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.

Mavs Not Worried About Wild Trade Deadline

The league’s focus today was the trade deadline where quite a bit of the NBA landscape drastically changed around the Mavericks. For once, it was a quiet deadline for Dallas who is usually involved in most trade rumors or showing interest in big name players made available. That wasn’t the case this year due to the front office making salary cap space such a priority in order to make a run at still-New Jersey Net Deron Williams.

The heavily covered Dwight Howard saga ended with him agreeing to waive his early termination option, making him a member of the Orlando Magic for at least one more year. If not for signing the waiver, Howard would have likely been traded to the Nets to join forces with Williams. His decision indirectly benefited the Mavericks, as it increased the likelihood of Williams entering this summer as an unrestricted free agent.

Despite all of the trade deadline hoopla, there was an actual basketball game to play in Dallas against the Charlotte Bobcats on Thursday night. Most of the drama surrounding the game was whether or not Shawn Marion would play in spite of a balky knee, but that proved to be a non-issue.

“All that matters is I’m going to play,” Marion responded when asked if he would give it a go tonight. Marion went on to start and play 27 minutes.

What should have been a stress-free night for Dallas wasn’t so, as Charlotte shot extremely well in the first half to build a 13-point lead. The Bobcats came into tonight’s game with a 6-35 record, but Dallas’ cushy defense made their poor record irrelevant for most of the night.

If not for a red hot third quarter by Dirk Nowitzki (9 points in the frame and 25 for the night) to pull the Mavs ahead as well as a very Charlotte-esque second half by the Bobcats, another disheartening loss in a string of them after the All Star break was certainly in the cards. Thank goodness for the Mavs that Nowitzki is around to prevent such things.

Despite the win, the Mavericks didn’t escape completely unscathed as starting center Brendan Haywood left with a mild right knee sprain and will almost certainly miss some time. Sean Williams, recently sent down to the Mavericks D-League affiliate the Texas Legends, will be the logical option to fill any void left by an injured Haywood.

Still, despite the win and some good second half energy from the Mavericks, the recently passed trade deadline seemed to be a cloud hanging over the entire league for the majority of the day and night. The uncertainty over contract situations for many Mavericks has been at least partly to blame for Dallas’ recent slump. The trade deadline has come and gone, but the impending availability of Deron Williams the summer provides little relief to the doubt surrounding the roster.

The league-wide drama is over for now and the Mavericks are back on the winning track, but the defining moments of their season are just beginning.

Mavs Continue To Search For Answers

There’s no way around it.

The last ten games, which have seen the Mavs go 2-8, have been absolutely abysmal. The Mavs’ execution, effort, and basic desire to play quality basketball weren’t at the level needed in order to compete for a championship. Whether it was due to injuries or contract uncertainty beyond this year, the Mavericks have simply lost too many games against teams they should easily handle nightly. You can analyze or go into the stats and dig around all you want to try and find why the Mavericks have underachieved so much after the All Star break, but the answer is simple: lack of effort.

The world is well aware what this roster can accomplish when locked in, but they haven’t been in a while. Mavs Guard Jason Terry acknowledged the problem last week.

“We’re not a team out there right now,” Terry admitted. “It shows, so until we become a team and play together on both ends of the court we’re not going to be very good.”

Terry, the most vocal during the Mavericks’ recent stretch, has the most to be emotional about with the Mavs’ front office not addressing his contract status until the trade deadline and offseason free agency play out in full. Business is business in the NBA, but you can’t help but feel for guys like Terry and Shawn Marion who could very possibly go from key pieces on an NBA champion to roster flotsam in a year’s time.

Still, the Mavericks needed to regroup at home after capping their ‘nine games in twelve nights’ disaster with losses to Phoenix, Sacramento, and Golden State in consecutive nights. One would think the best way for the defending champions to get back on the winning track is to catch the 9-31 Washington Wizards at the American Airlines Center, but it’s tough to tell the way the Mavericks have played lately.

The good news for the Mavericks was the return of big men Brandan Wright and Brendan Haywood would provide some depth and inside presence that was missing during the west coast trip of death. A near perfect first half by Dirk Nowitzki set the tone as the Uberman dropped 20 points in the first two frames.

Despite letting the Wizards get to the line 38 times, the combined efforts of Nowitzki (finished with 27 points), Jason Terry (24 points), and Roddy Beaubois (19 points) led the Mavs to a spirited 107-98 win that hopefully left much of the last few weeks in the rearview mirror.

But was it enough? Obviously the win is passable for one night, but is the energy from tonight against a low-end team in the league a sign of the Mavericks rolling or are there still poor, effortless performances left in this team’s character?

Which Mavericks team are we going to see for the rest of the year?

Maybe the passing of the trade deadline on Thursday will put some of the uncertainty to rest, but the reality for the Mavericks is that most of the change, if there is any, is due to take place this summer and fall. Nothing will be settled on this roster until then, so it’s up to the strength in the Kidd-Dirk-Carlisle locker room to hold together this foundation for at least another year.

For now, wins against teams like Washington are just a small step in the right direction for what will be a tough road to redeem this season.