Mar 13, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle gives instructions to Dallas Mavericks power forward Brandan Wright (34) during the second quarter against the Washington Wizards at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE
Rick Carlisle has more cards than he has shown so far, but if he doesn't play them in Game 3, it will be too late.
As the first two thrilling games of this series have shown, there isn't that much of a difference between the Dallas Mavericks and the Oklahoma City Thunder. However, down 2-0 and lacking home court advantage, the Mavericks can ill afford to leave any matchup advantages on the table at this point.
Throughout the series, Dallas has struggled with defending Oklahoma City's athletic young back-court of Russell Westbrook and James Harden. The easiest adjustment to make is upping the 28-year old Delonte West's minutes and cutting back on the 37-year old Jason Kidd's.
Kidd, for all his defensive wiles that earned him the nickname "the Kobe Stopper", simply doesn't have the foot-speed to keep up in this series, and he doesn't bring nearly enough to the table offensively to justify going into a zone to keep him on the floor.
Dallas, meanwhile, has struggled to find a secondary shot-creator on the perimeter to complement Dirk. And while Carlisle has gone to the well (and come up empty) with Vince Carter in the series, the obvious player to go to is Rodrigue Beaubois, the team's best dribble-drive guard.
He hasn't produced much in this series because he hasn't been given the chance too, and Carlisle remains frustratingly attached to his veterans rather than the guys who give the Mavericks the best chance to win.
The situation is even worse along the front-line, where he trots out Brendan Haywood on a nightly basis despite the fact that the lumbering center has no value in a series against a Thunder team that doesn't have a low post scoring threat. Ian Mahinmi is a much better defensive solution at the 5, while Brandan Wright remains chained to the bench, even though his shot-blocking and offensive prowess could potentially change the entire series.
Scott Brooks is not the most adept coach at playing the matchups, and if Carlisle can stay on the attack, he may fluster Brooks into making counterproductive lineup choices. However, in so doing, he would have to risk upsetting the egos of his veteran perimeter players, something he's been loathe to do throughout the season.
Through the first two games, he's stuck with a starting lineup of Kidd, West, Marion, Dirk and Haywood, which puts three sub-optimal offensive players around Dirk as well as two sub-optimal defensive players. In contrast, a lineup of Beaubois, West, Marion, Dirk and Wright would give the Mavericks a huge bump offensively while still being a superior defensive unit.
Playing conservative has gotten Dallas beat so far, if they want any real chance of pulling the upset, it's time they take some chances with their lineup.