Last I wrote about the Dallas Mavericks I was applauding their historic comeback against the lowly Minnestoa Timberwolves, and speculating that they may acquire a reputation for never quitting on a game. Alas, they may acquire that reputation, if only because they are constantly getting deep in the hole against their opponents and having to mount 3rd and 4th quarter comebacks. This pattern held true against a Carmelo Anthony-less Denver last night, as the Mavs found themselves down by 17 at one point. Their comeback was frustrated by a bad call on Denver's last possession that put Denver ahead for good, a call that had Cuban storming onto the court at the end of the game to yell at Nuggets and refs alike, and had Nowitzki yanking the ball out of a refs hand so he could throw it across the court. But not all of that frustration can be attributed to a bad call. The Mavs are really struggling as of late without Josh Howard on the line-up and with their offense (with the exception of Dirk, who has taken his game up a notch) essentially evaporating for long stretches of games. The loss drops the Mavs to ninth in the Western Conference, 9.5 games out of a first and out of the playoffs at present. Denver though is presently in second at 6 games out of first, so obviously a good run would put the Mavs back in contention. Unfortuntely, the Mavs have struggled against quality opponents this season, and their next stretch doesn't bode well; of their next six games four are against solid teams, New Orleans tonight, Utah on Saturday, Detroit next Friday and Boston on the 25th, and those last two are on the road.
As I've already said, having seem the play for 2 1/2 months the Mavs appear to be a middling team that has a good chance of making the playoffs, but little chance of going anywhere after that. They consistently struggle against good teams, though they've managed to notch some impressive victories (on the road against Portland for example.) The Mavs are looking to address some concerns as the trade deadline approaches, but there's no trade looming that would change the character of this team. So the question remains...how long can this team remain essentially what it is, a team founded on Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd? Those questions, which began in earnest after the first-round loss to Golden State, are only becoming more frequent.