BROOKLYN – With so many changes they’ve made this season, there’s one key component that the Dallas Mavericks are still missing.
And owner Mark Cuban knows exactly what that is.
"As a team we’re trying to find our identity,’’ Cuban said on Sunday from the Barclays Center, where the Mavs beat the Brooklyn Nets, 111-104. "And I think our identity has to be that we play harder than the other team.
"We have enough talent that if we’re the hardest-playing team on the court, then we’re going to win. If we’re not, then – whether it’s a good team or a bad team – we’re going to lose badly. And we saw that, obviously."
For whatever reasons, the Mavs simply went through the motions when they suffered their worst loss of the season, 116-74, in Philadelphia on Friday. That lopsided score came two games after the Mavs were humbled by the Toronto Raptors, 100-78.
"We’re going through a learning process right now from top bottom where we thought for a minute we were good,’’ Cuban said. "We thought that was a year like 2010’-11 where we could just roll over teams, and we’re not good enough to do that.
"We’ve got to outplay teams, and that’s from Dirk (Nowitzki) on down to (rookie) Yogi (Ferrell).’’
That same pizzazz Ferrell displayed which earned him a two-year contract and the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for the month of February has disappeared. And that’s something that Cuban has noticed.
"Yogi’s got to play with the same level of desperation that he played with before as opposed to thinking, ‘Ok, I’m here to stay,’ ‘’ Cuban said. "Without Yogi playing a little bit desperate, we don’t get those 50-50 balls.
"And that’s not just for Yogi. That’s for everybody, top to bottom.’’
For Ferrell, the NBA has brought many surprises which he didn’t see coming.
"The biggest surprise is there’s a lot of games played,’’ Ferrell said of the 82-game schedule. "They come at you fast, too.
"It’s another one as soon as you wake up every morning. But that’s just the beauty of it, and I’m still learning about it."
In the meantime, the Mavs find themselves with a 30-39 record with 13 games remaining. And they’re three games behind Denver for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.
"My mindset and our mindset is we’re going to try to win every game,’’ said J. J. Barea, who came off the bench Sunday to score 20 points on 8-of-12 shots. "We’re never going to quit.
"We’re going to try to make it as far as we can and go from there. So we’re going home, we’ve been playing good at home, so we have to take advantage.’’
The Mavs open a brutal four-game home stand on Tuesday against the Golden State Warriors. The home stand also includes games against the Los Angeles Clippers, Raptors and Oklahoma City.
All four of those teams will be among next month’s 16-team playoff field. And going up against such a stout lineup at this juncture is OK with Cuban.
"That actually helps us because we play better against the good teams than we do against the bad teams,’’ Cuban said. "But playoffs or not, this is the roster for the most part we’ll have going into next year.
"We’ll have a draft pick and maybe a free agent, but it’s not going to be a turnover roster, so we’re not just playing for this year. We’re playing to build chemistry for next year."
And part of that learning curve is the Mavs know they can ill-afford to lose a home game to the Phoenix Suns, which they did, 100-98, on Mar. 11. And they know they can’t lose – and certainly not get blown completely off the court – to the Sixers.
Those two unfortunate losses could ultimately come back to haunt the Mavs and cost them a playoff berth. But at least the Mavs regrouped and finally put away the Nets, who own the NBA’s worst record at 13-56.
"The Philadelphia 76ers’ game was ugly,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said. "Our guys knew we could do a lot better and compete a lot better.
"We made a stand today and it’s a team with not a great record, but they do go hard and it is an NBA game. We need to get as many wins as we can right now, and we’ll take it."
Whatever is around the corner for the Mavs the remainder of this season, Cuban knows they’re going to have to roll up their sleeves and scrap for every victory. They’re not blessed with a lot of top tier talent they can use to just roll over teams.
"We’ve got to realize that we’re one of those teams that if we’re on the floor getting every ball and we’re outhustling everybody, we beat people to balls, we beat people down the court, then we’re going to win,’’ Cuban said. "If we don’t realize that, then we’re going to have to figure out how to get there real soon.
"Once we realize that I think we’ll get back on track for this year and for next."