Mavs Lead

Dallas’ Biggest Challenge Lies in the Clutch

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Before the start of the Dallas Mavericks season, assumptions were all over the place. Some thought they could sneak into the playoffs as a low-seed, others thought they were still a year or two away from being competitive. Preseason rankings had them as high as 12th, and as low as 21st.  The recent Mavericks struggles, however, might paint a clearer picture.

11 games into the season the Mavericks stood at 6-5, with losses to three potential playoff teams, and two to the New York Knicks. They weren’t quite the talk of the town just yet, and for the moment, they were who most predicted they would be. However, it would be the next 11 games that would change the narrative of the Mavericks pretty quickly.

Stunned after a second loss to the Knicks, the team went on to win 10 of their next 11 games. The only loss coming at the hands of a fully healthy Los Angeles Clippers squad. Now, with a 16-6 record and in the top-tier of the Western Conference standings, the team looked to be well ahead of the curve.

THE NEXT 15 GAMES TELL A DIFFERENT STORY

After clawing their way back from a double-digit deficit against the Sacramento Kings, within the final minutes of the game they couldn’t get a shot to fall and would lose by four points. This would become a familiar feeling. Two games later against the Miami Heat, in a game where they’d lose Luka Doncic in the opening minutes to an ankle injury, they lose by four points in overtime. This time, they were leading by four points and missed their final five shot attempts.

They lost again a few nights later to the Boston Celtics by six points, even though they led at the half. If these losses weren’t bad enough, the Mavericks would squander a 30-point lead to the Toronto Raptors, who, like the Mavericks were also missing their best player in Pascal Siakam. They would lose by three points.

In not surprising fashion, they were bested by the Los Angeles Lakers on the second night of a back-to-back, even though Doncic was back in the fold. The very next game, they’d take a lead into the fourth quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and up by five in the final two and half minutes of the ball game, they’d miss four shots and turn the ball over twice for their 12th loss on the season.

THE MAVERICKS STRUGGLES CONTINUES

During game 35 against the Charlotte Hornets, they had a seven-point lead with three minutes remaining in the game. I’m sure you know where this is going. The Mavericks would miss five more shot attempts and turn the ball over. In the final minute of overtime, with the game tied at 114 all, the Hornets would outscore the Mavericks 9-6 for the win.

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. During game 37 against the Denver Nuggets, the Mavericks struggle once again. Heading into the final two and a half minutes of the game, they had the lead. They were up by five points and missed their last three shot attempts while also turning the ball over again.

Dallas has 15 losses on the season. Nine of those losses are by five points or less. In all but two of their losses, they either led going into the fourth quarter or at some point tied it up in the fourth quarter and had a chance to win. The team that was making waves in the Western Conference all of the sudden felt vulnerable.

FINDING A SOLUTION

During this stretch of games, they did play without Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, and Tim Hardaway Jr., arguably the three best offensive players they have on the team. However, they were in a position to win games in spite of their injuries and they could not close them out. The verdict is still out on what this team actually is. Thankfully for their quick start, they’ve positioned themselves to be in the playoff as things currently stand.

For the team to remain where they are in the standings, the Mavericks struggles will need to be overcome with a three-step approach. First, they’ll need to make shots when they count. Second, they’ll need to limit costly turnovers, especially stepping out of bounds on corner three’s. Then, they’ll need to slow down the tendency to become panicked when the game is on the line.

In many ways, the first quarter of the season felt like the team was punching above their weight class. Now that the season is starting to shake out more, we get a better glimpse into who this team is. Doncic’s sophomoric rise into an All-NBA talent player has masked some of the team’s deficiencies. However, it is going to be a team effort to change these late-game collapses.

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About Charles Allen

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