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Roundtable: Identifying why the Mavericks keep collapsing in third quarters

The great mystery of this generation. Is it fixable?

Rick Carlisle wonders what we all wonder.
Rick Carlisle wonders what we all wonder.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Three things are certain in life — death, taxes and the Dallas Mavericks collapsing in the third quarter.

But there is hope for mankind. The Mavericks actually won a third quarter on Friday against the Utah Jazz, and won it convincingly. But the sample size is still too large for one to think these after-halftime problems are considered over with.

Dallas' third quarter problems can't be explained, especially with how outstanding the Mavericks are in the first two quarters. The Boston Celtics were down 31 points — THIRTY-ONE POINTS — and pulled within a single point late in the fourth quarter.

We try our best to figure out what in the name of everything good in this world is going on with Dallas in the third quarter in this week's version of our roundtable.

This week, Bailey Rogers (BRogers789), Hal Brown (@HalBrownNBA) and Kate Crawford (@crawfordkate) try to decipher these third quarter lulls.

1) In short, what is making the Mavs so terrible in third quarters?

Bailey: This feels like the obvious answer, but here goes. It seems to have started simply as letting the foot off the gas with a big lead. But by the Blazers game it really felt like it was a psychological thing. Like the Mavs were all thinking about how the past third quarters went and psyched themselves out. A self-fulfilling prophecy if you will. Ultimately, it's just a lack of effort. Guys taking dumb shots early in the shot clock. Being sloppy with passes. Not rotating on defense. Etc. Fortunately, it seems to have been fixed in the Utah game.

Hal: This is one of those things that, to me, is hard to pinpoint in some reasonable fashion because it seems so clearly psychological or personal or whatever else in a way that I can't really glean to much insight into. It certainly has seemed like the players come in really tired -- in particular it always looks like Parsons and Tyson are on their last legs in the 3rd -- and I imagine their in their own heads by this point.

Kate: They seem to have developed an inexplicable affinity for the color red. Check it out in full detail here:

2) How much of this do we put on Rick Carlisle? For the praise he's given as a great coach (and he is), he's made terrible adjustments on both sides of the floor coming out of halftime. And this hasn't been a problem just this year. This goes back to the last couple of years.

Hal: Yeah, I think Rick is probably the second-best coach in the NBA and most people would pretty readily agree with that, but rotation management can be so weird with him. If he's got a group that he's confident he understands the skillset of, his rotations are brilliant at taking advantage of mismatches and conserving player's energy. If he doesn't know how the group works, though, his rotations can be really weird and awful for a long time, and it takes him far longer to adjust to bad lineups than it probably should.

Kate: I'm not sure. I have this half-baked theory that Carlisle hasn't been great at distributing minutes, and that's leaving the starters over-extended going into the second half. I'm not at all sure that's correct, and no one’s minutes are all that high, but both Monta Ellis and Chandler Parsons are in the top 10 percent when it comes to miles traveled per game, and Tyson and Dirk are both, well, old. It's harder to make shots and play defense on tired legs. But this is a group that's still figuring each other out, and as Jared Dubin noted last week, Carlisle has tried 40 different lineups this season and is obviously still experimenting to try to figure out how his players work together. These adjustments have never been his strong suit, but I think he'll figure what works.

Bailey: I put a lot of this on Rick Carlisle. Lack of effort is always on the coach. His job is as much about motivating his players as it is about the Xs and Os. I started thinking in the Celtics game that it might be good to try a different lineup to start the third. That kind of happened against Portland because Monta got into foul trouble, but if anything, it made things worse. So it probably isn't a lineup issue... just a motivation issue. And to his credit, Rick (and Dirk, to some extent) had the guys ready to play in the third quarter against Utah.

Steve Dykes - USA TODAY Sports

3) The Portland game was the most alarming in the sense that Dallas didn't have a big lead, and still let the foot off the gas in the third. Have we reached the point that this is psychological?

Kate: I’m always reluctant to attribute anything athletes do to "psychological reasons." None of us really know what they’re thinking or feeling. These guys are professionals, and they are probably frustrated that this has happened several times now, but I have a hard time believing Dirk Nowitzki gets seriously rattled by a few bad quarters.

Bailey: See answer to number 1. I think it probably wasn't psychological right at the beginning of the third quarter against Portland (that was still just the guys not trying hard enough and making dumb errors). But once the Blazers started piling it on, it seemed obvious that the Mavs were just shell-shocked. It went from being a sort of "here we go again" thing to being more of a "holy crap we absolutely can't do anything right anymore" thing. The whole thing just sort of snowballed.

Hal: I think so. But it's so hard to know, none of us can really get inside these player's heads beyond speculation from what they tell the media, which is always a VERY dubious proposition. I would think yes, but who knows?

Russ Isabella - USA TODAY Sports

4) How can Dallas fix this? Or is this even fixable? When the offense is taking bad shots and hardly working on the defensive end, it doesn't feel like it.

Bailey: The fix is simple. Pay attention. Give effort. Don't make dumb mistakes. Stop shooting bad shots early in the shot clock. Keep doing what you were doing in the first half. I mean, the reason those third quarters were so frustrating was that at times it just look like the Mavs' brains had fallen out of their heads. Granted, at times it did feel like there was a lid on the basket, with some great shots just not falling at really inopportune times, but some of the things they were doing were so easily fixed. Apparently all it really took was Dirk going out there and doing the things I just said, then the rest of the team followed suit.

Hal: It'll work itself out. The season is too long for it not too. Eventually they'll get out of their own heads, or they'll just start making shots that they wouldn't otherwise which will improve confidence, or Carlisle will finally hit on the right rotation, or...

Like, there are so many things that can happen to get this team out of the slump, and only one has to happen for this to get better. Already, the Mavs had their killer 3rd quarter against the Jazz, so hopefully that's just a herald of things to come.

Kate: Anything that happens five games in a row is going to make fans sit up and take notice, but despite my armchair theorizing about Carlisle and his minutes management, I'm not totally convinced this is a thing. Five is actually just not that many games, and we didn’t see it happen at all in the sixth. It’s totally fair to be concerned, but it seems premature to deem this an unfixable problem. We’ve seen other good teams have five bad quarters this season. I think it’s possible that the Mavs’ bad quarters just happen to have all happened right after halftime. They could’ve happened consecutively instead, and we’d be wringing our hands about an embarrassing blowout loss to a bad team right now. I will of course gladly eat my words in a month if this is still happening, but as of right now, I’m not all that worried.