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.