While the Dallas Mavericks were busy ushering in a new era this summer with a new head coach, they also want to usher in a new era by protecting their home court and making it a place where opponents dread playing.
In recent years, opposing teams have walked in and out of American Airlines Center like their own the place. While the Mavs have been vicious pit bulls on the road in recent years, they’ve been like a big fluffy teddy bear when playing at home.
The Mavs know the last part of that equation has to change if they want to be mentioned among the NBA’s elite teams. And the Mavs are hoping that change will begin Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. with their home opener against the Houston Rockets.
Opening the season on the road last week with a split – a 113-87 loss in Atlanta and a 103-95 win in Toronto – is cause for celebration for the Mavs. But they would be in an even more celebratory mood if they can be more impactful on their home court this season.
“We had a successful road trip,” coach Jason Kidd said after Monday’s practice at BioSteel practice facility. “We went 1-1, and now it’s time to protect home.
“If we want to be the team that we think we can be, we’ve got to protect home, and it starts tomorrow.”
From their vantage point, the Mavs are aware that there’s no use in banging their heads against the wall in the regular season to nab one of the precious top four seeds in the Western Conference — and the accompanying homecourt advantage that comes with it — if they’re going to lay an egg at home once the playoffs starts. That’s sort of what happened last season.
After stunningly winning Games 1 and 2 of their best-of-seven first-round playoff series on the road against the Los Angeles Clippers last season, the Mavs promptly came home and surprisingly lost Games 3 and 4. Then the Mavs flew back to LA and shockingly captured Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead in the series.
However, the Mavs unfortunately dropped Game 6 at AAC and Game 7 and the series back in Los Angeles.
“I don’t want to keep talking about last year’s playoffs,” forward Dorian Finney-Smith said. “All we can focus on is trying to have a good home record, and I think that’s what we’re going to do this year – protect our house. I think if we do that, then we’ll put ourselves in a great position.”
When the Mavs captured the 2011 NBA title, they sported a 29-12 record at home and entered the playoffs as the No. 3 seed. Of course, that team was so skilled and so deep – and 28-13 on the road — they could probably have played all four playoff series on the moon and still come out on top.
The jury, no doubt, is still out on the 2021-22 Mavs since they have a new coach and new offensive and defensive schemes, and the season is less than a week old. But there’s one particular attention to detail this teams knows is a sure-fire recipe for success.
Not counting the four “home games” they played in the bubble two seasons ago, over the past five seasons the Mavs are only 100-93 at home for a winning percentage of just 51.8 percent. That’s a winning percentage that doesn’t equate to championships and parades.
During last year’s truncated season, the Mavs were equally 21-15 at home and 21-15 on the road. Two seasons ago – when a few of the games were played in the bubble in suburban Orlando — they were only 20-18 at AAC and 23-14 on the road.
So why such great success on the road and not at home?
“Just playing on the road and having that ‘everybody against us’ mentality always has been good for us,” Finney-Smith said. “If we use the arena energy and come out with that energy (at ACC), I think we should win at home, too.”
Kidd remembers his home opener during his rookie season with the Mavs, who beat the New Jersey Nets, 112-103, on Nov. 4, 1994, as the new era of the Three J’s began. For the Mavs, Jim Jackson tallied 37 points, Jamal Mashburn poured in 30 points, and Kidd added 10 points, nine rebounds and 11 assists.
Fast-forward 27 years, Kidd smiled and reminded his listeners: “I’m not playing. I think sometimes it could get lost that they think I’m playing. I’m just coaching, but I’m excited. I’m excited for tomorrow. It’s the home opener.”
As far as what can fans anticipate from the Mavs this season, Kidd described it in sample sizes.
“I think there’s small sample size, there’s medium sample size and there’s big sample size,” he said. “Everybody has their opinion on which one is successful, so I think it’s really going to take some games. We’re going to have a small sample of five games, 10 games, 20 games.
“We’re going to look at the numbers and see what lineups work as we go along. But it’s hard to do it at two games. It’s almost impossible. We’ll look at small, medium and big, because we have the personnel to be able to get those numbers and information to us.”
From there. . .
“I always have said that you know your team by Christmas or a little bit before Christmas,” Kidd said. “So we have some time to get to that.
“But we will, and I know you (media) guys will let me know which ones are working. I’m not against that.”
Whatever lineup he uses, Kidd knows he was brought here to not only help the Mavs get out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2011, but he also was brought here to win championships.
“I’m just trying to put guys in a position to be successful,” Kidd said. “And use my eyes and ears to see and hear what’s happening so I can help those guys be successful.”
Tuesday’s sellout crowd will be the first time fans will be allowed inside AAC for a Mavs’ home opener since 2019. Last year the COVID-19 restrictions prohibited fans from being on hand for the Mavs’ home opener.
But when the coronavirus restrictions were loosened in time for the playoffs, the fans inside AAC were rowdy, proud and loud during the series against the Clippers.
“We didn’t have fans the last home opener, so I think the city is excited,” Finney-Smith said. “It’s going to be fun. I expect it to be turned up.”