Fast forward to last night, 1.4 seconds left. Vince Carter hits a go ahead three-point shot to put the Mavericks up 102 to 101. The feed for Carter–the reason why he was so open–came from Dallas Maverick star and reigning Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk was about to go to work on Kendrick Perkins until Kevin Durant came over to force the double. Dirk picked up his dribble and made the smart play; kicks it to Vince Carter for the go ahead bucket.
The next second epitomizes Dallas’ season thus far. I know its three games in but I have serious concern for the Mavericks.
The Thunder call timeout and advance the ball like a normal situation late in the game. They ran an excellent play to get Durant an open look. The SLOB started out with Thabo inbounding the ball. Everyone was chest to chest as usual, then the clock started. Westbrook flashes through the key to the wing. When he flashes he takes Jason Kidd with him; Haywood decides to come along too. Westbrook served as the perfect distraction because of how hot he became in the 4th quarter. Westbrook was 3-11 before the 4th had started. Then he went 3 of 4 from the field for 7 points in the waning moments of the game. This left Shawn Marion to deal with Kevin Durant; Dirk was guarding the inbounder(didn’t move a lot I might add). James Harden then sets a screen as Durant flashes to the sideline. Marion is caught on the screen and is out of the play. It is up to Jason Terry to get to Durant but even if he does he won’t get a clean contest because of his height. Durant wasn’t phased by Terry’s hand. Kevin Durant hoists the ball up from the words…SWISH!
Here is the video for those of you who missed it: http://youtu.be/RHqKkp26Tb8
At the end of the game I felt bad for Dallas. It seems like they just can’t get a break. Versus one of the top teams in the west, they played their hardest; they played well enough to win the game. It was all in vain though because Durant and the Thunder were just too good for the new look Mavericks. The Mavericks had gotten out to an early lead mainly because of Russell Westbrook trying to get back into his groove. He was taking bad shot after bad shot. This also caused him to turn the ball over; he had 3 of them in the first quarter. At one point in the 1st quarter Dallas was up 10 points. By the end of it they only managed to hold a one point lead.
Oklahoma City managed to jump out on the Mavericks for most of the 2nd half; they showed resilience in bringing themselves back into the game. They were down seven at one point. They managed to keep it close during the 4th quarter and Dirk seemed to revert to the old Dirk. In fact, we saw some Maverick ball that we’ve grown used to. There was beautiful ball movement, excellent team rebounding, good rotations on defense, smart shots everywhere. That’s how they took the lead right before the end of the game after going back and forth with the Thunder. We all know what happened after that though.
This leads me to ponder whether or not the Mavs are going to retain their former glory. Can they make a playoff run once again? I don’t think so. The team has diminished its fire power in the most important area that led them on their championship run–defense. That’s what they lack right now. In all 3 losses the Mavericks have allowed opponents to score 100 plus points on them. Last season they only allowed 96 points per game which was 10th in the league. A lot of that can be attributed to Tyson Chandler plugging up the middle and patrolling the paint. Without that presence it seems like the Mavericks are lost on defense.
They also lost the presence of Caron Butler who was probably their best perimeter defender last season before he went down. Vince Carter can score the ball at times and he looks good doing it but he’s an atrocious defender. They do have Lamar Odom to back him up but more and more it’s looking like Lamar doesn’t want to be apart of this team. More often than not he’s holding the team back. Instead of proving to the NBA that the Lakers made a big mistake it looks like they did the right thing by Letting Odom go.
Delonte West has been the only upgrade the Mavs have picked up thus far this season. He is, by far, a better player than JJ Barea. With that being said, though, he isn’t going to stop everyone from getting into the paint. The Mavericks are last in the league in opponent free throw attempts per game with 34 according to ESPN.com. This shows that they have a problem with protecting the paint. Teams are allowed to go in their and do what they want. Last season they only allowed 22 FTA per game. I know there have only been three outings this season, but this is definitely something that I worry about going forward with them.
Protecting the paint is the first thing that a championship team should know how to do. That is where all of the high percentage shots and FTAs come from; those are bread and butter for teams that win. If you can control the paint and rebound you are likely going to win games in the NBA. Look at teams like the Bulls and the Thunder. They have people who turn teams away from the paint. You can’t win in the NBA by taking jump shots and shooting low percentages. The Thunder took 27 less shots than the Mavericks yesterday and still won the game. That’s because they were able to dominate in the paint and got high percentage looks. The only player who shot under 50 percent for Oklahoma City was Russell Westbrook yesterday. If you’re Dallas you have to take care of that. OKC shot 58% on the night to Dallas’ 42%. On the season Dallas is shooting only 40%. This shows that they aren’t taking high percentage shots. They are settling for too many jump shots and you can see that when they play games.
If Dallas wants to be a repeat champion, something that few teams are able to do, then they need to fix all of these problems. I don’t believe that they have the personnel to fix all of this. If they do repeat they’ll need a bit of luck on their side. I have them currently as the 6th or 7th best team in the west alone. Sure, they have a lot of room for improvement. I don’t expect Odom to remain in this lackadaisical state that he is in currently. When their team starts to gel they could be dangerous but I still don’t think that they’re better than Memphis, Oklahoma City, both LA teams, San Antonio, Portland and maybe even Denver. If the Mavs keep sleeping they’re going to end up missing the playoffs. One thing that we’ve all learned, though, from last seasons playoffs is to never count Dirk out. We’ll see how this plays out, but til then I say goodnight Dallas.