Let’s face it, injuries are a big reason for the slow start for the Dallas Mavericks season this year. From Dirk, to Devin Harris, to Deron Williams, Dallas is missing three key contributors to its rotation. With that being said, what the Mavs have done as far as roster-building is concerned has frankly been subpar in at least one sense: They're "built old.'' And that was never more evident than it was on Monday night.
The Mavs entered Monday night’s game at Madison Square Garden the winners of two of their last three, and with a renewed sense of energy. Sure those wins weren’t against the Spurs or Warriors, but they gave this team some much needed hope. That largely disappeared after this one, as the Mavs -- with Dirk watching as he was scratched in a game-time decision due to his sore Achilles -- fell to a struggling Knicks squad, 93-77.
"Individual struggles is really not what this is about,'' coach Rick Carlisle said. "This is where everybody’s got to be totally together, help each other out and really focus on doing the little things at a very high level.''
From top to bottom, though -- and I'm not just taking about this one game -- Dallas isn't very "high-level'' right now.
In the first quarter, the Mavs came out looking zesty on both ends of the floor, with Harrison Barnes (totaling 20 points, his fourth straight game with at least that) leading the way with eight points in the opening frame. But as soon as the clock hit zeros, and the second quarter began, any advantage the Mavs had quickly evaporated.
In what was a theme last year, and is becoming one this season as well, Dallas once again got dominated in the interior, getting out-rebounded by double-digits, and getting outscored in the paint until garbage time, against a team whose best big man is more of a midrange/perimeter guy in Kristaps Porzingis. That cannot continue to happen.
Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony worked to shred the Mavs for a combined 48 points and 18 rebounds between the two of them. Now, let’s put down our blue eyeglasses and and be real for a minute. Despite all the Knicks struggles early this year, the Melo/Porzingis combo is one of the most dynamic scoring threats in the NBA. In other words, them having success here is not what kills you. Where the issues arise here for the Mavs: giving up 16 points off the bench to Justin Holiday, combined with being outclassed on the boards, and having little to no scoring support for Harrison Barnes outside of J.J. Barea (17 points).
For all of the talk about "keeping the powder dry,'' and piecing together decent rosters to stay competitive, this team has fallen well short of that mark this season. Dallas, now 2-7, got younger in terms of its overall roster, yes. And make no mistake about it, Harrison Barnes is a hit, and maybe he is going to be a big one. But outside of him, this roster is dreadfully devoid of talented/creative scorers, and that problem falls at the feet of the people at the top. Will some of those issues be alleviated upon the return of Dirk, D-Will and Harris? Sure, why not? But two guys on the wrong side of 30 and an injury-prone combo guard are not going to turn this team into a contender overnight.
This franchise is at a point in its lifecycle in where on the surface we say, "they have to make a choice about what they want to be!'' But what are the choices, really, beyond a) "nose to the grindstone'' and b) tanking?
There are pieces in place that you wishfully think they can build on. They have one of the two or three best basketball brains on the planet in Rick Carlisle, they have what seems like a budding young star in Barnes to build around, they have a defensive anchor in the middle, and they some young athletes like Powell and Anderson for role players -- though I will argue that Dallas needs those two guys to be more than "energy boosts'' -- Dallas needs them to actually become accomplished offensive players. Oh, and there are good "basketball-soul'' guys like Matthews, Barea and Dirk, who has now missed four straight games.
But those guys on their own do not make up a championship level roster, and if a this franchise wants a championship roster, they are going to have to inject some serious talent into the team. So is there a C) choice in the form of a roster-remaking trade?
The problem with that concept -- ("Let's go get Boogie!'') is that the same level of talent on both ends of the floor that this team needs for its shot in the arm. ... is the same level of talent that, to me, seems too low to actual use to make a blockbuster trade.
You're watching the Mavs lose to the Knicks and your mind keeps wandering. When David Lord writes so smartly here about the NBA's coming CBA changes, you ponder whether there is tucked in there a way for Dallas to do something bigger and better through free agency. How about making some noise in next year’s draft? How much, as we're mindful of Fish's Dirk take -- "The Point of No Return'' will Nowitzki want to stick around for more editions of Dallas Mavericks basketball that doesn't look all that fun?
And then we hear Carlisle tell us to "Flush It'' and we move on ... The Mavs will have a chance to turn things around on Wednesday night at the Boston Garden, when they take on an extremely dangerous Celtics team, led by Isiah Thomas, and the hopeful-to-return Al Horford, who has missed some time due to injury. ... Boston's pieces having been built to win now against some of Dallas' pieces "built-old.''