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.

Mavs Host Unfamiliar Trailblazers

Not too much time has passed since the Dallas Mavericks and the Portland Trail Blazers met in the First Round of the NBA playoffs last spring, but the cast of characters of one of these teams received a big time face lift. And it wasn’t the team that won that playoff series last April.

After this season’s trade deadline, which saw Portland trade their starting small forward (Gerald Wallace) to New Jersey, their starting center (Marcus Camby) to Houston, and fire their head coach (Nate McMillan), this current version of the Trail Blazers hardly resembles the unit that put so much pressure on the Mavericks last spring.

Of the twelve players who saw minutes in that series for Portland, only three still remain on the roster in LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, and Wesley Matthews.

Not only does the roster overhaul represent a big difference in the current state of each franchise, but so does each team’s current playoffs situation. The Mavericks, while coming into tonight only percentage points behind Memphis for fifth place and two and a half games from being out of the playoffs all together, are in the heart of the battle for seeding. Meanwhile, the playoff fight for Portland is nearly non-existent.

In short, these clubs have taken two very different paths after their meaningful meeting months ago. Though it’s unfortunate to see the Trail Blazers fall as far as they have, it just speaks to how difficult it is to sustain consistent quality over long periods of time in the NBA. It wasn’t long ago that Portland was the young up-and-comer in the NBA with Aldridge, guard Brandon Roy (now retired), and center Greg Oden (waived in March) primed to make Portland a contender for years to come. It takes high quality players to be a good basketball team, but a smart front office mixed with a lot of luck is what makes it last.

For every consistent run of 50-win seasons and playoff appearances you see the current Mavericks or San Antonio Spurs on, you get a dozen 2007 Golden State Warriors, 2008 New Orleans Hornets and Portland Trailblazers, 2009 Denver Nuggets, and so on. Currently the Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Memphis Grizzlies have the tag of a new, quality team/contender with a seemingly solid base. With luck that will continue, but keep in mind how difficult it is to take the step from solid team into a yearly contender. It is quite an underrated part of the process.

With that, the Mavericks and Trail Blazers met tonight in a game that turned out nearly as spirited as the ones during last season’s playoffs, including an amazingly clutch buzzer beater by LaMarcus Aldridge to win the game. Though the old guard like Aldridge and Dirk Nowitzki put on their usual performances as one would expect in an overtime thriller, new figures like Brandan Wright (two highlight dunks) and Raymond Felton (30 points) both made their presences felt at separate points throughout the night.

Though Portland did stray from this season’s script and beat the Mavs 99-97 who very much needed this game, they remain in a state of unknown as they move closer to an offseason that will surely be full of change.

As for the Mavericks, they trek on in search of their 12th consecutive playoffs appearance. A quest that just became a tad more difficult with a loss in a game they desperately needed.

Mavs Will Grind Out A Spot In The Playoffs

The Mavs have one of their toughest and most important stretches of the season this week. It won’t get much easier for the rest of the regular season, either.

In addition to the loss to the Los Angeles Clippers tonight, this week will feature the Portland Trailblazers and Memphis Grizzlies twice going forward. The good news is that victories in all these games clinch tiebreakers over much of the Western Conference.

It’s tough that all these important dates seem to be hitting Dallas all at once, but such in life in a lockout-shortened season. Still, having the ability to decide your own face is better than the alternative.

To make it tougher, the remaining schedule before the playoffs start includes seven of thirteen games on the road, all while being two games out of eight place in the West and uncomfortably three games away from missing the playoffs all together.

Still, panic isn’t something you’re going to find in the Mavericks locker room.

“Everything is important,” Coach Rick Carlisle said referring to the upcoming schedule and tiebreaker implications. “We’ve really got to dig down. We’re going to have to play whistle to whistle.”

Despite the confident locker room, the Mavericks will have to proceed for at least a week without starting point guard Jason Kidd. As one point guard return-eth in Delonte West, another is apparently taketh away.

“It was an issue Friday, he’s likely out a week,” Carlisle said as he went into detail about the groin injury that will sideline Kidd. “It’s something that’s been an issue, but it needed to be resolved.”

The injury is a setback for the present, but puts forth some interesting possibilities going forward for the Mavs. Kidd missing time provides yet another opportunity for third year guard Roddy Beaubois to step into an increased role and produce on a consistent basis. Consistency is always the key for Beaubois, who has always been able to show flashes, but struggles to sustain it. More playing time is the only way to ultimately find out what the Mavs have in Roddy and if he can actually be in the playoff rotation this time around.

Additionally, getting Kidd as much rest as possible, while still making the playoffs will only help. Before the start of the postseason last year, Kidd was shut down for the last week of the regular season and followed it with one of his most impressive playoff series as a Maverick. Obviously the expectation for this season has been lowered quite a bit due to their recent play, but a rested Kidd will eventually lead to a better, sharper Kidd.

West will even get a few starts at point guard with Kidd out. As good as Jason Kidd has been throughout his career, West’s mid-range game and ability to finish at the rim with his left hand adds a wrinkle to the Mavs’ offense that is virtually nonexistent with Kidd at the reins. Although, that clearly wasn’t enough of a factor tonight.

Despite tonight’s 19-point demolition at the hands of the Clippers, don’t expect doom and gloom in the veteran Mavericks’ locker room. The media and MFFLs will take care of that.

Nowitzki Finds His Stride Despite Criticism

“His days of being the man are over.”

Charles Barkley said it when he infamously commented how Dirk Nowitzki’s time as a leading man in the NBA was fading, despite having taken over the basketball world just months earlier. Barkley chose to dismiss the nature of how Nowitzki spent his offseason and how his game historically does not rely on athleticism in order to go for the shock factor of declaring Nowitzki on a massive downward slope after a slow start to the season.

Since then, it’s safe to say that Nowitzki has proven Barkley’s notion wrong.

As he has always done throughout his career, Nowitzki quietly took the criticism and chose to sway opinions through action rather than words. That ‘action’ has come in the form of 24.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in his last 24 games.

“Father Time is catching up with him.”

Not only that, he has his shooting percentages back up around special levels from the floor (47%), the free throw line (87%), and beyond the three-point arc (37%). The numbers will always round into form for Nowitzki until the day he hangs up his big German Nikes, but efficiency is the trademark that puts him in the elite of the elite. The maximum number of points with the fewest number of shots and misses, while making his teammates better for it, allows Nowitzki to create some of his vintage playoff performances seen over the years. That ability was on full display last Monday in Denver as Nowitzki shot 12 for 19 with 33 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 assists.

Nowitzki finding his groove means he’s scoring at a high rate while making the right pass out of double teams during the flow of the game. Along with point guard Jason Kidd, he becomes the engine in the Mavs’ vaunted ball movement offensive machine. Getting shots for himself while creating them for teammates is when he’s at his best. Right now, he’s at that level.

“…When you’re a great player, you have further to fall.”

Earlier in the season, Nowitzki was a concern for the Mavericks. Now, as the NBA moves into its final 20 games for each team, he seems to be the only lock. Players like Delonte West, Shawn Marion, and Brendan Haywood are coming back from injuries and finding their form may ultimately decide the fate of these Dallas Mavericks during the playoffs, but Nowitzki is as capable as ever to carry his share of the load.

Dirk Nowitzki hears the naysayers and always has. Maybe Charles Barkley’s criticism is what Nowitzki needed as a spark for this season, but he has certainly put the league on alert with his play over the last couple of months.

For the time being, Dirk is still Dirk.