Tag:Jose Barea
Posted on: May 29, 2011 6:30 pm
Edited on: May 29, 2011 11:38 pm

Dallas Mavericks: NBA Finals nightmare scenario

Posted by Royce Young

The Mavericks have made their living this postseason on two things, three I guess if you count Dirk: 1) really good, creative defense and 2) consistent shooting. One of those two things can stay a constant no matter what. But another can sometimes come and go.

And if the Mavs gifted touch were to leave them, their chances at a championship likely will too.

Unlike the Heat, the Mavs don't have the ability to really grind out wins. That's why the Western Conference Finals were pretty much the exact opposite of the Eastern Finals. The Mavs won with some timely offense, a pretty consistent defense and incredible shot-making in big moments.

Another thing? They made darn near every free throw they took. In their extremely tight five-game win over the Thunder, the Mavs made 134 of 153 free throws. That's almost 88 percent as a team. Now historically, the Mavs are one of the best free throw shooting teams every season. But if that were to disappear for a game and they missed eight or nine, it could be the difference between winning and losing.

The Heat play more of an attacking, brutal brand of basketball. The Mavs play a bit more finesse, using the mid-range jumpshot and a lot of drive and kick to open up looks. Miami's plan is a bit more reliable because in playoff style games, especially when you play the same team over and over, the grind out type of game beats the jumpshooting style most times.

That is, unless the jumpshooting stays good. Which so far in the postseason for the Mavericks it has. Opening round against the Blazers, Dallas shot the ball well. Against the Lakers, everyone expected them to cool at some point. They didn't. And against the Thunder -- a solid defensive team that closes on shooters well -- the Mavs stayed above 40 percent in every game and still used the 3-pointer effectively.

Now the Heat though are one of the truly elite defense teams. Especially on the perimeter where Dwyane Wade and LeBron James can limit penetration almost all on their own because of their man-to-man skills. So it will be up to the Mavericks to hit contested shots consistently. In at least four games, that is.

Another worst case for the Mavs is the dreaded "O" word -- officiating. Not because of what happened in 2006 necessarily, but in a game where one team attacks the rim hard and the other doesn't quite as much, a group of referees can sometimes take over a game.

Dirk has gotten the benefit of the whistle most of this postseason, taking 24 free throws in Game 1 versus the Thunder. But if points become very difficult to find in the last six minutes of a game and the Heat are attacking the paint, the whistle could turn against Dallas. I'm not saying that will happen, but in terms of worst-case, a Maverick nightmare definitely included an official awarding free throws possession after possession to Wade and LeBron un crunch time.

In that same vein, Tyson Chandler could prove to be the most important player in the series. He can protect the rim, seal off the paint and keep Wade and LeBron from driving at the iron non-stop. But if the game is touchy and he finds himself in foul trouble, the world could open up for the Heat. So if you're following me here, worst-case, the way a game is called could affect how the Mavs play.

The Heat are the favorites in this series. Most look at their talent and the fact that all the apparent weaknesses they had during the regular season -- depth, role players, execution -- aren't having nearly the same affect right now. So far, the Heat have disposed of every opponent in five games. And if things go bad for the Mavs, the same fate could be headed at them. Shoot the ball poorly, go cold, give away points or get in foul trouble and Dirk and company might be coming back empty handed from The Finals again.
Posted on: May 28, 2011 11:42 am

LeBron, Dirk still dwell on NBA Finals losses

LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki still dwell on their NBA Finals losses. Posted by Ben Golliver.


The 2011 NBA Finals features a match-up between arguably the two best players in the NBA yet to win a title: Miami Heat forward LeBron James and Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki.

While neither has won a ring, both have had a chance before. In his second NBA season, James, just 22 years old, led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the 2007 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, where he was promptly swept out. The previous year was Nowitzki's title shot: The Mavericks lost in six games in the 2006 NBA Finals to the Heat, then led by Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal.

Memories of coming up short on the big stage all those years ago still haunt both players.

