The Mavericks need some propping up right now, but doing so isn’t easy.

Their flaws have been out there for all to see the last seven games. And at times like these, everybody sees the negative and forgets that two weeks ago, they were riding a five-game winning streak.

That does them no good now.

They’ve lost five of their last seven and everybody inside the locker room and out knows that things have to change or this season is going to end a lot sooner than anybody wants it to. They have 16 games left in the regular season to fix what ails them. So the clock is ticking.

There are three vital areas that the Mavericks must address:

  1. A sense of urgency. It hasn’t been there, at least not often enough, in the last seven games. The Mavericks used the third quarter of Sunday’s calamitous 14-point loss to Sacramento as an example of how they can fix this. All the players who were not in the game, including Luka Dončić and Kristaps Porzingis, were standing on the baseline near their bench area and cheering every play during the Mavericks’ rally. That sort of enthusiasm would have been nice to see during the first and second quarters.
  2. Eliminate the hero ball. Yes, we are well aware that Dončić is going to have the ball in his hands more than any other player. The Mavericks trust him in every situation. And Luka professes supreme confidence in his teammates. They all talk about having each other’s back. But the results aren’t showing it. They have had 16 or fewer assists in three of their last seven games (all losses). “I think in an NBA game, teams can always be more unselfish,” coach Rick Carlisle said after the loss to Sacramento. “And it’s not just an offensive thing. It’s a defensive thing, too. It’s a willingness to help, it’s building a trust where you know if you’re beat somebody’s got your back and then somebody’s got the back of that guy and the defense rotates the way it’s supposed to.” It’s not as complicated as it sounds. The Mavericks have been a helping team many times this season. As Dorian Finney-Smith said: “As a team, it’s time for us to look in the mirror. There’s nothing coach can do out there. It’s us five on the court. We got to start the game off with a little more energy. We can’t wait until we get hit first.”
  3. Which brings us to the obvious follow up: Don’t get hit first. The Mavericks have a terrible habit of falling behind early in games. And it’s been proven time after time that trying to fight back from early deficits is a dangerous way to do business in the NBA. It’s simply asking for trouble. And losses.

And so, the Mavericks are heading into another game they need to win and, on paper, should win. Detroit arrives Wednesday with the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

And yet, with the Los Angeles Lakers coming in on Thursday and Saturday, the Mavericks will have to fight the temptation to emotionally bypass the Pistons in anticipation of the Lakers, who may or may not get Anthony Davis back by then.

It seems there’s always something that can sabotage them. If Sacramento can come in with a nine-game losing streak and pull off the stunner, anything is possible.

“Every game must be treated as a playoff game,” Carlisle said. “All these teams are playing their butts off. Even teams that are out of it. Detroit coming in on Wednesday, they’re a hard-playing team. We’re going to get their best game.”

Interestingly, that seems to always be the case, he said: “We get the opponent’s best game on most nights. People come after us. That’s a challenge we’ve got to embrace and we’ve got to reach down and do a hell of a lot better.”

Briefly: This is the Mavericks’ last two-day break until the postseason. They took Monday to recharge and will go through a much-needed practice on Tuesday, Carlisle said before they start the challenging stretch run: 16 games in 26 days, starting with five games in seven days.

Twitter: @ESefko

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