feeling never quite came to fruition during the regular season. The good news for the Mavericks is they’ll get another chance to find it once the playoffs begin.

Much has come to light in the postseason picture over the last few days based on results for other potential playoff participants. The Mavericks clinching obviously guarantees Dallas at least the 8th seed in the Western Conference Playoffs and no better than the 6th seed due to the Memphis Grizzlies’ 85-80 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday night.  The unlikely scenario of facing the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round was significantly dashed on Thursday as they lost to the Phoenix Suns to inch closer to the 4th seed.

Overall, the most likely opponent for the Mavs when the playoffs begin is the Los Angeles Lakers, with minor possibilities of the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder. Much discussion over which of those teams will provide the most favorable matchup for the Mavericks will take place in the Dallas-Fort Worth area over the next few days, but the fact is that those three teams are top seeds in the Western conference for a reason: They’re extremely good.  Each will provide their own unique challenges for the Mavs, so the best thing to do for the rest of the season is to ignore the matchup talk.

The Mavericks’ time will be most effectively spent finding some offensive efficiency and staying healthy during the last few days of the regular season. It may even be worth Rick Carlisle’s time to rest Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki for at least one of the final games. One only needs to look back a year to see how having rested stars can pay off in the postseason.

Only so much can be said about matchups, seedings, and home court advantage before the talk all starts to run together. The 2010 Mavericks were a number two seed with as promising a path through the playoffs as the franchise ever had before stumbling in the First Round. The 2011 Mavericks were picked by many to lose in the First Round to the Portland Trailblazers before going on to win the NBA Championship with arguably one of the most difficult paths in history.

All it takes is a spark and some momentum, which can appear at any time. These aren’t last year’s Dallas Mavericks, but the benefit of the doubt remains on their side.

Until it doesn’t, of course.

Plenty Of Uncertainty In Mavs Locker Room

There isn’t much time for the Dallas Mavericks to get on track this regular season. The goal is obviously to find some momentum and consistency before the playoffs hit, but this season is different in Dallas as the postseason isn’t yet assured with just a few games remaining.

After last night’s meeting with Southwest Division rival Houston Rockets, the regular season game count fell to three. Losing recent winnable against the Portland Trailblazers, Los Angeles Lakers, and Utah Jazz haven’t made things any easier, but that’s the reality Dallas faces in a season that has provided so much uncertainty.

Uncertainty hasn’t just been a recurring theme throughout the NBA, but it’s specifically been one in the Mavericks’ locker room. A lot still needs to be decided with the regular season so close to being over and that includes the Dallas player rotation.

“I don’t have a definite rotation laid out,” Mavs’ Coach Rick Carlisle said when pressed about the subject before the game against Houston. “It’s an ongoing evaluation, really. We don’t have a 100% answer. The guys have done a good job of being ready.”

Most of the Mavericks may have ‘been ready’ this year, but the last two games of their recent road trip didn’t produce the result they wanted. Despite going to four total overtimes against a good team (The Lakers) and a desperate team (The Jazz), the Mavericks just couldn’t overcome some of the late-game mistakes they have begun to make during close games.

Just losing those two games wasn’t the only negative impact for the Mavs. As one of the older teams in the league, having to put so much effort into a game without getting the win is a double whammy. Specifically, despite being limited to mostly 30 minutes or less for most of each game this season, Mavs point guard Jason Kidd felt the brunt of those overtime games by playing 42 minutes per game over the stretch. Obviously the Mavs would like the keep the minutes limited for Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki, and Jason Terry in order to save their energy for the playoffs, but that’s simply not a luxury they have with the playoffs not assured.

In a fight of their own for the playoffs, the Rockets came to town tied for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference and a game and a half behind the Mavericks for the seventh seed. Also looking to avoid the season series sweep from the Mavericks, the Rockets needed a win Wednesday night even more than their North Texas counterpart.

Nowitzki, Terry, and Vince Carter simply wouldn’t let it happen. With Nowitzki and Terry providing their usual torture to the Rockets with 35 and 19 points respectively, it was Carter who provided the extra lift with a season-high 23 points. With the 117-110 win, the Mavs moved into a virtual tie with the Denver Nuggets for the seventh seed and the Rockets moved closer toward vacation than they did the postseason with their fifth consecutive loss.

The playoffs essentially started weeks ago for the Mavericks who have had to fight for their spot in the top eight of the Western Conference. With a couple more performances like tonight, they will continue their playoffs for at least one series.

Role Players Step Up For Dallas

It’s been a tumultuous past few days for the usually calm, collected Dallas Mavericks franchise due to the announcement that Lamar Odom would be inactive for the rest of the season. The experiment with the power forward failed and Dallas will move on without him, while he gets some much needed time to focus on his personal issues that plagued the worst season of his career.

The theme before the game revolved around moving on from Odom, who represented that worst part of a so far bleak season in Dallas. Amongst reports of Odom being consistently late to games and getting into recent confrontations with members of the organization, Mavs owner Mark Cuban was extremely open and honest regarding the situation.

“You can’t put the mistakes we’ve made on Lamar,” Cuban said. “We made mistakes, not him. If I’m going to be the guy who smiles with my hand on the trophy, I’ve got to be the guy to take the responsibility.”

