The peaks and valleys of an 82-game season can have a team quickly go from elation to deflation. The Dallas Mavericks experienced that within a span of two games. Coming off an emotional win against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Mavericks delivered a dud against the short-handed Sacramento Kings.
The Mavericks were going to have to key in DeMarcus Cousins and also Isaiah Thomas. The quicker-than-a-hiccup point guard moved into the starting lineup as Greivis Vasquez was part of a seven-player trade with Toronto that brings Rudy Gay and others to Sacramento. Prior to the game against the Kings, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle praised Thomas.
“We respect the heck out of him,” Carlisle told reporters. “He’s pretty hard to deal with because he scores, he’s slippery, and he’s hard to double-team because he’s so quick. He finds people and makes plays. It’s going to be a 48-minute endeavor to try to keep him under control.”
The Mavericks might have respected the heck out of him, but they clearly couldn’t stop him. They couldn’t stop him or anyone on the Kings. They were blitzed by Thomas (24 points), Cousins (32 points) and Derrick Williams (career-high 31 points) at different times during the demoralizing loss to the now six-win Kings squad. Mavericks statistician Dave Keeney noted that the Dallas starters combined to have a minus-102 plus/minus. The Sacramento starters were a plus-136.
“I don’t think we took them lightly,” Carlisle told reporters after the loss. “They just outplayed us. It was just one of those nights where they made a lot more plays than we did.”
It was a tale of two totally different opponents for the Mavericks. In the victory against Portland, they faced a team that was mainly a jump-shooting team. LaMarcus Aldridge can be a factor in the paint, but he can be extremely lethal with his midrange jumpers. Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews is another weapon, but he struggled from the field as he went 2-of-10 and 0-of-4 from 3-point range. It was an off night for Portland as they went 9-of-30 from 3-point range and Dallas did just enough to secure a victory at the buzzer.
Led by a spark plug in Thomas, Dallas ran into a team in Sacramento that was aggressive and pushed the tempo. The Kings exposed the Mavericks as a team that will struggle on defense against clubs that are aggressive and that can penetrate into the lane.
Dallas also faced a team with a truly dominant presence in the paint. Once again, DeJuan Blair got the start at center, but he was quickly outmatched against Cousins. The Kings' enigmatic big man destroyed Blair, Samuel Dalembert and Bernard James. In another example of how things have gone off course for Dalembert, he ended up getting most of his minutes in garbage time. He was brought on board in order to be the guy who could stand up against the likes of Cousins. That certainly wasn’t the case as Sacramento's big man finished the game with 32 points, 19 rebounds, three assists and three steals. The center situation continues to be in flux for the Mavericks.
Mixing the poor play on the perimeter and the poor play in the post, you get a result like the one against the Kings. With the margin of error being razor thin for the Mavericks, they can’t afford to have any slippage in their defense and they can't afford to take nights off.
“We’ve got to play it whistle to whistle,” Carlisle continued. “We’ve got to play all 48 [minutes] hard.”
It’s a slippery slope for a team when it evaluates a game like the one against Sacramento. It’s almost a cop out to suggest there was an emotional letdown coming off the victory against Portland. The Mavericks were clearly flat against Sacramento, but the game shined a bright light on Dallas' clear problem on the defensive end of the floor.
They know who they can thrive against and they know who they will struggle against. They’ll have to figure out how to make the most of what they currently have on the defensive end of the floor. If their defensive disposition lacks, more deflation is in their future.