On Saturday night, there was silence when the locker room opened to the media. Ellis dressed quickly after his 26-point performance went for naught and departed without saying a word to reporters, much less singing anything.
The good vibes from the Mavs’ strong start are gone. The discussion after a 112-106 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves focused largely on the potentially fragile nature of this team’s chemistry after Dallas dropped its fourth in the past five games, the remodeled Mavericks' first real rough patch of the season.
"We’re going to learn about our team right now," coach Rick Carlisle said. "Lose four out of five, have a tough loss like [Friday] night and then another tough one [Saturday] -- it’s going to test the togetherness and the collective will."
Added Dirk Nowitzki, who scored 23 points in the loss to the Timberwolves: "We’ve got to stick together as a team. When you lose, you can always start pointing fingers -- 'We’re not doing this, we’re not doing that' -- but it’s early. It’s going to be a long, long season."
The Mavs can make plenty of excuses. Point guard Jose Calderon sat out Saturday night with a bone bruise in his right ankle, an injury he suffered Friday night in Atlanta, when his exit preceded a fourth-quarter collapse. They’re still waiting for center/forward Brandan Wright and guard Devin Harris, a couple of key rotation players, to get healthy and play in their first games of the season. And the frequency of the schedule has been trying for a veteran-loaded team, with six games over the past nine days and 10 in the past 16.
"There is challenging stuff going on, but you’ve got to rise above it," Carlisle said. "That’s the bottom line."
The NBA isn’t a league for those searching for sympathy. Every team endures trying circumstances. The teams that can’t overcome adversity tend to hope for lottery luck during the spring.
Grumbling at each other isn’t the way for the Mavs to get out of the rut, but there were several hints that something along those lines happened after this loss.
At least sixth man Vince Carter, whose personal slump continued with a 4-of-12 shooting performance, found a silver lining.
"I’m glad to see people a little upset about it," Carter said. "That means they care. They give a damn. We expect us to win games. We expect to find ways to win. It’s not happening and it bothers us, and I like that."
There are no magical solutions for the Mavs, although a visit from the Charlotte Bobcats on Tuesday night should help matters. The Mavs will take a much-needed day of rest Sunday and get back to work on Monday, trying to figure out how to get a few more stops and execute more efficiently on offense.
"We just have to stick with it," Carter said. "We feel like we’re a good basketball team, so losses in a row hurt us. I still believe in this team. I think we believe in each other and what we’re capable of. It’s just a funk that we’ve got to get out of. It’s still early. It’s still a long season, so it’s not time to get down on ourselves or second-guess ourselves or anything like that."
These Mavs are in the midst of their first true chemistry test. Is one bad stretch reason to change your tune about this team?