Being under .500 with nine games left in the season normally would spell disaster for an NBA team.
Or, at least, be a clear sign that you can start making vacation plans for late April.
But this is not a normal year.
The Mavericks still have lots to play for. More than just getting into the play-in tournament or making the top six and avoiding that tedious exercise.
And, to hear Jason Kidd talk, the season is still out there waiting to be made or broken.
“The standings are going to change to the last game of the season,” Kidd said Thursday. “If we can get healthy and have everyone on the court, that gives us the best chance to win. That’s not a guarantee that we’re going to win. But that definitely gives us the best chance and hopefully that starts (Friday).
“We feel we have the pieces to be a championship team. We’re playing for a championship. But we just right now have to focus on the game that’s in front of us and that’s Charlotte.”
The status of Kyrie Irving is something that clearly will impact the Mavericks’ ability to move up from the No. 9 seed, which they occupied going into Thursday’s action.
They have waffled from fifth to ninth while going 2-5 in the last two weeks. That they have been missing either Kyrie Irving or Luka Dončić (or both) in their last six contests.
Dončić returned from a left thigh strain on Wednesday with 30 points, 17 assists and seven rebounds in the 127-125 loss to the Golden State Warriors. Irving (right foot soreness) missed that game and is questionable for the Hornets (7:30 p.m. Friday).
“Everybody did their individual work today,” Kidd said of Thursday’s session, “so hopefully he (Irving) feels good to go tomorrow.”
The Mavericks need to bank wins down the stretch. To review, the top six teams in each conference in the final standings are the top six seeds in their respective conference.
The seventh through 10th seeds will have a play-in tournament: No. 7 vs. No. 8 for the seventh seed. The loser plays the winner of the No. 9-10 game for the eighth seed.
It’s something the Mavericks have not been involved in and would just as soon keep it that way.
Although, it’s better than finishing 11th and start hoping for major luck in the draft lottery.
The Mavericks’ crunch-time failures have been well-documented this season. But even so, they are just 2½ games out of a home-court advantage in the first round. And, conversely, a half-game out of the 11th spot.
“Not every single team is going to be perfect in every game,” said Josh Green. “We’ve messed up a lot of end of games. We’ve had a lot of games in our hands. We probably could have come out with an extra 10 or 15 wins if we just closed games. And it sucks . . .
“But that’s up to us now at the time of year when we need to do that. For me, it’s like we have everything to look forward to. We have an amazing group of guys, competitive group and I’m ready to go to battle with all of them, no matter what happened a month ago, two months ago, three months ago. We’re going to battle every game. It doesn’t matter what people say.”
Protest is a hard sell: While the Mavericks have until Friday to formally protest the outcome of Wednesday’s loss to the Warriors, Kidd said that the team feels like it has great points in its favor.
That said, any protest is a dicey proposition, he said.
“I don’t think there’s been too many protests that have been successful in the history of the NBA,” he said. “Analytically, I would lean that way if there’s a protest filed. If we don’t win, it just falls in order with the other protests.”
But, sometimes, you have to stick to the principle of the matter and state your case, even if you know it’s probably a losing battle.
“I think we have a case,” Kidd said. “Is it right or wrong? The league is going to have to make that decision. So, there was some confusion coming out of that timeout, clearly. It could have been handled differently. It wasn’t. We can learn from it. And we got to move forward.”
Kidd spent Thursday, his 50th birthday, rehashing the end of the third quarter, when a dead ball was believed to be in the Mavericks’ possession, but resulted in Golden State inbounding for an uncontested dunk while the Mavericks were at the other end of the court.
It was a confusing situation for everybody.
“The referee indicated to us that it was our ball going into the timeout,” Green said. “We were under the impression that it was our ball. That’s what the referees told us. Usually, you go by what the referee tells you. That’s just how it went.
“When the referee tells you it’s your ball, most of the time, you’re going to think it’s your ball.”
When the refs put the ball in play and the Warriors were about to inbound, Green knew something was awry.
“I started sprinting down just in case,” he said. “We were breaking up (the timeout huddle). We had our play. It was just one of those things. The referee handed him the ball, which was surprising. Usually there will be a delay of game or something. But it is what it is.”
Briefly: For his 50th birthday, Kidd didn’t plan anything extravagant. “Just dinner,” he said. The players didn’t even get the chance to sing Happy Birthday to their coach. “We’re working too much today,” Kidd said. “We didn’t get to it. A lot of guys said happy birthday. We’ll sing it tomorrow for Kai (Kyrie Irving). It’s more his birthday than mine.” Irving turned 31 on Thursday . . . Despite the tough loss on Wednesday, the Mavericks’ practice on Thursday was quite upbeat. “What happened, obviously we’re not happy about what happened,” Green said. “But everybody came out and worked. We watched an hour of film of what we need to do better defending guys like that. It’s about learning.”
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