Parsons passes test, but Pacers top Mavs

INDIANAPOLIS -- Can Chandler Parsons be a primary focal point of the offense?

You won’t hear anyone from the Dallas Mavericks front office or coaching staff wonder that aloud while leading scorer Monta Ellis recovers from a right-calf injury that caused his streak of 237 consecutive games played to be snapped Sunday. This certainly isn’t a scenario that any of the Dallas decision-makers wanted to see unfold at this point of the season.

Nevertheless, Ellis’ injury provides the Mavs’ brain trust the opportunity to see how Parsons handles the responsibilities of having the ball in his hands on a regular basis. How the Mavs’ $46 million man performs in that role could play a significant part in the decision this summer about whether it’s worth paying Parsons plus-kind of money to keep Ellis in Dallas.

The bottom-line results for the Mavs -- a 104-99 loss to the Indiana Pacers -- were bad on Sunday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. But there was a lot to like about how Parsons performed (27 points, 11-of-20 shooting) while filling Ellis’ offensive role.

“I liked Parsons’ game,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Other than a couple of tough turnovers in the fourth, I thought he played terrific. I thought he picked his spots well to attack and made some difficult shots.

“Look, he’s an important guy for us. Really, he’s playing the 2 position when he starts with [Richard Jefferson]. That’s an adjustment, but I thought he adjusted well.”

To be crystal clear, nobody in their right mind would claim that this season’s version of the Mavs would be better off without Ellis, who will be out an undetermined period of time. They have no chance to advance in the playoffs unless Ellis is healthy and hot. Period.

However, if we’re being brutally honest, the Mavs don’t have a good shot of doing much damage in the playoffs with Ellis, either. The Western Conference standings, which have the 45-29 Mavs seemingly stuck in the seventh spot, tell you that.

This discussion requires a big-picture view and a little bit of imagination. Could the Mavs be better moving forward with Parsons playing a leading role instead of being an highly paid complementary player?

If the Mavs do let Ellis leave in free agency, must they find a go-to guy to replace him? Or is that player already on the roster? If Parsons can be that guy, the Mavs could potentially use their cap space to sign a 3-and-D type of shooting guard (injury-discounted Wesley Matthews? Danny Green?) and a scoring sixth man (Jamal Crawford? Mo Williams? Lou Williams?).

(Point guard is another issue. The educated guess here continues to be that Rajon Rondo gets a much more lucrative offer than the Mavs are willing to match. It’s worth noting, though, that he also stepped up with one of his best statistical lines in a Dallas uniform -- 17 points, 8-of-14 shooting, 10 assists, seven rebounds and only two turnovers -- with Ellis out.)

It’s not Parsons’ job to look ahead to the summer. But he is determined to prove during Ellis’ absence that he can respond to the challenge of having the offense run through him on a regular basis.

“Like I said all year long, I’m very comfortable to have the ball in my hands, get to the basket and make shots and make plays,” said Parsons, who also grabbed 10 rebounds in the loss. “I just didn’t make enough of them tonight, but I’m really comfortable doing that every single night.

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you I’m going to average 27 and 10 and be MVP, but I believe in myself. I think I can have big games like that, and I think I can do it more consistently when I have the opportunity.

“But I’m all about the team. Whenever Monta comes back, he’s been the guy all year long. I’ll continue to stay aggressive, but while he’s out, I’ve just got to pick up the slack and make plays for everyone and get to the basket.”

It must be mentioned that Parsons failed to step up Friday night, when Ellis was initially injured in a lopsided loss to the Spurs. Parsons finished that game with only nine points on 4-of-11 shooting, going scoreless in the fourth quarter.

However, that stinker has been the exception for Parsons lately. He has averaged 17.2 points on 50.8 percent shooting since returning to the lineup after missing seven games due to a sprained left ankle and bone bruise.

The Mavs repeatedly put the ball in Parsons’ hands Sunday and asked him to create, a challenge he hasn’t been shy of mentioning that he wants. He answered by repeatedly getting into the heart of the Indiana defense, scoring eight of his 11 buckets inside the restricted area despite the presence of rim protector Roy Hibbert.

Of course, the Mavs could have used Ellis’ offensive punch, particularly in closing time. But Parsons kept the Mavs in the game, scoring 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the fourth quarter, including a spurt of three buckets in a four-possession span after the Pacers built a six-point lead with a little less than five minutes remaining.

“He’s shown over the season that he’s ready for it, that he can handle it,” Dirk Nowitzki (19 points) said of Parsons. “He makes smart decisions. He’s great at getting to the basket. He’s sneaky around the rim, getting stuff up on the glass.

“I think he was ready to step up and he made some big plays. There when we were down six, he made two layups and a step-back [jumper] to kind of push us back in this game. So I thought he did everything possible.”

Parsons will point out that he didn’t quite do everything possible. He was hacked off about a charge called against him with 32 seconds remaining and the Mavs trailing by three. He also missed a 3-pointer that would have tied the game with three seconds remaining, when he ended up stuck with the ball in his hands with no timeouts and needed to jack up the contested jumper.

So this was an unsatisfying 27-point, 10-rebound performance. But it could also be considered proof that Parsons can flourish as an offensive focal point.

“I’m comfortable doing that and capable of doing that,” Parsons said, “but obviously I want [Ellis’] health first and for him to get back as soon as possible.”

Everyone wants a healthy Ellis back in the lineup as soon as possible, certainly for the playoffs. Past that, Parsons’ performance in his absence might be a factor in the decision looming for the Mavs’ front office this summer.