While the Mavs offense and defense are both not nearly as good as they have been in years past in terms of efficiency, they are still above average. Currently, Knickerblogger's stats page has the Mavs with the No. 12 offense and the No. 10 defense in the league. As a point of comparison, the Suns, which are often mentioned in the same sentence as the Mavs due to their blockbuster trade for Shaq and subsequent decline, have the No. 4 offense and the No. 22 defense.
Statistical history has taught us that it's better to be very good at both offense and defense than be awesome at one and awful at the other. So the Mavs are in a good position to build from. The question remains, however, will they build from here?
I call it the "see saw" effect. The Mavs seem to be fundamentally unable to put together a complete game. When they are good on defense, they tend to be bad on offense. When they are good on offense, they tend to be bad on defense. You need to look no further than the Clippers game, where the Mavs posted a good offensive efficiency of 115.1 and a poor defensive efficiency of 109.7. (Although to be honest, a 115.1 offensive efficiency against the Clippers isn't that good).
We are seeing this in the league-wide offensive and defensive rankings, too. For a few weeks the Mavs offense has been improving while its defense was starting to fall. Now that the defense has started to right itself (at least in part), the offense is struggling. I mentioned this before, but the Mavs seem content on playing just good enough to win, whether it's on defense or offense. There seems to be no real passion to completely dominate an opponent.
The recent play of the team. It's been ugly. I doubt there was a worse defensive performance this season than the egg that was laid in Memphis. On offense, the team is playing horribly off-the-ball. There are too many players standing around, waiting for someone to shoot or for the ball to be passed to them.
I like how the offense has been being developed over the season, including the early experiment in a motion offense that generated the 2-7 record. All of the experiments--the motion, the three guard set, the high pick and roll, etc.--are creating a foundation upon which the Mavs will be extremely difficult to defend in a playoff series (unlike in previous years), and we're getting a sense of that in how the Mavs are dominating in fourth quarters. But for those experiments to develop into something the players have to treat them all as equally effective and play with intensity. They simply aren't.
As to the defense, the less said the better. Allowing the Clippers to do what they did was inexcusable. As to Memphis, did the Mavs even bother to play defense?
I'm far from giving up on the Mavericks, and I think that Hollinger's recent prediction that they don't make the playoffs as foolish (he does realize they started out 2-7 doesn't he?). However, in terms of moving beyond the first round, the Mavs need to up their intensity level considerably, especially on defense. They need to play like they are clinging to a playoff spot because the reality is, they are.