INDIANAPOLIS — These Dallas Mavericks aren’t good enough right now to do any damage in the playoffs, if they manage to punch their tickets.
For proof, just look at their lack of success against teams with winning records. They’ve won only two of 10 such games after Wednesday’s 107-81 spanking by the Indiana Pacers.
No team with a winning record right now has fared worse against their .500-plus peers. And only one team with a winning record (the Orlando Magic) has played fewer games against .500-plus foes.
Almost a third of the way through the season, the Mavs haven’t earned the right to be considered legitimate threats in the Western Conference. They are 14-12 overall, tied for fifth in the standings, but they fully understand there has been some fool’s gold in their solid start.
“We’ve got to play better against better competition,” point guard Deron Williams said after an off shooting night (3-of-10), which gave him something in common with most of his teammates. “It’s good that we’re taking care of games against the teams we’re supposed to take care of, but if you want to be a playoff team, you’ve got to beat playoff teams. Our record against those teams is not very good, not very indicative of a playoff team.”
If you prefer a positive spin, you could say the Mavs have plenty of opportunities to prove themselves against quality competition on the horizon. Five of their next seven games are against teams with winning records, starting with Friday’s visit by the Memphis Grizzlies.
“The schedule is getting a lot harder now, so we’ve got to brace ourselves and we’re going to have to play a heck of a lot better and we’re going to have to stick together,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “Because it’s getting tougher now.”
Dallas had similar struggles against good teams early last season and made a drastic move to try to address it, pulling the trigger on a blockbuster trade for Rajon Rondo in mid-December.
Don’t hold your breath for the Mavs to make a similar deal this season. That’s not just because the Rondo trade was such a disaster and a harsh reminder of how hard it is to fit in key new cogs on the fly in the middle of the season.
The Mavs still owe the Boston Celtics a protected first-round pick to complete that trade, which means they can’t trade one now, severely limiting their ammunition if they try to be players in the market again. They have plenty of expiring contracts to dangle, but how much value do those have with the salary cap about to soar in the summer?
The Mavs’ best hope for a major midseason boost? Get their two highest-paid players back to 100 percent.
“We’ve got to get everybody healthy and playing well and playing well together,” Dirk Nowitzki said.
Wesley Matthews, who signed a four-year, $70 million max deal with the Mavs this summer while rehabbing from a ruptured Achilles tendon, has shown significant progress this month despite a poor performance against the Pacers. The Mavs need him to be a defensive stopper who knocks down 3-pointers on a consistent basis, the player he proved himself to be during his five-year stint in Portland.
There haven’t been as many flashes from Chandler Parsons, who is working his way back from hybrid microfracture surgery on his right knee in the second season of a three-year, $46 million deal. He’s still serving as a sixth man while his minutes limit steadily increases. The Mavs let Monta Ellis, who scored all 19 of his points against his former team in the second half Wednesday, leave in large part because they planned to feature Parsons in more of a playmaking role. They have to be able to rely on him as a scorer and creator to be anything better than first-round fodder.
The future of the Mavs’ franchise — for the rest of this season and beyond — depends heavily on Parsons and Matthews returning to form. The hope is that both are close to turning the corner after tough rehab processes.
“That’s been our plan all along,” Parsons said. “Keep Dirk healthy, keep D-Will healthy and continue to groom and rehab Wes and me until we get back to 100 percent. I wish we had a date, wish we had a deadline on that, but full strength I’ll take our team against anybody.”
In their current state, it wouldn’t be wise to wager on the Mavs to beat anyone with a winning record.