After a short stint as the hottest team in the league, having won 4 in a row and 10 of their last 12, the Dallas Mavericks hit the skids in the second half of their last game in Chicago, en route to a 3-game losing streak. The last game, a loss to the struggling Denver Nuggets, was a game in which the team as a whole seemingly didn’t show up from the beginning, digging themselves into an 18-8 hole in the early going. Although they ended the game losing by only 5, the Mavs were down as much as 20 and the Nuggets answered every Dallas run, ending their own 6-game losing streak.
Any team can succumb to not showing up one night as the Mavs apparently did against the Charlotte Bobcats the night before beating a very good Indiana Pacers team. However, the losing streak puts a lot of doubt in the Mavericks playoff hopes, not so much in that they might not make them, but that they would have little chance of competing in the first round against a matchup versus heavyweights such as the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder.
Then the tables turned yet again, as the Mavericks toppled the Portland Trailblazers, who are no longer near the top of the Western Conference but remain a formidable team. That was followed by an exciting victory over the Indiana Pacers, who remain at the top of the Eastern Conference despite a 4-game losing streak of their own.
The Indiana game showed just how much of a Jekyll-and-Hyde the Mavericks can be and all in the course of one game. After building an astounding 30-point lead, then inexplicably losing it and more, falling to an 8-point deficit, the Mavs finally dug down a pulled out a 105-94 victory.
Apparently the tail end of the losing streak did indeed shake up the Mavs, as ESPN’s Tim McMahon contends, motivating them to knock off two NBA heavyweights. Dirk Nowitzki seemed to agree, admitting “maybe we needed that Denver loss to go to the bottom to fight back up.”
The effort was there, epitomized by a rebound by Vince Carter that personified desire not always seen, much less appreciated, in any sport. To say it was refreshing would be an understatement. Via ESPN:
Just four days ago in Denver, it felt as though the Mavs might never win again. They’d lost three straight games and didn’t seem to care as the Nuggets lit it up for 41 points in the first quarter and another 36 in the fourth quarter.
Vince Carter’s maximum-effort, maximum-enthusiasm offensive rebound early in the fourth quarter. The geezer sixth man outleaped 23-year-old All-Star Paul George not once, not twice, but three times before ripping down the rebound, with Carter letting out a roar after he finally got both hands on the ball.
The extra possession resulted in a Jose Calderon 3-pointer, but the intangible value of Carter’s rebound might have been greater.
“It’s a spiritually lifting play for our team and everybody in the arena,” Carlisle said. “They see a 37-year-old guy go up three times and then tear it down. I mean, that’s big time. He’s showing you how much he wants to win.”
The Mavericks have shown all year they can score and with Devin Harris and Brandan Wright, both the offense and the defense are more consistent and more versatile. While Dirk has shown signs of pessimism earlier this year, he certainly now believes “if we compete and rebound and defend, I like our chances.”
Having the new Devin Harris clutch shot doesn’t hurt either. As Rick Carlisle pointed out vs. Indiana, “He was active defensively, he was hitting shots, making plays and he brings an extra dimension to our guard rotation."
Clearly the formula works and very conveniently on a night when Dirk wasn't at his best, going 3-for-14.
The tests continue this week as the Mavericks face the Golden State Warriors and a back-to-back against the Utah Jazz. Then it will be the Oklahoma City Thunder next Sunday. The Thunder, much like the Spurs, has pretty much had the Mavs’ number for the last couple of years.
The effort must continue, particularly on the part of Samuel Dalembert. When Dalembert is engaged, the Mavericks are a different team. How different with Harris taking on a bigger role as well, and perhaps Dirk doing his usual thing? This coming week will be a good indication.