Here’s a phrase you don’t want to associate with the Dallas Mavericks as they enter the stretch run of their season: “rock bottom.” That’s the word forward Chandler Parsons used to describe the Mavs’ 127-94 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday, which was actually worse than the score indicated.
The Mavs looked listless, lost and disinterested against the second-best team in the Eastern Conference. That’s fairly inexcusable for a team playing in a ruthlessly tough Western Conference.
“I can’t remember another game where we came out and took an L [loss] like that,” Parsons said.
Head coach Rick Carlisle did what any respectable coach would after a game like that — he took all the blame. That’s straight out of Coaching 101 on a night like Tuesday.
“We’re going to find out what we’re made of from here,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “When you get to this point, everyone has to come together.”
“I saw a lack of everything out there,” Carlisle said. “And I’m taking the blame. [Tonight] it’s on me because of the score and because I said so.”
Only, that’s not entirely true. It’s an easy excuse for a coach to make on a night like that — it’s on him. But it’s really not on the coach; it’s on the players. If motivation is a problem for players at this time of year, well then good luck trying to get them to care. Carlisle did say that after the first quarter it was the Mavs’ “worst performance of the year.” That’s tough to argue.
But my guess is motivation isn’t the issue. It’s never one thing in situations like this. The Mavericks are slumping for a variety of reasons.
This isn’t a Rajon Rondo problem entirely, but it’s not difficult to see that he’s not the fit the Mavs thought he would be when they traded for him. His numbers aren’t much different than in previous seasons, but he just looks disjointed in this offense.
Tyson Chandler isn’t 100 percent, and the hip injury is hampering his defensive prowess. Guard Devin Harris has a banged-up right hand, and he aggravated it against Cleveland.
Amar’e Stoudemire hasn’t really provided the expected juice, though he hasn’t been bad. And there’s no denying Dirk Nowitzki is in a slump, even if everyone in the locker room wants to talk around it.
“This is not a Dirk thing; this is a Mavericks thing,” Carlisle said when asked about a slump. “You can’t go out and perform the way we did the last three quarters and point to Dirk.”
That’s true. But no one is picking up the slack, and Carlisle alluded to the fact that the rest of the team has to step up their play.
Where are the Mavs right now mentally? All over the place, if Tuesday’s comments are any indication.
A somber Parsons called the loss “embarrassing.” When asked about what was said in the postgame locker room, he said that was “between us,” meaning the team.
The new guy, Stoudemire, actually made mention of the team’s practice habits, or at least that’s how some in the media took his statement.
“We can’t screw around in shootarounds and practice and joke around all the time and figure we’re going to win games,” said Stoudemire, dressed like something straight off The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. “This is the pros. This is the highest level of basketball. That’s how we have to play.”
Nowitzki didn’t agree with Stoudemire’s comment. But the big German had plenty of other things to worry about.
“Anytime you get blitzed at home for 130 [points], you have to look at everything,” he said.
The natural question was whether the Mavericks were looking in their rearview mirror in the standings. Currently the No. 7 seed in the West, the Mavs would appear to have a comfortable lead, four games ahead of the No. 8 seed New Orleans. But this is the West, where nothing is comfortable.
The Mavs are separated from a top 4 seed by just a couple of games. They’ve lost four of their last six games going into Friday’s game with the Los Angeles Clippers. And 11 of the Mavs’ final 16 games are against Western Conference teams in the top 10 of the standings.
“But we can’t hang our heads for too long,” Parsons said. “The schedule isn’t getting any easier.”
Carlisle said hard questions had to be asked about where the Mavericks are right now and said “this is not who we are.”
That was one of Carlisle’s most honest moments Tuesday night. That was followed by a question about whether the Mavs are in a tailspin. The record lately makes it hard to deny, and Carlisle didn’t.
“We’re going to find out what we’re made of from here,” Carlisle said. “This is the lowest point we’ve been at, and when you get to this point, everyone has to come together.”
Whether the Mavericks “come together” or not will define the ultimate success of a season that not so long ago look destined for a long playoff run.