Tonight the Dallas Mavericks face off against the Philadelphia 76ers and it’s hard to know what to expect. The Mavericks started off 4-1 but are now 7-7 and have not beaten a single team over .500 except for the New York Knicks, arguably the hottest team in the NBA. Unfortunately their follow up to that performance was a blowout loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
On any given night the Mavericks have failed to shoot well, rebound the ball and/or maintain possession. Even without Dirk Nowitzki these are problems that are hard to explain.
There is no shortage of capable shooters and certainly O. J. Mayo, Chris Kaman, Vince Carter and Brandan Wright have been consistently putting the ball in the basket when they are on the floor. Others though, such as Darren Collison, have been wildly inconsistent.
The lack of rebounding is even more puzzling. While Wright’s playing time has been reduced despite his team-leading field goal percentage and PER, Kaman, Elton Brand, Shawn Marion, Troy Murphy and Bernard James are all more than capable on the boards so the missing piece of the puzzle is hard to explain.
And as far as turnovers, there are times when the team has been thwarted by great defense, as when they had all kinds of trouble in the second Laker game with Dwight Howard, but that can’t account for all the games when there have been far too many. So what is the answer?
Presumably more time to gel and let Rick Carlisle work his magic. While having Dirk back might help with scoring, he’s not likely to help the rebounding, turnovers or defense.
As for the ensuing road trip starting in Philadelphia, the 76ers are a respectable 8-6 without Andrew Bynum. While the Mavericks are experiencing feast or famine without Dirk Nowitzki, the Sixers seem to be faring a tad better without their star player, who left L.A. as the Lakers were acquiring Howard.
Philly doesn’t put a lot of points on the board but they play solid defense and outrebound their opponents. There is no one statistically outstanding to point to. They are led by Jrue Holiday who put sup 18.6 ppg followed by 6 other guys ranging from around 8 to 13 points. But unlike the Mavericks, the 76ers have been able to post some wins against good teams—they are 3-4 against teams over .500 while the Mavs are 1-2 and the rest of their losses are against subpar squads. Philly has dominated teams under .500 5-2.
The Mavs have struggled on defense even more than last year, which is somewhat surprising considering the presence of Brand, Marion, Dahntay Jones and James, all considered to be outstanding defenders. Losing Delonte West didn’t help but doesn’t explain the drastic change other than perhaps an influx of new players having a difficult time playing team defense.
With Philly averaging in the high 80’s to low 90’s most games, one hopes they won’t be scoring over 100 points against the Mavs but that’s what the Mavs have been allowing and judging by the season so far, it wouldn’t be a surprise. The Mavs will need to again try to be on their rebounding best because otherwise it may be a long night. The Sixers aren’t shooting that well (42.2%) but giving them a zillion second chances can make a team’s shooting woes immaterial.
The Mavericks are clearly capable of playing well and have done so on a few nights. Hopefully, with an increasing number of contenders on the schedule Rick Carlisle and the team will get things figured out sooner rather than later; otherwise, it may be a long season and the playoff possibilities will be in jeopardy before Dirk returns.