DENVER – As NBA road trip go, they don’t get too much tougher than the one the Dallas Mavericks will be facing over the ensuing six days.
Starting with Tuesday’s game against the Western Conference’s No. 1-seeded Denver Nuggets, the Mavs will play four of the top eight teams in the West on this rugged journey. The trip includes a Thursday contest against the No. 5-seeded Los Angeles Clippers, a Saturday game against the No. 2-seeded two-time defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors, and it ends with a Sunday matchup against the No. 8-seeded Portland Trail Blazers before the Mavs return home to host New Orleans on Dec. 26.
The Nuggets (20-9), Clippers (17-12), Warriors (20-10) and Blazers (16-13) have a combined 73-44 record for a winning percentage of 62.4 percent. Meanwhile, those four teams also have combined to produce a staggering 44-13 record at home for a winning percentage of 77.2 percent.
For the Mavs, this is a trip strapped with a lot of challenges in that it’s against some of the best teams the NBA has to offer.
“It’s the ultimate trip to challenge an NBA team,” coach Rick Carlisle said after Monday’s practice. “All these teams are playing well.
“It’s a great schedule in terms of challenge, and we just got to go one game at a time, whistle to whistle.”
The Nuggets present a unique challenge because opposing teams have to also deal with the mile high altitude. It’s real, and it can make a team alter their substation patterns.
“You just got to go in there and understand the conditions,” Carlisle said. “Rotations and subs generally are a little sooner, and guys, as the game goes on, adapt somewhat.
“You just got to play the game. And this is where our depth comes into play.”
So how long does it take for players to adjust to the mile high air in Denver?
“Depends how the flow of the game goes,” guard Wesley Matthews said. “If it’s an up and down game you get to it a little bit faster.
“It’ll hit you faster and then you kind of reach your second wind a little bit earlier.”
Either way, the Mavs will have to contend with Denver’s Nikola Jokic (17.7 points, 9.9 rebounds) and Jamal Murray (17.5 points), plus the deep cast of characters the Nuggets have on their bench.
“They’ve got a lot of depth, obviously,” Carlisle said. “Jokic is having a great year, Murray’s having a helluva year, their role players have really stepped up.
“It’s a situation where it’s a tough venue because of the altitude and all those kinds of things. But we just got to play our game, be efficient and give ourselves a chance.”
Jokic is a 7-footer who has been a very bright spot for the Nuggets. But if Matthews finds himself in a situation where he is forced to make a switch and guard Jokic, he already knows how he’ll defend the four-year veteran.
“What I try to do against anybody — make them uncomfortable,” Matthews said. “Whatever that is, wherever he is in the situation on the court, I try to make him as least comfortable as possible.”
The Mavs created some enormous uncomfortable situations for themselves during last Thursday’s 99-89 loss at Phoenix when they turned the ball over a whopping 23 times. More of the same occurred during Sunday’s 120-113 loss at home to the Sacramento Kings as the Mavs committed 14 turnovers.
Those miscues are some of the primary reasons the Mavs are riding a two-game losing streak for the first time since they dropped six straight from Oct. 24-Nov. 2.
“The recent challenges have been too many turnovers, problems rebounding the ball,” Carlisle said. “We’ve got to start with addressing those and the rest of the things we can resolve.
“Things involving possession of the ball are really big, especially on the road.”
It doesn’t help matters that the Mavs will be trying to beat some of the NBA’s best teams all while being away from their families during this holiday season. However, Carlisle has a definitive solution.
“We’re going to have to make it a positive,” he said. “And with where we’re going and the difficulty of the schedule, we’re going to have to be together.
“Hey, these are opportunities for us. Last night was tough. Sacramento played well, we didn’t play good enough. We’ve got to keep moving forward.”
NOTES: Coach Rick Carlisle said guard J. J. Barea “participated in some things” during Monday’s practice. Barea has missed the last two games with a sprained left ankle and said he plans to play Tuesday against the Nuggets. . .Guard Dennis Smith Jr. is listed as doubtful for the Denver game. Smith has missed five of the last six games with a sprained right wrist.