Entering Tuesday’s 7:30 p.m. contest at American Airlines Center against the Denver Nuggets, the Mavericks are 32-48 overall, 1-8 in their past nine games and 1-4 since they were eliminated from playoff contention. The recent losses can mainly be attributed to the Mavericks’ decision to rest their veteran players in favor of developing their younger players.
In other words, the Mavericks have turned their attention to next season.
Putting the better players on the bench and playing the inexperienced ones have helped lead to the recent losses and also helped them improve their standing in the NBA Draft Lottery on May 16.
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“We never gave up, we always wanted to make the playoffs,’’ Nowitzki said. “We fought for it and obviously once that train was gone it’s time for the younger guys to get some experience, get better, work on their game and get some playing time under their belt.
“That’s what we’ve been doing lately, and I think we’ve seen some nice improvements, we’ve seen some good halves, good quarters.”
Rookies Yogi Ferrell, Dorian Finney-Smith, Nicolas Brussino, Jarrod Uthoff and A.J. Hammons have been receiving most of the heavy minutes lately, including during Sunday’s 124-111 loss in Phoenix. The Mavericks are giving them the opportunity to play through their mistakes.
“Like I always say, it’s the hardest thing to learn in this league is consistency, bring it every night,’’ Nowitzki said. “You’ve got good experience, good playing time, and it’s a good time for them to get there right now.
“It’s been fun watching these guys work hard and practice every day, come early, stay late. They’re hungry, they want to learn, but we still got a long way to go with some of them.”
Ferrell had 21 points in 32 minutes against the Suns, Utoff had 12 points and nine rebounds in 27 minutes, Brussino finished with 11 points, five rebounds and five assists in 33 minutes, Finney-Smith totaled six points and a career-high 11 boards in 30 minutes, and Hammons added five points in 19 minutes.
Ferrell, who joined the Mavericks in late January following a stint in the National Basketball Association Development League, knows growing pains are a price he and his rookie teammates have to experience in order to become more productive players.
“We definitely need it, and along with those growing pains and along with that we also watch the film with it, too,” Ferrell said. “It’s different when you see it from a bird’s-eye view.
“So we got to do that, along with continue to go out there and just play hard for each other.”
Saddled with injuries to several key players, the Mavericks started the season 4-17. However, they entered the playoff conversation when they posted a 17-9 record from Jan. 12-March 10 to raise their record to 28-36, but have since gone 4-12 during the past 16 games.
“We went for the playoffs even though we started, what 3-15, whatever the start was, 4-17,” Nowitzki said. “But we gave it a chance.
“We had a lot of injury problems with our veterans this year, unfortunately. That put us behind the eight-ball early.”
It’s kind of both interesting and comical watching teams seeded with the seventh through 10th worst records in the NBA “losing games’’ under the heading of playing their young players and looking towards next season.
The Minnesota Timberwolves (31-49) have the seventh-worst record in the NBA, the Sacramento Kings (31-49) eighth, the Mavericks (32-48) ninth and the New Orleans Pelicans (33-47) 10th.
In recent games, the Timberwolves are 1-5, the Kings 2-4, the Mavericks 1-8 and the Pelicans 2-5. During that stretch, the two games the Kings won were over the Timberwolves and Mavericks, while the two games the Pelicans won were over the Mavs and Kings.
Meanwhile, the Mavericks’ lone victory was (surprisingly) at Milwaukee — 109-105 on April 2 — while the Timberwolves managed to nip Portland, 110-109, on April 3.
If the season ended today, the Mavericks would have a 1.7 percent chance of securing the No. 1 overall pick in the June 22 draft and a 6.1 percent chance of getting one of the draft’s top three picks.
Meanwhile, with the veterans sitting for the second half of Sunday’s loss to the Phoenix Suns, the challenges for the Mavericks to win that game had to be overwhelming for the rookies.
“It’s definitely difficult, especially you don’t like losing,’’ point guard Ferrell said. “But we know why they’re doing that, just try to make us young guys better. So just make it a learning experience and we’re all getting a feel for where we want to pick and choose our spots, where we like to find each other.
“I felt like we’ve had a great time playing together.”