Not every season is worth a book, but if someone were to choose to write a tome about this Dallas Mavericks season, head coach Rick Carlisle has the perfect title.
"We're 'The Masking-Tape Mavs," Carlisle said after his club lost to the San Antonio Spurs, 96-91, to conclude the regular season.
Perfect, because this season has had that thrown-together feel since before it even began. And now Dallas gets thrown to OKC ...
Here is the first-round playoff schedule:
Game 1 – Sat April 16 Dallas at OKC 8:30PM ESPN/TXA21
Game 2 – Mon April 18 Dallas at OKC 7:00PM TNT/TXA21
Game 3 – Thu April 21 OKC at Dallas 6:00PM TNT/TXA21
Game 4 – Sat April 23 OKC at Dallas 7:00PM ESPN/R/TXA21
Game 5 * Mon April 25 Dallas at OKC TBD/TXA21
Game 6 * Thu April 28 OKC at Dallas TBD/TXA21
Game 7 * Sat April 30 Dallas at OKC TNT/TXA21
I say it would be disrespectful to say it's a surprise these Mavs made the playoffs. Even after the DeAndre Jordan debacle the Mavs still cobbled together enough talent to keep this team in the playoff hunt. No one was going to confuse it with Golden State, San Antonio or Oklahoma City, mind you. But the talent was there. And, as usual, Carlisle put together another one of his patented great head-coaching jobs to get the Mavs into the bracket.
That holds especially true after March 27 in Sacramento, a game the Mavs lost, 133-111, and fell three games below .500. The Mavs had lost 10 of their last 13. They, frankly, looked done.
The playoffs started the next night in Denver, and Carlisle started coaching these Mavs like a playoff team.
The Mavs slowed the game down, relying on halfcourt sets and working the clock to reduce total possessions. A team that prided itself on moving up and down the floor became the second slowest in the NBA in its final nine games, averaging only 92 possessions per 48 minutes.
The defensive rebounding improved, and that probably coincided with increased use of Zaza Pachulia, who became a bit of a rotation afterthought in March. In the first 12 games of March, Pachulia averaged 16.5 minutes per game. During the final stretch, where the Mavs won seven of their final nine, he averaged 22.8 minutes per game.
But, most of all, the defense simply got better, whether by scheme or simply by Carlisle's demand. Entering the finale against San Antonio and starting with the Denver game on March 28, these Mavs led the league in defensive rating (95.9) and points allowed per game (89.1 ppg).
The Mavs held their final nine opponents under 100 points and went 7-2. They gave up 100 or more points in 11 of their 13 games previous to that streak and went 3-10. Things changed because Carlisle demanded them to change and his team responded. ... and then, to Dirk Nowitzki, "deserved'' this berth.
Put it all together: Those are the kind of defensive numbers that can make or break teams in the postseason.
"Our guys have gotten it done on grit and guts," Carlisle said. "We're banged up, but we've got a couple of days here — at least a couple of days — to try and heal up a little bit more."
(Indeed, the Mavs will conduct a team meeting at the AAC on Thursday but will otherwise not practice. More time to unravel some more masking tape.)
Oh, and J.J. Barea's emergence as a volume-scoring, defensive-stopping jitterbug down the stretch didn't hurt, either. Barea sat Wednesday night, trying to get his injured groin a bit healthier. Devin Harris sat for health issues as well. Deron Williams seems to be getting around better after a sports hernia, but you still must be a bit cautious with him. David Lee did something to his heel in the first half and we'll know more on Thursday, though X-rays were negative. Chandler Parsons was walking through the locker room post-game without the brace on his knee, but he's not suiting up in the first round, if at all this year. Even the rookies are taking precautions. Justin Anderson had ice on both knees after logging 30 minutes.
Raymond Felton — who, believe it or not has played more games than any Mav this season — isn't expecting a drop-off, saying that he feels the Mavs are still "locked in" going into the postseason.
Nowitzki acknowledged the obvious — the odds aren't with this team in the first round, but since their "playoffs" started a few weeks ago there's no point in taking the foot off the gas now.
"It's going to be an uphill battle no matter who we face, but we're going to sure try and battle like we have the last few weeks," Nowitzki said.
Losing to this JV bunch from San Antonio (the Spurs' top six players all sat, their No. 2 seed secure) is no source of pride. But the least these Mavs have kept it interesting this season, and thanks to Carlisle's adjustments down the stretch they'll keep our attention taped together just a little bit longer.