We all knew we’d do this. You and I figured that the Mavs would dump the first two. We didn’t expect we’d dump ‘em like this, losses which might be said, without putting too fine a point on it, to turn that particular verb into a noun.
However, though we were all prepared for a couple of losses, despite our reassurances to each other that this was probably going to happen, we are also now prepared to panic. It’s the nature of the losses. They were not good.
Let’s nevertheless not make more of it than it is (while also making exactly as much of it as it is).
Listen. Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time, and the reason the Mavs were indomitable last year was because of team work. DeShawn Stevenson is not better, Brian Cardinal is not better, than the guys on the end of other people’s benches. But they knew what they were supposed to do, they rarely did anything else, and everyone knew where they’d be. This made them infinitely better. That’s how great team work works.
You know who couldn’t possibly have any of that stuff yet? Lamar Odom. Vince Carter. Delonte West. Even Roddy Beaubois and Dom Jones, who ended up with not much of a role last year for exactly that reason couldn’t have that. They manifestly don’t.
So we stop for a minute and take into account the fact that really, without an athletic center to make up for the lapses inherent in playing a scrambling zone with a bunch of guys over thirty anyway, not only is this type of thing (huge, grotesque blowouts) very much possible for an old team that might still turn out to be good, if any teams were going to turn the endemic vulnerability of an aging team without an athletic center into huge, grotesque blowouts it would be the Heat, the Nuggets and the Thunder, guys who eat slow teams that can’t figure out how to score, for lunch.
So, it’s a bad situation and these are the exact wrong teams to play while in that situation.
Does that mean I am not worried?
No it doesn’t mean that I am not worried.
I think the offense will be fine. If Lamar Odom learns to play alongside Dirk as well as Shawn Marion does, that would be great. It doesn’t seem likely, at this point, that the Vince Carter signing is going to do much—if he’s just going to shoot threes, we can find someone who could do that better, and less often—but it was a low-risk signing, and there’s hope for him yet.
The question is, what can the defense do?
Defense isn’t magic. You’ll hear it’s a matter of will, and the team will tell you it’s a matter of will, but that’s because fans, coaches, owners and every person involved with sports needs to believe that they and we are not doomed. That something can be done.
But 33-year old guys, never known for their speed in the first place, can’t chase 23-year old guys. No matter how much they grit their teeth.
The zone, last year, was the perfect solution to the problems you saw these last two nights. With Tyson Chandler back there, your Jason Terrys were free to concentrate on making sure the guy in front of them had a hard time because there was somebody to clean up the mess if that pressure caused them to be a step slow on the drive. Now there is not.
It’s not even Haywood’s fault. Haywood is actually getting a bad rap, I think. He’s not such a terrible center, but he’s the wrong center for this defense. If this defense needed somebody to body up the other team’s center, I think he would do okay. They don’t. They need him to clean up after them. That’s not what he does.
So, looking ahead, the Mavs have two options. The first, which is to invent a scheme that covers up defensive vulnerabilities, like they did last year, may seem impossible given current personnel.
The other is just to have a team that has glaring defensive weaknesses. So far they seem to have that option on lockdown.
For a few bright moments, Sean Williams looked like a guy who could help them get towards the first one. In all honesty, he seems immediately a better fit for this team than either Haywood (not athletic or quick enough) or Mahimni (who’s basically a weaker, worse Sean Williams). But you and I know that if defensive anchors came out of the D League or Israel, the NBA would be a different place.
It’s possible. He looked great. I mean, really great. He also turned the ball over three times and committed five fouls (a couple of which, granted, I didn’t agree with). He also immediately vomited upon leaving the court.
So what’s going on?
Well, here’s the bad news in a nice, itemized list:
1) The Mavs don’t have time to coach Sean Williams up. They don’t have time to coach anyone else up, either. This is going to be the fastest, most chaotic NBA season ever, and this is the worst possible Dirk-led Mavericks team to weather such a thing.
2) It’s hard to imagine how the Mavs are going to find even a decent defense in all this
3) While the Mavs would honestly probably do well, even right now, against the slower-paced teams –your LA Lakers (also 0-2), your Boston Celtics (0-1) and so on, the upcoming schedule is not kind. After this, the Mavs play the Thunder twice in the next 5 days, and in between, a Minny team that for all of its warts, still took the Thunder right to the end of it today because they too are young, fast, and get out in a hurry.
4) It’s more and more apparent that the Mavs high command consciously chose to sacrifice one of the last few years of Dirk’s prime for the sake of re-inventing the team, then lucked into a couple of moves, like Odom and Delonte and possibly Sean Williams, that would still give them a shot at competing this year. And, unfortunately, that was probably the plan from well before the lockout.
On the other hand, here’s the good news:
2) They started 2-7 in 2008-2009, the year they upset the Spurs in the first round and won 51 games.
3) Outside of the Heat, Nuggets and Thunder, the Mavs will also be playing the Raptors, the Suns, the Hornets and the Pistons in the next 8 games. They also remain favored against the Timberwolves, obviously, despite what I said above. Would you take a start of 5-4 after these last two games? I would.
4) Whatever the Mavs planned, they were both opportunistic enough and smart enough to GET guys like Odom, Delonte and Williams which means they still DO have a plenty good team this year. If everybody can figure out their roles.
5) If the downside of being an old team is getting your caboose booted by two young, fast teams in the first two games of the season, it is undoubtedly also knowing how to get through it, if anybody does.
6) Dirk looked pretty good, yesterday. As long as that’s true, things are going to be okay in Masvland.
Bottom line, what these last two games have shown us is the kinds of things that MAY be trouble all year long, but don’t have to be. With faith in Dirk Nowitzki, hope in Sean Williams and Lamar Odom, and malice towards none, all of this may be behind us before you know it.