Dallas Mavericks No Longer Contenders and 3 Early Verdicts You Shouldn't Buy
Well then, we're about two to three games into the new season... time to jump to conclusions.
As is customary, many are already using the little bit of basketball played to speculate on end-of-season results, and have begun the slow, steady process of prognosticating us to death.
It's not that there's no insight at all to be drawn from the limited action we've seen, it's just that some will see signs where there are none.
Among certain milder cases, there are three themes solidifying in the minds of many fans and media that come off as erroneous once you examine them closely. These three storylines seem to have been rushed to the presses before the dust could settle on the stress test that was getting this season off the ground.
While these may not be conclusively disproven as the season progresses, they are far more likely to be widely debunked by Valentine's Day.
3. The Eastern Pecking Order Is Realigning
People are once again predicting hard times for the once-feared Celtics, even more so now that Jeff Green is out for the season. Many observers have them being overtaken by the likes of New York and Indiana.
The Knicks are allegedly ready to take a major step, and while they're no doubt making headway with the additions of Chandler, Davis and Bibby to go with the NBA's most prolific frontcourt, there are unanswered questions as to how much better this actually makes them in the long run.
Are they now good enough to join the big table, and can they deliver when the chips are down? What have they done yet besides go from seriously flawed to solid? Since when does "solid" spell division champ?
The real question is, can the coaching staff muster up the kind of system that properly exploits what Tyson Chandler brings to the team?
The Pacers, meanwhile, are one David West removed from a sub-.500 eighth seed. I wasn't aware West was such a difference-maker.
Certainly, the presumed progress of their young nucleus alone should vault them up a notch or two, but how they became a potential challenge to the Bulls hold on the Central is lost on me.
The Magic are expected to be a top-four team until Dwight Howard's inevitable departure, at which point they will steadily sink in the standings and likely hang onto a bottom seed come April. That is, assuming they don't make some monumental roster move to make D-12 want to stay.
With the Hawks' as-of-late stagnant progress, a possible roster disturbance (i.e. trading Josh Smith) would likely hurt their odds of climbing up the rankings, but an Orlando decline could still move them up a spot, perhaps even into the top four.
Despite an 0-2 start (including one Miami beatdown), for my money, the Celtics are still your No. 3 seed at season's end, if only because they've heard this song before, and remained elite far beyond the first time someone said their window was closing.
The Fantastic Four, while not getting any younger, have yet to let age diminish their returns. The new bench, meanwhile, shouldn't disappoint.
Though this could be the year that happens, I've learned by now not to jump to conclusions when gauging Boston's chances. If, somehow, they run into such a setback that they drop out of third place, I find it a stretch to picture them with no home-court advantage whatsoever.
Assuming Dwight Howard changes addresses, it will be a two-way battle for fourth between the Knicks and Hawks, neither of which will ultimately prove ready to do any lasting damage come playoff time.
The sixth seed is Indiana's to lose, but in my opinion, that's as high as they go without some underachievement by the two aforementioned teams. I should add that I highly favor a Celtics/Pacers series.
Seriously, wouldn't that be a great matchup? But I digress.
All in all, two teams likely improve two seeds or so, and one team predictably dips midseason, leaving the same trio on the conference podium—not exactly a tectonic shift.
All these alleged winds of change in the East are, for the moment at least, mostly just hot air.
2. The Clippers Have Arrived
No. They. Haven't.
Chris Paul and the Clippers are one happy bunch right now simply to be together. They're on a bit of a high right now—you can practically hear that song "Walking on Sunshine" in the background when you watch the highlights—and they've been sprung on a poorly prepared field.
They certainly look like they're two steps ahead right now...
Aside from their new wealth of sheer star power—which never fails to dazzle the eye—their seemingly instant Chris Paul-induced cohesiveness has people already inserting them in their mock WCF's.
While nobody would be dumb enough to suggest the Clippers arrow is pointing anywhere but straight up, they're not quite there yet. Personally, I refuse to pass judgment on a team that has yet to see the ups and downs of a full year. I have mild doubts as to whether they will get the full benefit from a shortened season, but it should do.
In the meantime, I'm still waiting to see how this roster shakes out, because they more or less turned it on its side to get where it is now. You have DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin down low; two sterling options, yes, but who backs them up? Reggie Evans will gobble up rebounds, but that's about it.
That slack up front translates into a squad with a regular concentration camp for a backcourt. Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Mo Williams, Eric Bledsoe and Randy Foye are all quality-minute players, and somehow Vinny Del Negro has to find some scraps for Travis Leslie for at least a glimpse at what he can do in-game.
With four point guards topping the entire backcourt rotation, the Clippers are going to suffer through some mismatch problems against teams with 6'7" shooting guards. Meanwhile, the aforementioned flip-side of their roster imbalance spells nightmares against teams with a wealth of bigs.
So, move anyone not named Chris—and don't touch Billups either, lest it drive him over the edge forever—for a decent third anchor in the frontcourt. This roster still has some figuring out to do so they don't have to live and die by the "Lob City" game after teams figure out a way to guard it.
They're good now, but they're still one cog from being scary good. All potential aside, they still need to prove conclusively that they're the new alpha-Angeleno hoops team, and things will not get any easier for them as the preseason-starved competition gets tuned up in these next few games.
1. Dallas Lost It
Can you believe there are already articles in circulation wondering whether the Dallas Mavericks are still an elite team? Indeed, after opening their first ever title defense with two ingloriously bad performances, the Mavs have already been nixed from some observers' lists of Western contenders.
Their opening-day game was with their good friends the Heat, at one point in which they trailed by 35 points. In fact, after waking up late and outscoring Miami by 21 in the fourth, they still lost by double digits. Then the Nuggets—whom people are expecting to be worse for the absence of J.R. Smith, for some reason—went out and danced on the champs' faces for a full 48 minutes.
What the naysayers are failing to note in their early obit of the Mavs season is that, for a couple of reasons of varying self-evidence, this is essentially throwaway time for the Mavs.
First off, there is the simple fact that this year's lockout-condensed excuse for a preseason has left these guys very rusty—particularly a concern on such a spring chicken-less roster—and essentially using their first batch of games as their tuneup phase.
Second and most obvious is the issue of chemistry. This team's championship chemistry was a little on the delicate side to begin with—as in, of such a high quality it would be harder to sustain than most—so gouging the roster and inserting a wealth of new faces is going to be even more of a shock to their system.
Let's be honest, even terrible teams don't lose this badly on a regular basis, The Mavs' complete inability to even stay in games is a symptom of a team playing through some sort of dysfunction, not a bad team playing its best ball.
They're so busy getting to know each other on the court that they can't be expected to fly out of the gate like a champion. Their mutual unfamiliarity was more than apparent once you saw all ball movement stop on a team notorious for sharing the rock.
True, they have Vince Carter on the team now, but even he can't ruin their shot selection on his own (no really, he can't).
With a little more familiarity and some good Carlisle coaching, there's no reason the Mavs shouldn't hit their stride eventually. Lamar Odom in particular could evolve into a cornerstone of Dallas 2.0's new team paradigm with his court vision and diverse skill set.
Finally, that opening day loss could easily be written off, considering they were facing an already pissed off Miami team that had just been forced to watch them raise their championship banner.
Basically, imagine being locked in a cage with a starved Pit bull that had just watched you eat a giant ribeye.
I predict the naysaying will only grow louder before it dies down, as Dallas will likely need another three or four games to find their legs and figure out where everybody fits in. Once they do, they'll be fine, and people will deny ever having doubted them.