"The waiting drove me mad...you're finally here and I'm a mess
I take your entrance back...can't let you roam inside my head"
The Year 2011 hasn't been kind to the Mavericks. Instead, it has watched as Dallas has fallen to a 2-11 record against West-seeded playoff teams. Amidst the added trials delivered by the schedule makers' whims, sprinkling six games over nine nights with a trio of back-to-backs, there stood a chance to render that record meaningless. The mighty Lakers arrived on three day's rest and with a chance for the Mavericks to make a statement.
This was a moment, an opportunity, for things to come together in an instant; for old faiths to be rewarded as new ones sparked to life. Instead, the waiting tangled within and what was left on the court was an extravagant mess.
Then came the less-than-mighty Warriors. With the whipping at the hands of the Lakers still roaming, scraping, prominently through our heads, Rick Carlisle resorted to a tactic that comes across as frantic reaching when DeShawn Stevenson replaced Shawn Marion in the starting lineup. This left Stevenson playing out of position and draining minutes from the pool available to Shawn Marion and Peja Stojakovic.
If it's a permanent alteration, it is stealing from one of the few positional groups playing well as a whole.
If it's a temporary adjustment to a smaller, quicker Warriors team, we're forced to ask why the stronger team volunteered to play down to the weaker one, rather than forcing them to play up to the Mavs. Dallas doesn't need to change their approach to a team with 20 fewer wins, do they? If they can't impose their own will, or Carlisle didn't believe they could, this sits as something far short of a vote of confidence from their coach.
The games, the results, can't be taken back. They may feed a horrible fate, but do they have to?
What those thoughts breed will come to define the true meaning of these games. Will unity, and a revival of the deep "chemistry" we once saw, return to a team under the weight of an embarrassing and nationally televised dismantling, and an even weaker follow up? Or, will it tear down whatever hopes remained?
DONUT 2: "I would rather run but I can't walk..."
Before you run, you must walk. Before you walk, you must crawl. Before you crawl, you must find the will to move at all.
If the Mavs needed to be inspired to move, to eradicate the cracks we've seen permeating their recent play, leaving them at 8-8 since March 6, the past three games should provide that motivation. This wasn't a Dallas team on the cusp, proving they can beat any team on any given night. Rather, it was a group wilting from the challenge in the second half against the Lakers, being outscored 56-to-31, and embracing their shortcomings over their strengths in consecutive games.
They wore their frustrations prominently on their skin, allowing their approach to become influenced and altered for the worse. Ball movement, a staple of this team's success, ceased in favor of watching Dirk Nowitzki do his best to go it alone against the Lakers. Versus the Warriors, they found great early achievements attacking the paint, watched as their shot from distance eluded them to the point of 3-for-23 behind the arc (before two late makes), and continued to limp through their offensive possessions, allowing Golden State to walk all over them. Then Portland did the same. From a February run, Dallas slowed to a walk in March and then to a crawl in early April and finally to many questioning their desire to move at all.
Time to reverse course and progress up through those steps once again … or start preparing for next season.
DONUT 3: "I'll take the varmint's path...oh, and I must refuse your test
Push me and I will resist...this behavior's not unique"
We wanted to see some sign of life once the Lakers score got out of control. We wanted to see some sign of fight, even the faintest hint of resistance.
Dallas didn't measure up to the test of the game at hand, and what Jason Terry gave us may have not been the most upstanding of methods to deliver us a sign of will, but it was a breath from dying lungs nonetheless. There needed to be some proof that this team hadn't retreated into a deep slumber, willing to take their beating without raising a hand … perhaps it wasn't ideal, but Terry, and later Brian Cardinal/Ian Mahinmi, gave us this.
From that small spark, the Warriors provided an opportunity to nourish any flame and feed a growing fire. What was delivered in response to this test? Another push from an opponent … and a failure to respond.
And then in Portland? The Blazers barely needed to push. Dallas fell sideways on its own.
The behavior is certainly far from unique, as aged questions over the team's toughness, both physical and mental, have once again risen … leaving fires threatening to spread to the wrong spaces.
DONUT 4: The desire may have been for a clenched fist. TNT's Chris Webber hyped that after the game, when he called for all the Mavs, with an emphasis on Dirk, to join the fracas … though memory tends to hide the fact that this is rarely how these events unfold in the modern NBA, for any team. In a league heavy-handed with suspensions and light on tolerance, toughness is not defined by an absence of prudence.
