Can Dirk Nowitzki Save the Dallas Mavericks?

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The Dallas Mavericks fell to 7-8 on the season Tuesday night following a 100-98 loss to Philadelphia, a game that said a lot about their prospects for this season.

The Mavericks were out rebounded for the ninth time this season, further reinforcing their status as the worst rebounding team in the league. Their issues go far beyond their ability to crash the glass, however, and as the season wears on, it’s becoming more clear that Dirk Nowitzki’s return may not be enough to keep this team from tanking.

Going into halftime against the Sixers, Dallas held a three point lead and were playing the type of basketball that Rick Carlisle teams are typically known for. They had 16 assists on 23 field goals made and committed only three turnovers in the entire half. But in the second, the ball stuck as they collected just seven assists and when they did pass it, they committed a dozen turnovers including eight in the fourth quarter. In the end, the Mavericks were unable to cling to a lead for a variety of factors that have consistently been plaguing this team over the course of their 15 games played.

Carlisle chose to start Dominique Jones at point guard, highlighting his frustrations with the defensive inadequacy of Darren Collison. Jones, who has been inconsistent throughout his career, failed to reward Carlisle for finally giving him starting minutes by going 0-5 finishing with just two points and three assists while committing four turnovers.  

Collison wound up seeing the bulk of the minutes once again finishing with 12 points and 6 assists with four turnovers of his own. The lack of a solid ball handler and playmaker in the Mavericks back court is proving to be a detriment to their ability to win games and by the end of this one, most of the ball handling was left to O.J. Mayo.

In a league run by point guards, the Mavericks are left with an absence of a real distributor. Rodrigue Beaubois seems to have fallen out of favor with the coach and the remaining options have proven troublesome. Perhaps, just as important as their offensive struggles is the lack of defensive presence on the perimeter.

Outside of Tyson Chandler during their title run, the Mavs have never really had strong defensive players in their front court and the case is much of the same this season. The difference over the last few seasons was the ability of Jason Kidd to defend on the perimeter and trouble the way opposing bigs receive the ball. Without him, the ball tends to move through Dallas like a hot knife through butter whether it’s penetrating guards or opposing big men racking up points.

On the inside, Dallas is getting plenty of offensive production out of Chris Kaman and Elton Brand as they and Shawn Marion combined for 54 of the Mavs 98 points on Tuesday. All it took for the wheels to come off for Dallas was a bad shooting night from Mayo that included missing the game tying free throws in the dying seconds. Given what Nowitzki brings to the table, the question remains: can he really help the Mavericks given that they’re a team that needs help in areas he doesn’t normally excel in?

What has kept Dallas in games is their ability to score. The Mavericks are the fifth best scoring team in the league and rank in the top 10 in both field goal and three point percentage. Bad shooting nights will trouble any team and when the inevitable happens, you have to lean on the crutch that carries every great team to a championship; defense.

At the present time, the Mavericks don’t have enough of it and they won’t get much with the return of Nowitzki who has never been a great defender or rebounder. He doesn’t fix their troubles at point guard either and could actually hurt them by slowing down the offense for a team currently ranking fourth in fast break points.

A lot remains to be seen when it comes to the Mavericks, but it’s beginning to look like the Big German might not be enough to help them return to the postseason for a thirteenth consecutive year.