Rick Carlisle didn’t particularly care for the overall joyfulness of the big picture.
Christmas? Good cheer? Happy holidays?
It wasn’t a time to be festive, not after losing a 30-point lead to the Toronto Raptors and absorbing one of the worst losses of the season, and, to be honest, in franchise history. Yes, maybe even worse than losing to the Knicks.
Carlisle made it clear after the Mavericks’ 110-107 loss that being 19-10 overall and 11-3 on the road doesn’t really mean a whole lot to him right now.
“We’re not looking to just be a little better than expected,” he said. “We’re looking to do exceptional things. That’s why this is really disappointing. But we’ll learn from it.”
OK, the coach is not a complete Grinch. He’s thankful at this time of the season for family and friends and all the gifts in his life.
But business is business and in the NBA, you’re only as good as your last game and the Los Angeles Lakers can say the same thing after Denver drop-kicked them later Sunday after the Mavericks blew it in Toronto.
True, the Mavericks have proven through the first two-months-plus of the season that they are a legitimately good team. They have talent. They have chemistry. And they have a good system with good depth. You don’t survive four games without Luka Doncic against four of the top teams in the Eastern Conference and go 2-2 without having a little something working for you.
“We proved we can play,” Kristaps Porzingis said. “We’re a good team, even with Luka being out. We were up 30 against Toronto at their home. We just didn’t finish it. It’s a tough one for us, but we’re a young group. We’ll learn from it.”
At some point after Christmas, Doncic will return. If it’s not Thursday against the Spurs at American Airlines Center, it’ll probably be sometime on the three-game trip that starts Saturday at Golden State.
That will be a Christmas present that Mavericks fans will be quite happy with.
But Porzingis is right. The Mavericks over the last 10 days have shown some things that should have the organization upbeat, in spite of the Toronto takedown.
Their role players are more than just role players. Jalen Brunson has stepped in as the starter at point guard and performed well. Carlisle expected nothing less.
Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell have proven they are all quality contributors in the rotation of a team winning twice as much as they’re losing.
Tim Hardaway Jr. is streaky, but he’s a good enough shooter to keep defenses honest and on occasion, can carry the offense when Doncic or Porzingis is taking a break.
President of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, proprietor Mark Cuban and Carlisle have done a commendable job of building this roster and making it work. Is it perfect? Of course not. But it stands up well against pretty much everybody else in the NBA.
We’ve heard several times in the last two weeks that Porzingis’ play is precisely why the Mavericks made the trade to get him last year. They felt at the time that the pairing of Porzingis and Doncic would give them a dynamic duo that dovetails together perfectly.
And when Doncic has been out, Porzingis has responded, averaging 22 points, 12.8 rebounds and 2.7 blocks.
Most impressively? He’s averaged a plus-12 in the plus-minus game when he’s on the court. He was a positive in every game except one, when he was a zero against Miami.
And the Mavericks went 3-3 during six East teams, five of whom will be solid playoff teams and possible championship contenders.
That’s the definition of a gamer. He helped hold this thing together during a difficult stretch, largely without Doncic.
For that reason, plus the contributions of more than a handful of role players, the Mavericks have a lot of reasons to feel good about the new year and the immediate future after Christmas.
In spite of what happened in Toronto.