Remember all that optimism we had just a month ago as those solid outings coinciding with Dirk’s return started turning into W’s (Kings, Grizzlies, T’Wolves, Rockets). Only the monstrous Thunder could slow those Mavericks down as they inched back into the playoff picture. So it seems almost fitting to use that overtime loss to the Thunder in mid-January and last night’s game as bookends to evaluate where the Mavericks are and whether they came out the other end as good as they went in.
The easy answer is no. Before playing the Thunder on January 18th, the Mavs were 6 games below .500, even fewer games back in the playoff race, and had finally started to piece together a string of complete games starting January 1. Despite only going 5-4 in 2013, you could feel that the Mavericks were on the cusp of getting it together – Dirk’s legs seemed to improve every quarter, Mayo and Collison had cut down on the maddening turnovers, and Carter’s play was simply resplendent. Then came the overtime loss. Not that the Mavericks needed to win all remaining games to earn a playoff seed but the loss further exposed some lingering issues and weakened what little momentum the Mavs had built up. The Mavs followed up the loss with a win in Orlando (27th in the league), a loss to San Antonio, two wins against then last in the West Phoenix, a heartbreaker that shouldn’t have been a game to a .500 Portland team, and a loss to Golden State without leading scorer Curry. Going 3-3 through that stretch was not really an option. Yes there were difficult teams in one way or another on the schedule but the Mavs couldn’t afford to stand still if they had playoff aspirations.
So last night’s game was a chance to right the ship, to declare to the league that the Mavericks still live, to start their miracle run to the playoffs by offing one of the league’s best. Instead, last night’s game made you reconsider the mercy rule for NBA games – in every imaginable fashion the Mavericks were absolutely, unequivocally dominated. There are no bright spots, no moral victories, no "but we were missing so-and-so" that make that game any different or better. It took overtime the previous two times these teams met this season with the Thunder coming out on top both times but this go-round the Thunder wanted to leave no doubt who the superior team was. Since I am sure none of us want to relive that game in our heads anymore, let’s move on to where this leaves the Mavs.
After last night’s game, the Mavericks are now 8 games below .500, 5 ½ games outside of 8th place, a full 2 games behind the once dead Lakers, Kaman remains out indefinitely with a concussion, and Dirk is once again hobbled. There are 34 games left in the season. Assuming it’ll take at least 44 wins to make the playoffs (the average for the last five years in the West has been 45 and 8th place Houston’s win percentage would put their season wins at 44), the Mavericks will need to go .706 over the rest of the season to be in the mix. That win percentage would be third highest in the league right now behind only San Antonio (.776) and OKC (.750). Miami in the easy-road East is 3rd currently posting a .689 win percentage for further reference. If that isn’t discouraging (impossible?) enough for you, here are some stats that are starting to look really familiar: 5-21 against .500 or above teams, 2-6 in games decided by three points or less, and 1-8 in overtime. These aren’t the stats of a team that is capable of a sustained .706 win percentage.
At the beginning of the season, I had high hopes for this Mavericks team – not championship hopes but I thought they were going to surprise some people. Even as we sat 6 games below .500, I thought that there was a chance that this team could get hot and deliver a .643 win percentage (which would place them somewhere in the top 8 in the league by percent) over the last 42 games to sneak into the playoffs. This team has talent, not an overabundance by any means but it is there, and Carlisle is a great coach but now it is time to start looking at our options. I will spell it out: the Mavericks will not make the playoffs this year. It’s not going to happen, folks. The Thunder game last night was a resounding close to the Mavericks' 2013 playoff hopes. So let’s thank Cuban and Donnie for the 12 year streak and figure out how to make next year different.