All is not what it seems.
What does it seem? The Mavericks got swept on their hellish back-to-back-to-back roadtrip. They've lost eight of their last ten. At the All-Star game, they were eight games over .500, a stat which has dwindled to just three. Not a single rotation player is playing as well as they should be. Even Dirk, always a constant, has not been producing to the level all of us are accustomed to. There's no way to put it lightly: the Mavericks look pitiful.
But again, all it not what it seems. I'm not here to argue the Mavericks are playing well, so stop rolling your eyes. This isn't a sunshine and flowers piece about how everything is going to turn out perfectly. But with 23 games left, it seems a bit drastic to already be predicting utter and absolute failure. The Mavericks are not playing well, but there are reasons why -- reasons that are being overlooked, reasons that don't have simple fixes, but reasons nonetheless.
When Dirk missed a week for conditioning, it was clear his injury was a problem. The Mavericks actually won three of the four games he was absent for, but no one would have blamed them if they had gone 0-4. Dirk is the embodiment of the team; without him, it's rare that they prosper. Jason Terry missed a couple games, and despite the bipolar nature of his play, it's clear his scoring (if he is, in fact, scoring) is a crucial element of this team.
Delonte West isn't Dirk. He's not Terry. He's a new face that may still seem a bit strange in the Mavericks's navy blue, but he's become such a crucial element to this 2012 version of Dallas. His perimeter defense is easily the best on the team's, and before the injury it was extremely useful stopping the Nate Robinson's, Isaiah Thomas's, and Jared Dudley's of the world (just to name three guards who most recently shredded the Mavericks defense).
West was hardly just a one-way player, though. His offensive scoring is hardly consistent enough to be a constant threat for opposing defenses, but his ability to demand respect from three-point land, mid-range, and at the rim is useful. More important is his passing ability, and its ability to complement Kidd's. While Kidd will set up a play and run it to execution, West is much more of a free spirit. He improvises, takes what the defense gives him, and ultimately does a great job setting up players after drawing a defender on a drive to the hole.
Delonte has been getting some props sporadically throughout the year. Moreso than Brenden Haywood, anyhow. It's hard to get over the 47% free throw shooting and his make-your-eyes-bleed offensive post game. Not everyone realizes just how big of a defensive impact he's had this year. He just keeps on plodding along, being solid, getting rebounds, using his size, and making life difficult for the guard who just drove by a flat-footed Jason Terry with the intent to get an easy finger roll.
The other key factor here is not an injured player, unless you want to say every Maverick is "injured" with it. They are drop-dead, heavy-lidded, alarm-clock-blaring-and-my-bed-has-tied-me-down tired. So what, you say? Every other team is just as tired. Like hell they are. They don't have a 39 year old point guard, a German superstar who played into June to win his first ring and then fulfilled a commitment to his country over the fall, and a bunch of veterans who had been discarded into the scrap heap years ago. There's no stat for fatigue, no advanced metrics or heat chart or graphs. But you can see it in their effort on a nightly basis -- there are just too many damn games.
The Mavericks have miles to go before they get on the right track, but there's a reason they got so far lost, and there's a way for them to get back as Haywood and West return and the pace slows down a little. Not all is as it seems; twenty three games should prove that.