Rick Carlisle had the perfect comeback for a question after Monday’s practice about whether the time has come to upgrade the expectations for the Mavericks after an 11-5 start.
“Who says they aren’t?” he said, quite matter-of-factly.
This goes back to the notion that, no matter how fast media and fans want to move on trends or storylines, the people in charge usually are a step ahead.
The Mavericks made it very clear coming into this season that they wanted to be a playoff team. No. 8 seed or bust Beyond that, anything would be gravy.
But after a five-game winning streak and the obvious fact that Luka Doncic is the best player in the league not yet old enough to legally buy an adult beverage, the Mavericks are ready to embrace bigger goals.
However, they are doing it within the confines of building this Mavericks’ squad the right way.
“We have to have an expectation for every day to come in and get better,” Carlisle said. “I’m not into predictions on numbers of win. I never have been. It can set up a limiting belief system.
“But I believe that this is a terrific group of guys that’s working to come together a little more every day. And this stretch of schedule is going to tell us a lot.”
The Mavericks started one of the most challenging stretches of their schedule with a thorough win at Houston on Sunday.
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Clippers – one of three teams in the Western Conference with a better record than the Mavericks and a team on a five-game winning streak (like the Mavs) – will visit American Airlines Center.
It figures to be a pre-Thanksgiving feast for basketball lovers.
And at the very least, it’s another chance for the Mavericks to show that this early success in the season isn’t a mirage. This team has a true superstar in Doncic, a very capable No. 2 option in Kristaps Porzingis and a diverse supporting cast, including Tim Hardaway Jr., who looks completely revitalized since getting back into the starting lineup three games ago.
It’s true that the season has yet to reach the one-quarter mark. But the Mavericks can’t make it go any faster. Nor should they.
They simply have to do what Carlisle suggested: keep their eye on the ball, work on things daily and don’t try to skip steps.
“Yesterday in Houston, that was a strong performance,” Carlisle said of the 137-123 win over the Rockets. “Tomorrow against the Clippers, we’re going to have to be ready from the jump ball to compete the same way, if not at a higher level.”
The players appear to be taking a sensible approach to the way the season has gone so far. They still have a goal of the playoffs. But with every win they bank against a quality opponent, the chances of bumping up the stakes increase.
It’s still too early to talk about playoff seedings, just like it’s too early to start talking about MVPs or rookies of the year.
But the thought of entering the conversation when it comes to talking about the elite teams in the league is certainly on the table.
“We’re still staying at an even keel right now,” Hardaway said. “We’re sticking to the basics, making sure we stick to our game plan. Coach is putting us in situations where we can be successful. We’ll hold each other accountable, like we have been.”
And just let the expectations be whatever they will be.