Many predicted this Dallas Mavericks team to finish near the bottom feeders of the Western Conference before the season began.
Injuries, age, lack of talent and a horrible offseason were all reasons for experts and analysts to pick Dallas to finish last in the Western Conference but many failed to recognize the greatness that is Dirk Nowitzki but perhaps more importantly the genius that is Rick Carlisle.
It’s not like the reasons listed above were completely wrong or illogical, because the Mavs did have 2 starters, Wesley Matthews & Chandler Parsons, coming off serious injuries that were expected to sideline them until maybe couple months into the season. Deron Williams’ injury history is well documented and Zaza Pachulia had never been asked to play heavy starter minutes at any point during his career, it helps explain his play falling off second half of the season. Also we all love Nowitzki but even he has probably surpassed his own expectations at the ripe age of 37 and has had one of the most efficient seasons of his career. He’s shown everyone that age is nothing but a number when you’re talking about one of the all-time greats.
Health to me was the biggest question for this veteran team and if they could play at a high level from start to finish and in hindsight health failed them at the most crucial part of the season, Parsons went down with a knee injury and the D-Will had a sports hernia that caused him to miss several games, Zaza Pachulia started to look worn down and Wesley Matthews was up and down this season. But through it all Rick Carlisle proved just how great he is in maximizing his team’s potential and that the sum of his parts prove to be greater than anyone predicted.
Carlisle had to manage players coming back from injury, monitor Dirk’s minutes and cover up for his team’s lack of athleticism out on the basketball court. When the Mavs lost 10 out of 12 games in March the writing was on the wall for this team to miss the playoffs with 2 starters down and seemingly a team that looked like it was out of gas. Carlisle and many of the Mavs players started a rally cry that they had to make the playoffs for Dirk. Nowitzki has had such a historic season at his age and carried the team through so many stretches that it’d be ludicrous and sad if they couldn’t make the playoffs.
J.J Barea started the playoff charge and put on his Puerto Rican cape on and helped spark this Mavs team to 6 straight wins. However, if you notice this Mavs team has started playing at a slower tempo and that’s credit to Carlisle realizing that by slowing down the game it allowed for fewer possessions defensively and help maximize his team’s offensive efficiency. This Mavs team isn’t good enough to win flashy or pretty but that’s perfectly fine, Carlisle’s genius adjustment of grinding out games has led to W’s and another playoff berth.
Salah Mejri and Justin Anderson have had their 2 cents during this Mavs stretch of 7 wins in 8 games, coming up with timely blocks and hustle plays at key moments. Anderson’s dunk at the end of the fourth quarter against the Jazz was indicative of his play, put himself in a bad position where he could’ve been stripped but escapes and just attacks the rim with 2 handed dunk. Anderson has started to gain Carlisle’s trust and it’s starting to pay off.
This Mavericks team chemistry has been a prime example of how a team can outplay the sum of its parts if they like each other and are willing to work as a unit, go figure right? It all starts with your head coach and your star player, maybe the Houston Rockets should take notice (cough, cough, cough).
Nonetheless what Rick Carlisle has done with this Mavericks team is nothing short of spectacular and just another example of why Dallas is lucky to have him. He shows time and time again he will always exceed expectations and there’s a method to his madness even if we as fans can’t see it right away. Whoever the Mavs play in the first round will be a tough opponent and Dallas will be underdogs but for Dirk it’s another opportunity to be on that big stage when the lights are on and every game is intensified and with a coach like Carlisle you always have a puncher’s chance. Game on.