A day after sifting through the carnage that was Wednesday’s 115-110 loss to Denver, coach Rick Carlisle questioned the lack of toughness his Dallas Mavericks showed against the lowly Nuggets.
With the much tougher Portland Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers up next, Carlisle urged his team to be more focused from tip-off to the final buzzer, especially with the Mavericks mired in their first three-game losing streak of the season.
“I know we’re tougher than what we showed [Wednesday] night,” Carlisle said after Thursday’s practice. “This is the first time we’ve dropped three in a row all year, so it’s a time of great urgency, and we’ve got to step up and we’ve got to respond. We’ve got to have a stronger disposition, we’ve got to have a stronger posture, and we’ve got to show a lot more resistance than we did all [Wednesday] night. And if we don’t, it’s going to be very hard for us to win enough games [to get to the playoffs].”
Carlisle was in no mood to sugarcoat what has happened the past three games. Softening the situation, he knows, does not help matters as Dallas battles Phoenix, Golden State and Memphis for a playoff spot.
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“Having dropped three games in a row, I wouldn’t say anything that we’ve done has been exceptionally good,” Carlisle said. “We’ve had some good moments, we’ve had a few good stretches. You could make a case that we competed well [Sunday] in the San Antonio game, but we had lapses there, too, and so here we are. …We’ve got to rally and do it together. That’s the only way.”
The Mavericks (36-26) play the Trail Blazers (42-19) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at American Airlines Center. It’s a chance to make up for what happened Wednesday and what happened on Jan. 18, when the Blazers ripped the Mavericks at the AAC 127-111 in a game Portland led 111-73 with 9:43 to go.
“That game [in January] was very similar to [Wednesday] night’s game,” Carlisle said. “We were very poor in the first quarter against Portland here, and we were very poor in the first quarter against Denver.” [Wednesday] night.
The Nuggets led by 17 points late in the first quarter and 41-34 going into the second period. The slow start is something that worries Carlisle, because it puts his team in catch-up mode the rest of the game.
“It’s a 48-minute game and the things that happen early in the game are going to fall back on you later in the game,” Carlisle said. “If you get off to a bad start and play from behind, chances are you’re going to be playing from behind most of the night.
“If you look at analytics in this league, that’s how it is, and so you’ve got to be on at the beginning of the game and you’ve got to be playing at your best possible level. And if you’re not, you’re going to get put back on your butt.”
Forward Dirk Nowitzki said the Mavericks “just need to compete” and do what they do best to snap their losing streak. Outscoring the Nuggets 59-47 in the second half was a pleasant start, but the overall results were difficult to stomach.
“If we [play] like we did [Wednesday] in the second half and we go down swinging and everybody plays hard and plays together, we’ll take it,” Nowitzki said. “But the first quarter was just embarrassing.”
The Mavericks know they need to be more consistent at both ends of the floor.
“This is one of those times where we’ve got to have character and we’ve got to rally and we’ve got to do better,” Carlisle said. “There’s no other way of really putting it.
“With 20 games left now — 20 games in 41 days — it’s going to go by fast. So each possession, each quarter and each period between timeouts is an opportunity to rise up and that’s what we’ve got to do.”