This season’s Dallas Mavericks could write a book on 101 ways to die in an NBA game, and 75 of them would come from some combination of coughing up massive leads, mediocre late game execution, and weak paint defense. Sunday afternoon’s loss to the poor but retooled Los Angeles Lakers combined all three.
You would need octopus arms to point in every direction of why the Mavericks lost this game. But as Anthony Davis and Jarred Vanderbilt combined for 45 points, 32 rebounds, five steals and three blocks, one broken record problem came scratching through the speakers on Sunday: the Mavericks have no identity from their big men.
Both Lakers starters were monsters. This doesn’t even account for LeBron James, who added 26 points and eight boards. The trio had 15 of the teams’ 17 offensive rebounds (Vanderbilt had EIGHT). The Lakers had everything they wanted near the glass, ripping every loose ball near the rim down and waltzing to the basket for 62 points in the paint.
This isn’t new for the Mavericks. They have a nauseating trend of late, giving opponents little trouble in the lane. Yes, they are missing their best defensive post presence in Maxi Kleber, but he alone can’t solve what currently ails them.
The Mavericks after all knew this was an issue as they walked off the floor for the final time last postseason. They spoke very publicly about their need to boost post play, and celebrated their moves in trading for Christian Wood and signing JaVale McGee to a multi-year deal. On Sunday, Wood played just 20 minutes and McGee finished with zero, a “Did Not Play - Coach’s Decision”. I have to apologize by bringing up once again the fury of making McGee the primary off-season addition only to realize he is unplayable in your system less than half way through the year. But the mistake is more and more glaring each game where the Mavericks escort their opponent untouched toward the basket.
Whether the decision to shore up the front court in the off-season was the right move or not — last season’s Mavericks did after all eliminate teams that featured Rudy Gobert and DeAndre Ayton without those two — a team with title aspirations and the best young player in the league can’t make these kinds of roster missteps. Not in the climate of this NBA, where superstar players get antsy real quick, no matter where they are in their contract.
So where to from here? Hopefully Kleber is healthy, and perhaps the perimeter defense can provide some means of resistance. Roster decisions aside this is ultimately Jason Kidd’s task. If you listen to his postgame quotes recently he often sounds more like a cryptic disgruntled spectator or a passive aggressive best friend than the leader of the club. If the Mavericks have any of hope of advancing in the playoffs, or at minimum securing an automatic spot, then they must find the identity they were searching for before the season even began.