The Mavericks are now 29-13 after their signature win of the season over the Memphis Grizzles and have officially moved into the second half of their regular season schedule. So what do the Mavs need to improve on and what things do they need to continue doing in order to have a strong second half? Lets do a quick recap and then look at some key points for the remainder of the season.
The Mavericks sit at 29-13 and tied with the Houston Rockets for fourth place in the Western Conference and only 1 1/2 from the second seed Portland Trailblazers. But that record can be a little deceiving as more than half of those wins have come against the Eastern Conference whom they have a 16-4 record against. They’ve played the most games against the Eastern Conference than any of their conference rivals so you can say they’ve played a good portion of their ‘easy’ games already.
However, after a strong win over the Grizzlies they’ve finally had a ‘legitimate’ win over one of the top eight teams in the West. Does this mean the Mavs aren’t a contender out West, no of course not, but it does mean that the Mavericks will have to play at a higher level the second half of the season if they want to have any chance of moving up in the standings.
The Mavericks are still getting accustomed to playing with Rajon Rondo but let’s be honest, they’re still learning to play with each and every player on the roster. Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki are the only two players remaining from last year’s 12 man roster and while Tyson Chandler and J.J Barea are back it’s still a whole new set of role players. Bringing in a new point guard is like replacing your starting quarterback, to use a football analogy, it changes everything in your playbook and how you run the team offensively. The Mavericks have gone from 113.6 per 100 possessions to 105.1 offensively but have improved from 104.8 to 100.7 defensively.
I’ll take a more balanced team on both sides of the court anytime anywhere, we’ve had high scoring offensive minded teams here in Dallas before and it never led us to a title nor did it for other teams in the league. Rondo has every Mavs player excited about possibly competing for a title and it should have every fan excited too.
Now for the Mavericks to compete for a title there’s going to be some key things, in no particular order, that are going to have to happen if this team is to go far in the playoffs.
- Mavericks must stay healthy but most importantly Tyson Chandler has to remain in top physical form as he’s the ONLY viable big man the Mavs have right now and is the defensive anchor of this team. Dwight Powell has played great so far but he’s still a rookie and undersized to play the center position on a consistent basis.
- Nowitzki will have to continue to average about 30 minutes game in order to remain fresh for the stretch run and the playoffs. Nowitzki has found his shooting touch over the last couple games and we should continue to see much more of that in the upcoming weeks and months.
- Parsons must become a more consistent player offensively AND defensively. Parsons has had flashes of what Mavs fans expect from him but he needs to be more consistent with his shot and defense out on the perimeter. I expect a big second half from Parsons as he continues to get more and more comfortable around his teammates and Carlisle’s game plan.
- Rondo needs to at least become a 50% free throw shooter, not joking when is say at least 50 because right now he’s in the 30s. Rondo has no jumper much like Jason Kidd did when he came to Dallas and we may not see a much better jumper from Rondo the rest of this season. It took Kidd some time before he knocked down those open 3s and it may take Rondo the off-season to do the same. For now he needs to improve just enough that his free-throw and jump shooting doesn’t hurt the Mavs down the stretch of games.
- Rebounding, rebounding, rebounding and more rebounding. Now although the Mavs have won the rebounding battle the last couple games they have been horrific in that department for much of the season and coaching can only make up for a lack of personnel to a certain point. Tyson and Rondo are perhaps two their best rebounders but need help. Dirk’s never been an elite rebounder and Ellis is undersized at shooting guard which doesn’t help. Parsons may need to be the one that steps up with his 6’10” height and be more aggressive attacking the boards. Powell helps in this area with his energy and athleticism but the Mavs still need to add another big man like a Jermaine O’Neal or Miles Plumlee (Suns have him on trade market) may help if this actually happens but won’t solve everything. Carlisle has his work cut out for him with this one.
- Chemistry is huge for any team and anyone who thought the Mavs would be clicking on all cylinders after 5, 10 or 20 games into the season was kidding themselves. Chemistry and familiarity is HIGHLY underrated, especially by fans. For a veteran team like the Mavs this is around the time where veteran squads start increasing the intensity as they try to hit their stride down the stretch.
Now a lot of people like bringing up the Mavs 10-16 record against the best of the West during their title run in 2011 as a sign to not be concerned but you can’t compare this team to that team. Every team brings a unique identity with different key players. The fact is that while we can’t be overly concerned with the Mavs poor record against the elite west teams, we can’t overlook it either and it does raise some eyebrows. I believe that a big part of this is that most of the other teams out West have been together longer than this Mavs team fresh of new faces. The Warriors, Blazers, Spurs, Clippers, Grizzles, Thunder(I expect them to end up in the top 8), Suns and Rockets have all had their core intact longer than this Mavs team. Now this doesn’t excuse the Mavs horrendous efforts against some of these teams but it shows that the Mavs aren’t there just YET.
I expect them to be as the season goes on, and we saw a glimpse of that against the Grizzles on MLK day. The Mavericks will start facing their Western rivals on a more consistent basis from here on out and I believe they’ll rise to the challenge.