NEW YORK – The Dallas Mavericks have suddenly found themselves nestled in a nice little groove that would have put them in playoff contention if they didn’t start the season with a 9-25 record.
With the regular season ending in less than a month, over the past eight games the Mavs have posted a respectable 4-4 record. By contrast, five teams that will qualify for the playoffs if the postseason started today are playing the same level of basketball – or worst – than the Mavs have over the last eight games.
That includes Cleveland (4-4), Philadelphia (4-4), Minnesota (4-4), Washington (3-5) and Milwaukee (3-5). Also, San Antonio (3-5) and Denver (4-4) are hovering over the outer edges of the Western Conference playoff picture and are neck-and-neck with the Mavs over the past eight games.
While the Mavs may be in obvious rebuilding mode, coach Rick Carlisle insists their competitive juices are still flowing freely. Hence, the number of wins and improved play over the last eight contests.
“It takes on a different form in our situation,” Carlisle said, in reference to rebuilding. “Look, I have chosen to be here. I have a long deal.
“I know that we were probably going to hit a lower point. It’s just part of the cycle of the NBA, but I’m not going to bail on my owner who’s been so good to me. And the other part of this, too, is that this is a challenge that I’ve never been a part of, and that is to truly rebuild a team.”
For the Mavs, a tradition-rich franchise that advanced to the playoffs 15 out of 16 years from 2001-’16, losing is not a part of their culture that they want to become accustomed to. But with rebuilding, unfortunately, losing is intertwined and invariably becomes part of the painful process of being able to consistently win again.
“Yeah, you take a lot of losses,” Carlisle said. “That part is no fun. But to accomplish this, which is going to take time, it’s going to be a difficult task and it has to be handled the right way.
“But when we get there it will be one of the most meaningful things that I’ve been involved with.”
The Mavs (22-46) opened a four-game road trip this past Tuesday with a 110-97 triumph over the New York Knicks. Carlisle gave his club today off, and then they’ll travel to Toronto on Thursday and play the Raptors on Friday at 6:30 p.m.
Despite headed to the NBA Draft Lottery on May 15, the Mavs’ hunger to stack up some wins still remains intact. The way the ping-pong balls bounce that day will be extremely meaningful.
“We keep playing hard,” forward Dirk Nowitzki said. “There’s obviously some teams that’s going for some losses now, and we’re one of the teams that still want to win and see where we end up in the draft.
“We’re still playing, we want to have a winning culture for our young guys and show them how to play, and the work ethic and how to play to win. So that is very important to us.”
Forward Harrison Barnes, who tallied a game-high 30 points in the win over the Knicks, had a simple answer on how to rebuild quickly.
“At the end of the day,” Barnes said, “the best way to get better is to get wins and to have guys getting that experience.”
Carlisle, who is in his 16th season as an NBA head coach – including his 10th with the Mavs – won an NBA title with the Mavs in 2011. The goal for Carlisle, obviously, is to find a way to get the Mavs back on the NBA’s biggest stage and capture another championship banner that can be raised into the American Airlines Center rafters.
It’s a challenge that the 58-year old Carlisle has been more than willing to accept.
“I’ve been around long enough to know that the job of head coaching in the NBA isn’t as simple as jumping from city to city looking for good talent to coach and get wins,” Carlisle said. “For me, after everything that I’ve been through with (Mavs owner) Mark (Cuban) and what he’s done for me — and I’ve done some good things for him along the way — and (general manager) Donnie (Nelson), this is a bigger picture.
“This is a deeper landscape than that. We’re in this for the long haul.”
That means the Mavs may have to take two steps backwards in other to take a step forward. Carlisle just wants everyone to be patient and trust the process.
“It’s work, but there’s no less interest in coming in every day,” Carlisle said. “There’s even more work, because the work now becomes more tipped to the player development side with our younger guys, and that’s in the trenches work.
“But those guys are in the trenches with us.”
The Mavs are banking on that work in the trenches paying off handsomely in the foreseeable future.
Notes: With the day off today in New York, rookie forward Jameel Warney got to go home and get some good food and have some fellowship with his family and friends. Warney grew up in the New York area and played college ball at nearby Stony Brook University. “I went home (Monday), so I’ll probably go home again (today) and see my family,” Warney said. Asked if he’s going to insist on having another home cooked meal, Warney smiled and said: “Definitely! You already know it.” Warney finished with eight points and three rebounds in 12 minutes during the win over the Knicks. “Great to see,” coach Rick Carlisle said of Warney. “The kid is a great kid, solid player. He earned his shot. I wanted to get him a chance to get in there early.” Warney signed a 10-day contract with the Mavs this past Sunday, and was in his season playing for the G-League’s Texas Legends. But to play in the NBA and in Madision Square Garden, Warney said: “I’m happy to be in New York and I’m happy to have my family and friends of Stony Brook and the community come out here and support me.”. .Friday’s game in Toronto will pit coach Rick Carlisle against Raptors coach Dwane Casey, who was Carlisle’s defensive coordinator when the Mavs won the 2011 NBA title. Carlisle and Casey are fast friends. The Raptors have the best record in the Eastern Conference and third-best record in the NBA at 50-17.
Seth Curry (left leg surgery) – out
Wesley Matthews (fractured right proximal fibula) – out
Salah Mejri (right hamstring strain) — questionable