Mavs get chance to regroup, prove themselves
Now that the Dallas Mavericks have gotten past that dreaded stretch of nine games in 12 days, and it wasn't pretty, they are getting some relief.
The defending NBA champions, the league's oldest team with all its starters and two top reserves being at least 10-year veterans, have a chance to regroup. They are now in a nearly two-week span without having to play on consecutive nights, a rarity in this brutal condensed season.
''Nine games in 12 nights, this team was not designed for that,'' owner Mark Cuban said. ''Especially, when you have injuries.''
The Mavericks won only twice in that span before returning home and getting back post players Brendan Haywood (sprained left ankle) and Brandan Wright (concussion) in time for a desperately needed victory over Washington on Tuesday night. They are still without guard Delonte West, out nearly a month with a broken right ring finger.
After beating the lowly Wizards, Dallas practiced for the second time in three days. The Mavs play at home again Thursday night against Charlotte, the only team in the league with fewer wins than Washington's nine, and host Southwest Division-leading San Antonio on Saturday night.
The Mavericks (24-20) won't have to play back-to-back games again until March 23-24, and then won't even have to leave Texas then since those games are in San Antonio and Houston. The toughest remaining stretch could be four games on the West Coast in five nights in mid-April.
''Now's our chance to prove ourselves,'' Cuban said. ''It's just been a different year, and we've got the fewest games left. Now hopefully that will play in our favor. Hopefully we'll run into some tired teams like they've run into us.''
After losing at home to the Los Angeles Lakers in their last game before the All-Star break, the Mavericks went 2-7 over a dozen days. That ended with five games in six nights, including their only span this season of three games in three nights - all losses on the road against teams with losing records.
''Losing is no fun. Everybody's on edge, frustration comes out,'' 11-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki said. ''But we're a veteran team. All we can do is stick together.''
Dallas, which slipped to seventh place in the Western Conference standings, was the first conference team to play its 44th game - exactly two-thirds of the unbalanced 66-game regular-season schedule.
That leaves 22 games over the six weeks. There are even four days off before the regular-season finale April 26 at Atlanta that could be rendered meaningless if the Mavs take care of their business before then.
But they have to win games and get some momentum going.
''It's not like we have a cushion,'' Cuban said.
''We've got to do it whistle to whistle, play to play,'' coach Rick Carlisle said. ''It's not like all right, we're just going to get it back. ... You've got to do it.''
Cuban said the recent slide didn't change his thoughts going into Thursday's trading deadline. He has repeatedly said there are no plans for Dallas to make any significant deals.
''We don't have enough practice time to integrate the guys we have,'' Cuban said. ''So unless somebody just throws a gimme at me, why would we.''
Because of the grind of playing so many games in short period of time, Carlisle has done his best to limit minutes and provide breaks for veteran players.
Jason Kidd, the point guard who turns 39 later this month, was held out of Saturday night's loss at Golden State to get some rest. He missed 10 earlier games because of a lower back injury and then a strained right calf.
In the fourth quarter Tuesday, Carlisle stuck with Rodrigue Beaubouis the entire fourth quarter for Kidd, who that night became only the 12th NBA player to appear in 1,300 regular-season games.
Nowitzki is playing 32.1 minutes per game, nearly 4 minutes below his career average and his lowest total since becoming a full-time starter n 1999-2000. He was held out of four games in late January because of a sore right knee.
''It's not like we were playing a full team full minutes,'' Cuban said, referring to the recent stretch. ''Because you had to conserve minutes on guys and not even play J-Kidd a game. So it's only marginally reflective of anything. But hopefully now moving forward, we'll be able to play our starting lineup, a more playoff-like rotation.''