Midway through the fourth quarter of tonight’s Mavericks-Thunder matchup, it appeared that the second unit had seen more luck against Oklahoma City than the full-strength roster. The last time these two teams played, the entire Dallas starting five was sidelined due to an overtime loss against the Cavs the previous night, and Charlie Villanueva tried to fight the entire Thunder team. The end result was a 19-point loss. Before a nice comeback in this meeting, the Mavericks trailed by as many as 17 with all their key players suited up.
The third quarter was particularly damning. After playing a competitive first half, the Mavericks imploded in the third period, getting drubbed 37-18 in those 12 minutes alone. It appeared this would be a very ugly loss. Thanks to that inspired comeback at the end, however, it’ll wind up being just another close loss to a team that is sadly — but clearly — superior to the Mavericks.
Since the schedule hit the portion that was personally put together by the devil himself on January 12th, Dallas has played seven games, going 3-4 over that stretch. They were able to squeak out wins against the Bulls, Celtics, and Timberwolves, but they were no match for top-notch opponents like the Spurs, the Cavs, or the Thunder, who they now have lost to twice in just over a week.
How do NBA fans do it? There’s literally no way the Mavericks have a shot in the playoffs. They’re a solid, well-coached team of veterans that usually beats the bad teams but comes up short against the great ones, a team that’s destined for about 45 wins and an escort out of the playoffs absolutely no later than the second round — probably the first. Knowing how things are going to end when the season is barely halfway over is more than a little depressing, but that doesn’t make it untrue.
God help me, I’m not going to be to look away despite it all, and no true fan should. As frustrating as it is in baseball when some horseshit team gets hot and runs the table in October, at least that gives any team good enough to qualify for the playoffs a reason for hope. In basketball, the playoffs are a brutal, unforgiving gauntlet designed to quickly weed out the weak so a battle of the most worthy teams can take place. It’s admirable, but the reality is bleak for most fans.
In this one, the Mavericks were beaten in the same areas they always are: in transition and on the offensive boards. The Thunder got 17 second chance points, while Dallas managed just 4, and they put up nearly twice as many fast break points (26-15). This is not a coincidence. Oklahoma City also has the very best offense in the NBA aside from whatever it is the Warriors are doing, and it showed: they shot nearly 50 percent from the field, although at least the threes didn’t come easily for them.
The Mavs did alright. They protected the ball well, as they often do, and they actually shot pretty well at 46 percent. It just wasn’t enough, just as it usually isn’t against the best teams the league has to offer.
Chandler Parsons simply cannot be given enough credit for his recent resurgence. He scored 30 in the winning effort against the Timberwolves on Wednesday, and then he came back with another 26 tonight. If this is the real Chandler Parsons, holy shit. Is this what I’ve been missing in my first season as a Mavericks fan?
Deron Williams was a godsend too, and his play of late has been just as impressive as that of Parsons. He added 22 points and 5 assists of his own, which helped to hide the fact that team leader Dirk Nowitzki was not at his best. Dirk shot just 6-for-15 from the floor, including 2-for-6 in the critical second half. January hasn’t been especially kind to the swish king, as he’s only shot 39.6 percent on the month.
Since I’m painfully aware of this team’s limitations and all too realistic about their future, this isn’t the kind of loss I can get too mad about. It’s just another punch to the gut in a season certain to be full of them. The saving grace here is that the Mavs are actually good enough to hit back every now and then.