The Associated Press reportsthat James regularly watches tape of the 2007 sweep to motivate himself.
“I think about it all the time,” James said of that 2007 series. “I even go back and watch some of those games and see how I wasn’t that good of a player, especially on both ends of the floor. You just try to use those moments. I feel like there’s no way I should be out on the floor and the team that I’m on can’t win a game in a series. I use that as motivation. … I’ve got a lot of motivation.”
Hoopsworld.com -- citing a Dan Patrick Show interview -- writes that Nowitzki says he has taken the opposite approach, refusing to watch the tape. But he still remembers every detail of the loss vividly.
"Honestly, I've never went back to watch those games," Nowitzki admitted. "I think I would just be so sick to my stomach so I decided shortly after to never watch those games, but I still have a lot on my memory. Trust me. Game 5 down the stretch, we go up by one. Then, they get two free throws to win it and I kick the ball. I mean, all sorts of stuff is still on my mind. Five years ago seems like a long time, but some of the stuff is still fresh on my mind."
The differing approaches to the film study makes sense. James and the Cavaliers simply weren't ready yet and they got taken apart in surgical fashion. When James watches the tape, he likely sees a younger version of himself making all sorts of mistakes he wouldn't make now. For Nowitzki, the Mavericks and their fanbase, the tapes from the 2006 Finals are far more tortuous, as many still believe the officiating played a key role in determining who won that series. Nowitzki doesn't have the luxury of watching an unfinished version of himself losing to a clearly better team. There's no question Nowitzki is a stronger, better all-around player today than he was five years ago. But if he were to watch the 2006 tapes he would still be watching a very similar, already mature version of himself collapsing in four games straight.

To boil it down: James isn't really in a position to regret what happened in 2007. Nowitzki certainly is in that position with regard to 2006. That both get a chance to put their past failures behind him and redefine their historical NBA identity is probably the single best reason to watch the 2011 NBA Finals.
Posted on: May 27, 2011 7:52 pm

LeBron James is Vegas favorite to win Finals MVP

Miami Heat forward LeBron James is Las Vegas' favorite to win MVP of the NBA Finals. Posted by Ben Golliver. lebron-james

No surprise here: Miami Heat forward LeBron James is the odds-on favorite to win the 2011 NBA Finals MVP award. (Mandatory disclaimer: the following is for entertainment purposes only.) 

The Dallas Mavericks and Miami are set to start the NBA Finals on Tuesday night in Florida. Here is the full list of odds via Bodog.com for the award, which is formally known as the Bill Russell Trophy.  
Odds to Win the 2011 NBA Finals MVP (The Bill Russell Trophy)
LeBron James 5/4
Dirk Nowitzki 2/1
Dwyane Wade 7/2
Chris Bosh 11/2
Jason Kidd 10/1
Jason Terry 10/1
Field (Any Other Player) 7/1
James enters the NBA Finals with every reason to be the favorite. His team is favored to win the series. He was a force of nature on both ends of the floor against the Chicago Bulls. Perhaps most importantly, he was clutch: nailing huge three-pointers on offense and making Derrick Rose's life miserable on defense.

And, of course, his playoff stats have been monstrous: 26.0 points, 8.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists, plus 1.5 blocks and 1.7 steals to boot. 

James, then, looks like the total package for this pick, which is almost always given to the player with the best numbers and/or biggest impact on the title winning team. 

In case you were wondering, Vegas set odds on James' regular season stats prior to the season. Here's how he performed compared to projections.
Points Per Game Over/Under: 23.0 PPG -- (James was over: 26.7)
Rebounds Per Game Over/Under: 7.5 RPG -- (This was a push: James finished with 7.5)
Assists Per Game Over/Under: 7.7 APG -- (James was under: 7.0)
While Dirk Nowitzki is almost a lock to win the Finals MVP should the Dallas Mavericks spring the upset, Heat guard Dwyane Wade represents a fairly good value pick at 7/2. Wade did look a bit limited -- perhaps by injury? -- against the Bulls so there's a risk factor there. He certainly has a huge match-up advantage, however, as neither DeShawn Stevenson nor Jason Terry figures to be able to meaningfully impact his ability to score in volume.
Posted on: May 27, 2011 3:22 am
Edited on: May 27, 2011 6:12 am

NBA Finals Storylines: It Ain't 2006

Posted by Matt Moore

You're going to have the year 2006 emblazoned into your brain over the next five to 10 days if you pay attention to NBA coverage at all. It's going to dominate the talk since these two teams, the Heat and the Mavericks, met five years ago for the title. Everything will be examined in the same context and talk of the officials will be prime in Dallas, and talk of Wade's brilliance will be brought up in Miami, along with Udonis Haslem and his defense on Dirk Nowitzki. Let me stop you there.

