Monday, January 03, 2011

Dallas Mavericks: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Dallas Mavericks have steamrolled through their last stretch of games. They've beaten the Celtics, Heat and Spurs over this time. So, can this team legitimately compete for a title?

While their execution has been brilliant of late, this team still isn't equipped to win four straight playoff series. First, the weak points of their hot streak: the last month (November 27th to December 27th) of games featured only five road games. Secondly, stretches of this run have featured multiple games against below .500 teams (Minnesota, Sacramento, New Jersey). The month also threw only two back-to-backs at Dallas.

The Mavericks have only performed a wee bit better than expected during the easiest part of their schedule. As more road games and back-to-backs pile up, the likelihood of them maintaining their pace is slim. Every team, no matter how good they can be, inevitably has let down games. The latter end of a back-to-back, a few hard games in a row and traveling can make a team look awful. Despite the Mavs strong play to date, let down games will happen, guaranteed. The best teams go on their three or four game losing streaks. Even NBA players are human.

Back to the playoffs, the season that actually matters.

Dallas has solid depth, but one place they are weak is skilled centers. This is largely the lost luxury for teams on the cusp of being elite (the teams that have skilled centers are the Lakers, Magic and Celtics). Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood get the minutes at center and while they're solid, long defenders, they mostly pick up scraps offensively. While Dirk can post up and fade away for a jumper, the Mavs have no traditional post presence.

This is why I can't give the Mavs the seal of approval. When the jumpers aren't falling and drives aren't effective due to strong D, what will the Mavs do? They don't really have an answer, they don't have a player who can post and toast (Clyde Fraizer voice).

Adding to the big man woes is poor Brendan Haywood, who has looked atrocious on the free throw line this season. He's shooting about 28% and his form looks dopey. In the playoffs, couldn't a hack-a-Haywood be a great strategy? YES! Even though he plays only 18 minutes a game, teams could force him off the floor, or capitalize on his awful performance at the strike. This would limit the Mavs depth and/or scoring.

Also, let's not forget injuries, which are causing the Mavs trouble right now. Injuries to Dirk and Caron Butler are hurting during a more difficult part of their season. If injuries pile up like the have for Boston recently, their team could lose their edge. Stars aren't usually replaced. Hopefully Dallas is at full health when it matters most.

Dallas has earned some praise for their recent performance. They've shown strong play on both ends, played a team game and beat some decent competition over the last month. Winning in November and December means nothing if you're not "the," winner in June, though.

Photo by: Mike Ehrmann
Photo from ESPN