A difficult uphill battle for the Mavericks to make the playoffs just became several times tougher with news that Chandler Parsons will miss the rest of the season with a meniscus tear. If it was perilous to assume a playoff spot prior to the injury, it's flat out irresponsible now. Dallas needs a good plan, strong play and a whole lot of luck.
It's not impossible, though. They're still a playoff team right now, sitting at 35-35 in the eighth seed one full game up on the Utah Jazz. With a win against Portland on Wednesday -- they already have two -- Dallas could leap all the way into sixth place. That's how tight this playoff race is.
We saw the blueprint for how the Mavericks will need to win games on Sunday with Parsons out. Dirk Nowitzki dropped 40 points and Deron Williams became the only Maverick besides Jason Kidd to record 30-plus points and 15-plus assists. Neither of those are sustainable things, and both milestones were accomplished in overtime. Regardless, expecting strong performances out of those two is a must for Dallas to win anything.
"I've got to be more aggressive," Williams said after the Mavericks' Tuesday practice. "Just do a good job of balancing the offense, getting guys involved, getting shots where they need to go and then being aggressive myself to score."
This is critical. Williams has morphed into more of an off-the-ball player than he has been his entire career, but on Sunday, Williams systematically took Portland defenders into the post and smoothly generated looks all around the floor for teammates.
"It helps when D-Will plays well and aggressive," Nowitzki said. "That helps set everybody else up, so he's got to continue to do that."
Next comes Salah Mejri
Mejri, the first Tunisian NBA player who has briefly appeared in the rotation a couple times this year, came off the bench on Sunday to provide 13 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks. Without Parsons to facilitate small ball, the Mavericks will need to use more big ball as well. (Yes, I just coined the phrase "big ball," please credit me every time you use it.)
"It's going to depend on the situation and matchups, etc.," Carlisle said. "We played big the other day a fair amount with Pachulia, Lee and Salah. We're going to have to be able to do both (small and big lineups)."
The Mavericks need Wesley Matthews more than ever
"Some guys positionally will bump to different positions," Carlisle said. "Wes is going to be heavily relied upon, as he always is. Anderson's going to have to play more minutes."
Matthews hit five straight threes in Sunday's game against Portland, which were his only points (but much needed ones). He knows his shot-making will be called upon more frequently, despite all his struggles this year.
"[Parsons' absence] doesn't change the responsibility that I've already placed on myself," Matthews said. "That doesn't change. I carry a heavy burden on myself, a heavy sense of responsibility on my own. Nobody's more critical of me than myself."
Nowitzki mentioned the possibility of a super small lineup featuring Matthews at power forward, which seems likely for some stretches.
The bench will expand, too, just like it did Monday
"Charlie stepped up," Carlisle said. "Powell's going to need to be ready. There's a trickle down effect positionally too. This is going to affect Anderson having to be ready and possibly play more minutes. And so we'll just go from here."
Even though Villanueva has been bad, he can still be a useful player if he can just hit a shot or two. While Dwight Powell is a more talented player, he's shooting 28 percent on shots outside five feet from the basket. Because of that, he's somewhat positionless right now: not able to play power forward because of a complete lack of spacing, but not good enough to supplant Lee or Mejri or even Nowitzki as a center. With that said, and given Villanueva's struggles, Nowitzki sees room for both.
"I think Charlie's going to see some time," Nowitzki said. "There might be some nights where Dwight [Powell's] going to play some four."
During Tuesday's practice, Powell was dutifully working on his three-point shot around the arc, like he has all season. That's the next evolution of his game and the shot that would turn him into a Jared Sullinger-like energy big off someone's bench.
In conclusion, here's the post-Parsons plan
More Williams on offense, both creating shots and taking some on his own, especially in the post. More Nowitzki, who will continue shouldering an unbelievable load this year. (He says he's felt great ever since the All-Star break, so perhaps that's alright.) The move to Salah Mejri playing consistently seems likely, as does Anderson and Villanueva getting some burn here and there off the bench. It's going to be some ugly duct tape creation, but if anyone can create something out of nothing, it's Carlisle.
"We've just got to make it work with the players we have available," Carlisle said. "We've got 13 active guys and those are the guys we're going to war with the final 12 games of the season."