By Robert Scalice
It can apply to many different areas of life. It also happens to be a key element to the Dallas Mavericks sustaining their recent success and ultimately turning around their season. After getting off to a rocky start, the Mavericks have played much better basketball of late going into their game against San Antonio on Friday night, having won five of their last six games. Their recently improved play has been the subject of much discussion both locally and around the NBA, with a good many people wondering how they’ve done it, and even more importantly, can they keep it up?
Here’s how the Mavs can ensure they they don’t miss the playoffs for the first time since the 1999-2000 season…
Spread the Wealth
These aren’t the Mavericks you’re used to seeing.
In years past, the Mavs relied heavily on Dirk Nowitzki and with good reason – the perennial All-Star and future first-ballot Hall Of Famer has been a scoring machine throughout his career in Dallas, amassing over 24,000 points in an illustrious 15 year career and developing into one of the games’ premier crunch-time players. Over the course of his career, the best player he’s played with has been Steve Nash. Otherwise, he’s been surrounded by mediocre-to-good or aging talent but never has he been paired with another bonafide superstar in his prime who could create off the dribble and get his own shot anytime he wanted.
Some of the notable names that have passed through Dallas during the Nowitzki era have included Jerry Stackhouse, Antoine Walker, Jason Kidd, Antawn Jamison, Jason Terry, Nick Van Exel and Tim Hardaway. Most of them were on the downside of their careers, well past their prime when they got here with the exception of Terry and Jamison.
With Nowitzki still rounding into shape after his knee-surgery, the Mavericks have had to rely on multiple sources of offense and the lynchpin in their balanced attack has been shooting guard O.J. Mayo. In his first season as a Maverick, Mayo is leading the team in scoring at 18.2 ppg on 45 percent shooting from the field, giving Dallas arguably its’ best second scoring option since Nowitzki’s been in Dallas. When opposing teams decide to double Dirk, Mayo has proven capable of knocking down clutch shots at the end of games.
Overall, the Mavericks have six players averaging double figures in scoring, illustrating that despite the losing record, they’ve learned to play together while Nowitzki was out. The Mavs need to continue to share the ball and give opposing teams something to think about besides Dirk. At age 34 with plenty of miles on his engine and coming off a major injury, now is the perfect time for Nowitzki to pick his spots, allow his teammates more shots and save his best, as he always does, for closing time.
A commitment to defense
This should be self-explanatory, should it not? But if it were that easy, all 30 NBA teams would play great defense.
While the Mavericks rank near the bottom of the league in team defense, they’ve played much tougher “D” during this recent good stretch. Shawn Marion has always been a lock-down defender and even at his advanced age and is still elite playing on the ball, typically guarding the other team’s best player. Point guard Darren Collison is a pesky defender with quick hands and leads Dallas in steals, averaging 1.5 per game.
Playing good defense is really just about effort and focus, which is also true of rebounding. Even individual players not known for being good defenders are capable of hunkering down, moving their feet and keeping their man in front of them. The Mavs have displayed the ability to do that, as well as rotating and closing out on shooters during this stretch of games. It’s up to head coach Rick Carlisle to get his team to buy into it each and every game. What it all boils down to is getting stops – especially at critical points in games – and the Mavericks have demonstrated the ability to do it. Now it needs to continue on a consistent basis.
Crash the boards
The importance of rebounding the rock, especially during the playoffs, simply cannot be overstated. Limiting teams to one shot while while being able to create extra possessions for yourself on the offensive glass is often the difference between winning a playoff series or going home to watch them.
Remember Tyson Chandler? Remember 2011? ‘Nuff said.
At the time of this writing, Marion is the team’s leading rebounder at just a little over eight per game and the Mavs overall are sitting at 18th, which is not nearly good enough. As Nowitzki continues to improve his conditioning and timing, his board numbers will rise. A big part of Mayo’s overall improvement as a player is his ability to rebound the ball and even little Collison has shown a willingness to stick his nose in the paint and grab a few.
That means big boys like Elton Brand and Chris Kaman have to get after it with a vengeance, along with rookie forward Jae Crowder, who’s effort and determination whenever he’s on the floor can never be questioned. It will take a total effort to improve the Mavericks’ team rebounding but it’s an absolute must if they intend to still be playing in the spring.
The return of Dirk
This one’s simple: now that Nowitzki has returned to the line-up, it should only be a matter of time before his shooting struggles end and he starts knocking down shots at a clip we’re more accustomed to seeing.
This season, he’s averaging 13.9 points on 40 percent field goal shooting in 15 games. For his career, his averages are 22.7 ppg on 47 percent shooting. It’s a good bet that Nowitzki will return to form, which includes his uncanny knack for hitting big buckets when the game is there to be won, which is the last four minutes or “crunch time” – something he’s already begun to do.
The Mavericks have given their fans reason for hope after a lousy beginning to this 2012-13 season and have lately shown flashes of what they could be.
It must be kept in mind that despite the presence of a few familiar faces, this is essentially a new team playing their first season together. It takes time to jell while incorporating so many new pieces.
Assuming that owner Mark Cuban doesn’t decide to make a major move by the trade deadline (and Mr. Cuban has not discounted the possibility), this current group is who Coach Carlisle will be going to war with. Though they play in the murderous Western Conference, the 18-25 Dallas Mavericks could very well become the team that no one wants to play in May.