The coaches are different. The rosters are different. The identities are different. The styles are different. The approaches are different. Everything is different. If you think that series defines Dirk's career or ability to succeed in the clutch, you just crawled out from under a rock. If you think Wade's still able to draw contact like he did in that series you're bonkers. If you think anything compares to the effect LeBron James can have on this series, you're out of your gourd.

This is not 2006.

This is 2011, and here are your NBA Finals storylines. 

Can Dallas' defense step up? 

The Mavericks gave up a 106.1 defensive efficiency in the playoffs this season through the Western Conference finals. That's seventh-best of all the teams in the league. Sure, they had more games to try and suffer through. But the reality is that the Mavericks for long stretches of the Western Conference Playoffs couldn't get stops. They found ways down the stretch to cut off the Thunder but it won't be nearly as easy against the Heat. We know the Heat's defense is legit. We know Miami's offense is legit. We know the Mavericks' offense is legit. But with so many size issues for the Mavericks, we're going to have questions about how they guard the Heat. Once again the absence of Caron Butler is extremely damaging for Dallas. The Mavericks will wind up with one of the following guarding Dwyane Wade: Jason Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson, Peja Stojakovic, Jose Barea, or Corey Brewer. That does not bode well. Even more concerning is Shawn Marion, as well as he played against Kevin Durant, guarding LeBron James.  No one can guard those players. But the Mavericks are especially ill-equipped to stop them. If the Mavericks' were ever going to whip out a zone, now might be the time. 

Will point guard play finally hurt the Heat?

Jrue Holiday did it a bit, but it didn't matter. Rajon Rondo was ... er ... not the same. Derrick Rose was shut down due to the offensive weapons surrounding him, or lack thereof, allowing James and Wade to freelance on him with an additional help defender on the double. But the Heat are facing a different beast in Jason Kidd. Kidd's not young, athletic (anymore, comparatively, though he can still get up and down the floor and has a decent amount of muscle). He's not going to try and torch the Heat on drives. He's just going to make the right play. Kidd will try and outsmart the Heat's athleticism and ability with savvy. He'll make passes they don't anticipate and aren't used to, slip between defenders only to beat their reactions defensively and make the right pass. Throw in Kidd's surprising recent ability to hit open 3-pointers and the Heat might be surprised at the old veteran working his Magic

Mavericks on the verge of validation

Dirk Nowitkzi is one of the best players of the past 10 years and he has no rings. Jason Kidd is a surefire Hall of Famer and doesn't have a ring. Jason Terrry has been a fourth-quarter maestro for the same franchise for the same length of time as Nowitzki, no ring. Mark Cuban has sunk more than $800 million into trying to earn a championship, no ring. Rick Carlisle led successful teams in Indiana and Detroit, no ring. This series is their best shot and in all likelihood, their last chance. This is everything for the Mavericks. The Heat have years to make another run. For the Mavericks, this is their absolute best chance at a title, to catch the Heat confident and still trying to figure themselves out. This isn't just an exciting shot at a title, it's about salvaging legacies and cementing greatness. 

The promise of 'The Decision'

They're there. They have to win four games and they will have backed it all up. All the talk, all the pomp, all the circumstance, all the pyro. The Heat will have lived up to their hype. The only way to shut up critics is to win it all. Miami's not just within sight of it, they're on the doorstep. They just beat the defending Eastern Conference champs and the top seed in the East featuring the best defensive team in the league. Yes, everyone will still regard James as arrogant, and question the value of teaming up with other elite teammates. But the narrative will start to shift if they win the title. James becomes a winner, Wade a two-time champ, and Erik Spoelstra a championship coach. Lose, and everyone's harshest criticism rings true.  Everything changes in four more games, either way. 

Posted on: May 27, 2011 1:47 am
Edited on: May 27, 2011 2:11 am

NBA Finals: Heat, Mavs make a battle of closers

Finals will feature battle of great closers in Heat, Mavericks.

