The Mavericks are gearing up for the final stretch run. The team is coming off a disappointing road trip that saw the team go 3-3. The disappointment comes from the way the trip ended, with three straight losses. Tonight the Mavs are home to face the red-hot Denver Nuggets. These last five games are going to tell a lot about how the Mavericks see themselves and their situation.
Most likely, these games will mean nothing in the standings. The Mavs can approach these games in a couple of different ways. First, they can play hard and attempt to build some positive momentum for the playoffs. This would imply that the team is a little uneasy about their recent performance and feel the need to get things headed in a positive direction. Surely no one who has watched the last six games could really argue with this approach.
I have to admit that I would not mind seeing a sense of urgency from the Mavs over the next five games. They have looked tired, disoriented, and the offense has been horrific. Turnovers, fouls, and missed shots do not add up to playoff victories or championships. Does the team see this as the problem or as a result of the real problem, fatigue?
Which leads us to the second approach the team can take during these final five games, and that is to use the next week as a time to rest players in order to get them ready for games that do matter. There is no question that this team is worn out from this last road trip. And key players such as Jason Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler, and Peja Stojakovic are dinged up and/or have been battling injuries. Chandler, who missed the game on Sunday with a back contusion, did practice yesterday and is hoping to return to action tonight. And they are not exactly spring chickens. If fatigue is at the root of the problem, then a chance to rest their legs and get a second wind may be just what this team needs to get back on track.
The team could opt for a third approach, which is a combination of the first two. Play the starters in limited minutes in order to get the offense back on track, find a rhythm, and get some positive mojo working before the games get really serious. But also rest them enough so that they are allowed get to be fresh and ready for the playoff grind.
I think we would all agree that to run these guys into the ground, making key players log heavy minutes is a recipe for another one-and-done season. Why not use this opportunity to allow players like DeShawn Stevenson, Brian Cardinal, Corey Brewer, and Ian Mahinmi get some serious minutes and get the rust off in case they are needed? Let Rodrique Beaubois gain some confidence, experience, and hopefully expedite the learning process over the next five games with some good minutes.
Their next opponent, the Denver Nuggets, who lost last night, should give the team a good test. They have been playing excellent basketball, playing great team defense, and moving the ball well. They did what the Mavs were unable to do and went into LA and defeated the Lakers. Arron Afflalo will not be suiting up for the Nuggets as they rest his knee. The “Birdman”, Chris Anderson is also listed as day-to-day and may not play.
Even with those guys on the bench, this is a team that is peaking at the right time and should give the Mavs another opportunity to see how they stack up against one of the best in the West. But how will the coach Rick Carlisle approach it? How is he going to try to get this team out of their funk, by resting guys or by having them play their way out of it? Whichever approach he takes will give us a glimpse into the psyche of this team.