Mavs find silver lining in injury-riddled ’15-16 season

DALLAS — Falling to the No. 3-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in five games of a first-round playoff series while trying to play through injuries that depleted the roster all season long, the Dallas Mavericks still held their heads up high after putting up a valiant fight.

Suffering a 118-104 series-clinching loss Monday night in Game 5, the Mavericks (1-4) had their 2015-16 season come to an abrupt end after making the playoffs for a 15th time in the last 16 years. The Mavs also overcame injuries to several of their top contributors, playing with only 10 available players in the final outing of the series. And after falling to the Thunder’s star-studded lineup, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle praised his players for their effort and competitiveness during the series.

“We’re disappointed at the result, obviously, but I thought the effort from our team, from start to finish in this series, was second to none,” Carlisle confessed after Monday’s loss. “I couldn’t be prouder of the way our guys competed right up to the very last seconds of the final game. We were up against a great team with great coaching. And metaphorically, we emptied our chamber in five games. I don’t know what we would have thrown at them in Game 6. They just were simply better. We couldn’t solve the rebounding. Their two superstars were great in the series. I thought Dirk Nowitzki was just a fantastic player in this series for us. We had other guys step up, and we had a lot of guys playing hurt.

“That’s the kind of spirit we’ve got on this club. Mavs Nation is going to be extremely proud of this team. You know, getting (into the playoffs) would have seemed like a long shot with nine games to go, but they found a way. And I love the way we competed. I wish we would have had our full contingent of guys.”

Losing versatile forward Chandler Parsons after a season-ending arthroscopic surgery to address an injury to his right medial meniscus on March 25, the Mavs admit that their chances of making the playoffs looked bleak. They also slipped three games below .500 following a 133-111 loss at Sacramento two days later, winning seven of their final nine outings to ascend to the sixth seed in the Western Conference standings.

Unable to give the Mavericks a boost for the second consecutive postseason, Parsons admittedly wonders what could have been had the team remained healthy. The 6-foot-10, 230-pounder finished the ’15-16 campaign averaging 13.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 29.5 minutes, making 61 appearances (51 starts) after battling back from a hybrid microfracture surgery on his right knee last offseason. He then seemed to have hit a stride during his final 30 games of the season, averaging 18.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists while connecting on 52 percent from the floor and 47.5 percent from three-point range during that span. And after seeing the Mavericks put up a fight against the likes of former MVP Kevin Durant and perennial All-Star guard Russell Westbrook, Parsons expressed his frustration with not being available to help his team when it needed him most.

“It’s frustrating,” Parsons said. “Obviously, I was in a really good groove there and a good rhythm, and I’ve said many times that the playoffs is the most fun time of the year. I really think this series would be different if I was healthy and I was playing, or our team was at full strength.”

But the injuries didn’t stop with Parsons.

The Mavs also saw three-time All-Star point guard Deron Williams slide in and out of the lineup with a left abdominal strain and sports hernia, missing eight games from March 25 to April 8 before being limited in the playoffs. The injury bug continued to bite the Mavericks from there as 10-year veteran J.J. Barea suffered a right groin strain that slowed the cat-quick guard near the close of the regular season and into the playoffs. Meanwhile, backup big man David Lee missed three of the five games in the first-round series after sustaining a right plantar fascia injury in the regular-season finale. Still, the Mavericks pushed the Thunder to the best of their abilities before eventually succumbing to the piling injuries.

“I think we can be proud of the guys. We fought,” Nowitzki said after averaging 20.4 points per game on 49.4 percent shooting in the series. “I think ultimately we had too many injuries, and it caught up with us. You know, it really started already at the end of the regular season. Losing Parsons, losing D-Will, losing D-Lee, and Salah (Mejri) couldn’t even go (Monday). J.J. wasn’t moving well all series, so it was too many injuries, but we battled hard. We battled unbelievably hard to even get to the sixth seed, winning six in a row when everybody thought we were dead, so I’m proud of the guys. We gave it all we had.”