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.