Mavericks, Kings play out string but stay focused

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Dallas Mavericks and Sacramento Kings won’t have much on the line when they tip off Tuesday night at the Golden 1 Center, but the coaches and players for both teams insist that won’t be noticeable.

“We’re playing to win. I’m never going to not play to win,” Dallas guard Wesley Matthews told the Dallas Morning News. “That’s what this room is like, too. We love basketball, and that’s what we’re here to do.”

The Mavericks (32-44) arrive for their only game this season in Sacramento’s new area fresh off elimination from the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 season. They will miss the postseason for only the second time since the end of the 1999-2000 campaign.

Missing the playoffs is nothing new for the Kings (30-47), who will sit out the party for the 11th consecutive season. But they aren’t playing with the effort that such a lousy history might suggest.

On Saturday, Sacramento overcame a 16-point deficit to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 123-117.

“Just keep attacking,” Kings guard Ty Lawson said after the game. “It’s mental.”

The Kings are looking to the future. They received a mental boost to that end Monday, when guard Buddy Hield was named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month.

Hield was the focal point in Sacramento’s trade of All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans at the All-Star break.

“He’s been working hard, trying to learn a new place and how to play in the league, and he’s improving,” Kings coach Dave Joerger told the Sacramento Bee. “He had one of his better games against Minnesota.”

Hield, who scored 22 points against the Timberwolves, has averaged 14.1 points and shot 48.3 percent from the field in March. He also canned 42.5 percent of his 3-pointers and made a rookie-best 37 3s, adding this award to the one he captured in December with the Pelicans.

The Kings are 6-14 since the Feb. 19 trade but 3-2 in their past five.

“My role has changed, more of a scoring mentality,” Hield told the Sacramento Bee. “(I’m) trying to figure out how to lead this team to wins, and that’s the reason why the ownership … brought me here, to try to get some wins.”

The Mavericks already are assured of their first losing season since 1999-2000 and will fail to win 40 games for the first time in a full season going 20-62 in 1997-98. They selected Dirk Nowitzki with their first pick in the draft after the ’98 disaster, and would pick ninth in this draft if the season ended, and they aren’t seeking to move up.

“We have a lot of pride in this locker room,” forward Harrison Barnes told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “We have vets who played in this league a long time — won championships — and we have younger guys who are trying to make a name for themselves … and trying to get established.

“And to kind of throw it in and say, ‘Oh, we’re just not going to really care,’ … and get blown out every night … is not the culture that we’re trying to build.”

Nowitzki is questionable to play against the Kings, as is former Sacramento guard Seth Curry. Nowitzki left Sunday’s game against Milwaukee with a sore Achilles tendon. Curry aggravated a left shoulder injury against the Bucks.

Dallas will be playing the fourth game on a season-high five-game road trip, which will end Wednesday at the Los Angeles Clippers.