MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The Dallas Mavericks loved to brag on their team concept a year ago. They took the league by storm and the country latched on as they devoured the Lakers, Thunder and then the big, bad Heat.
Everyone was counted upon, everyone was needed, everyone showed up.
Saturday's box score shows why this team is different and limping toward the playoffs, if they even make it. Check the standings and the postseason is far from guaranteed. In a crucial game at Memphis, Dallas' rotation shrunk to a season-low. Yes, Jason Kidd (strained right groin) and Ian Mahinmi (fatherhood) weren't around for this one, but through this injury-marred season, when is the last time just seven Mavs played more than 20 minutes?
The chemistry that banded last season's team has never quite materialized with this one. Maybe when Kidd returns -- perhaps next week -- the offense will suddenly flow like $90,000-a-bottle bubbly, but that hasn't really been the case all season. Maybe one good win, and the next chance for that is Tuesday against Sacramento, is all this team needs for a jump start. Yet, every good game only seems to yield a clunker.
Saturday's 94-89 loss was a combination of both. Dallas, now 31-26, came out inexcusably lethargic and got routed in the opening quarter, trailing 26-6 after 11 minutes and 29-10 at the buzzer. After making 2-of-15 baskets in the first quarter, Dallas regrouped and shot 55.2 percent the rest of the way, outrebounded Memphis and limited the Grizzlies to 38.8 percent shooting for the game -- numbers that typically win games.
Delonte West played 25 hard minutes on a bum left ankle and with a still-fragile, taped-up finger. Shawn Marion pulled down another double-double. Jason Terry played aggressively, collecting eight assists and 12 points. Brandan Wright went for 16 and six in 36 minutes. Dirk Nowitzki admittedly had one of his poorer games of the season, but he took a pounding for 36 minutes as Dallas desperately scraped to get back in a game they coughed away early.
"We had a lot of fighters out there tonight," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "Going down the stretch here, that’s what it’s going to be about."
The Mavs just didn't have enough of them Saturday. And it appears the worst-kept secret of the season is now becoming painfully obvious. Any hope that Lamar Odom, who some consider to be a mandatory X-factor along with Rodrigue Beaubois (who continues to be madly inconsistent) for postseason success -- was suddenly going to flip the switch, is all but lost.
This night would have been the perfect chance for him to gain respect among his teammates, even at this late date, to help them grind out a needed victory. Yet his coach couldn't even stomach more than the four minutes Odom spent on the floor in the first quarter, low-lighted by an awkward layup attempt that didn't have a prayer and an offensive foul.
He played 11 minutes in Friday's embarrassing loss. That was supposed to be the game that Odom would begin to gain momentum. At least that was the spin Carlisle put on it after Wednesday's big comeback win over the Grizzlies when Odom was so fatigued that he failed to box out his man early in the fourth quarter and was benched for the rest of the night.
Coincidentally, Dallas then went on a 21-2 run to take charge of that game.
The silence regarding Odom's place on this team after this Grizzlies' loss, the Mavs' third in four games and second in a row, said all that needed to be said.
Carlisle, asked if there remains hope that Odom can provide anything for the team, said in a distant voice: "No Lamar questions tonight."
Nowitzki answered questions about the loss for four minutes, critical of his missed 3-pointer with a couple minutes to go and his two late turnovers. Then came the question about Odom, who had just finished getting dressed and walked out of the locker room to the team bus.
"I'm done talking about that," Nowitzki said as he turned away and ended the interview.
Even Odom was rendered speechless, a rarity for the 6-foot-10 forward. Regarding all his pine time Saturday, he tried to find words, then couldn't and finally shrugged his shoulders.
Asked if he's concerned that his role, or any role, is shrinking to nothingness, he said: "(Friday) night I didn’t play a lot, tonight same thing. At least there’s some consistency in that."
Odom tried to find an ounce of humor in the sad situation, but the reality is it appears Carlisle is done with the spin, done with the positive reinforcement and maybe even done putting Odom on the floor with nine games left that are so vital to the defending champs' postseason hopes in this strange, strange season.
"I can’t read it," Odom said of the immediate future. "It is what it is. What can I do? Coach is always right."
There was plenty of blame to go around for Saturday's loss. In the end, the Mavs did show pride, unwilling to go down with a whimper. Their fighters fought. They just didn't have enough.
"We've all got to play well, I think that’s obvious if we want to do something to make the playoffs or do some damage in the playoffs," Nowitzki said. "We all have to play at a high level. That’s what we did last year, we picked up some momentum, had everybody play well, defense and rebound. On offense, everybody shared the ball and played well together.
"That’s the only way we’re going to be able to do it this year. It’s not going to be one guy, it’s not going to be two guys. If we want to win, ultimately we’ve go to do it together and have everyone play at a high level. That’s the only way."