Under most normal circumstances, these game recaps take on a particular formula. Scrap it. Doing so comes with an assumption of normalcy, and these days for the Mavs hardly qualify as normal.
Dallas isn’t quite drowning, but this team is certainly tired of treading water. We’d all love to sit around the fire and tell tales of the go-getter Mavericks who could accomplish anything regardless of their significant disadvantage, but things haven’t turned out that way. Despite the fact that they’re playing hard, the Mavs aren’t playing well. It doesn’t help that Caron Butler is out for the season, but this team needs Dirk Nowitzki. Badly.
Until he returns, they’re just going through the motions. The other Mavs are getting in reps, I suppose, but this team doesn’t make sense without Dirk, and certainly doesn’t float. The extent of the roster’s buoyancy lies in a single man, and while Dallas is a capable squad with him in the lineup, they can’t compete as long as he’s sitting on the sideline. This is the roster that the Mavericks’ brass has constructed, and it works, except in those rare times when it doesn’t. Injuries to Nowitzki are anything but common, and yet the team needs to occasionally face the fact that this roster is sub-average without him, and unable to function at an acceptable competitive level in his absence. There are plenty of good players on this team, but as I’ve written before: none of it works without Dirk. The offense falls apart, and that puts entirely too much pressure on the defense, which eventually buckles.
That makes it quite easy for a team like the Pacers — lowly though they may be — to punch out on the clock and leave with a win. Indiana didn’t even have to do anything all that special; they played well enough, but it was hardly an inspiring performance from the Pacers. But with both teams in their current states, the 16-20 Pacers are better than the Dirk-less, Caron-less, Beaubois-less Mavs. Tyson Chandler can throw out double-doubles, Jason Terry can get his, DeShawn Stevenson can continue to be an unlikely source of points, and Shawn Marion can fill in the gaps, and it still won’t matter. Jason Kidd is a talented point guard, but this team wasn’t meant to succeed without Nowitzki, and will be doomed to fail in his absence as long as the offense is structured in a way that takes maximum advantage of his unique gifts. This is not a bad thing, but it’s certainly a thing. For now, it’s one that the Mavs are forced to live with.