The good news, after the Mavs' soul-destroying loss to the Blazers, is that if the Mavs had this team all year they'd be a playoff team pretty easily. Although cold comfort, that's far from nothing. It's never been 100% clear why the Mavericks are so good and losing to a team like Portland really kind of brings that out---why do LMA + Batum + Lillard not equal Dirk, Mayo, and a papier mache team anyway? Why didn't LMA + Batum + all that talent they've had over the years, Gerald Wallace, etc., not equal Dirk + Terry? But it never really has, and despite last night's result, I think it's clear enough that it still doesn't.
This is good news because the Mavericks aren't over. Thanks to the current obsession with young talent, everything in the NBA can feel like the last year on Earth, like Dirk is going to die or return to his home planet next year. Next season, basketball gods willing, should be the first time in three years Dirk gets a training camp with the team he's on and I don't think there's any doubt that he has something left. If he's not as automatic as two years ago, no one ever was or has been. Plus, if the Mavs re-sign some of these pieces they really do have something to build on. The Mavs will have a chance again next year to make some noise. The window is closing, but it isn't closing tomorrow.
The harsh truth is, the Mavericks are probably not making the playoffs this year. It's hard to say that after one game, when things were looking so good for a while there, but with 37 left, the Mavs are five out of the playoffs and Portland is one of the teams standing in their way. The Lakers are finally starting to play well and there's really no reason THEY can't make the playoffs. I absolute hate to say it, but unlike the Mavericks their struggles were never about maybe not having the talent.
The season from here goes one of two ways. The Mavericks could focus on seeing what they have in their youngsters, and showcasing their trade chips. Obviously, I sincerely doubt they'll do this, but what it would look like would be Kaman playing more, Wright playing more, James and Crowder playing more, Cunningham getting some burn--my sense is, however, the Mavericks want to raise the young guys up to win and that means keeping the pressure on.
The other, and the more likely option, is to go down fighting and hope for a lucky break. This is probably the right move. For all that a good draft pick, and having good young talent going into next year, might change things for the better, it's far more likely that Mayo and Dirk figuring out how to play off each other will have an effect on the Mavericks' hopes next year than that Bernard James and draft pick number 12, or whatever, will.
Assuming the Mavericks are certainly going to lose to the Thunder again in heartbreaking fashion, the Mavs have an offchance of going 8-1 over the next 9, depending on how you feel about Golden State. Besides that, they've got Phoenix again, the Kings, the Hawks, the Magic and the Hornets, all of which should be wins. At that point, they would be 27-27 and it'd be, in some small way, a new season with 28 games to go. Nothing's impossible at this point, just unlikely.
The good news, such as it is, is that the Mavericks have had zero continuity since the championship year and that matters a lot. You'll remember that Marion had no idea how to fit in here the first year, and Jason Kidd the same. These things take time and if the Mavericks give parts of this team some time, they will see dividends--given that this team, with a healthy Dirk is pretty decent, who knows what might happen? It obviously feels like a lot of losses, it obviously is a lot of losses, but outside of the Portland game, the Mavs have only dropped a couple to teams that aren't all that good since Dec. 15.
We'll see how it plays out.