Going into this season, the Dallas Mavericks knew it would be tough sledding to compete in the Western Conference. Former MVP Dirk Nowitzki had offseason knee surgery that eventually resulted in him being out until the end of the 2012 calendar year. Dallas only had two main players from the 2011 championship team in Nowitzki and Shawn Marion. And head coach Rick Carlisle was having to incorporate so many new faces.
But after Wednesday night's overtime loss to the Miami Heat, which put Dallas at an 0-6 mark in overtime games this year, it is becoming clear that this group is vastly underachieving, even with the circumstances heading into the season.
The loss to the Heat was the fourth loss in overtime in which Dallas had a double-digit lead on the opponent late in the game. The Charlotte Bobcats, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Oklahoma City Thunder join the Heat as the four teams to come back late against Dallas and force overtime. Those opponents took charge in the extra frame to steal a victory away from Dallas.
It has been that inability to close, as well as inconsistency from this new bunch, that has led to the Mavs current record of 13-20.
Take those four tough losses, as well as other head-scratching defeats, and Dallas could have that record reversed if there were different fortunes.
However, what's done is done, and the fact is that Dallas is severely underachieving. Everyone knows it, including the players, and everyone, fans and players alike, are sick of it.
Dallas has had the incredible fortune of having the past decade filled with nothing but winning and success, with one championship to show for it. The fact that the Mavs are more towards the bottom of the barrel currently instead of the top in the standings is very aggravating to not only the players, but to coach Carlisle as well. This team should be better.
Shawn Marion has voiced his displeasure with his team's play. Vince Carter thinks the team should be better. Even Dirk has been quoted as saying that the Mavs are 'not smart.'
The encouraging, and also frustrating, sign is that this team has had its moments. O.J. Mayo, playing in his first season with the Mavs, has had a 40-point game for Dallas this year. New point guard Darren Collison has shown his ability as a young player to run this team. Carter and Marion have had their contributions.
So what is the problem here for the Mavs? It isn't coaching, because Carlisle has his effect on the players. The Mavs are a team that prides itself on winning, so this disappointing season so far is not sitting well with the roster, which it shouldn't.
It's not the players. This Dallas group is a very talented bunch. A young backcourt of Mayo and Collison could stabilize that backcourt for years to come, although the consistency needs to be there. Center Chris Kaman has excellent moves down low and has the ability to be a defensive anchor. And the Mavs have a top bench in the NBA.
Yes, the Mavs are not good rebounding the basketball, and they have been a team who turns the ball over in crucial situations. Those two things are not a good formula for winning.
But for this Mavs team, it seems to be just a lack of confidence from its best players, as well as an inability to have a killer instinct. Nowitzki, still working his way back from the injury, will bring some of those instincts back, as he showed last night when he hit a classic game-tying one-legged fade-away to send the game against the Heat into overtime, which resulted in what Dallas fans know oh-so-well, the Dirk-tongue.
However, Dallas needs confidence from other pieces, such as Mayo and Collison. There is a reason that Mayo was the third overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, and there is a reason that Collison is starting on this Mavericks team. The coaches believe in their ability, and they need to believe in themselves.
Can the Mavs turn around this 13-20 season? There are certainly better days ahead, but Dallas better fix their issues, especially these end-of-game situations.
Or we could end up not seeing Dallas in the playoffs for the first time in over a decade.
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