Refs rank well down list of Mavs' problems

Yes, the Mavericks got screwed Tuesday night in Portland, to borrow a term from coach Rick Carlisle.

The NBA admitted the next day the charge on O.J. Mayo with 1.5 seconds remaining in a tie game was a blown call. That didn’t exactly make the Mavs feel much better after they lost on a LaMarcus Aldridge buzzer-beater.

Of course, that blown call wouldn’t have mattered if the Mavs hadn’t blown a 21-point lead.

The Mavs’ wrath was aimed right at the refs a couple of nights later, when they were furious about a no-call with six seconds remaining in their loss to the Warriors. Never mind that replays showed Golden State’s Andrew Bogut got all ball when he blocked Brandan Wright’s shot.

A presumably furious Mark Cuban fired off a snarky tweet before the game even ended. Carlisle went on a pretty good postgame rant. The zebras pinned another loss on the 19-27 Mavs!!!

If Cuban and Carlisle woke up this morning thinking that way, they’re wasting time and energy. The refs rank far, far down the list of reasons the Mavs are eight games under .500 and looking at their first lottery berth since 2000.

Here’s a starting five of much more serious problems for the Mavs:

Dirk’s health and decline: Did you really think these Mavs had any hope if Dirk Nowitzki wasn’t dominant? Or if he wasn’t at least active for most of the Mavs’ games?

This season was doomed the day Nowitzki’s right knee started swelling early in training camp. The hope that the swelling would stop simply delayed the decision for him to get arthroscopic surgery, an operation that finally happened Oct. 19.

The recovery took much longer than anticipated, with Nowitzki missing the season’s first 27 games, three times as many as he ever had missed in a season and about twice as many as he hoped. He admittedly rushed back after only one full-contact practice because the Mavs needed a boost during a miserable stretch, but he definitely didn’t help while huffing and puffing through four losses in the week after his return.

The 34-year-old Nowitzki has been a “piece of work” – that’s Dirkspeak for work in progress – for the last month. His scoring average (14.8 points per game), field goal percentage (.425) and rebounding average (5.5) are all by far the future Hall of Famer’s lowest since his rookie season in 1998-99.

Just when it looked like good ol’ Dirk might be back – instead of just old Dirk – he strained his right adductor muscle late in his season-high 26-point performance in Portland. He sat out last night’s loss and is almost certain to miss tonight’s game in Phoenix, hoping to return Monday in Oklahoma City.

“Father Time, bro,” Nowitzki said, using a Charles Barkley line about the only undefeated opponent in NBA history.

Chemistry catastrophe: When the Mavs missed out on Deron Williams, they had to settle for putting together a temporary supporting cast.

The result: The majority of the roster is made up of newcomers on one-year deals. And that roster is in a constant state of flux, with Eddy Curry, Troy Murphy, Derek Fisher and Chris Douglas-Roberts getting some meaningful minutes during their brief tenures as Mavs this season.

More than halfway into the season, Carlisle decides his starting center on a game-to-game basis. The backup point guard is almost as uncertain, and the only reasons Darren Collison is secure as the starter is because Fisher opted to return to his rocking chair and there aren’t any other reasonable options.

If there is a stat that sums up the Mavs’ season, it’s that they have only one more win (19) than starting lineups used (a league-high 18). NBA teams typically prefer significant separation between those figures.

Poor clutch play: It took less than two years and a ton of roster turnover to transform the Mavs from one of the great closing teams of all-time into some of the worst finishers in the league.

Dallas is 7-12 in games that have been within three points in the final minute of regulation.

They didn’t get screwed by the refs a dozen times.

It’s a 3D issue: Dirk, defense and decision-making. Those were great strengths for the Mavs during their title run. They’ve been big problems down the stretch of games this season, when Collison often watches from the bench, a clear sign of Carlisle’s lack of crunch-time trust in his starting point guard.

"We play well enough to win, but more than not we find ways to lose rather than find ways to win,” Nowitzki said Tuesday night in Portland. “And that's the sad thing.”

Little D in Dallas: Only the Sacramento Kings allow more points per game than the Mavs (103.0), and Dallas is just one-tenth of a point from dead last.

That’s partially due to the fast pace the Mavs’ play, but their defense has been dreadful by any measure. They rank 22nd in the NBA in defensive efficiency, allowing 107.5 points per 100 possessions.

It’s not a scheme issue; the Mavs are using the same system that they did during their title run and last season when they ranked eighth in the league in defensive efficiency. They just have too many defensive liabilities and not enough continuity. A couple of particularly big problems: the inabilities to protect the rim and prevent guards from penetrating off the dribble.

The fact that the Mavs rank dead last in rebounding margin (minus-3.8) exacerbates their defensive issues.

Star shortage: Teams that don’t feature stars tend to end up in the lottery. Just look back at the pre-Dirk Mavs.

The Mavs’ 13-season streak of having at least one All-Star ended this year. They didn’t even have a candidate who could be considered a snub. Mayo had the best case, but it wasn’t close to enough to merit serious consideration for his first All-Star appearance, especially considering the Mavs’ record.

The Mavs are loaded with former All-Stars. Nowitzki, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, Elton Brand and Chris Kaman have combined for 26 All-Star selections. But they’re all past their prime, and Nowitzki is the only one who has a chance to ever be an All-Star again.

The need for a legitimate superstar to pair with Nowitzki – and be the face of the franchise’s future – led Cuban to strip down the championship team. (Yes, Tyson Chandler is an All-Star this season for the first time in his dozen-year career.)

That quest for a talent infusion has been an epic failure for the front office so far. If that doesn’t change before next season, the Mavs’ search for convenient excuses is sure to continue.