Earl K. Sneed reports from Indianapolis, where the Mavericks will start a four-game road trip with their first matchup coming Wednesday evening against the Pacers.
INDIANAPOLIS — Although the Mavericks have been road warriors this season, battling their way to a 12-2 record away from Big D, it will take a collective effort for them to fight through their current four-game road trip.
Already down a two-time All-Star starting small forward and still awaiting the return of the team’s leading scorer, who has made nine All-Star appearances of his own, the Mavericks (26-10) know they must come together in order to make a successful return to Dallas from a week-long journey that includes stops in four cities.
“Any time you go out on the road and you play quality teams and you’re short-handed, you’ve got to be together,” point guard Jason Kidd said. “That’s the only way you can win. So, we’re gonna go out on the road and see if we can play a little bit better basketball.”
The Mavericks’ first destination is Indianapolis and Conseco Fieldhouse, the site of Wednesday evening’s matchup against the Indiana Pacers. And before touching down in San Antonio, Memphis and Detroit, the Mavericks realize that they must first find a way to slow down a Danny Granger-led Pacers squad in the first meeting between the two teams this season.
“The one thing I’ve learned — and I was taught this by my vets when I was young — but on road trips, the emphasis is on going out there and getting that first one,” forward Shawn Marion said, “because it can definitely be a long road trip if you don’t. We still play one game at a time, but that first one can be big for you.”
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle would agree, after spending a total of seven years within the Pacers’ organization. And it’s to Carlisle’s belief that his team certainly can’t afford to look past the Indiana team despite its 15-20 record.
That’s because the Mavericks also haven’t seen much success of late without their No. 1 and No. 3 scorers, playing just .500 basketball en route to a 5-5 record in their last 10 games, including back-to-back losses. And although the Pacers are just 3-7 in the same span, Tuesday night’s 111-103 road win in Philadelphia led by 27 points from Granger is an indicator to Carlisle that Indiana is capable of winning on any given night.
“They’re dangerous. Any team in this league is dangerous, and we have not been playing well the last couple of games,” Carlisle explained. “I mean, they’re gonna be happy to see us, I’m sure.”
Still, the coach also believes that his team could have an uptick in its future as it journeys back out on the road. And Carlisle is very confident that the upswing could start as soon as Wednesday’s showdown.
“It’s very challenging. I mean, we wish we had been playing our best basketball right now, but we haven’t. The last couple of games we’ve struggled. This is a time for us to circle the wagons and really concentrate on what’s important — the basics, the defense, the rebounding and the efficiency on offense … All these things are connected and they’re all very meaningful,” Carlisle said.
And as the Mavs begin to venture further and further away from the American Airlines Center, they also hope to welcome power forward Dirk Nowitzki back. The 7-footer has missed seven straight games due to a sprained right knee.
Nowitzki remains listed as day-to-day, but he has said that he intends to return to the lineup at some point on the current road trip, which could be as soon as Wednesday night. The team is just 2-5 without No. 41 in the lineup.
But if Nowitzki is unable to suit up, the Mavericks know that they will need a collective effort in order to bring an end to their recent slumping stretch. And center Tyson Chandler says that four straight road games could be just the spark he and his teammates need in order to galvanize a banged-up squad that is missing Nowitzki and also minus swingman Caron Butler, after he underwent a likely season-ending surgery to repair a ruptured right patellar tendon.
“We understand where we’re at,” Chandler said. “We have our leader, our captain, our everything has been out for awhile. And not only has he [Nowitzki] been out, but we lost a warrior in Caron and we’ve dealt all year without Roddy [Beaubois]. So, we understand where we’re at. And once we get our guys back, we’ll be alright … Potentially getting Dirk back on the road, and then being on the road, us against the opposing team and their whole stadium, should get us back on track.”
To help alleviate the strain of trying to replace Butler’s output, the Mavericks have signed seven-year veteran Sasha Pavlovic to a 10-day contract. And Carlisle says that he could call Pavlovic’s number immediately for assistance while trying to down the Pacers.
“We just want him to play his game. We feel like he fits in with our system. He’s had two days here to be integrated and get a lot of reps. And then there’s a good chance he’ll see some minutes,” Carlisle said of Pavlovic’s possible immediate impact.
Meanwhile, the new addition admits that he is still trying to learn Carlisle’s system on the fly. But Pavlovic adds that he intends on being ready and willing to help in any way the coach sees fit.
“I’m just happy to have this opportunity,” Pavlovic said. “I’ve been working out by myself all summer and also the past couple of months. I’ve been staying ready. And I’m gonna do whatever it takes to help the team win games. And whatever Coach [Carlisle] asks me to do, I’m gonna do it.”
With Pavlovic hoping to help pick up the slack, the Mavericks will try to continue their impressive play on the road, even if they have to do so without Nowitzki. And before heading into the AT&T Center on Thursday night for a third meeting with the Southwest Division rival Spurs, Marion says that he and his teammates must first block out all distractions in order to pick up a road win against the upstart Pacers.
“We’ve got a different collaboration of players on this team, so the road sometimes is very good for us,” Marion said. “Sometimes it’s just so much going on at home that you just need to get away a little bit. And it helps you.”
And with Nowitzki’s playing status still unclear, the Mavericks will have yet another distraction to block out as they bid for a 13th victory in an opposing gym.
Note: The Mavs start their four-game road trip in Indiana against the Pacers Wednesday night in the first meeting between the two teams this season. The Mavericks-Pacers matchup will tip off at 6 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest.
The team returns to the American Airlines Center Jan. 19 to host the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant. It will be the first time the two teams play this season. That game will tip off at 8 p.m. CT, airing locally on TXA 21 and nationally on ESPN. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting the American Airlines Center box office, logging on to Mavs.com or by calling 214-747-MAVS (6287).
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