“The Mavs are peaking at the right time.” It’s a phrase you’ve heard practically everywhere in one form or another, from our friends over at Dallasbasketball.com to the Eddie Sefko in the Dallas Morning News to the national press. And, truth be told, there’s a lot to be said for the sentiment—the Mavs are 7-3 in their past ten, including victories over five playoff teams and one team that had everything to play for before missing the playoffs. In “must win” games, the Mavs delivered as well, taking out Phoenix to practically guarantee a playoff spot and then closing out the season with a win against Houston, which led to the Mavs moving up to the sixth seed.
Quality wins. Delivering under pressure. Mostly healthy. The Mavs are peaking. Right?
Well, there is certainly room for optimism, but let’s take a look at each of those wins and see if we can come up with some things to look for as we head into the post season. After all, if this is the Mavs peaking, any shortcomings should be particularly troublesome.
Game 73: Cleveland 102, Dallas 74
Well, let’s just file this as the final game “B.P.” (before peaking). The Cavaliers destroyed the Mavericks in the second half of what started out as a competitive game. How did they do it? With an absolutely stifling defensive effort. The Mavs ended the game with an offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) of 81.3, one of their worst performances of the season. The bright side is that the Dallas defense showed signs of life, holding Cleveland below their season average for efficiency.
Good news: Dallas defense played better than the score showed and outperformed the offense, a rare feat during the previous 72 games.
Bad news: Dallas offense was completely muzzled by Cleveland.
“Mavs are peaking” trend: Is the defense finally coming around?
Game 74: Dallas 108, Minnesota 98
You expect to win games like this one, but the real story is in how the Mavs won the game: The Mavericks were much more efficient than their season averages on both sides of the ball.
Good news: Josh Howard is back and the Mavs dominate on both sides of the ball.
Bad news: None. This was as complete a game as the Mavs played all season.
“Mavs are peaking” trend: Defense performs well for second game in a row. Offense rebounds from horrible game with a thrashing.
Game 75: Dallas 98, Miami 96
Despite a third quarter run by Miami, the game was an intense battle the whole way. With the game on the line, the Mavs played strong in the fourth to seal the win. Josh Howard was phenomenal.
Good news: Josh Howard’s spark. Offense once again outperformed the season average.
Bad news: Defense not as good as it appeared, with Miami offensively more efficient against the Mavs than its season average.
“Mavs are peaking” trend: Two wins in a row! Offense humming after laying an egg in Cleveland. Defense still more good than average.
Game 76: Memphis 107, Dallas 102
After two good defensive games, the Mavs put up another poor defensive performance. Dirk continues to rampage through the competition, but the outstanding Dallas offense can’t overcome the stench from the defensive side. Josh is rested in what is certainly a worrisome scenario heading into the playoffs.
Good news: Dallas offense notches third straight dominant game. Dirk looking in top form at exactly the right time of the year.
Bad news: Defense looked wretched after showing promise, a theme we saw repeatedly during the season.
“Mavs are peaking” trend: On offense, the Mavs are looking as good as they have all season. Peakworthy for sure. On defense, the Mavs continue to be inconsistent, a horrible sign as we head into the end of the season. Dirk is definitely peaking at the right time.
Game 77: Dallas 140, Phoenix 116
The Mavs absolutely destroy Phoenix in one of those “must win” games. Kidd looks phenomenal. Howard looks phenomenal. Dirk looks phenomenal.
Good news: Even taking into account Phoenix’s porous defense, the Mavs offense performed in the stratosphere. Phoenix’s season defensive efficiency is 111.6. The Mavs delivered an offensive efficiency of 144.3. Wow.
Bad news: The tremendous offensive showing covered up a scary fact: The Mavs defense underperformed for the third game in a row, allowing Phoenix’s offense to drop 119.6 points per 100 possessions during the game.
“Mavs are peaking” trend: Mavs offense: Peaking. Mavs defense: Failing.
Game 78: Dallas 130, Utah 101
Back-to-back demolitions of potential playoff competition. It is at this point that we are starting to hear the “Mavs are peaking” talk for real. But are the Mavs really peaking when their defense just came off three straight weak performances?
