DALLAS -- Mark Cuban wasn’t paying much attention to the flat-screen television while working out and chatting with reporters before Thursday’s game until Charles Barkley said something that really bothered the Mavs’ owner.
“The best team in the West is the Dallas Mavericks,” Barkley told the TNT audience.
Cuban’s reaction: “Shut up, Charles!”
The last thing Cuban wants is to have people patting the Mavericks on the back and telling them how great they are right now. Cuban’s biggest concern about his team is that the Mavs have a tendency to get "too cocky."
That’s what happened during Tuesday night’s loss to the injury-ravaged Toronto Raptors. Cuban, who was vacationing in the Cayman Islands, didn’t need to be courtside to see that. Several players acknowledged after the game that they took the Raptors lightly, even though Dirk Nowitzki was out.
“Sometimes we fall in that trap of looking over there and seeing who we’re playing might not be a team that’s over .500 or something like that,” Jason Kidd said. “We fall in that trap of just coming out and going through the motions.”
At this point of the season, Cuban cares much more about progress than winning. There have been too many games in which the Mavs have done just enough to beat a subpar opponent. Cuban considers those nights to be missed opportunities to improve.
“We can’t be that way,” Cuban said. “We’ve got to learn to compete against ourselves to be the best that we can be. If we do that, then I’m going to be singing our praises every which way.”
This isn’t Cuban trying to play coach. This is him echoing something that Rick Carlisle preaches on a consistent basis.
But Cuban doesn’t believe the Mavs, a team loaded with accomplished veterans who don’t own championship rings, have fully bought in to the concept. He points to the Spurs, the team the Mavs are chasing in the West standings, as an example of a team that has embraced that obsessive approach.
The Mavs have proven they have the potential to be an elite team. They have the NBA’s best road record and have fared well against the top teams on their schedule so far, highlighted by snapping 12-game winning streaks owned by the Spurs and Heat.
However, the Mavs lose focus on far too many possessions for the boss to be pleased.
“We’ve bought in for the big game,” Cuban said. “Now we’ve got to buy in for every game.
“When we learn that’s what we have to do to win a championship, at least in my opinion, I think we’re going to be unstoppable. But we’re not there yet.”