Fade To Black
Will the Mavs have the power to last through the Playoffs?
by Wendell Maxey
Matt Carroll wished he hadn’t been seen or heard.
After yet another loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night, the Dallas Mavericks reserve guard sat at his locker next to Eduardo Najera and Jose Juan Barea. That’s when all the talk started.
Najera capped on DeShawn Stevenson sitting across the way about him wearing white and red athletic socks with a dress shirt and the large “Stevenson” tattoo that stretched across his shoulders. Stevenson shot back about Najera having some sort of staph infection. And Barea was all over Carroll for the way he combed his hair; there may have been some feathering involved with a thick black comb.
“You probably think we are all crazy,” Carroll said as his three teammates jokingly jawed back and forth. “But after game 71 or whatever what do you expect. This is what we do.”
For Dallas, the casual banter after another basketball game isn’t really that concerning. What’s worrisome to some is how the Mavs will finish out the regular season as they prepare for the Playoffs.
The Mavs have nine regular season games left before the postseason gets underway, with Playoff comrades Denver, Orlando, Oklahoma City, Portland and San Antonio still slated. While this is the same team that rattled off 13-straight wins between mid-February and mid-March, they’ve looked far removed from that success of late: see a loss at American Airlines Center to the lowly New York Knicks, back-to-back losses to Boston and New Orleans, and then falling for the third time this season to the Blazers.
Now question marks have replaced the streak.
Which Dallas will show up once the Playoffs hit?
Are the Mavericks built to give the Los Angeles Lakers a run for their money in the Western Conference?
Or will the Mavs even make it out of the first round?
“We still have to get better as a team and still have room left for improvement. I think we got too comfortable during the win-streak. We have to re-energize,” Mark Cuban told SLAMonline. “In terms of the Playoffs, we have to get a lot better. Until we can prove we can get better….in the Western Conference from 1 to 8, I think anybody can beat anybody. But we have enough veterans who have been through the wars enough times that they know it’s time to get ready. It’s definitely show time.”
Unlike Cuban, head coach Rick Carlisle is a bit more reluctant to even talk about the postseason or discuss hypothetical scenarios.
Even with Dirk Nowitzki (24.5 ppg) among the League leaders in scoring, Jason Kidd posting his best three-point shooting numbers in his 15 seasons (his 155 threes so far this season passes his 139 total from the ’05-06 season), Caron Butler notching six games with 20-plus point games since joining the Mavs back on March 25, and Jason Terry making his case for Sixth Man of the Year, Carlisle doesn’t like to go there.
“We are well aware of all the possibilities. I don’t want to talk about that (the Playoffs). We have too many games left to play,” Carlisle admitted before taking on Portland at the Rose Garden on Friday night.
Two hours and 28 minutes later after a 101-89 loss to the Blazers – a game where Portland beat Dallas 16-0 in fast break points and forced the Mavs to grind it out – a surly Carlisle didn’t change his stance.
He only changed the tone of his speech.
“There are no bargains in the West. We’re no bargain. Would you want to play us?”
Obviously, Portland wouldn’t mind drawing the Mavs’ number in the first round with the two teams scheduled to play again at the Rose Garden on April 9. Dallas (48-25) may have other plans after coming off a win over the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night. Currently a two-seed out West, they could also match-up against the Spurs (6th) or Thunder (7th) with the Mavs owning the season series (2-1) on both San Antonio and Oklahoma City.
“We have a very deep and talented team and on any given night you can call on a certain guy to get the opportunities he can have a really good night and that’s all it boils down to,” explained Shawn Marion. “We have a balanced attack.”
Maybe there’s something to what Marion said.
Maybe Coach Carlisle was right.
Maybe teams don’t want to face the Mavs in the Playoffs.
Then again, much depends on which Dallas will show in the second season.
The one who excels in the open floor with endless scoring options in transition – Dirk, Caron, JKidd, JET, the Matrix – or the team that knows halfcourt, grind it out basketball awaits in the Playoffs?
“When teams take our initial action away, we still have to find ways to score and get something out of our offense,” Dirk Nowitzki began. “That’s what we are going to see in the Playoffs for sure. We know in the Playoffs games are going to be slower like that.”
With that Nowitzki finished up his last post-game interview and headed to the team bus.
It sat idle in the Rose Garden loading dock near a fenced off designated area of autograph seekers both Maverick and Blazers fans alike. But Dirk didn’t take the typical path onto the bus like his teammates before him. Instead, the 7-footer stepped gently down a four-rung safety latter behind the bus and quickly slid alongside the white charter and onto the bus even as diehards chanted his name.
Minutes later the white bus with tinted windows slowly rolled out of the arena.
And the Dallas Mavericks disappeared into the night.
Wendell Maxey is a freelance writer and has covered the NBA for the past six years from New York to Portland. A contributing writer for USA TODAY, Wendell can be read more at www.beyondthebeat.net.