They won’t reach the midway point of the season until next week.
But by all accounts the Dallas Mavericks are staring at a pair of must-win games over the next two days ... against the same team.
In a quirk in the schedule, the Mavs (20-16) will meet the New Orleans Pelicans (15-19) at 7 p.m. Friday at the New Orleans Arena, and they’ll face them again Saturday night in Dallas.
If the Mavs fail to win either game, they would only be one game ahead of the Pelicans in the loss column for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
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“It’s a big back-to-back for us,” forward Dirk Nowitzki said. “New Orleans is behind us and they obviously would like to make a push to get up to that eighth spot.
“So it’s two big games for us and we’ve got to be ready to go to war [tonight].”
In the opener of this two-game road trip Wednesday night in San Antonio, the Mavs were manhandled by the Spurs 112-90. The Mavericks were outscored 67-52 in the second half.
The 22-point defeat was the Mavs’ most lopsided of the season, the third loss in their past four games and places even more significance on the two games against the Pelicans.
“I feel like every guy’s got to know that we need this game [tonight],” forward Jae Crowder said. “I feel like we need this game. It’s a game I feel like we’ve got to have.”
Marion still out
The Mavs will again be without forward Shawn Marion, who sat out the loss to the Spurs after suffering a bruised right shoulder and bruised upper ribs during Tuesday’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Mavs, though, refused to use Marion’s absence as an excuse for that lopsided setback to the Spurs.
“If he’s not here we’ve got to have other guys step up,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “[Marion’s loss] hurt us on the boards, too, and that was evident in the first half [against the Spurs].
“But at this point we’re getting into mid-January, there’s going to be man-games missed all around the league and we’ve got to have other guys ready to step forward.”
Ellington’s spot start
Wayne Ellington found out how difficult it is to stay ready at a moment’s notice when he started Wednesday’s game in San Antonio in place of Marion.
It was Ellington’s first start of the season and he responded with five points on 2-of-4 shooting in just 12 minutes. Ellington had played just 11 minutes in the previous eight games.
“It’s tough to get in rhythm when you’ve not really been in much game action,” Ellington said. “It’s very tough, especially for a guy that shoots the basketball.
“The more you’re out there the more comfortable you start to feel and the more rhythm you get. That’s just the nature of the game.’’
The Mavs keep talking about how they must rebound more efficiently, but the rebound woes continue game after game.
Only once in the past 12 games have the Mavs won the rebounding battle. That occurred on Dec. 28 in Chicago when the Mavs outrebounded the Bulls 39-34.
Since then, the Mavs have been outrebounded in the past six games, including 55-32 against San Antonio. The other two lopsided rebounding losses for the Mavs came Dec. 9 in Sacramento (51-39) and Dec. 4 in New Orleans (58-38).
“We’ve got to rebound better,” Carlisle said. in “We’ve got to shoot better and we’ve got to defend better.’’
Here’s a list of the Mavs’ six double-digit losses of the season.
Knicks……………Jan. 5……… 92-80