Considering their extensive troubles on the road this season, the Dallas Mavericks were in a very tough spot when they crossed the Canadian border to take on the Toronto Raptors for the first time this season. To make things worse, their new young center, Nerlens Noel, was absent for the third straight game with a sore knee. The absence of Noel, combined with sparse offensive production proved to be too great a mountain to climb, as the Mavs fell to the Raptors on Monday 100-78.
“It’s a lot tougher to play on the road,” said the suddenly-struggling Seth Curry. “You have to play with a little more energy on the road, find ways to get to the free-throw line and things like that. We have to figure out how to get better. We play well at home, and we just have to transfer that to the road and get off to good starts.”
Following the trade deadline, the already talented Raptors became an especially dangerous bunch. They acquired 3-and-D stalwart P.J. Tucker, as well as Serge Ibaka, who can block shots with the best of them. But for Toronto, their team revolves around the offensive production of DeMar DeRozan, who has been setting the league on fire while averaging just over 27 points per game this season.
DeRozan would prove to be the catalyst for the Raptors again here, as he lit up the Mavs for 25 points, while shooting 10-of-17 from the field and adding six rebounds. Jonas Valanciunas also proved to be a problem for the Mavs, especially on the glass, with the Lithuanian finishing with 14 and 12 in 23 minutes.
The Raptors bench also showed up, combining for 33 points as a unit.
The Mavs offense, which has struggled since the beginning of the Brooklyn game on Friday, came up short yet again, with the team shooting just 36.5 percent from the field, and just 28 percent from three. They were also decimated on the boards in the absence of Noel by a mark of 55-34
As if that weren't enough, Wesley Matthews was forced to exit the game with a calf injury. (He’ll be listed, like Noel, as day-to-day going forward.)
Dirk Nowitzki was able to add a solid 17 points and seven boards to the action, while Harrison Barnes 18 led all Dallas scorers. However, Barnes finished the night with a puzzling -25 in the plus/minus category, which was by far the worst number on the Dallas team.
The Mavs go-to weapon since the All-Star Break, Curry, continued to struggle as well, scoring just five points on Monday, after a three-point outing against Phoenix on Saturday. Is it that Curry is worn down, or just cold?
“They’re putting physical guys on Seth and guys are attacking him on the offensive end to make it tough on him,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said. “So we’ve got to help him adjust to that.’’
Whatever the case, Dallas’ playoff hopes are impacted should his struggles continue.
Bottom line, Dallas had three starters (Yogi, Wes, and Curry) combine for just 12 points, and the bench failed to replace those points. That just wasn't going to work against the Eastern Conference’s four seed.
The loss, coupled with Timberwolves and Nuggets win, is a damaging blow to the Mavs (28-38 overall and 8-23 on the road) and their playoff hopes. Thanks to their competition for the eight spot cashing in on their opportunities to pull ahead, Dallas now sits even with Minnesota, and 3.5 games behind Denver for the final seed in the West, with 16 games to go.
The Mavs will now have to try to make up ground on the road, which has proven to be a tough task for them all season long. Things won’t get any easier for them after Toronto, either, as on Wednesday they play in our Nation’s Capital to take on the second seed in the East, and one of the hottest teams in the NBA, the Washington Wizards (41-25).