There was a lot of blame to spread around for last night's loss against the LA Lakers. Honestly, other than Dirk and Marion, how can one make a case for another player having even an okay game? From top to bottom, the Mavericks did not play well at all, and I was not surprised to see the criticism going around.
I was surprised to see Rick Carlisle getting the bulk of it.
I have no problem with giving him some blame for last night, and I'll admit right now his coaching against the Lakers was by no means perfect. For example, Cardinal receiving minutes at the three beside Dirk...I don't know what that was about. However, some people went much further than that, calling the loss Carlisle's fault and calling him the number one reason the Mavericks lost. Of course it would be completely ridiculous to actually trust the coach of a 49-17 team that has had injuries, so let's go through and look at several of Carlisle's decisions about his rotation last night, and try to figure out the logic behind them.
1. Rodrigue Beaubois playing only 14 minutes.
I think all but the most delusional Roddy B homers understand Carlisle's decision here. Beaubois was easily the worst player on the floor, missing jumpers and committing turnovers. His lone basket was a garbage time layup in the waning seconds of the game; otherwise, he went 0/6. Still, one theory that I've heard is that Roddy should get a consistent twenty minutes a night regardless of how he's playing, so that he can build a rhythm and a confidence headed into the playoffs.
I love Roddy too, but unfortunately, that's not how the NBA works. Beaubois is not a child, and the Mavericks aren't his rich aunt who has never had kids of her own -- don't spoil him just because he's suppose to be special. Hundreds of high school and college players have missed out on promising careers because they assumed they were treated as if they had already made it, and began to think that way, and so the best thing to do is to make Roddy earn his minutes. And remember, he played fourteen total minutes even though this was easily his worst game of the year, and probably of his career. Carlisle easily could have played him eight, nine, ten minutes, but he left him out there because he hoped Roddy would be able to give them something.
2. Brian Cardinal playing seventeen minutes.
This is probably the most controversial decision of the evening. Cardinal has given the Mavericks some good minutes this year, but he unfortunately did not do so here. He was completely ineffective rebounding against the Laker bigs, did not play defense particularly well (other than drawing charges, that's pretty normal), and besides a single made three pointer, provided very little on offense.
Its safe to say that if not for Beaubois's even worse night, Cardinal would have run away with "least valuable player of the game" (there's a reason this award does not exist, likely because its acronym LVPotG isn't catchy at all...).
So why did he get so many minutes, then? Well, the short answer is that Peja was out. Marion started and played all of his minutes at the 3 because of Peja's continued absence, and so the backup minutes at the power forward position that Shawn typically soaks up were not available. Who does that leave? Cardinal, or Mahinmi.
Oh, Mahinmi? Why didn't he get minutes?! That stupid Carlisle! Well, let's remember that first, Mahinmi is not a natural four, and second, that he's had a really awful stretch lately. Could Carlisle have gone to him? Sure. But he decided Cardinal was the better choice, and as bad as he played, who is to say he couldn't have been right? We saw how bad the other young Frenchman played...
3. Corey Brewer getting only seven minutes.
Let's start with the obvious: it was only his fifth game with the Mavericks, and even if he's totally comfortable with the schemes and sets the Mavericks run (doubtful), the coaches don't have any faith in him in such a short amount of time.
The other reason, though, was the Matrix's pure brilliance. He averages about 28 minutes a game, but with his monster double double, he played six and a half more minutes than usual. In some games, Brewer would be getting those minutes to check Kobe. In this game, though, it was just too hard to take Marion off the court -- he was that good.
4. Jose Juan Barea playing nearly eighteen minutes.
Its becoming very obvious why the Mavericks lost. We've already talked about Roddy and Cardinal playing absolutely inept basketball, but here's yet another player who really struggled. I don't want to bring LVPotG up again, but on most other nights Barea would have been a serious contender. He shot just 2-6, committed a couple turnovers, and had only one assist. The Mavericks have rode his white hot stretch of almost two months now, and he's been absolutely crucial in numerous games, but he's started to trail off a little bit. So what's the deal, then? He played really poorly, but still gets 18 minutes?
Well, who else would you like? Roddy B is clearly not the answer. Even if he was having a great game, its doubtful that his point guard skills have improved since summer league, seeing how he's been sidelined for nearly the entire time. Unfortunately, that's it. Yes, Terry's played point, but this organization clearly does not see him as one anymore. And its not Carlisle who decided that, because if you remember, Terry's switch to primarily playing the two happened during the Avery Johnson regime. Whether or not you think he can play it doesn't matter, because he won't.
Of course I have to address JJB's quick stint at the two. Curse Carlisle all you want for using Barea as a 5'10" shooting guard, but its worked before, and seeing how Beaubois and Terry were giving the Mavericks absolutely nothing, it was worth a shot.
5. Dirk not playing "playoff minutes".
Dirk actually played a good portion of the game. His 36:49 minutes of playing time were the most since February 17th, almost a month ago. In fact, since his return from injury, those minutes are the fourth most he's totaled. The other two were 37 and 38 in back to back nights against the Lakers and Chicago, just his third and fourth game back from injury.
But this game against the Lakers was a huge game, no doubt about it. It was no must win, because the Mavericks and the Lakers have another meeting on March 31st, but a huge game nonetheless. Couldn't Dirk be spared just to play four more minutes?
That's not the plan. Nobody has said it publicly, Stein hasn't posted any rumors of it on twitter, but if you watch the games its clear -- the Mavericks are resting their key veterans, and God knows they need it. It isn't a sexy plan; it isn't resulting in a ton of blowouts; it isn't helping Dirk lead the league in scoring (is there any doubt he could if he wanted to?). But for the long run? In the playoffs? Maybe its what the Mavericks need. Its not an original plan, either. Just look at Boston last year, who were called "old" and "done" the entire year, and then made a run all the way to the Finals.
I know the argument is to say that its just one game. Just one little game. But once you go there once, its twenty times easier to go back again. This Laker game was a huge game, but so is the next one. What about San Antonio? Dirk's gotta play playoff minutes because its just as big of a game. What about Denver? Or Portland? All of a sudden, Dirk's gone over 40 minutes three or four times, and what exactly was the purpose of resting Dirk?
You don't have to like it, but the Mavericks have been winning games without it. Even with the three losses in the past week, the Mavs are still 7-3 since the All-Star break. This is a veteran squad that knows how to close games. The coaches know that, the organization knows that, and honestly, I think us as fans know it too. We just have to accept it, and while appreciating Carlisle might be too much to ask, is it too much to trust him in what he's doing? He's not perfect, but he's led this team to the 2nd best record in the West (even if only barely), even with injuries to all three members of their starting front court, and has them playing at a contender level. I don't care if you love him or loathe him, but accepting that in general he knows what he's doing is not to big of a stretch to take.