Retooling with Rondo, Mavs navigating expected rough waters
DALLAS (AP) Rajon Rondo watched the final minutes of one close loss from the Dallas bench, then threw away an inbound pass trailing by a point in the closing seconds of the next game.
The Mavericks knew they were probably sacrificing some wins in the difficult Western Conference with a midseason makeover triggered by the trade that brought Rondo from Boston a little more than a month ago.
And they're seeing that now, stuck in their first four-game losing streak in two years heading into Friday night's game at Miami.
''It's been a transition,'' said center Tyson Chandler, who was part of a major shuffling of the roster in an offseason trade with New York that brought the center back to the team he helped lead to an NBA title in 2011. ''It's been up and down. We have some incredible games and some bright spots and we've had some lackluster games.''
Case in point: Dallas beat a current West playoff qualifier for just the second time this season last week at Memphis, but lost by 19 to the Grizzlies at home a week later. In between, a 102-98 loss to Chicago ended with Rondo sitting even though the four-time All-Star was brought in because of his championship pedigree and ability to make plays in the clutch.
He was on the floor two nights later in New Orleans, but with an inbound play breaking down, he tried to throw a lob to Dirk Nowitzki. Anthony Davis stole it, and the Pelicans went on to win by three.
That was just the beginning of a rash of turnovers. Dallas had 14 in the first half of the loss to Memphis, and a season-high 24 for the game a night later in a 99-94 loss to Houston. The Mavericks blew their last chance against the Rockets with another throwaway on an inbound play - this time with Rondo watching again.
''We got a point guard that's got a lot of experience and a championship and is a great player, but I also think we've still got some work to do on both ends of the floor,'' Nowitzki said. ''I could certainly see the potential that's there, but the problem is the West is just so tough. It's kind of hard to see right now how it's going to end up.''
The Mavericks added a pass-first point guard who's also one of the best rebounders for his size in the NBA, and a strong defender. But he's not a great shooter, which can be a problem when leading scorer Monta Ellis has the ball and is trying to create an opening.
Teams are ignoring Rondo at the 3-point line, and he's rarely making them pay. At 40 percent from the field, he's even with his career-worst number from an injury-shortened 2013-14 season with the Celtics.
Here's another illustration of the quandary. He was 0 of 7 from the field against the Rockets, but his defense helped hold James Harden to 17 points after the high-scoring guard had at least 33 in four straight games.
''Some of the dynamics have changed,'' coach Rick Carlisle said. ''But our guys are learning that if Rondo has the ball and he's attacking, they either need to get to open spots or cut and he's going to find them. I just think that's a little adjusting. In some ways, we're on track and making progress.''
Rondo rejects the idea of a transition, saying ''I'm there'' when asked if he was still working his way into the Dallas mix.
''The communication has been great, a lot of guys are positive, a lot of coaches are trying to get me up to speed and I'm pretty equipped to the system,'' said Rondo, whose scoring average is up while his assists are down since the trade.
The Mavericks got some extra time for the transition since the trade came two months before the deadline, but they're looking like they'll need all of it.
''We've got to keep working, keep finding things that work for him and us,'' Nowitzki said. ''Just things don't happen overnight. But I think we're still best if we get stops. If we don't, we're going to walk the ball up, teams are going to lock into us and make it hard on the strong side, keep shrinking the floor.''
And shrinking the window for the retooled Mavericks to be ready for the playoffs.
Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler