Opening Tip: Mavs on 49-win pace

DALLAS -- How does a 49-win season sound? That’s the pace the Mavericks are on as they hit what is roughly the quarter point of the season.

“Decent,” is Dirk Nowitzki’s description for Dallas’ 12-8 start, followed by him grumbly about the game in Atlanta the Mavs let get away.

“I don’t take stock during the season,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We’ve got to go day to day with this thing. It’s that hard. You’ve got to have that kind of respect for it. I’m not a big look back/analyze kind of person. Where are we right now? Where are we tomorrow? That’s what we’ve got to look at.”

Fine, we’ll do it for him. It’s a heck of a lot better than last season’s mediocre Mavs, who were 10-10 at this point and finished .500, failing to make the playoffs to end a run of a dozen straight postseasons in Dallas.

It’s good enough to be seventh in the Western Conference standings at the moment. It’s rare that 49 wins wouldn’t punch a playoff ticket. The last time teams needed at least 50 wins to get in the playoffs was in the 2009-10 West.

As Carlisle said, however, the issue on the Mavs’ mind isn’t whether a 49-win pace would be good enough. It’s how they can get better.

“The good news is, regardless of what happens on this road trip and obviously I want to win all four, we have a chance to get a lot better as a team, a lot better, with practice and getting healthy,” owner Mark Cuban said.

The first month-plus of the Mavs’ schedule was tough in terms of the frequency of games. Only five other teams have played 20 games already, and the Mavs have played seven back-to-backs, which is especially difficult on a roster that relies heavily on so many dudes with a decade-plus of NBA miles on their legs.

“It’s crazy the schedule that we had here in November, basically playing every Friday and Saturday for five weeks,” said Nowitzki, a 16-year vet. “It’s been tough, but here in December, I think it eases up a lot.”

The Mavs’ depth should be improving significantly soon, as center/forward Brandan Wright and guard Devin Harris will likely make their season debuts in December.

That should provide scoring punch off the bench and address Dallas’ biggest flaw: a dreadful defense. Harris will be the Mavs’ best defensive guard, which admittedly is pretty faint praise. Wright can be bullied by brutish big men, but he’s a shot blocker and an adept zone defender. For the Mavs to be adequate defensively, they’ll have to mix in a lot of zone, which requires practice time.

“There’s nothing where you look at this team and you go, ‘That’s our weak spot. We can’t do anything there. We can’t get better,’” Cuban said. “It’s just, OK, we’ve got to get better as a team. We’ve got to get healthy. Guys play hard. Guys like playing together. There’s lots of good pieces there.”