The Dallas Mavericks enter the New Year with the sort of optimism that we all embrace in this season.
“I’m going to lose 10 pounds.’’
“I’m going to call my mother more often.’’
“I’m gonna win eight or nine of the next 10 games and start to make a playoff push.’’
We begrudge them none of this, even as they sit at 10-14 with the 16-17 Wizards in town tonight for a 7:30 tip at the AAC.
“I felt like the last couple of weeks we’ve been playing .500 ball, which is OK,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “It’s a lot better than what we started off, and now we’ll get more healthy and hopefully take another step. We’ve got to let ‘er rip.’’
“Let ‘er rip!’’ is one of Dirk’s go-to phrases when the chips are down, and historically, it works for him and his Mavs. Forgetting Organic Tanking for a moment (I must concede it’s getting a little tedious having to refer to ping-pong balls as often as we all do around here): Can Dirk’s “Let ‘Er Rip!’’ work again this year, in the form of a playoff push?
The Mavericks continue to cling to the mathematics that make "The Chase For Eighth'' semi-viable. Maybe they do that in part because there needs to be some carrot on some stick.
We’re all competitors,’’ Dirk said, “and Coach obviously is pushing us every day.”
So the new calendar begins with Dallas having won four of its last eight games — that .500 that Dirk references — and that is a positive spin. Less so? The fact that this is a team is just half-game above Phoenix in last place in the Western Conference.
Coach Rick Carlisle sees opportunity, though, in the West.
“In the big picture, we feel like there’s an opportunity to crawl back into it because of the way the West has shaped up so far,” Carlisle said. “But it’s a day-to-day, possession-by-possession mentality that’s going to get us there.”
And so … we crawl.
The Wizards are playing on the second night of a B-2-B after losing 101-91 at Houston. Washington had won three in a row before that. The Wizards — just 1-5 on the second night of back-to-backs this season — are led by John Wall, the Eastern Conference Player of the Week who averaged 24.3 points, an NBA-leading 13 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 2.7 steals in three games last week. Dallas probably won’t be able to counter with JJ Barea (calf) at point guard and might also miss starter Deron Williams (illness … and more on D-Will here, and what we believe is his “Incredibly Shrinking Trade Value.’’)
The Mavericks are 4.5 games behind eighth-place Sacramento. Dallas, which played at home just 15 times in its 34 games, now plays at home in eight of their 14 games this month. … and they do it with a healthy Dirk, who has missed most of the season with an Achilles problem but now says he’s fine and ready to work in tandem with budding star Harrison Barnes.
“The schedule eased up for us tremendously,’’ he said. “(We have five two-day breaks in the month and really it never felt like that all season long … road trips kept coming. “We’re) looking forward for some home cooking, getting some traction, getting healthy — hopefully get some wins and make up some ground.’’
“I don’t think we’re really playing for draft position,’’ Nowitzki said. “We’re playing to win every night.”