The Mavericks won their fourth-straight game on Sunday, beating the Minnesota Timberwolves 88-78 as their last-gasp playoff push builds more and more momentum. Once again, Dallas reverted to anaconda tendencies, strangling and suffocating the Timberwolves with a slow, deliberate pace that used fewer possessions and thus had fewer chances to screw up. Without question, this win could be crucial for the Mavericks when they head into the season's final week hoping to sneak into the Western Conference playoffs.
It wasn't always pretty, but Wesley Matthews and Devin Harris led the way in the second half, where Dallas overcame an early third quarter deficit to go ahead for good. Matthews scored 19 points while nailing six three-pointers while Harris added 16 points on 5-of-13 shooting and three triples of his own. Dirk Nowitzki struggled, hitting just four of his 18 shots, but his teammates and the surprisingly effective team defense Carlisle has installed once again carried the day. Another strong night for J.J. Barea also helped, as he scored a team-high 21 points, helping the team stay afloat early on.
The Mavericks' scoring problem
Look, it's not like anyone's surprised. The Mavericks lost their second-leading scorer for the year and haven't had Deron Williams for nearly two weeks. Those two combine to average more than 30 points for Dallas, and predictably, without them, the Mavericks seriously lack scoring punches.
In the previous three-game winning streak, Dallas has survived with J.J. Barea picking up the mantle as a lead scorer, which is ridiculous and incredible in its own right. Dirk Nowitzki played some of his best basketball in years in March, particularly since Parsons went down. The Mavericks have preached pace and tempo all season, with a goal of having the ball cross the half-court line with at least 21 seconds left on the clock. But without their offensive weapons, the Mavericks have dialed back their tempo, average four fewer possessions over the prior three-game winning streak. Without players skilled at scoring in transition like Parsons and with the team failing to routinely generate quality shots, their best chance of winning has been a slow, grind it out performance. By holding those three teams under 90, and the Timberwolves under 80 on Sunday, they've done just that.
Still, the Mavericks cannot make the playoffs if Williams remains out. They won't beat the better teams remaining on their schedule that they must beat. Parsons' absence is the bigger loss, but there's nothing to be done about that. At least Williams is supposed to return, and his ability to create shots, pose a bigger spot-up threat than Felton and generally just be smart running the offense will be crucial.
If they don't get Williams back for Wednesday's game against Houston, so much of the work falls to Felton creating shots in the pick-and-roll with players not suited for the pick-and-roll, or if Lee is on the floor as a power forward, trying to make up for his lack of spacing. It's just a jumble of players not really suited for a modern NBA offense that the Mavericks are trying to use, and they don't fit neatly. Williams, at least, would help.
Justin Anderson's development
Anderson has firmly established himself in the Mavericks' rotation. He's an athlete on a team devoid of them, he's the team's best shot blocker despite being 6'5 and he's finally turned his rookie corner. Carlisle doesn't yell at him for being out of place as frequently, he looks much more comfortable with the ball in his hands and he's really turned into an all-around good player for Dallas, even if he's still trying to become a truly consistent scorer.
Using Anderson's current play as an indictment on Carlisle, though, seems foolish to me. NBA players, especially rookies, aren't constant. Anderson has worked all season to improve, and clearly, tangibly has. Playing actual in-game minutes can help development to a degree, but I'm not of the school of thought that you must earn minutes to be better, especially if they're unearned minutes. Anderson has finally reached a point where his minutes are earned, and now he's developing in a different way, as he learns different scenarios and plays against different opponents around the NBA. But it just doesn't seem like this is something he could have duplicated all season.
Either way, it's incredibly fun to watch him now, and my belief that he can be a valuable actor off the bench next season (or even as a starter!) remains the same. An athlete with those defensive tendencies, channeled into proper NBA fundamentals, is the type of player every NBA team wishes they had.
Get right, Dirk
It has been tough watching him the past few games. Here's hoping that's just a minor blip.