Dallas Mavericks adjusting to a season without playoffs

04/18/2013 11:56 PM

04/19/2013 12:01 AM

Leave it to Donnie Nelson to express the sentiments of everyone associated with the Dallas Mavericks’ franchise.

The Mavs and their fans are bummed because, for the first time since the 1999-2000 season, the NBA playoffs will commence without the Mavs receiving an invitation to the big dance. That has put the Mavs in a strange state of mind.

“This time of the year we’re geared up for the playoffs,” said Nelson, the Mavs‘ president of basketball operations. “So this is an out-of-body experience for all of us.”

It’s an experience the Mavs wish not to have again. But they have no one to blame but themselves for this season ending at 41-41 with a sideline seat to watch the playoffs on their big-screen TVs.

For starters, the Mavs lost 20 games this season by six points or less and eight games by three points or less. They were 3-8 in overtime games.

Before the season started, the Mavs were already behind the eight ball when 11-time All-Star forward Dirk Nowitzki missed the first 27 games after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Oct. 19. Nowitzki also missed two other games with a strained right adductor, and the Mavs were 13-16 in all the games their 15-year veteran missed.

“I had knee surgery and I thought I kind of messed the season up a little bit,” Nowitzki said Thursday after the team’s exit interviews. “I figured if I was healthy all year ... I think this year — looking at it before we had a shot at making the playoffs — then I missed too many games.

“I thought once I came back I wasn’t in the shape I needed to be to really help the team much. It really almost took me almost to the All-Star Game to get halfway to where I wanted to be.”

Besides the unfortunate injury to Nowitzki, the Mavs were trying to weave nine new faces into their roster.

“It’s hard playing with new faces,” point guard Darren Collison said. “You’ve got to get accustomed to their games and you’ve got to get used to it.”

Nelson put it more succinctly.

“I think we ran out of runway,” he said. “Nine new faces, injuries to our best player.

“Those aren’t excuses. But they are factors to where we’re at.”

The Mavs won the NBA title in 2011, and were swept in four games by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of last season’s playoffs.

Now this eye-opener.

“We ended on a win, which is good,” said coach Rick Carlisle, whose team was 15-8 down the stretch. “There were some positives.

“But we’ve got to get the team better. That’s obvious.”

Along the way this season, Nowitzki became the 17th player in NBA history to score at least 25,000 points. And Vince Carter moved into 27th place on the league’s all-time scoring list.

But the Mavs know stats are for losers. And because they couldn’t close out games, beat inferior opponents, or grab just one late rebound in a late-season loss to Denver, that’s why their 12-year playoff streak was broken.

“We blew it when we had the easiest part of our schedule at the beginning of the year,” owner Mark Cuban said. “That’s when we blew it.

“I’m proud of the effort. I’m just not always proud of the basketball IQ.”

After bottoming out with a 13-23 record following a 99-93 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Jan. 9, the Mavs were 28-18 over their final 46 games. Unfortunately, they got hot too late to reach the playoffs.

“I think a lot of things that went in the right direction during the championship run went the wrong direction [this season],” Nelson said. “Maybe it’s the law of averages, maybe it’s the stars.

“But I do know that we’ve got a bunch of character guys that gave it their very best and we didn’t get the job done, and so we will not be back with the same exact team. But there are some gems in there that I think that we will absolutely welcome back on this team.”

The Mavs go into the long off-season with nine possible free agents.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Nelson said. “We’ve got a big summer moving forward.

“And we don’t expect to be here having the same situation next year at this same time.”

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