After a recent game, coach Rick Carlisle was visibly concerned and had this blunt commentary about his team:
“Pretty simple. We got to do a better job closing out games. This is an experience we’re going to have to learn from . . . We’re a young team that has got to learn from these situations.”
And that was after a win – the eked-out victory over Minnesota on Monday when the Mavericks surrendered 45 fourth-quarter points to the Timberwolves.
Carlisle is well aware of the facts. Even though he stresses staying in the moment and sticking to the process, he understands the Mavericks still are two games under .500 (12-14) and in no position to feel entitled to anything going into Friday’s home game against New Orleans.
That said, the Mavericks already have shown signs of improvement in the area of closing out games this season. After Wednesday’s 118-117 win over Atlanta, the Mavericks now have won two games of their last three games by three points or fewer. And the three-game winning streak has been by margins of 1, 2 and 5 points.
They are 2-2 in games this season decided by three points or fewer. That equals the win total of last season, when they were 2-11 in games decided by three or fewer points.
Sometimes, gaining a little confidence is all it takes to push a rough patch of the schedule into the rear-view.
“When we were on that (six-game) losing streak, guys were thinking, what can I do individually? What can I do for me personally?” guard Jalen Brunson said. “Teams that lose, that’s their mentality. For us, we fell into that a little bit. It happens.
“But once we kind of realized what’s going on, we all kind of said: All right, let’s come together. Let’s be a team. Let’s focus on each other and the things that are going to help us be successful together.”
Which they did.
“We’re starting to get this train rolling,” Brunson said.
Brunson has been a big part of getting this thing back on the rails. He and Tim Hardaway Jr. have been leading a strong showing by the Mavericks off the bench as the team is beginning to look more like what Carlisle envisioned.
That is, they have several different players who can be the extra weapon offensively in support of Luka Dončić and Kristaps Porzingis.
Hardaway has flourished in the sixth-man role. Then again, he flourished as a starter, too.
But during the three-game winning streak, Hardaway has averaged 17 points off the bench. He’s made 9-of-23 3-pointers in those three games.
Brunson? He’s averaged 10.3 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in the winning streak, and has only played 24 minutes per game in that stretch.
The point is that the bench guys like Brunson, Hardaway, Willie Cauley-Stein and Dwight Powell are giving the heavy lifters help. As are Maxi Kleber, Dorian Finney-Smith and Josh Richardson, who now seem entrenched as the starters alongside Porzingis and Dončić.
And the fact that opponents have to game-plan for any of those guys having the hot hand on any given night makes their job that much tougher.
Briefly: Carlisle started his media session on Wednesday with a Black History Month reading about the 2020 computer-animated film Soul. “Soul is the first Pixar film to feature an African-American protagonist,” Carlisle said. “The story follows a middle school music teacher named Joe Gardner, who seeks to reunite his soul and his body after they are accidentally separated just before his big break as a jazz musician. This was a Golden Globe nominated film in 2020.” . . . The Mavericks will have another early start time (6:30 p.m.) on Friday for national television. The meeting with New Orleans will be the fourth of eight national TV games in an 11-game stretch.