There were many people who were unsure if the Dallas Mavericks were a playoff team entering the season, dealing with injury woes and yet another roster almost entirely rebuilt around Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons. As the season's halfway point approaches at the end of this month, the Mavericks have dispelled exaggerated rumors of their demise, but still know they're in no position to take it easy. Every win matters, with this team more than ever, who can't afford to skate by on talent alone.
When you examine the team in that context, it makes more sense why Dirk Nowitzki was incensed about a phantom foul call after the game, when referee Tony Brown said Zaza Pachulia committed a shooting foul on Ryan Anderson despite replays showing no contact.
"To me, that's game right there," Dirk said afterwards in a very rare criticism of a single call. "It's almost under a minute, and [the deficit] goes from three to five, and you're basically reaching to get back in the game. I was just telling him, 'If you're going to make that call, you've got to be 1,000 percent sure he actually hit him. Other than that, you just blew the game.'
"Obviously, that's emotion speaking. One [call] doesn't really win or lose the game, just like one shot doesn't win or lose the game. It's 48 minutes where we made mistakes, where we had brutal turnovers again, especially there in the first half. Just loose with the ball, brutal passes. But that's a tough call. I told him that's like me missing a buzzer-beater. We're getting criticized on that. That's like missing a buzzer-beater there."
Here's the call in question.
While I've heard Dirk criticize refereeing in general terms, I've rarely, if ever, heard him deliver a spiel like that on a missed call. While a No. 5 seed in the Western Conference sitting four games over .500 is better than many expected Dallas to be in early January, it's not enough for the Mavericks, who feel as if they're better than they've shown.
Rick Carlisle danced around criticizing the call -- "I'm not going to give away 35 grand right now, if it's all the same to you" -- but expressed frustration in his team's play all the same.
"This is a six-month all out fight in this league," Carlisle said. "You got to be undistracted to get your share of wins and tonight I thought early the ball not going in on some good looks distracted us and took us out of the fight mode slightly. Again it wasn't that we weren't trying or that we weren't playing hard, I thought they came at us a little harder and they have had a rough go and they've been kicked around a lot. They were playing with some anger and it showed. You got to give them credit."
Wesley Matthews' exasperation as the Mavericks' play could not be more apparent as he talked to media at his locker.
"I don't know," Matthews said when asked what went wrong these past couple games. "It's annoying, though. Uhh ... we didn't play in Miami, we didn't play well in too many stretches here. To be who we want to be, to be who we know we can be, we've got to pick it up. We've got to leave it all on the court every night."
The Mavericks are by and large overachieving as they start 2016, but don't take that to mean the team is content with their play. Nor can they just forgive or look past a critical call that cost them a realistic chance at a late win.