With every win and loss amounting to practically a seismic shift in the playoff standings, the Dallas Mavericks know they can ill afford to put up another performance like the shaky one that jolted American Airlines Center after Wednesday’s 123-122 overtime loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Mavs fell behind the Timberwolves by 22 points less than 14 minutes into the game, then managed to lead by five points in overtime before blowing the game at the end. It’s a loss that will test the Mavs’ character with only 13 games remaining.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle attempted to put on a happy face while trying to explain what happened against the Timberwolves.
“The NBA season is one massive test of character, really if you break it down,” Carlisle said after Thursday’s practice. “We’ve just got to regroup and we’ve got to respond the right way.
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“It’s a tough loss, but tough losses happen in this league and we’ve had our share of them in recent weeks. And the way you respond is just stick together and do it better the next time you go out.”
The next time the Mavericks (41-28) hit the court will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday when they host the Denver Nuggets (31-37) at the AAC. It’s those same Nuggets who have beaten the Mavericks three times this season — as many times they’ve lost to the San Antonio Spurs.
“They’re quick, they’re dynamic and they attack, so we’re going to have to be great in transition defense,” Carlisle said. “We’re going to have to be great individually in one-on-one situations, and we’re going to have to scramble and help one another. And we’re going to have to take care of the ball.
“If we turn it over, they convert it quick. I don’t know if they convert it as quick as Minnesota does, but they’re one of the quick conversion teams on turnovers, so we’ve got to do better than we did last night.”
The Mavericks committed six turnovers in the first quarter against the Timberwolves. Those turnovers — Dallas ended up with 16 overall that Minnesota turned into 29 points — led directly to some cheap uncontested baskets by the Timberwolves and put the Mavericks in some uncomfortable positions.
Meanwhile, with the Mavs mired in a tense race for one of the eight Western Conference playoff spots, they’re in no position to be playing haphazardly, especially against teams such as the Timberwolves and Nuggets, who are both headed to the draft lottery.
“It was definitely a roller-coaster game being down big, coming back, getting the lead,” center Brandan Wright said. “I felt like we had it in hand being up five in overtime, and then losing by one. It doesn’t get any crazier than that, but we’ve got to shake it off.”
If the Mavericks don’t have better production early in the game Friday, then there might be more sad faces walking around in the postgame locker room again.
“We’ve got to re-establish momentum,” Carlisle said. “Disappointing losses are one of the facts of life in professional sports and particularly in the NBA.
“There’s a lot of volatility in this league. Travel is volatile, games are very intense, etc., etc. But in our situation, we’ve got to find ways to rise above all that and help each other do the best that we can, and we didn’t do that [Wednesday] night for  minutes.”