ABC's for Dallas at the Break
Bryan Gutierrez writes from Dallas on the Mavericks' run leading up to the All-Star break and notes of interest as they head down their stretch run.
ABC's for Dallas at the BreakThe Dallas Mavericks head into the All-Star break winning 10 of their last 16 games. The break probably comes at a good time as they can recharge their collective batteries, get some rest, get the mind right and prepare for the tough road ahead. With that in mind, here are the ABC’s for the Mavericks.
Alive. Despite the 23-29 record, the Mavericks are still mathematically alive to make the playoffs. Starting with the game against the Atlanta Hawks this week, the Mavericks needed to play around .750 basketball for the duration of the year. Some of my calculations have the Mavericks only having a 6% chance of making the playoffs. That’s actually better than where it was about 10-12 days ago. Until they’re out, they’re going to keep fighting.
Bench. Dallas does have an advantage over most teams with their bench. The Mavericks are averaging 40.3 bench points per game this season, which ranks second in the NBA (Charlotte leads the league with 40.7 bench points per game). Dallas scored a season-high 58 bench-points on three occasions (vs. Charlotte Nov. 3, vs. L.A. Lakers Nov. 24, at San Antonio Dec. 23). Dallas has scored at least 50 points off the bench eight times this season. The Mavericks ranked third in the NBA in bench scoring in 2011-12 (41.0 points per game) and led the league in bench scoring in 2010-11 (40.4 points per game).
Collison’s confidence. Darren Collison has been playing like a new man. Since regaining his starting point guard job 24 games ago, Collison has averaged 14.2 points, 6.0 assists, 1.4 steals and only 2.0 turnovers per game. It doesn’t stop there as he’s been extremely accurate from the field, hitting 51.4 percent of his shots from the floor, 50.0 percent of his 3-point attempts and 95.6 percent of his free throws.
Dirk. After a 3-of-11 shooting performance for 10 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Feb. 4, Dirk Nowitzki has gone 24-of-54 from the field and averaging 18.0 points. The break could be coming at a good time for Dirk as he can get his cardio in and get ready for a strong push to the finish line.
Eighteen. Out of Dallas’ 30 games left, 18 of them are against teams who would currently be in the playoffs. The road to the finish line will be tough for Dallas. It will be a challenge but it is one the Mavericks will need in order to see what they really are as a team.
Facilitating. The ball movement and unselfishness we’ve seen over the years is starting to come around on a consistent basis now. Dallas has recorded at least 20 assists in 19 straight games. The Mavericks improved to 13-4 this season when they record at least 25 assists in a game.
Guidance. The team needs to trust Rick Carlisle. That’s not saying that this season has been filled with animosity or hostility. It’s clear though that Carlisle has been extremely hard on his players this year. It’s been a different situation as the chemistry and cohesion that has been a staple of the franchise over the last few years has disappeared. They have had to adjust on the fly and Carlisle is giving his own brand of tough love. He’s doing it with the best interest for the individual and for the team. The team simply needs to buy into what he’s selling.
Houston. The Mavericks are 4.5 games behind the Rockets for the 8th spot in the Western Conference. Dallas has two more games against the Rockets. The two actually represent a home-and-home series between the two squads on Mar. 3 and 6. Dallas will need both of those games to really put some pressure on Houston.
Inertia. That word has become something of a buzzword for coach Rick Carlisle. He’s wanted to make sure the team doesn’t let times where shots don’t fall affect their energy and effort on the defensive end of the floor. A strong and consistent effort will go a long way in getting the team some mojo on offense.
Juice. O.J. Mayo will continue to be a key player for the Mavericks as they make their push for the playoffs. Mayo has averaged 21.3 points on 53.1 percent shooting (.596 3FG) in Dallas’ 23 wins this season. Dallas is 8-3 this season in games in which he scored at least 25 points and 3-1 in games in which he scored at least 30. The Mavericks are also 14-9 in games in which Mayo was their leading scorer (includes ties), and that includes five overtime losses. Mayo has 20 games with 20-plus points this season (Dallas is 13-7 in those games), after he recorded only six 20-point efforts with Memphis all of last year. Dallas is 16-9 in games in which he scored 19-or-more points. Mayo is the only player that has appeared in every game for Dallas this season (he’s started every game). He came off the bench in all 66 games for Memphis in 2011-12.
Keeping it close. With 30 games to go, Dallas needs to figure out how to win the close games down the stretch. The Mavericks are 8-13 in games where the margin is within 3 points in the final minute of the fourth quarter. They simply have to find the clutch gene and execute better down the stretch.
Lakers. The Mavericks have two games against the Los Angeles Lakers in the final 30 games. The paths between the two squads have been eerily in unison. Both have underachieved and have had to deal with injuries to key players. The big difference is the star power and the pressure for the Lakers. Each team has a solid chance to ruin the other team’s chances of making the playoffs. You can never know what to expect when these two teams battle.
