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.”

After sluggish start, Mavs know they must hit first in Game 4

DALLAS — Unable to work themselves out of an early hole Thursday while falling to a 1-2 deficit in their first-round playoff series following a 131-102 defeat, the Dallas Mavericks know the importance of getting off to a better start in Saturday night’s pivotal Game 4.

Responding to a 108-70 road loss to the No. 3-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of the series, the Mavericks came out much more aggressively in the second outing to sneak away with an 85-84 victory. However, the Mavs couldn’t sustain that success as the series swung to Dallas for Game 3, allowing the Thunder to sprint to an early advantage in front of the American Airlines Center crowd. The Mavericks will now attempt to even the series once again, hoping to get off to a much better start before the series swings back to Oklahoma City.

“I think, when we look back on this game, we’re going to have some regrets with some of the periods where we didn’t compete the way we needed to compete,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle confessed after Game 3.

“I thought they came out hard,” he added. “I thought we played hard at times. I thought we needed to play with a lot more grit than we did. We need to adjust, and we need to get ready for Game 4.”

Surrendering 11-of-20 shooting to the Thunder in the first quarter, including 4 of 7 from three-point range, the Mavericks faced an uphill climb from the opening tipoff.

Trailing by as many as 11 in the opening period, the Mavs entered into the second quarter in a 27-21 hole. The Mavericks then saw the visiting team surge to a 19-point lead during the second stanza as former MVP Kevin Durant stayed on the attack, closing the gap to 10 at 58-48 entering the halftime intermission. And although the Mavs continued to fight in the second half, their sluggish start proved to be too much to overcome down the stretch.

“I thought we sort of kept it close there,” 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki said of the play of his team in the first quarter. “A six-point game is doable. Yeah, they came out as expected and [Durant] set the tone there, making tough shots and making threes behind the screens. I think that settled their team down, and on the other end we couldn’t really get anything going offensively for a minute. We had to play from behind all night long, which is obviously what they want. … We couldn’t really make this a game anymore coming out of the half. We made a little push there at the end of the second quarter, and then coming out of the half it ballooned to 19. We got it back down to 10, getting the crowd back into it, and then Russell (Westbrook) hit two threes back-to-back possessions. That was it there.”

The Dallas deficit eventually peaked at 31 during the fourth quarter, leaving a sour taste in the Mavericks’ mouths as they sit on the loss for 48 hours. Meanwhile, Durant got on track after a lackluster performance in Game 2, rebounding from a 7-of-33 shooting night to score a game-high 34 points while connecting on 11 of 25 from the field. And with Durant expected to come out aggressively once again Saturday night, the Mavericks will attempt to develop a hit-first mindset before Game 4 gets underway.

“We’ve got to come out with a more hit-first mentality on both ends of the court,” Mavs swingman Wesley Matthews said after scoring a team-high 22 points during Thursday’s loss.

He added: “You know, if we’re getting hit on screens, we’ve got to hit them on screens. Obviously, there’s no love lost between these two teams, and we can’t throw second. We didn’t throw second in Game 2. We can’t throw second in Game 4.”

Note: The sixth-seeded Mavericks will now return to their home floor on Saturday night, hosting the No. 3-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 4. Oklahoma City leads the series 2-1. Game 4 will air nationally on ESPN. It will also air locally on TXA 21, 103.3 FM ESPN and in Spanish on 1540 AM ESPN Deportes at 7 p.m. CT. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting Mavs.com, or by calling (214) 747-MAVS.

The Mavericks’ first-round playoff schedule is as follows:

Game 4 – Saturday, April 23

Oklahoma City at Dallas at 7 p.m. CT on ESPN/TXA 21

*Game 5 — Monday, April 25

Dallas at Oklahoma City 7 p.m. CT on TNT/TXA 21

*Game 6 — Thursday, April 28

Oklahoma City at Dallas TBD on TBD/TXA21

*Game 7 — Saturday, April 30

Dallas at Oklahoma City TBD on TNT/TXA21

*If necessary

All games, except those televised on ABC, are available to be televised locally.

baylor

Injury updates presented by Baylor Emergency Medical Centers:

Deron Williams (left abdominal strain/sports hernia) — day-to-day

Chandler Parsons (right knee surgery) — out for the remainder of the season

Jeremy Evans (right shoulder surgery) — out for the remainder of the season

Game 40: Mavs at Thunder

Mavericks vs. Thunder

Salah Mejri scored 17 points and grabbed nine boards in his first extended action of the season.

Game 75: Mavs at Thunder

Mavs found success with small-ball lineups against Thunder

DALLAS — It was all a dream. At least it started that way.

