Commentary

Mavericks not built for playoffs

Loss to Miami Heat shows which team's a contender, which isn't

Updated: February 19, 2014, 9:32 AM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

You saw the difference Tuesday night at American Airlines Center between a pretty good team that's going to make the playoffs, and a team such as the Miami Heat, who have championship aspirations.

In the process, you saw exactly why the Dallas Mavericks will be a nuisance to some higher seed in the playoffs, but why they're not built to make a long playoff run.

They don't play enough defense to be a legit contender -- and that's not changing anytime soon. Not with Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon playing more than 30 minutes a game.

[+] EnlargeDeJuan Blair
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsIt was as obvious to the Mavericks as it was to those watching them: Dallas is not built for a long playoff run.

Miami 117, Dallas 106.

Understand, the Mavs played as hard as they could against the Heat. They outrebounded the smaller Heat by 22 and made 10 more free throws.

And when Vince Carter converted a four-point play with 7:47 left in the fourth quarter, the throng of bandwagon Heat fans wearing their red-and-black jerseys and matching flat-bill caps were awfully quiet.

But the Heat did what all legitimate title contenders do at winning time: They turned up the defense and stopped the Mavs' offense.

First, Miami forced a couple of turnovers; then they harassed the Mavs into missing contested shots.

Carter missed a 24-footer. Brandan Wright missed from 10. Then Nowitzki missed from 12 feet, and Shawn Marion missed from nine feet. Wright missed from six feet and Ellis missed from 19.

Dallas made only 4 of 19 shots in the fourth quarter. See, the Mavs can't do that.

Oh, they can score with any team in the league, and Dirk provided a star performance with 22 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Four other players also scored in double figures.

But these Mavs can't stop anybody the way Miami shut down Dallas in the fourth quarter -- at least they can't do it consistently.

While the Mavs were missing shot after shot, LeBron James showed us why he's the best basketball player in the world -- and that's with all due respect to Kevin Durant.

James made consecutive 3-point baskets, threw down a vicious dunk, hit a couple of free throws, made a layup and assisted on a dunk during during a 16-1 run that gave Miami a 108-96 lead with 2:14 left.

James finished with a season-high 42 points after making 16 of 23 shots, including 4 of 8 3-point attempts. He also had nine rebounds and six assists.

Wow.

Miami shot 57.1 percent from the field. Nowitzki, Ellis and Calderon can play as hard as they want to, but they're average defensive players most nights.

When their concentration wanes and the rest of the team has mental lapses, then their deficiencies are magnified.

"We played extremely hard and our heart was in the right place all night," said coach Rick Carlisle, "We just had some untimely turnovers, some untimely misses and that really hurt us.

"They are a team that takes advantage of those and they make you pay an exponential price. That's what happened in the fourth quarter."

The Mavs remain eighth in the Western Conference and they should make the playoffs without too much stress.

Listening to owner Mark Cuban before the game, a trade for an impact player this week at the NBA trade deadline seems remote at best. The Mavs aren't interested in giving up draft picks and most teams aren't moving their stars.

Just so you know, the odds of Minnesota forward Kevin Love coming to Dallas in some sort of trade, a juicy Internet rumor Tuesday afternoon, seems beyond ludicrous.

Essentially, the Mavs team you've seen this season is the team you've got.

Still, there seems to be this notion that anything can happen once the playoffs begin. That's simply not true.

No team flukes its way to winning a best-of-seven series. The Mavs are certainly capable of winning one series, but two would be asking too much of this team.

And when people want to compare this Mavs team to the one that won a title, it's laughable.

That team won 57 games and finished third in the Western Conference. It had the fifth-best record in the NBA.

While most folks didn't think it would win a title when the playoffs started, that team was significantly better than this team. There's no shame in that.

This team isn't close to being a title contender. Miami proved that.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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