“Execute. Trust. And play hard.”
Those were the five words coach Jason Kidd used to describe what has to happen on Thursday night in Game 6 of the Mavericks’ first-round playoff series against the Utah Jazz.
He didn’t reference anything that has happened with the Mavericks in the past 11 years, including last season’s 3-2 lead over the Los Angeles Clippers that evaporated with losses in Games 6 and 7.
Everybody on the team knows they haven’t gotten out of the first round of the playoffs since 2011.
No need to harp on any negative vibes.
“It’s not easy to close out a series,” Kidd said after Wednesday’s practice. “You got to be playing your best basketball and you got to continue to trust and believe in one another and right now that’s what we’re doing.”
There’s no way to diminish Game 6 when you’re up 3-2. You want to close out the best-of-seven as quickly as possible. But the Mavericks also know there will be another game, either Game 7 on Saturday or Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Phoenix-New Orleans winner, which the Suns lead 3-2.
The Mavericks aren’t thinking about that, of course.
“We know we need four wins to advance and we got to take this game very seriously because we know they’re going to come out and play the hardest they’ve ever played,” said Maxi Kleber.
“We didn’t talk about it (last season) at all. I think everybody who was here remembers it. And I think everybody who experienced it doesn’t want this to happen again.”
What matters more than the past is figuring out a way to keep defending like they have been without fouling. In the two games they split in Utah last week, the Jazz shot 42 and 31 free throws. They have averaged fewer than 22 free throws in the three games in Dallas.
“The big thing is rebounding the ball,” Kidd said. “(Rudy) Gobert had offensive rebounds and we fouled. So we got to try to keep them off the free-throw line and keep a body on Gobert.”
The Mavericks won Game 3 at Vivant Arena – without Luka – by shooting 56.5 percent from the field and getting a push in the rebounding department.
They almost pulled off another stunner in Game 4 in Utah but lost a 100-99 heartbreaker. They returned home with a dominant 102-77 victory and that’s how we got to this point.
Kidd alluded to the last time the Mavericks were playing beyond the first round. He was the point guard, Dirk Nowitzki was in his prime and going on a mission to win a title.
His tunnel vision rubbed off on everybody else, Kidd said.
“When you’re around one of the greatest players who wanted something really bad, you shoot the ball really well,” he said. “We were lucky to have Jason Terry playing well. When you want something really bad, it tends to go down. We just have to stay in character and play our game.”
Because Dončić wants to be playing deep into the playoffs every bit as much as Dirk did back in the day. This team is different, of course. Defense is stronger, offense probably not as much.
And it’s just the first round. It’s not going to be cause for champagne spraying if the Mavericks win Thursday. But it will represent progress. Winning twice in Utah to get Luka to the second round of the playoffs would be an important step in the growth of this still-young team.
“It’s hard to win there,” Kidd said. “They’re very talented and we have to find a way to win on the road.”
They’ve done it once.
Can they do it again?
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