After playing in the friendly confines of the American Airlines Center for the last six games, the Dallas Mavericks embark on a do or die road trip that will have them going to play the Lakers, Nuggets, Kings and Trail Blazers. Dallas is one-and-a-half games back of the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Lakers from the 8th spot in the West. The Lakers have the same record as the Jazz, but the Jazz have the tiebreaker over the Lakers so they currently hold the final spot. “There’s no need to overstate the obvious,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said before the team departed to Los Angeles. “We need to win every game we can game. This is a challenge you have to look forward to.”
Dallas is once again one game away from reaching .500. They’re in the thick – as thick as Dirk’s beard – of the race for the 8th seed and trying to become only third team since 1989 (Both the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers in 1997) to make playoffs after being 10 games or more under .500. “We’re trying to be the greatest comeback since Lazarus,” Carlisle said. “Really, that’s what we’re trying to do.” At the end of the nine games, they’ll see where they stand. The first game will be against the Los Angeles Lakers. Before the season, if you told people that the Mavs would be in a chase with the Lakers for a seed, many would think it would be for the 2nd or 3rd seed in the conference. Unfortunately for both, they’re both scratching and clawing just to get in.
O.J. Mayo told reporters that he will be good to go for the game against the Lakers. He will continue to go without the protective harness that has been bothering him since he wore it in the game against the Indiana Pacers. In regards to if his shoulder is getting closer to 100 percent, Mayo said, “It’s getting there.” He joked after the game against the Bulls that his jumper was “broke.” He said he plans to follow his regular routine when going out on the road, making a trip to the practice facility the team will use when they’re in Los Angeles after they land and have a dinner.
It’s been lost in the mix, but Mayo has really developed a stronger all around game over the last few weeks. He hasn’t had the ball in his hands as much, but he’s still be a solid facilitator and bringing more of a stronger disposition on the defensive end of the floor. His goal was to be able to have an impact on the game even if he isn’t able to put the ball in the basket. The recent games against the Clippers and the Bulls show he’s well on his way to achieving that goal. Mayo has put in the extra work on and off the floor. He’ll make those late night trips to the gym with Dirk Nowitzki. With O.J.’s locker being right next to Dirk’s, Mayo tends to stay at his locker after he’s done talking with reporters so he can observe how Dirk responds to the media so he can learn another facet of the game.
Dirk is clearly lighting it up on the basketball floor. He shot a ridiculous 54.8 percent from the field, 46.8 percent from 3 and 94.1 percent from the line in the month of March. As Carlisle put it, “It’s pretty obvious we’re still looking at one of the greatest ever, playing at that level.” In a game he called “as big as it gets this season,” Dirk is ready to see what his team can do on the road, starting with the game against the Lakers. “It should be a fun matchup,” Dirk said. “It’s national TV. Staples Center. Jack Nicholson courtside. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Carlisle and his Mavs will head out on the road with a chance to prove everyone wrong. Through it all, he’s never wavered in his belief and general level of excitement towards the team and their ability to improve. “I like this group of guys. I like the roster, even though it’s a different kind of roster,” Carlisle said. “I’ve always felt that our best basketball was ahead of us. That’s kind of come to fruition in the last 14 or 15 games. Now, this is what it’s about. We’re looking forward to the trip.
“We’re not perfect. In many ways, we’ve embraced our imperfections. I think in our situation, that’s what you’ve got to do.”
Carlisle continued to say that the team simply has worked through their imperfections by being upbeat and looking for every edge possible to magnify the collective strengths of the time and cover their weaknesses. Despite the struggles, Dallas is still hanging on to life. “It’s been a battle all year for a lot of us. You’ve got to embrace that,” Carlisle said. “If you start looking at it the other way, that’s what I despise.” He doesn’t believe the team can afford to have a second to think about a woe is me mentality or a defeatist attitude. “That just isn’t going to fly around here,” Carlisle said.
Note: Did Dirk get shafted on the Player of the Week Award? The NBA announced that Al Jefferson won the honors for his performance between Mar. 25 and Mar. 31. Jefferson averaged 19.8 points on 54.3 percent shooting from the field and averaged 8.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in Utah’s four games (4-0 record). Dirk Nowitzki averaged 29.7 points on 62.1 percent shooting from the field, 45.5 percent shooting from 3-point range and averaged 7.7 rebounds in Dallas three games (2-1 record). It might be a case of the lack of an extra game, and a loss, hurting Dirk. The point is, Dirk is back to being Dirk.
Bryan Gutierrez writes about sportsmen. He is a contributing writer for Mavs.com. Bryan also attended Ball So Hard University. You can follow him on Twitter @BallinWithBryan.