Opening Tip: Mavs' competitive character tested

DALLAS -- Dirk Nowitzki couldn’t hide how much Wednesday’s loss hurt him.

“This feels like a playoff loss,” Nowitzki said after the 123-122 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. “It really does.”

The Mavericks didn’t have much time to lick their wounds. They’ve got to move on to face the Denver Nuggets on Friday night. It’s a matchup that has given the Mavs fits this season, and the out-of-contention Nuggets have wins over the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers in the last week.

Coach Rick Carlisle said before this eight-game homestand started that it’d be test of the Mavs’ competitive character. The challenge of bouncing back from a painful loss certainly qualifies.

“The NBA season is one massive test of character really, if you break it down,” Carlisle said. “We’ve just got to regroup. We’ve got to respond the right way.

“It was a tough loss, but tough losses happen in this league. We’ve had our share of them in recent weeks, and the way you respond is to stick together and do it better the next time you go out.”

Of course, the Mavs' challenges aren't limited to mental and emotional. They've got some significant physical issues, too, starting with how to keep the run-and-gun Nuggets from getting out in transition a couple of nights after the Mavs' old legs had to log an extra five minutes.

With a roster loaded with veterans, including a couple of 2011 champions, the Mavs are well equipped to deal with adversity. That’s one reason they’ve only had one three-game losing streak all season.

It seemed like the ship might be sinking after that three-game skid for the Mavs earlier this month. They got dominated by Denver in the third loss, prompting Carlisle and Nowitzki to challenge the Mavs to compete.

The Mavs responded by winning five of six games before Wednesday’s loss.

“We’ve got to re-establish momentum,” Carlisle said. “Disappointing losses are one of the facts of life in professional sports and particularly the NBA. There’s a lot of volatility in this league.

“In our situation, we’ve got to find ways to rise above that and do the best we can. We didn’t do that [Wednesday] night for 48 minutes and actually 53 minutes if you want to count them all up. We’ve got to change that and we’ve got to get back on track.”