With starting center Tyson Chandler sidelined due to back spasms entering Sunday’s showdown against the high-octane Oklahoma City Thunder, the Dallas Mavericks knew they’d have to try something different in order to move to 2-0 on their current three-game homestand. Learning shortly before taking the court that he’d be without the services of his starting center, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle didn’t hesitate to shake up his lineup. Carlisle then turned his dream into reality while utilizing several small-ball lineups Sunday en route to a 112-107 win.

In doing so, Carlisle may have created an option that he can return to throughout the course of this season, finding success with a three-guard lineup that featured 12-time All-Star power forward Dirk Nowitzki at center and undersized reserve guard J.J. Barea at small forward.

“I was taking a nap this afternoon and I had a weird nightmare about coaching against a Don Nelson team. And then I got up and I checked my phone, and there’s a text from [Mavs head athletic trainer] Casey Smith saying Tyson’s out tonight. And so it just got me thinking that we needed to try something different against this team, because athletically and strength-wise we just don’t match up,” Carlisle said of his decision to go small. “It was a bit of a whimsical thing, but I talked to Dirk about it. He was fine with it, and we just took a shot with it. We wanted to come out and be the more aggressive team, and I thought we set a good tone early.”

With Nowitzki at the five, Carlisle inserted Barea into the starting lineup alongside four-time All-Star floor general Rajon Rondo, leading scorer Monta Ellis and new addition Chandler Parsons. The outcome was a quick 11-point lead before taking a 33-26 advantage into the second period.

And with Carlisle’s decision ensuring that the Mavericks (22-10) came out of the gates as the more aggressive team, the move may have also provided a blueprint to be used later this season should the Dallas team again need to utilize a smaller lineup.

“It started with Coach [Carlisle],” Rondo explained. “He shook up the lineup with Tyson being out, and he threw Barea out there. I think that made us the more aggressive team, and that’s how we came out to start the game.”

“Obviously, with Tyson being out, we had to chunk up the game a little bit,” added Nowitzki, who matched his season-high scoring output with 30 points on 8-of-13 shooting in the win. “I mean, we started basically as small as I can remember. Not even Nellie would have started this lineup, probably, with Barea at the three. But it worked pretty well there. You know, we knew we were not going to pound them on the inside, especially with Tyson out, so we tried to spread them out.”

Despite being outshot by the Thunder, 50 percent to 44.3 percent, the Mavericks would sprint to the win down the stretch while converting Oklahoma City’s 18 turnovers into 19 points. The Mavs also made up for a 53-37 rebounding disadvantage and a 60-40 deficit in the paint without Chandler in the interior, equaling the Thunder with 20 fast-break points and knocking down 10 of 31 from behind the three-point arc.

“It was weird,” Ellis admitted. “You know, you’ve got J.J. playing the three, the shortest guy on the team, against a big team like that, that rebounds the ball so well. It was weird at first, but I think we came out with a lot of energy at the beginning of the game. We really set the tone and we just maintained the game throughout the game.”

“Offensively the spacing was unbelievable,” Parsons added. “When we did get stops and we were able to block out and get rebounds, you know, transition with that lineup is pretty potent. You know, I think if everybody’s on the same page and everyone rotates and we help each other out, it’s a different lineup and a good look.”

With reigning MVP Kevin Durant sidelined for the sixth straight game due to a sprained right ankle, Carlisle and the Mavericks locked in on containing perennial All-Star Russell Westbrook.

Matching the Thunder’s athleticism with a speedy attack of their own at both ends of the floor, the Mavs overcame the absence of their anchor inside with a scrambling defense that held Westbrook to 18 points on 6-of-23 shooting. And although Westbrook finished one rebound and one assist away from a triple-double, the Mavs’ ability to keep the Thunder’s go-to scorer from taking over late would prove to be the difference in the game.

“Well, I thought we did a pretty good job, all things considered,” Carlisle said of the defensive performance on Westbrook. “He shot a low percentage and he had to work for all his points. You know, Rondo was working really hard on him, [Devin] Harris was working hard on him, and we were getting good help. He’s very difficult, because he’s so quick. He gets in (the lane) and he can throw in really difficult shots. And at the end, you know, we just were able to lay off on a couple of them and make him just kind of flail a couple of tough ones up there. He missed and we were able to come up with the ball, so that was the No.1 part of the game plan for trying to slow these guys down. We just needed to out-scramble them. And in the end we had enough positive scramble situations and were able to get out of here with a win.”

Note: Returning to action Tuesday night at American Airlines Center to conclude their three-game homestand, the Mavericks will next play host to the Washington Wizards. Dallas leads the season series 1-0 after a 105-102 road win back on Nov. 19. The game will air locally on Fox Sports Southwest at 7:30 p.m. CT. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by calling (214) 747-MAVS (6287) or by visiting Mavs.com.

Injury updates presented by Baylor Emergency Medical Centers:
Tyson Chandler, back spasms, day-to-day