Posted by Matt Moore

You want a story for  the Finals? How's this. 

"No lead is safe."

The 2011 NBA Finals will feature two teams riding some of the strongest fourth quarter and final minutes play in recent history, maybe ever. Both teams absolutely crushed their opponents in the final minutes of the Conference Finals. You can talk about the inexperience they faced to get to the Finals, but the reality is that both teams crushed their opponents with long runs to close out big deficits and crush their opponent... multiple times.

The Finals set up an epic battle of notable clutch players. Dirk Nowitzki is on a roll of epic proportions at the moment, absolutely unstoppable with a seven foot frame and the single best jumper in the NBA. Jason Terry has been known to absolutely take over fourth quarters with huge shots. Jason Kidd won't wow you with 3-pointers (well, except you, Thunder, sorry), but he will always, always, always make the right decision and as Derrick Rose showed in the East. That's big. And Shawn Marion's clutch play has been quietly the defensive counterpart to Dirk Nowitzki. For the Heat? James, all day. LeBron has been another creature all-together in the fouth quarter of these playoffs. He hasn't just closed out, he's decided games are over and then made it so. Dwyane Wade had terrible quarters 1-3 in Games 4 and 5, and yet closed out the fourth and overtimes to make the difference. Even Chris Bosh has been clutch. 

There's not a player on either team you're concerned about in the key moments right now. Not one that will get the ball anyway. Defensively, Miami's got the edge, but the Thunder didn't fall apart on their own. These are veteran teams with amazing players, primed to finish strong.

These Finals may not be close. But if the game is within five after three quarters, heck, if it's within 20 after three quarters, neither team can feel safe. Each team will put the pedal down. For the Mavericks, it will be Dirk Nowitzki trying to overcome a much better set of defenders and the Mavericks using the inevitable doubles to find the open corner shooter. For the Heat? Just standing back and watching James and Wade do their thing. Can the Heat really stop Nowitkzi? Hard to see anyone playing better defense than Nick Collison did and Dirk made him look silly. Can anyone stop LeBron James right now?

No, really, can anyone, anywhere, stop LeBron James right now?

This isn't just the two best teams of the playoffs meeting to decide the title, it's the two teams who have shown consistently they want the game more, know how to win the game more, and have the will to close the game more.

And we get to see them settle which one of them wants a ring more.  
Posted on: May 27, 2011 12:09 am
Edited on: May 27, 2011 5:58 am

Mavericks-Heat 2011 NBA Finals Preview

An early preview of the NBA Finals matchup between the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat. Posted by Ben Golliver.


I. Intro: Western Conference Champions: No. 3 seed Dallas Mavericks (57-25) vs. Eastern Conference Champions: No. 2 seed Miami Heat (58-24)

II. How They Got Here: A look at the playoff track records

Dallas: 12-3 in the 2011 NBA playoffs (4-2 against the Portland Trail Blazers, 4-0 against the Los Angeles Lakers, 4-1 against the Oklahoma City Thunder). Dallas is 7-1 at home and 5-2 on the road in the playoffs.

Miami: 12-3 in the 2011 NBA playoffs (4-1 against the Philadelphia 76ers, 4-1 against the Boston Celtics, 4-1 against the Chicago Bulls). Miami is 8-0 at home and 4-3 on the road in the playoffs.

In the regular season, Dallas had the No. 8 offense and the No. 7 defense from an efficiency perspective. Miami had the No. 3 offense and the No. 5 defense. In the postseason, Dallas has the No. 1 offense and the No. 9 defense. Miami has the No. 4 offense and the No. 2 defense.

Both teams have played at a relatively slow pace in the postseason: Dallas is ranked No. 10 and Miami is ranked No. 13 out of 16 playoff teams.

III. What Happened: A look at the season series

The Mavericks and Heat matched up just twice in the regular season, with Dallas winning both times. The teams haven’t faced each other in almost five months, as the two games took place all the way back on Nov. 27 and Dec. 20. Dallas won 106-95 at home on Nov. 27 and they won 98-96 on the road on Dec. 20.

Of course, much has changed for both teams, but the regular season results are interesting for one main reason: The Heat went 22-2 from Nov. 26, 2010 until Jan. 9, 2011 ... the best stretch of their season by leaps and bounds. Both losses during that time period came at the hands of the Mavericks.

