The Dallas Mavericks slipped to 12-15 on Friday night in Memphis, their fifth loss in six games.
One day earlier, on Thursday, the Mavs were embarrassed on their home floor by the Miami Heat – losing by 15 after making a late push to make it look like more of a game than it was. Friday’s trip to Memphis was just the beginning of a tough ten game stint in which they play eight squads that are playoff bound. Of those ten games, seven are on the road making it a period that could crush the Mavs hopes of postseason play.
It’s imperative that Dallas come out of this period having won at least four of those games if they’re going to avoid digging themselves a hole that’s too deep to get out of. The Mavs have headaches all over the court and with Dirk Nowitzki returning to practice but still leaving his return to games unknown, the Mavs need a miracle and fast.
The team brought in veteran point guard Derek Fisher to attempt addressing their woes at that position, but Fisher went down against Miami with a patellar tendon strain that will eliminate him from the next two games at least – trips to San Antonio and Oklahoma City.
The point guard position has been a major problem ailing this team all season as Darren Collison has proven to be a much worse acquisition than anyone anticipated. This has led to Rick Carlisle experimenting at times and placing increased responsibility into the hands of third year guard Dominique Jones who played 32 minutes on Friday night to Collison’s 10.
While the former University of South Florida standout has stepped into to provide reliable defense and is steadily improving on offense (13 points and 7 assists against Memphis), he still has a long way to go before he is capable of running an offense on a starter’s diet of minutes. The sooner Fisher gets back the better, but then again, the point guard is not the only thing hampering the Mavs.
Too much of the Mavs success or failure is based on the shooting of OJ Mayo. Over the span of his career, Mayo has never really been a consistent shooter, usually hovering around 40 percent from the field and 37 percent from three point range. This season, Mayo has undoubtedly been amazing, shooting 48 percent from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc, but over the last six games he is shooting 37 percent and has scored 10 points or less on three occasions including the last two nights.
Until Nowitzki gets back or the Mavs find some alternate source of points, Mayo has to score at least 20 per night and shoot efficiently to give the Mavs a chance. For that matter, all of the Mavericks have to shoot efficiently to give the team a chance, or else their biggest deficiency, rebounding, could cripple them.
Brand was a game time decision for the last two games as the team lists him having a groin problem. He continues to suit up and sit on the bench. This is a big problem for the Mavericks as the team suffers from a lack of rebounding and needs help from its front court players like Chris Kaman and Brand to ease the pressure on a back court that is offensively pretty weak. The Mavs competed with Memphis on the boards on Friday night, but when they face San Antonio, Denver and the likes of Oklahoma City, rebounds will be even tougher to come by.
The Mavericks committed 22 turnovers on Friday night and are the sixth worst team in the league averaging 15.7 per night. Heading into games against San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Denver, Utah and a trip to Los Angeles to face the Clippers over the next nine games, the Mavericks will see plenty of opponents who rank in the top 10 of either blocked shots, steals or overall defense. Turnovers could make this period very turbulent for Carlisle whose brand of basketball doesn’t is disciplined and efficient.
If this stint proves successful, the Mavericks will almost certainly have Nowitzki coming back by the end of it and Derek Fisher back on the court to orchestrate the offense. If the Mavs can win just four games of their next nine, they’ll still be in position to make a second half of the season playoff push with their Hall of Famer in the lineup.
If this nine game stretch proves disastrous, however, the Mavericks could be staring at a drastic uphill climb just to get back to .500 that even Nowitzki couldn’t navigate. In the Western Conference, even the eight seed has to have a winning record. The Mavs are likely pushing for a seven or eight seed in an attempt make the postseason for a thirteenth consecutive season, but it won’t be easy and a lot of it depends on Nowitzki. For now though, the Mavs have plenty on their plate just to get through their day-to-day business.