I know that life is full of subjective victories and defeats. I know that, especially in sports, the zero-sum-game means that one group is often celebrating, while the other group is deflated.
So, to those of you who were rooting hard for the Dallas Mavericks to coax their way back into the playoffs ... please know I feel for you. Please know that part of me wants to see the Mavs win their last nine games, re-starting with tonight's 7 p.m. visit to New Orleans (talk it up here on DBcom Boards), and make it interesting. Part of me loves watching basketball that means something, rather than exhibition basketball for two weeks.
But, then there’s the part of me that practically put the front wheels on the bandwagon for Team Draft Pick. (Or the treads on Team Tank?) That guy? He wants to see nine losses in a row. He thinks that every time the Mavs confuse the issue by beating a solid team like the Clippers or the Wizards, as they have done recently, they’re moving further away from the goal that really helps them next year and beyond.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: This year’s Mavericks are a good team. Not a great team. Not an elite team. But they ARE good. They look like a bad team (or, as coach Rick Carlisle once put it, "an underrated sh-t team'') because they started off 4-17. Since then, they are a respectable two games above .500 (which was "four games'' until they recently lost two in a row).
For the season, there could be as many as five playoff teams that don’t finish as well as four games above .500, so whether you want to look at the bright side or not, reality is reality: the team that the Mavs have fielded for MOST of this year equates to a good squad.
But, if the Mavs could land a top-5 draft pick, and a quality free agent, this team can go from "good'' to "great'' really fast. Elite? No. That’s rare air—but really all the Mavs need to do to make the playoffs next year is show up and do the same thing they did starting around Game 22 of this season. So, any improvement, any addition, any training camp work—probably makes this team far better in 2017-2018 than they are right now.
So, how have things gone in the last week? Are the Mavs any closer to picking in that top five? The short answer: Yes. But, I just spent 350 words introducing this piece, so let’s bet against the short answer.
THE MAVS WEEK THAT WAS
The Mavs had a lot of compelling moments this week.
March 21: Seth and Steph played against one another. One day, hopefully next year, Seth will get a victory over his two-time MVP brother, but it certainly didn’t happen on Tuesday. (See our review here.)
"It was a lot of fun,'' Seth said wryly, "until the game started and they were beating up on us.''
There was also the semi-compelling story of Harrison Barnes scoring five points vs. his former team, which begs the question: is the Warriors logo a kind of Kryptonite that eats away at his shot-making prowess?
Either way, it wasn’t just a loss—it was a blowout. That’s happening more and more lately to this Mavs team.
March 23: J.J. Barea slapped Blake Griffin around. Barea actually got a pretty solid piece of Blake—but I did think Blake flopped a bit. That all changed when the Clippers failed to recover from it, even after Barea was ejected. Clearly, Barea hit Blake so hard, it hurt his Clipper teammates, and they managed to lose by two points. (See our review here.)
Not great for Team Tank—but sort of wonderful for Team Schadenfreude.
Side note: In an act of delicious pettiness, Mark Cuban’s remark was that they sent Blake’s family flowers as a condolence. I hope that was more than a bluff.
March 25: The Mavs played a good Raptors team, and they were incredibly competitive after a rough first quarter. The eight-point deficit in the first wound up being the difference in the game’s final score. Like a little microcosm of the Mavs season. Bad start, solid recovery, too little too late. (See our review here.)
The bright side: Another Mavs loss is good for Team Draft Pick ... but it’s also great for former Mavs assistant Dwane Casey, one of my favorite head coaches in the NBA. His Raptors won’t win 56 games this year, but Casey has done a great job keeping this team competitive while weathering the loss of Kyle Lowry (and his 22.8 points, 6.9 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game) for 17 games.
As I write this, the Raptors are only three games behind the East-leading Celtics (yeah, you read that correctly), despite losing one of their top players for a quarter of the season. Any time Dwane Casey finds success in this league, I’m happy about it.
March 27: The Mavs must have taken a cue from my terrible NCAA bracket this year, because—after 44 minutes of winning basketball, they screwed up everything they could in the "Final Four.''
With about four minutes to go, the Mavs led by 13 points. By the time the final buzzer went off, the Mavs had lost by a score of 92-91. (See our review here.)
"It was our game,'' Wesley Matthews moaned. "And they took it.''
Mavs fans did get to see (yet another) triple-double from Westbrook ... and witnessing history, even in a loss, will be worth the price of admission in a few years, especially if Westbrook is able to break the record.
Still, even as a founding member of Team Draft Pick—I never feel excited watching my team crumble in crunch time.
We are now at 31-42, and a losing season is a guarantee, with a non-playoff season a virtual guarantee. It is Crunch Time of the Mavs season ... and it seems to be Crumble Time, too.