DALLAS — Despite rallying back from a 23-point deficit to pull within one during the final minute of Tuesday’s 105-102 loss at Denver, the Dallas Mavericks know it was a missed opportunity to claim a coveted road win after putting themselves in an uphill climb.
The Mavericks (15-30) outscored the Nuggets during the fourth quarter, 33-19, led by rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. posting 11 of his 25 points in the final period. The Mavs also trailed by just one at 103-102 after Smith’s driving three-point play with 10.4 seconds remaining. Still, despite the valiant comeback, the Mavericks know they’ll have to avoid putting themselves in that position Saturday night on the road against the Portland Trail Blazers.
“We already know we’re going to come back, but we shouldn’t have been in that situation,” Mavs veteran swingman Wesley Matthews proclaimed before playing his former team. “[The Nuggets] are a good team, and [Denver] is obviously a tough environment to play in, but we did what we were supposed to do. I wish we could have taken care of business a little earlier in the game and not make it so close, but they’re a good team. We’ve got to be better come Saturday.”
Since capturing four straight wins from Dec. 26-31, the Mavericks have dropped five out of seven games by a combined 19 points. Nine of their last 12 games have also been decided by five points or less, going 6-6 during that span. That trend could continue if the Mavs find themselves in another dogfight in the fourth quarter Saturday night during their first matchup of the season with the Trail Blazers (24-21). But according to Mavs leading scorer Harrison Barnes, it’s imperative that his team gets off to a better start in order to avoid another narrow defeat.
The Mavericks have been outscored in the first quarter during six of their last seven games by a total of 211-171. The outcome has been a 2-5 record during that stretch, falling by an average of 3.8 points in the five losses. That said, the Mavs can credit their sluggish starts to games for their recent slide. And as Barnes points out, the Mavericks will need to come out aggressively to capture a win Saturday night.
“I mean, it’s realizing that, although we can fight back, we always can’t get the lead and just can’t get the win. So, it’s about starting the game out the right way,” Barnes explained. “We obviously have had a lot of different lineups in. But as a group with the starting unit, we’ve just got to do a better job of starting out the game the right way, holding down the fort and setting the tone.
“I mean, one way to look at it is we’re in a lot of close games, and we just can’t get over the hump. The other way to look at it is we’re 15-30, so I think the biggest thing we have to do is we just have to convert late-game,” he added. “Whether it’s defensive execution or offensive execution, I think we’ve won and lost games down the stretch almost every imaginable way. So, I think collectively it’s our starts. I think that’s where it’s happening. The starts in the first (quarter) and the starts in the third (quarter). It’s not always what happens late-game.”
Note: The Mavericks will now travel to Portland for Saturday’s matchup against the Trail Blazers. The game will tip off at 9 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. The game will also air in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270.
The Mavs return to American Airlines Center on Jan. 22 against the Washington Wizards. Dallas leads the season series 1-0 after a 113-99 road win on Nov. 7. The game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. The game will also air in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting Mavs.com, or by calling (214) 747-MAVS.
J.J. Barea (left groin strain) — day-to-day
Dorian Finney-Smith (left knee quadriceps tendinitis) — out
Seth Curry (stress reaction, left tibia) — out
Nerlens Noel (left thumb surgery) — out