To get ready for a second-round series against the Denver Nuggets, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle watched film, analyzed matchups and studied statistics.
One thing jumped out at him.
“That we were 0-4,” Carlisle said, “and struggled with them.”
While that’s not exactly the kind of line to put on T-shirts or billboards, it’s also no reason for alarm, as Carlisle explained.
“At this point, I don’t know how relevant that really is,” he said Friday. “There were injuries and a lot of different things going on during the year. It’s a new start.”
Carlisle’s recognition that the regular season stunk but the slate is wiped clean now is among many good news/bad news scenarios to this series from the Dallas perspective.
It’s also one of the few that is at least somewhat tipped toward the Mavs’ side.
Start with the fact the Mavericks are playing better than they have all season … and that the Nuggets are, too. Denver just crushed New Orleans by record margins in the first round, and the Hornets managed to beat the Nuggets twice in the regular season.
Dallas could take solace in losses to Denver being by only three, two and two points … except the Mavs lost an NBA-low four games by such small margins and three were against the Nuggets.
There’s also this: Dallas is 17-1 at home since the All-Star break. The lone exception? Yep, you guessed it.
NBA history is no help either.
According to research by STATS LLC, four teams that were winless against a conference foe in the regular season found a way to beat that squad in a playoff series—but none pulled it off in a seven-game series. Seattle (0-5 in the regular season) did it against Dallas in 1987; in 1989, Michael Jordan and Chicago (0-6) did it against Cleveland, and Milwaukee (0-6) did it to Atlanta; and in 1998 the Hawks endured it again, falling to Charlotte (0-4).
Then again, these Mavericks know all about painful playoff firsts. Just two years ago, they became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a seven-game series to a No. 8 seed.
“The playoffs is a new animal, a new season really,” Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki said. “If you look at it, you go through 82 games really for nothing. … We’re full of confidence right now and we all know this league is all about confidence. I think we’re playing well at the right time and they are too.”
One way for the Mavericks to convince themselves that bygones are bygones is looking at their starting lineups from those four games.
Jason Terry started the first one; he went to the bench soon after and was named the NBA’s top sixth man. Devean George started the next one, in place of the injured Josh Howard, and now George is out following knee surgery. Gerald Green has gone from starting the January game to being buried at the end of the bench. And, on March 27, James Singleton and Terry started because Howard and Jason Kidd were out with injuries.
“We’re healthy now,” Terry said. “That’s probably the biggest difference.”
Until Game 1 on Sunday, the second-seeded Nuggets are clearly the favorite. But that alone gives the sixth-seeded Mavericks one benefit Denver can’t have this round—underdog status.
“The pressure is not on us throughout this whole playoff run,” Nowitzki said, noting Dallas already pulled off one upset by beating the third-seeded Spurs in the first round. “Usually the team with home-court advantage is the favorites, and they earned it. They’ve played well all season long. So we’ll just see what happens. It should be a fun matchup.”