It’s been a bad week for the Mavericks. Their four game losing streak is their longest in two years. A four game losing streak is never good. A four game losing streak in this year’s Western Conference race does appear to be almost cataclysmic. But maybe we need to invoke a certain quarterback’s five-letter response to the rough patch: R-E-L-A-X.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that there aren’t issues that need addressing. The offense in the fourth quarter of the last four games has been abysmal. The Mavericks are averaging 19.8 points, 35.3 percent from the floor and 6 of 27 from 3-point range. The execution in the waning seconds of the Bulls’, Pelicans’ and Rockets’ games was severely lacking. Not grabbing the rebound you need to give yourself a chance. Not knowing you can throw the ball into the backcourt in the last 2:00 of the fourth quarter, and then trying to throw a lob over Anthony Davis. Trying to make as difficult a pass as possible across the lane, to a player who hadn’t scored in the game and who has been in a dreadful three point shooting slump. All of them head-scratchers. All of them seemingly so atypical of this Mavericks team who just eleven days ago executed to the hilt to beat a Memphis team, whose loss to the Mavericks is their only loss in their last ten games.
The Mavericks are 11-9 since the Rajon Rondo trade. The biggest impact the trade seems to have had is on the bench. Devin Harris looks lost not being to throw lobs to Brandan Wright any more, or shooting threes off of the space Wright’s rolling to the basket created. He’s been scoreless in two of his last three games. Opponents are exploiting J.J. Barea’s lack of size. Richard Jefferson’s and Charlie Villanueva’s runs seem to have run their course. Al Farouq Aminu was fantastic in Houston, arguably his best game of the season. But when AFA was a rotation player earlier this year he couldn’t sustain his effectiveness and was put on the bench. That Rick Carlisle returned to him is as much a product of the energy he felt his more skilled players weren’t providing, as whatever numbers he might actually produce. Dwight Powell is a nice story, but again, there’s nothing long term (at least as it relates to this season) that suggests you can play him twenty minutes a night. In the last ten games, if you take out the game at Denver when three starters were benched and everyone moved up in the pecking order scoring 62 bench points, the other nine games have seen the bench produce a puny 22 points a game. Simply not good enough.
As for Rondo, it most certainly has been a mixed bag. Huge offensive games in Boston, Sacramento and New Orleans. Some terrific defense on some of the toughest matchups in the league in Russell Westbrook and John Wall, and in Houston holding James Harden to 17 points – ten points below his season average (and who has been averaging 37 in his prior four games). But with Monta Ellis also needing the ball, Rondo has to be a better shooter than he’s been (although his 39.4 three point shooting is more than acceptable, and indeed a surprise), and his defense at times has been indifferent, many times trying for steals by wrapping around and knocking it away from behind rather than moving his feet to stay in front of his opponent.
The Mavericks turnover issues against Memphis and Houston were as much a product of their trying to make the spectacular play instead of the simple one. As they’ve turned it over fewer times than only one team all year, this doesn’t seem to be anything to be worried about in the long term, but its certainly frustrating in the short term.
Sure, the Mavericks are waiting on Jermaine O’Neal, and they appear confident they WILL land him some time in the next week to ten days. That will add some ballast to the bench. The more time they spend with Rondo, the more they will figure out what they can and can’t do at both ends of the floor. They’re not going to turn it over the way they have, and they’ve shown an ability to win close games. Right now they’re in a rut, but four of the next five games starting tonight in Miami, are against teams with losing records. A chance to right the ship and then steel for back to back home games with Portland and the Clippers before the All-Star Break.
You can be concerned. That’s OK. But there’s a lot of basketball to be played between now and April 15. Just take a deep breath. The Mavericks should probably do the same.