After being just one game in the loss column away from the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference for a day, suddenly the Dallas Mavericks find themselves one game in the loss column away from the dreaded No. 8 seed.
That’s what losses at home on back-to-back days have done to the Mavs.
The Mavs followed Sunday’s disappointing loss to the San Antonio Spurs with Monday’s 113-95 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. Those two setbacks left the No. 7-seeded Mavs (29-24) only a game in the loss column ahead of the No. 8-seeded Memphis Grizzlies (27-25).
And as the quintessential basketball gods would have it, the Mavs’ next game is Wednesday night in Memphis. Meanwhile, the Mavs know they need to start trending upward if they want to halt a troubling paradox that has seen them lose three of their last four games.
“We’ve been through dips in the schedule before,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Our group has shown that they have the ability to be very resilient, and so this is another opportunity to show that. We’ve got to drill down on the things that are really important to us heading into Wednesday.
“We’ll digest everything from tonight. We’ll look at the last game with Memphis, which I’ve already done. It’s a challenging season and you’ve got to have the attitude that you love the challenge – that’s how it’s got to be. Our guys have done that really to this point, and they’ve seen a lot of them.”
Certainly, Joel Embiid posed a huge challenge for the Mavs on Monday. The Sixers’ All-Star center muscled his way for a game-high 36 points and seven rebounds while drawing fouls from anyone within breathing distance of himself on his way to making 14-of-15 free throws in less than three quarters of work.
“Embiid was just dominant out there,” Carlisle said. “It was really difficult to deal with him. We elected to start smaller to have another ball handler to try to stretch their bigs out, but the two quick fouls on Maxi (Kleber) made that difficult and he just kept fouling guys out of the game in terms of two in the first quarter, three in the second.
“He’s a great player. He’s really matured a lot, grown a lot, and he showed everything tonight. Everything from back-in dunks, turnaround shots, threes, face-ups, the whole deal. That was a big problem.”
Embiid poured in 12 points in the first quarter, which ended with the Sixers nursing a 30-26 lead. He tossed in 11 more in the second quarter, which concluded with Philly ahead, 60-48. And he added 13 more in the third quarter as the Sixers toted a commanding 88-69 cushion into the final quarter.
It didn’t help matters for the Mavs that they were without forward/center Kristaps Porzingis, who sat out with an injury recovery situation due to this being the second leg of a back-to-back.
“Maxi picked up two early (fouls) and we’re really short on bigs, and the next man had to step up,” said Dorian Finney-Smith, who finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds. “He just got a rhythm going and he got to the free throw line early, and it’s easy for that basket to look bigger when you get to the free throw line a couple of times, and that’s what he did.”
The game was the first for guard JJ Redick since the Mavs acquired him last month in a trade with the New Orleans Pelicans. Redick has been rehabbing his sore right heel, but played 14 minutes against the Sixers and scored four points while going 1-of-7 from the field, including 1-of-3 from beyond the 3-point arc.
It was Redick’s first game since March 3 when he was still a member of the Pelicans.
“I love the way he moves on the court,” Carlisle said. “For coming back onto the floor for the first time in that period of time for an NBA game, I thought he moved very well. He fights his butt off defensively to hold his own within the system and I think he’s going to help us.
“I just think his shooting, his experience, he’s also a very underrated screener, which is very important in today’s game. He’s going to help us and we’ll see how he’s doing tomorrow. The hope is that he’s doing fine and continues to cycle up in a positive way from his rehab.”
Luka Doncic led the Mavs with 32 points and Jalen Brunson contributed 15 points and six boards. But the Mavs shot just 42.2 percent from the field, misfired on 27 of their 36 attempts from 3-point territory, and trailed by as many as 23 points — 97-74 — with 8:29 remaining in the game.
“We had some stretches where we got a little bit of traction, but we could never get quite enough, so it was a difficult night,” Carlisle said. “They’re going to be very, very difficult to beat in the East.
“I wish we had our full compliment of guys and had a day of rest coming into the game. But this season you’re really not going to get what you want when it comes to that kind of stuff.”
As the Sixers were reveling in boosting their Eastern Conference-leading record to 37-17, the Mavs now turn their undivided attention to Wednesday’s huge game in Memphis. Are there any concerns?
“I don’t have concerns,” Doncic said. “We just got to keep improving.”
“We know what we’re capable of,” Brunson said. “We’ve done it before.
“We just got to find a way to get over this hump. We have enough personnel to do it, and we’ve got to stick together.”