The portion of the NBA season following the All-Star break commonly is referred to as the second half, but Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle knows that's simply an arbitrary term.
His team has much less than half the schedule to get back into the Western Conference playoff picture.
Dallas looks to earn a fourth victory in its last five tries Wednesday night against an Orlando Magic team in the midst of its longest road skid in seven years.
The Mavericks played their first 29 games without Dirk Nowitzki and limped to a 23-29 record prior to All-Star weekend, leaving them in 11th place in the West - 4 1/2 games behind Houston for the conference's final postseason spot.
Dallas, which hasn't missed the playoffs since the 1999-2000 season, doesn't have much time to make up its current deficit.
"It's not the second half, it's the last 30 games," Carlisle told the team's official website. "We're down to the last little more than a third of the season, and we're just going to have to go whistle to whistle."
The Mavericks headed into the break winning three of four after a 123-100 rout of Sacramento last Wednesday, getting a game-high 26 points from Vince Carter off the bench.
"We have to take one game at a time, because you can't win games six, seven and eight if you don't win the first one," said the former Magic guard. "We can't look past any game or any team. We have to find a way regardless of what our opponent's jersey says."
Nowitzki, who was in his second season the last time Dallas missed the playoffs, hopes the Mavericks can be better in close contests over the final part of the season. Eight of their last nine defeats have come by six points or fewer.
"Obviously, we gave a lot of games away - close ones that we felt like we should have had when I was out and when I was back," Nowitzki said. "Just not finding really the right groove at the end of the games to really execute at both ends of the floor and get those wins, so it's been frustrating.
"I thought we played better the last month or so before the break, but still not good enough to pull some of those close ones out."
Shawn Marion scored 20 points to lead seven players in double figures as the Mavericks beat the Magic 111-105 on Jan. 20 for their ninth victory in the last 12 meetings in the series. Each of Orlando's wins in that stretch, though, has come in the last three matchups in Dallas.
Extending that run might be quite difficult for a Magic team that has dropped 25 of its last 28 after falling 105-92 to Charlotte on Tuesday in a matchup of the NBA's worst teams.
Orlando (15-38) is giving up 104.1 points per game during that stretch after allowing an average of 92.8 in its first 25 games.
"Bad basketball. Bad defense. Just bad,' guard J.J. Redick said. "Everybody was out there making mistakes. The NBA is about team defense. For the last 28 games we've been pretty awful on the defensive side of the ball.'
Orlando now will turn its attention to ending an eight-game road losing streak that is its longest since dropping 16 straight from Jan. 27-March 31, 2006.
It has lost by an average of 16.2 points during its current road skid.
The Associated Press News Service
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