Culture of Hoops

Under pressure: The uphill battle of the Dallas Mavericks’ power struggle

Image courtesy of theterrifictc/Flickr.

Image courtesy of theterrifictc/Flickr.

Hypothetical, or “what if,” scenarios sometimes can be just a pusillanimous trademark of human cleaving – that absolute need that people have to either foresee the future or change the past. What if the Golden State Warriors slip back into seventh in the Western Conference? What if the Memphis Grizzles lose their next three games? What if Joey Crawford hadn’t officiated Games 2 and 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals? What if the Sacramento Kings beat the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2002 Western Conference Finals? All these questions tend to fall into place inside a quizzical mind until they become the floating debris of a question best left unanswered. In the NBA, it’s always wise for teams to only focus on the present so as not to cloud their preverbal vision with self-manufactured images of the future while only looking as a tactic to learn and prosper from their mistakes.

That being said, one such question itches to be asked: Can the Dallas Mavericks claw and spit their way up the standings in order to officially secure a place in the playoffs, or will they be pulverized to a fine powder by a more powerful team?

The Mavericks’ last two games are clear-cut examples of why owner Mark Cuban might consider throwing mood stabilizers at head coach Rick Carlisle and his players since their style and execution appear to be bipolar. Take Tuesday night’s 108-85 loss to the Golden State Warriors in Oakland: they appeared confident with their fast 16-8 start, but like any woman would tell you, a fast start isn’t always a positive thing. After Warriors head coach Mark Jackson called a timeout, Golden State returned, went on a 21-6 run, and locked down the first quarter with a 29-22 lead. The Mavericks would continue to dig themselves a hole as the offense sundered and couldn’t nail a basket for the life of them, reserve guard Devin Harris was lost to a sore right Achilles and NBA All-Star Dirk Nowitzki appeared somewhat rusty as he looked to shake off his 3-for-14 shooting performance in their win against the Indiana Pacers the previous Sunday. Despite the loss, Nowitzki ended up tying John Havlicek for 12th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, adding yet another notch on his milestone belt. Their flaccid defense couldn’t slow down Jordan Crawford (19 points off the bench), Andrew Bogut (15 points, 10 rebounds) or Klay Thompson (14 points), and the Warriors would end up outshooting Dallas 51.2 percent to 36.8 percent.

Fast forward to Wednesday night in Salt Lake City, where Nowitzki came out guns blazing and scored 31 points, thus securing his solo 12th place in NBA history. The Mavericks would narrowly roll over the Utah Jazz 108-101 with the help of Nowitzki’s three-pointer with 1:54 remaining in the game that put his team comfortably ahead. It was clearly Dirk’s show that night, but his co-stars managed to shine on their own with Monta Ellis finishing with 16 points and Jose Calderon finishing with 10. Note the word “narrowly” in this paragraph, however. Despite Nowitzki’s flash-and-awe performance, Utah (who is in last place in the Western Conference) threatened to come back by pulling within 93-92 with 4:50 remaining in the fourth. A team who had lost seven of their last eight games nearly handed the Mavs their second loss in a row… which most likely would have tragically resulted in fans becoming suicidal.

Okay, so focus on the present, which is this coming Sunday when Dallas faces the dangerous Oklahoma City Thunder (who ranks second in the Western Conference) at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. Yes, this team is relatively fatal because of their particular brand of positional power and can benefit off of Dallas’ bipolar tendencies in the event of another Golden State situation where the offense just shuts down. In order to avoid that disaster, the Mavericks’ own brand of referent power needs to be able to shine through and combine with veteran players’ (like Nowitzki and Vince Carter) own expert power. The difference between the two powers varies, referent being the ability to conquer based on projected charisma (which Dallas thrives in), while expert is power based on the strong expertise of the power-holder themselves. Cuban recognizes the referent power his team possesses, which is why he chose not to yank in younger talent by trading players like Carter or Nowitzki, who is easily the franchise’s biggest star. The chemistry and charisma led by Dirk and coach Carlisle just easily clicked and helped keep the Mavs within the playoff picture. But it won’t hold that spot unless a shift occurs. The San Antonio Spurs (48-16) are an indisputable example of how brilliantly effective a team can be if they combine the two powers, which, of course, presents a serious problem if Dallas ends up facing them in the postseason. But, again, that’s a problem to be dealt with at a later date.

In order to nab a win in Oklahoma City, the Mavs need to become the predator missile they know they can be by building off of their referent power and set fire to the West by recognizing the expert power that’s so clearly within their skill set.

Time to take away the “ifs” and focus on the now.

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