Thermodynamics (n.) – the science concerned with the relations between heat and mechanical energy
That’s all she wrote. While not mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, the Mavs’ hopes of making the dance are all but dead. They came into this week with a discernible chance, but a 1-2 run against a slate of tough opponents changed all that. A loss to the top-flight Indiana Pacers put the Mavs on life support; another loss to the mediocre Los Angeles Lakers was the death blow.
To no one’s surprise, this will be the most downtrodden installment of Thermodynamics this season. But don’t fret. The Mavs won’t stay down forever.
Week 23 (Pacers, Bulls, @Lakers)
1) Dirk Nowitzki (well, mostly)
In the first two games this week, Dirk was stellar. He scored 21 points on 10-of-20 (50%) shooting against the Pacers, and was essentially the sole reason a 25-point blowout wasn’t even worse. Two days later, in the Saturday matinee against the Bulls, Dirk turned in his best performance of the season: 35 points, an absolutely preposterous 14-of-17 (82%) from the floor, and a personal 8-1 run to end the game. That afternoon in Dallas, Dirk did what only a handful of players in the league can do — he single-handedly pulled a victory out of otherwise certain defeat, and he did so against a quality team. Nowitzki’s week didn’t end well, as he shot a poor 4-of-13 (31%) and was generally ineffective against the Lakers. Some will blame the team’s inability to consistently get him shots — “Well, of course he can’t shoot well if he only gets X shots in first half,” they’ll say. Although that complaint is indisputably valid as a general matter, as applied to Dirk’s shooting poorly in a particular game, it falls flat as an excuse. Nowitzki is capable of shooting well on very few shots — in fact, he does it all the time. Exactly 125 times in his career, Dirk has shot better than 50% on fewer than 12 attempts. His poor shooting against the Lakers certainly didn’t cost the Mavs the game, though it most certainly didn’t help. Still, his week on the whole was vintage. The Bulls game alone has a firm spot in Dirk’s pantheon of greatness.
2) The Center Rotation
No, not the actual production of the center position—that was anything but hot. But the rotation itself was blisteringly sporadic. The Mavs played three games this week. Guess how many different centers they started? You guessed it: three. Guess how many injuries forced those lineup changes? You guessed it: zero. Now, these choices by Rick Carlisle didn’t wholly lack reasoning. Brandan Wright started against the Pacers — despite the presence of Roy Hibbert — because Wright had been playing so well of late. Elton Brand then started against the Bulls because his body type matches better than Wright’s against Carlos Boozer. But Brand struggled mightily on defense, so Wright ended up playing more minutes. Sensible enough. Chris Kaman’s surprise start in the week’s finale against the Lakers was surprising, but again, you can see the logic there. Brandan Wright is too skinny to guard the Lakers’ massive frontline, and Elton Brand is too short. Not saying I agree with the resulting decision to start Kaman, but those justifications played a big part in the game of hot potato at the five this week.
3) Mark Cuban’s Face
Let me start with this: I am a big, big Mark Cuban fan. He does so many things right, both in basketball and in business, and his genuine, unfiltered persona is something I enjoy immensely. Mark’s one of the good guys, in my view. That being said, I hate to see him (figuratively) red-faced like he was this week. The Mavs’ failures of the last seven days were the culmination of two straight disappointing offseasons for Cuban. His bizarre remarks about drafting Baylor women’s basketball star Brittney Griner seemed more designed to deflect attention away from the Mavs’ sinking ship than to offer anything substantive. I hope he rights that ship this offseason, because even though I’m incredibly unlikely to ever turn on him as the Mavs’ owner, I know others will.
That’s right: for the 142nd week (rough approximation) out of 23, the Mavs’ inability to rebound makes the Thermodynamics cut. They were outrebounded 55-34 by the Pacers (at home, no less) and 57-37 by the Lakers. Both opponents dominated the offensive glass, pulling down 15 and 19 offensive boards, respectively. Want to know the biggest reason the Mavs lost each of these games? You’re looking at it.
2) Defending the Frontcourt
The Mavs’ lack of athleticism and defensive tenacity in the frontcourt hit them hard this week. The Pacers’ Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansbrough, and Ian Mahinmi each shot 50% and totaled 41 points. Budding superstar Paul George — who’s 6’9” but more a wing than a traditional big — contributed another 24 points on 10-of-17 (59%) shooting. The Bulls’ Carlos Boozer also had himself a nice day in Dallas, notching 25 points on excellent 11-of-16 (69%) shooting to go with 11 rebounds. And then there were the Lakers, those height-mongering behemoths. Dwight Howard: 24 points on 7-of-12 (58%) shooting, 12 boards. Pau Gasol: 14 points on 6-of-13 (46%) shooting, 10 boards. Earl Clark: 17 points on 7-of-14 (50%) shooting, 12 boards. Size kills; tenacious, athletic size kills even more.
3) The Dream
The Mavs had spent the previous few weeks propping up the hopes of their fans with inspired play, veteran moxie, and a whole lot of heart. On the strength of those traits, a postseason appearance (though likely a short one) had become legitimately possible. Those traits still count for something—a great deal, in my mind—but they weren’t nearly enough. With the losses this week, the hill is almost certainly too steep to climb.
The playoff dream is dead. Long live the playoff dream.
Travis Wimberly lives in Austin, Texas and writes about the Dallas Mavericks on Al Gore’s Internet™. Travis enjoys shenanigans, claptrap, and frivolity. Follow Travis on Twitter @TravisRW.