The Dallas Mavericks begin the sprint to the playoffs on Tuesday night against the Miami Heat. The Mavericks are currently sitting at 32-22 and are coming off of a few strong performances before the All-Star break.
Rick Carlisle has his team playing great basketball, at least on one end of the court. The Mavs have the fourth-best offense in the league, but their defense is in the bottom 10. With their lack of success on the defensive end, can the Mavericks continue to thrive?
The Mavericks will look to capitalize on their final 28 games of this season and become a threat in the playoffs.
All statistics in this article via Basketball-Reference.com.
The NBA trade deadline is almost here and the Mavericks are a team who could be looking to make a move. The biggest need for Dallas is defense, and its most glaring defensive issues come at the guard spots.
The Dallas guards stink at defense. The starting guards, Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis, have defensive ratings of 112 and 109, respectively. When they come off the court it doesn't get any better, though. No guard on the team has a defensive rating better than 109.
Dallas needs to make a trade for a defensive guard. The Western Conference is stacked with dominant, quick guards who can change a game in an instant. If the Mavericks want to be a threat, they need someone who can contain guys like Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry, Goran Dragic and Tony Parker.
While the necessity is obvious, the chance that the Mavericks address the need is doubtful. Owner Mark Cuban has been uncharacteristically quiet so far, but he could still make something happen at the last second. If Cuban does decide to make a move, look for it to be a small one without much flash.
The trade deadline is February 20 at 3 p.m. ET, so will the Mavericks have a different roster by then? My prediction is that they will not.
There have been six 50-40-90 seasons in the history of the NBA, and only two guys have done it more than once. Shooting 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the free-throw line is what gets you in the club, and Dirk Nowitzki is one of the six guys to do it.
This year, Nowitzki is shooting 49.2 percent from the field, 41.2 percent from behind the arc and 91 percent from the line. Being about as close as you can get, Dirk would have to improve his shooting percentage just barely to capture his second 50-40-90 season.
It’s ridiculous for Dirk to be shooting as well as he is considering fewer than 12 percent of his shot attempts have come within 10 feet of the hoop. While Nowitzki getting his field-goal percentage up isn’t impossible, it is improbable.
What is the reason Nowitzki is unlikely to achieve it? His age. Though Dirk has proven he can still be dominant at 35 years old, it doesn't mean he won’t get worn down.
Nowitzki’s shooting percentage in the first, second and third quarters of games is far superior to his percentage in the final 12 minutes. Nowitzki shoots just 44.4 percent from the floor in the final quarter while shooting better than 47 percent in every other quarter.
If Nowitzki becomes rundown at the end of games, there is no reason to think it won't happen towards the end of the season, as well.
Though Nowitzki will give it a run, expect him to fall short of what would be a remarkable feat.
Devin Harris has played in just 12 games this season, but his impact has been obvious. The point guard has averaged 18.8 minutes per game in his 12 games, but expect that number to increase as the season goes on.
Though the sample size of 12 games is minuscule, his per-36 minutes numbers are better than Jose Calderon’s in almost every category. Harris' ability to come in and change the pace for Dallas has allowed him to succeed and was something it missed with him injured.
Calderon will obviously remain the starting point guard, and he absolutely should. However, Devin Harris will continue to see more minutes on the floor. If Harris can stay healthy, it will be really fun to see what kind of one-two punch these guys can continue to deliver.
The Mavericks' defense is their weak point and there is no reason to think it will get better. Dallas has shown some signs of improvement over the last five games, in which it held four of those opponents to under 100 points. But considering the offenses they faced, the Mavs' chances of sustaining that play is doubtful.
Dallas will need its offense to continue to carry it to victory, and with Rick Carlisle commanding it, the Mavs will be able to do just that.
If there is anything that can stop a healthy Mavericks team from competing it would be their defense, but they should be able to continue to win games on the other end of the court.
The Mavericks currently have the eighth-worst defensive rating in the NBA, and an improvement on that ranking is unlikely.
The 2012-13 NBA season was the first one in which Dirk Nowitzki failed to make an All-NBA Team since 1999-2000. Dirk has done everything possible to not be left off for a second straight year, but there is just too much competition for him to get a spot.
With all the excellent forwards in the league, Dirk is likely to be left out again. Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Paul George, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and Carmelo Anthony are all guys who are threats, or locks, to beat out Dirk.
Dirk will obviously have a case to make one of the three teams, but unfortunately it will not be enough for him to gain a spot. Nowitzki is having an amazing season, but with the surplus of forwards in the NBA, it looks like his play will go unrecognized by the league.
Dallas is currently sixth in the Western Conference and third in the Southwest Division, and it will finish the season in those exact spots.
With the Mavericks trailing San Antonio and Houston in their division, it is doubtful they will be able to make up the 4.5 games they need to catch Houston. Though Dallas has been hot, no one is hotter than the Rockets, who have won seven straight games. With the Spurs and the Rockets expected to stay steady, the only threat to the Mavericks moving out of third in the Southwest is the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies are currently two games behind the Mavs and have played much better since the return of Marc Gasol. Though they have played better, the Mavericks appear to have a tight hold on the third spot.
One advantage Memphis has over Dallas is its remaining schedule. The Grizzlies have 13 Eastern Conference games left on their schedule, while the Mavericks have just eight. Both teams have played well against the East and will look to continue that over the final stretch of games.
Other threats to the Mavericks in the conference standings are Phoenix and Golden State. Dallas is just a half-game ahead of both of those teams and it will be tough to hang on to that spot. Those three teams will certainly see a lot of movement in the standings throughout the end of the season, but the experience of the Mavericks should be enough for them edge out the Suns and Warriors.
If the season ended right now the Mavericks would face the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs. A Rockets-Mavericks matchup would be an extremely interesting one, and would certainly be a series the Mavericks could steal. Unfortunately, the season doesn't end right now and I see the Mavericks having to take on the Los Angeles Clippers when it’s all said and done.
The Clippers are just about the worst matchup possible for Dallas heading into the postseason. The Mavs are currently 0-2 against the Clippers this season and have not been able to contain Los Angeles down low. For the Mavericks, this would spell a first-round exit in what might end up being a lopsided series.
While a matchup against the Clippers would be worrisome, a first-round series against either Portland or Houston is one Mavericks fans should be hoping for. Dallas is 2-2 against Houston this year and 1-1 when playing Portland.
My prediction is a first-round loss, but you can guarantee that no team will look forward to a playoff matchup against Rick Carlisle, Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks.