DALLAS -- At the end of arguably their best weekend of the season, the Dallas Mavericks still had their miserable performance days earlier in Denver on their minds.
“If we play like that, collectively, we’ll get our butts kicked, like Bella Thorne in an arm wrestling contest,” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle.
Bella Thorne? She’s a rather slender actress in “Shake It Up,” a Disney show that is a favorite of Carlisle’s 9-year-old daughter, Abby.
That debacle in Denver apparently did shake up the Mavs. They responded by beating a couple of NBA heavyweights during this two-game homestand, battling for hard-earned victories over the Portland Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers.
“I’m proud of the way we responded,” Dirk Nowitzki said after the Mavs pulled out a 105-94 win Sunday night over the Pacers despite him matching his worst shooting performance of the season, going 3-of-14 from the floor. “Maybe we needed that Denver loss to go to the bottom to fight back up.”
Fight is the right word.
The play that epitomized Dallas’ weekend disposition, to borrow one of Carlisle’s favorite words, was Vince Carter’s maximum-effort, maximum-enthusiasm offensive rebound early in the fourth quarter. The geezer sixth man outleaped 23-year-old All-Star Paul George not once, not twice, but three times before ripping down the rebound, with Carter letting out a roar after he finally got both hands on the ball.
The extra possession resulted in a Jose Calderon 3-pointer, but the intangible value of Carter’s rebound might have been greater.
“It’s a spiritually lifting play for our team and everybody in the arena,” Carlisle said. “They see a 37-year-old guy go up three times and then tear it down. I mean, that’s big time. He’s showing you how much he wants to win.”
Just four days ago in Denver, it felt as though the Mavs might never win again. They’d lost three straight games and didn’t seem to care as the Nuggets lit it up for 41 points in the first quarter and another 36 in the fourth quarter.
That night ended up serving as a sobering reminder of how important winning is to the Mavs, and just how hard it is to do in the NBA.
It was an expensive lesson to learn, as one loss could be the difference in Dallas being a playoff participant or a spectator. But at least the Mavs, who sit in seventh place in the West at the moment, appear to have learned the lesson.
“I’d rather Coach just come in and chew us out,” Carter said, smiling. “I think we were taking us playing well for granted. Maybe it was a wake-up call, because I think everyone is just locked in. Everybody’s willing to do whatever’s needed in their time on the court.
“We can play against the best teams if we just stay focused. I think it takes for everybody to really accept their role, come ready to play and just do their job. There’s going to be tough nights, but as long as everybody is on board, that’s the best thing for us.”
Scoring points is rarely the problem for the Mavs, whose 105 against the Pacers were 13 more points than Indiana’s top-ranked defense allows on average. The Mavs’ roster is loaded with offensive weapons, particularly with guard Devin Harris (20 points, 6-of-9 shooting versus Indiana) in a groove off the bench.
It’s the gritty and grimy facets of the game that tend to get the Mavs when things go bad. That makes their defensively dominant finishes against the Trail Blazers and Pacers so encouraging.
“If we compete and rebound and defend, I like our chances,” Nowitzki said.
That’s true whether the Mavs are battling Bella Thorne or the NBA’s big boys.