It's Not Too Late For The Mavericks To Make Some Lineup Adjustments.

Way back in October, you may recall, the Dallas Mavericks opened the season with what appeared to be a meaningful win over the vaunted Los Angeles Lakers and their roster filled with future Hall of Famers. At the time, the win was viewed as an encouraging sign for this untested team with an uncertain future.

That future, however, has now become the past. With eight games remaining in the season and the Mavericks now sitting 2.5 games game from the eighth seed in the Western Conference, the playoff window is closing for this team. A win against the Lakers last night in Los Angeles would've inched the team closer to reaching that plateau, as well as put this team''s record at .500 — a goal the team has openly strive toward since February.

But, no, the Mavericks' opening night success would not be repeated on Tuesday night when the Mavericks faced the Lakers in Los Angeles' Staples Center. Not even close, in fact. The Lakers won last night's contest 101-81.

Still, the Mavericks have indeed been pretty playing well of late. Against all odds, this team is somehow still not mathematically out of the playoff mix.

Fueling this recent run, of course, has been the play of Dirk Nowitzki. Lately, we've very much been watching a resurgence of sorts for the face of the franchise. And thank goodness for that. After returning from an injury to a team where he found himself flanked by mostly new faces, Nowitzki needed time to acclimate some.

Finally, it looks like that waiting period is over. March was particularly kind to Nowitzki — and, consequently, the Mavericks, too. Last month, the Big German averaged 20 points on 54.8 percent field goal shooting, with a 46.8 shooting percentage from behind the arc and a 94.1 free through percentage. He snagged 7.6 rebounds per contest over this month-long stretch, too.

This is the Nowitzki that fans remember. This is the Nowitzki that almost single-handedly willed this franchise to its first NBA Championship in 2011. And now, inch by inch, it is he who is bringing this team closer and closer to possibly making the playoffs again this season.

Perhaps Nowitzki’s greatest achievement in the month of March, as Dallas posted an 11-5 record, was his performance against the Chicago Bulls this past Saturday afternoon. He scored 35 points in that game, making 14 of his 17 shots and rattling home five three-pointers, one of which served as the game-winning field goal.

Against the Bulls, the Mavs found themselves down 97-85 with just over four minutes to play. From that point on, Dallas went on a 15-1 run to close the game. And Nowitzki scored the last eight points during that comeback, leading Dallas to a 100-98 victory. It was as impressive of a win as the Mavericks have put together this season. In fact, it was the only time this season that an NBA team trailing by 12 points with four minutes remaining has come back to win a game.

Others deserve credit for the Mavericks' recent turnaround, too. Center Brandan Wright, who has mired away in coach Rick Carlisle's doghouse at various points during the season, has proven himself a fine pairing with Nowitzki of late. Though the pairing elicits images of slight-framed big men who struggle to defend and rebound, the results tell a different story: As Ian Levy of The Two Man Game points out, the more minutes that these two spend together on the court, the better the team plays. Carlisle seems to have noticed this, too; Wright's minutes of late have meant less playing time for Elton Brand and Chris Kaman.

There's more at play here, though. At present, per Levy's Tableau Visualization, the players with the highest Net Rating (an estimate of the point differential per 100 possessions) when paired with Nowitzki are Wright, Vince Carter, Jae Crowder, and Darren Collison. Combined, these individual players have an average Net Rating of 12.4 when paired with Nowitzki. Carter, in particular, plays especially well with him, combining for a Net Rating of 23.8 with Nowitzki.

But while these individual players might play well when paired with Nowitzki, this doesn't necessarily mean that they play well together as a whole unit. A quick look at their time spent on the floor together shows that this five-man grouping has only spent eight minutes of playing time together over the course of four games before Tuesday night's game against the Lakers. And, over that four-game stretch, this lineup posted a fairly meager Net Rating of just 3, while shooting 33 percent from the floor in the process. But with Nowitzki having a hot hand, and with Wright, Crowder and Collison similarly playing well alongside him, there's an argument to be made that a little more time on the court together is all this lineup needs.

Carlisle tried this against the Lakers, actually. He employed this lineup to close the first quarter and to start the second quarter. He again turned to this lineup to close the third quarter and start the fourth. In this instance, the lineup provided mixed results. Though fairly effective on the offensive end — and especially in transition — Collison and Crowder proved to be liabilities on the defensive side during their time on the court. And Carter, who was mostly ineffective offensively during that second stretch, was replaced in this lineup by Mayo just a few minutes into the fourth.

That switch would lead to Dallas making one final push and cutting into Los Angeles' fourth-quarter lead. But a lack of defensive prowess and consistency stopped their efforts short. Earl Clark and Kobe Bryant, who had a triple-double on the night that the Lakers retired Shaquille O’Neal's jersey, were just too much to handle as the home team cruised to a 20-point win over of Dallas.

Even so, the lineup of Collison, Carter, Crowder, Nowitzki and Wright wasn't wholly ineffective. Actually, it was a pretty encouraging thing to watch, defensive liabilities (an issue with this team as a whole and less this particular unit) aside. It presented the team some decent scoring opportunities and spaced the floor fairly decently.

It's worth going back to again — especially against smaller lineups because this unit (and this team as a whole, really) has problems rebounding the ball. Because, really, why not?

Sure, this team's playoff outlook is bleaker than it was before. Both the Lakers and Utah Jazz hold tiebreakers over the Mavs because they won the season series, so even if Dallas ties one of their records at the end of the season, the Mavs will miss the postseason.

But this lineup has promise. These are players that could and/or should be on the team next season. It can't hurt to let them gel some and build some chemistry in the process — even if the season is almost over. The raw data shows that this lineup's good outweighs its bad.

So why not give it a chance?

Playoffs or not, you know this team wants to at least make good on its return-to-.500 promise.

Besides, we could all use a good shave at this point. And maybe a shave is all we can hope to get from this team.

Might as well let the best lineup try to get this team to that point.

Cover photo via the NBA's official Mavericks page.

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