With 12 games left in the regular season, the Dallas Mavericks are looking to get better on the defensive end of the floor, maintain their offensive potency and record as many victories as they can. The bigger priority might be ensuring their overall health does not deteriorate as the playoffs arrive. Not counting the Jan. 1 season-ending knee injury to small forward Caron Butler in Milwaukee and Dominique Jones' foot surgery in early Feb., the Mavericks have not had their full complement of 12 players since March 1 in Philadelphia when Dallas won 101-93. In the 10 games since, they are as average as you can be with a record of 5-5. In the process, the team lost their grip on the Western Conference's No. 2 seed to the Los Angeles Lakers.
The latest rash of injuries the Mavericks have had to deal consisted of the stiff back for Brendan Haywood, stiff neck for Peja Stojakovic and a sprained right wrist for Shawn Marion. Brendan Haywood has returned and looks no worse for wear while it has been a day-to-day situation for the small forwards. According to Coach Rick Carlisle, the Mavericks are hopeful they will have their entire 12-man roster ready to go against the Minnesota Timbelwolves on Thursday.
"We seemed to get through (Wednesday) OK, but you never assume anything," Carlisle said. "There's instability when you have injuries. The hope is that we can get healthier here these next couple of days and carry that into Thursday and carry it into the trip." If the Mavericks are able to keep everyone healthy, they will have a couple of decisions to make, will they decide to tap the breaks and let heavy-minute players take a game off during the final 12 games and what will their final rotation be?
In regards to the the idea of players sitting out, there are no clear cut conclusions that can be made at the moment. "That’s a possibility, but we’ll talk about that internally as time goes on," Carlisle said. "We don't have anything scheduled at this point. The spacing on the road trip is a little unusual. We have a two-day break between two sets of the games so all of those things factor into those kinds of considerations, and we'll play it by ear." It might make sense for a player like Jason Kidd to get a "night off."
The bigger issue then becomes what will the rotation be once the playoffs arrive, with a close eye on the small forward position. "We’ve got plenty of guys," Carlisle said when assessing who could play small forward minutes for the team. "We have the manpower," Carlisle added. "We just want to get Shawn (Marion) and Peja (Stojakovic) really tightly integrated in the last 12 games and we hope to have that opportunity." The team has used DeShawn Stevenson, Brian Cardinal and Corey Brewer in situations when it was necessary, but it ultimately comes down to Shawn Marion and Peja Stojakovic as the primary small forwards.
While having to deal with a revolving door of healthy players, doubt could arise on if there is enough time to make things fit. That could be an issue, but Carlisle believes that they have a firm grasp of the situation. "At this point, I believe we have seen enough of all of our guys to know what we have here," Carlisle said. "Now, we’ve got to get a rotation together that gets us ready to play at our highest level in the playoffs."
If both forwards are healthy, Peja Stojakovic could have the inside track as the starting small forward. Out of his 14 games as a member of the Mavericks, the sharpshooter has started in 13 of them. Marion has done a tremendous job as a starter, but Carlisle loves the dynamic that comes with Marion and Jason Terry coming off the bench. Marion would likely get more minutes than Stojakovic, that is what ultimately matters. To break down the minutes, Stojakovic could start and play roughly 18-20 minutes and that would leave Marion to play 28-30 minutes at the position.
That takes care of who is starting, but what about who is finishing the games? Jason Terry has been known as the closer with Dirk Nowitzki, where does that leave Rodrigue Beaubois? Carlisle knows that he angered those in the "Free Roddy B." crowd last season and he has done everything he can t to make sure Beaubois is as ready as he can be when it comes to the second season. "He gets closer every day," Carlisle said when assessing when Beaubois will be 100% in his attempt to make up for missing six months due to a broken foot. Teams are looking to be physical and rough up Beaubois, but he has responded well and continues to be aggressive. "I like where he's at," Carlisle said.
When it comes to who closes out the games it should be Tyson Chandler, Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd and the hot hand. Terry has scored 10-plus points in the fourth quarter 11 times this season (9-2 record). He’s averaging 6.3 points in the fourth period. If Terry is able to perform on that level, then he deserves to be out on the floor. If not, Beaubois will be ready to step in and give the team whatever he can.
It will all depend on the overall health of the team, an issue they can not control as much as they would like. "Some of this is Mother Nature and some of it you can't control," Carlisle said of the injuries. "Guys get banged up, that's why we have a great strength coach." They will just put themselves in the best position possible for success, whatever position that may be.
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