DALLAS -- Rick Carlisle doesn’t want much made of him becoming the 28th coach in NBA history to hit the 500-win milestone.
He wasn’t in the mood to celebrate after the Mavericks opened a gotta-win homestand with a 105-99 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. It’s never been Carlisle’s style to puff out his chest about his individual accomplishments, but that’s especially true when his team is seven games under .500 and trying to scrap its way back into the Western Conference playoff picture.
Carlisle didn’t even acknowledge the public-address announcer’s congratulations after the buzzer sounded Wednesday night at the American Airlines Center. And he tried his hardest to blow off congrats from players in the locker room after becoming the 11th-fastest coach in NBA history to win No. 500.
“It’s meaningful, but I’m not into those kinds of things,” said Carlisle, who is 500-353 in his career and 219-142 during his Dallas tenure. “I’m into the day-to-day stuff. One relief I have is I think after tomorrow I won’t have to hear about it again for a while, so that’s good.”
Oh, might as well cancel the champagne order.
Carlisle, who had only one losing campaign in his first 10 seasons as a head coach in Detroit, Indiana and Dallas, much preferred to discuss the difference in the Mavs’ defensive performances in the first half and down the stretch.
The Blazers lit up the Mavs for 61 points before halftime, when Carlisle stressed the importance of intensity against a depth-deprived opponent. Portland scored only 38 points in the second half, including 17 in the fourth quarter.
“We did a couple of other things defensively,” Carlisle said, “but mostly it was just disposition and attitude.”
That kind of sums up Carlisle’s success as a coach.
He’s widely considered among his peers to be one of the elite X’s and O’s minds, an offensive innovator who is also committed and creative when it comes to defense. Dirk Nowitzki refers to him as a “film freak” and “gym rat” who tends to be overprepared.
But, if we’ve learned anything during Carlisle’s four-plus seasons in Dallas, it’s that strategy doesn’t matter if the attitude and disposition aren’t right.
“Coach is all about winning,” said veteran forward Elton Brand, who has immense respect for Carlisle despite having to accept a reserve role after arriving in Dallas this summer. “I definitely think that’s what makes him a great coach. That’s all he cares about. He doesn’t care about stats, ego, what management wants. He wants to win.”
The Mavs haven’t won nearly enough this season for a variety of reasons, starting with a potluck supporting cast struggling to click and Nowitzki missing the first two months of the season after undergoing knee surgery. If anything, that has just hardened Carlisle’s resolve to figure out ways for the Mavs to be competitive.
The 53-year-old Carlisle isn’t the kind of guy to back down from a challenge. He didn’t do it after the “Malice at The Palace” forced the 2004-05 Pacers to play long stretches without suspended starters -- and Indiana ended up winning a playoff series that season. He’s not about to do it now.
Shawn Marion, one of only two players remaining on the roster who contributed to the Mavs’ 2011 title run, says Carlisle has shown an aggressive, in-your-face approach this season that he hadn’t seen from the coach before. Young guards Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo has been frequent tough-love targets.
“Rick’s made the best out of it,” Nowitzki said. “He’s been hard when he needed to. … I just think he tried to push us all the time. He got in people’s faces, which I hadn’t seen the first couple of years. He needed to be tougher on those younger guys and he definitely did.”
Added Brand: “It’s frustrating for him. He’s a winner. He’s pulling out the stops. He’s challenging guys. He’s taking it to us and he’s trying to find ways for us to win. When your leader’s doing that, it makes you want to step up.”
Carlisle keeps pushing with the hope that the Mavs, who are five games behind the eighth-place Houston Rockets, can make a playoff push.
It’d please Carlisle if we’d all just shut up about his 500th win and let him focus on getting ready for Saturday night when the Golden State Warriors come to town.