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Chandler Parsons still sitting a lot in crunch time

DALLAS – A month after his minutes restriction was lifted, Chandler Parsons still spends a lot of crunch time as a spectator.

Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle has often opted to play Raymond Felton down the stretch of close games instead of Parsons, whose three-year, $46 million deal makes him the team’s second highest-paid player.

Carlisle made it clear that the decision to play Parsons or Felton down the stretch will continue to be a game-by-game call as Parsons progresses in his comeback from hybrid microfracture surgery on his right knee.

“We don’t have any set finishing lineup, and I think it’s unfair to say Parsons is definitely a closer when he’s not really 100 percent there yet,” Carlisle said.

Parsons watched a lot of crunch time during Monday’s victory over the Boston Celtics despite playing well in the game. He sat down the stretch of regulation aside from some brief defensive substitutions and only got the call in overtime after Felton suffered a minor injury while committing a critical foul with 6.7 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

“I get paid to play basketball,” said Parsons, who finished with 16 points in the game, including a 3-pointer on the first possession of overtime. “Coach gets paid to make decisions and make substitutions. Whenever my number is called, I’ve got to be ready to play. I don’t really worry about things that are out of my control. I just try to do whatever it takes to help our team win games.”

However, it’s certainly no secret that Parsons would prefer to be on the floor to finish close games. He has openly talked about craving the opportunity to have the ball in his hands with the game on the line.

“Of course, I want to be out there. I want to play,” Parsons said. “It’s the most exciting part of the game, the most important part of the game. Nothing’s unconditional. I’m not saying every game I deserve to be out there at the end of the game, but obviously as a competitor and a player, you want to be out there and you want to play when it matters in crunch time.”

It’s not as if the Mavs are experiencing any sort of crunch-time crisis. On the contrary, they’ve been one of the league’s elite crunch-time teams this season, leading the NBA in clutch plus-minus (plus-61 in 119 minutes) and ranking third in clutch net rating (plus-22.3), with Dirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams as efficient co-closers.

A statistical case can also be made that Felton with the other four starters has been the Mavs’ best lineup this season. That group has the best plus-minus of the team’s five-man lineups by a significant margin at plus-83 in 245 minutes. By comparison, the starting lineup with Parsons is plus-24 in 215 minutes.

Of course, the plus-minus with Parsons is skewed by his early-season struggles, which were expected after a six-month layoff following major surgery and with such a strict minutes restriction. It’s much more relevant to look at the effectiveness of the starting lineup with Parsons since Dec. 18, when his minutes were finally pushed over 30 per game.

In that span, Parsons plus the other starters are plus-39 in 93 minutes. The Felton lineup is plus-8 in 56 minutes.

Parsons has had several games in which he looks like he’s returned to his old form, but he has yet to put together an extended stretch of consistent production. He acknowledges that he’s still working to regain his explosiveness. His numbers during that span: 11.4 points on 48.4 percent shooting, 4.9 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 31.3 minutes per game.

Parsons has played 19 clutch minutes during that time, posting unspectacular traditional stats (five points on 2-of-2 shooting, three rebounds and two assists) but an eye-popping plus-39. (The Mavs are plus-14 in Felton’s 20 clutch minutes during that span.)

“I see Parsons making continuous, steady progress. His shot-making is getting much better,” Carlisle said. “The strength in his legs in getting better and better each week. He’s working extremely hard, and he’s going to stay the course. I think coming out of All-Star break, he’s going to be more where he needs to be physically. And I know he’ll work hard during the All-Star break, too.”

Carlisle punctuated the thought with a couple of sarcastic coughs, perhaps meant to hint to Parsons not to enjoy his midseason beach vacation too much. The message: If Parsons wants to play in crunch time consistently, he’ll have to earn it.