Following a slow start, life on the road in the NBA was kind to the Dallas Mavericks this season.
The Mavs opened the season with a 4-9 road record. But they finished with a flourish on the road, winning 19 of their final 28 games away from American Airlines Center, which helped them get in position to grab the No. 8 playoff seed in the Western Conference.
Coach Rick Carlisle called his team’s mad rush of wins on the road a “we had no choice, we had to win” situation.
If they want to win their first-round playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs, the Mavs are again in a “no choice’’ situation.
Because the No. 1-seed Spurs hold home-court advantage in this series, the Mavs must win at least one game on the road — and win their three home games — to advance to the conference semifinals.
It’s a tall order, but that’s the cards the Mavs have been dealt. They just hope their 23-18 road record can work some magic in their favor.
“Being the team that’s the road team in a playoff series, you’ve got to win at least one game on the road,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “That’s our obvious goal. We know they’re a great team, but we’re going to go at them hard.”
The Mavs and Spurs play Game 1 of their best-of-seven series at noon Sunday at the AT&T Center.
The Mavericks come into the series having won six of their final seven regular-season games on the road, and are brimming with confidence that they can win at least one game in San Antonio.
“We got off to a slow start [on the road] and the second half of the year we really picked it up, and a lot of it was certainly out of necessity because we needed to win to stay in the playoff hunt,” Carlisle said. “Look, we’ve been in a lot of big road games, so we know what that’s about.
“We know it’s a loud building down there, but that’s a challenge you’ve got to look forward to.”
Popovich vs. Carlisle
Those in-game adjustments between Mavs coach Rick Carlisle and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich are worth the price of admission.
Both coaches are among the best in their business at utilizing the talent available to them. A preseason poll of the NBA’s general managers picked Popovich and Carlisle one-two among the coaches who are the best at making in-game adjustments.
Carlisle doesn’t think this series will hinge on which coach makes the better in-game adjustments. But he did toss a bouquet of roses Popovich’s direction.
“Look, Pop’s the best coach in the game, and for my money he’s the best coach in history because of what he’s been able to do over a period of almost two decades, keeping the same system and just plugging in different players,” Carlisle said. “It’s been phenomenal.
“But we’ve just got to be top-to-bottom ready.”
Mavs forward Jae Crowder led Marquette to back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2011 and ’12. But he know his journey in the NCAA Tournament pales in comparison to what he’s about to embark on — his first trip to the NBA playoffs.
“A lot of guys say there’s nothing like playing in the NBA playoffs, so I’m excited to play,’’ Crowder said. “I think we’ve got a good chance to make some noise, because we’ve got a good veteran team.’’
The Mavs missed the playoffs during Crowder’s rookie season last year. Crowder, though, figures NBA playoff pressure and NCAA Tournament pressure are one in the same.
“You’ve got to play your best each and every night, you’ve got to bring your best and every possession counts,’’ Crowder said. “And I think that’s how you compare the two, because every possession counts in the NCAA as well, so I’m looking forward to it.’’