These aren't your same old Dallas Mavericks.
Being under .500 25 games into an NBA season is not something seen in Dallas since George W. Bush was the governor of Texas -- or Mark Cuban's first season as Mavericks owner.
Of course it doesn't come as a complete shock.
Dirk Nowitzki has yet to play this season after arthroscopic surgery on his right knee and O.J. Mayo, while spectacular at times this year, has yet to become a closer. However, to dismiss Dallas as an aging team on the downswing would be doing it something of a disservice.
The team's most recent road trip -- lowlighted by last Friday's 95-74 beatdown by the Toronto Raptors -- demonstrated how a decent team in the NBA can be totally undone by turnovers. The Mavericks gave the ball away 65 times in three road losses to Boston, Toronto and Minnesota. That's a staggering 22 turnovers per game (they committed the fewest on the road swing against the Raptors, but set the tone early by giving it away five times in the first quarter). It's been their Achilles' heel all season and, as of Tuesday, Dallas ranks 26th in the league in turnovers.
The main culprit? Mayo, who is averaging three giveaways a game.
When the Mavericks signed Mayo away from the Grizzlies in the off-season, it was a given that the addition would be an upgrade from the departed Jason Terry and that Mayo could be on the verge of a true breakout season. While he's stepped up offensively in the absence of Nowitzki and the flashes of brilliance have been bright -- a 40-point outing against the Rockets earlier this month among them -- Mayo's still a step or two away from being the man.
Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle concedes that Mayo is receiving a lot of attention from opponents and seeing frequent double teams.
"He's starting to understand, as time goes on, the points of discipline," Carlisle said.
Carlisle also alluded to the importance of the Mavericks' significant veteran contingent in that development -- players like Derek Fisher, Vince Carter, Elton Brand and Shawn Marion.
'Let it come to you'
Marion pointed out before the Toronto loss that the main thing Mayo needs to hone is his patience.
"When you force it, it's that much harder," Marion said. "Just let it come to you."
Until then, Carlisle will be left to drill Mayo and fellow new addition Darren Collison, a point guard who ranks 46th in the NBA in assist/turnover ratio on limiting giveaways.
"You can't throw the ball through the nose of a defender and have it come out his [rear end] to a teammate," Carlisle told ESPN Dallas.
'Nothing but great for us'
Carlisle had high praise last Friday for Carter, who, a month shy of his 36th birthday, has clearly embraced his role-player status with the Mavericks, perhaps more comfortably than any other situation in his career.
"Vince has been nothing but great for us for two years," Carlisle said. "His attitude is phenomenally good all the time."
While Carter promptly went out and laid an egg, shooting 1-of-8 amid the usual cascade of boos in what had to be his worst-ever return performance to Toronto as an opponent, he remains a key player for Dallas.
"The challenge is to not play him too many minutes," Carlisle said. "It's hard to win in this league without experienced players."
'Casey is a great coach'
Carlisle, easily a Top 3 coach in the league -- was also quick to defend his former assistant Dwane Casey, now head coach in Toronto. Prior to the game, before a reporter could finish a question about Casey, Carlisle interjected: "Dwane Casey is a great coach ... he'll get [the Raptors] through it."
It's safe to say that Carlisle wasn't hoping a step to that would come with a 21-point Raptors victory, but he offered more in defeat.
"After tonight, I think it's very, very clear that whatever problems the Raptors franchise have are completely unrelated to coaching," he said. "Dwane Casey is doing a great job with a roster that's beat up.
"I just have so much respect for him."
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