There is often wisdom in a coach tamping down expectations for a team. Too much/too soon can lead to disappointment. But there is also wisdom in a coach telling the truth, and that's what Rick Carlisle is doing when he says of his Dallas Mavericks, "We're a young team trying to do exceptional things."
Tonight, the Mavericks hope to celebrate New Year's Eve with a win at OKC (8 p.m. tip). The Thunder is a group also trying to exceed preseason expectations; OKC is 17-15 and coming off a tight 98-97 win over the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had a career game on Sunday against the Raptors, tying his career-high with 32 points. He also recorded seven rebounds, three steals and two assists.
He'll start tonight alongside Terrance Ferguson, Darius Bazley, Steven Adams and Chris Paul. That's not quite the recognizable OKC group from the past; Russell Westbrook and Paul George are gone. But the Oklahoma City Thunder in seventh in the Western Conference?
That's close to "exceptional.''
But the Mavs? They are 21-11 after having sustained a 108-95 loss at the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. In that game, Luka Doncic endured a nasty fall but seemed fine (except for some failures from the arc).
“It was scary,” said Doncic. “I was just (taking) precautions. I fell on my back, hit my head and my elbow, but I was OK.”
Officially as we enter the day, Luka is listed as questionable, as is Tim Hardaway Jr., due to a hamstring injury.
Depending on their status, Kristaps Porzingis (averaging 17.3 points and 9.4 rebounds) will be central to what Dallas does tonight and beyond for a Mavericks team that has flirted with being a top-four team in the West.
Tonight's game marks the third straight year the Mavericks have played in Oklahoma City on New Year's Eve. So it's a tradition of sorts. And, all of the sudden, maybe the Mavs being "exceptional'' as part of a new tradition.