At the mid-point of an NBA season, uncertainties tend to become certainties, questions tend to get answers, and teams tend to settle into a relative standard of playing level. In general, the identities of teams begin to coalesce. This traditional expectation applies fruitfully to the San Antonio Spurs. However, the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks are still in a nebulous zone, far from forming their identity, realizing their potential, and meeting that baseline expectation for mid-season.
At this point, the San Antonio Spurs embody the persona of a championship contender. Anything less than that would be to underestimate the potent Spurs offense and Popovich’s genius. The Spurs (36-11) currently stand at the apex of the Western Conference standings and scream contender status on a daily basis. The elite point guard play of Tony Parker, the resurgence of the greatest power forward Tim Duncan ever, and a top 5 supporting cast makes the Spurs seem invincible year in and year out. Currently boasting seven players averaging nine points or more ( Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, Gary Neal, Tiago Splitter, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard), the Spurs rarely depend on the same players to step up on a nightly basis. The sharing of responsibility, the culture instilled by the Spurs system, and the wealth of supporting talent explicates how the Spurs put up consistent wins despite the occasional absence of Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich. At this point during the season, the Spurs know who they are and what they want. They are a clear-cut contender.
The Houston Rockets (24-22) currently stand at the eighth position in the Western Conference standings. The Rockets show flashes of brilliance and the potential their team holds. However, their playing style is often plagued by their inexperience and inconsistency. One thing is for sure though; the Rockets have their franchise foundation piece in James Harden. Harden is on his way to becoming the NBA’s best shooting guard, fortifying his relentless athleticism with his experiences as the number one option. The Rockets know they go as Harden goes. However, with the average age of the Houston Rockets roster around 24, they still have a long maturation process to undergo before realizing their true potential and identity.
Although they have recently won six of last eight, the Dallas Mavericks (19-25) lack any sort of identity of consistency. With 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki still trying to find his Hall of Fame form and missing the All Star Game for the first time in over a decade, the Mavericks have been in a state of fluctuation and confusion. They lead the league with 17 different starting lineups. Over the past three games, they have had three different starting centers. Nevertheless, Rick Carlisle has mentioned that he is attempting to establish a more consistent lineup and rotation. Once Dirk Nowitzki encapsulates the superstar style of play he is capable of, Darren Collison and OJ Mayo begin to produce on a more consistent basis, and the team commits to defense, the Mavericks have a chance to make a late-season surge for the playoffs.
When the Spurs step on to the court at this point of the season, you know what you’re going to get. However, the same cannot be stated for the Rockets and the Mavericks. As Forrest Gump once said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” With the Mavericks and Rockets, you just never know.