Dallas Mavericks

Mavericks in ‘desperate situation’ with 20 games to play

Mavericks center Zaza Pachulia (27) goes for a block against Nuggets center Joffrey Lauvergne earlier this season.
Mavericks center Zaza Pachulia (27) goes for a block against Nuggets center Joffrey Lauvergne earlier this season. Special to the Star-Telegram

With just 20 games remaining, no one has to remind the Dallas Mavericks of their precarious situation in regard to the playoffs.

But coach Rick Carlisle did so anyway Saturday before the team flew to Denver.

The Mavericks (33-29) are in sixth place in the Western Conference standings. Portland (33-30) is seventh, Houston (30-32) is eighth and Utah (29-33) is ninth. Only the top eight teams advance to the playoffs.

And if the Mavericks keep blowing games such as the home game Thursday to Sacramento (a 10-4-101 loss, they will have a difficult time qualifying for the playoffs for the 15th time in the past 16 seasons.

You lose one game as a sixth seed and you’re going to bounce to seventh.

Mavericks center Zaza Pachulia

“We’re really in a desperate situation ourselves,” Carlisle said. “We need to get back on the winning track after a disappointing game against Sacramento.

“We talked about our whole situation [Saturday] and where we are with 20 games left and what we need to do, and it’s all about sticking to our process. [Sticking to] our key things that fuel our strengths on defense, our key things that we need to do on offense, and then we have to have a collective commitment to what we’re trying to do.”

What the Mavericks are trying to do is catch the fifth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies (37-24). That race for the fifth spot starts Sunday when the Mavericks face the Denver Nuggets (24-38) at 4 p.m. at the Pepsi Center.

In the quest to catch the Grizzlies, scoreboard-watching has become an everyday occurrence for center Zaza Pachulia.

“You lose one game as a sixth seed and you’re going to bounce to seventh,” Pachulia said. “That’s how close it is, and with 20 games left every game is so important for us.

“I think we can control our own destiny — that’s the beauty of it right now. Everybody has a tough schedule, but like I said, we need to work hard and earn our spot.”

We’ve got to play better at the beginning. And again, for years they’ve been a difficult matchup.

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, whose team rallied from 23 down and beat Denver in overtime 122-116 in their previous meeting

The Mavericks also will try to avoid the mammoth hole they dug against Denver in Dallas on Feb. 26. With 3:15 remaining in the first half, the Nuggets led the Mavs 55-32.

But Dallas rallied for its largest comeback of the season, winning 122-116.

“We’ve got to play better at the beginning,” Carlisle said. “And again, for years they’ve been a difficult matchup.

“They’re always athletic, they’re always quicker than us, and again they’re a motivated team. We’re going to have to come out with force, we’re going to have to come out efficiently and we’re going to have to come out with attitude.”

After the Nuggets, the Mavericks play nine straight games against teams that would be in the playoffs if the postseason started today.

“We remember the game, we remember the mistakes we made and we also remember the positive things as well,” Pachulia said, referring to the game against the Nuggets nine days ago. “Tomorrow we’ve got to come out for the game with the mindset of playing the right way, playing hard and playing strong.

“It’s not going to be easy, but we’re very capable of having a good game and getting a win.”

A mile high

Every opposing team that plays in Denver is confronted with the same major issue: Trying to find a way to deal with the mile-high altitude.

“When you start running up and down you feel it when you’re breathing,” Pachulia said. “Again, hydration is important, so you have to be smart.”

The altitude will likely force Carlisle to alter game minutes for the Mavs.

“It’s an added challenge, for sure,” Carlisle said. “Generally you rotate your substitutions a little earlier, play guys in little shorter stretches, and then hopefully as the game goes along guys adjust.

“And then down the stretch you’ve got to watch what’s going on to make sure guys are fresh enough to finish.”

Dwain Price: 817-390-7760, @dwainprice

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