Three Weeks of Truth.
That’s what I’ve dubbed this stretch of ten games for the Mavericks that began with a blowout of Philadelphia on Sunday and a loss to Oklahoma City on Wednesday. The stretch includes nine home games in ten (a March 6 trip to Denver is the exception), with only three games against teams that are presently .500 or better – OKC, LA Clippers, and Indiana (Detroit could make it four by the time the teams meet on March 9).
How the Mavericks handle this stretch of games could very determine their playoff fate, as life in the bottom half of the Western Conference playoff bracket is tight indeed. Portland and Utah are young teams on a surge. The Mavericks and Rockets are swimming in mediocrity, and Memphis, while having the easiest schedule of all the contenders, is probably the one most unsure right now because of the loss of their star center Marc Gasol for the rest of the season due to a foot injury.
It’s hard to currently suggest that the Mavericks are giving off a vibe suggesting they are ready to get their act together. Maybe these next five games, all against sub .500 teams starting tonight with a home tilt against Denver, will allow them to get their act together – but there seems to be a disjointed aspect to this team that not even a noted tinkerer like Rick Carlisle might be able to fix.
Rare is the night when the Mavericks have more than one or two players really dialed in. It’s almost like they’re an all-star band with a lot of great guitarists, each taking a turn as the lead. Chandler Parsons has been their most consistent player over the last month, but when he’s been needed in big games vs. San Antonio and OKC he’s been a virtual no-show. Dirk Nowitzki was sensational in the loss to OKC, but since Jan. 1 has barely been a 40% shooter. Deron Williams has solar flares like in the Orlando and Utah games, but rarely puts a long-term stamp on a game. The Mavericks wouldn’t even be in the playoff picture without Zaza Pachulia’s contributions, but he’s fallen off terribly defensively in February, as he’s been badly outplayed (Horford, Whiteside, Gasol, Vucevic, Okafor and Adams) and Wesley Matthews, who only now appears to be emerging from a six-week slump that saw him shoot under 35% from the floor.
But as much of the inconsistency of the starters is maddening, the consistent struggle of the bench to provide support is an issue that could really spell doom if it doesn’t change. Throughout the last decade and a half, the Mavericks have always had that
“one guy” off the bench who could score and score quickly. Nick Van Exel, Jerry Stackhouse, Jason Terry and Vince Carter all filled that role extremely well, but that player doesn’t exist on this team – and unless the Timberwolves are buying out Kevin Martin, he’s probably not coming here this year. However, It doesn’t mean you necessarily need a wing player. OKC’s Enes Kanter had 14 points and nine rebounds in 17 minutes against the Mavericks the other night. Perhaps, David Lee can provide something like that when he really gets up to speed, but with twenty-five games left in the season, there’s precious little time for that to develop.
But whether starter or bench player, there has to be a collective rise in energy. The first quarter starts coming out of the All-Star break – trailing 31-10 at Orlando, 12-4 vs. Philly and 15-3 vs. OKC – have been horrific. This team is not so good that it can ease its way into games. It’s not so good that once they get their heads into the game that they can just rely on their talent. It sounds so trite and clichéd, but they really need 48 minutes of effort. That, combined with their talent, and basketball IQ, is how they’re going to right this ship and put themelves into the playoffs.
Whether it all comes together or it doesn’t, we’ll know the truth soon enough.