"I'm sick to my stomach," Rick Carlisle said on Tuesday, joining a crowd of people who have suffered nausea after watching the state of Dallas basketball these past few weeks.
But this loss isn't an outlier. Dallas has lost five of their last seven and the team is breaking apart at the foundation, exposing a nasty truth they've desperately been trying to conceal: these Mavericks aren't all that good.
Since Jan. 7, the Mavericks have a .500 record. They've won 15 times in 30 tries and only have three wins in 11 matchups against West playoff teams. Two of those come with asterisk marks: the Rockets were without Dwight Howard and the Trail Blazers collapsed in an improbable Mavs fourth quarter comeback.
Since Jan. 7, the Mavericks have a defensive rating is 102.2, which is 15th best in the NBA. Their offensive rating is 101.2, which is 14th best. They have a net rating of -1.0, which is no. 20 in the league. Conveniently, during that same stretch, there are 13 other teams with a negative net rating, which means the Mavericks have essentially been a lottery team for more than two months.
Since Jan. 7, Monta Ellis is shooting 42 percent. Rajon Rondo is shooting 41 percent. Dirk Nowitzki -- who maintains a career average of 47 percent shooting and flirted with 50-40-90 last season -- is shooting 44 percent.
What is Jan. 7? It's the day the Mavericks' schedule got hard. The real pendulum was Dec. 18, of course, when the Rajon Rondo trade occurred. You can run the same data starting on Dec. 18 instead of Jan. 7 and get slightly better, but similar, results. The Mavericks did record a six-game winning streak from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5, but the competition was nonexistent: the Lakers, the Thunder without Durant, the listless Wizards, the Celtics in Rondo's emotional homecoming, the Cavaliers without LeBron, and the Nets in overtime.
This season will be remembered for that mid December trade, which has turned into an abject failure. You can admit that while still supporting the logic behind the move, but the dismal results provide objective truth.
Rondo is an old soul, bred to be a masterful tactician perfect for the 90's. Sadly, his role is muddled in today's NBA game. This is especially true for the Carlisle-led offense in Dallas, which takes traditional positions and jumbles them into a free-flowing offense that emphasizes constant, repeated movement over finely tuned precision.
He's never had a jump shot and an ACL tear two years ago added further limitations to Rondo's offensive game by diminishing his pure athleticism. The Mavericks hoped Rondo could be revitalized in a new city, but he's only shown sad flashes of being a guard who can sees several steps ahead of the defense but no longer has the tools to use that to his advantage.
It's a similar story on defense. When used in conjunction with Tyson Chandler and the emerging Al-Farouq Aminu, Rondo's defensive abilities are evident. Those three have played 71 minutes together and allow a stifling 79 points per 100 possessions. But when asked to anchor the defense without the support of one or both of Dallas' two best defenders, Rondo's inconsistent. There's a slight uptick in the defense when he's on the court (100.2 defensive rating) to when he's off (102.1 defensive rating), but it's far from the levels Dallas hoped for when making the trade and is trending down.
Since Jan. 7, the Mavericks have been outscored by 82 points when Rondo is on the floor. That's by far the worst on the team during that period, even with Rondo missing eight games with a facial fracture.
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Rondo's arrival has either caused or spotlighted problems all around the Mavericks' roster. While he kept his numbers high, Dirk was consistently failing the eye test even before the trade. Shots he normally hits with absurd exactness weren't falling in at the same rate. It's grown worse -- in 11 games since the All Star break, he's scoring 12.6 points on 39.6 percent shooting from the floor and 32.4 percent shooting on 3-pointers.
There are other problems. Monta Ellis is equal parts missing shots and looking uncomfortable when he shares the floor with Rondo. Tyson Chandler has dealt with a variety of health ailments while playing through most of them. It's true that the full roster has barely played together, always missing one guy or another. But "barely played together" is relative, seeing how they spent nearly the entire month of January healthy. The Mavericks' starting five with Rondo has played in 22 games and 333 minutes, culminating in a marvelous net rating of -0.2.
This isn't a slump. A slump implies a step backwards for a team that has, at some point, moved ahead -- something the Mavericks haven't done. What happened on Tuesday was a continuation of what we've been watching for more than two months. The team is stuck in a never-ending quagmire of mediocrity that hasn't shown a sign of letting up.
Go ahead: point to a game or a stretch where this team played "like it should" play. Maybe the win against Memphis counts. Perhaps there's some solid stretches mixed in here and there, like the 50-15 run to end the game against Miami. But this team isn't "inconsistent." They aren't "showing flashes." There's no "switch to flip." Not that we've seen.
With 16 games remaining, nobody is saying they can't put it together. They've got talent, after all, even if it all fits in an awkward mishmash of players. But the only way to predict the future is based on past results, and those very results paint a clear picture: these Mavericks just aren't a good basketball team.
All statistics courtesy of NBA.com's stats page.