The Mavericks Just Can't Catch A Break With Their Centers.
It's a sad state of affairs when one loss can characterize many of the missteps that have befallen the Mavericks this season. But this week's road loss to the Portland Trail Blazers did just that.
Dallas strolled into Portland on Tuesday to kick off a tough four-game road trip that will also take the team to Golden State, Phoenix and Oklahoma City. Unfortunately, the Mavericks would be short-handed against the Blazers in this contest; center Chris Kaman was ruled ineligible to play because of a concussion he sustained during Monday's shoot around.
Recent medical advancements have made head trauma, and its effects, a major concern within sports leagues. Kaman must pass a series of tests before he can be cleared to play. As of right now there is no timetable for his return. This is just another setback for Kaman, who has seen his minutes decrease of late while also losing his starting position in Sunday's win over the Suns. Rookie Bernard James received the start that day.
Much has been made of Kaman's current role with the team and his emotional well-being as he becomes the latest Mav to feel the scope of Rick Carlisle's tough-love approach to coaching this season. But Kaman did log 11 productive minutes in that game — the same total alotted both James and Brandan Wright.
Neither James nor Wright has been all that effective or consistent this season, though they both bring several intangibles — namely their energy — to the center position. This, however, does not always translate into productivity.
Recently, Elton Brand has been Dallas' most productive center, and, in turn, he's logged most of the minutes in the middle. In the month of January, Brand has averaged 10 points per game on 54.5 percent shooting, will also registering seven rebounds and 1.5 blocks a contest. He is also quite active in the restricted area on both offense and defense, as he fights for position and has grown comfortable being more physical down low. This physicality can lead to foul trouble, of course, and Brand is prone to lumber beneath the rim like a rickshaw bulldozer. But the platoon rotation that Carlisle employs for his centers has allowed minutes to be allocated elsewhere if a player is in foul trouble or performing below expectations.
Still, playing Brand, Wright or James at center leaves the Mavericks' frontcourt woefully undersized on some nights. And a smaller lineup, despite what it may provide in offensive production, can lead to a number of issues defensively.
Going without a center, completely, as Dallas did for the last eight minutes of the game against Portland? Well, that's something different altogether.
Despite the four-man rotation in the middle, only Kaman and James are true centers. Brand and Wright are forwards and were the players Carlisle entrusted to close out the game against the Blazers with an 88-83 lead. From that point forward, though, Portland out-rebounded Dallas 10-7, half of which were offensive boards.
So, with 1:15 left in the game, Carlisle went with a lineup of Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Vince Carter, Marion and Nowitzki, fully forgoing a down-low big man on the court. Carlisle's insistence to go small late in the game is something of a predicament, though. That's mostly because it just hasn't led to winning results. While the loss to the Blazers cannot be placed on late rebounding alone due to the lack of a center, it is puzzling that Carlisle kept this group in the game as Portland made a furious comeback.
Aiding the Blazers' late comeback was a ghost from earlier in the season. In the fourth quarter, the Mavericks turned the ball over eight times, leading to 12 points for Portland, including LaMarcus Aldridge's game-winning shot. That eight-turnover figures matches the Mavs' turnover total throughout the game's first three quarters — and those losses of possession only led to six points for the Blazers.
Turnovers, in the month of January, are uncharacteristic for the Mavericks, Tuesday nightâ€™s game notwithstanding. For the month, the team has turned the ball over just 11.8 times per game, the lowest average in the league.
Alas, with the 106-104 loss in Rip City, the Mavs now have a record of 1-12 when playing team on the road with a record of .500 or better. And they're now 5-19 overall against teams with this record.
Clearly, despite their recent successes, Dallas still has issues it needs to sort out if they want to crawl their way into the playoffs. They missed an opportunity on Tuesday, sure enough, and now sit five games behind the Houston Rockets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Though it may seem as though this could be the time for Carlisle to stop tinkering with his rotations, the team has given him no reason to do so. It would also be uncharacteristic for him to do this, as he even changed Dallasâ€™ starting lineup during the 2011 Finals. But getting a confident Kaman back will help this team; Kaman has proven he can space the floor and shoot a high percentage.
Nonetheless, these Mavericks are still inconsistent, and Carlisle will allocate minutes based on what he feels will lead to the best results — and, hopefully, wins.
It's all he can do, really.
Cover photo via the NBA's official Mavericks page.