Just last week I had resigned myself that the Mavericks were a mediocre team and had to immediately start assessing the season from the perspective of rebuilding, rather than fighting for a title. I made this assessment based on the team's average performances all season long on both ends of the floor, and--perhaps more than anything else--it's inability to be consistent. But here we are four games and four wins later, including wins over quality teams, and it looks like the Mavs have turned it around. But have they? Is the window to a championship still open, even if slightly? And how the heck did this happen?
Let's look at the last question first. Four specific things happened right around the time the winning streak started:
1. Carlisle let Kidd take over the vast majority of play-calling.
Uneducated blogger that I am, I had no idea that Carlisle was pulling an Avery and controlling almost 80% of the plays on the floor. When this bit of news came out, my immediate response was, "Why didn't Carlisle do this earlier, like in game one?" Regardless for the delay, the result has been dramatic--the Mavs offense is performing at an extremely high level.
2. The Mavs hired Darrell Armstrong as an assistant coach
This is one of those intangible things that are hard to assess. Can Armstrong make the players dedicate themselves to more consistent defensive effort? Can he somehow be the person that can translate Carlisle's demands more effectively? Who knows, but the early indications are good.
3. Carlisle has pruned the rotation
Certainly having the same players play together more consistently can help with effectiveness on the court, and Carlisle has cut his rotation down to a core of 8 players, with spot duty being handled by others as circumstances permit. The box scores are misleading, as the Mavs blowouts have allowed players on the court during garbage time, but make no mistake--Carlisle has tightened the rotation.
4. Josh Howard is improving
Again, the box score doesn't tell the whole story here. Josh has played some fantastic defense against difficult covers over the past four games, and his offense, while not at the level yet that we know he can achieve, has been much more aggressive and efficient.
Does this constitue a turnaround? Well, it appears to have been enough to push the Mavericks up a level, but whether that will be enough remains to be seen. Looking at the team through the harsh light of statistics we see some good things over the past four games (the offense has turned into one of the best in the league) and some not-so-good things (the defense has improved a bit, but is still more mediocre than great).
As it has been all season, the Mavs are missing the one critical element of a consistent strong defense. A week ago I would have said that such improvement at this stage of the season would be a pipe dream, but now I'm not so sure. Thanks to a handful of changes, the Mavs have become a more dangerous team. It is possible that one or two more on the defensive end could make them more than dangerous--it could make them elite.
Such a change may come via trade for Stackhouse or some other personnel move. It may come from a continuation of having Darrell Armstrong on the bench. Or it may not come at all. But I've learned one thing from the changes and results we've seen over the past four games: Such change is possible, so we can open that championship window again.
But just slightly.