Nearly a third of the way through the season, our Dallas Mavericks (11-13) have lost their way for what feels like the millionth time. Tonight's game against a struggling 76ers (12-12) is important; after tonight Dallas embarks on possibly their most challenging stretch of games this season, playing Miami, San Antonio twice, Memphis, Oklahoma City, and the Nuggets.
Dallas lost the first match up in Philly, 100 to 98. If you'll recall, the Mavs managed to turn the ball over six straight possessions in the fourth quarter. Six. Straight. Times. This was the game that resulted in the front office sending Troy Murphy back into the wilderness and signing Derek Fisher from beyond the pale (Ironically, Fisher has managed to average nearly double his career rate of turnovers per game, posting 2.3). It worked for a few games, but as we're all aware the last week or so has been simply brutal, where Dallas averaged 21 turnovers per game on their road trip.
Let's put it this way... if Dallas cannot handle a 76ers squad without Andrew Bynum (out with the never ending knee injury) and possibly without Jrue Holiday (sprained foot, but hopes to play tonight), then we might as well pack it up and call it a year. I know everyone is still holding on to that playoff pipe dream, but even if Dirk was to return tomorrow, the likelihood is that Dallas is going to be a few games under .500 when the New Year rolls around; that makes it a ridiculous uphill climb in a Western conference where the Mavs are not even a mid-tier team. But enough of my being an Eeyore.
Whether or not Holiday plays really determines who wins this game. If he's out, the Mavs offense should hum along. If he's playing, he can cause all sorts of problems defensively, particularly on Mayo who has had a problem with smaller, long armed defenders as of late (think Rajon Rondo). As of now, I assume he plays and is marginally effective. I expect cross matchups on defense with Holliday on Mayo and Jason Richardson guarding Fisher. I expect Mayo to play better than he did on the road trip; he shot fine against Boston but ended up averaging nearly 6 turnovers a game over the last three. He needs to get to line more frequently as well.
Shawn Marion was unable to play the last time these two teams met and he should be able to keep a lid on multi-talented forward Evan Turner. If Carlisle elects to start Brand, he should provide a solid match up against his old teammate Thaddeus Young. If Wright starts the offense is bound to be more entertaining, but Wright can't keep anyone off the glass for more than a possession at a time. Kaman should be able to handle the two headed center of Kwame Brown and Spencer Hawes. As long as he recognizes his offense gets worse as the game goes on (check out Kaman's shooting numbers by quarter to see what I mean), Dallas should be able to keep the pressure on Philly.
Ball control. Rebounding. Using one's brain before passing to a guy in a jersey that isn't yours. All of these things are within the control of the Mavs. I think we should just go ahead and classify this as a must win, mainly because the next three games are probable losses. Let's just hope for the best, shall we?
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