After two consecutive losses, the Mavericks looked to rebound on Wednesday at the Pepsi Center against a Denver Nuggets team that had lost 10 of 11 games. The Nuggets had playoff aspirations when the season began, but injuries have derailed their season and they are no longer competing for a playoff spot in the loaded Western Conference.
The matchup at Denver had increased importance for Dallas as they continue to cling to the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. With weekend matchups at home against the Portland Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers, Dallas needed to approach this game with a sense of urgency.
It took only a matter of minutes for it to become clear that the Mavericks were not ready to compete at a high level. Denver jumped out to a 33-16 lead and it was evident early on that Dallas was in trouble. Denver was able to answer each Dallas run en route to a 115-110 victory. The five-point margin of defeat would lead you to believe this game was closer than it actually was.
Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle tried to take the blame when he spoke to the media following the disappointing loss. “I take full responsibility for this loss because at the beginning of the game we weren’t into it and it was my mistake.’’
Carlisle may have tried to absolve his team from their lackluster effort, but he can’t force the Mavericks to hustle, fight for loose balls, or will them to put forth the effort necessary to beat a team that has struggled mightily of late. That responsibility is solely on each player that takes the court. On this night, the Nuggets were the team that came out energetic and driven to compete, even without a playoff spot on the line.
Dallas will be underdogs in their next two matchups and they are facing a five-game losing streak if they fail to pull off an upset this weekend. After briefly claiming the No. 6 spot in the Western Conference, the Mavericks are now back in the No. 8 spot with only one game separating them from the Memphis Grizzles, who are looking to overtake Dallas for the last playoff spot.
What the Mavericks must do is not lost on head coach Rick Carlisle. “We’ve got to be better, I know we are tougher than what we showed last night. This is the first time we have dropped three in a row all year so it’s a time of great urgency. We have got to step up and we have got to respond.”
The upcoming schedule may appear daunting but Dallas has beaten both Portland and Indiana this season. The Mavericks can defeat these teams but it will take greater effort, hustle and urgency to contend against the best teams in the NBA. This is a huge weekend for the Mavericks, and it could go far in revealing what kind of toughness and character this team has.