DALLAS - What's wrong with the Dallas Mavericks?
Those involved have offered a volume of platitudes to try to explain how they can lose 121-107 on Sunday to the sad-sack Kings, how they've dropped four straight home games, how they've lost five of seven despite the carrot on a stick of the No. 6 slot in the West dangling tantalizingly in front of their faces.
Said Dorian Finney-Smith: “It’s time for us to look in the mirror.”
Said coach Rick Carlisle: "The process of how we do it is really important. And that’s hard physical and mental disposition ... There’s been some soul-searching over the last five games.''
Said superstar Luka Doncic: “I don’t know, I honestly don’t know.''
But ... haven't the mirrors at the AAC been in place all season? Hasn't Rick talked about "disposition'' ad infinitum? How long must one search for one's basketball soul? And how can they "honestly'' not "know''?
I think I know. And it's not a lot of words. It's one word.
The Mavericks (30-26) frequently start games as if they are distracted by something other than the actual game. Does Luka's growing stardom somehow grab too much attention? Do questions about Kristaps Porzingis' availability do that? When the Mavs, as a top-to-bottom organization, whine about everything from officiating to the NBA play-in format, does that erase focus?
“I thought it was funny that (Mavs owner) Mark Cuban, who I absolutely love, pushed (for) it,” New Orleans Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said of the wonky playoff set-up. “Not only did he vote for it, but he pushed it.
"And now that they’re sitting where they are, they don’t like it.”
Van Gundy isn't ripping Cuban, or Doncic, who has voiced similar concerns; he's just speaking the truth: It's "funny.''
And not "funny ha-ha.'' "Funny'' as in ... embarrassing.
At the exact time Dallas is spinning its wheels on the subject of the Nos. 7 and 8 teams having to engage in a ridiculous "extra-games'' format that to me (as I said at the time) made no sense, Dallas could've been gaining traction in avoiding the Nos. 7 and 8 spots.
You know who doesn't give two craps about the unfairness of finishing 7th or 8th? The teams that are good enough to have avoided that fate.
We don't hear the teams sitting in spots 1, 2, 3, etcetera, bothering with such trivia, do we?
By the way: I'm willing to cease in labeling this as "whining.'' Maybe the point is better made by labeling it, "Something they simply shouldn't spent one moment thinking or talking about.'' How's that?
The Mavs are completely capable - physically - of pulling the stop level on this schizo roller-coaster. They demonstrated that recently with their season-best five-game winning streak, with four of those wins coming on the road - and even after yet another home debacle are just two games behind Portland for the No. 6 slot.
They have Luka's magic and Carlisle's genius and yes, KP's unicorn numbers.
READ MORE: 'Defending The Unicorn' - By The Numbers
What they don't have, maybe because of their collective tender age or maybe because of their collective tender minds, is the ability to multi-task to the point at which they can concern themselves with their own jobs, the jobs of their teammates, friendships with their teammates, the jobs of the referees, the job of the commissioner ...
This is no longer about crowd noise or COVID or back-to-back games. And it's never been about being picked on by the rule-makers. And it never should be about which teammate is best pals with which.
“We’ve got to play way harder,'' Doncic said. "I’ve got to play way harder. ... I’ve got to do way better, keeping guys motivated. It starts with me.”
That'd be nice, yes.
"It’s coming more and more into focus,'' Carlisle said. "That’s really the essence of where we are. Every game must be treated as a playoff game. All of these teams are playing their butts off. Even teams that are out of it are going to be playing hard.”
And then he used "that word'' again.
“Of course there’s concern,” he said. “But I think this game brings the issues into a sharper focus.''
It's worth noting that Van Gundy of the 11th-spot Pels was also asked what he thinks about the play-in thing. His answer should be a revelation to the Mavs.
“It doesn’t matter what I think,” Van Gundy said. “We’re trying to get in it. So what my own personal thing is on what they should or should not have done with that doesn’t even matter. I don’t think about it.”
That's it, Mavs. You have a million things to not think about. You have one thing to concern yourselves with.