Kings 110, Mavs 97: 'Something Is Wrong'
When cast to the depths of blackness, left blind and alone, there are three basic courses of action at hand. One: You can sit down and cower for fear of what monsters lurk in the belly of the shadow, paralyzed by anxiety. Two: You can ttempt to retreat, risking the pitfalls resting unseen in the dark and thus unavoidable while forfeiting any chance at forward progress, once more handing fear the reins. Or three: you can venture forth, chasing the distant flicker of light at the horizon that could either bloom to return your sight or invite something entirely unexpected … the sole option that carries with it some brand of hope.
The Dallas Mavericks are not alone, but we must currently question if they are one, a singular unit bonded as a team, amidst the drama that has suddenly slipped from the shoulders of Lamar Odom to sit momentarily on those of Jason Terry – after Rick Carlisle left the player who prides himself as a finisher, who publicly called out LeBron James from the biggest stage and not only survived but thrived, on the bench for the deciding moments of the Suns game.
Thrust in the dark, caught in the middle of their back-to-back-to-back in Sacramento to face the Kings, knowing that a failure would mean a sixth straight road loss -- a fate Dallas hadn't suffered since 1999! -- how would the Mavs react?
Well, it sure as hell wasn't Option No 3 as the Kings embarrassed Dallas, 110-97, for the Mavs sixth consecutive road loss, leaving them 3-8 overall in their last 11 contests.
In the first half, outside of a few individual displays, Dallas seemed to be auditioning for parts in "The Walking Dead,'' ranging from lifeless to indifferent. Sacramento came out with everything fans in the Metroplex had hoped to see emanate from the Mavs: aggressiveness, energy, and hustle. As a team, Dallas countered by looking like a group who had already accepted the inevitable loss, or adopted the belief that effort was not a prerequisite to success.
Jason Terry responded to being benched for the majority of the fourth quarter the night before by scoring his highest point total on the road this season: 23 points on 10-of-18 shooting. He was assertive on the offensive end, though also played his role in the significant defensive deficiencies of the team.
Sean Williams impacted the game early with a pair of impressive blocks and an individual burst of energy. Shawn Marion scored eight of his 14 points in the third quarter, doing his best to provide the spark his team so desperately needed.
It wasn't enough.
As the play on the court further deteriorated, so did the body language of the Mavs players, no more so than early in the fourth quarter when Roddy Beaubois was pulled by Rick Carlisle leading Roddy B to demonstratively show his displeasure with being pulled, or the reasoning behind his exit.
Jason Kidd departed the court early. It was symbolic. Frustration crawled over the Mavs' collective skin, a visible veil of shadow seeming to envelope them, while something less tangible seethed beneath.
Something is wrong.
The ever-rosy Bob Ortegel -- for decades as keen a Mavs observer as exists -- said it on the FoxSports Southwest postgame show.
"Something is wrong,'' Coach O said.
There's no denying what is evident both in result and the manner in which those results are found. Some basic link is broken, the soul of the team fights within, disturbed and restless … or, dare we say apathetic, at least in appearance.
Whether it's the compounded stress of the compacted schedule, the burden of nine games in 12 days, the absence of practice to fit together the multitude of new pieces, the counterproductive mix of age and minimal rest, the drama around Lamar Odom, consistent injuries, or the ghosts of the future to come … the uncertainty inherent in a roster designed to win now, but with a hungry eye on a path that demands near complete deconstruction tomorrow.
We're not a team out there right now and it shows every night we go out there and play," Jet said. "Until we become a team and play together at both ends of the floor, we're not going to be very good."
Regardless of where the unrest originates, this season is a beast of its own. To conquer it, whatever demons have found their way into the locker room must be slain. Perhaps the only blessing of this moment is the calendar. March 9 is far too early to say all is lost.
As bad as things currently seem, everything can change in a moment. This shadow drowning the Mavs can be buried by the mere flip of some internal switch. As justified as pessimism is in this moment, sounding the death rattle is premature.
After scoring 18 points against the Suns, Vince Carter went scoreless, missing all five of the shots he took, but posted the best plus/minus of the Mavs starters: minus-15. No other starter rated better than Dirk Nowitzki's minus-21. Sacramento came into the night allowing the most points-per-game in the NBA, while allowing the second highest shooting percentage to opponents. Oh, and the Kings were 13-26. Oh, and the last time these teams played, Dallas won 99-60. Oh, and the Mavs had won 10 straight against Sacto.
Within the curse of "9-in-12" the schedule imparted a blessing that has not be capitalized upon, gifted and burnt by the schedule all at once. Through this stretch that will mercifully end tomorrow night in Golden State, Dallas has won only two of the first eight games … but four of the six losses have come against teams with a combined winning percentage of .344.
Using the past as an analogy, the Mavs season is now sitting in the locker room after the incredible comeback win by Portland in Game 4 of the opening series from last year's playoffs. How they emerge from this is up to them.
It may not come in a single game, but in a more encompassing shift. Dallas now finds itself slotted as the seventh seed in this year's playoff race, only 1.5 games ahead of 10th-seeded Minnesota (who may have lost Ricky Rubio to a knee injury Saturday night). With this group, all that is needed is to make the playoffs … but that cannot be taken for granted as a given.
"It's time for change," Terry said. "You can only look at something for so long and you're getting the same result so at what point are you going to change or are you going to ride it out?
This is about Dallas, not the opponents. And yes, this is about change. Change in body language and emotion and focus, at least that. How the team reacts in the utter darkness it has slipped into begins now and will define them. Do the Mavs travel to Oakland for Saturday's third game in the b2b2b and then keep traveling while becoming paralyzed in disrepair, waddling in self-pity, retreating to the comfort of indifference ... or fight their way out?
In the 24 games that remain, we'll find out.