While the 2016-17 season hasn’t unfolded in the way the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves had hoped, the two teams at the bottom of the Western Conference still hold on to hope.
Each believes it can right things and has time to get back on track. One has a chance as they meet Monday in Minnesota.
“I do believe we can,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle told the Dallas Morning News about making the playoffs. “We’re going to have to play better. Frankly, our effort is going to have to be better.”
Dallas and the Timberwolves are tied at the bottom of the West at 11-26. Minnesota owns the worst home record in the conference at 6-13, only Dallas is worse at home.
As disappointing as the season has been, both teams have reason to harbor some optimism. The Timberwolves are the youngest team in the NBA trying to meld with new coach Tom Thibodeau.
The Mavericks are healthy for the first time since the season began.
Backup point guard J.J. Barea returned Saturday after missing seven games with a leg muscle strain. Saturday also marked the return to a starting lineup of Andrew Bogut, Dirk Nowitzki, Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews and Deron Williams for the first time since the first week of the season.
“That lineup is probably not going to play a whole lot together,” Nowitzki told the Dallas Morning News. “But when we start the game, we don’t want to go down eight or 10 points and have to fight back. It was all right (Saturday) when we played together in short spurts.”
Dallas lost 97-82 at home to the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday, the Mavericks third loss in four games. Barea had seven points, seven assists and four rebounds in 17 minutes.
“It’s good to have everybody back and to have all the pieces together, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Barea told the team’s website. “You know, it’s a tough night when you lose like that. You’ve got to give Atlanta a lot of credit, but we’ve got to play harder, and we’ve got to show more fire in us.”
Fire, in a sense, has been a recent topic among the Timberwolves.
Minnesota lost another fourth-quarter lead in a home loss to the Utah Jazz on Saturday. Second-half leads have disappeared regularly for the young Timberwolves. Saturday’s collapse led to their fourth straight loss.
“We were relaxed,” point guard Ricky Rubio said. “We’ve got to understand that in this league, no lead is safe. Same thing we did in Philly, coming back all the way from 24 or something like that, when we have the lead, we have to be solid. We know how this league works. Teams are going to fight until the end. Today, we were soft.”
“I’m pretty whimsical with lineups,” he said. “You never know with me what’s going to happen next. I told the guys (before the game) that one thing we’re going to have to be is flexible with lineups and rotations, particularly with all our guys back now. We’ve got different ways to go.”
Losing leads is frustrating Minnesota and perplexing players like Karl-Anthony Towns, one of three players to average more than 20 points per game. Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine are all 21 years old and are all in the top-28 in the league in scoring.
“At this point, I don’t even know anymore,” Towns said of losing another lead.
Towns added: “We always stay positive, especially me. I’m always positive whatever situation falls in, I feel really comfortable. I know we try the best we can to put the game away, just try to do everything. Just try to will everything. Try to make sure we kept the lead. Trying to grab every rebound, get every loose ball. Try to win everything so we could get a win.
“I know everyone else did the same thing. Tried to make every shot possible, try to get every defensive stop. They hit more shots. They hit shots when they needed to.”
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