“Please. Please. We beg of you – have mercy. Have mercy on all our souls.” – Pastor Mike
“No.” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
These losses are frustrating because they tell us very little about the team we have on our hands, except that it’s not a very good team right now. Are the Mavs better than their record? Worse? It’s hard to say. Blow outs usually represent such a monumental collapse on both ends of the floor. The result is so bewildering; it can be hard to diagnose. The rhetoric sounds like this: “the shots just weren’t falling,” “we got caught off guard,” “you have to give the other team credit,” “we need to be more aggressive,” “we need to play our game” and a host of other one-liners that tell you nothing. Players and coaches show their displeasure, frustration, and promise to turn things around.
On one hand, the Mavs are five games away from tying for the worst record in the Western Conference. Unfortunately, at their current place in the standings, they gain little from failure. The draft lottery odds are not in their favor. As a team management strategy and general life philosophy, I do not believe purposely tanking a season is a good idea. The cautionary tales are too numerous: so many teams that flounder at the bottom simply stay there. Fans and sports experts alike write about the “mediocrity treadmill.” But I would rather be a team that’s on the mediocrity treadmill than wallowing in the gutters of the NBA standings. (Is that a mixed metaphor?)
On the other hand, the Mavs are five and a half games away from tying for the eighth playoff spot—with Houston, Portland, and the Lakers also competing for that same spot. Let’s say the Mavs fight hard and against all odds, they get the eighth spot. Sure, it’s a moral victory—something to take into the next season. However, let’s look at who they would most likely run into during the postseason.
San Antonio Spurs
The Mavs are 0-3 against the Spurs this season. On average, the Mavs have lost by 23 points to San Antonio. In other words, San Antonio averages a blow out against Dallas.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Mavs are also 0-3 against the Thunder this season. The first two games were close. The most recent one (last night’s game) was an ugly 91-112 loss—with Oklahoma leading by as much as 33 in the fourth quarter. Since the 2011 Western Conference series against the Thunder, the Mavs have lost 10 of 11 games against them.
The Mavs are 0-2 against the Clippers this season. On average, the Mavs have lost by 14 points to Los Angeles.
To summarize, the Mavs are 0-8 against the top three teams in the Western Conference. If we assume these three teams are a lock for the top three playoff spots, the Mavs would have to ascend to the 5th playoff spot just to avoid any team that has completely owned them in the regular season. I don’t even know if that’s mathematically possible.
That’s not to say the regular season is a definite indicator of how the Mavs would respond in the playoffs (if they could even get there), but these three teams have dominated Dallas—each in their own way. There’s no silver lining. If the Mavs made the playoffs, they would be walking into a buzz saw.
And yet, the Dallas Mavericks have always been an oddly unrealistic franchise—owned by an unlikely billionaire who made his fortune from the dot com bubble, managed by the unlikely product of nepotism who proved he was a legitimate basketball genius in his father’s shadow, and led by the most unlikely franchise player in NBA history, even the 2011 championship was an unlikely triumph against the presumptive dynasty heirs in Miami. People do not root for the Mavs because they want a sure thing. Like any legendary rock band, the Mavs are a production that teeters on the verge of harmonious collapse—then somehow the tune stays together. The Mavs are at their best when they are unlikely. (Conversely, should we be surprised they were the most disappointing when they had their franchise-best record? Or that their biggest rivals have always been the most predictably successful teams of the past decade?) Enjoy the chaos. Dallas teams do not have any other setting.
I’m not trying to put a positive spin on this dismal season. The Mavs have not been good. All the same, I’m open to a few surprises this season in whatever form they may take. Just no more blow outs please.
Note: I’m working on a lengthy (basketball related) cover feature for the Dallas Observer. It’s due in the next two weeks. As a result, my weekly columns will be a little shorter than usual. Fear not, I promise to be back to 100% by the end of February.
David Hopkins is a freelance writer — a regular contributor to D Magazine and Smart Pop Books. He remembers the Mavs during the 90s. Now is always better. Follow David on Twitter at @davidhopkins.