DALLAS -- At some point, the offseason upgrades made by the Mavericks have to pay off during crunch time, right?
Almost a quarter of the way into the season, the Mavs are a bigger mess in late and close situations than they were during their miserably mediocre 2012-13 campaign.
The sample sizes for this edition of the Mavs are still small, but Dallas’ offensive ratings (points per 100 possessions) are significantly lower than last season in all the clutch timeframes tracked by the NBA’s stats database.
The later close games get, the uglier the numbers are for the Mavs. They’re shooting 35.7 percent (10 of 28) from the floor in the final three minutes when the score is within five points. The field goal percentage plummets to 18.2 (2 of 11) in the final minute with the score within five. It’s a big, fat zero in the final 30 seconds when the score is within three (0-for-6), including 0-for-3 in the final 10 seconds.
For comparison’s sake, the Mavs’ shooting percentages in those situations last season: 40.8, 45.0, 41.7 and 38.0.
The good news is the Mavs’ crunch-time defense has drastically improved since last season, but they’ve got to get the clutch offensive kinks worked out to give themselves a good chance to make the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference.
“We’ve just got to get better and attack a little better and go from there,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who has earned a reputation for being one of the elite closers of his generations but is 0-of-3 on clutch shots in the last 30 seconds of games this season. “This league always comes down to making big shots.”
What’s gone wrong in crunch time for a team that was confident that boosting its basketball IQ this offseason would address the issue?
Well, it certainly didn’t help having point guard Jose Calderon go down with a bone bruise in his right ankle Friday night in Atlanta. The Mavs coughed and sputtered down the stretch in that one-point loss, but the problem existed before Calderon’s injury.
Fatigue could be a factor. The Mavs don’t have a busier month on the schedule than November.
Perhaps it’s to be expected for a roster with several key newcomers, including both starting guards, to experience some crunch-time growing pains. And luck hasn't been on their side.
“We understand what to do,” said Vince Carter, whose only clutch shot attempt this season was a 22-foot brick at the buzzer in Atlanta. “We just have to remain consistent and remain confident in what we do. Consistency is the biggest thing right now -- just making the right play, making the right reads. Make it happen.”
Ideally, the Mavs can make it happen with their bread-and-butter play featuring their two best players: the Monta Ellis/Nowitzki high pick-and-roll. Both of the Mavs’ final-minute clutch buckets came off that play: a Nowitzki jumper over a guard in Denver and a Shawn Marion corner 3 off an Ellis drive and dish against the Houston Rockets.
Of course, it’s no secret to opponents that the Mavs want to run that set. They've been able to shut down Ellis as a scorer. He's 2-of-12 in the final five minutes of close games, including 0-of-9 in the last three minutes.
“Teams are doing a lot of switching then,” Nowitzki said. “We’ve just got to find ways to attack it better. Sometimes I’ve got to post or go to the high post and iso. Sometimes Monta has got to take it. Sometimes Vince has got to get the ball and make some stuff happen. When teams are switching, that obviously eliminates all the rotations and stuff. We’ve just got to be better attacking it.”
At this point, the Mavs can only get better in the clutch.