A player who was part of the highest high in Dallas Mavericks history but is coming off one of the lowest lows, veteran guard J.J. Barea has plenty of pedigree to provide an evaluation of the first half of the Mavs’ current season.
“It’s still better than last year,” Barea said.
The Mavs were 13-28 en route to a tank job and the No. 5 pick in the NBA Draft. They didn’t have Luka Doncic, and that addition alone makes them better than they were last season.
But they need to be better.
After Wednesday night’s 104-94 victory over the Phoenix Suns in Game 41 of 82, the Mavs are plus-six in wins over 2017-18, plus-one in Lukas, and aware that they need to be better and confident that they can improve.
“There’s still a long way to go and a lot to be determined, but the urgency is there,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “There’s no question that our guys acknowledge that we need to be more consistent and there is a long way to go. Those are positive things, but we’ve got to make it happen. Talk doesn’t get much done at the end of the day.”
Doncic scored 16 of his game-high 30 points in the first half, and the Mavs overcame a lackluster start to snap a three-game losing streak and improve to 19-22 with a half-season still to go.
The Mavs have shown in flashes that they can be good. They won 8 of 10 games during one stretch in November and 5 of 6 to open December, but they were undone by six straight losses before Christmas and needed to beat the Suns, the worst team in the Western Conference, to snap a three-game losing streak.
There have been more valleys than peaks, Barea said. The reason, according to Carlisle, is the bugaboo that bites every team in every sport at some point or many points during a season.
“Our inconsistency is a nemesis,” Carlisle said. “We have to keep working on being more consistent overall.
“What I like is we’ve shown the ability to be a very good defensive team, we’ve shown the ability to be a very good offensive team and an efficient offensive team, but too often we’ve mixed in a 19-turnover game and bad transition defense that takes the wind out of our sails.”
The Mavs’ loss Monday against the Los Angeles Lakers, in which they surrendered a 13-point halftime lead in a lifeless second half, was the latest example. In recalling the defeat, Barea used “awful” and “terrible” to describe various facets of the Mavs’ game.
He also mentioned inconsistency, and explained how to overcome it.
“Just playing hard no matter what every game,” Barea said. “We’ve got to work on our body language, too. Sometimes our body language is we’re just out there, you know? In the NBA, 1 through 15 have to be good and we all have to be playing the right way, we’ve all got to be playing hard and playing good at the same time for us to be a good team.”
Things weren’t much better early Wednesday. Eight minutes into the second quarter, the Mavs had scored eight points but trailed only by eight to a Suns team without star guard Devin Booker (back).
The Mavs, who played without Dennis Smith Jr. (back) and Dirk Nowizki (illness), shot only 37.8 percent in the first half, with 11 of their 23 misses on 3s, and they committed 12 turnovers.
Only an 11-point edge at the free-throw line allowed them to be within four, 50-46, at the half.
But Doncic scored eight in the third quarter, six on 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions, and Wesley Matthews scored nine. Other Mavs actually scored, too, as they regained the lead at 78-69 entering the fourth.
That 32-point quarter proved to be the difference that allowed the Mavs to withstand the Suns getting within five with 7:23 to go and six with 4:29 left. The win snapped the Mavs’ seven-game losing streak to the Suns and allowed them to finish the first half of their season with a win.
“We’ve got take care of every game and give it our best shot,” Barea said. “I think we still have time to make a run. I think we’re capable of putting games together. So, we’ll see what happens.”