Culture of Hoops

Chemistry and strength essential in Dallas Mavericks’ struggle to make playoffs

Image courtesy of TJ Macias

Image courtesy of TJ Macias

The devil is in the details. Those pivotal tiny screws, that are essential in order to create the larger image that most see, are the keystone of accomplishing any idyllic feat. For the Dallas Mavericks, that particular feat is getting into the playoffs … a goal that’s getting further out of reach with every heart-shattering loss.

One such detail is chemistry.

“Hey, Jose! Is your right elbow okay?” the normally dour head coach Rick Carlisle charismatically yells out across the practice court at Jose Calderon when asked a question from a member of the press about why the point guard was donning a wrap on his arm. Calderon simply laughed and continued with his shooting. “He just likes to wear it,” Carlisle shrugged before playfully commenting on a familiar columnist’s hair style.

The mirthfulness and extreme player camaraderie can often be felt on the court whether it’s after a grueling practice, a narrow win, or even following a devastating loss. The Mavericks (44-31) blew a comfortable lead last Thursday night and fell to the Los Angeles Clippers, a team that has been a pebble in their shoe this season, before just barely edging past the dead-in-the-water Sacramento Kings on Saturday. When asked why the Mavs continue to give up large leads after Saturday’s game, Carlisle spoke candidly. “We’re struggling in some areas. With eight games left, what I would tell you, we’re 74 games into this. There’s been so much of this that, unfortunately, it’s been part of our DNA and I just feel like we’re going to snap out of it—and I know that we have to. I’m a very positive thinker on this and we’re going to do better on this.”

And then there was the massive loss against the “disabled” Golden State Warriors this past Tuesday, which knocked the Mavericks back into ninth place in the Western Conference, a half-game behind the Phoenix Suns. Stephen Curry delivered the final death blow to Dallas with his three-point jumper with only 0.1 seconds left in overtime, which put his team ahead 122-120.

The game was within reach for the Mavericks due to Dirk Nowitzki catching fire with his 33 points and 11 rebounds, but lost opportunities on defense proved to be costly. There was a questionable goaltending no-call on Warriors center Jermaine O’Neal after he blocked Dallas’ Monta Ellis’ runner on the baseline. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban made sure he reflected the rage that all Dallas fans were feeling at that moment when he roared at the blindfolded officials.

There’s no time to dwell on the loss, just a need to look ahead to the next game against the Los Angeles Clippers in LA on Thursday.

Anyone will tell you that the strength is there with Dallas, they just need to knock off the bipolar habits that cost them late leads. It was clear that the players understood this during Monday’s practice. Despite Tuesday’s loss, their playing style mirrored their practicing habits. Everyone was locked in, from Ellis practicing free throws with his eyes closed, to coach Carlisle intensely observing every move his boys made in the paint.

The heart of the team, Nowitzki, loomed over the far end of court with his long-time mentor Holger Geschwindner, battling his own shooting demons by challenging the net. Even after the rest of the team had disappeared into the locker room, Nowitzki and Geschwindner refused to quit their diligent workout. All that mattered was the swoosh sound that echoed off the walls of the court whenever Dirk perfectly hit his mark … or that slight drop of his head whenever he didn’t.

There has been a significant night-versus-day difference in Nowitzki’s shooting since the arrival of Geschwindner, who showed up after Dirk’s atrocious night against the Brooklyn Nets. His mentor brought along with him extra confidence for his veteran golden boy which led to Dirk’s iridescent performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder and of course his 33-point night on Tuesday.

Rest, however, is essential in deciding which Nowitzki would show up last night. “I didn’t come to the gym at all yesterday,” Dirk replied when asked how beneficial taking Sunday off was to his future performance. “I told Holger to go somewhere else. I took the complete day off yesterday and just stayed off of my feet.” He noted that the rest the day before helped up the competitive spirit of the team during Monday’s practice.

The Warriors are dealing with their own woes at this point, considering the fact they have been without Andrew Bogut (bruise in his pelvic area) and David Lee (hamstring). “They’re still dangerous,” stated Devin Harris. Harris also noted that although Bogut helps his team in the way he protects the paint, it wouldn’t be wise to ignore the threat of Curry, who, as fate would have it, would end up being the deciding factor in the loss to the California team. And after last night, “fate” is just another four letter F-word to the Mavs.

But it’s not over for them yet.

Dallas has that type of mental strength that they find within the bonds of their teammates (a thing that’s hard to genuinely recognize in the NBA), and when combined with physical aggressiveness, the Mavs have a legitimate shot at the postseason; they just need to find their groove.

And find it fast.

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