Practice Report: J.J. Barea

Mavs veteran guard J.J. Barea speaks about how the team can rally after last night's game and previews the matchup against the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday.

The first half of Monday’s game against the Lakers was a wonderful 24 minutes of basketball for Dallas. The Mavs led 67-54 at the break, tied for their fifth highest-scoring opening act of the season. But a combination of turnovers, fast break points allowed, and some missed shots caused the halftime cushion to quickly disappear, and by the end of the night, J.J. Barea used the word “embarrassing” to describe the 107-97 defeat, adding that there was no time to waste to recover. Tomorrow, meaning Tuesday, the team had to be better.

The NBA schedule doesn’t allow much time to move on from difficult losses. The Mavs just wrapped up a 13-game, 23-day stretch across all four time zones which featured two different four-game road trips. During that time, the “easiest” opponent by record, New Orleans, features Anthony Davis, who’s perhaps one of the three best players in the NBA. This has been a challenging stretch to be sure, but teams cannot allow themselves to get caught up in who’s lining up across from them.

“I don’t care who we play. It’s about us,” Barea said Tuesday. “I think if we play hard, bring a lot of energy, and everybody plays their role, I think we’ll be fine.”

His challenge to himself and to the team came at a good time. Wednesday’s opponent, the Phoenix Suns, have a 9-32 record this season and sit 15th place in the West. But two of those wins have come against the Mavericks, and both games Dallas has been held to 100 points or less. Easy games don’t seem to exist in the Western Conference, but even if they did, Wednesday’s is certainly not one of them. Deandre Ayton would have two Rookie of the Month awards on his mantelpiece if it weren’t for Luka Doncic, and Devin Booker has had some terrific games against the Mavs in recent seasons.

“We’ve got to be careful,” Barea said. “They play really good against us. They shoot the ball good against us here at home, so we’ve got to be ready.”

One common theme from head coach Rick Carlisle has been the need to establish more consistency. Monday’s game against the Lakers was, unfortunately, an example of what he’s been talking about. Dallas looked like a juggernaut in the first half, but a few mistakes in the second half eventually cost the club dearly.

“Our inconsistency is a nemesis, and we’ve just got to keep working on being more consistent overall,” Carlisle said. “What I like is we’ve shown the ability to be a very good defensive team. We’ve shown the ability to be a very good offensive team, and an efficient offensive team. But too often we’ve mixed in a 19-turnover game and bad transition defense to take the wind out of our sails.”

Just recently, the Mavs poured in 10 3-pointers in the first quarter in a 38-point win at Charlotte. Ryan Broekhoff and Jalen Brunson had tremendous performances in Philadelphia, jump-starting a run which brought the Mavericks back into a game in which they trailed by double-digits. Luka Doncic erased a late eight-point deficit against Houston just one month ago, launching an 11-0 run by himself which helped Dallas win the game and solidified his All-Star candidacy in the process. There have been plenty of high moments recently, but there have been some negative ones, too.

“There’s no question that our guys acknowledge that we’ve got to be more consistent, and that there is a long way to go,” Carlisle said. “Those are positive things. But we’ve got to make it happen. Talk doesn’t get much done.”

Wednesday’s contest against Phoenix is game No. 41, representing the halfway point of the season. There is still plenty of time left, and while Dallas is 3.5 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot, the team has more home than road games remaining, and the schedule lightens up soon, relatively speaking, in terms of travel, game frequency, and strength of opponents.

Every season is a roller coaster — Carlisle has compared his job as head coach to that of a pilot trying to guide and then successfully land a plane — and veteran players, Dirk Nowitzki chief among them, often say the key to surviving an 82-game season requires a unique ability to not get too high with the highs, and not too low with the lows. The Mavericks understand that Monday’s loss was a low, but they also understand not to dwell. After all, thinking too much about the past could hurt you in the present, and lately Phoenix has been a handful for Dallas. All hands must be on deck, and completely in the moment, on Wednesday night.

“It’s a rough day to come in, after a game like that, the way we’re playing lately,” Barea said. “But I think we got through it. I think we got better. But it all depends (on) how we come out tomorrow, if we handle our business, and I think we’ve just got to play way harder, tougher, more together. We’ve got to do a lot of things that we didn’t do (against L.A.), so we’ll see.”

Added Carlisle: “There’s still a long way to go, a lot to be determined, but the urgency is there.”

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