A measuring stick for the Mavs? They hope not

SAN ANTONIO -- You really can’t blame Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle for not wanting to stick around for the fourth quarter Sunday evening.

The San Antonio Spurs had essentially already extended their regular-season home winning streak to 33 games when Carlisle got T’d up for arguing a foul call against J.J. Barea. Surely sensing an opportunity, Carlisle marched to midcourt while sarcastically applauding referee Sean Corbin, earning a second technical and ejection.

The rest of the Mavs had to stick around until the miserable end of the 112-83 blowout loss, which wrapped up the most difficult week of Dallas’ schedule so far this season.

Was this week a measuring stick for the Mavs? They sure hope not.

Dallas went 1-3 during the week, the lone win a comeback over a struggling Chicago Bulls squad that was playing its fourth game in five nights. Of course, the loss at the Oklahoma City Thunder isn’t worth anything in the analysis of the Mavs, considering they sat all five starters that night. And their overtime loss the night before to the Cleveland Cavaliers could actually be considered encouraging -- something that certainly can’t be said for the spanking the Mavs took from the Spurs.

“We got beat bad,” Carlisle said. “That’s the name of that tune.”

But the Mavs are whistling an optimistic tune about their team a little more than midway through the season. The Mavs haven’t proven that they can compete against legitimate contenders, but they’re in much better position than virtually all the preseason prognosticators anticipated, tied with the Memphis Grizzlies for fifth in the Western Conference with a 23-19 record.

“We’re in pretty good position,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who has performed at an All-Star level in his 18th season but had an off night Sunday (four points on 2-of-10 shooting). “We’ve had some tough losses, had some tough stretches, but overall nobody thought we could be in this position. Maybe not even ourselves.”

Nowitzki notes that the Mavs had three major medical question marks in their starting lineup, with Deron Williams (two years removed from two major ankle surgeries), Wesley Matthews (rehabbing from a ruptured Achilles tendon) and Chandler Parsons (rehabbing from hybrid microfracture knee surgery). Matthews and Parsons got off to predictably poor starts, but the Mavs managed to keep their heads well above water with their two highest-paid players struggling. Matthews is pretty much back to being the player he was before his injury -- an outstanding defender who has shot 39.9 percent from 3-point range over the past month and a half. Parsons has had several flashes but failed to put together any sort of sustained stretch of quality play.

That makes Parsons a perfect poster boy for these Mavs.

“To the outside world, we’ve probably performed better than people expected us to. But for us, we feel like we can definitely turn it up another notch,” Williams said. “We’ve played pretty inconsistently. That was evident tonight. We had a great win in Chicago, and then we come back [and get blown out]. I know this is a great team and a tough place to play, but the game wasn’t even close except for the first quarter.

“That’s kind of how it’s been all season. We’ve had some winning streaks, but then we followed it up with two losses. It’s [up and down], and we want to be trending up.”

Then again, it’s tough to be consistent when they are frequent questions about whether starters need nights off to rest, although Gregg Popovich’s Spurs are proof that it’s possible. The Mavs, one of the NBA’s oldest and most medically challenged teams, strive to find the balance between playing winning basketball and giving themselves a real chance of peaking in the playoffs.

“We have so much more better basketball to be played,” Parsons said. “I think we’ve had a lot of ups and downs, but the goal for us as an older team is just to be hitting our stride at the end of the season and playing our best basketball going into the playoffs.”

The Mavs definitely didn’t peak this week, which couldn’t end soon enough for their coach.