Like an aggressive defender playing the passing lanes, coach Rick Carlisle anticipated the direction of the conversation and pounced.
“I’m not interested in hearing about the records, OK?” Carlisle said, cutting off a question about the inferior competition on the Mavericks’ three-game road trip that begins Friday night in Philadelphia.
OK, Rick, stop reading here.
The three Eastern Conference also-rans the Mavs will face over the next four nights are a combined 47 games under .500. The Philadelphia 76ers (15-40) have a worse record than every team in the league except the Milwaukee Bucks. The Detroit Pistons are 22-32. The New York Knicks are 21-33.
The 76ers are in much worse shape than their record indicates, as miserable as that might be. They’ve lost their last nine games by an average margin of 21.2 points and traded away 40 percent of their starting lineup before Thursday’s deadline.
“All these teams are fighting for something,” Carlisle said. “I can guarantee you on Friday night Philly’s going to be fighting their ass off to get a win at home. Detroit’s fighting to stay in the playoff picture there, and New York’s fighting to be in the playoff picture as well.
“We’ve already lost one game to New York. They’ve got a lot of talent there. Detroit’s got talent and Philly’s got talent, too. There’s no game on our schedule that’s an easy game.”
However, for a Mavs team that has won six of its last eight games, nothing short of a sweep would qualify as a success on this East Coast swing.
The Mavs, who sit in eighth place in the West standings, a game ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies and a game behind the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns, can’t afford to lose any games to lesser teams. And that means they can’t afford to let their guard down against anybody.
“Hopefully we can keep it going on this trip against three teams that we’re supposed to beat but are dangerous,” Dirk Nowitzki said, adding that young, athletic teams that “junk it up” like the Sixers tend to give the Mavs trouble. “We just showed in Charlotte that we’re not good enough to just show up and make a couple of shots. We’ve got to compete. We’ve got to be solid defensively and rebound, and then I like our chances on this trip.”
The 25-point loss to the Bobcats on Feb. 11 is still fresh in the Mavs’ minds. A 112-97 loss to the Sacramento Kings with just-traded-for Rudy Gay watching from a Sleep Train Arena luxury suite on Dec. 9 is another reminder about the danger of sleeping on any foe, no matter how overmatched they appear to be on paper.
Oh, and the Sixers gave the Mavs a scare during their November trip to Dallas despite Rookie of the Year candidate Michael Carter-Williams sitting out with a sore foot.
“We’re going up against a team that’s desperate, which they were last time they were in here and we were playing from behind the whole game,” Carlisle said. “We’re also going against our own ability to improve on where we are. We’ve got to set the bar high and we’ve got to really work to meet those standards.
“If we keep high standards and keep our concentration and focus, we’re going to keep getting better and have a chance to move up. If we don’t, it’s going to be very hard on us.”