As the Dallas Mavericks reached the midway point of the season Friday night, owner Mark Cuban revealed something unusual to the media.
For someone who takes losing extremely hard, Cuban said of his team’s 28-13 record: “I would have taken this record if you would have given it to me at the beginning of the year. But we want to stay healthy and be playing our best basketball at the end of the year.”
All things considered, the Mavericks have been playing some of their best basketball lately. With Friday’s win over Denver, they’ve won eight of their last 11 games.
Plus, the Mavericks are 13-5 this season in games decided by seven points or fewer. That’s the major stat that jumps out at coach Rick Carlisle.
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“I like that we’ve won a lot of close games,” Carlisle said. “We struggled with that the last couple of years at times. There’s going to be a lot more close games, and there’s never any guarantees on any of that kind of stuff.”
Part of the reason the Mavericks are winning close games, Carlisle said, is because they have better players. Of the 14 players on the roster, Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, Devin Harris and Ricky Ledo are the only players on this season’s team who were with the Mavericks last season.
“We’ve upgraded some positions and I think it’s helped us,” Carlisle said. “It’s a different season and a different set of circumstances. We’ve had some good bounces and some good fortunes, too.”
Part of the Mavericks’ good fortune came Dec. 18 when they obtained point guard Rajon Rondo in a trade with the Boston Celtics. The Mavericks are 9-5 since acquiring Rondo — he sat out Wednesday’s loss to Denver — and appear to be on an upswing, especially considering the Mavs were 24-17 last year at the midway point of the season.
“It feels early in a new season, actually,” Cuban said. “It doesn’t feel midseason at all. It’s kind of a funky year for everybody.”
Part of trying to incorporate Rondo into the lineup is getting used to his skill with bounce passes and other unorthodox passes. Some have found their mark, while others have simply become turnovers.
“We’re still working on developing as a team, post trade,” Carlisle said. “It’s been three weeks, but we’re not there yet. The guys are working at it, so that’s good.”
The Mavericks would be seeded fifth in the rugged Western Conference at this point after finishing last season 49-33 with a No. 8 seed. With the West stacked again, the Mavericks are hoping for a more promising seed by the time they end the regular season April 15 at home against Portland.
“In the West, as hard as it is, you’ve got to brace yourself for a high level of competitiveness and the fact that there’s going to be a lot of close games, and you’ve got to perform well in them. We’ve got to continue in that path.”
Cuban said he would like to see his team improve its rebounding, shooting percentage and overall defense. Likewise, Carlisle is hoping for similar improvements from the Mavericks.
“We’ve had some good bounces and some good fortunes, too,” Carlisle said. “If you work hard, you tend to get some breaks, so our guys have worked hard and they’ve earned it.
“There’s a long way to go and we’ve got to get a lot better to get where we want to go.”
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760