Thirteen Isn't Mark Cuban's Lucky Number.
Mark Cuban's tenure as the owner of the Dallas Mavericks has been one filled with highs and lows.
I mention this because January 4 marked his 13th anniversary since becoming owner of the team.
The franchise' lowest moments over this time, of course, came after the 2006 Finals and during the first round exit at the hands of the Golden State Warriors the following season.
Currently, though, the Mavericks are in the middle of their worst season during Cuban's ownership tenure. This is no fault of his, but merely the result of a new strategy employed to keep the franchise financially flexible.
Much has been made about this strategy — and knee-jerk reactions to it are prevalent — but this team, despite its current troubles, is not the worst team in Dallas history despite the levels of overreaction.
Yes, the Mavericks are in a funk — even a tailspin, perhaps, although not one that is as entertaining as the Talespin we may remember from our youths. And, yes, Dallas is in the midst of yet another three-game losing streak and they face the Los Angeles Clippers tonight — a daunting task to be sure.
But this isn't to say that the Mavs have played poorly since their win over the Washington
Bullets Wizards on New Year's Day. In fact, they've played some of their best basketball through their last four games — no matter how much it may smart to lose to the Hornets in overtime.
Overtime periods just have not been kind to the Mavericks this season. The team has yet to win a game during free basketball this season. Dating back to last season, Dallas has lost 10 consecutive overtime contests. That mark ties the NBA record for losses in overtime. It isn't an impressive record, no. But when a hot-shooting Greivis Vasquez and Eric Gordon cannot be contained late in the game, the bell begins to toll.
Basically, the Mavs simply don't have a closing mentality yet. (I use “yet” loosely, as it has yet to be seen if this team can pull themselves together to finish games.)
That Hornets loss, it should be noted, was Gordon's first start for the Hornets. Gordon, you may recall, was the centerpiece of the players the Hornets received after the organization, while owned by the league, traded away Chris Paul to the Clippers. Since joining the “Bees,” Gordon has been set back by injuries, but remains one of the cornerstones on the young team as they build toward their Pelican future.
Dirk Nowitzki also made his first start of the season in that game as the Mavericks work him back into regular minutes and a sense, if there can be, of normalcy. The problem is that the Mavericks seem to emulate Nowitzki's conditioning down the stretch in games. They become lethargic and take poor shots. Only five of their 16 shots in the fourth quarter against the Hornets came inside the painted area.
Shot selection was not the only issue for the Mavs in the fourth quarter, though. Dallas, despite best efforts to the contrary, continues to see defensive breakdowns late in games. Vasquez scored 15 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter and Gordon drew a foul on Darren Collison with a pump fake, then banked his shot in from the top of the key, and proceeded to make his free throw to send the game into overtime. From there, he poured in seven points — seemingly with ease — to put the game out of reach.
Ten overtime losses is disheartening, sure, but the effort has been there. It just hasn't been a sustained one.
Against the Utah Jazz, the same fourth-quarter issues persisted as the Mavs were outscored 26-14. Gordon Hayward was pegged as the player to dash Dallas' hopes in this physical game: He scored a season-high 27 points, including a key three-pointer late in the fourth that put the Jazz up by nine. He also played effective and timely defense throughout.
When Hayward was on the floor, Jae Crowder saw much of the duty guarding Hayward. Looking at the statistics, it's a wonder why Carlisle did not stick with Crowder on him longer. Yes, Utah set plenty of screens and pin downs to create open looks for Hayward that left Crowder out of position, but he played solid defense against him. With Crowder on the floor, in two games this season, Hayward only connects on field goals at a clip of 40 percent per 36 minutes. When Crowder is on the bench, Hayward shoots 53 percent on field goal per 36.
The numbers don't lie. But neither do Crowder's shooting percentages. He's shooting just 29 percent over the last two contests.
Since inconsistent scoring has been rampant for Dallas this season, it's no wonder why Carlisle will not stick with Crowder for long periods, despite his effort defensively. But this has led to some rather peculiar lineups of late.
Chris Kaman and Nowitzki, for instance, are playing heavy minutes on the court together despite both of them being defensive liabilities. They are the Mavs' best scoring frontcourt, though.
In the fourth quarter against the Jazz, the Mavericks had lineups of Rodrigue Beaubois, Vince Carter, Crowder, Shawn Marion and Kaman at one point and another one of Kaman, Nowitzki, Brand, O.J. Mayo and Beaubois later. Obviously, Carlisle is tinkering, but what is most interesting is how much playing time Roddy is getting in late game situations after being inefficient and in the doghouse for much of the season.
He's been playing better of late, and he has a true shooting percentage of .444 since the start of 2013, making smart decisions on the court whereas, before, his play could best be described as erratic. Still, it's odd to see him on the floor rather than Collison.
Like Roddy's play early on, erratic may be the best way to describe the Mavs in Cuban's 13th year of ownership.
Dallas has shown that it can build leads throughout the season — only to see them vanish. This is a team sitting nine games under .500 with its star joining the chorus of fans questioning the motives behind the owner's and the front office's strategy going forward.
There is still an outside shot at a playoff berth for this team. A safer bet, however, would be to gear up for the Draft Lottery.
Losing makes everyone restless. At this point in Dallas, it's the pea under the mattress.
Photo via the NBA's official Mavericks page.