Zach Randolph, Dirk Nowitzki

The Dallas Mavericks losing 109-90 to the Memphis Grizzlies served as more proof that until this team finds some defensive answers to all the problems plaguing them when they’re without the ball, the dream of contenting for the NBA title again will remain unfulfilled.

The Grizzlies handed the Mavs their third consecutive loss on the base of a very strong shooting day from everyone (except for Vince Carter) and terrific defense that helped keep the Mavs at bay. Zach Randolph led the way with 22 points and he got help from Marc Gasol scoring 15, but the bench really made the difference, outscoring Dallas’ unit 43-24, with Vince Carter and Nick Calathes scoring in double figures.

Despite the moves the Mavericks have made, first and foremost bringing Rajon Rondo over from the Boston Celtics, they haven’t been able to get close to the Warriors and the top of the West. Instead, they seem to have fallen back, especially in recent games, with their offense failing to put up big numbers consistently, and even falling from the top spot in offensive efficiency, paving way for the Los Angeles Clippers to occupy the summit.

The Grizzlies seem to have the right blend of defense, once again one of the best in the NBA, but they’ve been making adjustments and adding the right pieces to improve their often stagnant offense. Less minutes to Tony Allen, more of Courtney Lee, Jeff Green (although he scored just 8 points in this win, taking only 7 shots) and the addition of Carter, formerly a Mavs player, who seems to flourish most of the time when coming off the bench.

After the Mavericks won the NBA championship in 2011, Mark Cuban started tearing the team apart because of contracts and age. He said that it’ll take two years to build a contender again, and he wasn’t too far off with his predictions. The Mavericks dragged the Spurs to a 7-game series in the first round of the playoffs last season, but fell way short of the mark in the final game. That’s not contending. That’s getting close.

Their moves in this offseason (bringing back Tyson Chandler, re-signing Dirk Nowitzki to a smaller contract) were supposed to bring them closer to Cuban’s goal – once again having the Mavs contend for the NBA championship. Adding Chandler Parsons brought more offensive firepower. Rajon Rondo makes it an almost All-Star’ish starting five but with him motivated, defense should have picked up. The problem, among others, is Rondo possibly not being the same player he was before his torn ACL, or maybe he simply never was as good as advertised.

Dirk Nowitzki isn’t worried. He’s been through ups and downs in his career in the NBA and in Dallas. The regular season isn’t negligible, obviously, but the longer your NBA career the more you tend to lean on leaving your best for later on, or at least hoping it’ll come. However, being a bit careless and relying on picking it up when the season becomes a bit more tense might be a bit dangerous, especially for a team with such a poor record against other playoff contenders.

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