Over the last month, the Mavericks obviously have lost a bit of their luster.
They are 6-7 since Dec. 8 and, worse, 2-4 on their home floor.
This stretch has coincided with a treacherous part of the schedule, but also with a couple of relatively minor injuries that happened to key personnel.
Not surprisingly, they have slipped out of the top four in the Western Conference. As the season nears its midpoint, it’s looking more and more like the Mavericks will be locked in a cutthroat battle for one of the top six spots in the West.
The Lakers and Nuggets – both of whom will visit American Airlines Center later on this six-game home stand – are lumped in with the Rockets and Clippers in the top four spots. The Jazz are neck-and-neck with the Mavericks for fifth and sixth. Oklahoma City is a couple games behind the Mavericks and there’s a wide divide back to the eighth-place Blazers.
This could and most likely will change, of course.
But for now, the shine has worn off the Mavericks’ early season success.
That said, it’s far better to go through adversity in January than April and beyond. Rick Carlisle said the key to this stretch is that the Mavericks learn from mistakes as well as figuring out things that work.
“Everything gets magnified in a game like this. you leave a guy open for three, you do this, you do that, a turnover here, something there, loose ball – it was a little bit of everything out there,” he said after the 123-120 loss to Charlotte on Saturday. “It’s on all of us.
“But,” as he has said on many occasions, “we’ll learn from this.”
The first thing they must learn is how not to put themselves in a 20-point hole in the first half. While they came back from that, it wasn’t without a lot of effort. They built a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter, but they looked sluggish from that point on.
How much of that was because of energy expended in the comeback? Who knows. But it certainly didn’t help to be fighting from behind, which generally is a losing proposition in the NBA.
“We can’t put ourselves in the hole that first quarter, they scored 32 points,” said Dorian Finney-Smith. “We have to come out with a lot more energy. We had a good third quarter but we put ourselves in a hole. We have to come out with a little more fight, especially at home. We have to get the crowd into it.”
One positive byproduct of this stretch without Kristaps Porzingis is that the Mavericks are getting valuable experience for players like Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber carrying a heavier piece of the load.
Kleber is coming off a career-best 24 points against the Hornets. He has played more than 30 minutes in all three of the games that Porzingis has missed and averaged 18.7 points and 7.3 rebounds in those outings.
Playing time, certainly, has something to do with the upgraded production. But Kleber is going to be a pivotal member of the rotation – either as a starter or first big man off the bench.
Either way, he sees the same problem as everybody else.
“We have to play like we played in the third quarter (against Charlotte) – physical and with force,” Kleber said. “We got to step into games, especially at home.
“I wouldn’t say we don’t fight. Sometimes on offense we have bad luck and don’t make our shots. And when we don’t get stops, we don’t get the easy shots we want.”
As for his production, he said: “I’m pretty much doing the same things, just getting a little more minutes, more shots. I’m more confident in my shot, trying to get better every day with it. There’s nothing special I have to do. Guys like Luka (Doncic), Tim, Seth (Curry), they create for us. I just have to play my role.
“We’ve proven the whole season we have a deep bench. Everybody can step up and have a great game. We just have to get a better start. We can’t be down 20 starting the game. It’s tough to fight back.”