Earl K. Sneed reports from Detroit, where the Mavericks close their road trip and try to celebrate the MLK holiday by ending their current five-game losing streak.
DETROIT — The Mavericks need look no further than the inspiring Martin Luther King Jr. for a reason to play spirited basketball Monday afternoon in Detroit.
After five consecutive losses, all without their full complement of players, the Mavericks (26-13) will try to use the man to which Monday’s holiday is named after for motivation to bring their recent skid to a close against the Pistons. And after welcoming back leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki Saturday night in an 89-70 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Mavs hope to collectively come together to honor Dr. King with a win, while also ending their four-game road trip in style.
But if the Mavericks are to sweep the season series with the Pistons, while also bringing an end to the squad’s season-high losing streak, then they may first have to address their health situation after injuries depleted the Dallas roster at the turn of the calendar.
The team went just 2-7 after Nowitzki went down with a sprained right knee on Dec. 27, losing third-leading scorer Caron Butler in the process for in all likelihood the remainder of the season due to a ruptured right patellar tendon and subsequent surgery.
Saturday night, the team was also without starting center Tyson Chandler as the 7-foot-1 big man was forced to sit out the game while battling an illness. The Mavericks hope to have Chandler back on the court Monday, although his status for the showdown remains unclear.
Still, whether or not Chandler plays, sixth man Jason Terry says that nothing can deter the Mavericks from collecting their first win since a 104-95 road victory in Cleveland on Jan. 2.
“We’re losing, there’s no other way to describe it. But it’s nothing that a win won’t cure,” Terry said. “It’s tough, but it’s a long season. If we were in March or April, then we’d really be concerned. But, hey, it happens, the same way we won 10 or 11 in a row. So, Detroit ain’t gonna feel sorry for us. And we’ve got to go in there and get a win.”
To get that win the Mavericks will try to lean on Nowitzki, after he saw his first game action Saturday since injuring the knee. Nowitzki played only 15 minutes, totaling just seven points on 2-of-7 shooting to go along with five rebounds, before being ejected to end his return early after drawing back-to-back technical foul calls for arguing with officials.
Although he admits that he was slowed by stiffness and a protective sleeve on the knee, both Nowitzki and his head coach say his return is a step in the right direction.
“Just being out there feels good, being out there with the guys and trying to lift our spirits,” Nowitzki said after Saturday’s loss. “But obviously everything has been downhill sense we had two injuries. We’ve pretty much hit rock bottom. I mean, we can’t get any lower. Somehow we’ve got to scratch our way out of it … I’ve never missed three weeks in my career, but air-wise I was fine. I was running, I just couldn’t really move much. But I think my lungs were really decent. I wasn’t too gassed, I wasn’t too tired. We’ve just got to get the knee closer to 100 percent, and then we’ll be OK.”
“It’s been a difficult, challenging stretch, but I think the reality is this begins another process,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle added. “I think we’ve all got to be sensitive to the fact that he [Nowitzki] has been working on his own to get back, and he and [head athletic trainer Casey Smith] have been working on his conditioning. But he hasn’t had a real practice … And I think we all just need to be aware that that’s a challenging situation.”
But after producing a season-low 70 points, the Mavericks know that they will need Nowitzki back to 100 percent as soon as possible to provide his elite-level scoring. The team also admits that its role players will need to step up around Nowitzki, as the Mavericks look for an offensive breakthrough.
Third-string center Ian Mahinmi did in fact step up in the Mavericks' last loss, scoring a career-high 17 points on a perfect 6-for-6 shooting night from the floor. Still, the Mavs shot just 32 percent en route to the defeat.
“Right now, our shot-making isn’t there. But we’ve just got to stay with it,” Carlisle explained.
“We’re not in rhythm right now. Our team is not in rhythm,” Terry added. “And you can blame it on whatever you want, but it’s our job to go out and get it done.”
The Mavericks will try to get it done once against the Pistons (14-26), winners of back-to-back games, after Nowitzki’s 42 points and 12 rebounds carried his team to an 88-84 win against Detroit at the American Airlines Center on Nov. 23. And Nowitzki knows that it may take a similar effort to help elevate his team to the level the Mavericks played at while getting off to a 24-5 start.
“Obviously, it’s tough times right now,” Nowitzki said. “We’ve lost five or eight out of the last 10, so that’s never fun to go through. But you can only get better, get Tyson healthy and just keep playing hard.”
Note: The Mavericks conclude their four-game road trip in Detroit against the Pistons Monday, as the two squads celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day with an early start. The Mavericks-Pistons game will tip off at 2:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest.
After finishing up their road trip, the Mavericks return to the American Airlines Center Wednesday night 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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