Dallas Mavericks need to hone their killer instinct | Mavericks/NBA | Star-Telegram.com Dallas Mavericks need to hone their killer instinct
By JAN HUBBARD
Rick Carlisle likely has heard the term that basketball evolutionists have traced back to noted philosopher Dick Motta, but Carlisle did not use it Tuesday afternoon.
Carlisle was speaking to reporters in San Antonio after a Mavericks morning shootaround and talked about the rash of injuries in the NBA, particularly in the Western Conference.
Carlisle coached the Indiana Pacers in 2004 when the infamous brawl at the Palace took place at a Pistons-Pacers game, and he lost Ron Artest for 73 games, Stephen Jackson for 30 games and Jermaine O’Neal for 25 games.
"The thing that can happen that I experienced during the brawl year," Carlisle said, "is that when a team is missing so many good players, you show up to play, and a lot of times, the other team will let up and not feel like you have enough guys to win the game.
"In [2004-05], we won seven or eight games just because of that. You’ve got to be careful because if you underestimate a team that has lost players, that can make a difference on whether or not you beat them."
That was a detailed explanation for Motta’s "wounded tiger theory," which stated that if you shoot a tiger, you better make sure the job is done or the wounded tiger might have enough strength left to maul you.
Carlisle’s Pacers team amazingly went 44-38 that year and won one more playoff round than the Mavericks have won in the last two years. The Pacers defeated the Celtics in the first round and lost to eventual Eastern Conference champion Detroit in six games in the second round. When Carlisle was talking about that season Tuesday, he knew that Manu Ginobili would not play for the Spurs that night. When he found out later that Tim Duncan would not play, Carlisle’s mood probably grew darker because he knew the rest of the Spurs would be motivated to prove they could still win without two of their three best players. And they did that convincingly.
Injuries are a bigger part of the playoff race this season than they usually are. And how well teams attack shorthanded teams will play a big role in determining playoff seeding and who makes the playoffs.
The Mavericks aren’t the only team that has let down against a team missing key players. The Rockets defeated the Celtics and Spurs without Tracy McGrady. The Jazz had to play three months without Carlos Boozer and is in the thick of the playoff race. New Orleans beat Cleveland and Denver without Tyson Chandler. And yes, the Lakers didn’t miss a beat when Andrew Bynum went out, but right now, the Lakers are on another level than the rest of the West.
It’s obvious the Mavericks need Jason Terry to return ahead of schedule and some team insiders believe he could be back within a week. The losses to the Rockets and Spurs demonstrate how fragile the Mavericks are. In those two games, J.J. Barea outscored Dirk Nowitzki 42-23. If Dirk is not on top of his game when Terry is out, the Mavericks will have a difficult time competing with good teams. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich believes, however, that most of the injuries will be healed by playoff time and ultimately will have no effect on the outcome of playoff series.
"Everybody has injuries to some degree during the season, some more than others," Popovich said. "Come playoff time, everybody seems to get pretty healthy. ... You just have to deal with it and do whatever you can during the season to try and have the best opportunity to be healthy come playoff time. Because everybody knows you’ve got to have your horses to win it all."
Which is true. But how well teams play while some of their horses are out will have a huge impact on the last two months of the season.