The defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks have started out 0-2.
An ugly 0-2. They have been blown out by the Heat and the Nuggets on their home court, losing by a combined 33 points (and it wasn’t really that close, garbage time runs have made it look better than it was).
What in the name of Mark Cuban is going on?
The problem is, it’s not just one thing. Both the offense and the defense have taken steps back so far this season. Big steps. At the heart of the issue is the team chemistry and selfless team play — the great offensive ball movement, the coordinated defense — have disappeared.
Dallas last season won because the whole was greater than the sum of their parts. Their chemistry made up for the lack of athleticism. This year so far they are just parts. Here is what Dirk Nowitzki told the Dallas Morning News.
“We look old and slow and out of shape — a bad combination,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who scored 20 points and sat out the entire fourth quarter for a second straight game, yet another indication of how bad things are going. “I still think this team has a lot of potential. But we have to turn the corner.”
That should come with time — Lamar Odom just looks lost right now trying to find his way, but he will find his spots. Eventually. It’s just that in a condensed season the Mavs have less time to make this all happen.
And there are a lot of areas that need work.
Transition defense is at the top of the list. Both Denver and the Heat ran against Mavericks embarrassed the Mavs. To be kind. Both the Heat and Nuggets created mismatches in transition and exploited them mercilessly. Dallas started out focused on it against Denver but those plans wilted as they game wore on.
More than just transition, it was things like baseline drives that Dallas used to shut off (thank you Tyson Chandler) which they are giving up now in bunches.
On offense the Mavs have scored 16 points fewer per 100 possessions compared to last year, and they are playing at a faster pace through two games, exacerbating the problem. They are not getting good looks through ball movement, they are looking more isolated and their shots more contested.
The problem is they are a jump shooting team and those misses are long rebounds and the Heat and Nuggets turned those misses into fast beaks, and we talked about the lack of transition defense.
Coach Rick Carlisle is looking for solutions. He is starting Delonte West over Vince Carter (mostly for the defense). He gave Sean Williams run and he looked good, providing them the athleticism the Mavericks need.
But the real solution is time. The core of the Dallas team that won the title and had been together for years has been broken up in the name of cap space and there is a new learning curve. Eventually Dallas will get back close to what they were. But the bumps in the road are painful.
The real concern is that in this condensed schedule, the hole they are digging at the start of the season is going to hurt them more later.