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Mavs go through motions in third straight loss

DALLAS -- The feel-good vibe buzzing around the Dallas Mavericks last week feels like it was so long ago.

This team stinks all the sudden.

And that’s putting it pretty kindly after the Mavs lost their third game in a row. They followed up their crunch-time meltdown against the miserable Bobcats by letting the injury-ravaged Minnesota Timberwolves leftovers dominate Monday night at the American Airlines Center.

Timberwolves 90, Mavs 82 was the final score, but it was more lopsided than that. Don’t be fooled by Dallas’ too-little, too-late rally. Just like we shouldn’t have been fooled by the Mavs’ fast start, when they won four out of their first five games.

It’s understandable that this team will go through its share of struggles while Dirk Nowitzki rehabs from his arthroscopic knee surgery, especially while Shawn Marion is also sidelined by a bum knee. But it’s inexcusable that coach Rick Carlisle already feels the need to publicly call out his team for poor effort.

“I just know I’ve got to coach these guys harder and keep getting them better,” said Carlisle, who got tossed after picking up two quick technicals with five minutes remaining. “It’s tough. It’s tough.

“We got carved up in the first half. Our effort wasn’t where it needed to be. I thought we tried harder in the second half and the results were still not good. It’s tough right now. We’ve got to just keep at it.”

A team that was so fun to watch during their recent 3-0 homestand played butt-ugly basketball against a Minnesota squad missing All-Star power forward Kevin Love, budding star point guard Ricky Rubio and rotation players J.J. Barea, Brandon Roy and Chase Budinger. Oh, and the Wolves’ best healthy player got hurt late in the third quarter, when center Nikola Pekovic turned his ankle after scoring 20 points in 28 minutes.

The Mavs’ offense, which was so sweet during the surprising start, is a mess right now. They shot 36.3 percent from the floor, marking the third consecutive game they set a season low in that statistic.

But offense isn’t even close to Carlisle’s primary concern. He’s disgusted by the Mavs’ poor defense and rebounding, flaws that were masked by the Mavs’ sizzling shooting earlier in the season.

“I don’t think we’re as good as it seemed early and we’re not as bad as it seems right now,” said forward/center Elton Brand, a starter playing a bit role, seeing only 17 minutes against Minnesota. “Early on, we were playing a fast pace, getting stops, but it was kind of fools’ gold because we weren’t rebounding, weren’t doing certain things that we need to do to beat elite teams.

“After watching the tape, we saw a lot of mistakes. They’re kind of coming back to haunt us right now.”

The Mavs lost a lot of maturity when championship cogs Jason Kidd and Jason Terry departed during the offseason, but it shouldn’t take veteran wisdom to figure out that this team better put forth maximum effort to survive the stretch sans its only superstar.

Yet that’s the message Carlisle and veteran sixth man Vince Carter is trying to get across now, after the Mavs fell to .500.

Carlisle said it seems like the Mavs are “a zillion miles from being a good team,” but they’re not that far away if they’ll work hard and stick together.

“We have to play desperate basketball every night,” said sixth man Vince Carter, who endured his worst offensive performance of the season (four points, 1-7 FG). “We’re not one of the best teams. We have the ability to be, but we have to play harder than teams.”

If the Mavs go through the motions, they can be beat by anybody. The last couple of games provided undeniable proof of that.