The Mavericks won 10 of 11 games, then got surprised by the Sacramento Kings on Sunday in the finale of a three-game home stand.
It may not be such a bad thing, and here’s why.
It’s every coach’s nightmare when players start believing the press clippings that heap praise on them. The Mavericks were projected as a borderline playoff team this season and the team’s clear goal is to be a playoff team.
But when you wake up in December with the second-best record in the Western Conference, as the Mavericks did over the weekend, sometimes you can forget to be humble. And that may have had something to do with the poor first half they had Sunday against the Kings, when they fell behind 66-46.
“We just came out a little slow, maybe a little overconfident because we’ve been winning,” Kristaps Porzingis said about the first half against the Kings.
He then mentioned about how the Mavericks have come back from double-figure deficits so many times this season.
“And we almost did it again,” he said. “But that first half, we were missing a little more intensity. We fought our way back. We showed really good heart. But the first half hurt us. It’s all a learning lesson.”
And that’s why it’s not a disaster that the Mavericks fell to the Kings. It dropped their home record to 8-5, which is dwarfed by their road record of 8-2.
The Mavericks can learn from a loss like that to a team that, for the moment, is struggling near the bottom of the West standings.
And they need to remember the lessons of Sunday. The schedule, which has been a bit more challenging in the last couple weeks, gets brutal in the two weeks-plus before Christmas.
After going to Mexico City on Thursday to play Detroit – a team that can be dangerous – the Mavericks must take on the five best teams in the Eastern Conference.
They return home to play Miami, then visit Milwaukee, come back home against Boston, then take a two-game trip to Philadelphia and Toronto.
Treading water during this stretch will be a challenge, obviously.
That’s why this would be a good time for Porzingis to grab hold of a bigger role in the Mavericks’ offense. They will be going against Eastern Conference teams, which Porzingis showed in three years at New York that he can feast on.
And he also needs to come back with a defensive mindset after the Mavericks were shredded by Sacramento for a half on their way to the loss.
Coach Rick Carlisle has seen the Mavericks embrace the defensive mentality but knows it’s a daily struggle to keep sharpening the skills at that end of the floor.
“I don’t think anything’s ever supposed to be easy in the NBA, but the thing I always point out is that they’ve been the ones who have committed to this,” Carlisle said of the defense. “It is more work, more detailed work, more mental work, more preparation. And it’s just an important thing for team success.”
The best news is that the Mavericks are 16-7 while they lick their wounds from the Kings loss. They have only lost two in a row once this season and have not lost three consecutive.
They have been resilient all season. Doing so again will require them to remember their defensive abilities.
Sharing the blame: All of the Mavericks understood that they did not put up enough of a defensive stand against the Kings.
They also got incinerated from the perimeter by sharpshooters Buddy Hield and Nemanja Bjelica. They combined for 56 points and 9-of-13 3-point shooting.
“They had a great groove,” shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. said. “It starts with me. Buddy had the ball in his hands during that time. And it’s tough, not an easy job. He’s one of the premier players on their team and you got to force him into difficult shots. He was on today.”
The Mavericks went to a zone defense after they could not contain the Kings on the perimeter and that worked better in the second half, but the couldn’t overcome the 24-point hole they were in.
Briefly: The Mavericks took Monday off after playing games on Saturday and Sunday. They are scheduled to have a full practice Tuesday before heading to Mexico City on Wednesday for Thursday’s game, which technically is a home game for the Pistons . . . The Mavericks shot just eight free throws against the Kings, making seven. It was the lowest number of attempts this season and only the second time they’ve been below 13 attempts. The other time was when they had nine free throws at Cleveland, a game that the Mavericks shot 58-percent from the field.