- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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HOUSTON – Can we please all stop pretending that a playoff push is a realistic possibility for these Dallas Mavericks?
With six weeks left in this miserable season, the Mavs are seven games below .500 and six games out of the West’s final playoff seed. A Dallas squad that desperately needed to get hot has lost four of its past five games, including the Memphis Meltdown and Houston Humiliation.
Those ugly facts make it painfully obvious that the Mavs’ dozen-year postseason streak is on life support. All that’s left is the pain and suffering.
Oh, and some pride.
“It’s not pretty, but I think there is some pride left on this team,” Dirk Nowitzki said after the Mavs were on the wrong end of a 136-103 rout in a must-win game against the Rockets. “I’ve never quit in my career, so I’m not going to start now.”
For better or worse, Dirk doesn’t spew bull. Especially when he’s embarrassed, which is how he described his state after the Rockets turned the third quarter into “a damn layup line and wide-open 3s,” blowing the game open by reeling off 44 points on 14-of-20 shooting.
The plain, simple truth is that these Mavs aren’t a playoff-caliber team. There are plenty of reasonable excuses, starting with Nowitzki’s preseason arthroscopic knee surgery, and the supporting cast that consists primarily of newcomers who arrived in Dallas on one-year deals or expiring contracts, but it boils down to the Mavs just not being good enough to even be in the hunt for one of the West’s final spots this spring.
This is a dreadful defensive team – the Mavs allow 102.6 points per game, the fourth most in the NBA – that struggles to score in half-court situations, especially during crunch time. Teams with those types of problems tend to get lottery ping pong balls.
“We haven’t shown consistently we can win big games,” said Nowitzki, who had only eight points on 2-of-8 shooting before watching the entire fourth quarter from the Mavs’ bench. “It was a nice win in Brooklyn the other day and we can’t follow it up with this performance. So I guess (the Mavs are) not consistent enough even over one game. A decent half, decent three quarters here and there, and then one garbage quarter.
“It’s never consistent enough to really be a playoff threat, but gotta fight. Got another game Wednesday and see what we’ve got.”
That game Wednesday just happens to be at home against Houston. Had the Mavs won this game, perhaps we’d be pumping up the potential postseason implications of the rematch with the Rockets.
But that’s not the case. The reality is that motivation for the Mavs the rest of the season will be showcasing skills for the summer free-agency market in many cases, and scrapping for self-respect in hopefully all cases.
The summer free-agency market shouldn’t be a subject of conversation in the loser's locker room after such a pathetic performance. It wasn’t Sunday night at the Toyota Center. But self-respect certainly was.
“We got our a-- kicked tonight,” O.J. Mayo said. “Obviously I think any competitor would definitely want to come into practice and get after it. We’re lucky to get to play the team that kicked our a-- tonight on Wednesday. If you’re a competitor, you’ve got to bring it.”
The Mavs will indeed have practice Monday, a change of plans by coach Rick Carlisle, whose only explanation for such an “ugly” performance with must-win stakes being that the Rockets “picked up their game and we didn’t match it.”
Carlisle won’t wave any white flags, but he won’t even mention the word playoffs when asked directly about the Mavs’ miniscule chances to qualify for the postseason.
“I’m going to stick to the plan,” Carlisle said. “That is to coach these guys hard, do anything possible to bring any kind of edge to this team and go day-to-day. That’s the only thing we can do.
“We’ve got to get a hell of a lot better before Wednesday.”
The Mavs have to get a hell of a lot better before next season to have realistic playoff hopes again.