Seems like the Mavericks have been idle for a month, but it’s really only been six days from their last game until they returned to the practice court Wednesday afternoon.

Players got away. Most went to some sunny locale, some of them out of the country. Luka Doncic even slipped away for a brief, well-deserved rest after competing in his first All-Star Game. That didn’t keep him from returning along with the rest of his teammates for the first blow-out-the-lungs workout.

He, along with everybody else, knows what’s at stake over the last 27 games of the season.

“We want to continue to grow together as a team,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We’ve got to function as a family. NBA games are hard. They’re challenging. For us to do as well as we can do, it’s going to be a combination of sacrifices made for each other and playing well together. And playing hard together.

“We just want to continue to reinforce those two or three things that are just so important, because down the stretch there will be a lot at stake in terms of seeding and everything else.”

The first two-thirds of the 82-game grind produced a 33-22 record. Could have been better. But certainly could have been worse, too, given the Mavericks’ poor home record.

Here are a few facts to chew on:

Of teams with a record better or equal to the Mavericks, they have an 8-14 record. Yes, they have beaten Philadelphia, Milwaukee, the Lakers and Denver on the road. But overall, they still have a lot to prove against the elite teams.

That means that against teams with a worse record than theirs, the Mavericks are 25-8. So they’ve taken care of business for the most part against the have-nots.

The problem is they won’t see any of those teams in the playoffs.

But they will see a lot of them in the next few weeks. Their first four opponents coming out of the break – and seven of their first eight – will be teams with sub-.500 records. That stretch starts in Orlando on Friday night, followed by a back-to-back visit to Atlanta on Saturday.

But there is always a counterbalance and the Mavericks finish the season with 11 of their last 19 games against teams that are above .500.

Clearly, the time to pad their cushion for playoff inclusion is now because while they are 8½ games ahead of ninth-place Portland, it would be unwise to take anything for granted.

And remember, the Mavericks are being built around two young stars in Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. Doncic has been in playoff races and won a championship two seasons ago in Spain.

But he’s in the same boat as Porzingis in one respect. Neither of them have made the NBA playoffs before.

“It’s always kind of been tough (being) below .500,” Porzingis said of his first three seasons with the New York Knicks. “After the All-Star break, you still have a little bit of chance to make the playoffs and you still keep fighting a little bit. But there’s one point where you can’t trick yourself no more. It’s like, all right, we’re not going to make the playoffs. It’s hard. It’s hard. Sometimes it’s not the prettiest basketball past that,

“But in this case, we’re going to be fighting to the last second of the last regular season game and try to get as many wins as we can. And we’ll see where we end up at the end of the season. Our goal is the playoffs. That’s our mindset.”

The stakes will rise with every passing game from here until mid-April’s climax to the regular season. Scoreboard watching will commence soon, if not this weekend.

And the winners will be fans, who get to watch a tight Western Conference playoff race unfold knowing that every win will be precious.

Briefly: The Mavericks’ first practice after the break included all healthy players and Carlisle said that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist went through all of practice. He said that the chances are better than not that the newly acquired forward will see action at some point on the two-game trip, but that nothing is official . . . The Mavericks had a surprise party for assistant coach Darrell Armstrong, who will be inducted into the Orlando Magic’s hall of fame on Friday when the Mavericks play there. More to come on that story at

Twitter: @ESefko

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