SALT LAKE CITY -- There’s one really good way to recover from a 4-4 homestand that was a major disappointment for a Mavericks team fighting for a playoff spot.
Follow it up with a 4-0 road trip.
“We know we had to,” Vince Carter said. “We needed to. We don’t pull out a couple of these wins, it’s probably over with. I think everybody knew the importance of it and everybody’s locked in. That’s what’s great to see. ... We’ve just got to finish this trip out.”
The Mavs have put themselves in position to do that by sweeping their three games in California. They’ve got a chance to put the finishing touches on a 4-0 trip -- and trim their magic number to earn a playoff berth to two (Mavs wins/Memphis Grizzlies losses) -- by beating the worst team in the Western Conference on Tuesday night.
Not that the Mavs can afford to relax against the Utah Jazz, whose 16 homes wins this season include victories over the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Chicago Bulls and Phoenix Suns.
“This building has always been tough for us,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who has been booed heartily by Jazz fans ever since his classic “Utah is a bad city” comment during the first playoff series of his career. “Coach mentioned that all our last 11 or 12 games were one-possession games at some point in the fourth quarter. There are no easy games, especially for us, especially on the road.”
Nowitzki still feels anguish about the .500 marathon homestand, sick about the Mavs losing four “gut punches,” three of which went to overtime. Coach Rick Carlisle, on the other hand, doesn’t want to hear about it.
“Hey, if it’s in the past, I don’t even think about it,” Carlisle said. “We’re here now and we’ve got to get ready for the next one. We’ve got four more one-game seasons. That’s where it’s at. This is an honor and a privilege to play this type of a season where every game has this type of importance. It tests everything about your character and competitive integrity to stay with it.”
The Mavs have shown some mental toughness by the way they’ve responded on this road trip. They had to sweat until the final seconds of their wins over the Los Angeles Clippers and Sacramento Kings, but they survived in both cases, putting the Mavs in pole position in the three-way race for the West’s final two playoff spots.
“That Clippers game was a big win for us,” Nowitzki said. “It got us going on this road trip. Now we’ve got to finish it off. We’ve got to finish it off in Utah. We won there a couple of weeks ago, but it’s a tough place to play. The boys play hard there. Anything can happen in that arena. We’re going to need the same focus.”