It’s not even Christmas, but Rick Carlisle is making references to next April.

Mind you, he’s not looking ahead to the playoffs, but rather analyzing what it will take for the Mavericks to reach the postseason. Carlisle says it starts with getting his team to understand that December games matter just as much as April’s.

The Mavericks (15-10) have gained traction by winning five of seven December games. They conclude a three-game homestand Friday night by hosting 9-14 Toronto.

It’s a game Dallas should win but can ill-afford to overlook. Given the competitiveness in the Western Conference, even an untimely December loss can be a significant step back.

The Mavericks are sixth in the West but are just a half-game in front of Phoenix and Denver. After Thursday’s game, Dallas heads to Phoenix to face the much-improved Suns in the second game of a back-to-back.

“We’re in a situation where we’re one of six or seven teams fighting for two or three playoff spots,” Carlisle said. “That’s what it’s going to come down to. Concentration and focus and attention to detail are going to carry the day as to who gets in and who has a chance to advance.”

Last season’s Mavericks finished 41-41 and finished four games behind Houston for the eighth and last playoff spot.

At the rate Western Conference teams are winning this season, 45 wins probably won’t be enough to earn a playoff spot. It might take a victory total in the upper 40s or even 50 wins.

Dallas at the moment is on a 49-win pace. If the Mavericks were in the East, they would have the third-best record, behind Indiana and Miami.