The playoff dream is dead.
Dallas entered the month of January with about as much optimism as a 10-24 could have — anemic play from the West’s middle-tier left them 4.5 games out of eighth place, Harrison Barnes was delivering more than anyone could have imagined and the team was getting healthier.
After a comeback against a more-talented (at least at the top of the roster) Wizards to open the month, the Mavs had won five of nine and looked poised to roar back from the dead and drive a stake into the still beating tanking heart with a super-soft January schedule.
So much for that.
After the 101-92 loss to the equally bad (but not equally talented) Minnesota Timberwolves, the Mavs have lost three in a row and are now in sole possession of the worst record in the West again. They still haven’t lost any ground — somehow still 4.5 games back of eighth-place Portland — but the fact the Mavs haven’t gained any ground in a trio of games against bad teams means it’s likely over. Dallas didn’t need a .500 month to seriously threaten for a playoff spot, they needed a winning one. They’re 1-4 with 10 to go.
There’s still time, technically. The next four games against Phoenix, Minnesota again, Chicago and Miami isn’t exactly a murder’s row, but after watching the Suns and T-Wolves already handle the Mavs and a somewhat lifeless Atlanta team drilling them on Saturday, there isn’t much reason to believe the Mavs will suddenly turn it around.
After those four games? Dallas plays Utah, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Cleveland in four of the last six games of the month. This half of the month was the Mavs’ chance and they’ve blown it so far.
It’s probably for the best. Despite my protests of seeing a team with Dirk Nowitzki tank, the writing is on the wall. These Mavs definitely aren’t good and it’s time to trim the fat and let the young guys back into the rotation.
The Mavs possibly rallying for a playoff spot was a fun distraction for a week or so. Reality has seeped back in. Onto the notes:
- With the Mavs playoff chances practically dead, I’m ready for the Andrew Bogut era to be over. He’s not coming back next year, he can’t play with Dirk and he’s blocking progression for younger players. Rick Carlisle is trying to do right by his vets and see if the Dirk-Bogut pair can work for two dudes who have started their whole lives, but it’s not working. The pairing was dreadful again against the Wolves, as Karl-Anthony Towns cooked early and put the Mavs in a 21-point hole in the first half. Lineup data is tricky to read into after a game but the starting lineup had a minus-77.3 net rating Monday night. There just isn’t enough speed for Dirk and Bogut to play together. Not only does that pairing not work, it’s stalling out the few young players the Mavs have from doing things. Justin Anderson, Dorian Finney-Smith and Dwight Powell played a COMBINED 19 minutes. That’s unacceptable. It’s time to move Bogut before his value is completely derailed playing in terrible lineups — or before his legs fall off. After Bogut looked like a statue during two defensive possessions in the fourth that led to easy Wolves buckets, the Mavs pulled him for the night and said he had a hamstring injury. That’s three leg injuries since December. For the love of all that is holy, Mavs front office, trade Bogut before his value is equal to a washing machine.
- I’ve probably buried the lede here, but Harrison Barnes is the damn truth. His best scoring game as a Mav with 30 points on 13-of-23 shooting and 4-of-5 from three. It was wonderful to see Barnes feeling himself from deep after he’s done so much damage from the mid-range, splashing down threes like Dirk when the Mavs were in comeback mode. For everyone that loves to knock the lack of free throws and assists after every Barnes game (which are valid complaints! Barnes needs to learn to be a better creator as he becomes a number one option) I can’t shove any of those numbers in their faces because he shot zero free throws and had one assist. But Barnes’ game is more than just offense and every night it’s becoming more clear that he is one of the league’s most versatile defenders. Neither of Minnesota’s starting wings did much of anything (Wiggins 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting, Zach LaVine five points on 2-of-7) and in case you need some visual evidence of Barnes defense I give you some god damn lower body strength:
That’s your 6-7 forward bodying up the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year who was in the middle of a 15-of-19 shooting night and stonewalling him. Barnes just can’t get dislodged on the lower block and I can’t think of more than a handful of wings that can do that. Towns got the better of Barnes later on just because he could shoot over him, but Barnes being able to play post defense like this is incredible and unlocks the Mavs roster to many off-season building opportunities.
- It’s plays like this that make me legit wonder who will be a better player in four years — Barnes or Wiggins? That sounds insane, but their numbers are a lot closer than you think, with Wiggins having an advantage of getting to the line but Barnes besting him in almost every other category. Barnes is a better defender and a better rebounder and their passing numbers are a wash when you consider Barnes almost never turns it over. The Wolves actually get tiny bit better when Wiggins is off the court, while the Mavs definitely get worse when Barnes is on the bench. Wiggins has a ton of time to get better of course, but the fact that Barnes has made it a discussion you don’t laugh at is huge progress for him in year one of his max contract. It gives me hope Barnes will add a little bit to his game each off-season and maybe his assist and free throw numbers won’t be dreadful by year three or four. Even if Barnes tops out at what Wiggins is now — a dude who you can give the ball and get buckets — that’s not a bad thing. Every team needs someone like that.
- Dirk is a mess at a lot of things right now, but hot damn was it good to see him go nova at the end of the first half and drill a couple more threes in the second half. I was a little worried about Dirk’s shooting lately, and he looked great offensively (8-of-16, 5-of-10 from three, 26 points). I love that even when Dirk is playing the four, Barnes is the four on offense as Dirk provides Barnes with more spacing as a spot-up option. Those two feed off each other even though they have similar pet spots on the floor.
- Dirk’s defense though? Yikes.
- *pokes head through door* Wes Matthews is shooting 31.6 percent from three and 31.4 percent overall in January. Just going to have to live with him being streaky as hell I guess.
- Dwight Powell averaged almost 25 minutes a night in December and shot over 60 percent from the floor, so of course he’s nailed to the bench this month. Bogut being back has thrown everything out of whack and while I don’t care much for Powell’s defense at all, his offense has been so good he has to be on the floor for more than six minutes like he was Monday night. This is why I want the Mavs to trade Bogut — how much are they really losing? With Bogut hurting himself every other week and the Mavs losing games when he’s on the floor anyway, what’s there to lose rolling with Salah Mejri and Powell as the center rotation to close out the year? What’s the worst that could happen, you finish with the worst record in the Western Con—OH WAIT.