SALT LAKE CITY – Proprietor Mark Cuban would love the Mavericks’ situation on Saturday afternoon.
That’s when they will have a great opportunity to dive into the shark tank, swim in the deep end and see how they handle the fiercest predators the NBA has at this point of the season.
The Utah Jazz are rolling, having won 18 of their last 20 games and they haven’t lost on their home floor since Dec. 9. They have moved into the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference and, at this rate, they are threatening to crash the Los Angeles Lakers’ party atop the West.
The Mavericks are 15-5 on the road. Only the top two teams in each conference, Milwaukee and the Los Angeles Lakers, have better road records.
So, something has to give against the Jazz, right?
“We’re getting a better understanding of what hostile environments are like,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “And we’re going to need that going into Utah.”
The Mavericks have stressed an us-against-the-world attitude when it comes to playing road games, but the secret to their success has more to do with the makeup of their roster than anything else.
They are deep. That much is obvious. And it helps them during adverse situations on the road. But they also are full of players who have played for high stakes in their careers. And it’s not just the usual suspects.
While Luka Doncic has won European titles and Seth Curry was in the Western Conference finals last season, the Mavericks’ bench brigade brings plenty of tense-situation experience to the table – starting with Jalen Brunson.
He’s no stranger to pressure-cookers, having steered Villanova to two national championships. The Mavericks know they are blessed to have steady, capable, unflappable backup to Doncic that they can lean on when the need arises.
Brunson said the Mavericks have a strong trust factor that helps them persevere on the road.
“We enjoy playing with each other,” Brunson said. “Our chemistry is pretty good and it’s getting better in time. When we got out there, we lay everything on the line, especially in a tough environment on the road.”
Brunson was in typically efficient form on Thursday when he piled up 17 points in 17 minutes in the 133-125 win over Portland. He made four of his five 3-point shots and was on the floor when the Mavericks’ lead bloated from 11 to 119-101 when Brunson scored or assisted on all seven points in the run.
It was a welcomed sight for a player who had scored in double figures just once in the previous five games. Brunson has seen his playing time fluctuate over the course of the season, but lately he has settled in as the backup to Doncic, more often than not.
“It’s just about staying ready, doing the same things whether I’m starting and playing 30 minutes or not playing at all,” he said. “I make sure my mindset stays the same and work on my craft every day – just trusting everything.”
Including his teammates. When things get tough on the road, the Mavericks have gotten timely contributions from players like Justin Jackson and Delon Wright, both of whom have played in championship-type situations in college.
As have starters Dorian Finney-Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr.
Players don’t forget how to handle tight spots. And that’s been a strength of the Mavericks when they are on the road.