It’s hard to watch a team play below their skill level. It’s also hard to watch a once-great team, leading the league in defense, give up on possessions and watch as their opponents get second chance points. It’s even harder to see them walk out of the arena with their heads hung low. If you watched tonight’s game in Indiana, a 102-89 loss, you would have seen all of these things from the Dallas Mavericks.
As has been the case for the past several games, including the two prior losses, the Mavericks started off looking like their old selves, sans Dirk Nowitzki. The starting lineup was a bit different, with Alexis Ajinca getting the start in place of Jason Terry. Regardless, their defense looked tight and they forced the Pacers into two turnovers in the first three minutes.
There would be long stretches throughout the game of solid defense, both zone and man-to-man, where the Mavericks would force last-second shots. It was when these last-second shots began to fall consistently that the Mavericks looked like they were in trouble. There were also many instances of lackadaisical defense where they would prevent an easy bucket for the entire shot clock, only to allow the offensive rebound and, quite often, a second-chance shot for the Pacers.
There were a couple of positive story lines worth examining in this disappointing game. I feel like being optimistic, so just bear with me.
The first big deal was the Mavericks debut of Sasha Pavlović. He entered the game with 3:30 left in the first quarter, and scored shortly thereafter on a jump shot dished by Jose Barea. The very next play, he got his own dime on a Brian Cardinal three. He would finish the night with 2 points, 2 blocks, a steal and that assist for a meager but promising stat line. Hey, he didn’t turn the ball over, right? The biggest upside is that he looked comfortable in the Mavericks’ offense and seemed eager to make an impact. We’ll see how the rest of his 10-day contract plays out.
Another thing I noticed was some positive play from the bench tonight. Barea is often on the receiving end of some pretty harsh criticism, but it’s hard to argue with nine points, three assists and zero turnovers. That’s right, friends. He didn’t turn the ball over tonight, AND he managed to draw some offensive fouls.
I know we’ve gotten used to seeing Jason Terry start over the past few weeks, but he got to resume his role as 6th man tonight, and managed to lead all Dallas scorers with 18 points. We can’t ignore, however, the glaring four turnovers. Ball security, Jet. Returning to my positive take, however, we should note that every player played (wow, Robot) and every player scored.
The next happy occasion to discuss is Jason Kidd’s rise to third on the all-time, three-pointers made list. He went 4-7 from long tonight (slowly but surely climbing out of that shooting slump) and had three vicious steals and two blocks. He also dished out a team-high seven assists, and hit double digits in scoring for what seems like the first time in weeks. Nice to see you coming back, JKidd. Next on the list? Making those open layups.
Ok, enough of this sunshine and lollipops crap. Here’s the last thing I have to say. This is a veteran team, and they know better than to make excuses. Yeah, Dirk has been out for a career-long eight consecutive games with his ailing knee. Yeah, we lost a big scoring contributor and a great defender in Caron Butler. But we have Tyson Chandler averaging a double/double (just one rebound shy of it tonight) and DeShawn Stevenson leading the league in three pointers over these last few weeks. We have arguably the smartest point guard in the NBA, and a backup center who could be starting (but can’t seem to get his head in the game). The Mavericks should be winning, but that incredible defensive focus that we saw at the beginning of the season has all but disappeared, as has the team’s confidence.
The next game is against the league-best San Antonio Spurs. In San Antonio. We can all hope and pray that Dirk will be back and ready for action. The fact of the matter is, he can score all the points in the world, but if Dallas can’t make the kinds of defensive stops they’ve been lacking as of late, they won’t be able to stop the Spurs’ potent offense. I, for one, am getting tired of watching my team lose. I’m sure they’re getting tired of it, too.