SAN ANTONIO – J.J. Barea, the overseer of the Mavericks’ locker room, has been through virtually everything in 14 NBA seasons and probably will go through it again someday as a coach.
The veteran point guard could only shake his head after Sunday’s 112-109 loss to Indiana, when the Mavericks missed their last 10 shots from the field and were outscored 9-1 in the final 4:39 and 8-0 in the last 3:13.
“You can’t do that in this league,” Barea said.
Not if you want to win games. Not if you want to be playoff-ready for the grit-and-grind postseason that will begin next month.
The Mavericks continue to have difficulty with their execution in late-game situations. They have not been good when it comes to closing out winnable games, going 13-20 in clutch games.
Every other playoff team in the Western Conference has a winning record in what the NBA determines to be “clutch” games, that is, games that are within five points at some point during the final five minutes.
Even Memphis, which is the No. 8 seed in the West and the only playoff team in the conference at .500 (32-32), is 13-11 in clutch games.
And the Mavericks are 13-20?
That’s tied with New York. Yes, New York. That’s behind Sacramento, Orlando, Cleveland, Washington and Brooklyn.
That is not a club that you want to be part of.
You can point to having youthful players as their heavy lifters. And they are shy on playoff-level experience.
However, coach Rick Carlisle knows better than anybody about the problems in pressure situations late in games. And he correctly identified the real culprit.
“When you struggle during a stretch at the end of a game, you can come up with a lot of reasons and excuses,” Carlisle said. “But I just don’t think we can do that. I think we have to own it, and look at it objectively to see what we can do better. Then we simply have to do better.”
The bad news is that the Mavericks tend to get worse the closer the game is. They are 3-13 in games that have a one-point differential in the final minute of the game.
By contrast, Oklahoma City is 15-5 in games that get within one point inside the final minute. The Thunder have played the second-most such games and won the most. No other team has won more than 11.
The Thunder are one of the teams directly in front of the Mavericks that they will have to run down if they hope to rise from the No. 7 playoff seed they presently occupy.
It’s easy to point to the Mavericks’ defense as the main problem in pressure situations. But that’s not necessarily true. When they don’t reach 110 points, they are 7-17 this season, compared to 23-2 when they reach 120 or more.
Those are perhaps obvious indicators. It stands to reason that you’re going to have a better chance to win the more points that you score.
But their problems in crunch time have to be solved. They still have 17 games left in the regular season to figure things out, which is plenty of time to do so.
“We got some decent looks,” said Kristaps Porzingis about the 0-for-10 finish against Indiana. “At the end, that was a tough (couple of looks) for Luka (Doncic). But other than that, we had some open corner threes. It’s like that sometimes, you just don’t make shots.
“It came down to those shots and those situations but there are so many things that could have went better during the game, so many things I could have done better. I feel like if I have just a little bit of a better game, the result would have been different.”
Porzingis was hard on himself for going 3-for-17 from the field. But after the monster runs he’s had lately, he an be excused for one clunker.