Monday, March 22, 2010
The Come Up: Search for a closer mentality
By Jeff "Skin" Wade
Monday means "The Come Up," and today we’re pondering closing time. Closing out tough games; closing out the season strong. The Mavericks are in a position to set up for a long playoff run as they close in on the playoffs, but there are some questions as to how close they are to being good closers. And it a go a 'lil summin' like this:
The Mavs' league-best winning percentage in games decided by five points or fewer (9-2, .818) didn't take a hit. But that's only because Boston was so dominant down the stretch.
The Mavericks couldn’t get the stops down that aforementioned stretch against the Celtics. Combine that with an out-of-character inability to get big late buckets, and you have a potential nail-biter that lost steam in a rather inglorious fashion. Dallas played great defense in the first half, holding the C’s to 39.5 percent shooting during the first 24. Boston ended the night shooting 52 percent from the field, including 59 percent in the fourth quarter. The fact that the Chicago victory on Wednesday night played out in virtually the same manner defensively is certainly cause for alarm. It was a breakdown at the point of attack in both fourth quarters. Acie Law did his damage against JJ Barea on Wednesday. And during crunch time Saturday night, Rajon Rondo got to where he wanted whether it was Jason Terry or Jason Kidd defending him.
It brings up some tough rotation questions. During crucial late fourth quarter minutes, coach Rick Carlisle went with JET and J-Kidd in the backcourt as Caron Butler, struggling through a difficult shooting night, sat on the bench. When they needed offense, he came back with Butler, JET stayed and Shawn Marion, arguably the Mavericks’ best individual defender, headed to the pine. On most nights that’s probably a fine decision, but JET seemed out of rhythm late (partially because of great Boston D) and Butler took an ill-advised tightly contested 24-footer -- that wasn't particularly close -- with 37 seconds to go down six. The Mavericks didn't have it when it mattered most on either end of the floor.
Coming off a week in which the Mavericks were afforded actual practice time, you wouldn’t expect them to be this out of sync. Maybe we’re over-microscoping it here, especially considering how good Boston has been on the road this year. But a 13-game winning streak raises your expectation level, and we definitely expected better when it mattered most. The Mavs have to be better closers -- especially when it comes to getting those precious stops.
Closing out the schedule
Truth be told, if Dallas doesn’t win three of its next four games, it’ll be more than disappointing. I give them a break on sweeping the next four before they host Denver on the 29th because a road game at Portland is tough. I’m watching the peaking Blazers give a peaking Phoenix squad all they want as I type this.
There is no room for missteps from this point out. Aside from that Denver game, the Mavericks also have three extremely difficult home bouts against Orlando, OKC and the season-finale against Los Spurs. If they don’t bring that closer mentality approach that they need in the fourth quarter to their overall schedule, dreams of being a No. 2 seed could quickly be replaced by life as a 5.