Keep in mind, Dallas had the services of small forward Caron Butler and Miami was without power forward Udonis Haslem. In all likelihood, that situation will be reversed for the Finals: Butler is expected to be out as he continues to rehab from knee surgery while Haslem has returned from foot surgery to provide a major spark for the Heat against the Bulls.

IV. Secret of the Series: Late-Game Execution

Nobody has finished games like Dallas and Miami in this playoffs. Not even close.

The main weapons have been Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James, but both teams have benefited from substantial defensive contributions from the likes of Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Throw in dagger shots from Jason Kidd and Wade, as well as meaningful role player contributions from Peja Stojakovic, J.J. Barea, Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller, and you start to understand why these two teams have stood up so well under pressure. They’ve got tons and tons of options.

Nowitzki has left longtime NBA observers speechless with his shot-making and play-making over the last month but James has matched him shot for shot, comeback for comeback. What might prove to be the difference is James’ lockdown defense late in games. Never before has he appeared to enjoy ball-hawking as much as he did against the Bulls. Derrick Rose, one of the league’s best shot creators, often looked absolutely hopeless in crunch time with James draped all over him. What’s more, he has seemed immune to pressure ever since a critical late-game turnover against the Celtics. James closed out Boston with a monster run, and he combined with Wade to do the same to the Bulls on Thursday night. If the Mavericks can find an answer for James in the game’s final minutes four times during the Finals, they will have more than earned their rings.

V. The Line-Item Veto: Who wins each match-up?

PG: The Miami Heat have dealt well with Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose so far in the playoffs, despite a middling point guard rotation featuring Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers. The defensive versatility of James and Wade helps a lot to cover up for those two. Jason Kidd, at 38 years old, has been one of many unsung heroes for the Mavericks, surviving Andre Miller, Derek Fisher and Russell Westbrook. Both sides will be thankful here. Miami will be glad they don’t need to worry about a paint-crashing young All-Star again while Dallas will take comfort in the same. Rather than worry about the Roses and Westbrooks of the world, Kidd can do what he does best: steady the ship, distribute the rock to the open man and force opportunistic turnovers. Kidd is averaging 9.9 points, 7.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 2.2 steals in the playoffs. Phenomenal numbers considering his age and the competition. Advantage: Mavericks. 

SG: Dwyane Wade or DeShawn Stevenson? Let’s not overthink this one. While Stevenson has been a nominal starter with reserve guard Jason Terry, an impact player on both ends, playing the bulk of the minutes, the Mavericks' combination falls far, far short of what Wade brings to the table. While the All-Star took a bit of a backseat in the scoring department in the Eastern Conference finals after torching the Boston Celtics, he’s a match-up nightmare for the Mavericks. Really, he’s what Kobe Bryant was supposed to be in the second round, if Bryant hadn’t decided to shoot only contested jumpers and never get to the rim or the free throw line. Wade’s been a menace on defense as well. He can cover tons of ground, which should help limit Dallas’ hot outside shooting. Huge advantage: Heat. 

SF: Like Kidd, Shawn Marion has been a major, chronically overlooked factor during Dallas’s playoff run. Marion put the stamp on the Western Conference finals, coming up with two huge late steals and a brilliant and-one dunk to push the Mavericks past the Thunder in Game 5. But even in his best days, which are behind him, Marion was no LeBron James, and, over the last month, we’ve realized just how impactful James can be. From being able to interchangeably cover three or four positions, to closing out games, to sacrificing his body for crucial hustle plays, James has been everywhere. His postseason averages: 25.9 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.4 points, 1.4 blocks and 1.6 steals (entering Thursday) are just ridiculous. Perhaps, best of all, despite playing almost 44 minutes a night and handling the ball a ton, he’s committing less than three turnovers a game. Marion will have his hands full. Really, really, really full. Huge Advantage: Heat. 

