First, there is the excuse, and as angry as Mavs Nation is at this moment, it's a legit one: It’s very difficult to win games in the NBA without your floor general guiding your team throughout a game. Even when a team has the kind of backcourt depth that the Mavericks are blessed with, injuries can rear their ugly head and derail a team’s success. In the case of the Mavs, Deron Williams’s absence, coupled with Devin Harris’s injury, proved to have a debilitating affect on the Mavs’ offensive efforts at the AAC on Wednesday, resulting in a 93-90 loss to the Heat in which botched decisions were the central cause.
"It was obviously a bad decision on my part,'' said coach Rick Carlisle of game's end, when Dallas couldn't figure out a way to get the ball to Dirk so instead opted to let Raymond Felton dribble, dribble, dribble and shoot. "The way it went, I should have taken a time out and set something else up.'' (Quoteboard is here.)
Then, after the excuse, there is the reasoning.
If D-Will is playing, this probably doesn't happen. But this is a "Be Ready'' coach and the Feltons have to do so ... and so does the head coach. The Mavs’ frontcourt defense has also been a weakness for the majority of the season, including Wednesday’s matchup, but everything starts on the perimeter, and D-Will’s absence was a big cause of their issues here.
But so were decisions. And not just the ones in the final 10 seconds.
J.J. Barea, who has at times filled in admirably when called upon to start in D-Will’s place, was largely ineffective creating opportunities for Dallas’ scorers for the majority of the game, finishing with 11 points and four assists. And yet when it was crunch time, JJB got the nod over Chandler Parsons?
Some decisions were out of the hands of the "deciders.'' For instance, on the interior, where Hassan Whiteside, who had just returned from missed time due to injury, was a game-changer on both ends of the floor. This dude is a straight monster on the defensive end of the floor, and possesses the ability to alter an incredible amount of shots when he puts his mind to it. His rebounding, shot-blocking, and rim-shattering dunks swung momentum in Miami’s favor, and put Dallas on it’s heals on multiple occasions. The big man finished with 10 points, nine boards and five blocks.
Chris Bosh also frustrated the Mavs, with his 20 points on 10-of-23 shooting. Outside of Bosh and Whiteside, the Mavs did a decent job defending the Heat, but their lack of offensive production would ultimately do them in. Chandler Parsons did his best to account for the lack of playmaking in the backcourt, but couldn’t maintain his first-quarter form. ... and late, wasn't given enough chances to do so.
The Mavs would turn to the Big German and Zaza Pachulia to guide them down the stretch, but Dirk can’t do it all, and Zaza just isn’t enough of an offensive weapon to change a game on that end of the floor. Pachulia finished with yet another double-double of 10 points and 15 rebounds, but again, the lack of perimeter offense limited the Mavs' chances.
Despite shooting pretty well from beyond the arc, and turning the ball over just four times, the Mavs shot just 39 percent from the floor, while being outrebounded by the Heat 54-46. Dirk’s valiant 28-point effort on the offensive end shows what the Mavericks what could have been for Dallas. (Even as he faced the challenge of Deng and company.)
But again, the 37-year old just can’t do it all on his own. Other players – we’re looking at you CP - have to step up an alleviate some of the pressure off of Dirk’s shoulders while D-Will is out. There’s no way around that. And the head coach needs to do the same thing.
Despite all that, the Mavs had a shot to send things into overtime on a late Felton three-point attempt, but it clanked off the rim, ending the Mavs’ hopes. ... and why no timeout, why no directive to get the ball to Dirk, why no best-five-to-finish?
“I think Ray took the best shot he could in that situation,'' said Wes Matthews. "We tried to get into a pick-and-roll, but they were switching and we couldn’t get it to work. In that situation you just hope for blown coverage.''
Now, for the second straight game, the Mavs' lack of consistent aggression and ineptitude in creating offense in the absence of Williams and Harris, has resulted in the Mavs' second straight game shooting below 40 percent from the field and scoring fewer than 100 points.
“We’ve got to be aggressive from the jump, and aggressive at the start of every quarter and the end of every quarter,” said Matthews. “It was definitely one of those matches where who won was who wanted it more. I won’t say they wanted it more, but they were more aggressive when they needed to be.”
There's some double-speak in there, but we get Wes' confusion. NBA teams must find a way to persevere, even in the face of an injury to one of their leaders, and the Mavs have yet to figure it out without Williams. And that means Dirk isn't figuring it out, and Parsons isn't figuring it out, and Rick Carlisle himself isn't figuring it out.
“We’re obviously missing Devin and D-Will on both ends of the floor,'' Nowitzki said, " but we’ve just got to keep grinding till the All-Star Game.''
And that "grind'' isn't just physical for the 28-24 Mavs; it's mental, too. And it's not just the players who have to be at their best in that department.