Some 295 days and a coronavirus pandemic later, the Dallas Mavericks finally ended the longest regular season in NBA history on Thursday with a 128-102 loss to the Phoenix Suns at AdventHealth Arena.
With the setback, the Mavs ended the regular season with a 43-32 record and will now turn their attention to why they came to Orlando in the first place — the playoffs. They will open the postseason on Monday at 8 p.m. in a best-of-seven series against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Game 2 of that series will be Wednesday at 8 p.m., Game 3 is Aug. 21 at 8 p.m., and Game 4 is Aug. 23 at 2:30 p.m. If necessary, Game 5 is Aug. 25, Game 6 is Aug. 27 and Game 7 is Aug. 29.
On being grateful to have been able to finish this season, guard J.J. Barea said: “No question, with everything that’s going on in the world and we’re still playing basketball. The Mavericks are back in the playoffs and that’s a big goal that we wanted. Today was a disappointing game. We didn’t show up.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do. These next couple of days we’ve got to get ready for a battle. Our goal was to make it to the playoffs. We’re here now and we’ve got to get ready for it.”
Before taking on the Clippers, the Mavs were faced with the task of playing a meaningless game against a Suns team that’s fighting for a spot in the NBA play-in game. The Mavs played without Kristaps Porzingis, and Luka Dončić, Seth Curry, Tim Hardaway Jr. Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber only played in the first half.
Translation: The Mavs simply wanted to just get out of this game without encountering any injuries, and in that regard, they were successful.
“It’s not a great situation,” coach Rick Carlisle humbly said. “You try to get the most out of it and hope you can compete hard.
“We had struggles, Phoenix had everything to play for and they played extremely well. I’ll give them the majority of the credit for how this game went. No excuses, but we’re moving beyond this game and we’ve got to prep for the Clippers.”
Most of the Mavs don’t have much playoff experience under their belts. But they can lean heavily on Barea, who played a prominent role when the Mavs captured the 2011 NBA championship when the Mavs revolved around Dirk Nowitzki.
“With Dirk we always had a chance,” Barea said. “We were thinking championship or nothing. But this is totally different now.
“I’m the oldest, I’m trying to motivate the guys and tell them what I know. It’s going to be tough, it’s going to be a grind. We’ve got to raise our basketball level, we’ve got to raise the way we compete, we’ve got to raise everything.”
And the Mavs probably will have to throw everything – including the kitchen sink – at the Clippers, who are among the favorites to win this year’s NBA title.
“I’ve been to the playoffs before,” said Dončić, who scored 18 points and grabbed five rebounds in 13 minutes against the Suns. “For sure I’m going to lean on that. It’s tough to play in Europe, too. It’s a way higher level in the NBA, but it’s similar emotions, so you’ve got to be ready.”
Dončić was the Most Valuable Player of the EuroLeague regular season and of the 2018 EuroLeague Final Four while leading Real Madrid to the championship that season. Meanwhile, the Mavs are well aware of the physicality the Clippers bring.
“They’re deep, they’re physical, they’re experienced,” Carlisle said. “It’s an experienced team that plays with attitude, so we’re going to have to prepare for that and we’re going to have to attack them hard.”
And the Mavs are going to need all hands on deck. That means Boban Marjanović, who collected 18 points and a career-high 20 rebounds Thursday against the Suns, must be available to play a prominent role.
“Bobie has been great,” the 36-year old Barea said. “Every time we put him out there he does a great job for us, and we’re going to need him.
“The Clippers are a big team, they’ve got two big men that are really good. So yeah, we’re definitely going to have to throw Bobie in there and he’s going to be big for us for us to have a chance in the playoffs.”
Marjanović is definitely waiting on his opportunity to shine in the bright lights of the playoffs.
“Everybody who is in the playoffs has a chance,” he said. “Everybody has an equal chance. Sometimes, sometimes you have a lucky day or not lucky. Everybody will play hard. We prepare the best we can and I hope we surprise the Clippers.”
All season long whenever the Mavs were punched, they delivered a pretty good counter-punter. That was revealed by the fact that every NBA team had a losing streak that lasted at least three games this season – except the Mavs.
“We’ve been resilient,” Carlisle said. “Maybe there’s been some good fortune from a scheduling standpoint – I don’t know — but (not losing more than two games in a row this season) a notable achievement. It’s one of the positives that will come out of this. It’s certainly a good thing.”
Now, the Mavs will carry those good vibes into the next chapter of a season that has already lasted longer than anyone could have imagined.
“Matching up against the Clippers, it’s a very challenging matchup because of their talent and the physical nature of how they play,” Carlisle said. “We’ll learn a lot about ourselves as we begin competing in the series.”
Dončić acknowledged that the odds may be stacked against the Mavs. However, Dončić’s coaches and teammates know these are the type of challenges that he savors.
“They’re a tough team to beat,” Dončić said. “We just got to be prepared and give it everything we have.”
This will be the Mavs’ first appearance in the postseason since 2016. And they can’t wait.
“It feels great,” Barea said. “The Mavericks, we’re back in the playoffs! We missed it, so hopefully it’ll be a great experience for us.”