PF: Nowitzki has earned gushing praise. He has taken his scoring versatility, efficiency and creativity to new heights. The leaners have been great, a dagger three has been mixed in here and there, and his passing to keep teams honest has been exceptional. His effort level on the boards and on defense have both been superb. His postseason numbers -- 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists – reflect his dominance. In Heat forward Chris Bosh, though, he’s matched up with an athletic, talented player who is somewhat similar to Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge started the first round series with good success before the Mavericks adjusted and forced Portland’s perimeter players to beat them, which they couldn’t. Against the Heat, the Mavericks won’t have that luxury, so they’ll have to defend Bosh with single coverage a lot more often. That, plus the confidence and scoring touch Bosh showed against Chicago, will help Miami keep this match-up closer than you might expect. Still, it’s Dirk’s world and we’re all just living in it. Advantage: Mavericks.

C: Joel Anthony has been the man in the middle fill-in that Miami so desperately needed. Better than a stiff, his activity level helps keep Miami from getting overrun on the glass and his help defense dissuades forays into the paint. That’s about it for Anthony, which is OK from Miami’s standpoint given the offensive talent they always have on the court. Tyson Chandler, though, has proven to be an effective two-way player for the Mavericks. Not only has he been a pest getting into the heads of his opponents, he’s been huge on the glass, averaging 9.3 rebounds per game in the postseason. Foul trouble is always a lingering issue with Chandler, but his length and energy level, plus his ability to finish lob plays to prevent teams from overloading on Nowitzki, are all big plusses that tilt this match-up in his favor.  Advantage: Mavericks.

Bench: The Heat haves scaled things back to an eight-man rotation, using only Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem and Chalmers. Although Miller and Haslem haven’t really peaked in this playoffs, they’ve both made important contributions. Not much was expected after their respective injuries so it feels like an added bonus. If one of those three guys doesn’t get hot, Miami’s bench is really just buying time for its starters. Dallas, on the other hand, has enjoyed a big-time positive bench scoring differential throughout the playoffs. In addition to Terry, J.J. Barea has been a tempo-changing, gameplan-altering, pesky presence, Peja Stojakovic has provided the knockdown shooting and Brendan Haywood can give some fouls and pull down the occasional rebound. (He can also be counted on to get posterized.) The huge issue for Dallas’ bench will be its perimeter defense. Will the subs be able to get their full runs through the rotation? How long can they stay on the floor if James and Wade continue to play heavy, heavy minutes? Hard to say. But Dallas’ bench has been more consistent, more prolific and it does enjoy the depth advantage. Slight advantage: Mavericks.

Coach: As mentioned above, both teams enter the series having played very, very well at the end of games. Both teams have also survived against a variety of opponents, overcoming significant mental hurdles along the way. For the Heat, it was finally pushing past the Celtics. For the Mavericks, it was surviving a miracle comeback against the Blazers. Both teams have closed out series on the road. Both teams have played the “proving the doubters wrong” card during the course of the season and both have stayed true to their self-perceived identity, resisting criticism and believing in their fundamentals. Simply put: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle both deserve their share of the credit for those accomplishments. Advantage: Push.

VI. Conclusion

As dominant as the Mavericks have been in this postseason, they haven’t played a team that is as talented, focused and steady as the Heat. In the Blazers, Dallas was able to exploit a weak shooting team. Against the Lakers, Dallas made a disorganized and sloppy team pay. With the Thunder, Dallas forced Oklahoma City's younger players to crack under pressure.

Miami is well-rounded enough so that it resists straightforward tendency analysis. It’s fully motivated and focused as evidenced by its dismantling of the Celtics and Bulls in back-to-back series. And it’s proven to be very resilient in big moments, coming back to beat both Boston and Chicago in dramatic fashion.

While the Mavericks own positional advantage at three starting spots, and for the bench as a whole, they have no answer for James and Wade. This year, it’s starting to feel like no one in the NBA has an answer for that duo. Prediction: Heat in 6.

Posted on: April 6, 2011 6:18 pm
Edited on: April 6, 2011 11:31 pm

Dallas Mavericks: The behemoth's puzzle

Are the Mavericks lying in wait or stumbling to the finish? 
Posted by Matt Moore

The Dallas Mavericks are in-between worlds right now. Like all of the top teams in the league, they're patiently waiting for the playoffs, waiting for the real games to begin. Middle-March through middle-April is a war of attrition, and after losing Caron Butler to a ruptured patellar tendon, the Mavericks are in no condition to take on more casualties. 

