The Dallas Mavericks knew this wasn’t going to be easy.
The Southwest Division is stacked, and according to many league executives, including Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, the Western Conference is as deep as it’s been in nearly 20 years.
It’s been almost a week since the start of the NBA season, and the Mavericks are 0-3. This team is heading down a familiar path that could very well doom its postseason chances for a second straight season.
Every team wants to get off to a strong start, but the returning members of this roster are acutely aware of the consequences if the losses start piling up in October and November.
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“I think we’ve got the hardest schedule in the NBA in the first 30 games,” forward Dirk Nowitzki said after the team’s 107-91 loss at Houston on Saturday night. “Hopefully, we’ll win enough games to stick around for the first 30 games. But it’s not going to get any easier.”
Last fall, the Mavericks dropped their first five games of the season, and things got worse in a hurry. By the end of November, the team was 3-14, including a stretch where it lost eight games in a row. During the 2016 portion of the regular season, Dallas only manged to win back-to-back games twice.
In February and March, the team almost climbed back into the playoff hunt. However, they couldn’t overcome their slow start and missed the playoffs.
Last week, the Atlanta Hawks and Sacramento Kings — two teams that many believed might finish below the Mavericks in the standings — came into American Airlines Center and took close games. On Saturday night, the Rockets thoroughly outplayed the Mavericks despite missing All-Star guard Chris Paul due to a lingering knee injury.
Other than a strong fourth quarter against the Kings, forward Harrison Barnes has been inconsistent at best. The talented wing is averaging 17.3 points per game but is shooting just 33 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3-point range.
Meanwhile, Nowitzki is averaging a mere 7.3 points per contest and managed just one basket (2 points) in 18 minutes against Houston.
The team also is dealing with the injury bug. Shooting guard Seth Curry is out indefinitely with a stress reaction in his left tibia that occurred before the season opener. And after a strong debut, rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has missed the past two games with knee swelling related to an anterior cruciate injury he suffered in high school.
Backup guard Devin Harris, whose brother died from injuries in a car accident last week, has also missed time.
“I’m not going to make any excuses; it’s a hard schedule for everybody,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “... Everybody’s got to play, everybody gets banged up ... [and] unfortunately, guys miss games. We’ve just got to keep slugging.”
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