Marion. What else can be said about Marion’s performance going into the All-Star break? The Matrix has taken his game to another level over the last few weeks. Marion is averaging 16.1 points and a team-high 9.1 rebounds over his last seven games. His stellar play will likely continue to go unnoticed by the masses. It’s a shame his all around game can’t be appreciated by everyone.
Necessity. It's an absolute priority for the Mavericks to realize that it's time to buckle down and handle their business. There must be a strong sense of urgency and understanding of the moment as they come back out of the break. They must realize that they have to do it as a team. No one needs to try to carry the team on their back. There's enough talent to work together and make it work. They must work together as a team.
Older. The Mavericks have players like O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison but the team still relies on their veterans. Shawn Marion joked after the game against the Sacramento Kings that Vince Carter’s milestone of passing Larry Bird on the All-Time scoring list seems like a growing trend for the team/ “Real talk, it’s like every night one of our old guys is breaking a record,” Marion said. “We’ve been playing a lot of games. It seems like every game somebody is doing something.”
Point guards. The position has clearly been a struggle for the Mavericks this year. They’ve invested time and money in Derek Fisher and now Mike James. Each of them saw time as a key member of the point guard rotation. With Roddy Beaubois and Dominique Jones floating in and out of the rotation, the backup point guard position remains an area of concern for the team.
Quarterly returns. The Mavericks seem to give you an indication of whether or not they’re going to win or not after the first quarter. The success rate in terms of the league average is 65% for teams who lead after the first quarter of games. Dallas is 14-8 in games when they lead after the first quarter and 7-20 when trailing after one. They are 12-0 at home in games when they lead after the first quarter.
Rebounding. Dallas ranks 14th in the league in rebounds/game at 42.4. Dallas is 9-22 in games when they are outrebounded by their opponent. They are 14-7 when they outrebound their opponent. Dallas has to get creative and figure out ways to ensure they win the battle on the glass. They’re not the biggest or fastest team, so creativity and energy are necessities for success in that department.
Security. As it was mentioned earlier, Dallas simply has to do a better job of closing games out. The big thing to help out that cause will be ball security. In the final three minutes of a two-possession game, Dallas ranks as the second-worst team with 1.2 turnovers per game in that window. Overall, they’re last in total turnovers in that window with a total of 33.
Trade. The trade deadline will arrive on the 21st. Many wonder how active Dallas will be on and before that day. It’s hard to imagine that they will be buyers during the time, but the big question will be whether or not they will be selling off assets such as Shawn Marion and Vince Carter to contenders.
Unknown. The fact that the Mavericks are in a spot where they have to deal with uncertainty about their playoff status is a major change compared to the past. Dallas made its 12th consecutive trip to the postseason (17th overall) in 2012. The streak is the longest in franchise history and currently the second-longest in the NBA. San Antonio (15 consecutive playoff appearances) is the only team with a longer active streak. That streak has been a model of consistency for the organization. That streak is now in jeopardy.
Vinsanity. Vince Carter has been tremendous for the Mavericks this year. He’s stepped up in a big way as the leader off the bench. Jason Terry left a big hole in the scoring department, but Carter has done his part to help fill the void. He’s already had three games this season with 25 points or more.
Weary of tired legs. The Mavericks have five back-to-backs to finish out the regular season. The Mavericks are 2-9 in the first half of a back-to-back and 4-7 in the second half of a back-to-back this season. The Mavericks have 16 back-to-backs in 2012-13, with only one stretch of four games in five nights. In total, 10 back-to-backs are on the road, three begin at home and conclude on the road and three are road-to-home. Dallas played 22 back-to-backs in 2011-12, going 7-15 in the first half and 13-9 in the second half of those back-to-backs.
X-factor. There is always an X-factor when you analyze something. I would say the center position is the X-factor for the Mavericks. With Chris Kaman missing eight straight games with a concussion and expected to return shortly after the break, the center position is an X-factor. If they can find a balance of offense and defense out of their four-headed monster at the position out of Bernard James, Elton Brand, Chris Kaman and Brandan Wright, that could do wonders for the team.
Youth. The veteran leadership was mentioned earlier, but the youth has been vital for the Mavericks. You can get even more specific and single out Jae Crowder and Bernard James. Crowder is averaging 17.1 minutes in his rookie year. James is averaging 12.3 minutes, but is averaging 15.2 minutes over his last 10 games. The fact that two second-round draft picks are seeing quality minutes for the Mavericks shows that they did a nice job with the drafting this past summer.
Zero. That is the margin of error for the Mavericks. They have had their games that will come back to haunt them as the season comes down to the wire. There’s nothing they can do about those games now. The past is the past. It’s all about taking things one game at a time and keeping a positive attitude through it all. They’ll need a bunker mentality and trust each other as they make their push.