But there is the other side of it. You want to hit your stride right now. And the Mavericks aren't there. They've gone .500 over their last 16 games, including a pair of losses to Portland, a pair of losses to the Lakers, and losses to the Spurs, Hornets, and Grizzlies, all of whom they could see in the playoffs at one point or another. It's beginning to feel eerily similar to the Mavericks team we've come to know year after year. Monsters of the regular season, wilt down the stretch, kicked out of the first or second round in stunning fashion. This after a start to the year that had many whispering about being Finals contenders. After all, the Lakers have not met Dirk Nowitzki and his Mavericks in the playoffs during their run with the current core, and if anyone can match Pau Gasol's production, it's the Big German Machine. But now they're the team Portland and New Orleans are aiming for, trying to join the Warriors and Spurs as teams in the past four years to eliminate the Mavericks in the first round. 

But there is one differential here. The Mavericks know where they need to improve. From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram
"We didn't shoot the ball well [the last three games] and so we spent some extra time today on shooting," Carlisle said. "Our first half against Portland was a setback. The rest of the trip I thought we played solidly on defense."

As the Mavs prepare for Wednesday's home game against Denver, they do so knowing that they have to pick up the pace on the offensive end of the floor.

"I think defensively it was actually a decent trip for us," Nowitzki said. "We've been sliding defensively here in the new year."
via Stretch run is no time to slow down | Mavericks/NBA | Sports News and Videos on the Dallas Co... .

Oddly enough, the Mavericks are playing Denver on Wednesday night for the right not to play them, in a way. A win would go a long way towards cementing Dallas as the No. 3 seed in the West. (Update: Mavs lose 104-96 to Denver, now are just a game above OKC for that No.3 seed.) But bigger than that is Dallas continuing to get their defense back in line. In the past 16 games, the Mavericks allowed 104 points per 100 possesions, which is significantly worse than their 10th ranked season defense in that category  (allowing 102.7).  What's most concerning, however, is the past four games of that road trip, which saw them give up an average of 108.3 points per 100 possessions, which is terrible on a whole other level. Yes, the Lakers game was an exception, but they also gave up over 115 per 100 possessions to the Blazers.  (Update: The Mavs gave up a 114 efficiency Wednesday night to the Nuggets.)  The Mavericks have to get back to more solid defense. 

More on the Mavs
How do they do that? Well, the easiest answer is to get Caron Butler back. But since he's out until at least the second round , the Mavericks will have to isolate their problems and find solutions. One significant issue is Jose Barea's role. Barea is a speedy, talented guard that plays his tail off every time he enters the game. He also has the worst defensive rating of any Maverick. And in March, with Shawn Marion battling injuries, The Mavericks were forced to play smaller. In April, Barea has played 25 minutes a game in both losses. The Mavericks need a better wing defender. What's particularly interesting is that the Mavericks' slide defensively coincides with increased time for Rodrigue Beaubois returning from injury. It'll be key to see how Rick Carlisle handles Beaubois in the playoffs.

Lost in the look at their record is the fact that Dallas dropped two back-to-back to Golden State and Portland at the end of a four game road trip. Which at the end of the season is a recipe for slogging off games. Our own Ben Golliver isn't concerned about Dallas , and he's right, this team still has the ability to buckle down and play elite ball in the Western Conference.  Dirk Nowitzki is still one of the best competitors in the game, Jason Kidd has played surprisingly well this season, they have center depth for the first time in years,  and when clicking, are one of the most dangerous teams in the league. 

But at some point they have to get into playoff gear. Wednesday night presents a fine opportunity to do so against the Nuggets. The Nuggets have the top offense in the land. The Mavericks need to find ways to exploit the talent advantages they have. Oklahoma City found out Tuesday night how stiff of a counter-punch the Nuggets can land. If the Mavericks don't right their defensive ship and get their heads together, they could be seeing a lost more of the Nuggets in the first round, an even scarier first-round prospect than Portland, Memphis, or New Orleans. Dallas knows what it needs to do. Getting there is another question. 

Deciphering whether the Mavericks are a contender getting their legs under them or an albatross crashing to the finish line is a puzzle that will be wrought between now and the end of their season. But uncertainty has seldom held the promise of success.
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