How the Mavs respond to this loss will go much further towards defining their toughness than any shove Dirk and company may have added to the scrum.
DONUT 5: "I don't want to hear from those who know...
They can buy, but can't put on my clothes...
I don't want to limp for them to walk..."
The critics will come with limitless volume and justified complaints. Those who've been holding their tongue will unleash a fury of contempt upon this blatant failure. They will have their time at the pulpit, and their words will momentarily have no rebuttal. As we've said: If you are an opposing team looking for an easy draw, a "psuedo-impartial journalist'' looking for leverage, or a Dallas fan who has oddly positioned yourself in the "see-I-told-you'' club, this is an excellent time to pile on.
Again, this can either press the team together or pry them apart. What we, the outside world, have to give in this moment is irrelevant. We can't don the jersey and silence the detractors, and we can't correct the ailments infecting the product on the court.
Answers can only come from within the roster … if they are to come at all.
Dallas isn't a coach's tinkering away … the cure lies in wait within the players.
DONUT 6: "I don't want to be held in your debt...
I'll pay it off in blood, let I be wed...
I'm already cut up and half dead...
I'll end up alone like I began..."
Without a doubt, some wounds were being licked and some egos momentarily left on life support in the aftermath of a 28-point loss that was every bit as lopsided as the score indicates. The Mavericks emerged from the Lakers game bruised and battered in every possible way.
DONUT 7: While Mavs Nation may juggle the notion of an impending playoff collapse to match what we saw over the second half on the court in Los Angeles, and in Oakland, and in Portland, it must serve as an alarm to spring the Mavs themselves into action. This was a grouping of regular-season games, an important one, but still carried nothing more than the weight of three single regular-season losses … unless Dallas allows them to amount to more.
The toll has already been paid; the blood has already been spilled (both metaphorically and literally) over the trek of the long season. To deny those sacrifices, the very sacrifices we've previously praised players like Shawn Marion and DeShawn Stevenson and others for making, is to invite a quick exit and a lonely dismissal from the season.
To fold now is to deny every game, practice and struggle leading to this moment.
DONUT 8: "Everything has chains...absolutely nothing's changed"
In the end, on the day after, we're left with any Mavs' fans deepest fear: nothing has changed. This team remains chained to the playoff failures of their recent past.
Is it true?
DONUT 9: Tyson Chandler helps, but he isn't enough. Roddy Beaubois has potential, but he isn't ready. Jason Kidd has the wisdom, but a body faltering beneath him. Jason Terry can give us regular-season glory, but nothing in the playoffs. JJ Barea's fearlessness is to be commended, but we can't give him six more inches of height. And, the list could go on throughout the roster.
DONUT 10: The fear is real. Has nothing changed? Will Dirk Nowitzki walk boldly into battle lacking a sufficient army to support him?
DONUT 11: We are amused by "Charmin'' talk and "thug-it-up'' talk and such. Mavs owner Mark Cuban is among the many who snap at critics, but often he's not the respondent but rather the one who poked the bear in the first place. (Yes, poked the "Charmin Bear,'' if you wish.) Cuban gets credit for passion and salesmanship there, at least. The Mavs have years of being called "soft,'' then get called "soft'' by their own coach, then call a Lakers player "soft'' after a 28-point loss … and then get wildly offended when that Lakers player retaliates by yelling "Scoreboard''?
DONUT 12: Now, unless giving up is an option (and we hope it's not), it's time for the Mavs to take the court and prove otherwise.
TONIGHT. Denver at Dallas. (And our own Mike Fisher on the FS Southwest pregame show starting at 7 p.m.) Another West playoff-seeded team. Another chance to "make a statement'' without every moving their mouths.
If the Mavs want the detractors to swallow their words, the time is now to force them back down their throats.
Show us the past has no chains, and can be left to wallow in the mud of memory. Despite our waning confidence, it's something Mavs fans are thirsting, and quietly hoping, for. Oh, and by the way: We ask for this even if tonight is a sit-out game for Kidd and/or Chandler. Even missing a guy, even with nothing to play for but pride ... pride should be motivation enough to show SOMETHING.
This team had been sleepwalking into a burning house. If it takes an overboard foul or a crushing defeat (or three) to wake them up, to return the attention to detail that precludes the continuation of careless turnovers, and to send them seething and aware into the next fight, so be it.
If it's already too late, we'll have plenty of time to ponder the impending threat of a lockout soon enough.
If it's not too late for the Dallas Mavericks, tonight is the night.