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Rondo rides pine as end nears for Dallas

HOUSTON -- Rajon Rondo looped around the media horde surrounding his stall late Tuesday night in the Toyota Center visitors' locker room and darted into the trainer's room.

A couple of minutes later, Rondo emerged with headphone buds in his ears and ignored the handful of reporters who attempted to ask him questions as he walked toward the arena's exits, his eyes never shifting from straight ahead.

The whole scene didn't last much longer than Rondo's 34-second stint on the floor during the second half of the Dallas Mavericks' 111-99 loss to the Houston Rockets, who will head up Interstate 45 with what seems like a 2-0 stranglehold on the series.

We can only assume how Rondo, a proud point guard with one championship ring, two trips to the Finals and 10 career postseason triple-doubles, felt about playing single-digit minutes in a playoff game.

Actually, judging by his body language, Rondo looked like a dude just waiting for his inevitable divorce from Dallas to happen. Unless the seventh-seeded Mavs pull off a miracle, Rondo won't have to wait much longer.

Did Rondo really even care about riding pine for most of the night?

"You have to ask him that question," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said, not exactly offering a ringing endorsement for the four-time All-Star point guard the Mavs acquired from the Boston Celtics in a blockbuster December trade. "All I know right now is that we need everybody at their competitive best.

"This isn't about one guy who did or didn't play. This is about everybody pulling in the same direction for the organization. That's what it's about."

Rondo certainly didn't come close to his competitive best during the nine minutes, 55 seconds that he wasn't on the bench during Game 2.

A little more than four minutes into the game, Rondo nonchalantly walked the ball up the floor, getting whistled for an absolutely ridiculous eight-second backcourt violation with the Rockets not even applying pressure. He was pulled for J.J. Barea 40 seconds later -- after Rondo wandered aimlessly on defense to let Jason Terry hit a wide-open 3 -- and Carlisle didn't call for Rondo again until 5:30 remained in the second quarter.

Few would have blamed Carlisle for opting to start the second half with Barea -- or even rarely used Raymond Felton -- in Rondo's spot. It might have been an easy decision to bench Rondo had reserve point guard Devin Harris not been inactive due to a toe injury.

"All I know right now is that we need everybody at their competitive best. This isn't about one guy who did or didn't play. This is about everybody pulling in the same direction for the organization. That's what it's about."

Rick Carlisle

After all, the Mavs have been outscored by 36 points during Rondo's 37 minutes on the floor this series. His plus-minus was negative-25 in 27 Game 1 minutes and negative-11 in Game 2. Scoffing at the small sample size? Well, Rondo also had the Mavs' worst plus-minus in the regular season.

At this point, Carlisle really has no motivation to massage Rondo's ego. They won't be together much longer before they reach a mutual decision to part ways this summer, when Rondo enters free agency. Carlisle can only care about giving Dallas its best chance to pull off an upset in this series, and the overwhelming evidence from the first two games is that Rondo isn't part of the solution.

But Carlisle gave Rondo one more chance to prove he deserved minutes with Dallas' season on the line. Rondo responded by committing two dumb fouls on James Harden and picking up a technical for holding and shoving the Rockets' MVP candidate after the first whistle, the basketball savant packing all that stupidity into 34 embarrassing seconds of action.

Playoff Rondo? Puh-leeeeese.

Perhaps surprisingly, there were no postgame fireworks between Carlisle and Rondo, multiple sources told ESPNDallas.com. The coach and point guard had infamous expletive-laced exchanges on Feb. 24, the first occurring during a timeout after Rondo walked the ball up the floor and ignored Carlisle's play call midway through the third quarter, the second coming in the locker room after Rondo watched the rest of the Mavs' comeback win over the Toronto Raptors from the bench.

In this instance, however, Carlisle simply called the team together in the middle of the locker room and said a few quick words. Rondo and Carlisle didn't say a word to each other.

There was no outright hostility. Just a lot of awkwardness.

Kind of like Rondo's fit with the Mavs, especially in the Dallas offense, which has been dragged down from the best in the league to average since his arrival.

For all his X's and O's brilliance, Carlisle hasn't been able to figure out a way to hide Rondo's biggest flaw -- his inability to force defenses to respect him as a perimeter-shooting threat. As a result, Rondo's presence on the floor screws up the spacing for the rest of the Mavs. And Rondo isn't a good enough defender at this point of his career to make up for the messes created by having him run the Mavs' offense.

It's a minor miracle that the Mavs managed to make Tuesday's game competitive for more than three quarters, considering that Dirk Nowitzki shot 3-of-14 from the field, Rondo really contributed nothing and two key Mavs (small forward Chandler Parsons and Harris) were sidelined by injuries. Parsons might be out the rest of the series due to a sore knee that refuses to heal.

Dallas actually led early in the fourth quarter. And then the Rockets' highlight reel started, with Josh Smith suddenly morphing into a hyperathletic version of Magic Johnson and Dwight Howard looking to be every bit the dominant force that the Rockets and Mavs thought he'd be during their recruiting battle for him a couple of summers ago.

Rondo had a heck of a view from the bench, where he appeared to watch with as little interest as anyone in the rocking arena. He barely moved during the second half, getting on his feet only to offer halfhearted daps to teammates during timeouts.

Rondo's warm-up shirt read "WE ARE ONE," the Mavs' slogan this postseason. His face definitely didn't convey the same message.

"I'm sure it's a difficult situation for him," said Mavs center Tyson Chandler, who has had a trying season as a leader of a chemistry-challenged team. "He's a competitor. He wants to be out there. Sometimes matchups and all that other stuff, you never know what's going on.

"But we've got to all stay in this thing together. It's the only way we're going to have a chance."

The Mavs are one? More like one and done, just like Rondo's disappointing stint in Dallas.