Good news: Another unbelievable offensive performance. The trend is clear: The Mavs offense is probably the best in the league heading into the playoffs. The Mavs held Utah slightly under their season offensive efficiency, so the defense outperformed the competition for the first time in four games.
Bad news: Utah playing like crap against everyone, so this win isn’t quite as nice as it would have been a month before.
“Mavs are peaking” trend: Defense has come back to life. Can the team put together a string of complete games on both ends of the floor consistently heading into the final four games?
Game 79: Dallas 100, New Orleans 92
“Mavs are peaking” talk starts to really spread across the NBA. In terms of “peaking” where it counts, the Mavs have won three straight crucial games against three tough Western Conference teams.
Good news: Mavs offense again extraordinary. Offensive firepower with Josh Howard playing like his old self is downright scary. Dirk looks like he has a lot to prove.
Bad news: Dallas defense slightly outperform the New Orleans offense, but it is closer to a push than a dominant game for the defense. The Mavs really need to shut a quality team down, something they have yet to prove they are able to do.
“Mavs are peaking” trend: Wins! Offense! Dirk! Jason! Josh! Jet! The bench! Lots to like and lots of reasons to see the team as peaking, but the dirty secret of the Mavs mediocre defense refuses to go away.
Game 80: New Orleans 102, Dallas 92
What happens when you mix a pretty good offensive performance with an awful defensive performance? This game is what you get.
Good news: Even when playing with a lack of energy and making poor offensive decisions, the Mavs offense still delivers.
Bad news: Defense is rather pitiful.
“Mavs are peaking” trend: A bump on the road or a sign of problems in the playoffs? It’s still too soon to tell and the talk of the Mavs moving up in the standings are still very much alive. However, close observers still note the team’s defensive shortcomings against quality teams.
Game 81: Dallas 96, Minnesota 94
A close call as Minnesota’s offense (surprise!) significantly outperforms while it’s defense is its normal wretched self. In short, the Mavs didn’t do anything special on either end of the floor here other than beat a team that is awful.
Good news: Jet was clutch when it mattered. That’s something to build on.
Bad news: Defense has devolved into not only performing poorly against playoff teams but also performing poorly against lottery teams.
“Mavs are peaking” trend: Still alive thanks to the win, but can a 2 point win against Minnesota really count as an indication of a team peaking?
Game 82: Dallas 95, Houston 84
Houston is a dominant defensive team (fourth best in the NBA). So this was a real test of the Mavs peaking offense. The Mavs passed… barely. In what must have caused a huge sigh of relief from head coach Rick Carlisle, the Mavs won this game with an aggressive and stifling defense.
Good news: The Mavs offense closed out the season with a long string of very strong to dominant offensive performances. This was another good game. The real story is the defense, however, which dominated Houston.
Bad news: Against a stiff defense, the Mavs offense did well, but not great. Without a strong defense (which they got in this game), a good offense won’t be enough.
“Mavs are peaking” trend: Another win, and another example of the offense performing well. Defense was fantastic, but this has been an exception, rather than rule.
How Are The Mavs Peaking?
The Mavs are peaking in only one way: Their offense has evolved into such a deadly weapon that it is overcoming troublesome weaknesses on defense. As you look at the last ten games of the season, it is clear that Rick Carlisle has achieved what Mavs fans desperately needed after the last three playoff series: An offense that is not only potent but varied in its attack and difficult to stop even with the preparation you see in a seven game series.
The Mavs are not peaking at all on defense. They are better than they were during the entire season, but they are just as inconsistent and far from dominant or even very good. This has been hidden by the devastating effectiveness of the Mavs offense, but make no mistake: The defensive flaws are still there.
The good news is that against practically every team in the west this is probably enough to survive a seven game series. Yes, the Mavs offense is peaking at such a high level that it is really that good. The only real exception would be Los Angeles, which is too balanced on both sides of the ball to let a mostly one dimensional team like the Mavs win a seven game series.
So the best case scenario for the Mavs is a loss in the Western Conference finals, assuming they face the Lakers. The only way to avoid this fate is for the team to somehow regain the defensive mojo it had when Avery Johnson was coaching the team, and what are the odds of that?