Where there is smoke, there is fire.

The Dallas Mavericks’ recent skid over the previous seven games indicates that the team is moving in the wrong direction. And with the playoffs less than a month away, the Mavs are still struggling with the identity issues that have plagued the team all season.

“As a team, it’s time for us to look in the mirror,” Dorian Finney-Smith said after a loss to the Sacramento Kings. “We have to come out with fight from the beginning … We got to be better.”

It no secret that Dallas needs to be better. Being better has been the tune of the season since its disappointing start to the year. February through March offered a glimpse at the potential of this team as it rattled off 20 wins in 28 games. However, since beating the Utah Jazz on April 5, the Mavericks regressed to what they were before the All-Star break. In the last seven games, Dallas holds a 2-5 record, and a previously astute defense (110 oppg), has allowed 112.2 points per game.

To add to the noted defensive struggles, Dallas’ offense has taken a dip in its points produced per game as well. On the year, the Mavericks average 111.3 points per game – good enough for 19th in the NBA. In the last seven games, the Mavericks offense is only producing 107.3 points per game. A drastic change for a team that should be nearing its offensive peak.

Identity issues limiting Dallas’ effectiveness as a team:

Good teams find a way to play their best basketball at the end of the season. There is consistency and identity to them. They know what to expect out of each other. And everyone’s role within the offense is solidified as they near the playoffs.

That isn’t the case for Dallas.

Kristaps Porzingis and Luka Doncic are still jostling for coexistence within Rick Carlisle’s offense. Jalen Brunson is a quality role player, but he is unproven when playing meaningful NBA playoff minutes. Tim Hardaway Jr. is streaky, and for as lethal as he may be from behind the arc, he can go just as cold at inopportune times.

Dallas has no identity as a team. It lacks one signature aspect to itself that it hangs its hat on every single night. That is what is holding the Mavericks back from contention.

Utah and the Phoenix Suns know what brand of basketball they will play. The Los Angeles Lakers are getting LeBron James and Anthony Davis back soon, and they might just run the tables in the west. And if Brooklyn can stay healthy, it will have a historic offense between its big three.

What does Dallas have, outside of Doncic? How much can the Mavericks rely on Porzingis if he doesn’t get consistent shots in the fourth quarter?

Dallas’ identity issues run deep. And at some point, the Mavericks need to confront those issues to break through the glass ceiling towards contention. Until the Mavericks choose to look in the mirror and do so, inconsistencies will continue to plague a team that should be better.

“We didn’t come out hard, that happened a couple of games now,” Luka Doncic said. “I gotta be way better, we gotta play way harder, and I gotta play way harder. It starts with me.”

Feature image via Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports