The Mavericks are gaining steam in the confidence department.
Not that they were lacking to begin with. But after winning Game 2, they now have no reason not to believe that they can win this first-round series.
But here’s something more important:
They must truly believe they can win Game 3.
Fans love to analyze the big picture and dream about a series win. Players and coaches – especially, coaches – don’t have that luxury.
That’s why the Mavericks must be 100-percent immersed in the moment on Friday when they try to go up 2-1 on the Los Angeles Clippers (8 p.m. tip, FSSW, TNT).
The Clippers will be their biggest enemy. But basic instincts will run a close second, coach Rick Carlisle said.
“We’re up against the human nature curve, which is always tough after you win a playoff game,” he said. “Even in a situation like this where there’s no fans in the building, you get an exuberant feeling and you can’t let human nature get the best of you and soften you up for the next game.
“We got our work cut out for us. It’s now a five-game series. And we’ll be ready for Friday.”
The Mavericks are a young team and controlling their emotions already has been an issue in this series when Kristaps Porzingis got ejected in Game 1.
But they do have an ally with them – Carlisle. He’s been on veteran teams and seen the way they handle the highs and lows of playoff basketball. He’s smart enough to know that the Mavericks haven’t done anything yet other than avoid any chance of a Clippers’ sweep.
But he also has the savvy not to squelch the feel-good, take-on-the-world attitude that comes with the youthful exuberance of Porzingis and Luka Dončić.
“Yeah, for sure,” Dončić said. “Any series that we’re going to go in, we’re going to believe, for sure,”
That’s an absolute must. But the Mavericks also must not feel like they’ve figured anything out. The adjustments will continue. And the Clippers will no doubt put an emphasis on shutting down the Mavericks’ bench and getting Paul George (4-for-17 in Game 2) back in rhythm.
And, of course, the Mavericks have to be mindful of staying together when they know the Clippers are going to come at them with the kitchen sink on Friday. And just the nature of playoff basketball can beat down a player – or a team.
“You got to deal with situations where it’s tough,” Carlisle said. “You’re getting decent looks but they’re not going in. But you got to try to stay together.
“You got to deal with offense-defense substitutions at the end of the game, which no players like. The whole notion of playoff basketball (is) everybody working to give each other energy and to do one little thing at a time as you go through 48 minutes and thousands of events. That’s what this is all about.
“Individual statistics really are out the window because it’s very binary. It’s about winning and losing.”
The Mavericks have done both once.
They’re hoping to do that winning part of the equation three more times against the Clippers, starting Friday night.
Health issues: The health of LA point guard Patrick Beverley and Porzingis both will be watched closely in the hours leading up to Game 3.
Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers said that Beverley, who played limited minutes in Game 1 and sat out Game 2 with a left calf strain, did not practice on Thursday and probably would be a game-time decision Friday. He was officially listed as doubtful on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Mavericks did not practice on Thursday, so there was no clear update about Porzingis, who played 36 minutes in Game 2 after tweaking his right knee in Game 1. The good news is that there was no mention of Porzingis’ knee on the Thursday afternoon injury report, although he was listed as probable with a heel contusion.
Porzingis admitted he was uncertain about whether he would play on Wednesday because of the knee. He ended up scoring 23 points and grabbing seven rebounds.
“It happened in the first game to my knee and I felt it (Tuesday),” Porzingis said. “I wasn’t feeling very good. I had trouble moving and for me to be able to play in (Game 2) was a surprise to me.”
Porzingis credited the Mavericks’ medical staff in the bubble for spending “I don’t know how many hours” treating the knee to get him game-ready.
But after a full workload Wednesday, he’ll be monitored closely before Game 3. He is listed as probable on the Mavericks’ game notes.
Harrell needs work: Rivers said reserve big man Montrezl Harrell has no choice but to work himself into condition on the fly.
The 6-7 candidate for sixth man of the year has played sparingly in the first two games, averaging 8 points, more than 10 below his regular-season average.
“His rhythm is not great, conditioning is not great,” Rivers said. “It’s just a tough place (in terms of timing) to integrate a guy. He’s been off five months from real basketball. It’s a tough one for us, I can tell you that. We need him. But it’s tough to throw him in.”