The pittypat portion of this home stand is finished.
If the Mavericks are going to get off of the one-step-forward, one-step-back treadmill they’ve been in for a month (7-7 since Dec. 8), they need to put their big-boy pants on, because they are going against heavyweights starting Wednesday with Denver.
The Mavs went 2-1 on the first three games of the home stand. The combined record of those three teams was 34-67, as of Tuesday.
The Nuggets, Lakers and Sixers that are coming in for three games in four days boast a combined record of 78-32. All three of those teams believe they are legitimate NBA championship contenders.
Playing bluebloods might not be such a bad thing right now. By and large, the Mavericks have played decently against top tier teams. Their 5-9 record against opponents with winning records isn’t overly impressive. But nine of those games have been on the road, so it’s not like the Mavericks have fallen flat against the league’s elite.
And it’s human nature to get a little more blood pumping for the best teams, especially when you are close behind them in the standings.
“These next games, you got to treat as playoff games,” Tim Hardaway Jr. said after Tuesday’s practice. “You try not to live in the future, but by now we’re all happy and ready for this opportunity. These are three strong opponents that could easily all go to the (NBA) Finals. We’re excited and ready for the challenge.”
The Mavericks still aren’t playing like they want to on their home floor. They are 11-8 at American Airlines Center, which pales in comparison to their 12-5 road record.
Worse, the Mavs are 1-4 at AAC against teams with a winning record.
“We want to be competitive against everybody, and generally speaking I think we have been,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “But this game, it’s a big challenge.
“They got all their weapons. (The Nuggets) got a dynamic team that can really score and do a lot of great things offensively, and defensively they’ve been better each year. Their size and rebounding and physical element is a really big test for us.”
The Mavericks again will be without Kristaps Porzingis, who has struggled to return from a sore right knee. He also missed Tuesday’s workout with an illness, Carlisle said. This will be the fifth game he’s missed because of the knee.
That will put pressure on the rest of the Mavericks, particularly in the rebounding department, where they have had problems in Porzingis’ absence.
“He came in, was not feeling well, so we sent him home,” Carlisle said of Porzingis. “His knee continues to do better, but he will not be available (Wednesday).”
The Mavericks were happy to welcome back Hardaway, who missed three games with a left hamstring strain before returning to score 15 points in the 118-110 win over Chicago on Monday.
Hardaway hit three of four shots from 3-point range. The 6-5 guard said he came through the game without any problems physically. He also said he and his teammates are learning every day what it takes to supplement Luka Doncic.
“When Luka’s out there, obviously, a lot of attention is on him,” Hardaway said. “The other four guys on the court, we got to do our part to make his life easier.
“I don’t know what he’s averaging, but I know it’s a lot. And that has to be filled. Offensively, everybody antes up.”
And the stakes get higher starting Wednesday.
Briefly: The Mavericks brought up Antonius Cleveland from the Texas Legends on Tuesday. With Ryan Broekhoff (fractured left fibula) and Porzingis out, Carlisle said: “Antonius Cleveland was at practice today. He got an NBA day and there’s a chance he’ll suit up tomorrow. We’ll see.” Cleveland is on a two-way contract . . . Carlisle said playing without Porzingis is “going to be very challenging, but his health is the No. 1 thing and we are optimistic that he will come out of this thing successfully and in not too long a period of time. In the meantime, it is tough.” . . . Denver’s Nikola Jokic is coming off a career-best 47 point game on Monday in the Nuggets’ win at Atlanta . . . The Nuggets are getting a nice return now on their investment of drafting Michael Porter Jr. in 2018, despite him having significant back problems. “He’s very skilled,” Carlisle said. “He’s more dynamic than he appears. He’s quick, he rises up quick, got a great shooting touch. He’s a natural scorer. The thing you admire about his situation is they took a year to make sure they get him healthy and he’s worked his way into the rotation and has become a fixture.”