Tough Stretch Ahead

Dallas Mavericks look like a playoff team — with one serious problem

Dallas Mavericks look like a playoff team — with one serious problem

Monta Ellis of the Dallas Mavericks
The Mavs have a pretty poor track record against their potential playoff opponents this year. Dallas Mavericks/Facebook
Rick Carlisle
Coach Rick Carlisle has to find a way to solve his team's woes against potential playoff opponents. Photo courtesy of Dallas Mavericks
Monta Ellis of the Dallas Mavericks
Rick Carlisle

The Dallas Mavericks have a problem, and it has nothing to do with injuries to three starters. As they embark on the final two months of this season, they’re struggling to beat the very teams they must defeat if they intend to make a deep playoff run.

At the All-Star Break, the Mavs were fifth in the Western Conference with a record of 36-19 — which is four wins better than their 32-23 through 55 games at this time last year. If the postseason started today, the Mavs would face the Houston Rockets in a best-of-seven first-round playoff series. Right now the Rockets have won both regular-season meetings.

It gets worse. The Mavericks are 3-12 against the other current six playoff teams: Golden State, Memphis, Portland, Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio and Phoenix.

 Just about every NBA expert believes the Mavs are a playoff team. But that does them little good if they can’t beat any of their potential playoff opponents.

Just about every NBA expert believes these Mavericks are a playoff team. In fact, most of them believe the Mavs are a top 10 team. But that does the Mavs little good if they can’t beat any of their potential playoff opponents.

“The way the West is this year, it’s one little play here, one little play there that will decide games most nights,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said before the All-Star Break.

The Mavs’ final week leading up to the All-Star Break should serve as a hint that they still don’t have things figured out. Three of their final five games were against potential playoff teams. At Golden State on February 4, the Mavs jumped out to a 20-point lead before surrendering it — another season-long trend for this team — and losing by 14 to the team many consider the best in the NBA.

Three nights later at home, the Mavs overcame the Trail Blazers in overtime by 10 points, a game in which the Mavs overcame an 11-point deficit in the final two minutes of regulation to force overtime. The Mavs felt downright euphoric after that one.

“This was huge,” forward Chandler Parsons said. “We had not beaten a very good team that had been at full strength all year long. So to be the team we want to be, we need to have wins like this. This was big for us moving forward.”

But the Mavs couldn’t sustain the momentum two nights later. Losing Tyson Chandler and Monta Ellis to injuries in the first five minutes of the game certainly didn’t help, but the Mavs lost by 17 against a Clippers team without forward Blake Griffin. Carlisle didn’t want to make excuses after the loss.

“We have to be persistent and we have to scramble and we have to find a way — that’s what it comes down to,” he said.

If there is good news, it’s the following: Both Chandler and Ellis appear to have suffered minor injuries. In fact, Ellis played last Wednesday against Utah. Rondo — who has been on the roster for all three of the Mavs’ wins against playoff teams, but on the floor for only two of them — should return soon from an orbital fracture. It will, at least, be a healthy Mavs team down the stretch.

The road ahead for the Mavs and the Western Conference will be compelling. Golden State has a healthy lead in the West as the No. 1 seed, but the gap between the No. 2 team, Memphis, and the No. 7 team, San Antonio, is just five games. The seeding will change daily. The Mavs will have chances to move up — or move down — with a dozen remaining games against potential playoff foes.

Someone asked Carlisle about the Clippers’ playoff chances last week, surmising that the Clips have underachieved and could lose a first-round playoff series, perhaps even to the Mavericks.

Carlisle wasn’t buying it. It seemed obvious his answer applied to the Mavericks too.

“I don’t look at the standings,” Carlisle said. “That stuff is meaningless. What is meaningful is what happens once you get to the playoffs.”

For those of us paid to look down the road, the Mavs’ woes against their potential playoff foes certainly have meaning, now and down the line.