Dallas Mavericks

Mavs have started fast behind Doncic, Porzingis, but are they as good as their 4-2 record?

No matter how small the sample size is so far this NBA season, the Dallas Mavericks appear to be a better team than a year ago.

That was to be expected with the addition of Kristaps Porzingis via a February trade with the New York Knicks, and, yes, Luka Doncic has improved after being the NBA’s Rookie of the Year.

The Mavs have won their first three road games, including an impressive win at Denver, after winning only nine times on the road last season.

Their two losses — both at home — have been against the 5-1 Los Angeles Lakers in overtime and the Portland Trail Blazers, who just missed out on the NBA Finals last season.

The Mavs’ 4-2 record suggests, though not even one-tenth into the season, is that they will contend for a playoff berth in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.

But coach Rick Carlisle wasn’t ready to buy into any statistic or trend that shows the Mavs are good to go for the final 76 games. There are other stats and trends that show the Mavs, like the other 29 teams, are a work-in-progress.

“In my opinion, these numbers really don’t start being significant until you’re 10 or 15 games in because the sample size is small,” Carlisle said. “It’s attitude, mind-set and disposition. We’ve got to bear down and pick it up.”

The Mavs return to American Airlines Center on Wednesday against the Orlando Magic and again Friday against the Knicks in Porzingis’ first game against his old team.

They are a combined 3-10, but the Mavs aren’t sold that the games will be cake walks. The Magic and Knicks have size and play physically, which could test the Mavs’ porous defense and limit their rebounding.

“I think every team is tough,” center Boban Marjanovic said. “Every night is tough.”

Even a 131-111 win Sunday at Cleveland was deemed tough by Carlisle. The Mavs surrendered too many points, including 33 in the third quarter. The Magic and Knicks are hanging around the same lottery-bound purgatory as the Cavaliers, but Carlisle sees an urgency to be better defensively.

In that same Cavs game, the Mavs’ 73 second-half points were the result of better defense in the fourth quarter.

Defense was the majority of their focus Tuesday during practice.

“The games are all hard,” Carlisle said. “We’re doing a lot of good things offensively. Our concentration needs to be at the defensive end because with more stops will come more and better flowing offense.

“It’s a great group of guys. They’ve played well together in a lot of ways, but we’ve got to be more tied together defensively.”

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After 12 seasons covering the Rangers for the Star-Telegram, Jeff Wilson knows that baseball is a 24/7/365 business and there is far more to baseball than just the 162 games each season. There’s also more to Jeff -- like a family and impressive arsenals of Titleist hats and adidas shoes -- but sometimes it’s hard to tell.