You build and you rebuild. You clear cap space and bench space. You hold your superstar close and you make do with whatever else you have.
And let’s face it. If you’re the Dallas Mavericks, all you really want is a team good enough to get to a seventh and deciding game against those eternal benchmarks, the San Antonio Spurs.
“This is what you play for,” coach Rick Carlisle said, after the Mavericks had forced a Game 7 with Friday’s 113-111 victory.
“It’s another one-game season for us. We’ve had ‘em all year long.”
With 21 games left in the regular season and a playoff berth still in doubt, Carlisle had said his team had “21 Super Bowls” left on the schedule.
Add one more for Sunday.
In a series filled with stars taking their turns in the spotlight, from Tim Duncan to Vince Carter to Tony Parker and to Dirk Nowitzki, Carlisle seemed pleased that he again got a complete effort from his team.
Or, at the least, something that passed for a complete effort.
“We played better tonight,” Carlisle said. “Our recognition was better.”
Better recognition meant that the Spurs didn’t enjoy the unfettered access through the free-throw lane that they did in Game 5. Instead of 54 points in the paint, San Antonio had 48 Friday — not a huge difference on the scoreboard, but a conspicuous contrast in the amount of effort the Spurs had to consume.
Jose Calderon — until his nose was bloodied in the third quarter — and big man DeJuan Blair both contributed mightily in that regard.
“It was just a bad break that he got hit [in the nose],” Carlisle said, “because Jose was playing really well at both ends.”
Calderon played nearly 23 of the game’s first 28 minutes, scoring nine points and spreading around six assists. Mostly, though, he did a good job of making Parker chase him and, on defense, making Parker work to elude him.
Blair also made his presence felt — ironically, after not being very present at all for Game 5. He was suspended for one game by the league for a kick that he says was unintentional.
The Mavericks didn’t dwell on it after the Game 5 loss, but Blair’s absence had to be a factor. In Friday’s game, his agility and wingspan seemed to disrupt the Spurs in the paint from the moment Blair entered.
He finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds, leading the game in the latter category.
“Tons of activity,” Carlisle said of Blair. “He brings us a real physical presence. He clears out a lot of space in there.”
All game long Friday, Carlisle seemed to search for the right mix, the right chemistry of desperately needed points and defense.
Monta Ellis, the coach reported, was frustrated by his early game struggles. Samuel Dalembert, meanwhile, appeared to struggle with the game’s tempo, and went to the bench.
“We need all of our guys, and we need all of them to be ready on Sunday,” Carlisle said.
Persistent and clutch down the stretch, Ellis finished with 29 points and Nowitzki had 22.
It might not have been the Batman and Robin that owner Mark Cuban had in mind last off-season, when he shopped unsuccessfully for a new free agent star.
But all Dwight Howards aside, what more could Cuban have hoped for than to be headed to San Antonio for one more game — a Game 7?
“Our guys knew what was at stake today,” Carlisle said. “We know what’s at stake Sunday.
“We’ve got a lot of veteran guys who have been in a lot of playoff games and a lot of big games.
“This is what we play for. This is what anybody who’s in this sport plays for.”
Game 7. Just like the Mavericks and their owner planned.