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The Dallas Mavericks look a lot like last season’s Dallas Mavericks

Dallas starts the season 9-7 two years in a row.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Deja vu all over again. The Dallas Mavericks have started the season flat. Although some of the faces may have changed, this year’s team looks almost like a carbon copy of last season’s team that sputtered in the opening months. Their record reflects it.

Sixteen games in the regular season, Dallas sits at 9-7 with several bad losses under its belt. The Mavericks held the same record after 16 games last season. They again look like a team struggling to find an identity, but after a run to the Western Conference Finals last season, Dallas cannot wait for a midseason trade to right the ship.

Sunday night, Dallas had one of its worst performances of the season, falling 98-97 to a Denver Nuggets team playing without Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Aaron Gordon. It was a game in which confusing decisions all around led to the team squandering opportunities for success.

“We just came out flat in that third [quarter],” Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said after the game. “As coaches, myself, we’ve got to be better. We came out flat. They took advantage of that, took control of the game. But again, we fight back and put ourselves in a position to win at the end.”

Kidd regularly cites being able to win close games on the final possession after bad losses. He’s not wrong, but it’s a sentiment that ignores the larger picture. His team has a penchant for throwing away leads. What makes things worse is that the Mavericks are coughing up games to severely undermanned teams.

Dallas has lost to the Washington Wizards this season without Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis, the Orlando Magic without Paolo Banchero, and the New Orleans Pelicans without Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson. Sunday’s loss to Denver is the latest example of the Mavericks’ severe underachievement.

“If a player’s out, he’s out,” Josh Green said. “We still try to keep the same mindset; the only thing that really changes is our scout. I think for us, taking the games very seriously and going into every game with the same goal of winning, it’s kind of hard. Nothing shifts for me. I’m trying to win, so matter who is on the court. It could be a high school team; I’m still trying to win. So, I don’t think it really matters.”

Green has been a bright spot this season for Dallas. He scored a career-high 23 points in the losing effort against the Nuggets. And while he is starting to see an increase in his opportunities to play—he was on the floor to close the game—other players are on a leash or haphazardly given the green light.

Against the Nuggets, Tim Hardaway Jr. was the first player to sub in off the bench. He played just over 20 minutes and was remarkably 0-for-9 from the floor. He finished the game with two points, making a pair of free throws. Meanwhile, Christian Wood saw a little more than 17 minutes of action and had just three field goal attempts, making two of them.

Perhaps more perplexing is that Wood played less than two minutes in the pivotal fourth quarter—Hardaway played almost the entire first five minutes. He has been one of Dallas’ most efficient offensive players this season. After the game, Wood told Callie Caplan of the Dallas Morning News that the coaches do not communicate their expectations of him nor how much time he will see on the floor.

“I would love to play more,” Wood said. “I’ve voiced that several times, but I just play my role.”

Through 16 games, the Mavericks are a team we’ve seen before. They keep turning the crankshaft, hoping the engine will eventually turn without checking under the hood. Maybe they just need a good whack to get things going.

It’s a long season, and last year’s team didn’t turn things around until after Christmas. So, there’s still time for the Mavericks to turn things around, but things have to change soon if the Mavericks want to improve on last year’s success. There’s just no guarantee they will. The trip to the Western Conference Finals feels like a distant memory, and Dallas appears content to relive the start of last season.

At least Luka Doncic is in shape this time.