DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks will host a Phoenix Suns' squad tonight that has the worst record in the Western Conference, the third worst record in the entire NBA, and a team that has lost their last 10 games.
Easy game for the Mavs, right?
"Anybody around here who's taking any games for granted this year is a (expletive deleting) idiot,'' coach Rick Carlisle said after Wednesday morning's shootaround. "We've been in a position all year where we can't take anything for granted.''
Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m. at American Airlines Center with the Mavs (38-39) just one win away from getting back to .500 for the first time since Dec. 12, when they were 11-11.
A .500 record means the Mavs will finally get to cash in their commitment to shave off their beards. But that hot-button promise appears to have simmered a bit lately.
"It's another opportunity to get back to even,'' Carlisle said. "We've had three of those in the last 10-12 days, and it's been tough.
"We've got to work the game from start to finish -- simple as that. And we've got to stay in the present.''
Staying in the present for the Mavs means focusing on themselves and not worrying about what's going on around them. Still, the Mavs know if they win their last five games, and if the Los Angeles Lakers go 2-2 or 1-3, and if the Utah Jazz finish 1-2 or 0-3, then Dallas will secure the No. 8 playoff seed out West.
"It's not about getting back to .500,'' point guard Mike James said. "So many times we put so much focus and emphasis on getting to .500 where that's not really a big accomplishment or a big achievement.
"Mathematically, we're still not out of the playoff hunt. Guys got to lose every game, which is possible the way the standings are -- they've got some tough games -- so our focus is ending the season on a strong note.''
And not taking teams like the Suns for granted. The Mavs they've done that way too many times this season, which is why they're in their current predicament.
Meanwhile, Phoenix showed its not just playing out the string as it fought the Houston Rockets down to the very last second Tuesday night. But the Rockets won, 101-98, on a very weird play when Suns forward Jermaine O'Neal was whistled for goaltending on a three-point shot by James Harden at the buzzer.
"They played great (Tuesday) night,'' Carlisle said of the Suns. "They've been going through some tough times.
"I know they had some guys speak up about their situation. They showed pride and resolve (Tuesday) night and I'm sure they're going to do the same thing again tonight, so we're going to have to be ready.''
The Mavs play four of their final five games at home, which should give them an edge. But they've still got to show up and play for 48 minutes.
"It's always good to be back home -- we've been playing pretty well here, '' center Brandan Wright said. "We always get energy from the fans, so it's always good to be here in a comfort level.
"We're going to have the arena behind us, and we play a little better here.''
-- Dwain Price
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