“It’s my team, my responsibility,” he continued.

Tuesday night marked the first day of P.O. (Post Odom) in Dallas and the beginning of a kind of blank slate for the Mavs. Well, as much of a blank slate that a team in the thick of a playoff race with only a few games remaining can have. The cliché of ‘addition by subtraction’ certainly has the chance to apply to this situation, as the removal of the dark cloud that was Odom’s passive attitude potentially (and hopefully) can prove to be a spark for the meddling Mavericks.

Coming out on Tuesday with a positive performance and displaying the energy that has been lacking from so many efforts recently would almost certainly pumps some belief back into Mavs fans and perhaps even build some legitimate momentum as Dallas fights for its playoff life.

Combine that with hosting the 19-38 Sacramento Kings and the Mavs took advantage a real shot toward getting back on the right track. And just in time.

Last year’s championship team thrived on teamwork, ball movement, and an ‘us-against-the-world’ attitude more than any group in recent memory. Ultimately, those factors were what made the Mavericks greater than the sum of their parts as they won the Finals. Obviously, this incarnation of the Mavericks have much deeper issues than the negative aura of Lamar Odom, but if they believe they can find an edge with his departure and fallback on some of that fluid ball-movement offense, then this is still a defending champion to be reckoned with.

Behind Roddy Beaubois (15 points), Shawn Marion (10 points, 14 rebounds) and some timely shooting by the nearly forgotten Yi Jianlian (8 points), the Mavs got their expected, but still much-needed win.

After tonight’s 110-100 win and with eight games remaining in the craziness that has been this lockout-shortened regular season, the Mavericks sit in seventh place and need every win they can get their hands on.

For now, it’s a new day in Dallas. Whether the champs can capitalize on that opportunity or not will be proven shortly as a five-game road trip to the west coast starts on Thursday.

Lamar Odom’s Done In Dallas

Lamar Odom’s reign (of disinterest?) in Dallas came to a screeching halt today as it was announced this morning that the forward came to an agreement with the Dallas Mavericks to step away from the team for the rest of the season.

“The Mavericks and I have mutually agreed that it’s in the best interest of both parties for me to step away from the team,” Odom said in a statement first reported by ESPN’s Mark Stein. “I’m sorry that things didn’t work out better for both of us, but I wish the Mavs’ organization, my teammates and Dallas fans nothing but continued success in the defense of their championship.”

Odom wasn’t granted his outright release due to contractual issues that would take up some of the Mavericks’ impending salary cap space if they were to simply cut the player. By agreeing for Odom to “step away from the team” and be labeled as inactive for the rest of the season, the Mavs keep the option of potentially trading Odom down the line in order to save that cap room.

Though his status will officially be ‘inactive’ for the rest of the season, most would argue he has been just that all year long.

Lamar Odom’s struggles since his trade to Dallas in December are well documented. Not only was the forward averaging career lows per game in points (6.6), rebounds (4.2), assists (1.2) field goal percentage (35.2%), steals (0.4), blocks (0.4), and minutes (20.5), but his general indifference on the court and bench for the Mavericks was one of the most grating experiences Mavs fans have ever been put through.

Coming off a season where he won the league’s Sixth Man of the Year Award, Dallas traded for him for nearly nothing. With his unique blend of skill, Odom was supposed to pair with Jason Terry to create one of the more vaunted benches in NBA history while easing the heavy scoring and minutes load for Dirk Nowitzki.

Odom did none of that.

The Mavericks waited for Odom to come around, but they were perhaps too patient. Even though his lack of effort on the court, and general apathetic attitude toward everything while in Dallas, was an instant annoyance to fans and media, Odom was never going to be considered a ‘problem’ for the Mavericks until franchise leaders Nowitzki or Jason Kidd had some kind of negative opinion on the matter. That happened this weekend. Saturday night, Nowitzki showed some frustration regarding a line of questioning about Odom. Monday morning, Odom was gone.

Odom made the cardinal sin of rocking the boat and that won’t fly on the USS Mark Cuban.

Moving forward, the hope has to be that Lamar Odom’s absence will be the ultimate case of addition by subtraction. The Mavericks obviously have deeper issues than the ones Odom presented, but the removal of his negative vibe will be like getting overdue work done on a car. It may break down eventually anyway, but a tune up certainly can’t hurt.

Examining the Mavericks’ roster of players who still want to play basketball, it seems that Shawn Marion and Brian Cardinal will combine to take up the extra minutes at power forward behind Nowitzki. Perhaps the mobility of Ian Mahinmi and Brandan Wright will make them an option, as well.

No matter which direction the Mavericks choose to take, almost any option will be better than Odom considering his puny production.

From the start, it was clear that Lamar Odom wasn’t happy about being in Dallas. He failed to even attempt to hide his disdain for the Lakers not wanting him. The Mavs jumped at the opportunity to bring in a player with his long history of quality play at such an efficient price. They did everything they could to meet Odom in the middle, but like any relationship, it will never work if both sides don’t put forth the effort.

Without being an insider in the Mavs’ front office or on the roster, it’s difficult to know what specifically did or didn’t work with him, but Odom was simply a failed experiment in Dallas.

Lamar Odom couldn’t thrive outside of Hollywood, but more importantly, just wasn’t made for Texas.