With so much currently new and unfamiliar with the 2012-2013 Dallas Mavericks, it’s tough for anyone to have answers right now. You get a ticket to the Mavs roller coaster. You get a seat belt. You get instructions to keep your arms inside the car.
But you don't get answers.
After jumping on the season quickly by winning four of their first five games, Dallas has since lost those good vibes that came with the 4-1 start by dropping three consecutive games. Despite two of those losses coming on the road, losing to the Charlotte Bobcats for the first time in franchise history was the breaking point that quickly sent the Mavs into a mini-tailspin.
The downward spiral continued Monday, with a hot but undermanned Minny team rolling into town Monday and dropping Dallas to 4-4 by handing the Mavs a 90-82 loss.
"I think we're not as good as we seemed earlier and we're not as bad as we seem now,'' Elton Brand said, philosophically.
During that Charlotte game in particular, the young, Nowitzki-less, Marion-less Mavs made far too many mistakes down the stretch, which led to them coughing up a more-than-winnable game. Over the course of the last few years, starting with the acquisition of Jason Kidd in 2008, the Mavericks have prided themselves on finishing close games in a smart way and not beating themselves when it mattered most.
In Charlotte, Kidd wasn’t there and mistakes were.
On Monday, Dallas was still missing its stars. But the replacements missed their chance to hit on all cylinders, too.
Darren Collison, Kidd’s replacement at point guard, took the blame for a loss on Friday in New York as he shot 1-of-8. He was the biggest culprit in the final minutes at Charlotte on Saturday, making multiple mistakes on the break, missing easy layups early in the shot clock, and committing costly turnovers.
And it happened again Monday, Collison, 25, boldly stepping into the leadership role demanded by the PG position ... and then failing to seal the deal in crunch time.
This loss to Minny (5-2) isn't just about DC and it isn't just about the closing moments, when he missed a handful of chances to make it a game. The Timberwolves were better than the Mavs from start to finish, even as they were playing without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio and a host of their own name players.
But it starts at point guard. And it's not working right now.
Collison has advantages over Kidd in so many ways it gets tough to keep count sometimes. He’s quicker, faster, can score easier, guard quicker point guards, and so on. In the final minutes, he got to the rim with an ease Kidd cannot match. He went skyward for a dunk and missed. (At 6-1, should've just laid it in.) Then he drove inside for a layup but it spun out. Finally, he caught a pass inside and patiently waited for a defender to foul him as he made the acrobatic layin ... but DC's body language immediately after the
"It's how you win and how you lose sometimes,'' Collison said. "And I don't think we're satisfied with our effort."
With all the quick-start positives, we knew the Basketball-Jedi mind of Jason Kidd would be something that the Mavericks will miss at times over the course of the season. The return of veterans will hopefully help with that, but until then the games must go on with the roster as currently constructed.
"A game like tonight it feels like you're a zillion miles from being a good team, but we're not as far away as it feels," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle insisted, though he himself was far away from the bench in the second half after earning an ejection.
Still, nothing can truly be judged with this team until Shawn Marion and Dirk Nowitzki come back from their injuries and fall back into their customary roles. Specifically with Collison and OJ Mayo, there have been some roller-coaster moments, some significant peaks accompanied with a fair share of valleys. Regardless, almost all of their performances are meaningless until the Mavericks are at full strength and the newcomers show they can successfully and efficiently play alongside Nowitzki. This is one of the primary reasons why finding out Nowitzki would miss significant time was such bad news, obviously behind missing the actual production the Big German provides.
Until then, Dallas might be saddled with the rebounding issues that were once again a problem Monday. Minnesota had a 49-35 rebounding edge, with Wright and Crowder starting and combining for zero. "Rebounding and allowing dribble penetration,'' Carlisle said, pinpointing a pair of problem areas.
OJ Mayo has been absolutely torrid from behind the arc, shooting at a 61-percent clip so far this season. That’s fantastic for the Mavs, but worthless if he can’t keep his shooting rhythm and efficiency up after getting fewer shots upon Nowitzki’s return. And worthless, too, if overall he shoots just 7-of-18, as he did here, for an inefficient 18 points.
Darren Collison is averaging 14 points a game on 51-percent shooting and scored a team-high 21 here. • Darren went 11-for-12 at the line, posting new career highs for free throws made and attempted. He led Dallas in scoring for the third time this season (he scored a team-high 17 points in each of Dallas’ first two games). But his true value will come from being a consistent weapon while playing off of Nowitzki in the two-man game. He’ll have to adjust his game to fit that mold in the heat of the regular season. ... and as detailed above, he'll have to make a layup when it counts, too.
And hey, even if you want to celebrate the scoring prowess of the backcourt ... the Mavs just reached a season-low with 82 points. So how much overall prowess is there right now?
Yet overall, he only thing that can really be measured by watching these Mavs is the win-loss record -- which here meant a first home loss -- while waiting for their big time players to return. Until then, the hope is that Mayo keeps making shots and that Collison continues to get it figured out ... and then that they improve on what they are doing once Dirk returns.
Until then, the roller-coaster ride figures to continue.