When I think about all the long stretches of time the Mavericks have lapsed into an offensive coma this year, I’m honestly not sure how they’re even 15-13. It may be a game of runs, and teams go hot and cold all the time, but nobody has mastered the lengthy dry spells like the 2015-16 Dallas Mavericks. In Tuesday’s disappointing loss to a hobbled Raptors team, the entire roster forgot how to shoot for several minutes at a time not once, but on two separate occasions.
The worst part is that just when they closed the gap to three points to seemingly overcome that first bad stretch, which took place from the very moment the game began, the wheels came off all over again. By the end of the game, the team’s final shooting percentage didn’t look completely stomach-turning; they finished at 43.5 percent, which is just a tick below their season mark. Two problems: that shooting was remarkably inconsistent and went quiet at terrible times, and when you rank 20th in the league in field goal percentage, simply coming near your own mark isn’t a good formula for winning.
Losing to the Raptors isn’t the worst thing in the world. They’re a top-ten team by any metric, and they’re particularly gifted offensively, as they rank fifth in offensive efficiency. It certainly helps that they have one of the game’s best backcourts in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. That said, they were playing without two important cogs, as Jonas Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll have both been out the last several games. Bismack Biyombo has plugged the hole at the center position nicely by being a monster on the glass, but his offensive skills are just about nonexistent. I think the Mavericks need to be able to beat a team like the Raptors when they’re at less than full strength.
Of course, they failed to do so last night, and they failed to do so earlier this season when they met in Dallas. Despite the close final score, the Mavericks were hopelessly behind from the start. They never once had the lead, and the only time the game was even tied was when things were still scoreless. The Raptors were sloppy in committing 17 turnovers, but they dominated the boards (53-34 advantage) and killed it from beyond the arc (12-for-26). Coupled with the Mavericks going into two prolonged slumps where they were shooting the ball like Helen Keller with a blindfold on just for good measure, it was enough for the win.
The low point came in the fourth, right after Dirk Nowitzki answered a Lowry three-pointer with one of his own to make the score 75-72 with just under 11 minutes left to play. Ten consecutive missed field goals later, Rick Carlisle got so disgusted with his primary rotation that he turned to the scrubs on the bench, and — here’s the interesting part — stuck with them even after they actually managed to make a game of it. The rally seemed to defy all sorts of logic, as Charlie Villanueva and J.J. Barea combined to knock down three three-pointers in the final four minutes, including on back-to-back possessions in the last 43 seconds.
This does not change the fact that I have now reached the point of letting out a bloodcurdling scream every time I see either player on the court. Villanueva is determined that if he can get even a shred of space behind the three-point line, he has to fire it up. The problem with that is he’s connecting on just 27.2 percent of those attempts this season, a truly dreadful number. You could point out he was much better last season, but his career number of 34.4 percent hardly qualifies him as the three-point specialist he seems to think he is. Barea is no better. I’m literally stunned every time he manages to hit a shot from any distance. He’s quick and can sometimes make things happen off the dribble, but at this point I’d love to see him make things happen off the team.
There were bright spots. Both Nowitzki and Wes Matthews were exceptions to the shooting rule, putting up 20 and 15 points respectively and combining to go 7-for-14 from downtown. JaVale McGee at times gave the team a lift with his paint presence, and while he certainly isn’t as smooth as Zaza Pachulia, the interior is a much more dangerous place for opposing teams when he’s patrolling it. The Dragonborn finished with 5 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 more blocked shots, one of which came in an awesome trailing fashion to deny Lowry a layup. Beware, beware, the Dragonborn comes.
I think that about covers it. The rest of the game was a series of endlessly frustrating bricks and other failures. That sentence might serve as a good summary for the Mavericks’ season if they don’t figure out how to actually beat a team that isn’t terrible.