More tough coach talk in adverse times

DALLAS -- Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, like any coach, can be protective of his players. But he pulled no punches after Monday's embarrassing loss at Detroit when he came right out said the team had "caved."

He didn't backtrack after Tuesday's practice, saying, "it’s been a disappointing stretch, a lot of losses in a row and an effort that’s really been beneath what we’ve stood for all year."

He swatted away questions about the difficulty of changing player roles in the wake of injuries and losing star players.

The Mavs were 2-7 without Dirk Nowitzki, which also included seven games without Caron Butler from the time he went down in in the first quarter of a game on Jan. 1 with a season-ending knee injury.

"I’m not going to make that excuse. That’s a sorry excuse to me," Carlisle said. "This has been an opportunity that we haven’t taken advantage of, an opportunity for some guys to step up, for me to coach better, for us to get through a difficult time and help Dirk, who was sitting out and we’ve struggled and it’s been disappointing."

The Mavs are 0-2 with Nowitzki back in the lineup. They have lost six in a row and nine of 11 with the Los Angeles Lakers in town Wednesday night for a nationally televised game on ESPN.

"I am still very optimistic, but I know that optimism alone isn’t going to pull you through this kind of a hard time," Carlisle said. "You’ve got to really fight as a group. You’ve got to have a strong collective will. You’ve got to rebuild your spirit, and the time for talk is over. We’re going to have to play."

The Mavs will get a boost against L.A. with the return of 7-foot-1 center Tyson Chandler, the vocal and athletic defender the Dallas brass believe could close the gap between the Mavs and Lakers and even make the difference in a playoff series. Chandler missed the last two games battling the flu, but even then Carlisle cautioned his team not to rely solely on Chandler to lift them up.

"Tyson will definitely help us, there’s no doubt about that," Carlisle said. "But, you’re talking about a guy that’s been sick for a week. ... Him being back, practicing some today is the beginning of a process for him. ... He’s not going to be a savior coming back into this thing. He’s certainly going to help us and certainly help lift our spirits, but everyone’s got to pick him up at this point."