BOSTON — After that wretched 2-14 start, the Mavericks have gone 5-3 in their last eight games and if they aren’t careful, they might just get out of the cellar in the Western Conference.
What’s happened to get them on this mini-surge?
Mostly, they have found an identity and a rotation that works.
Rick Carlisle likes to say that his rotation is always put together in pencil, not indelible ink. That may be, but for now, the team appears to have settled into a rotation that is fairly consistent with J.J. Barea, Devin Harris and Yogi Ferrell coming off the bench in the backcourt and Salah Mejri and Dwight Powell getting the backup minutes in the front court.
That group combined for 54 points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists against the Denver Nuggets on Monday in a 122-105 win. They will be leaned on heavily on the three-game road trip that starts Wednesday against the Celtics.
Only Ferrell is averaging more than 23 minutes off the bench, and many of his big-minute games came as a starter before Maxi Kleber was inserted.
The strength-in-numbers approach has always been preferred by Carlisle. The Mavericks are making that work with this group.
Not that Carlisle wants anybody getting used to it, of course.
“We’ve got a more fluid substitution situation this year,” he said. “You can’t just mark it down on a minutes sheet any more. We don’t have that luxury. Guys have all been told that. Minutes are judged on intensity, attention to detail and execution.”
Plus, he said, he’s trying to keep minutes reasonable for older players like Barea, Harris and Dirk Nowitzki.
As for the identity of the team, the Mavericks have figured out how to stick their collective nose into things defensively. And on offense, they are passing the ball like they trust each other implicitly.
“We kind of realized we have to come to play defensively every night,” Harris said. “You got to play hard, and our demeanor and fight has been there. We’re improving. And I think we’re understanding how to play and close out games.
“Against Denver, we didn’t call a lot of plays. And we couldn’t do that 12 or 15 games ago.”
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