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How the Mavericks' first 20 games have felt like 2 different seasons

December 02,2018 05:32

But one of the most important takeaways from October and November is that the Mavericks have figured out how they have to play to win games. They are not going to be a pretty team. They are only going to be as good as their grit and physicality take them.


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Ron Jenkins/AP
Dallas Mavericks forward Harrison Barnes (40) attempts a shot as Golden State Warriors center Damian Jones (15) and forward Kevin Durant (35) defend during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, in Dallas. The Mavericks won 112-109. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

By Eddie Sefko , Staff Writer

The Mavericks have played 20 games, but it seems more like two seasons.
They clearly aren’t as bad as the 2-7 record they started out with.
But are they as good as their 8-3 mark since?
Somehow, things have a way of leveling out over time. But one of the most important takeaways from October and November is that the Mavericks have figured out how they have to play to win games.
They are not going to be a pretty team. They are only going to be as good as their grit and physicality take them.
With Luka Doncic, Dennis Smith, DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Matthews and others, they have players who can thrive with rugged basketball. And they are learning how to do it together. Doncic, especially, gets it.
“We started bad, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “But we’re a new team. We needed to get our chemistry together. We’re doing good now.
“The conference is pretty competitive. I think we’re doing good. We keep getting our chemistry. We have some new players, me as well. So just keep building the chemistry.”
What’s also important to remember is that Doncic and DeAndre Jordan, as well as other newcomers like Jalen Brunson, are not used to losing a lot of games. So 10-10 after 20 games may be massive improvement after the 2-7 start, but it’s not exactly a reason to throw a party.

“We can’t be complacent,” Jordan said. “We want to be better. We don’t want to say: oh, we’re playing great, so that’s it. We want to continue to build on this. We don’t want to have a couple good games and then forget how we had been playing and get away from that. We can’t go backwards.”
The Mavericks have a critical stretch coming up. Six of their next eight games are at home. The road games are at New Orleans and Phoenix, both of which would qualify as winnable.
Nosing three or four games above .500 before a brutal travel stretch around the holidays puts them on the road for nine of 11 games is mandatory if they hope to be in the playoff chase beyond New Year’s Day.
And the coming week or two will also be big because it likely will feature the debut of Dirk Nowitzki in his 21st season. The guess is sometime after the back-to-back on Tuesday against the Blazers and Wednesday at New Orleans.
While it’s true that their rebuilding project isn’t yet finished, the Mavericks have made a difficult leap back to respectability. Management has done a good job of acquiring good young talent. Smith is talented. And Doncic may end up being a star-level player. Nobody knows if DeAndre Jordan will stick around beyond this season. But he absolutely will help win games for the next four-plus months.
The Mavericks provided proof that they are nowhere near a finished product with their 114-103 loss at the Lakers late Friday night. They crumbled in the second half as they tried to take shortcuts defensively and were subarctic shooting the ball.
These things happen to a youngish team.
But splitting a two-game trip against the Rockets and Lakers is no crime.

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“(We’re) 10-10,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Look, I’m going to err on the side of viewing positives. The team has grown a lot. We fought hard to get back in a position where we were over .500. We’re disappointed about (the Lakers’ game). But we got a couple home games coming up. We got to get rested for those.”
The Clippers, who are at American Airlines Center at 6 p.m. Sunday, have the best record in the Western Conference. Portland on Tuesday is another solid playoff team in the West.
But as the Mavericks have learned, it’s less about who they are playing against and more about how they play.
“It’s been two different seasons almost,” Harrison Barnes said. “We battled back. We showed good resolve. We came up with an identity of slugging it out. And battling through adversity. Building on that going forward is key.”
Briefly: Sunday’s game will be the 700th for the Mavericks at AAC. They are 488-211 and are riding a six-game home winning streak ... Harrison Barnes is averaging 20.6 points over the last eight games and is shooting 50 percent (24-of-48) from 3-point range. “Shots are finally going in. At the beginning of the season, the shot felt great and I was hitting absolutely nothing. Now I’m at a time when the shots are falling. But you can’t rely on that every night.”
Twitter: @ESefko

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