SAN ANTONIO -- Can we be completely honest?
OK, good. It took great restraint not to roll our eyes when Rick Carlisle went on and on about his enthusiasm for this team the day after the Dallas Mavericks got routed on the road by the Houston Rockets. After all, the Mavs had lost four of five games at that point to fall seven games under .500.
Well, Carlisle’s relentless enthusiasm has been rewarded since then.
“Why wouldn’t it be?” Carlisle said with a wry smile after Wednesday’s practice at a San Antonio recreation center.
The smiles come a lot easier when the Mavs are winning. And that’s all they’ve done since being humiliated in Houston, matching their season-best winning streak with four in a row, including the first three games of this road trip.
The 30-33 Mavs are still long shots to make the playoffs. They’re also well aware that the caliber of competition is about to kick up several notches, with Thursday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs starting a stretch of facing nine .500-plus foes in 10 games.
But there have been bigger miracles in recent NBA history than the Mavs sneaking into the playoffs. The Mavs, a proud group of pros, are excited about the possibilities at this point, an attitude that has been reflected in their recent performances.
“I like the momentum we’ve got going,” Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki said. “I like the rhythm we’ve got going. We’ve got to keep playing hard and make plays for each other on the offensive end and just let it all hang out and see what happens.”
Added scorching sixth man Vince Carter: “We’re playing for a lot right now. I think we’re playing with a lot of confidence right now, a lot of momentum. Our togetherness is at an all-time high. We just believe. We had a slow start, but this is going to be fun.”
The Mavs’ previous few meetings with the Spurs this season have certainly not been fun. San Antonio has dominated its Interstate 35 (former?) rival, building leads of 46, 25 and 26 points while handily winning all three games.
The Spurs have been bit by the injury bug, with Tony Parker out for several weeks due to a severely sprained ankle and Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard missing Tuesday’s loss to the lowly Timberwolves due to sore knees. But Nowitzki knows better than to expect anything less than the Spurs’ best.
“For some reason against us,” Nowitzki said, “they always play their best game.”
The Mavs need to play their best game 13 or 14 times over the next five weeks to have any hope of extending the franchise’s run of playoff berths to 13 seasons. It’s a challenge they’re enthusiastic about.