For the second-straight game, and ninth time in the last 12 contests, the Dallas Mavericks added another loss to their record Monday night. Except this one stung a bit more compared to the previous 34, because it was the one that dropped the team below .500 for the first time since mid-December. With a 34-35 record, Dallas is clinging on to the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference by just a half-game. And while the crowded nature of the West this season provides hope for teams like the Mavs and everyone else jumbled between the No. 5 and No. 12 spots in the conference, it feels like Dallas is the only team playing without any sense of urgency.
Following the loss to Memphis on Monday night, here's what head coach Jason Kidd had to say in response to being asked about when concern kicks in now that the team has a losing record:
"Once the season's over," Kidd said.
When told it may be too late by then to be concerned if the Mavericks miss the playoffs entirely, Kidd then gave a more in-depth response.
"Well that's true too, then there has to be concern (if the Mavericks miss the playoffs)," Kidd said. "Just understand, our health, this is what we have. This is the cards we're dealt just like anyone else in this league. We gotta play with the cards that we have...Just understand we're getting better, it's just a matter of can we be healthy in time to make a stretch run. And if we're not, that's just the season. No one's dying."
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That's not an incredibly inspiring response from a coach who just led his team to the Western Conference Finals a season ago. And while it's true, the Mavericks played both Memphis games without Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, they're far from the only team around the league dealing with key injuries right now. Using that as an excuse this late into the season doesn't hold a ton of weight when nearly every team around the league is missing guys.
Take a look at the teams jockeying for position just like the Mavericks and you'll see that the Lakers, playing without LeBron James, have gone 7-3 in their last 10 games. The Phoenix Suns, who are missing Kevin Durant after pulling off the blockbuster trade to land him, are currently sitting fourth in the Western Conference. The Timberwolves are up a game over the Mavericks despite being without Karl-Anthony Towns for a majority of this season, and hold the tiebreaker over Dallas. The Grizzlies played the Mavericks without Ja Morant and still managed to pull out back-to-back wins on Saturday and Monday.
Since the All-Star break, the Mavericks have mustered up a lowly 3-6 record, despite entering the post-All-Star break with the easiest remaining schedule in the league. Most of those games have come with both Doncic and Irving playing, so it's not as if the Mavericks have been without their two All-Stars for a significant amount of time. As I wrote last week about the Doncic-Irving experiment, it's created a highly potent offense and an abysmal defense which has resulted in a bunch of losses. So it's not as if those two returning is going to magically change everything when Dallas was struggling to pull out wins on a nightly basis with them in the backcourt.
With 13 games left on the Mavericks schedule, time is running out to "make a stretch run" as Kidd said. Because right now Dallas is closer to the No. 12 spot in the West than they are to the No. 6 spot, which is where a team ideally would want to be in order to avoid the play-in round. And if Dallas fails to reach even the play-in round, Kidd may not have to worry about the Mavericks at all after that, because he might need to be more concerned about his job security going forward.